Special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest indictment offers new details of just how deeply Russian operatives have infiltrated state and local election agencies across the U.S. — adding to years of warnings about the technologies that underpin American democracy. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday that hackers within Russia’s GRU military intelligence service targeted state and local election boards, infiltrated a Florida-based company that supplies software for voting machines across the country, and broke into a state election website to steal sensitive information on about 500,000 American voters. While the FBI had issued warnings in 2016 about hackers breaching state election websites in Illinois and Arizona, the latest indictments in Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe surfaced the most granular account yet on foreign operatives’ efforts to tamper with U.S. election systems. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the charges outline a Russian “attack on our democracy.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest move briefly hijacked a closed-door meeting of state election officials and federal cybersecurity personnel here last Friday, as phones buzzed with news alerts about his indictment against Russians allegedly behind a spree of hacks before the 2016 election. The interruption, described by several people in attendance, caught the room off guard. Some of the details in the indictment, describing the persistent efforts to compromise both Democratic Party and state election networks, were new to the officials present. That added urgency to the gathering’s mission—protecting the nation’s election machinery in November. It also reflected how tightly the secrets unearthed by Mueller’s investigators are held, even from the officials responsible for preventing a repeat in 2018.
Eighteen states made a list of the “most vulnerable” election systems in the country in a report published Thursday by the U.S. House Administration Committee. The states included in the report were faulted for lacking several of the things voting-security advocates frequently call for, including paper records of ballots and post-election audits. The report also states that the $380 million in funds currently being distributed to states by the federal Election Assistance Commission isn’t nearly enough, and that it could cost another $1.4 billion over the next decade for every state to properly secure its election systems. All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have now requested their share of the EAC’s grant money, but the report claims that much more will be needed to upgrade election officials’ information technology, implement cybersecurity training and swap out paper-free Direct Recording Electronic ballot machines, known as DREs.
The top state election officials from throughout the U.S. are gathering this weekend in Philadelphia amid fresh revelations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and just before President Donald Trump holds one-on-one talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The annual gathering has typically been a low-key affair highlighting such things as voter registration and balloting devices. This year’s meetings of the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors are generating far greater interest. The conference is sandwiched between Friday’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleged to have hacked into Democratic party and campaign accounts, and Trump’s long-awaited meeting with Putin.
Democratic secretaries of state consider election security a priority and will raise it repeatedly at a gathering of secretaries that begins today — in contrast, they say, to what they call President Donald Trump’s dithering on the subject. “While Trump continues to deny Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, and his administration neglects the urgent need to better safeguard our elections, it has never been more important for Secretaries of State to lead,” the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State said in a statement. “It is critical that state election officials do everything we can to defend our elections from foreign interference and cyber threats.” The National Association of Secretaries of State’s summer conference, which runs from today through Monday in Philadelphia, includes several sessions focused on cyber threats to elections, including a meeting of the recently created group that coordinates state and federal security efforts.
In late 2011, the Obama administration blocked a South Carolina law that required voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots, finding that it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of minority voters, who were more likely than whites to lack such IDs. But when South Carolina asked a federal court in Washington to approve the law, Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion upholding it. He ruled that the measure was not discriminatory, even though the Obama administration claimed that it violated the Voting Rights Act. Judge Kavanaugh, whom President Trump nominated for the Supreme Court recently, pointed to a 2008 Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law, which he interpreted as giving states broad leeway to restrict their voting procedures. “Many states, particularly in the wake of the voting system problems exposed during the 2000 elections, have enacted stronger voter ID laws, among various other recent changes to voting laws,” he noted in approval.
A vendor that provides key services for Maryland elections has been acquired by a parent company with links to a Russian oligarch, state officials said Friday after a briefing a day earlier from the FBI. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch made the announcement at a news conference in the Maryland State House, a gathering that included staff members of Gov. Larry Hogan. “The FBI conveyed to us that there is no criminal activity that they’ve seen,” Busch said. “They believe that the system that we have has not been breached.” In a letter Friday, Hogan, Busch and Miller asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for technical assistance to evaluate the network used by the elections board.
Mississippi is updating a voter registration deadline to meet a requirement of a 1993 federal law, giving people a bit more time to register so they can vote in runoff elections for federal offices. The state has required people to be registered at least 30 days before the first round of voting in an election. Runoffs happen three weeks later. The Mississippi NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Mississippi Center for Justice sent a letter to the state’s top election official in June. It said that under the National Voter Registration Act, people should be able to vote in runoffs if they’re registered at least 30 days before the runoff, not 30 days before the initial election.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu reversed course Friday and signed a bill imposing residency requirements on out-of-state college students who vote in New Hampshire. Current law allows students and others who consider the state their domicile to vote without being subject to residency requirements, such as getting a New Hampshire driver’s license or registering their cars. Lawmakers passed a bill this year to end the distinction between domicile and residency, but Sununu delayed action on it and asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in. The court issued a 3-2 advisory opinion Thursday saying the bill was constitutional. “House Bill 1264 restores equality and fairness to our elections,” Sununu said. “Finally, every person who votes in New Hampshire will be treated the same. This is the essence of an equal right to vote.”
