A deadly mudslide. A horrible Ebola virus that killed thousands. And a nation still in recovery from a civil war that killed more than 50,000 people. As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on Wednesday, they hope to elect a leader who can help them overcome these tragedies. More than a dozen candidates are vying for votes in Wednesday’s election in what officials hope will be a peaceful democratic transition more than five decades since Sierra Leone gained independence. Though recent elections have been peaceful, several episodes of violence have occurred at political rallies this time, at least one death has been reported and several people have been seriously wounded. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the European Union have all issued statements calling for a peaceful election, as have many of the candidates.
A group of more than 40 charities, campaign groups and academics have written to the government to warn that plans to trial compulsory voter ID at the local elections in May risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people. The letter to Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, says the pilot scheme is a disproportionate response to the scale of electoral fraud, noting that in 2016 there were just 44 allegations of voter impersonation, the issue that compulsory ID is intended to combat. It said Electoral Commission figures indicated that 3.5 million people in Britain – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have access to any form of photo ID.
The anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing Lega party were arguably the main winners at Italy’s election on Sunday, with both parties seeing their share of the vote grow dramatically. Russia has courted anti-establishment parties around Europe in recent years and, having formed an allegiance to both Lega and M5S, is also expected to gain from the result. Both parties, which could have a strong say in the next Italian government, have criticized sanctions on Russia and could remove them if in power. Lorenzo Fontana, deputy leader of Lega, told CNBC on Monday that Moscow would be pleased with the party’s success. “We want to have good relations with Russia; we want to see Russia as a normal and natural partner with Europe,” he said.
The coming week could bring movement on legislation aimed at securing U.S. voting infrastructure from cyber threats. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) are planning to introduce an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would help states modernize their election systems. Harris and Lankford are both sponsors of the Secure Elections Act, a bill they introduced in December that would set up a grant program for states to replace outdated paperless voting machines and take other steps to bolster cybersecurity. Harris said at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting that the amendment will implement “bipartisan election security measures to modernize election cybersecurity across America and protect against foreign interference on future elections.”
Konstantin Kozlovsky is ready to talk. The 29-year-old blonde-haired Russian hacker at the center of the intrigue surrounding the Kremlin’s cyberattacks on the 2016 U.S. presidential election currently sits in a high-security prison with the forbidding name of Matrosskaya Tishina (Sailor’s Silence) in northeastern Moscow. Kozlovsky is officially charged with stealing millions from Russian banks, but he’d prefer to brag about how he built the software used to hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other U.S. targets. At a small hearing in a Moscow court earlier this month, with only a handful of media outlets present, Kozlovsky said he was ready to present detailed evidence that the Kremlin was directly involved in a series of high-profile attacks, including compromising the DNC’s computer systems in 2016, as well as those of the U.S. government, military, social media companies, and leading U.S. publishers. In an interview with Fast Company conducted over the last two weeks via a verified representative, Kozlovsky was able to provide more details for his claims about the role of the Russian government, and how the program he developed was designed to wreak havoc.
Last week, the Pentagon’s cyberdefense commander was asked whether the government has done enough to protect the 2018 congressional election against Russian hacking. “We’re not where we need to be,” Adm. Mike Rogers told a Senate committee. Rogers echoed warnings from other intelligence officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to keep meddling in U.S. and foreign elections until someone makes him stop. “President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay here,” Rogers said. “If we don’t change the dynamic, this is going to continue.” Time is short: This year’s primary elections begin March 6, in Texas.
Alabama: Thousands march across Edmund Pettus Bridge to pay homage to Bloody Sunday | The Selma Times‑Journal
Thousands of people marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of Bloody Sunday — a day where marchers were beaten, tear gassed and trampled while fighting for the right to vote on March 7, 1965. Sunday’s march marked the end of the 25th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which started Thursday. Marchers came from across the country to walk across the same bridge as the foot soldiers of the voting rights movement, who helped change history. Vivianna Rodriguez came from Mobile, and this was her second time marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Her first time was when President Barack Obama came to Selma in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
Two potentially transformative election reforms approved by the Indiana Senate likely will not become law this year after failing to pass the House by Monday’s deadline for acting on Senate measures. Neither Senate Bill 250, authorizing “no excuse” absentee voting, nor Senate Bill 326, establishing standards for legislative redistricting, received formal consideration by the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. They therefore could not advance for a vote by the full House on whether to send them to the governor. It’s possible, though improbable, that the Senate still could force a House vote through the conference committee process.
