National: Senators ask voting machine vendors if they shared code with Russian entities | The Hill

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sent a letter Wednesday to three election equipment vendors to ask whether they have shared information about their machines with Russian entities. The senators wrote to Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems Inc. and Hart InterCivic Inc. to ask if the companies had shared the source code, software or other sensitive details about their machines with Russians. “Foreign access to critical source code information and sensitive data continues to be an often overlooked vulnerability. Further, if such vulnerabilities are not quickly examined and mitigated, future elections will also remain vulnerable to attack,” the senators wrote.

National: Democracy’s Gatekeepers: 2018’s Secretary of State Elections | Harvard Political Review

In state politics, the most enviable marker of power is the so-called “triplex.” To achieve a triplex, a political party must sweep the state’s three most influential offices. The first two are the governor and attorney general positions, the former due to extensive executive powers and the latter due to their power to sue the federal government. But it is the third and most frequently overlooked member of the triplex who may have the most influence over democracy: the secretary of state. The duties of the secretary of state encompass serving as the state’s chief election official, along with such administrative duties as permitting and business authentication. Because of their role in the electoral process, secretaries of state have critical influence over who can vote and how easy it is to do so.

Editorials: Trump finally says he’ll protect elections. We’ll believe it when we see it. | The Washington Post

For a man who has regularly cast doubt on the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump made comments at a Tuesday news conference that were surprisingly on point. “We won’t allow that to happen,” Mr. Trump said about the prospect of further foreign interference, promising to “counteract whatever they do.” He said the government was conducting “a very, very deep study, and we’re coming out with, I think, some very strong suggestions on the ’18 election.” This is closer to what the commander in chief should be saying in the wake of a hostile foreign influence campaign. Yet it falls short of wholehearted acceptance of the intelligence community’s continuing alarm about Russian capabilities and intentions. And the president’s words are meaningless unless backed by actions, which, by many accounts, are still lacking.

Alabama: Some special elections would end under proposed amendment | Montgomery Advertiser

If the time is short, leave the seat empty. The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would end special elections for legislative vacancies that take place 13 months before the next statewide general election. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, got altered before passing the Senate last week. The proposal at first would have allowed the governor to appoint legislators to vacancies if there were less than two years remaining in the term. But Glover said that idea — which would expand the chief executive’s powers in a state government weighted toward the Legislature — faced a struggle.

Georgia: Barcodes Stir Anxiety As Georgia Eyes New Voting System | WABE

As Republican and Democratic state legislators hustle to pass a law moving Georgia toward paper ballot voting technology, election integrity advocates said they’re concerned a bill that already cleared the state Senate could lead to a new vulnerability in Georgia’s next voting system, if it becomes law. One way a new system might work is through a touchscreen computer similar to those currently used in Georgia. It would print a paper ballot with a visual representation of a voter’s choices so they themselves can check for accuracy. In some systems, counting the votes means scanning an entire image of the ballot that may include a timestamp and precinct information. In other systems, barcodes or QR codes on a ballot would correspond with the voter’s choices, which can make counting easier and faster for election officials, said Peter Lichtenheld, vice president of operations with Hart Intercivic, one of several election technology companies that hired lobbyists at the statehouse this year.

Kansas: Kobach testimony could give insight on talks with Trump | The Kansas City Star

A federal judge will allow the ACLU to show video of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaking about his advice to President Donald Trump as part of a trial that will determine whether thousands can vote in Kansas this November. The video of a 2017 deposition will serve as a piece of evidence in the American Civil Liberties Union’s challenge of a Kansas law that requires prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, before they can register to vote. Kobach’s team objected Wednesday to the showing of the video on the grounds that they had not had a chance to review it. They asked that a transcript of the deposition be read instead. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson agreed to delay the viewing of the 45-minute video until Thursday to give Kobach’s team a chance to review it, but she rejected the request to prevent it from being played at the trial.

Kansas: Lawmakers: Could Kansas Be Liable If Voter Fraud Database Leaks? | KCUR

Some lawmakers said Monday that putting Kansas at the center of a database intended to root out voter fraud might eventually put it in the middle of a lawsuit if things go wrong. More than two dozen states compare voter rolls using the Crosscheck database of some 90 million-plus records that Kansas hosts. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has touted Crosscheck as a way to identify voters registered in more than one state and crackdown on double-voting. He’s secured nine convictions for that crime.

