Cuba votes for a new National Assembly on Sunday, March 11 a key step in a process leading to the election of a new president, the first in nearly 60 years from outside the Castro family. The new members of the National Assembly will be tasked with choosing a successor to 86-year-old President Raul Castro when he steps down next month. Raul took over in 2006 from his ailing brother Fidel, who had governed since seizing power during the 1959 revolution. Eight million Cubans are expected to turn out to ratify 605 candidates for an equal number of seats in the Assembly, a process shorn of suspense and unique to the Communist-run Caribbean island nation.
Colombian voters turned to right-wing parties critical of the country’s peace deal with the main leftist rebels and knocked the current president’s party down in congressional elections, raising questions about the future of the accord. Sunday’s vote was seen as a barometer for a fiercely contested presidential election in May. It was also the first time former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, competed politically since disarming under the 2016 peace deal to end a half century of conflict. As expected, support for their radical agenda was soundly rejected, with FARC candidates getting less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. That means their political party will get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord.
In the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, political activists are raffling a car, while in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, the prize is an iPhone X. In Berdsk, the best selfie will be plastered across a billboard. The catch? To qualify for a chance to win, Russians must turn out to vote. There is little doubt that Vladimir Putin will win a fourth term as president in the election next Sunday, making him the first Kremlin leader since Stalin to serve two decades in power. But in an uncontested political field, the Kremlin is worried about turnout. And with concerns that Putin’s appeal alone may not be enough to get out the vote, officials across the country are experimenting with raffles, competitions and the occasional referendum – like one in Volgograd that asks voters whether they want to change time zones – all in an effort to ensure Putin wins with greater support than in 2012.
Rival supporters clashed in Freetown on Saturday after early results from Sierre Leone’s presidential election indicated a runoff would be needed with no candidate set to secure the 55% required to win outright. With incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma standing down after two terms, his All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara was just leading Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), based on 25% of returns from the National Electoral Commission (NEC). The NEC gave former foreign minister Kamara a near 45% share of the vote so far against 42% for former general Bio in Wednesday’s poll.
National: State Department Was Granted $120 Million to Fight Russian Meddling. It Has Spent $0. | The New York Times
As Russia’s virtual war against the United States continues unabated with the midterm elections approaching, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy. As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts. The delay is just one symptom of the largely passive response to the Russian interference by President Trump, who has made little if any public effort to rally the nation to confront Moscow and defend democratic institutions. More broadly, the funding lag reflects a deep lack of confidence by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in his department’s ability to execute its historically wide-ranging mission and spend its money wisely.
Senators are running into roadblocks from state officials as they try to craft legislation to secure election systems before the midterms in November. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are pushing for legislation that would bolster the security of U.S. voting infrastructure, with an eye toward countering threats from adversaries like Russia. But Lankford on Wednesday was forced to table an amendment to a bill moving through the Senate that was aimed at improving information-sharing between federal and state election officials on election cyber threats. State officials objected to the amendment. The development sparked frustration on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where lawmakers have been agitating for action. … The amendment would also mandate that election service providers, including vendors and contractors, notify state officials promptly if election systems — including voting machines, voter registration databases and election agency email systems — are breached, and that state officials provide the information to their federal counterparts in a timely fashion. The secretaries of state questioned whether states would be penalized if a vendor or contractor failed to notify state election agencies of cybersecurity incidents.
A US senator is holding the nation’s biggest voting machine maker to account following a recent article that reported it has sold equipment that was pre-installed with remote-access software and has advised government customers to install the software on machines that didn’t already have it pre-installed. Use of remote-access software in e-voting systems was reported last month by The New York Times Magazine in an article headlined “The Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machine.” The article challenged the oft-repeated assurance that voting machines are generally secured against malicious tampering because they’re not connected to the Internet. Exhibit A in the case built by freelance reporter Kim Zetter was an election-management computer used in 2016 by Pennsylvania’s Venango County. After voting machines the county bought from Election Systems & Software were suspected of “flipping” votes―meaning screens showed a different vote than the one selected by the voter―officials asked a computer scientist to examine the systems. The scientist ultimately concluded the flipping was the result of a simple calibration error, but during the analysis he found something much more alarming―remote-access software that allowed anyone with the correct password to remotely control the system.