A Kansas law that blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations goes on trial this week in federal court — testing whether fraud is common enough to warrant tougher registration rules. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wants to prove his oft-made and much-challenged assertions that voter fraud isn’t just a risk, but a real and widespread problem. If he fails in court, the state will no longer be able to block voter registrations at driver’s license offices for failing to show such things as birth certificates or passports to prove citizenship.
Editorials: Kansans’ voting rights at risk as Kris Kobach gets his day in court | The Kansas City Star
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s relentless campaign to make it harder to register to vote goes on trial Tuesday in federal court. The nation will be watching the case play out in Kansas City, Kan. If Kobach prevails, many states across the country are likely to erect new barriers to registration, making it harder for the voters’ will to be known in races from the city council to the White House. If Kobach loses — which seems more likely than not — the right to register and vote without major obstruction will have at least some protection, as it should have. At issue is a state law requiring Kansans to provide “documentary proof of citizenship,” such as a birth certificate or adoption decree, when registering to vote at the driver’s license office. Kobach and other allies said producing birth certificates and passports for registration would be easy for eligible citizens but would be hard for non-citizens, keeping them from the ballot box.
Maine: Petition approval puts Maine on track to use ranked-choice voting in June primaries | Bangor Daily News
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday that ranked-choice voting will be used in the June 12 primary after his office certified a people’s veto effort that thwarted the Legislature’s attempt to cancel the election system approved by voters in 2016. Dunlap deemed 66,687 of the approximately 77,000 submitted signatures to be valid, which means two things: Mainers will use ranked-choice voting in the primary and concurrently vote on whether to continue ranked-choice voting in the future. The people’s veto attempt certified Monday would nullify a law passed last year by legislators that at the time was seen as a death knell for ranked-choice voting. Instead, supporters of ranked-choice voting were able to exceed the people’s veto threshold for signatures in less than 90 days — but the long-term fate of the system depends on the June vote.
Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court to consider voter registration, campaign finance cases | masslive.com
Massachusetts’ highest court will hear arguments Tuesday in two major election-related cases. The Supreme Judicial Court will consider a challenge to a Massachusetts law that requires voters to register at least 20 days before an election. It will also consider a separate case challenging a campaign finance law that prohibits businesses from making political contributions. In the voter registration challenge, Chelsea Collaborative vs. William Galvin, a group of voting rights organizations and individuals argue that a 1993 law requiring voter registration 20 days before an election is unconstitutional.
Texas: Experts Say Electronic Voting Machines Aren’t Secure. So Travis County Is Designing Its Own. | KUT
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has spent more than a decade working with researchers and computer security experts to design a voting machine that’s more secure and reliable. This massive undertaking resulted in the Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable Voting System, or STAR-Vote. But getting manufacturers to build it has been a challenge. … When Houston first floated the idea of switching to DREs in 2001, it caught Dan Wallach’s attention. He urged city leaders not to ditch paper ballots. “My message then was: These are just computers,” says Wallach, a professor in the department of computer science at Rice University, “and computers are hackable.”
Canada: Doug Ford calls for Ontario PC Party leadership voting to be extended, use of paper ballots | Global News
Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate Doug Ford is calling on the party to extend voting by a week and for the ability for members to vote by paper ballot. “As of right now, close to 100,000 people have not received their PIN number — that’s staggering,” Ford told The Andrew Lawton Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL Monday afternoon. “I’m calling on the party to make sure that they step up to the plate, and I’m calling the other candidates for them to step up to the plate, and let’s go to the paper ballot for those who haven’t been able to vote.”
Election results so far indicate that the ruling leftist FMLN is likely to maintain its position as the second party in the country’s legislature. With almost 64 percent of tally sheets processed so far, El Salvador’s right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party maintains a comfortable lead over the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). ARENA’s alliance with the right-wing National Agreement Party (PCN) gave it a decisive victory over the FMLN in places like in San Vicente and Morazan, The PCN came forth with 151,752 of the total votes.
After voters from the snowy peaks of the Alps to the sunny shores of Sicily delivered a verdict so fractured and mysterious it could take months to sort out, the banner headline Monday in the venerable daily La Stampa captured the state of a nation that’s left no one in charge: “Ungovernable Italy.” The same can increasingly be said for vast stretches of Europe. Across the continent, a once-durable dichotomy is dissolving. Fueled by anger over immigration, a backlash against the European Union and resentment of an out-of-touch elite, anti-establishment parties are taking votes left, right and center from the traditional power players.
