Former FBI director James Comey on Sunday dismissed a House intelligence committee report that found no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign as a “political document”. Interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press, Comey said the most important investigation into Russian election interference and alleged links between Trump aides and Moscow was being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Senate judiciary and intelligence committees are also investigating. Democrats on the House committee protested the conclusions of the report, claiming the Republican majority had acted primarily to defend Trump.
National: The Justice Department Deleted Language About Press Freedom And Racial Gerrymandering From Its Internal Manual | Buzzfeed
Since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors. In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial.” References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone. Language about limits on prosecutorial power has been edited down. The changes include new sections that underscore Sessions’ focus on religious liberty and the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on government leaks — there is new language admonishing prosecutors not to share classified information and directing them to report contacts with the media. Not all changes are substantive: Long paragraphs have been split up, outdated contacts lists have been updated, and citations to repealed laws have been removed.
Editorials: The House’s Russia report has some good ideas — but bias drowns them out | The Washington Post
Of the three major investigations into Russia’s 2016 election interference, the House Intelligence Committee’s has been the briefest, sloppiest and most partisan. The result is a report released Friday that contains some useful information and recommendations — which will be drowned out by its slanted attacks on the intelligence community and its other attempts to give President Trump cover. “In 2015, Russia began engaging in a covert influence campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the report begins. “The Russian government, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, sought to sow discord in American society and undermine our faith in the democratic process.” Although these sentences suggest that the committee does not live in the president’s world of total denial, the committee neverthe less refused to accept that the Kremlin tried to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Mr. Trump.
Anchorage paid slightly more than $1 million to hold the city’s first-ever vote-by-mail election this spring, roughly twice the cost of previous poll-based elections, according to data released by election officials Friday. Elections officials said they weren’t surprised by the higher price tag for the election, an experiment that recorded the highest number of voters in an April city election in city history. But the bigger bill likely won’t go away anytime soon, officials said.”It looks like going forward we will probably have higher election costs doing vote-by-mail than we did the poll-based election,” said Assemblyman Pete Petersen, who chairs the Assembly’s ethics and elections committee.
As expected, state lawyers on Friday appealed Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray’s decision to block the voter identification law. The judge ruled Thursday that the General Assembly had created the requirement that voters show government-approved photo identification by inserting an unsupportable contradiction in the state Constitution, which controls the election process. With early voting starting May 7, less than two weeks away, Secretary of State Mark Martin and the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners went right to the Arkansas Supreme Court rather than petition Gray to stay her own order. Martin, represented by Deputy Secretary of State A.J. Kelly, the secretary’s general counsel, and the commissioners, through Dylan Jacobs, assistant solicitor general for the Arkansas attorney general, launched separate appeals almost simultaneously Friday.
A move by a Kansas House Republican would keep GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach from using state money to pay for being found in contempt of court. Kobach, who is running for governor, was found in contempt of court by a federal judge earlier this month. The legislation was offered by Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin. He said the move would prohibit using any state money for defense or penalties involved in a finding of a contempt of court by statewide elected officials. That would include the governor and the secretary of state. “You pay your own bills if you get yourself in that kind of trouble,” Jennings said. The change passed, 103-16. The overall budget bill that includes the prohibition is still a ways from making it to Gov. Jeff Colyer’s desk.
A group with ties to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is challenging a 2018 ballot initiative that aims to end political gerrymandering by empowering an independent commission to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution filed a challenge Thursday with the state elections board, announcing that it had also sued in the state appeals court a day before. It contends ballot committee Voters Not Politicians is seeking to amend so many parts of the state constitution that a constitutional convention is required, and that the proposal does not list all of the sections of the constitution that would be abrogated.
A single statewide question greets voters on the May 8 ballot, asking them to amend the Ohio Constitution to create what backers claim will be a less partisan way to redraw congressional districts each decade. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed it. It has a broad swath of bipartisan support from government watchdog, business, labor, and agricultural organizations. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the plan would still allow partisan gerrymandering, isn’t asking voters to reject it. Keary McCarthy, one of the leaders of the “yes” campaign on Issue 1, said a modest budget of less than $500,000 will focus on promoting the broad, bipartisan support. But he also knows that the multistep process involved could be relatively confusing to explain.
Editorials: Ohio redistricting proposal unites strange bedfellows | Dan Krassner/Cincinnati Inquirer
Political reformers across America are paying close attention to how Ohioans vote on May 8. But it’s not about candidates or political parties. It’s about how you vote on Issue 1, the ballot measure that would end gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional districts. Gerrymandering is when politicians draw the boundaries of those districts in order to create an unfair advantage for one political party over another. Ohio voters get the first say on the topic of ending gerrymandering this year before voters consider similar ballot initiatives in November in Michigan, Missouri, Utah and Colorado. Seventy-one percent of Ohio voters approved another Issue 1 in 2015 to end gerrymandering of state legislative districts. This year’s Issue 1 ends gerrymandering of federal congressional districts. If passed, it would create a fair system to draw congressional district lines in an open, transparent manner, with citizen input. It’s a common-sense reform that would bring fairness and a level playing field to congressional elections.