Russian hackers poked and prodded voting systems throughout the country during the election of 2016, failing to change votes or alter registration rolls but succeeding in pointing out where the United States is vulnerable. In just a few months, they’ll almost certainly be back again, and if not the Russians, then any one of a…
Georgia: Plan to Scrap Vulnerable Voting Machines Moves to the House | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia lawmakers are preparing to ditch the state’s old and vulnerable electronic voting machines, but they haven’t fully committed to paper ballots that can’t be hacked. A bill to to replace all of Georgia’s 27,000 voting machines in time for the 2020 presidential election cleared the state Senate last week and is now pending in the House. Organizations seeking secure elections say they’re worried that Georgia could end up with an untrustworthy and expensive election system. The legislation has raised some concerns, including the lack of a requirement that manual recounts be conducted with paper ballots and the possibility that bar codes could be printed on the ballots. “Electronics make life easier, but they also can be manipulated,” said Sara Henderson, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a government accountability group. “We’re trying to get changes into the bill that will make paper the official ballot of record. “If we don’t have that language in there, we’ll have the same situation as we have now,” she said.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the ACLU fought at a trial Tuesday over a law that could affect whether thousands of Kansans will be able to vote this fall. The outcome will affect people like Charles Stricker, a manager at the Ambassador Hotel in Wichita who was the first witness. Stricker thought he had registered to vote in 2014 when he signed up at a DMV, but it turns out he wasn’t. He hadn’t provided proof of citizenship as required by a 2013 Kansas law. The ACLU has sued in federal court to permanently block the law, saying it is unconstitutional and has denied thousands of Kansans the ability to vote.
Utah: Legislature enacts widespread election law changes, including Election-Day registration | The Salt Lake Tribune
The Legislature approved sweeping changes to Utah’s elections and voter registration laws that supporters say will ensure that people like Gerardo Navarro’s vote counts in November. Navarro was at state offices in Draper recently, renewing his driver license, but didn’t notice a box that asked him if he’d like to update his voter registration. Navarro’s not alone. One in three eligible voters didn’t check the box to update his or her registration in 2016, according to county clerks who spoke in favor of registering voters automatically when they interact with the Driver License Division. “A lot of people think that because they got their driver license they were registered,” said Weber County Clerk Auditor Ricky Hatch. “A lot of voters would come in, like in 2016, and say I’m registered,” try to vote, and find out they weren’t. Not only will they be more likely to be registered under HB218, which passed on Wednesday, those who were eligible and tried to vote on Election Day but weren’t registered will be able to do so in the next election.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of El Salvador recognized Wednesday there was an informatics “error” in the software in charge of counting the votes of last Sunday’s legislative and municipal elections as one observer mission expressed concerns over the “complexity” of the voting system. “Given the irregularities related to the so-called informatics error, confirmed by the electoral authorities, investigations will begin in order to decide on the corresponding criminal or administrative responsibilities,” the General Prosecutor’s office (FGR) declared in a press release. The FGR said it would make sure the software results matched those of the tally sheets to guarantee transparency and legality in the electoral process. They also demanded that the TSE carefully look over the computerized vote counting. Francisco Campo, Smartmatic’s commercial director, said that a “human error” had caused the software to list the candidates in a disorganized way. As a result, the software had to process again 13,000 tally sheets, slightly changing the preliminary outcome.
Sierra Leone’s two main parties traded verbal blows on Friday (Mar 9), with the opposition accusing the government of planning to announce an unconfirmed victory for its candidate in presidential elections. The West African country held presidential, parliamentary and local council elections on Wednesday, which passed off largely peacefully until an opposition leader’s residence was raided. The National Election Commission (NEC) has asked for patience as it counts the ballots, saying it will prioritise accuracy over speed. It said on Friday it had yet to reach the 25 per cent mark required to release provisional results.
The head of the National Security Agency and U.S. cyber command has told Congress that the White House hasn’t instructed him to block a Russian attack against U.S. election systems this fall. “If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Adm. Michael Rogers said, adding to warnings from the secretary of state and chiefs of U.S. intelligence agencies that voting systems are vulnerable to attacks by foreign actors. Russian meddling in the 2016 election is now almost universally acknowledged. And while there’s no evidence that Moscow’s cyberactivity changed vote totals, we know Russian agents targeted voting systems in at least 21 states — and that whatever methods the Russians honed this past cycle they will likely use against us in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
The U.S. government has failed to share enough information about cyber threats, including risks to election systems, with federal agencies and states, according to a top Trump administration intelligence official. Intelligence agencies are “kicking butt offensively,” but the U.S. needs to be better prepared to defend against future attacks as adversaries constantly learn about “our gaps and weaknesses,’’ William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Thursday at a conference in Washington.