Malta has become the second country in the European Union to lower the national voting age to 16. The revised voting age, down from 18, was cemented into law on Monday evening, with MPs voting unanimously in favour of a third reading of a Bill to amend the Constitution to that effect. 16- and 17-year-olds will now be able to cast a vote at national and European parliament elections, having been already granted that right for local council elections back in 2014. Their first opportunity to exercise this new right will come during the 2019 European Parliament elections, with the lowered voting age expected to add up to 8,500 votes to ballot boxes. Politicians from either side of the House were quick to celebrate the news on social media, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat saying Malta had “made history, again” by passing the law.
The Solicitor-General has told the Supreme Court justices they risk undermining New Zealand’s democracy, if they rule on whether prisoners should be able to vote. Notorious “jailhouse lawyer” Arthur William Taylor has fought through the High Court, Court of Appeal, and now the Supreme Court, against the 2010 law which banned all prisoners from voting in elections. Previously prisoners could vote if they were serving a term of less than three years. The High Court did not overturn the ban, but did declare it was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act because it infringed on the rights of New Zealand citizens to vote. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. Solicitor-General Una Jagose is presenting the Crown’s case to the Supreme Court this morning. She said prisoner voting rights were not an issue that should be decided by the courts.
Sierra Leone will hold elections on Wednesday in which an unprecedented number of political parties will compete as discontent over the government’s handling of an economy battered by the Ebola outbreak has soared. The vote marks a departure from a decades-old tradition that mainly divided the balance of power between the All People’s Congress and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, with a newcomer, the National Grand Coalition, expected to win a significant amount of votes. In total, 16 parties have put candidates forward in the West African nation of about 6.5 million people.
Editorials: Replace Pennsylvania voting machines right now | Marian Schneider and Wilfred Codrington/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres last month directed that, going forward, all voting machines purchased in the state must employ “a voter-verifiable paper ballot or paper record of votes cast.” This was great news. It will help ensure the accuracy of vote-counting in Pennsylvania and give voters more confidence in election results. It was long overdue. The two key words in the directive are “verifiable” and “paper,” neither of which apply to how the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have been voting since 2006. Currently, 83 percent of Pennsylvania voters use direct-recording electronic systems, or DREs — voting machines that produce no paper ballot for voters to verify before leaving their polling places and that therefore leave no paper trail to follow if election results are contested. DREs are computer systems. Have you ever had your computer crash? Have you ever heard of computer systems being hacked?
Mistrust, anger and charges of skulduggery between Democrats and Republicans have hobbled the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation for months. Hope Hicks and a pair of frustrated senators may have finally broken it. There are new signs that Republicans may soon conclude a probe that Democrats call far from complete following Wednesday’s testimony by President Donald Trump’s confidante, Hicks. Leaks revealed that Hicks had admitted to sometimes telling white lies on Trump’s behalf — a fact that Republicans called an unfair distortion of the departing White House communications director’s testimony. The next day, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office confirmed that the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee paid an extraordinary visit to Ryan to express their “concerns” about how the House panel is operating — and, according to one report, to accuse Republicans of their own dishonest leaking.
Call it a political paradise if you live in certain places in Alabama and don’t miss an opportunity to cast a vote. The practicality of it all, however, remains questionable. Simply put, there are three special election cycles ongoing right now to fill vacancies in the Alabama legislature. But the winners of those races will not be elected until after the ongoing legislative session ends. And unless they are re-elected in the state’s regular 2018 election cycle, which begins with the June 5 Democratic and Republican primaries, they will leave office without ever casting a single vote as a state lawmaker. “There’s no logic to it but it doesn’t have anything to do with logic,” said John Merrill, the state’s top elections official as Secretary of State.
Georgia election officials have agreed to change voter registration forms in response to a complaint that they misrepresented ID requirements for first-time voters. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sought the change because the registration form says new voters must provide documentation of their name and address with their mailed applications. But federal election law only requires identification from first-time voters at some point before they cast a ballot, not at the time they register to vote.