New Jersey: How secure are New Jersey’s voting machines from hacking? This report may worry you. | NJ.com
New Jersey has some of the weakest election security in the country, according to a congressional report that placed the blame on former Gov. Chris Christie. New Jersey was named one of the five most vulnerable states to hacking in the report by the Democratic members of the House Administration Committee. The report said New Jersey’s voting machines do not have a paper record, making it “nearly impossible” to tell if they had been hacked and vote tallied changed. It said the state has requested funds from the federal Election Assistance Commission to improve security, and is considering legislation to require a paper trail for all voting machines. The other states with the worst security were Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina. In all, 18 states were vulnerable to hacking, the report said.
The Pennsylvania budget for 2018-19 includes a little more than $14 million to cover the cost of replacing the state’s voting machines. That’s a fraction of the projected $125 million it will cost to buy the more secure machines that meet the standards proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of State in April. So far, almost all of that funding has come from the federal government. The state has chipped in just 5 percent. Wolf wants the state to have more secure voting machines, all which provide paper ballots, in time for the 2020 presidential election. If the state and federal government don’t pick up more of the cost, the counties will be forced to pay. That possibility has county leaders worried, even as many acknowledge the state needs to replace the equipment, said Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
With Pennsylvania’s 67 counties under a mandate to replace their voting systems in time for the 2020 elections, election officials will be facing difficult decisions. But county commissioners — the people voters elect for that purpose — might be frozen out of selecting the voting machines residents will use for more than a decade. Under Pennsylvania’s election code, the county election board is empowered to make decisions on election-related equipment. In most years, county commissioners also serve on the elections board in their counties. However, the commissioners are barred from serving on the board in years they are running for re-election. Next year — 2019 — is an election year for county commissioners. In Mercer County, commissioners Matt McConnell, Scott Boyd and Tim McGonigle could all be running for re-election. If they do, they could be prohibited from choosing Mercer County’s new voting system, which could carry up-front costs of about $1 million. McGonigle said the commissioners would seek guidance on the matter from solicitor William Madden.
The Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Commission has filed an election complaint against San Juan County over incidents during the June 26 primary. County officials, in turn, have accused the Navajo Nation of “harassment.” It’s the latest salvo between the two sides in a contentious legal battle over elections in the Four Corners area. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby has ordered a special election for county commission and school board seats after he found racial gerrymandering took place. The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission said it had two poll watchers in Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley, monitoring interactions between voters and poll workers.
Cambodia ranks as one of the world’s most corrupt countries – but after an extensive forensic investigation, Al Jazeera found that corruption stretches far beyond the country’s borders, all the way to Australia. In 2016, the anti-corruption NGO, Global Witness, released a ground-breaking report exposing the widespread business interests of long-standing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, his family and their cronies. Hun Sen’s family was shown to have links to more than 100 companies across all sectors of the economy including tourism, agriculture, mining, electricity and the media as well as affiliations with top international brands. The family’s combined wealth is estimated to be anywhere from $500m to $1bn.
A Presidential election is now a certainty after Sinn Fein this afternoon decided to field a candidate. The decision was made following a meeting of the party’s Ard Comhairle today. A candidate will be selected at a later date. The party has set up a committee, chaired by Waterford TD David Cullinane, to establish a process for selecting a candidate. This process is expected to be outlined in the next 10 days. A candidate will then be nominated in the coming months. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said there has already been considerable interest from a number of potential candidates.
A week of bombings on political rallies has shattered the relative peace of Pakistan’s general election campaign, culminating in a devastating suicide attack that killed at least 130 people at a rally in the southwestern Baluchistan province. As campaigning intensifies, attacks in different areas of the country have stoked fear of more violence in the Muslim country of 208 million where political rallies can draw tens of thousands of people. The July 25 election features dozens of parties, with two main contenders: ex-cricket hero Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehree-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which vows to win a second term despite the jailing of founder, ex-Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif, on a corruption conviction.
United Kingdom: Russian agency suspected in US election hack may be behind UK poisoning | New York Times
The same Russian military intelligence service now accused of disrupting the 2016 presidential election in the United States may also be responsible for the nerve agent attack in Britain against a former Russian spy — an audacious poisoning that led to a geopolitical confrontation this spring between Moscow and the West. British investigators believe the March 4 attack on the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, was most probably carried out by current or former agents of the service, known as the GRU, who were sent to his home in southern England, according to one British official, one US official and one former US official familiar with the inquiry, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.
Zimbabwe: Mugabe is gone. But his tactics persist in Zimbabwe’s first election without him. | The Washington Post
Most Zimbabweans have only ever known one president: Robert Mugabe. But on July 30, a new man will represent Zimbabwe’s ruling party on the ballot for the first time in 38 years. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who went from being Mugabe’s right-hand man to his unseater, has taken the reins. Although he’s a party stalwart, Mnangagwa, 75, has cast himself as a beacon of change. And after decades of authoritarian rule that isolated Zimbabwe, he is promising to end the political violence and intimidation that characterized Mugabe-era elections. International observers are in Zimbabwe for the first time in decades. But accounts from opposition supporters in this rural constituency, 50 miles from the capital city of Harare, show how the ruling party’s intimidation and patronage apparatus is still very much intact.