A bipartisan group of senators is pressing President Trump to issue a national strategy for deterring malicious activity in cyberspace “as soon as possible,” accusing successive administrations of not giving enough urgency to the issue. “The lack of decisive and clearly articulated consequences to cyberattacks against our country has served as an open invitation to foreign adversaries and malicious cyber actors to continue attacking the United States,” the senators wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill. “The United States has failed to formulate, implement, and declare a comprehensive cyber doctrine with an appropriate sense of urgency,” they wrote. “We urge you to end this state of inaction immediately.”
Democrats — and some Republicans — are pushing to boost funding for FBI counterterrorism teams and grants to states to protect against Russian meddling in elections. Lawmakers want more than $700 million for election security added to a sweeping $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that Congress must pass by March 23 to keep the government open. The House could take up the spending bill as early as next week. “We cannot leave states to their own devices in defending against the sophisticated cyber tactics of foreign governments,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and 14 other House Democrats wrote in a letter this week to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee. “An attack on the electoral infrastructure in one state is an attack on all of democracy in America.”
California: Trump administration is no help on Russian election meddling, California officials say | The Sacramento Bee
As the 2018 elections approach, California officials are taking steps to combat foreign interference, with or without the help of the federal government. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been critical in recent months of the federal government’s lackluster response to Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections, and Padilla renewed his criticism this week after a new report said the U.S. State Department has failed to spend money to combat foreign interference in our elections. The department has spent none of the $120 million allocated since late 2016 for combating foreign attempts to interfere in U.S. elections and sow distrust through social media, The New York Times reported Sunday. Padilla said the delay is another example of the passive approach President Donald Trump has taken in fighting suspected Russian efforts to attack state election systems.
Barbara Gaines’ son got a pardon from Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, and she got Scott’s autograph, too. The Orlando woman and her son were among the lucky ones Thursday. Dozens of other people who lost the right to vote from long-ago felony convictions remain in limbo because a federal judge has struck down Florida’s civil rights restoration process as unconstitutional. After waiting for years for their petitions to be considered, they traveled to Tallahassee to seek mercy from Scott and the three Cabinet members, who meet quarterly as the board of clemency. But with the restoration process discredited by the courts, the cases weren’t considered. “Several cases that were scheduled to be heard today have been continued because a federal judge has objected to our system for restoring civil rights,” Scott said as the meeting began. “Although we strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling, we will respect his order not to consider applications for restoration of civil rights while we appeal his decision.”
A federal judge rebuked Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach Thursday after his team tried to introduce data that has not been shared with plaintiffs’ attorneys into a trial. Kobach, a Republican candidate for governor, is handling his own defense with the help of two staff attorneys in the lawsuit against a Kansas law that requires prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has repeatedly warned Kobach’s team about trying to introduce evidence that has not been shared with the plaintiffs during the first three days of the high stakes trial, which will determine whether thousands can vote in Kansas this November.
Genesee County Clerk John Gleason powered up his work computer last summer and began sifting through his emails. To his shock, he said he found a “nasty, vulgar-laden” email in his sent folder, supposedly authored by him. “At first, I thought it was someone in the office playing a joke on me,” said Gleason, who has presided over every election in the mid-Michigan county of 410,000 residents since he was elected clerk in 2013. County workers tracked the source of the email to a Russian phishing link intended to hook users with the promise of dating or weight loss, Gleason said. A few months ago, a similar incident happened to his computer, which Gleason uses to help direct elections in Michigan’s fifth-largest county. … Computer scientists and elections experts consider the optical scan systems the best because they start with a paper ballot, which make it possible for election officials to double-check results if questions arise. But that doesn’t mean the machines can’t be hacked. Since Americans began using electronic voting machines 15 years ago, computer scientists have repeatedly warned that nearly every type of system is susceptible to manipulation.
Michigan residents with a valid identification card could register to vote online under advancing legislation backed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who argued the proposal would improve existing processes without jeopardizing security. The Senate Elections Committee unanimously approved the five-bill package Thursday morning after grilling Johnson on anti-hacking protocols, sending it to the floor for consideration. A House panel debated similar legislation later Thursday but did not immediately vote on the measure. The online system “would safeguard and add great efficiency to one of the most significant, fundamental rights of Democracy: one citizen, one vote,” Johnson told lawmakers. “This legislation would give me one more tool in my toolbox to improve technology, service and to keep our elections secure.”
