The Russians are coming, and that’s no joke. The invasion is happening in cyberspace. We’re not talking about trolls posting fake news stories on social media sites. Russian hackers are trying to figure out how to steal our elections. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been conducting a serious, bipartisan investigation into Russia’s ongoing attacks on our nation’s voting systems. What federal authorities have discovered is deeply disturbing. Now this committee has drafted a series of recommendations for securing our country’s election infrastructure, and it’s crucial that authorities on all levels of government act together to implement those ideas and ensure the sanctity of our votes.
Rules for how Maine will count votes this June in Maine’s first ranked-choice voting election are on a fast-track to approval by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Dunlap released proposed rules on Wednesday and announced that the window for the public to comment on them will end on April 6 so his office will have time to prepare for the June 12 primary election. This marks the first time in U.S. history that a state has used ranked-choice voting in statewide legislative and gubernatorial primary elections. The rules cover ballot layout, how they will be counted and security procedures for delivering paper ballots or voting machine memory devices from towns and cities to Augusta. … Dunlap said in March that long-term, the cost of implementing the system could exceed $1 million a year but probably won’t cost that much for the June primary.
Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature on Wednesday approved a measure to automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with certain state agencies. The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk. Hogan has not said whether he supports the measure, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the measure passed by wide enough margins that the legislature could override any potential veto. If the measure becomes law, Maryland would become the 11th state to adopt automatic voter registration. Any Marylander who interacts with the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration, health-care exchange or social services offices would be signed up to vote unless they decline.
The Ohio Republican Party voted on Tuesday night to join its Democratic counterpart in endorsing a major overhaul of how Ohio’s congressional districts are drawn. Issue 1, which was written by a bipartisan committee and approved by citizen groups, would create multiple rounds of map-making to prevent partisan gerrymandering. The proposal also sets limits for how many times a county can be split, keeping communities together. Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof acknowledged to the Ohio GOP central committee that the way the state divides its Congressional districts has been good to Republicans for decades. That’s because Republicans have controlled the state Legislature when it’s redrawn the map every 10 years. But Obhof cautioned things are bound to change.
Now that legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s new court-drawn congressional map have been rejected, state lawmakers have turned their attention to the typical process by which the state reapportions congressional districts every decade. But some stakeholders are skeptical about whether any current proposals will ever make it to a vote. There are four bills circulating in the Statehouse right now. All call for an independent redistricting commission, but differ on details such as the role the legislature would play in the process, the number of commissioners, their qualifications, how they’d be selected and how to gauge potential partisan influences.
West Virginia is testing a new secure mobile voting application to help active-duty military members vote in the upcoming May primary election. Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) announced the pilot program on Wednesday afternoon. It will initially be limited to military voters and their spouses and children who are registered to vote in Harrison and Monongalia counties. However, the state plans to expand the program to all 55 counties in the upcoming November general election if the pilot proves successful.
The woman in a long black shawl bustled up to a stall on a back street in the crowded Nile Delta city of Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo. “Where’s my subsidy box?” she demanded. “My brothers and sisters in Cairo have already received theirs. When do I get mine?” The woman, Soad Abdel Hamid, a housewife, was referring to boxes of subsidized food — cooking oil, rice and sugar, mostly — promised to voters in many poor areas in return for casting their vote in Egypt’s presidential election. With no real opponent to provide drama in his re-election bid, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is relying on the sheer enthusiasm of his supporters to generate a credible turnout. And where fervor isn’t enough, he has other means of enticing — or pushing — voters to the polls.
Hungary: ‘Ghettos and no-go zones’: Hungary’s far right fuels migrant fears ahead of vote | The Guardian
Nobody in Miskolc can say with certainty that they have ever seen a migrant or a refugee in the city. A few residents think they might have seen one or two people back in 2015 but cannot be sure. Others say their friends have seen migrants in the streets but admit they have not seen any themselves. And yet, in this city of 160,000 inhabitants in north-east Hungary, a fierce election campaign is under way in which there is one overriding issue being discussed ahead of the vote on 8 April. It is not the recent series of corruption scandals involving government officials and vast sums of money. Nor is it the depressing state of local healthcare or low wages. It is migration. The tone for the election in Miskolc – as across the country – has been set by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who is seeking to win a third consecutive term on a far-right platform of sealing Hungary’s borders to migrants.
