Venezuela: Electoral authority rejects President Maduro′s mega-elections | Deutsche Welle

In a setback to President Nicolas Maduro, the CNE announced it would not be able to organize all the elections on one day. The OAS and the US have criticized the vote, set to take place in April. The National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela has ruled out the possibility of carrying out legislative, state and municipal elections, in conjunction with the scheduled presidential elections on April 22, as President Maduro had proposed.  Tibisay Lucena, the president of the CNE, announced the decision on Friday, saying that the electoral authority would not be capable of preparing such a range of elections so soon. “We are now not prepared to make a presidential election coincide with other elections that are technically more complex,” Lucena said.

National: New EAC chairman will continue to focus on election security | Cyberscoop

Thomas Hicks has been tapped to chair the Election Assistance Commission, an agency that is considered central to protecting the U.S. election infrastructure from cyberthreats, the commission announced on Friday. Reuters reported on Thursday that Republican House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, decided not to recommend former chairman Matthew Masterson for a second term as one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Commissioners are recommended by congressional leadership, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. According to Reuters, some state officials were surprised that Masterson was not considered for a second term as commissioner, given that he has focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.

National: State Department launches $40M offensive against foreign propaganda | The Hill

The State Department is launching a $40 million initiative to crack down on foreign propaganda and disinformation amid widespread concerns about future Russian efforts to interfere in elections. The department announced Monday that it signed a deal with the Pentagon to transfer $40 million from the Defense Department’s coffers to bolster the Global Engagement Center, an office set up at State during the Obama years to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation. The new influx of funds will bolster the center’s operations in the current fiscal year.

National: Senate intelligence panel may miss target for election security recommendations | Politico

The Senate Intelligence Committee may miss its target for making election security recommendations to states facing potential Russian disruption during the midterms — but its GOP chairman is eyeing a contingency plan. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and the panel’s Democratic vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, have long eyed next week’s first congressional primaries as their ideal date to release election-protection recommendations. The intelligence committee’s counsel to states would amount to the first formal fruits of their yearlong bipartisan investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

National: Most states disenfranchise felons. Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote from prison. | NBC

Joseph Jackson was one of the millions of Americans inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 White House bid. A black man in the nation’s whitest state, he coordinated voter registration drives and cast his first-ever ballot for the candidate who would become the nation’s first African-American president. And he did it all while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison, serving 19 years for manslaughter. That’s because Jackson, 52, was convicted in Maine, one of just two states that allow felons to vote from behind bars. In the U.S., nearly all convicted felons are disenfranchised during their prison sentences and, often, barred from the ballot for years after release. Sometimes, offenders lose the right to vote for life.

Connecticut: Bills focus on protecting voter rolls; I.D. theft a potential issue | Connecticut Post

How to keep voter files safe from identity theft and other threats is the focus of two bills under consideration by the Government Administration and Elections Committee. The bills, which received a public hearing Monday at the Capitol, would limit who can obtain copies of voter rolls, what information they could access and what they can do with that information. They would also allow people with safety concerns or municipal police to opt out of having their information available on public voter rolls.

Kansas: Mail Ballot Bill Clarifying Disabled Voters’ Rights Moves Through Kansas Legislature | KMUW

Sedgwick County leaders are optimistic a law will be passed this year that makes sure voters with disabilities can vote by mail.  County commissioners have backed two bills in the Kansas Legislature clarifying that voters who can’t sign their mail-in ballot envelopes will still have their votes counted. State law already allows voters to receive assistance filling out their mail-in ballots if needed. One of those bills — sponsored by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita — passed unanimously through the Senate last week. Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis says he thinks there’s a good chance it’ll pass through the House just as easily.

Maine: U.S. too passive, vulnerable to elections cyberthreat, Sen. King says | Portland Press Herald

U.S. Sen. Angus King is warning that not enough has been done to secure electoral systems across the country from cyberattacks by Russia or other foreign adversaries, and he says President Trump has been making the situation worse by dismissing the threat rather than marshaling a coordinated federal response. “This is such a major threat, and it takes presidential leadership to coordinate an all-of-government response,” said King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and beyond. “The CIA, the director of national intelligence, the secretaries of state – these are all pieces, and it takes executive leadership to pull the pieces together and do it. He hasn’t done that.”

