Greasing the machinery of democracy can be tedious business. Aside from the occasional recount or a hanging chad, the bureaucrats who run state elections don’t usually see much drama in their work. But this year’s all-important midterms are no ordinary election cycle. So it was that election administrators from all 50 states received rarified, red-carpet treatment outside Washington earlier this year, as federal intelligence gurus granted them secret clearances for the day, shuttled them to a secure facility, and gave them eye-opening, classified briefings on the looming threat. The message, participants said, was chilling. Officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency and other agencies warned that the Russians had already shown they could hit hard in the 2016 presidential campaign, and they have been preparing to hit even harder — and no doubt in different ways — this time around. “This was a first for me,” Steve Sandvoss, who heads the Illinois elections office and attended the briefing, said in a recent interview. “I came out of there with the understanding that the threat is not going to go away.” The midterms will determine control of Congress, where a flip to the Democrats in the House or the Senate would no doubt intensify the pressure Trump is already facing from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Top U.S. intelligence and defense officials caution the threat to the U.S. in cyberspace is not diminishing ahead of November’s midterm elections despite indications that Russia’s efforts to disrupt or influence the vote may not match what it did in 2016. The warnings of an ever more insidious and persistent danger come as lawmakers and security officials have increasingly focused on hardening defenses for the country’s voter rolls and voting systems. It also comes as top executives from social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google prepare to testify on Capitol Hill about their effort to curtail the types of disinformation campaigns used by Moscow and which are increasingly being copied by other U.S. adversaries.
Something strange happens on election night. With polls closing, American supporters of both parties briefly, intensely align as one: We all want to know who’s going to win, and we don’t want to wait one more minute. The ravenous national appetite for an immediate victor, pumped up by frenzied cable news coverage and now Twitter, means delivering hyper-updated results and projections before any official tally is available. But the technologies that help ferry lightning-quick results out of polling places and onto CNN are also some of the riskiest, experts say. It’s been almost two years since Russian military hackers attempted to hijack computers used by both local election officials and VR Systems, an e-voting company that helps make Election Day possible in several key swing states. Since then, reports detailing the potent duo of inherent technical risk and abject negligence have made election security a national topic. In November, millions of Americans will vote again — but despite hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid poured into beefing up the security of your local polling station, tension between experts, corporations, and the status quo over what secure even means is leaving key questions unanswered: Should every single vote be recorded on paper, so there’s a physical trail to follow? Should every election be audited after the fact, as both a deterrent and check against fraud? And, in an age where basically everything else is online, should election equipment be allowed anywhere near the internet?
In the five years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities. The trend continues: This year alone, 10 counties with large black populations in Georgia closed polling spots after a white elections consultant recommended they do so to save money. When the consultant suggested a similar move in Randolph County, pushback was enough to keep its nine polling places open. But the closures come amid a tightening of voter ID laws in many states that critics view as an effort to make it harder for blacks and other minorities to vote — and, in Georgia specifically, the high-profile gubernatorial bid by a black woman. The ballot in November features Stacey Abrams, a Democrat trying to become the first black woman elected governor in the United States, versus Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state who has led efforts in Georgia to purge voter rolls, slash early voting and close polling places.
Private companies are stepping up to offer cybersecurity programs for midterm campaigns as Congress stalls on passing election security legislation. Microsoft is the most prominent name, unveiling a free cybersecurity program in August after the company revealed it had detected Russian hackers who appeared to target a pair of conservative think tanks. The company is joining a broad list of firms providing free or discounted security services, such as McAfee, Cloudflare and most recently Valimail, which is offering its anti-fraud email service to campaigns. Officials at companies said they felt obligated to step up to the plate and offer services that election officials or campaigns might otherwise not have access to — shortcomings that have been widely highlighted ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The first time I tried to vote, I stood in line in an elementary school hallway in Michigan. One class of kids had clearly been given an assignment to draw their favorite food, and I had a lot of time to study their Crayola stylings on the wall as the line inched forward over the course of several hours. Every last kid had drawn pizza. Behind me, someone said, “When I get done voting, I’m going to eat a whole pizza.” At the front of the line, a poll worker told me that I was in the wrong place. They gave me a new address, which was off the side of the highway and too far to walk to. I tracked down a friend with a car and we drove to the new place, which turned out to be a trailer park. It also had a line. This time, the walls of the polling station were decorated with a history of mobile home innovation that ended triumphantly with the invention of the modern manufactured home, which was no longer mobile. When we got to the front, the poll workers looked at us like we were crazy. They said we had to go back to the first polling site.
