National: Election Hacking: Security Upgrades Are Too Little, Too Late for 2018 Midterms, and Race is Already on for 2020, Experts Say | Newsweek

Election experts, cybersecurity experts and those who are overseeing the upcoming midterms have one thing to say about stopping Russian interference in American elections: Forget 2018. It’s too late. Focus on 2020. Before President Donald Trump had even been sworn into office, intelligence agencies revealed that cyberattacks spanning across 21 states had been conducted under the direct order of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency’s report concluded that “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”  Despite this, lawmakers and federal officials took months, sometimes longer, to take action, with the result that most federal assistance arrived too late to protect the midterm elections. 

National: White House agrees to destroy documents collected by Kobach-led commission | Lawrence Journal-World

A public interest watchdog group said Thursday that the Trump administration has complied with an agreement to destroy sensitive voter registration information that was collected by a now-defunct advisory commission on which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach served as vice chair. The action came in response to two lawsuits, both of which have now been dismissed, in which separate groups sought to block the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from obtaining or keeping those records. “President Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud Commission was flawed from the start,” Paul Seamus Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at the Washington-based group Common Cause, said in a statement. “Common Cause and its 1.2 million members celebrate the end of this litigation and the destruction of the commission’s illegally collected voter data.” Common Cause was the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits. The other suit was led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, which agreed to dismiss its suit last week.

National: Does the CFAA apply to voting machine hacks? | FCW

For decades, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act served as the U.S. government’s most powerful tool to prosecute hackers. Over the years, virtually every high-profile cybercrime case in which federal prosecutors brought forth charges – from Aaron Swartz and Marcus Hutchins to Russian and Iranian -backed hacking groups – has used the CFAA as its cornerstone statute. As the U.S. heads into the 2018 mid-term elections, the government is facing intense political pressure to harden the security around election systems, while the Trump administration has also come under fire for not doing enough to draw bright lines around election infrastructure and signal to foreign nations that interference will come with great consequences.

National: Justice Department Warns It Might Not Be Able to Prosecute Voting Machine Hackers | Motherboard

After more than a decade of headlines about the vulnerability of US voting machines to hacking, it turns out the federal government says it may not be able to prosecute election hacking under the federal law that currently governs computer intrusions. Per a Justice Department report issued in July from the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force, electronic voting machines may not qualify as “protected computers” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the 1986 law that prohibits unauthorized access to protected computers and networks or access that exceeds authorization (such as an insider breach). The report says the law generally only prohibits against hacking computers “that are connected to the Internet (or that meet other narrow criteria for protection)” and notes that voting machines generally do not meet this criteria “as they are typically kept off the Internet.” Consequently, “should hacking of a voting machine occur, the government would not, in many conceivable circumstances, be able to use the CFAA to prosecute the hackers.”

Editorials: Passing the Secure Elections Act is the best way to shore up our democracy | Ben Parker/The Hill

It’s likely too late to save the midterms. Without a miracle, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in some states’ voting systems can’t be hardened against foreign cyber threats. But, at least, the damage that can be inflicted in November is limited to just a few states and localities. The looming crisis is in 2020. If, in mid-November two years hence, officials announce that foreign hackers infiltrated elections systems and the vote totals can’t be independently verified, we could face the biggest democratic crisis since 1876. Luckily, there is a bipartisan solution slowly working its way through Congress. Congress has received a lot of criticism of late for its inability to craft and pass productive legislation that does anything besides spend money (and even that it can barely do sometimes). The Secure Elections Act is a welcome exception to that rule. The bill has co-sponsors from across the partisan spectrum, from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the right to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on the left. It makes sense that a group of people who rely on elections for their jobs and their legitimacy wouldn’t want a hacker in Moscow or Beijing having more of a say than their constituents.

Arizona: Hackers? No, human error plagues Arizona primary voting | Associated Press

For all the worries about Russian hackers and other cyber-vandals, voting problems this week in Arizona served as a reminder that one of the biggest threats to fair elections is plain old human error. That appeared to be the case during Tuesday’s primary, when dozens of polling places in the state’s most populous county opened late because the voter verification machinery had not been set up. The Maricopa County recorder, the official in charge of running elections in and around Phoenix, said the contractor hired to connect the tablet-like devices didn’t send enough workers to complete the job on time. The contractor insisted it dispatched more people than the county requested.