New Hampshire: New Hampshire Not Among States Seeking Cybersecurity Help Ahead of 2018 Elections | NHPR

With its paper ballots and in-person registration requirements, New Hampshire’s voting system is less digitally wired — and therefore somewhat less susceptible to cyberattacks — than many of its peers. But this state, like all others, also maintains an online database with personal information on all of its registered voters. Federal security officials have offered to scan these systems for possible vulnerabilities as part of a broader package of “cyber-hygiene” efforts ahead of the 2018 elections, but New Hampshire election officials have said no thanks. More than 30 states have reportedly partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to safeguard their systems against hacking in advance of this year’s midterm elections. At this point, New Hampshire isn’t one of them — and the state’s elections officials remain wary of allowing the federal government to in any way encroach on their autonomy when it comes to voting procedures.

New Jersey: New Jersey Bill Proposes to Give State’s Prisoners Right To Vote | Wall Street Journal

New Jersey lawmakers are proposing a bill that would make the state the third in the country to allow prisoners the right to vote. The bill would let people who are incarcerated, on parole and under probation supervision vote, a change supporters say is critical to addressing racial disparities in New Jersey’s criminal justice system. Under current law, New Jersey residents can’t vote if they are incarcerated or on parole or probation. About 94,000 people currently fall into these categories, according to state officials. Shavonda Sumter, a state assemblywoman from Paterson, N.J., said black residents make up a disproportionate share of the state’s prison population—and stripping them of their voting rights violates constitutional protections that that say people can’t be prevented from voting based on their race.

Legislation: Ohioans may have to dig deep to cover cost of new voting machines | Dayton Daily News

Across Ohio, counties are coming up with innovative ways to repair the state’s aging voting machines, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to replace. In Darke County, an elections worker bought small springs from a farm supply store that he used to hold together a flap on voting machines. In Montgomery County, spare parts are cannibalized from dead machines and pirated from other counties to keep units limping along. And in Clark County, maintenance costs keep climbing on machines built long before anyone held an iPhone. “It’s time for a replacement,” said state Sen. Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican who is sponsoring a bill that will spend somewhere between $90 million and $118 million on new voting machines for all 88 Ohio counties.

Wisconsin: For state officials, election security a concern heading into 2018 elections | Wisconsin State Journal

Amid warnings that Russia will again try to meddle in U.S. elections in 2018, state officials are sizing up Wisconsin’s defenses — and saying past missteps must be avoided in working with national-security officials who can spot such threats. The state Elections Commission also hopes lawmakers will act on a request for more funding to hire three more staffers, including at least one position dedicated to election security. Russian government cyberactors unsuccessfully targeted Wisconsin election systems in July 2016 as part of a broader effort to interfere in U.S. elections, federal intelligence officials have concluded. The commission said Homeland Security didn’t notify it until September 2017, about 14 months later, that it believed the attempted cyberattacks came from hackers tied to the Russian government.

Wisconsin: Eric Holder’s group sues Gov. Scott Walker over special elections | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sued Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Monday over his refusal to call special elections to fill two open legislative seats. Fresh off a victory in a Senate special election last month, Wisconsin Democrats have demanded that Walker call these two additional special elections and give their party an opportunity to notch more wins. With Democrats seeing an opportunity — and Republicans seeing a threat — the controversy over the special election has taken on a strong political cast. Holder’s group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, jumped into the fight Monday, bringing the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of Wisconsin Democrats who live in the two districts.

Antigua: Early Elections to be Held on March 21 | teleSUR

Antigua and Barbuda will hold parliamentary elections on March 21, according to an announcement made by Prime Minister Gaston Browne during a party rally late Saturday. Browne said the early legislative elections come to protect the many plans his Antigua Labour Party, ALP, has programed for this year and the and next. “We have an opportunity at this point to consolidate the leadership of this country, to provide investors with predictability, to prove stability, to provide continuity, and that’s the main reason why we’re going to the polls early,” Browne told a cheering crowd of supporters.