Nevadans with a past criminal conviction may be deprived of their right to vote by confusing and likely illegal language on voter registration forms, according to a January letter from voting rights attorneys to Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. Letter co-authors at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on election law, said the wording on Nevada’s voter sign-up sheets could lead residents with a past conviction to think they’re not eligible to vote. In fact, first-time non-violent felony offenders in Nevada are automatically allowed to register at the end of their sentence. Only those convicted of two felonies, or one or more violent felonies, are barred from voting in the state.
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen’s campaign for U.S. Senate told the FBI on Thursday that it fears it has been hacked, amid growing concern that candidates in the 2018 election could be targets of cyberattacks. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, campaign lawyer Robert E. Cooper Jr. wrote that Bredesen’s aides became suspicious when someone pretending to be the campaign’s media buyer asked for money to be wired to an international account. The letter says the person used an email address nearly identical to the actual media buyer’s and knew about an upcoming TV campaign and its proposed dates. Cooper says the campaign hired a cyber-security firm that found the impostor emails were registered through an Arizona-based registrar.
Colombia’s FARC said Thursday it is pulling out of the country’s presidential race after its candidate, 59-year-old ex-guerrilla leader Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londono, suffered a heart attack. Ivan Marquez, a senate candidate and senior member of the political party formed by the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels, told reporters that party members decided not to field a candidate after Londono underwent open heart surgery on Wednesday. Since the peace deal struck with the government of outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos in late 2016, the FARC gave up its half-century armed struggle and became a political party keeping the same acronym. Colombia’s presidential election is scheduled for May 27, with a possible runoff vote set for mid-June.
Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, could not ask for a better mouthpiece than Khairy Ramadan, a talk-show host. When activists started a Twitter campaign to mock the president, Mr Ramadan proposed banning the social network. And like Mr Sisi he calls the revolution of 2011, when the previous strongman, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown, a foreign plot. But during his show on February 18th, Mr Ramadan talked of a police colonel who earns 4,600 pounds ($261) per month. To supplement his income, the colonel’s wife sought work as a cleaner. Mr Ramadan, who confessed to having a “soft spot” for the notoriously brutal cops, wondered why they were paid so little. He can now ask them directly. Apparently seen as disrespectful, on March 3rd he was arrested.
The Irish government has agreed the wording of a national referendum on abortion to be held by the end of May which could radically transform the lives of thousands of women and signal a further loosening of the grip of the Catholic church. The cabinet, meeting on International Women’s Day, approved a bill on Thursday allowing the long-anticipated referendum to go ahead. Voters will be asked if they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which since 1983 has given unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life, effectively enshrining a ban on abortion in the country’s constitution. If Ireland votes in favour of repeal, the government has said it will introduce legislation permitting unrestricted abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Within Italy, the big winners in the March 4 elections were the two populist parties, who between them pulled in roughly 50 percent of the vote. The 5 Star Movement, which emphasizes the “drain the swamp” part of the populist message, was the leading party, with 32 percent of the vote for both chambers of the Italian parliament. The League, more akin to the anti-immigrant policies Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, pulled about 17 percent, easily topping the center-right Let’s Go Italy (Forza Italia) of Silvio Berlusconi, disappointed in his hopes of returning to the forefront of Italian politics. Outside Italy, though, the undisputed winner was Vladimir Putin. Steve Bannon, who was in Italy for the election, may spin Italian events, not without reason, as confirmation of a populist wave that hit the U.S. as well in 2016. But the strong and public Russian connections of Italy’s populist parties could have very concrete impacts on Italian policy going forward.
Philippines: Comelec preparing for village polls amid fresh allegations of voting system breach | ABS-CBN
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said it would continue preparations for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in May despite fresh allegations that the electronic voting system was “compromised” in 2016. In a press conference, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body would push through with printing 18 million ballots for the village elections toward the end of the month or before the Holy Week. This despite new allegations of fraud that Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III bared on Tuesday, saying the 2016 elections may have been compromised.
Voting count continued Thursday in Sierra Leone with the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidates taking an early lead. The results from the Wednesday landmark vote, as widely predicted, indicated a tight race between APC’s Dr Samura Kamara and Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio of SLPP. The provisional results were released by the Independent Radio Network (IRN), while the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was yet to give any official tally. A total of 16 candidates are vying for the presidency.