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.

Editorials: America is still unprepared for a Russian attack on our elections | The Washington Post

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.

Verified Voting Blog: Letter to State Election Officials on Best Practices for Voting Funds

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…

Arkansas: Judge blocks state’s revived voter ID law | Associated Press

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: New voting machines go on display; counties search for ways to pay | WHYY

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.

Texas: Congressional Map Comes Under Supreme Court Scrutiny | Roll Call

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.

Texas: Voter ID Law Does Not Discriminate and Can Stand, Appeals Panel Rules | The New York Times

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.

Denmark: Dog sleds rush in ballots as Greenland voting polls close | Reuters

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.

Malaysia: From dead voters to blackouts: Malaysia braces for ‘filthy’ poll | AFP

“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.

National: Trump pushes to swap Electoral College for popular vote | Politico

President Donald Trump on Thursday voiced support for doing away with the Electoral College for presidential elections in favor of a popular vote because the latter would be “much easier to win.” The president’s support for a popular-vote presidential election came as an aside during a freewheeling Thursday morning interview with “Fox & Friends,” the Fox News morning show he is known to watch and from which he receives almost unflinchingly positive coverage. Trump made the remark amid a larger point about public figures who publicly support him in turn benefiting from a boost of popularity from Trump supporters.

Editorials: Why gerrymandering is going to get even worse | Richard Pildes/The Washington Post

As the Supreme Court increasingly confronts cases challenging partisan gerrymandering, one underlying question appears to be: Is this getting worse? The answer is yes. There are some structural reasons for that. For years, party control of the House was stable. Now it’s regularly up for grabs.  For at least 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, partisan control of the House was never perceived to be at stake during any redistricting cycle. The Democratic Party dominated the House; the Republican Party consigned itself to being the permanent minority; and no one in either party thought partisan control of the House could switch hands in any upcoming election.

Colorado: Bill Aims to Register 10,000 Parolees to Vote | Courthouse News

A Colorado bill encouraging 10,000 parolees to vote passed the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs on Thursday. The Voter Registration Individuals Criminal Justice Act, which passed with a 4-3 vote and had bi-partisan sponsorship, would pre-register parolees so they would automatically be able to vote upon completion of their sentences. Parole officers would inform the parolees of their voting rights and put to rest an urban myth that prior offenders can’t participate in state elections. Bill sponsor, Representative Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, told the committee that he regularly encounters people while campaigning door-to-door who wrongly believe prior felony convictions prevent them from voting. A proponent of restorative justice, Lee has described the United States as “the Incarceration Nation.”

Florida: Prison Reform Group Calls for Full Restoration of Felons Rights | Public News Service

The Reverend Al Sharpton and other local and national church and civic leaders are expected to rally in Tallahassee Thursday, calling for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons. The issue of felons’ rights has long been controversial but in recent weeks a judge struck down the state’s current system of restoring voting rights to felons and ordered a new system to be instituted by April 26. Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet had a month to revamp the rules, but it was only last night that he called on the Cabinet to have an emergency meeting to address the issue after failed attempts to challenge the ruling in court.

New Jersey: Voting Machines: Is Safe Enough Good Enough? | NJ Spotlight

Although the state’s voting machines aren’t linked to the internet, experts warn that gives officials a false sense of security. What’s needed are machines that deliver a paper audit trail of every vote. The hacking of election results, rumored to have occurred in 2016 and feared to be possible now and in the future, can happen here, say experts. They worry that New Jersey’s current voting process is vulnerable, and the state’s ballot system has been graded among the least secure in the country. Still, the state’s chief election and security officials are confident in the integrity of New Jersey’s voting procedures. Since voting machines are not connected to the Internet, they believe there is no cause for concern. They have no plans to replace equipment that were put into service 15 years ago or longer. Despite this, some legislators and advocacy groups are not convinced. They point out the voting machines in use are relatively antiquated and do not meet recommendations of national experts.

Texas: To prevent gerrymandering, voting rights groups want Texas citizens to draw the maps | Dallas Morning News

To prevent gerrymandered districts, a coalition of civil and voting rights groups wants Texas citizens to draw the state’s electoral maps. For seven years, the state of Texas has defended its statehouse and congressional maps against allegations that they were drawn in 2011 with the purpose of minimizing the voting power of African-Americans and Latinos. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case for the second time, and if the justices side with the map’s challengers, they could hear the case again before it’s resolved.