Massachusetts: Oregon blazes a path for Massachusetts on automatic voter registration | masslive

A coalition of voting rights groups is urging Massachusetts to adopt automatic voter registration. The Massachusetts proposal, which is pending in a legislative committee, would let the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth automatically register citizens to vote. A person could choose to opt out. What could that look like? Ask Jeanne Atkins. Atkins was the Oregon secretary of state from March 2015 through January 2017 – a period that coincided with the signing of Oregon’s motor voter law and the first election in which it was implemented.

New Hampshire: Secretary of State tells towns: No, you can’t delay elections even if it snows a lot | Concord Monitor

Just in case any town moderators were looking at the weather forecast and beginning to worry, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has some advice for them: Don’t even think about canceling elections. “New Hampshire law does not contain a provision that authorizes any public official to postpone an election,” Gardner wrote in a March 6 memo, which provides guidance on a variety of issues as New Hampshire heads into town meeting season. The notice comes in the wake of last year’s confusion when a huge nor’easter caused moderators in 73 communities to postpone ballot voting on March 14, 2017, the traditional Election Day on the second Tuesday in March.

North Carolina: Dozens of local elections boards paralyzed weeks before primaries | WRAL

With primaries two months away, North Carolina’s election system remains in legal limbo, and a court order issued Monday scrambled the situation even more. Twenty-five of the state’s 100 counties, including Wake and Cumberland counties, have no functioning elections board to settle questions of polling locations and early voting hours. Each of those counties has only two members on its elections board. They were allowed to function by a state Supreme Court order last summer while wrangling over the makeup of the state elections board played out in court. That wrangling dates to a December 2016 law that merged the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission into an eight-member panel evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. County boards, under that law, were expanded from three to four members, again evenly divided by party.

Albania: Opposition denies links to Russian election meddling | Associated Press

Albania’s Democratic Party, the main opposition group, has rejected allegations by U.S. publication Mother Jones that the party received secret funds from Russian sources during last year’s parliamentary election. Mother Jones alleged in an article published Tuesday that Russian-linked companies used a U.S. lobbyist to secretly meddle in Albania’s 2017 election. According to the article Nick Muzin, a former campaign aide for U.S. President Donald Trump, was paid by “a sketchy Scottish firm called Biniatta Trade, which was formed by two Belize-based shell companies … for work in the United States to help the Democratic Party of Albania.” “It appears that Russian-related entities secretly meddled in the United States in order to meddle in an election in Albania,” the Mother Jones story said.

Colombia: Former rebel leaders now battle for votes | AFP

Former Colombian rebels are returning to mountain strongholds where they once fought to the death, this time to campaign in the first elections held under a peace accord that ended a 50-year insurgency. They were greeted with hugs and red roses as they made their way up the slopes of the Cauca Valley in southwest Colombia. One of them is Pablo Catatumbo, who fought for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia starting in 1973. Now, he is 65 and looked after by a detail of 40 men — some ex-rebels and some former adversaries. Under the peace accord reached in late 2016 that led to the FARC’s disarming, the former rebels are guaranteed at least 10 of the 268 congressional seats up for grabs in the March 11 election. But they can gain even more, so former rebel leaders are out trying to win votes.

Latvia: Latvia can teach the U.S. a lesson or two on Russian meddling | USA Today

The tiny country of Latvia can teach the United States a few things about how to counter Russian meddling in politics. One important lesson from Russian efforts to exacerbate ethnic conflict, spread disinformation and possibly compromise Latvian officials is that Russian methods keep changing, according to advice from Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs. “When it comes to the use of information as a weapon or propaganda, Russia does not have an approach that one size fits all,” Rinkēvičs told USA TODAY on Wednesday. “There are different ways of conducting political meddling and also during political elections.” Rinkēvičs was in Washington for meetings to prepare for an April 3 summit with President Trump and the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Pakistan: From law to action: election reforms in Pakistan | Daily Times

“We have all the necessary and good laws in Pakistan, but we fail to implement them!” This is a common lamentation in Pakistan. Whatever the subject is — politicians, civil society, lawyers, journalists and governmental officials make this claim. But is this true? In one area that has attracted much public controversy, this was not the case: The election laws lacked many provisions needed for credible, transparent and inclusive elections. The controversies in the 2013 elections were not simply ‘losers crying sour grapes’. Genuine shortcomings in the election laws, which undermined Pakistani elections for many years were repeatedly pointed out by civil society, observers and eventually also confirmed in the inquiry commission setup to investigate the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) accusations of systemic rigging in 2013 general elections. The Commission found no systematic rigging but pointed to many systemic problems.

