New Hampshire: Secretary of State tells towns: No, you can’t delay elections even if it snows a lot | Concord Monitor

Just in case any town moderators were looking at the weather forecast and beginning to worry, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has some advice for them: Don’t even think about canceling elections. “New Hampshire law does not contain a provision that authorizes any public official to postpone an election,” Gardner wrote in a March 6 memo, which provides guidance on a variety of issues as New Hampshire heads into town meeting season. The notice comes in the wake of last year’s confusion when a huge nor’easter caused moderators in 73 communities to postpone ballot voting on March 14, 2017, the traditional Election Day on the second Tuesday in March.

North Carolina: Dozens of local elections boards paralyzed weeks before primaries | WRAL

With primaries two months away, North Carolina’s election system remains in legal limbo, and a court order issued Monday scrambled the situation even more. Twenty-five of the state’s 100 counties, including Wake and Cumberland counties, have no functioning elections board to settle questions of polling locations and early voting hours. Each of those counties has only two members on its elections board. They were allowed to function by a state Supreme Court order last summer while wrangling over the makeup of the state elections board played out in court. That wrangling dates to a December 2016 law that merged the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission into an eight-member panel evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. County boards, under that law, were expanded from three to four members, again evenly divided by party.

Albania: Opposition denies links to Russian election meddling | Associated Press

Albania’s Democratic Party, the main opposition group, has rejected allegations by U.S. publication Mother Jones that the party received secret funds from Russian sources during last year’s parliamentary election. Mother Jones alleged in an article published Tuesday that Russian-linked companies used a U.S. lobbyist to secretly meddle in Albania’s 2017 election. According to the article Nick Muzin, a former campaign aide for U.S. President Donald Trump, was paid by “a sketchy Scottish firm called Biniatta Trade, which was formed by two Belize-based shell companies … for work in the United States to help the Democratic Party of Albania.” “It appears that Russian-related entities secretly meddled in the United States in order to meddle in an election in Albania,” the Mother Jones story said.

Colombia: Former rebel leaders now battle for votes | AFP

Former Colombian rebels are returning to mountain strongholds where they once fought to the death, this time to campaign in the first elections held under a peace accord that ended a 50-year insurgency. They were greeted with hugs and red roses as they made their way up the slopes of the Cauca Valley in southwest Colombia. One of them is Pablo Catatumbo, who fought for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia starting in 1973. Now, he is 65 and looked after by a detail of 40 men — some ex-rebels and some former adversaries. Under the peace accord reached in late 2016 that led to the FARC’s disarming, the former rebels are guaranteed at least 10 of the 268 congressional seats up for grabs in the March 11 election. But they can gain even more, so former rebel leaders are out trying to win votes.

Latvia: Latvia can teach the U.S. a lesson or two on Russian meddling | USA Today

The tiny country of Latvia can teach the United States a few things about how to counter Russian meddling in politics. One important lesson from Russian efforts to exacerbate ethnic conflict, spread disinformation and possibly compromise Latvian officials is that Russian methods keep changing, according to advice from Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs. “When it comes to the use of information as a weapon or propaganda, Russia does not have an approach that one size fits all,” Rinkēvičs told USA TODAY on Wednesday. “There are different ways of conducting political meddling and also during political elections.” Rinkēvičs was in Washington for meetings to prepare for an April 3 summit with President Trump and the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Pakistan: From law to action: election reforms in Pakistan | Daily Times

“We have all the necessary and good laws in Pakistan, but we fail to implement them!” This is a common lamentation in Pakistan. Whatever the subject is — politicians, civil society, lawyers, journalists and governmental officials make this claim. But is this true? In one area that has attracted much public controversy, this was not the case: The election laws lacked many provisions needed for credible, transparent and inclusive elections. The controversies in the 2013 elections were not simply ‘losers crying sour grapes’. Genuine shortcomings in the election laws, which undermined Pakistani elections for many years were repeatedly pointed out by civil society, observers and eventually also confirmed in the inquiry commission setup to investigate the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) accusations of systemic rigging in 2013 general elections. The Commission found no systematic rigging but pointed to many systemic problems.

Sierra Leone: Police quash clashes after voting ends | Associated Press

Riot police put down skirmishes Wednesday in Sierra Leone’s capital as political tensions mounted after authorities visited the office of the leading opposition candidate. At least one person was treated for stab wounds following the melee that erupted after an SLPP opposition spokesman said police had come to search the party’s offices without a warrant. Their candidate, Julius Maada Bio, the man who was defeated in the 2012 election, later went on live television to criticize the move. “Counting has started and I have phones and laptops which I am using to tally the results of the counting,” he said. “I have established a tallying center in my office which is not against the law of this country. This is a legitimate affair.”