Arizona: Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes defends his office | Arizona Republic

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes rode into office in 2016 in the wake of a “presidential preference” election that went terribly wrong, with people standing in line for too long at too few polling places. So when 62 of the County’s 503 polling places failed to open on time Tuesday morning, it begged comparison. Fontes, a Democrat, claims it is not the same at all. The company hired to set up the voting equipment, he said, did not send the number of technicians the county had contracted for, and so he had to “up-train” county employees to plug in wires and get the equipment ready for election day. The company said it did its job, and the problems were on the county end. 

Georgia: Voting companies demo paper ballots for Georgia | Atlanta Journal Constitution

Six election companies offered a first look Thursday at voting systems they’re trying to sell to Georgia, all of which have some sort of paper ballot combined with tabulation computers. All but one of the companies pitched touchscreen machines, similar to those currently in use, that print ballots as a backup to help ensure accurate results. The remaining company proposed hand-marked paper ballots, where voters would fill in bubbles next to their choices and then feed those ballots into scanning machines. Georgia’s elected officials are considering switching from the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines to a more secure system. Critics of the state’s current direct-recording electronic voting system say they’re concerned it could be hacked without any backstop.

Editorials: Paper Trail: Indiana vote security must include non-digital record | The Journal Gazette

Voters on both sides of the political aisle are approaching the Nov. 6 general election with concern – and for good reason. No less than the secretary of homeland security has confirmed the government has “seen a willingness and a capability on the part of the Russians” to hack into our election infrastructure, including voter rolls and voting machines. Congress made $380 million available to help states guard against cyberattacks, but Indiana’s $7.5 million share isn’t enough to provide the security Hoosiers deserve. Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced Indiana will use its federal funds to enhance election security but said those enhancements don’t include voting machines statewide capable of producing a voter-verifiable paper trail.  “The Secretary of State’s office will coordinate and plan with the Indiana General Assembly for future replacement of voting equipment since the required budget to replace direct-recording electronic voting machines without a voter-verified paper trail requires a larger amount than the available 2018 HAVA Elections Security Grant Funds,” Lawson wrote in a letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Michigan: Republicans Can Intervene in Michigan Redistricting Case | Courthouse News

Eight Republican congressmen from Michigan can intervene in a gerrymandering lawsuit filed by a women’s group and Democratic voters, a Sixth Circuit panel ruled Thursday. A district court panel had previously denied the lawmakers’ motion, citing a “significant likelihood of undue delay and prejudice.” The lawsuit, filed in December 2017 by the League of Women Voters and 11 Democratic voters against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, claimed Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally altered the state’s election map after the 2010 census.

New Hampshire: Citing Federal Judge’s Ruling, State Tells Towns Not to Compare Absentee Voters’ Signatures | NHPR

State officials are not challenging a federal judge’s decision to strike down New Hampshire’s “signature mismatch” procedures. Instead, they have instructed pollworkers not to compare a voter’s handwriting on their absentee ballot with the handwriting used on their absentee ballot application. According to instructions sent to local election officials on Aug. 24, local moderators should move forward with counting someone’s absentee ballot as long as it belongs to a registered voter whose name appears on the local checklist, the affidavit attached to the ballot “appears to be properly executed” and “the signatures appear to be the signatures of a duly qualified voter who has not voted at the election.”

New Mexico: Lawsuit likely over straight-ticket voting | Associated Press

New Mexico will become just one of several states to still allow the option to vote a straight-party ticket in the upcoming general election under an effort launched Wednesday by the state’s top elections chief. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she’s formatting the ballots to allow voting in which a slate of major party candidates can be chosen all at one time. The move drew immediate criticism from the Republican Party of New Mexico and others who described it as partisan maneuvering. Some critics even questioned the legality of Toulouse Oliver’s decision and threatened legal action, pointing to a vote by the Legislature in 2001 to abolish straight-ticket voting. Former Gov. Gary Johnson signed that legislation nearly two decades ago and is now running as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate.

North Carolina: Gerrymandering Drama Is Only Going to Get Worse | The Atlantic

Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for Republican state legislators in North Carolina to openly admit that they were drawing partisan gerrymanders. “I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law”—that’s how state Representative David Lewis, the chief GOP official in charge of redistricting, characterized the latest congressional maps. He’d been sent back to the drawing board in 2016 by a federal court, which said the previous maps he’d authorized constituted racial gerrymanders. So Lewis and his team, still seeking to maximize Republican advantage, opted to redraw districts along aggressively partisan lines instead.