Sierra Leone: Police quash clashes after voting ends | Associated Press

Riot police put down skirmishes Wednesday in Sierra Leone’s capital as political tensions mounted after authorities visited the office of the leading opposition candidate. At least one person was treated for stab wounds following the melee that erupted after an SLPP opposition spokesman said police had come to search the party’s offices without a warrant. Their candidate, Julius Maada Bio, the man who was defeated in the 2012 election, later went on live television to criticize the move. “Counting has started and I have phones and laptops which I am using to tally the results of the counting,” he said. “I have established a tallying center in my office which is not against the law of this country. This is a legitimate affair.”

National: Top U.S. intel official insists White House engaged on election security | Reuters

The top U.S. intelligence official insisted on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is “actively engaged” in countering Russian efforts to influence the November elections, even as he warned of Moscow’s continuing “malign activities.”  “The White House is actively engaged,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate hearing, where lawmakers pressed for answers on election security. “This is a high priority for them,” he said. Coats and other intelligence officials have warned repeatedly that Russia is already trying to interfere in the 2018 mid-term elections by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports, much as it did during the 2016 presidential race.

National: Election Assistance Commission Carries On Despite GOP Resistance | GovExec

These could be tumultuous times for the tiny federal agency called the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In a mid-term election year in which the threat of Russian meddling in American balloting continues as front-page news, the 30-person staff in Silver Spring, Md., with its $9.2 million budget is forging ahead to help states and localities modernize voting equipment, recruit poll workers and make polling stations more accessible. Some Republican critics in Congress, however, have continued a years-old bid to defund the agency set up in 2002, calling it duplicative and proposing during this year’s continuing budget battle to move some functions to the Federal Election Commission.

National: Trump floats idea to secure elections: ‘It’s always good to have a paper backup’ | Politico

President Donald Trump has one idea to blunt the impact of Russian meddling in U.S. elections: “It’s called paper.” “One of the things we’re learning is, it’s always good — It’s old-fashioned — but it’s always good to have a paper back-up system of voting,” the president said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. “It’s called paper. Not highly complex computers, paper. A lot of states are doing that. They’re going to a paper back-up. And I think that’s a great idea. We’re studying it closely. Various agencies, including homeland security, are studying it very carefully.” Trump, who has acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 election but has said his team was not involved in the effort, has been adamant that Russia had “no impact” on votes. He told reporters Tuesday that other countries “probably” were involved in presidential-election meddling as well.

Editorials: Congress, don’t miss the mark on election security | Heather Engel/The Hill

Voter registration data in most states are public by law. What happens when voter registration data are compiled and parsed with data from internet browsing, shopping and social media? It’s a well-known fact that our foreign adversaries have attempted to influence and breach our election systems. We believe that they are trying to do so again and we need to stay two steps ahead of them in order to solve problems that may arise in securing voter data and the integrity of our election system. While we can all agree that elections systems are vulnerable, there is much more to the story. Ideas such as the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act, proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), would allow election officials access to classified information and would designate election systems as critical infrastructure. Designating these systems as critical infrastructure will trigger additional cybersecurity controls and require oversight at many levels, state and federal.

California: Voters with sloppy signatures must have a chance to correct them, court rules | The Sacramento Bee

California elections officials must notify voters before rejecting their mail-in ballots over concerns that the signature is not authentic, a San Francisco judge ruled this week. Current California election law allows officials to toss out vote-by-mail ballots if they suspect the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file for the voter, without giving the voter a chance to respond. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California and law firm Cooley LLP sued Secretary of State Alex Padilla, arguing the practice is unconstitutional.

Massachusetts: Top court weighs 20-day voter registration cutoff | Reuters

Massachusetts’ top court on Tuesday weighed whether it should declare a requirement that people must register to vote 20 days before an election unconstitutional, in a case that could impact the ability of thousands of citizens to cast ballots. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in an appeal by the state’s top election official of a ruling by a lower-court judge in July holding that the registration cutoff violates the state’s constitution. Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat who oversees the state’s elections, appealed the ruling, arguing that the 20-day rule did not impose a severe burden on voting rights.

Pennsylvania: Hearing looms on Pennsylvania congressional redistricting issue | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The only certainty in the congressional redistricting case is that Republicans lose if they can’t persuade a three-judge panel to grant a preliminary injunction, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor. The federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments Friday in Harrisburg. A preliminary injunction stops one side from taking an action while the other pursues its legal challenge. In this case, Republicans want to bar the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf from implementing a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2011 congressional map for Pennsylvania drawn by GOP lawmakers. Since there’s little debate that map — considered one of the country’s most gerrymandered — is unconstitutional, the only question seems to be whether it will be used one last time for the 2018 elections, Ledewitz said.