A battle raging from Wichita to Topeka could change how you vote — and how long you stand in line to do it. On one side are the county commissions of the state’s four largest counties, including Sedgwick, who seek more control over the costs of elections. On the other are Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his election commissioners, including Tabitha Lehman in Sedgwick County. They say the system isn’t broken and doesn’t need to be fixed. So far, the county commissions are winning. The Kansas House recently passed House Bill 2509, which would give counties control over election budgets. It now advances to the Senate.
North Carolina: GOP defendants protest $124K bill from election map special master | Greensboro News and Record
Republican legislative defendants in North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering case say state taxpayers should not have to pay the full $124,125 bill from a special master in the federal lawsuit. A lawyer for state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and other current and former GOP officeholders contends Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily’s services were never really needed as special master. “The taxpayers of North Carolina should not be responsible for the fees and expenses incurred by the special master in this matter because it was not necessary for the court to employ a special master to fix the constitutional deficiencies,” attorney Phillip Strach of Raleigh said in his written objection to the bill Persily submitted recently.
State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, has updated his legislation that would provide funding to replace Ohio’s aging voting equipment. Under LaRose’s proposal, counties will be given a fixed amount of funding based on the number of registered voters to help with the startup costs associated with buying new machines.
The funding breakdown would be:
• Counties with zero to 19,000 registered voters will be given a base amount of $205,000
• Counties with 20,000 to 99,999 registered voters will be given a base amount of $250,000
• Counties with 100,000-plus registered voters will be given $406,000
• Remaining funds will then be distributed on a per registered voter basis.
Of the $114.5 million allocation, $10 million would be general revenue funding reimbursement for counties that have already purchased new machines.
Voting Blogs: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Ohio’s State Redistricting Commission | State of Elections
In 2015, Ohio voters approved a state constitutional amendment that reformed the process for drawing district lines for the state legislature. Previously, state legislative redistricting had been managed by a five-member Apportionment Board, consisting of the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, and one member of the state legislature from both parties. New district lines only required a simple majority vote to enter into effect. The amendment, Issue 1 on the 2015 ballot, enlarged (and renamed the board to the Ohio Redistricting Commission) the Apportionment Board by two members by adding a member of each party from the state legislature. Issue 1 also reformed the procedures of the board, particularly how it approves district maps. The Commission must now have votes in favor of a map by at least two members of the minority party for the district maps to be in force for a full ten years. However, if this requirement is not met, then the district maps will be in force for only four years and new maps will be drawn at the end of that time period.
A group trying to bring a “top two” primary system to South Dakota didn’t collect enough valid signatures to get the issue onto the November ballot, the state’s chief elections official said Friday. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs’ office said in a statement that a random sampling of signatures collected by Open Primaries South Dakota found that the campaign submitted about 25,500 valid signatures, not the nearly 28,000 needed for the proposed constitutional amendment to go to voters. The rejection could be challenged in court. The group’s treasurer, De Knudson, said she’s contacted the group’s attorney but that a decision hasn’t been made on whether to challenge the decision.
The borders of certain voting districts in Virginia could be changed more than state lawmakers may have expected. A group known as OneVirginia2021 is spearheading the charge for redistricting, convinced that 11 of the 100 districts in the House of Delegates are unconstitutionally drawn in favor of one political party. This process, known as gerrymandering, ignores the size and shape requirements of the districts, and the group says both major parties are to blame. Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, said the current lines are a way for politicians to create an advantage rather than playing fair.
Editorials: Putin and Sissi are putting on elections. Why bother? | Jackson Diehl/The Washington Post
With Western democracy on the defensive, China’s Xi Jinping is aggressively advancing a new model for human governance in the 21st century: personal dictatorship backed by nationalism, state-directed capitalism and a security apparatus empowered by cutting-edge technologies. There’s no pretense of evolution toward democracy or even the rule of law. On the contrary, Xi explicitly casts his regime as an alternative that “offers a new option for other countries.” Among the world leaders seemingly most likely to embrace this neo-totalitarianism are Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, both of whom have consolidated personal power on a platform of nationalism. So it’s interesting that both Putin and Sissi are putting on presidential elections this month. Sure, these are not real elections. They are Potemkin pageants that will award the two strongmen overwhelming victories, thanks in part to the exclusion of all serious opponents. The only suspense about the March 18 vote in Russia, or the ballot in Egypt concluding 10 days later, will be about the abstention rate, because opposition leaders in both countries are calling for boycotts.