Pennsylvania: Lancaster County will try to avoid replacing voting machines that already have paper trails | Lancaster Online
Lancaster County officials are taking a “cautious” approach to what they believe could be a costly, and perhaps misplaced, directive that they replace their 12-year-old voting system by the end of 2019. Each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties must implement a new voting system that meets two qualifications, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The system must leave a “voter-verifiable paper record,” and it must be among the systems approved by the department in 2018 or later. Though Lancaster County is among the minority of counties that still have voting machines with paper trails, its system is from 2006. “We felt like our paper ballot system would qualify but as of right now it does not,” said Commissioner Dennis Stuckey. “What we’ll have to do is press the case and see if we can convince them that we will qualify. So far they’ve told us (our system) will not be certified.”
Amid efforts to prove Texas’ embattled voter ID law is discriminatory, a federal appeals panel on Friday OK’d state lawmakers’ efforts to rewrite the law last year to address faults previously identified by the courts. On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling that tossed out the state’s revisions through Senate Bill 5. The lower court had said the changes did not absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against voters of color when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011. But the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing flaws in the voter ID law in 2017, Judge Edith Jones wrote in the majority opinion for the divided panel, and the lower court acted prematurely when it “abused its discretion” in ruling to invalidate SB 5.
Australia: New South Wales Electoral Commission appoints Scytl for iVote refresh project | Computerworld
Scytl has won a $1.9 million contract to upgrade the NSW Electoral Commission’s iVote application. The 2017-18 state budget included funding to enhance the iVote system, which provides browser-based Internet voting and telephone voting. iVote has been used in two NSW elections, as well as the 2017 WA election and nine NSW by-elections. There have been two versions of iVote; Scytl developed the core voting system used by the application from the 2015 NSW election onward. iVote has three key components: A registration and credential management system, which were both developed by the NSW EC; the Scytl core voting system; and a telephone system built by the electoral commission for vote verification.
Canada: Elections Canada braces for cyberrisks as new voter-registration technology is prepared for 2019 election | The Globe and Mail
Elections Canada is working closely with Canadian security officials to address the “real risks” of potential hacking as the agency prepares to roll out new electronic voter-registration technology for the 2019 federal election. Elections Canada has secured commitments from its outside contractor that the Apple iPads deployed at some advance polls will have never been used − and will never be used in the future − in countries outside of Canada’s “Five Eyes” security partners. Internal documents reveal the sensitive discussions taking place inside Elections Canada as it prepares for an election campaign in an era when countries around the world are grappling with allegations of foreign interference and hacking in the democratic process.
Campaigning for Malaysia’s May 9 general election began on Saturday, pitting Prime Minister Najib Razak against his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad in a contest marred by claims of sabotage and a skewed electoral system. Najib leads his undefeated ruling coalition into arguably its toughest election since independence from Britain in 1957. He is grappling with a multi-billion-dollar scandal at a state fund, public anger over living costs and an unprecedented challenge by the 92-year-old Mahathir. Mahathir, returning to politics after retiring 15 years ago, will stand in the holiday island of Langkawi. Prime minister for 22 years before stepping down in 2003, Mahathir returned to challenge Najib after a billion-dollar scandal at state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A coalition of labor groups and migrant workers’ unions yesterday urged the government to improve the working conditions of migrant workers and allow them to vote on referendums related to labor issues. About 70 migrant workers and labor rights advocates yesterday held banners and shouted “live together, decide together” in a demonstration in front of the Central Election Commission office on Xuzhou Road in Taipei. Amendments to the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) have greatly affected migrant workers, because they have the toughest work conditions, said Hsu Wei-dong (許惟棟), a member of the Hope Workers’ Center in Hsinchu.
Police and soldiers went to the ballot box for the first time in Tunisia on Sunday, casting votes in municipal elections after the lifting of a longtime ban. Most Tunisians will vote on May 6 in the municipal polls — the first since the North African country’s 2011 revolution — but members of the security forces cast their ballots a week earlier. “This is a historic day. For the first time we are exercising a right of citizenship,” a police officer told AFP at a polling station in central Tunis, asking to remain anonymous.