National: Top U.S. intel official insists White House engaged on election security | Reuters

The top U.S. intelligence official insisted on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is “actively engaged” in countering Russian efforts to influence the November elections, even as he warned of Moscow’s continuing “malign activities.”  “The White House is actively engaged,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate hearing, where lawmakers pressed for answers on election security. “This is a high priority for them,” he said. Coats and other intelligence officials have warned repeatedly that Russia is already trying to interfere in the 2018 mid-term elections by using social media to spread propaganda and misleading reports, much as it did during the 2016 presidential race.

National: Election Assistance Commission Carries On Despite GOP Resistance | GovExec

These could be tumultuous times for the tiny federal agency called the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In a mid-term election year in which the threat of Russian meddling in American balloting continues as front-page news, the 30-person staff in Silver Spring, Md., with its $9.2 million budget is forging ahead to help states and localities modernize voting equipment, recruit poll workers and make polling stations more accessible. Some Republican critics in Congress, however, have continued a years-old bid to defund the agency set up in 2002, calling it duplicative and proposing during this year’s continuing budget battle to move some functions to the Federal Election Commission.

National: Trump floats idea to secure elections: ‘It’s always good to have a paper backup’ | Politico

President Donald Trump has one idea to blunt the impact of Russian meddling in U.S. elections: “It’s called paper.” “One of the things we’re learning is, it’s always good — It’s old-fashioned — but it’s always good to have a paper back-up system of voting,” the president said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. “It’s called paper. Not highly complex computers, paper. A lot of states are doing that. They’re going to a paper back-up. And I think that’s a great idea. We’re studying it closely. Various agencies, including homeland security, are studying it very carefully.” Trump, who has acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 election but has said his team was not involved in the effort, has been adamant that Russia had “no impact” on votes. He told reporters Tuesday that other countries “probably” were involved in presidential-election meddling as well.

Editorials: Congress, don’t miss the mark on election security | Heather Engel/The Hill

Voter registration data in most states are public by law. What happens when voter registration data are compiled and parsed with data from internet browsing, shopping and social media? It’s a well-known fact that our foreign adversaries have attempted to influence and breach our election systems. We believe that they are trying to do so again and we need to stay two steps ahead of them in order to solve problems that may arise in securing voter data and the integrity of our election system. While we can all agree that elections systems are vulnerable, there is much more to the story. Ideas such as the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act, proposed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), would allow election officials access to classified information and would designate election systems as critical infrastructure. Designating these systems as critical infrastructure will trigger additional cybersecurity controls and require oversight at many levels, state and federal.

California: Voters with sloppy signatures must have a chance to correct them, court rules | The Sacramento Bee

California elections officials must notify voters before rejecting their mail-in ballots over concerns that the signature is not authentic, a San Francisco judge ruled this week. Current California election law allows officials to toss out vote-by-mail ballots if they suspect the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file for the voter, without giving the voter a chance to respond. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Northern California and law firm Cooley LLP sued Secretary of State Alex Padilla, arguing the practice is unconstitutional.

Massachusetts: Top court weighs 20-day voter registration cutoff | Reuters

Massachusetts’ top court on Tuesday weighed whether it should declare a requirement that people must register to vote 20 days before an election unconstitutional, in a case that could impact the ability of thousands of citizens to cast ballots. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in an appeal by the state’s top election official of a ruling by a lower-court judge in July holding that the registration cutoff violates the state’s constitution. Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat who oversees the state’s elections, appealed the ruling, arguing that the 20-day rule did not impose a severe burden on voting rights.

Pennsylvania: Hearing looms on Pennsylvania congressional redistricting issue | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The only certainty in the congressional redistricting case is that Republicans lose if they can’t persuade a three-judge panel to grant a preliminary injunction, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University law professor. The federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments Friday in Harrisburg. A preliminary injunction stops one side from taking an action while the other pursues its legal challenge. In this case, Republicans want to bar the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf from implementing a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2011 congressional map for Pennsylvania drawn by GOP lawmakers. Since there’s little debate that map — considered one of the country’s most gerrymandered — is unconstitutional, the only question seems to be whether it will be used one last time for the 2018 elections, Ledewitz said.