Texas: Woman Hit With 5 Year Sentence For Inadvertent Illegal Vote Asks For New Trial | TPM

The 43-year-old Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison last month for filling out a provisional ballot while she was still on supervised released for a felony tax fraud conviction has requested a new trial. Crystal Mason and her attorney, Alison Grinter, filed a motion for a new trial in Tarrant County, Texas on Wednesday, arguing that not only did Mason not actually vote — her provisional ballot was rejected — in the 2016 presidential election, she may have been eligible to vote in the state of Texas, Grinter told TPM Wednesday. According to the motion shared with TPM, in the state of Texas it is legal for a person to vote if they have a state felony conviction, but only if they are out prison, are off probation and off parole or supervision. When Mason cast her provisional ballot — which she filled out with an election official because her name was not on the voter roll — she was on federal supervised release, which is a period of interaction with federal authorities that is tacked on to the end of every federal prison sentence.

International: Study reveals remarkably high proportion of national elections are not free and fair | phys.org

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics have found that the number of elections across the world has reached an all-time high, but that this has done little to increase the quality of democracy in the world. The findings published today by Yale Books in ‘How to rig an election’ demonstrate that a remarkably high proportion of national elections are not free and fair – enabling authoritarian leaders to remain in power – with the emergence of new technology playing a part in the process of manipulation. Based on more than 500 interviews, and their own experience of watching elections on the ground in countries including; Belarus, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Thailand and Tunisia, Professor Nic Cheeseman and Dr. Brian Klaas reveal the extent of the democratic decay that has benefitted dictators around the world.

Europe: EU piles pressure on social media over fake news | Reuters

Tech giants such as Facebook and Google must step up efforts to tackle the spread of fake news online in the next few months or potentially face further EU regulation, as concerns mount over election interference. The European Commission said on Thursday it would draw up a Code of Practice on Disinformation for the 28-nation EU by July with measures to prevent the spread of fake news such as increasing scrutiny of advertisement placements. EU policymakers are particularly worried that the spread of fake news could interfere with European elections next year, after Facebook disclosed that Russia tried to influence U.S. voters through the social network in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election. Moscow denies such claims.

Armenia: Armenia plans leader elections after shock resignation of Prime Minister | The Guardian

Armenia’s opposition secured another victory on Thursday as the country’s parliament said it would hold a special session and new leader elections after weeks of protests and the resignation of its prime minster. The elections, set for 1 May, are part of a three-step opposition plan for a transition of power that includes electing a “people’s prime minister” and then holding snap parliamentary elections. Nikol Pashinyan, the charismatic leader of the opposition who has called for the country to root out corruption and voter fraud, appeared the favourite to be elected prime minister.

Congo: Election This Year Is Only Solution, Ruling Coalition Says | Bloomberg

The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold postponed elections in December, a spokesman for the ruling coalition said in a bid to allay fears of more of the delays that have previously sparked fatal protests. “No other solution is possible in the current electoral process except the organization in December 2018 of presidential, national and provincial elections,” the Presidential Majority’s Andre-Alain Atundu told reporters Thursday. There’s “abundant proof” of President Joseph Kabila’s determination to hold the polls, Atundu said, pointing to the government financing the electoral commission’s preparations. Elections were supposed to take place before the end of Kabila’s second term in December 2016, but the vote wasn’t organized in time. The president remained in office despite the two-term limit in Congo’s constitution, sparking protests in which many were killed by security forces. The central African nation, which gained independence from Belgium almost six decades ago, has never had a peaceful transfer of power.

India: In Karnataka, Tibetans can vote but won’t | The Hindu

Inside the sprawling Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe, life goes on as usual, almost untouched by the poll fever that has the rest of Karnataka in its grips. The last State Assembly elections in Karnataka were held in 2013, a year before the Election Commission (EC) made way for children of Tibetan refugees to be included in the electoral rolls. A large number of Tibetans in exile in the three settlements at Bylakuppe and Hunsur in Karnataka would have had their first shot at exercising their right to vote in the 2018 State Assembly elections. But the Periyapatna taluk administration, under which fall the two (old and new) Tibetan settlements in Bylakuppe, and the Gurupura settlement in Hunsur, said they had “not been approached by anyone from the community to be enrolled as voters”.

Venezuela: Maduro set to abolish voting rights and other freedoms, Colombian president says | Miami Herald

It’s hard to know what will happen next in Venezuela, but what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told me in an interview this week should raise alarm bells throughout the hemisphere. Santos said during a visit to Miami that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hand-picked Constituent Assembly is drafting a new constitution that would be made public after Venezuela’s May 20 presidential elections. The new charter would officially turn Venezuela into a Cuban-style dictatorship, he said. Maduro, already a de facto dictator, is running for re-election for another five-year term. He has prohibited top opposition leaders from running against him, banned international election observers and refused to allow an independent electoral tribunal. The United States, European Union and all major Latin American countries — including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — have said that they won’t accept the results of Maduro’s sham election.