Plans requiring voters to prove their identity before casting their ballot are deeply flawed, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has said. The group said it appeared the plans were a “calculated effort by the government to make voting harder for some citizens”. Pilot schemes will be in place at Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking councils in the local elections in England on 3 May. The ERS said personification fraud, in which someone votes while pretending to be someone else, is “incredibly rare” and the introduction of mandatory voter ID poses more problems than solutions. The ERS chief executive, Darren Hughes, said: “It’s hard not to see this as a calculated effort by the government to make voting harder for some citizens. “As such it’s vital we think about the risks these changes pose to a free and fair franchise in the UK. We need policy based on hard facts, not rumour and innuendo.
Department of Homeland Security official Jeanette Manfra defended the agency’s work to help secure voting systems before midterm elections. DHS has “adopted an aggressive posture” to help state officials secure their voting infrastructure and will do all it can ahead of Election Day, Questioning the DHS assessment that 21 states had been targeted by Russian hackers prior to the 2016 election, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pointed out that number reflects only the number of states that had sensors or tools in place to capture the scanning activity. Manfra largely agreed with that interpretation. DHS will use the $26 million in additional election-security funding provided by the March omnibus to increase vulnerability assessments and other services it offers states.
Despite these efforts and newly appropriated funds provided by Congress to states for election security, the US remains vulnerable to attack and election interference according to an editorial in The Washington Post. “[M]ost states are using electronic voting machines that are at least a decade old, many running antiquated software that may not be regularly updated for new security threats. Though most states recognize that they must replace obsolete machines, not much has changed since 2016.”
Signatories of an open letter to election officials in all 50 states include subject matter experts from think tanks and universities, former state election officials and former federal government officials. State and local election officials have been deliberating over how to make the best use of a $380 million election improvement fund that Congress included in an omnibus spending bill last month.
An Arkansas judge blocked a voter ID law that’s nearly identical to a measure the state’s highest court found unconstitutional about four years ago. State lawyers immediately appealed the decision citing the fact that early for primary election begins in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, a Texas voter ID law considered one of the strictest in the country will stay in effect for the 2018 elections after an appeals court upheld the law.
An 188 member panel was appointed by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to review options for the state’s voting system, including hand-marked paper ballots and electronic machines with a voter-verified paper trail.
Following a mandate from Governor Tom Wolf that all Pennsylvania counties upgrade their election equipment by the end of next year, a voting equipment demonstration at the state Farm Show complex this week offered election officials and the public to view new equipment from ClearBallot, Dominion Voting Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart Intercivic, and Unisyn Voting Solutions. How counties will pay for the new equipment has not been resolved.
A federal lawsuit challenging the inability of residents of Guam and other U.S. territories to vote for president has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2016 when a federal judge ruled that former Illinois residents who live in the territories do not have the right to cast absentee ballots in Illinois. There is no fundamental right to vote in the territories, the judge stated, citing U.S. Supreme Court decisions called the “Insular Cases.” The Insular Cases state constitutional rights do not necessarily apply to places under U.S. control.
Dog sleds carried some ballots to polling stations for Greenland’s election on Tuesday, in which economic issues and independence from Denmark were among the most pressing issues for Greenland’s 54,000 residents in the election.
Campaigning for Malaysia’s May 9 general election began on Saturday, pitting Prime Minister Najib Razak against his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad in a contest marred by claims of sabotage and a skewed electoral system.
National: DHS cyber official calls election security a priority; GAO report says agency’s risk mitigation efforts fall short | SC Magazine
The Department of Homeland Security’s chief cybersecurity official Jeanette Manfra testified in a Congressional committee hearing yesterday that her agency is “doing everything that we can” to protect the nation’s electoral infrastructure, including prioritizing any state’s request for a voting system risk assessment. But while DHS has made important strides in developing programs and measures for mitigating cybersecurity risks that threaten federal operations and critical infrastructure, the agency is still falling short of recommendations issued two years ago by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, according to a new report issued as written testimony from Gregory Wilshusen, GAO’s director of information security issues.
As this year’s midterm elections approach, the country is still unprepared for another Russian attack on the vote, and President Trump continues to send mixed signals — at best — about what he would do if the Kremlin launched an even more aggressive interference campaign than the one that roiled the 2016 presidential race. In last month’s omnibus spending bill, Congress set aside more than $300 million for states to invest in hardening their election infrastructure. They have a lot to do. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks election technology and procedures nationwide, reports that most states are using electronic voting machines that are at least a decade old, many running antiquated software that may not be regularly updated for new security threats. Though most states recognize that they must replace obsolete machines, not much has changed since 2016.