Elections are expensive, hotly contested affairs, and political consultants who appear to offer a candidate any edge are in high demand across the world. At the heart of the recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica are the unethical lengths to which such organizations will go to secure that edge, particularly in African countries like Kenya and Nigeria where there are fewer safeguards against such manipulation, and where the effects aren’t limited to the election of an unsavory candidate but include matters of life and death. Until recently, the impact of manipulations in electoral process by Western political consultants in Africa has been largely ignored, but in the past three years the consequences have become clear. The tactics that now have the United States and the United Kingdom in a panic resemble the election tinkering elsewhere.
Malaysia’s Parliament on Wednesday approved redrawn electoral boundaries despite protests that the ruling coalition was cheating to ensure victory in the upcoming general election. Embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced the new electoral maps, which were approved with 129 lawmakers voting for them and 80 against. Scores of activists earlier protested outside Parliament, denouncing the new maps as gerrymandering that would widen inequality among constituencies and was based along racial lines to favor Najib’s ruling coalition. Activists say the changes mean that ruling party candidates will need fewer votes than opposition lawmakers to win elections. Activists and opposition leaders marched from a nearby park but were blocked from entering Parliament by riot police.
Recently, a number of technology blogs breathlessly brought news that Sierra Leone “became the first country in the world to use blockchain during an election” on March 7th. “The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results,” according to TechCrunch. Blockchain ledgers, the theory goes, are more difficult to tamper with than traditional methods for storing vote data. PCMag called the election a “milestone,” showing that “blockchain networks and immutable ledgers can serve as a foundation for new trusted systems, redefining how we interact with an evolving digital world.” To be fair, these items, based on Agora’s own press release, generally noted several paragraphs below their headlines about a “blockchain-based election” that Agora was not verifying the official nationwide count—it had simply been registered as an observer in one district.
Election winners are always happy to take the win, but the losers — and often the voters — require evidence, and that evidence needs strong backing. Modern voting systems must engender confidence that the final tally represents the true preferences of voters, without manipulation or tampering. After apparent Russian interference in the 2016 national elections, politicians nationwide are investigating our security posture. It seems that no Russian probes into Texas election systems went anywhere, but we might not be so lucky next time. Texas’s current voting systems were not designed to defend against the cyberattack skills that the Russians and other sophisticated adversaries can bring to bear. It’s time for our state to plan an orderly retirement of its old and insecure voting equipment and adopt better practices. Texas has a unique chance to be a national leader here, and there are three Texans poised to lead the charge. Director of Elections Keith Ingram heads the Secretary of State’s investigation into election security. Under the Texas Cybersecurity Act, he must issue a report — due December 1, 2018 — that contains legislative recommendations aimed at bolstering our election systems.
National: After GOP is criticized over election security, key official goes to Homeland Security | The Hill
The official recently replaced atop the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is joining the Department of Homeland Security to protect elections from cyber threats, The Hill has learned. Matthew Masterson was replaced as chairman of the EAC in February as a result of a decision made by Republican leadership. The move opened up House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to criticism. Masterson has now signed on to work as a senior cybersecurity adviser at Homeland Security’s main cyber wing and to assist the department’s election security mission. A Homeland Security official confirmed that Masterson will work at the National Protection and Programs Directorate, which spearheads efforts to protect critical infrastructure from cyber and physical threats.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, recently warned dozens of foreign diplomats — including the Russian ambassador — that the United States would retaliate if adversaries abroad meddled in its coming elections. “To those who would try to attack our democracy, to affect our elections, to affect the elections of other countries, to undermine national sovereignty, I have a word of warning: Don’t,” Ms. Nielsen told an estimated 80 foreign envoys and other officials during a speech last week, according to a person in attendance. Two other people with knowledge of the event confirmed the comments. All three spoke on the condition of anonymity because the remarks were given at a closed-door meeting.
