National: Voting machine vendor ES&S treated election officials to trips to Vegas, elsewhere | McClatchy Washington Bureau

The nation’s largest voting equipment vendor has for at least nine years coaxed state and local elections officials to serve on an “advisory board” that gathers twice annually for company-sponsored conferences, including one last year at a ritzy Las Vegas resort hotel. The arrangement could compromise the integrity of the officials’ decisions — or at the very least, the optics of those decisions — at a time when they are faced with efforts by Russia and perhaps other nations to disrupt the upcoming mid-term elections, ethics and elections experts said. As many as a dozen election officials attended the March 2, 2017 Las Vegas meeting, with a number of them accepting airfare, lodging, meals and, according to one participant, a ticket to a show on the Strip from their voting systems vendor, Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software (ES&S). Two other panel members said their state election boards paid for their trips. The unusual practice, which has not previously been reported, offers a glimpse of one way in which a voting equipment manufacturer has sought to cement relationships with government officials, some of whom play roles in the award of millions of dollars in contracts.

National: States need more money to secure the vote. Congress is unlikely to send it by November. | The Washington Post

Election officials from states spanning New England and the Midwest visited Capitol Hill yesterday with a clear message: Send us more money to help secure the vote. Yet lawmakers are acknowledging that states probably won’t get more federal funding for election security upgrades anytime soon — which does not bode well for states seeking to upgrade to their systems before an anticipated surge of cyberattacks surrounding the midterm elections. It also could hinder states trying to carefully plan longer-term improvements they hope to make for the next political cycle. The Secure Elections Act is the main bill senators are pushing to help states respond to the mounting threats. But at this point, senators “will not use this bill to send additional funding to states,” said a Republican Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to disrupt deliberations about the bill. 

National: Senate election security bill picks up momentum after stalling | Politico

Things are looking up again for the Secure Elections Act (S. 2261), the legislation on its namesake subject that has the broadest support in the Senate. Lawmakers left it on the cutting room floor as a potential amendment to a defense policy bill earlier this week. But Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt said Wednesday at a hearing on election security that it’s “a bill we will take up at some point.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the chief sponsors of the bill and the top Democrat on the Rules panel, told MC that Blunt informed her it would come up sometime after another election security hearing tentatively scheduled for this month or next.

National: State elections officials stress the importance of paper trails | StateScoop

Having verifiable paper trails for votes has proven to be a useful tactic, officials from three states told senators Wednesday, but they said states still have a long way to go in securing elections. Secretaries of State Steve Simon of Minnesota, Jay Ashcroft of Missouri and Jim Condos of Vermont testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee about their security precautions going into this November’s midterm elections, and to lobby for more federal support for upgrading voting equipment and cybersecurity practices. States across the country have been scrambling to batten down how they conduct elections in the wake of intelligence officials’ reports that hackers linked to the Russian government attempted to penetrate the voting systems in 21 states during the 2016 presidential election. But states that are moving toward more paper trails of ballots and stronger security around voter files are going in the right direction, the secretaries of state said. “It’s very hard to hack paper,” Simon said.

National: Officials at Odds Over Real, Perceived Threats to State Voting Systems | Government Technology

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Wednesday that the United States is in “a much better place” than it was in 2016 in defending against cyberattacks on election systems, but a hearing he convened on that threat devolved into fiery exchanges over voter fraud between Democratic senators and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. The Republican Ashcroft set off Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., when he declared that election fraud was “exponentially” a bigger threat than attempts to hack U.S. election infrastructures by Russians or any other bad actors.

Delaware: Same-day registration and early voting pass House | Delaware State News

The Delaware House of Representatives on Thursday approved two bills that would expand voting rights by allowing early voting and same-day registration. Both bills passed solely on Democratic support. They now go to the Senate. House Bill 400, which passed 22-18 with one absent, would allow an individual to register to vote on Election Day at a polling place. A person would be required to provide identification or another document displaying his or her name and address, such as a utility bill, paycheck, bank statement or government document. Approved by a 25-15 margin, with one member absent, House Bill 90 would let Delawareans cast ballots in elections for state, county and Wilmington offices “at least” 10 days before the actual date.

Florida: Court urged to reject state rights restoration process | Associated Press

With arguments at a federal appeals court little more than a month away, attorneys for nine felons filed a 72-page brief Thursday urging the judges to find that Florida’s system of restoring felons’ voting rights is unconstitutional. The brief asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that struck down the system. Arguments are scheduled July 25 at the appeals court in Atlanta. The restoration of felon rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida, and Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi changed the system after they took office in 2011 to effectively make restoration harder. Scott, Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis serve as the state’s clemency board and make decisions about restoration.

Kansas: Security Concerns Stall Kris Kobach’s Controversial Voter Tracking Program in Kansas | KMUW

A massive voter-tracking program run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — which purports to help states keep voter rolls accurate — has halted operations over concerns about its own accuracy and security. The Interstate Crosscheck system, which Kobach’s office promised would be working ahead of the 2018 elections, has been sidelined while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducts a security assessment following the unintended release of hundreds of voters’ private information. Each year, the Crosscheck program compares voter registration lists from more than two dozen states, searching for duplicate names. The stated goal is to prevent people from voting in more than one state and eliminate voter fraud — although being registered to vote in two states is not illegal. Crosscheck then sends a list of duplicate names to each participating state, the first step in a long process of voter list maintenance.