Download letter as PDF On March 23rd, Congress allocated $380 million to states to upgrade election security. This is a positive development. In the age of unprecedented hacking risks, researchers have found that electronic voting infrastructure — including voting machines and registration databases — have serious vulnerabilities. While there’s no evidence that vote totals were…
An Arkansas judge on Thursday blocked a voter ID law that’s nearly identical to a measure the state’s highest court found unconstitutional about four years ago. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray granted a preliminary injunction barring the law from being enforced and finding the measure unconstitutional less than a month before Arkansas’ May 22 primary. Early voting for the primary begins May 7. Gray called the measure an unconstitutional attempt to impose additional requirements to vote, siding with a Little Rock voter who challenged the law. “Plaintiff is faced with the choice of complying with the unconstitutional requirements imposed by (the voter ID law) or not having his ballot counted during the May 2018 preferential primary,” Gray wrote. “The court finds that this is not really a choice at all, and that irreparable harm would result to plaintiff in the absence of a preliminary injunction, as his ballot will not be counted.”
Georgia: Group appointed to seek replacing Georgia’s electronic voting machines | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Monday appointed an 18-member group of election officials, state legislators, political party representatives and voting experts to recommend the state’s next election system.
The group, called the Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission, will hold public meetings across Georgia and review options for the state’s voting system, including hand-marked paper ballots and electronic machines with a voter-verified paper trail. Kemp announced earlier this month he was forming the study group to evaluate options to replace the state’s electronic voting machines, which don’t leave an independent paper backup that could be checked for accuracy of election results. He created the group after the Georgia General Assembly failed to pass legislation to move the state to a new voting system.
Pennsylvania is starting the process of replacing its voting machines. And at the state Farm Show complex this week, election administrators and the public got a chance to see what the new ones might look like. The display comes soon after Governor Tom Wolf handed down a mandate that all counties upgrade their election equipment by the end of next year, leaving officials scrambling to figure out how to afford it. Most of the current election machines are totally electronic. That became a point of concern in the wake of the 2016 elections, when federal officials told the state that the system had been targeted by hackers.
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could not only require Texas to redraw its congressional districts, but give states a way to defend against claims of gerrymandering. This is the third case the justices will hear this term about how states draw legislative maps to gain a political advantage. Cases from Wisconsin and Maryland focus on whether those maps can be too partisan. The Texas case is a more traditional challenge to how state lawmakers draw the lines using voter data. The long legal saga over the Lone Star State’s congressional and statehouse maps stretches back to what state lawmakers decided right after the 2010 census. And the outcome now could influence how states draw new congressional maps after the census in 2020.
A federal appeals court upheld Texas’ voter identification law on Friday, saying that it does not discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. The decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, overturned a lower-court ruling that had struck down the law. It was the latest milestone in a years long legal battle over the state’s efforts to require voters to show government-issued identification in order to cast a ballot. The panel’s decision, by a vote of 2 to 1, was the first time a federal court had upheld the law, a revamped version of one of the toughest voter ID restrictions in the country.
U.S. Territories: Territorial voting rights case appealed to U.S. Supreme Court | Pacific Daily News
A federal lawsuit involving the inability of residents of Guam and other U.S. territories to vote for president has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court typically hears about 80 cases out of the thousands of petitions it receives each year. It announces its docket in early October. In November 2015, six U.S. citizens, who all are former Illinois residents now living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed a lawsuit in Illinois’ northern district court with the nonprofit groups Iraq, Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands. The group argued that the laws allowing them to vote in particular areas, but not certain U.S. territories, including Guam, are a violation of their equal protection rights, according to court documents.
Dog sleds carried some ballots to polling stations for Greenland’s election on Tuesday, a sign of the hurdles the country faces before it gains its long-held goal of independence from Denmark. Just 56,000 people live on the huge Arctic island. It has no roads between the country’s 17 towns and only one commercial international airport. Consequently, a local fisherman took ballots by dog sled 150 kilometers across Greenland’s ice sheet to Savissivik, one of the island’s most remote towns, near the U.S. air base in Thule, the government said in a press release.
“Phantom” voters, electoral roll tampering, mysterious power blackouts during recounts — Malaysian activists are gearing up to battle widespread cheating at what they fear will be the dirtiest election in the country’s history. Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing a tough test at the May 9 poll due to a corruption scandal surrounding state fund 1MDB, discontent over rising living costs, and a challenge from veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad. While vote-rigging has plagued previous Malaysian elections, observers fear the high stakes mean that cheating by the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition will be more rampant than ever before.
National: Bannon directed Cambridge Analytica to research discouraging voter turnout, whistleblower says | The Hill
Whistleblower Christopher Wylie told House Democrats on Tuesday that former Trump campaign strategist Stephen Bannon asked Cambridge Analytica to research voter suppression techniques. Wylie told House Judiciary Democrats and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a private briefing that Bannon directed the British research firm to explore methods for “discouraging particular types of voters who are more prone to voting for Democratic or liberal candidates.” The whistleblower also told House Democrats that Bannon directed the firm to test messaging regarding Russia, Vladimir Putin and Russian expansion in Eastern Europe. “It was the only foreign issue or foreign leader, I should say, being tested at the time I was there,” Wylie told lawmakers.