National: Former Cambridge Analytica workers say firm sent foreigners to advise U.S. campaigns | The Washington Post
Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in 2014, according to three former workers for the data firm, even as an attorney warned executives to abide by U.S. laws limiting foreign involvement in elections. The assignments came amid efforts to present the newly created company as “an American brand” that would appeal to U.S. political clients even though its parent, SCL Group, was based in London, according to former Cambridge Analytica research director Christopher Wylie. Wylie, who emerged this month as a whistleblower, provided The Washington Post with documents that describe a program across several U.S. states to win campaigns for Republicans using psychological profiling to reach voters with individually tailored messages. The documents include previously unreported details about the program, which was called “Project Ripon” for the Wisconsin town where the Republican Party was born in 1854.
The 2020 U.S. Census will include a controversial question about citizenship status, the Commerce Department announced Monday night, a move that sparked outrage from Congressional Democrats, civil rights groups and liberal state attorneys general. A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the state will be suing the administration immediately. Before the announcement, Becerra and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla wrote in an op-ed that including a citizenship question would be “illegal.” “The Trump administration is threatening to derail the integrity of the census by seeking to add a question relating to citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire,” the pair wrote in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Innocuous at first blush, its effect would be truly insidious. It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach encouraged President Donald Trump to add a question about citizenship status to the U.S. Census during the early weeks of Trump’s presidency. More than a year later, Trump’s administration has moved to enact that exact policy for the 2020 census. “I won’t go into exact detail, but I raised the issue with the president shortly after he was inaugurated,” Kobach said Tuesday. “I wanted to make sure the president was well aware.” Kobach, a Republican candidate for Kansas governor who is running on a platform focused on immigration, also published a column in January on Breitbart calling for Trump to reinstate the question to the Census.
The National Rifle Association acknowledged that it accepts foreign donations but says it does not use them for election work — even as federal investigators look into the role the NRA might have played in Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. Pressure on the organization has also been increased by a McClatchy report that suggested that the FBI had been investigating whether a top Russian banker with Kremlin ties illegally funneled money to the NRA to aid Donald Trump’s campaign for president. The Federal Election Commission has also opened a preliminary investigation into this question.
Editorials: The government is finally investing in election security | Wilfred Codrington III & Lawrence Norden/Slate
The 2,232-page budget bill President Trump signed Friday included a provision that election security and technology experts have been pushing for years: money to update the nation’s outdated voting infrastructure. It came on the heels of similar calls from the current and former chiefs of homeland security and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. According to a recent analysis, the $380 million from lawmakers is not enough to fully replace the most vulnerable parts of our electoral machinery (we probably need at least another $380 million directed to jurisdictions with the most vulnerable equipment to do that), but it will allow states to make real progress toward long-overdue upgrades and cybersecurity improvements.
Colorado: Federal judge blocks part of Colorado’s Amendment 71; secretary of state plans appeal | Denver7
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a key part of Colorado’s voter-approved Amendment 71, which made it more difficult for people seeking to get a measure on the statewide ballot for a vote. U.S. District Court of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez wrote in the order that parts of the “raise the bar” amendment, which was approved by 55 percent of Colorado voters in 2016, was unconstitutional. The portion deemed to be unconstitutional required people hoping to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to get signatures from at least 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.
Florida: Judge orders governor to create new process to restore voting rights of convicted felons | The Hill
A federal judge has ordered Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to create a new system to restore voting rights for convicted felons, the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker gave Scott and three of his elected Cabinet members until April 26 to create the new system. The order was part of an injunction issued by Walker in favor of the Fair Elections Legal Network, which successfully sued Florida over the state’s system for restoring voting rights to convicted felons. Currently, the state can strip convicted felons of their voting rights unless the decision is overturned by the governor and Cabinet. Those felons cannot register to vote unless they are given back their voting rights.
Illinois: DuPage County Board blasts election commission for stunning voting machine snafu | Naperville Sun
DuPage County officials did not mince words this week in criticizing their election commission for voting machine problems that resulted in DuPage being the last Illinois county to post results after polls closed in the March 20 primary. “There’s no excuse,” DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. “It’s stunning, to me, in the level of incompetence.” Critique during Tuesday morning’s County Board meeting followed an advisory referendum where 56 percent of voters said yes last week to a proposition for the county clerk’s office to take over election commission duties. The scrutiny also has brought to light other problem areas with DuPage elections.