North Carolina: Thwarted before, GOP wants photo ID mandate | Associated Press

North Carolina legislative Republicans on Thursday advanced their goal of permanently requiring voters to show photo identification — a proposal previously thwarted this decade by veto and federal judges who declared a similar mandate racially discriminatory. Legislation to allow the state’s voters to decide whether to place a photo identification directive in their state’s constitution cleared a General Assembly committee on party lines. By taking the route of enshrining it the North Carolina Constitution, Republicans believe the idea would get permanent legal backing while putting an idea popular with their base on the November ballots in what’s expected to be a challenging political campaign for them. The bill’s next stop is the House floor in the final days of this year’s legislative session.

North Carolina: Voter ID constitutional amendment advances in House | News & Observer

A controversial change proposed for the state constitution gained momentum Thursday as Republican legislators demonstrated their continued commitment to requiring voters show photo identification at the polls. Voters in November would be asked if photo ID for in-person voting should be a constitutional requirement. Legislators would have the power to make the rules, which they could do any time after the election. As they voted to move the proposal to a vote of the full House, Republicans in a House committee knocked down two Democratic proposals, one of which was to wait until next year to write the photo ID rules. Democrats hope to win enough seats in the November election to eliminate Republicans’ supermajorities in next year’s session.

Pennsylvania: Top Republicans appeal gerrymandering case to U.S. Supreme Court | Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania’s top two Republican lawmakers filed an appeal Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a ruling that the state’s congressional boundaries constituted a partisan gerrymander and ordered them redrawn. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who twice were rebuffed by the court in seeking emergency requests to stop the redrawing of the maps pending appeal, now are asking the nation’s highest court to take up the case itself and rule on its merits. Their request comes as a deadline looms for passing legislation to change the way the state draws its election lines in time for the next re-mapping in 2021.

Congo: Voting machines raise worries in Congo ahead of elections | Associated Press

Congo’s government is moving forward with plans to use electronic voting machines in this year’s highly anticipated presidential election despite warnings from watchdog groups that transparency and credibility could suffer. The vast, mineral-rich nation is under pressure to ensure a fair election in December amid concerns that President Joseph Kabila, in office since 2001, will try to run again or hold on to power. He has remained after his mandate ended in late 2016 as the election has been delayed. While Kabila cannot legally stand for a third term, the opposition worries he will. Already the election delays have been met with deadly protests. As candidates face an August deadline to declare, the voting machines have become a focus of growing concern that the vote could be manipulated.

Iraq: Iraq set for election recount to salvage tainted result | Associated Press

Iraq’s Supreme Court on Thursday endorsed a manual recount of all ballots from last month’s national elections, but rejected the invalidation of ballots from abroad and from voters displaced by recent conflict. Authorities have been struggling to address allegations raised by underperforming parties that the May vote was marred by fraud. The court ruling concerned a law passed by parliament that mandated a full, manual recount of the vote, and ordered other measures that President Fuad Masum and the national elections commission described as political interference. Two-thirds of parliament’s current members lost their seats in the May polls, or did not stand for re-election. A warehouse storing ballots from eastern Baghdad was burned down days after the parliament filed the legislation. Outgoing parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri called it arson and said the fire was set to cover up fraud. 

Mexico: More Mayoral Candidates Murdered Days Before Elections | teleSUR

Yet another Mexican candidate was murdered on early Thursday morning, just days ahead of the July 1 general elections, bringing the total number of politicians killed since September 2017 to 121. Fernando Angeles Juarez, the mayoral candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party in Ocampo, was gunned down leaving his hotel Posada del Bosque in the state of Michoacan. Angeles died at the scene and no suspects have yet been identified. His death brings the number of politicians murdered since September 2017 to 121, making this the most violent electoral season in Mexico’s history. Hours before, Omar Gomez Lucatero, an independent candidate for mayor of Aguililla in Michoacan, was murdered Wednesday night next to the local cemetery, close to a military barracks.

Turkey: Erdogan Seeks Unprecedented Powers in Weekend Vote | Der Spiegel

The president begins his day with prayer, usually between 5 and 6 a.m. depending on when the sun rises. Then he spends half an hour on the treadmill and lifts weights. He has a light breakfast since he suffers from diabetes and drinks tea from the Black Sea. He reads memos from his advisers and the newspapers, usually the Islamist ones along with Sabah, which is run by a relative. At 8 a.m. Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets his chief of staff and his spokesman to go through the agenda for the day. At 11 a.m. he makes his way to the presidential palace. Erdogan lives with his wife in a villa on the grounds of the palace, which is located on a hill on the outskirts of Ankara. He had the palace built in 2014 and it’s a fortress that encompasses several buildings with a total of 1,000 rooms, a bunker and a clinic. Visitors are collected by car and brought by tunnel to the respective wing. The building is symbolic of the reign of this president: terrifying, powerful, isolated, controlled.

Zimbabwe: Social media introduces new dimension to 2018 polls | The Zimbabwe Mail

The shadowy Facebook character was an instant hit as a result of the mostly believable bits of whistleblowing, entailing what happened in exclusive closed door meetings among political stalwarts in a manner which at the time could lead to incarceration or abduction. Phrases like “Bhora musango” became common lingo in politics and there was a feeling that the publication of such dirty secrets would precipitate the ruling party’s collapse. A landslide victory for Zanu PF, however, was attributed to what was now considered misguidance from Baba Jukwa, and ironically that was almost the same time the account became inactive. Fast-forward to 2018, with only six weeks left before this year’s watershed polls, social media is playing a significantly influential role.