Pennsylvania: Residents call on county to return to paper ballots | GoErie

Four Erie County residents on Tuesday called on County Council to switch from electronic touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots to ensure the security and integrity of elections. Their comments come on the heals of last month’s directive by Gov. Tom Wolf ordering counties that plan to replace their electronic voting machines to replace them with machines that leave a paper trail. Wolf said the order would increase the security of voting and make elections easier to audit, according to the Associated Press. In November, federal officials identified Pennsylvania as one of at least 21 states that had its election system targeted by hackers before the 2016 presidential election, according to AP. “You don’t have a paper trail for each vote,” said Hugh McCartney of North East Township. ”…What are we going to do. I know two options: Either you pay up those millions of dollars or go back to paper ballots.”

Utah: House panel endorses bill to thwart GOP candidate nomination rule | Deseret News

Legislation aimed to thwart a newly passed Utah Republican Party rule threatening to expel candidates who gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot passed a House committee Monday. HB485 would ensure that candidates who have already filed for office would be allowed on the 2018 primary ballot. The measure would ensure that candidates can be on the ballot with their party affiliation, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, told the House Business and Labor Committee. “We want clarity for this election,” he said. “We want candidates who decided to gather signatures and/or go to convention to feel comfortable with their decision, maintain the status quo.” The committee endorsed the bill 9-3, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Washington: Legislation could lead to more district-based voting in Washington | KUOW

State lawmakers passed the Washington Voting Rights Act the week, meant to give underrepresented minority groups a larger voice in elections. And that could mean more district-based voting in the future. The act encourages local governments to use district-based elections, like city councils in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane do already. The state senate gave final approval of the act Monday, sending it to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.  Democratic state Representative Zack Hudgins was among the bill’s supporters. “The bill before us addresses the problems that we saw in Yakima, and that we’ve heard about in Pasco,” he said.

Editorials: Why the Dutch plan to scrap advisory referendums is a step back for democracy | Matt Qvortrup/The Conversation

Dutch voters will go to the polls on March 21 for a referendum on the Security Act 2017, a law which grants the authorities extended surveillance rights. As in many other states, such legislation has raised concern in the Netherlands that the government is snooping on emails and other personal communication. Unlike most countries, however, Dutch voters can currently do something about it thanks to a 2015 law that means the government must hold an advisory referendum if 300,000 voters call for one. But the Dutch government now plans to overturn this right in the future. On February 22, a majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, voted to scrap the referendum law. It’s unlikely that the vote will be undone by the Senate when it comes to vote on the issue.

Ireland: Abortion referendum details to be confirmed as activist vows to fight on | The Guardian

In 1983, Ailbhe Smyth was spat at and denounced as a “baby murderer” in the street as she campaigned for Irish women to have the right to abortion. Thirty-five years later, the activist is still at the heart of Ireland’s abortion battle, fighting for her daughter, granddaughter and other women to get control over their bodies. This time, she is hopeful that the country’s prohibition of abortion, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality, which is enshrined in the constitution, may be overturned in a referendum expected to be held on 25 May.

Italy: The Italian Implosion: Five Star’s Victory Signals a New Order | The Atlantic

In Italy’s national elections on Sunday, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, a long-time spy chief and a member of the center-left Democratic Party, was soundly defeated in his parliamentary race by a candidate without a party. The winner was a man who had been kicked out of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement because he admitted he’d broken a party rule and not tithed part of his salary back to the movement. The majority of the other ministers in the current government, a grand coalition of center-left and center-right led by the Democratic Party, also lost in direct contests, although they’ll enter parliament through a proportional system.

Russia: Why Russia’s presidential election is like no other | CNN

Russian President Vladimir Putin will win the election — that’s a given. He maintains the overwhelming support of the Russian people, while the state has kicked his main opponent out of the race and sanctioned other candidates in the running. The outcome is so deeply etched in stone, even Putin himself seems bored. His campaign has been woefully lackluster. But on March 18, there will be one thing for the President to worry about: Turnout. It could be embarrassingly low, some polls suggest, and could raise questions about the legitimacy of Putin’s long-running authority. Putin is seeking a second consecutive term as president — a fourth altogether — to cement his power.

Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone Hopes Election Can Move Nation Past Its Misfortunes | The New York Times

A deadly mudslide. A horrible Ebola virus that killed thousands. And a nation still in recovery from a civil war that killed more than 50,000 people. As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on Wednesday, they hope to elect a leader who can help them overcome these tragedies. More than a dozen candidates are vying for votes in Wednesday’s election in what officials hope will be a peaceful democratic transition more than five decades since Sierra Leone gained independence. Though recent elections have been peaceful, several episodes of violence have occurred at political rallies this time, at least one death has been reported and several people have been seriously wounded. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the European Union have all issued statements calling for a peaceful election, as have many of the candidates.