Mississippi: Lawsuit: Mississippi Constitution still disenfranchising thousands | Jackson Clarion Ledger
Mississippi’s Constitution, born in 1890 from the cauldron of white supremacy, continues to bar thousands of Mississippians from voting, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges. “The scheme, created in the wake of Reconstruction, was harsh, punitive and unforgiving,” the lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center alleges. “Born out of racial animus and still disproportionately impacting black Mississippians, the scheme impermissibly denies the right to vote to tens of thousands of citizens across the state.” Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, put the number of disenfranchised Mississippians at more than 180,000 — 8 percent of the adult population. Gov. Phil Bryant opposes any change to the law.
Wisconsin: Judge today reaffirms ruling that Walker must call special elections for two seats that have been vacant over a year | Wisconsin Gazette
A circuit judge today reaffirmed a prior ruling that ordered Scott Walker to call for special elections in two legislative districts that have remained unrepresented for over a year. The seats became vacant when Walker tapped Republican Sen. Frank Lasee and Rep. Keith Ripp to serve in his administration. The initial ruling came from Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds, who was appointed by Walker. Reynolds ruled last week on a case brought by voters in the two districts, who argued that Walker’s failure to act had left them disenfranchised. Their judges asked Reynolds to force Walker to call the elections, and she did, ordering him to do so by Thursday.
Jean-Pierre Kalamba waved his hand over a map of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African nation that has delayed elections for two years since the president, Joseph Kabila, refused to resign after his term ended in 2016. Kalamba, an election official, said the government is struggling to raise the $1.8 billion the electoral commission says it needs to run the next poll, set for December 23. The commission’s budget goes through the legislature, controlled by Kabila’s party — the same people the opposition accuses of delaying the elections. He added, mistrust between politicians is at fever pitch, nearly every step the commission takes is scrutinized and criticized.
One manager threatened employees to get them to vote — and then checked for telltale ink-stained fingers as they clocked in the next day. A regional governor pledged improved water and sanitation service to towns with a high turnout. Some people were promised more food and even cash if they went to the polls. With President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi running virtually unopposed in this week’s election, Egypt’s leadership has made clear it considers a high turnout crucial to ensuring that the balloting has credibility. For months ahead of the balloting that began Monday and runs through Wednesday, pro-government media have pushed the message that voting was a patriotic duty to foil foreign plots against Egypt.
With allegations of Russian interference and a flood of “fake news,” the race for Mexico’s presidential election is shaping up to look a lot like the last one in its giant northern neighbour, the United States. The campaign for the July 1 polls officially opens Friday, but already the internet is swarming with dubious “news” stories: there are allegations of meddling by Moscow, and attention is fixated on scandal-rocked data miner Cambridge Analytica’s local activities. Trying to get ahead of the curve, the National Electoral Institute (INE) recently signed deals with Facebook and Twitter, and is due to sign another with Google, seeking to fight the fake with the true.
United Kingdom: British election spending laws explained – and why they need updating | The conversation
Back in November 2017, the Electoral Commission reopened investigations into allegations that Vote Leave, the official exit campaign in the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the European Union, had breached spending rules. Into 2018 this was a story that had rather bubbled under the surface. However, a slow drip of revelations regarding the work of Cambridge Analytica, unearthed by The Guardian, The Observer and Channel 4 News have brought the issue to the front and centre. It is worth reminding ourselves how the case got here, and what it means for the electoral integrity of the UK. During referendums in the UK, there are strict spending rules which designate the amount of money official, or “designated”, campaigns are allowed to spend. In 2016, Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe had a limit of £7m.
Not having a verifiable way to audit election results in some states represents a “national security concern,” the Trump administration’s homeland security chief said on Wednesday, looking ahead to U.S. midterm elections in November. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was prioritizing election cyber security above all other critical infrastructure it protects, such as the financial, energy and communications systems, the agency’s chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, told the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing to examine the Trump administration’s efforts to improve election security came following U.S. intelligence officials’ repeated warnings that Russia will attempt to meddle in the 2018 contests after doing so during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case. The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts. Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June.