Pennsylvania: Residents call on county to return to paper ballots | GoErie

Four Erie County residents on Tuesday called on County Council to switch from electronic touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots to ensure the security and integrity of elections. Their comments come on the heals of last month’s directive by Gov. Tom Wolf ordering counties that plan to replace their electronic voting machines to replace them with machines that leave a paper trail. Wolf said the order would increase the security of voting and make elections easier to audit, according to the Associated Press. In November, federal officials identified Pennsylvania as one of at least 21 states that had its election system targeted by hackers before the 2016 presidential election, according to AP. “You don’t have a paper trail for each vote,” said Hugh McCartney of North East Township. ”…What are we going to do. I know two options: Either you pay up those millions of dollars or go back to paper ballots.”

Utah: House panel endorses bill to thwart GOP candidate nomination rule | Deseret News

Legislation aimed to thwart a newly passed Utah Republican Party rule threatening to expel candidates who gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot passed a House committee Monday. HB485 would ensure that candidates who have already filed for office would be allowed on the 2018 primary ballot. The measure would ensure that candidates can be on the ballot with their party affiliation, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, told the House Business and Labor Committee. “We want clarity for this election,” he said. “We want candidates who decided to gather signatures and/or go to convention to feel comfortable with their decision, maintain the status quo.” The committee endorsed the bill 9-3, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Washington: Legislation could lead to more district-based voting in Washington | KUOW

State lawmakers passed the Washington Voting Rights Act the week, meant to give underrepresented minority groups a larger voice in elections. And that could mean more district-based voting in the future. The act encourages local governments to use district-based elections, like city councils in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane do already. The state senate gave final approval of the act Monday, sending it to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.  Democratic state Representative Zack Hudgins was among the bill’s supporters. “The bill before us addresses the problems that we saw in Yakima, and that we’ve heard about in Pasco,” he said.

Editorials: Why the Dutch plan to scrap advisory referendums is a step back for democracy | Matt Qvortrup/The Conversation

Dutch voters will go to the polls on March 21 for a referendum on the Security Act 2017, a law which grants the authorities extended surveillance rights. As in many other states, such legislation has raised concern in the Netherlands that the government is snooping on emails and other personal communication. Unlike most countries, however, Dutch voters can currently do something about it thanks to a 2015 law that means the government must hold an advisory referendum if 300,000 voters call for one. But the Dutch government now plans to overturn this right in the future. On February 22, a majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, voted to scrap the referendum law. It’s unlikely that the vote will be undone by the Senate when it comes to vote on the issue.

Ireland: Abortion referendum details to be confirmed as activist vows to fight on | The Guardian

In 1983, Ailbhe Smyth was spat at and denounced as a “baby murderer” in the street as she campaigned for Irish women to have the right to abortion. Thirty-five years later, the activist is still at the heart of Ireland’s abortion battle, fighting for her daughter, granddaughter and other women to get control over their bodies. This time, she is hopeful that the country’s prohibition of abortion, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality, which is enshrined in the constitution, may be overturned in a referendum expected to be held on 25 May.

Italy: The Italian Implosion: Five Star’s Victory Signals a New Order | The Atlantic

In Italy’s national elections on Sunday, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, a long-time spy chief and a member of the center-left Democratic Party, was soundly defeated in his parliamentary race by a candidate without a party. The winner was a man who had been kicked out of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement because he admitted he’d broken a party rule and not tithed part of his salary back to the movement. The majority of the other ministers in the current government, a grand coalition of center-left and center-right led by the Democratic Party, also lost in direct contests, although they’ll enter parliament through a proportional system.

Russia: Why Russia’s presidential election is like no other | CNN

Russian President Vladimir Putin will win the election — that’s a given. He maintains the overwhelming support of the Russian people, while the state has kicked his main opponent out of the race and sanctioned other candidates in the running. The outcome is so deeply etched in stone, even Putin himself seems bored. His campaign has been woefully lackluster. But on March 18, there will be one thing for the President to worry about: Turnout. It could be embarrassingly low, some polls suggest, and could raise questions about the legitimacy of Putin’s long-running authority. Putin is seeking a second consecutive term as president — a fourth altogether — to cement his power.