United Kingdom: Voter ID trials ‘risk disenfranchising vulnerable people’ | The Guardian

A group of more than 40 charities, campaign groups and academics have written to the government to warn that plans to trial compulsory voter ID at the local elections in May risk disenfranchising large numbers of vulnerable people. The letter to Chloe Smith, the constitution minister, says the pilot scheme is a disproportionate response to the scale of electoral fraud, noting that in 2016 there were just 44 allegations of voter impersonation, the issue that compulsory ID is intended to combat. It said Electoral Commission figures indicated that 3.5 million people in Britain – 7.5% of the electorate – do not have access to any form of photo ID.

Russia: Here’s how Russia set to gain from M5S and Lega’s success in Italy’s election | CNBC

The anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing Lega party were arguably the main winners at Italy’s election on Sunday, with both parties seeing their share of the vote grow dramatically. Russia has courted anti-establishment parties around Europe in recent years and, having formed an allegiance to both Lega and M5S, is also expected to gain from the result. Both parties, which could have a strong say in the next Italian government, have criticized sanctions on Russia and could remove them if in power. Lorenzo Fontana, deputy leader of Lega, told CNBC on Monday that Moscow would be pleased with the party’s success. “We want to have good relations with Russia; we want to see Russia as a normal and natural partner with Europe,” he said.

National: Senators make new push to improve election cybersecurity | The Hill

The coming week could bring movement on legislation aimed at securing U.S. voting infrastructure from cyber threats. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) are planning to introduce an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would help states modernize their election systems. Harris and Lankford are both sponsors of the Secure Elections Act, a bill they introduced in December that would set up a grant program for states to replace outdated paperless voting machines and take other steps to bolster cybersecurity. Harris said at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting that the amendment will implement “bipartisan election security measures to modernize election cybersecurity across America and protect against foreign interference on future elections.”

National: Jailed Russian: Here’s How I Hacked The U.S. Election | Fast Company

Konstantin Kozlovsky is ready to talk. The 29-year-old blonde-haired Russian hacker at the center of the intrigue surrounding the Kremlin’s cyberattacks on the 2016 U.S. presidential election currently sits in a high-security prison with the forbidding name of Matrosskaya Tishina (Sailor’s Silence) in northeastern Moscow. Kozlovsky is officially charged with stealing millions from Russian banks, but he’d prefer to brag about how he built the software used to hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other U.S. targets. At a small hearing in a Moscow court earlier this month, with only a handful of media outlets present, Kozlovsky said he was ready to present detailed evidence that the Kremlin was directly involved in a series of high-profile attacks, including compromising the DNC’s computer systems in 2016, as well as those of the U.S. government, military, social media companies, and leading U.S. publishers. In an interview with Fast Company conducted over the last two weeks via a verified representative, Kozlovsky was able to provide more details for his claims about the role of the Russian government, and how the program he developed was designed to wreak havoc.

Editorials: Five things Trump could do to stop Russia’s meddling | Doyle McManus/Los Angeles Times

Last week, the Pentagon’s cyberdefense commander was asked whether the government has done enough to protect the 2018 congressional election against Russian hacking. “We’re not where we need to be,” Adm. Mike Rogers told a Senate committee. Rogers echoed warnings from other intelligence officials that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to keep meddling in U.S. and foreign elections until someone makes him stop. “President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay here,” Rogers said. “If we don’t change the dynamic, this is going to continue.” Time is short: This year’s primary elections begin March 6, in Texas.

Alabama: Thousands march across Edmund Pettus Bridge to pay homage to Bloody Sunday | The Selma Times‑Journal

Thousands of people marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of Bloody Sunday — a day where marchers were beaten, tear gassed and trampled while fighting for the right to vote on March 7, 1965. Sunday’s march marked the end of the 25th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which started Thursday. Marchers came from across the country to walk across the same bridge as the foot soldiers of the voting rights movement, who helped change history. Vivianna Rodriguez came from Mobile, and this was her second time marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Her first time was when President Barack Obama came to Selma in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Indiana: Election reforms approved by Senate die in House |

Two potentially transformative election reforms approved by the Indiana Senate likely will not become law this year after failing to pass the House by Monday’s deadline for acting on Senate measures. Neither Senate Bill 250, authorizing “no excuse” absentee voting, nor Senate Bill 326, establishing standards for legislative redistricting, received formal consideration by the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. They therefore could not advance for a vote by the full House on whether to send them to the governor. It’s possible, though improbable, that the Senate still could force a House vote through the conference committee process.