Texas: Panel rejects proposal to close 87 driver’s license offices. For now. | The Texas Tribune

The Sunset Advisory Commission unanimously voted on Wednesday to reject a proposal to close 87 Texas Department of Public Safety driver’s license offices. DPS had recommended that the commission — which reviews state agency performance and recommends changes — vote to close the offices, most of which are in rural areas, citing office inefficiency. Commission members — five state senators, five state representatives and two members of the public — voted 11-0 against shuttering doors. One of the members of the public on the commission, Ronald Steinhart, was present but did not vote. Several members said some of the offices are the only ones in rural counties and serve low-income people who would unfairly shoulder the burden of having to drive long distances to a neighboring county’s driver’s license office.

Afghanistan: Parties Threaten More Protests In Absence Of Electoral Reforms | TOLOnews

Supporters of a number of political parties and political movements on Wednesday staged a demonstration in two areas of Kabul to press the Afghan political leadership and the election commission to meet their demands regarding the election process. The protestors criticized the Presidential Palace for its reluctance to create a joint commission of government and the political parties to undertake some basic changes in the election system and warned that they will expand their civil protests unless government and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) meets their demands for reforms in the election system. However the Presidential Palace (ARG) so far has not reacted to the move, but the election commission has hit out over the demands by the political parties – especially that involve a biometric system on election day.  

Brazil: Soup Kitchens and Soaring Deficits Hang Over Fraught Brazil Election | Bloomberg

In Brazil’s capital, a well-known rodizio — an all-you-can-eat steakhouse — offers a steep discount for choosing only one type of meat; at an upscale Italian eatery, you can now pay for lunch in installments; at a soup kitchen, shop owners join the homeless for a free meal. Faced with fewer customers, restaurants are dropping their prices for the first time in 13 years. “Brazilians have had to change their habits and go to cheaper restaurants,” said Paulo Solmucci Junior, head of the country’s bar and restaurant association. “Traditional, important restaurants have closed and many are at risk. We were optimistic this year. But the economy let us down.”

Mauritania: Mauritanians in last vote before key presidential election | AFP

Mauritania, a frontline state in the Sahel’s fight against jihadism, goes to the polls on Saturday for triple elections that will test head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s record seven months before a presidential vote. A record 98 parties will take part in legislative, regional and local elections for which more than 1.4 million people are registered. Potential run-off elections would take place on September 15. Aziz, 61, came to power in a coup in 2008. He was elected in 2009 and again in 2014 for a second five-year term. He has been frequently accused by opposition figures and NGOs of rights abuses, including the arrest of a former senator and the “secretive” detention of a blogger accused of blasphemy.

Rwanda: Observers urged to be impartial during elections | The New Times

Election observers should be neutral and objective as they monitor parliamentary polls due to take place from September 2 to 4. The call was made Thursday by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) while briefing over 950 observers who have been accredited to assess election activities. They include 184 foreign observers. Over 7.1 million Rwandans have registered to vote for their representatives in parliament for a five-year-term. Although observers enjoy the right to unfettered access to electoral processes, there are basic rules that guide them, said Loyce Bamwine, a commissioner at NEC as she was presenting election observers’ code of ethics. “Election observers should maintain strict political impartiality during the observation period,” she reminded them.

Sweden: The Online Twitter Trolls Are Coming for Sweden | Bloomberg

Twitter bots are proliferating ahead of Sweden’s election next month — and they are 40 percent more likely to support the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats than human users. That’s the finding of the country’s Defense Research Agency, which says the social media platform has moved to suspend many of these malicious accounts. Democracies across the world need to prepare for this threat: Radical parties, with or without external help, are using and perfecting this form of digital propaganda — because it appears to work so well. It’s spreading, too. Sweden didn’t figure in this year’s list of 48 countries where Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project found evidence of social-media manipulation. In 2017, there were only 28 such countries.

Thailand: Military junta may at last be ready to call an election | The Economist

September will sizzle with political intrigue in Thailand. The prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has announced that his military government will shortly begin discussions with political parties about restoring democracy. Every year since his junta came to power in a coup in 2014, it has promised—and failed—to hold an election. This time it may actually keep its word. The tentative date is February 24th. Mr Prayuth has also said that he will declare in the coming month whether he intends to remain in politics, and if so which party he will join. This is in spite of the fact that he previously insisted that he would neither support any particular political tribe nor run for office himself.