A week after election-day voting problems impacted 95 precincts and thousands of people, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes broke his silence in an unannounced Facebook live video. “We had some problems,” he said. “We didn’t deliver for all of our voters.” In the video, Fontes apologized for the issues that resulted in polling locations that were not ready for voters at 6 a.m. when voting was set to begin. On election day, Fontes blamed the issue on an IT contractor who he said did not provide the agreed-upon resources to set up the voter check-in machines. The Tempe-based contractor disputed Fontes’ claim and pointed the finger back on an unprepared Recorder’s Office.
The Guam Election Commission will not be conducting another recount, and will therefore not be conducting a hand count of ballots. The commission was responding to multiple requests for a hand count, including one from the gubernatorial team of Sen. Frank Aguon Jr. and Alicia Limtiaco – the presumptive second place finishers in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Ken Leon-Guerrero and Andri Baynum also requested a hand count. The men are initiating a write-in campaign for Aguon-Limtiaco in the general election. Last Saturday’s recount was automatically initiated after a newly adopted formula showed there was a 2 percent difference between Aguon-Limtiaco and the Democratic gubernatorial team of Lou Leon Guerrero and Josh Tenorio.
Massachusetts has received millions of dollars in federal funding to bolster election security, but most of it will not be spent until after the November election. Massachusetts has received millions of dollars in federal funding to bolster election security, but most of it will not be spent until after the November election. The Bay State has received $7.9 million from the federal government, which election officials plan to spend on voting equipment, voter registration systems and cybersecurity, according to documents shared with Wicked Local. About 81 percent, however, will be spent after the upcoming midterm election. State officials, nonetheless, say the federal dollars — while helpful — are not vital to running a safe and accurate election.
There’s at least one thing Republicans, Libertarians, independents and even some Democrats seem to agree on. They do not want voters to cast straight-party ballots in the November election. And they are asking the state Supreme Court to stop Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver from putting an option for straight-party voting back on the ballot after a Republican predecessor scrapped it about six years ago. In an emergency petition filed late Thursday, an unlikely assortment of political leaders and advocates argued straight-party voting is no longer allowed under New Mexico law. Moreover, they contend it violates the idea of equal protection under the Constitution for some political parties and independent candidates.
North Carolina: Electoral map to be used in midterms despite being ruled unconstitutional | The Hill
A court on Tuesday said there was not enough time to redraw a North Carolina redistricting map that had been ruled unconstitutional last month, meaning the map will still be used in the 2018 midterm elections. “Having carefully reviewed the parties’ briefing and supporting materials, we conclude that there is insufficient time for this Court to approve a new districting plan and for the State to conduct an election using that plan prior to the seating of the new Congress in January 2019,” the court ruling said, according to CNN. t55“And we further find that imposing a new schedule for North Carolina’s congressional elections would, at this late juncture, unduly interfere with the State’s electoral machinery and likely confuse voters and depress turnout,” it added.
U.S. Territories: U.S. solicitor general: Voting case hinges on state, not federal law | Virgin Islands Daily News
The federal government has rejected any responsibility for a law preventing some territorial residents from voting absentee in federal elections, court documents show. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed a response Wednesday in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that responsibility for potential harm for territorial residents who wish to vote absentee in other states where they have resided lies instead with an Illinois law. Francisco made the argument in response to a group of residents of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam who claim they were denied their constitutional right to vote absentee in Illinois because of the tenets of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The case, Segovia v. The United States, seeks a declared right to vote absentee for residents of the territories.
The Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates has filed a formal appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn a court ruling that found 11 House districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. A federal court ruled in June that lawmakers illegally packed black voters into the 11 districts and ordered lawmakers to redraw them by Oct. 30. Republicans say the districts are constitutional, and they filed noticed in July that they would appeal. House Speaker Kirk Cox’s appeal was filed Tuesday.
Afghanistan: Weeks away, critical Afghan elections threatened by violence, claims of manipulation | The Washington Post
In the lawless days of Afghanistan’s civil war, Zardad Faryadi was a young militia commander with a uniquely cruel reputation. From a highway checkpoint near Kabul, he extorted money from travelers and enforced his demands by threatening to let loose a menacing man who was later executed for killing 20 people, according to human rights reports. Faryadi fled the country but wound up serving 13 years in a British prison for conspiring to torture and take hostages in Afghanistan. Today, at 54, he is back home and attempting to run for parliament in elections scheduled just over six weeks from now. He seems like a changed man — reflective and eager to defend the rights of nomadic groups backing his candidacy. But he and 35 other candidates have been barred from running for legislative seats because of ties to illegal groups.
Leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will appeal his barring from October’s elections to the United Nations and Brazil’s Supreme Court, the man set to replace him on the ballot said Monday. The appeal will be accompanied by a request to suspend Friday’s decision by the Superior Electoral Court to prevent Lula from running for a potential third term as president because he is serving a 12-year jail sentence for accepting a bribe. After visiting Lula in prison in the southern city of Curitiba, Workers’ Party potential candidate Fernando Haddad said he had informed the former head of state of “all the possibilities at his disposal.”
Police arrested and violently dispersed scores of pro-democracy activists on Monday protesting against controversial voting machines that the government wants to use in key elections later this year. The pro-democracy movement Lucha (Struggle for Change) says the South Korean touch screen voting machines will pave the way for fraud in the long-delayed December 23 ballot. Police detained 22 Lucha activists briefly in Kinshasa as they demonstrated outside the office of the national electoral commission (CENI), police said. “They tried to march but were arrested by police. But there was no reason to hold them so I let them go,” Kinshasa police chief Sylvano Kasongo said.
Australia will co-lead the Multinational Observation Group (MOG) for the 2018 General Election. Together with Indonesia and India, the three parties will observe and evaluate the functions and operations of the Fijian Elections Office with respect to the 2018 Fijian General Elections. Acting Prime Minister and Minister responsible for Elections Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum signed the terms of reference for the MOG with the Australian High Commissioner John Feakes and the Indonesian Ambassador to Fiji Benyamin Scott Carnadi signing on behalf of the two countries. The Indian Government will be signing subsequent to the Indian High Commissioner returning from Nauru next week.
India: Supreme Court seeks Election Commission response on ‘private parties handling’ electronic voting machines | The Economic Times
The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought the Election Commission’s response on an allegation that electronic voting machines (EVMs) used in the last Assembly polls in Uttarakhand were handled by private parties, leaving them open to possible tampering. The petition, filed by a resident of Uttarakhand, argued that EVMs and VVPATs (voter verified paper audit trails) were handled by private parties in breach of the commission’s rules and in disregard of the recommendations of a committee which said physical contact was the only way these machines could be tampered with. The case, before a bench led by Justice AK Sikri, was argued by senior advocate Kapil Sibal. Citing RTI (right to information) replies, the petition claimed that the poll panel had conceded to have requisitioned the help of private security, transportation and other personnel during the elections.
A new online voting system based on the My Number identification system and blockchain technology has been introduced in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. Tsukuba, well known as a center for scientific research, is the first in the country to start using such a voting system, according to the city. The system allows voters to cast ballots via a computer display after placing the My Number card on a card reader. Blockchain technology is used to prevent the voting data from being falsified or read.
Rwanda’s ruling party was set to win three-quarters of directly elected parliamentary seats in this week’s poll, provisional results showed on Tuesday. Long-time ruler President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and its seven smaller allied parties, had 75% of the votes after Monday’s election, with 70% of ballots counted. Final results are not due until 16 September. Parties were vying for 53 of the country’s 80 directly elected parliamentary seats of which 24 are reserved for women, two for youth and one for the disabled, all chosen by special councils and national committees.