Canada: NATO researcher warns of Russian interference in 2019 Canadian election | National Post

A leading NATO researcher says Canada should assume Russia will attempt to interfere in the 2019 federal election because that would serve the Kremlin’s purpose of helping destabilize the military alliance. The allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as well as its attempts to disrupt votes in Germany, France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, among other countries, makes Canada a natural target, Janis Sarts, the director of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence said in an interview. Russia is attracted to Canada because destabilizing it would “undermine the cohesion” of the broader NATO alliance. Moreover, it could serve to undermine Canadian policy in Europe, he said.

Cambodia: EU threatens Cambodia with sanctions over election purge | Reuters

The European Union threatened Cambodia with economic sanctions on Monday after the country’s ruling party said it had won every seat in a Senate election in which many opposition supporters were stripped of their right to vote. EU foreign ministers said in a statement they were considering “specific targeted measures” against Cambodia, which diplomats said was a warning to long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen that senior government officials could face sanctions. The bloc said it was also reviewing the preferential trade treatment it gives Cambodia because of what rights groups and opposition politicians say is a crackdown by the premier, in power for 30 years, ahead of a national election in July.

Germany: Merkel wins party nod to renew coalition with Social Democrats | Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Monday approved a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), bringing closer a fourth term for her as well as an end to political limbo in Europe’s preeminent power. The more formidable hurdle to ending a five-month political impasse comes next week, however. On March 4, results of a binding postal vote by members of the centre-left SPD will be announced and they are far less certain. “Now I can only say to the SPD that I hope many members feel the same responsibility for giving Germany a good government,” Merkel said in an interview with broadcaster RTL. “I think we can achieve a lot together for Germany and its people.”

Russia: Thousands rally in Moscow to commemorate slain opposition leader before election | Reuters

Thousands marched through central Moscow on Sunday to commemorate murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, calling for President Vladimir Putin to be ousted just three weeks before a presidential election. Nemtsov, one of Putin’s most vocal critics, was shot dead on Feb. 27, 2015 as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin. Aged 55, he had been working on a report examining Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine. His killing sent a chill through opposition circles, and initiated annual marches in Moscow that have united different opposition parties and those discontented with the authorities. Some blame Putin for Nemtsov’s death but he has never responded to such accusations. In 2015, he said the murder had a “provocative nature” and later that he was closely watching the investigation process.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 19-25 2018

ProPublica reported on the high costs and cash-strapped budgets facing state and local election officials struggling to replace flawed and aging voting equipment. “Today’s voting systems are not going to last 70 years, they’re going to last 10,” says U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson. “Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise,” says Masterson. “A lot…

National: Russia fears have election vendors feeling the heat | Politico

The furor over fake news and Russian bots is overshadowing another weak link in the security of U.S. elections — the computer equipment and software that do everything from store voters’ data to record the votes themselves. Now the voting vendor industry is receiving increased attention from Congress and facing the prospect of new regulations, after more than a decade of warnings from cybersecurity researchers and recent revelations about the extent of Russian intrusions in 2016. … In 2006, a team of security researchers published a report saying that touchscreen voting machines made by the notably litigious vendor Diebold were vulnerable to “extremely serious attacks.” The researchers were so afraid of being sued by Diebold — now a subsidiary of the voting technology behemoth Dominion — that they broke with longstanding practice and didn’t tell the company about their findings before publishing. The team was “afraid that [Diebold] would try to stop us from speaking publicly about the problems,” said J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor who was one of the report’s authors.

National: US mobilises to counter Russian interference in midterm elections | Financial Times

US intelligence and election officials have stepped up efforts to protect this year’s midterm elections over fears that Russia is seeking to influence the public vote and tamper with voting systems. State election officials gathered for two “unprecedented” briefings from intelligence officials last week. “Advanced persistent threats are out there,” said Matthew Masterson, outgoing chairman of the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission who attended the briefing. Those familiar with the briefing said it focused on the threat from Russia and encouraged states to back up voter databases, regularly patch cyber security lesions and alert authorities of anything suspicious.

National: Homeland Security’s tall order: A hacker-free election | CNET

As lawmakers and federal investigators continue to try to understand the chaos foreign actors were able to create during the 2016 election, the US Department of Homeland Security has taken a central role in helping secure the next election. The agency declared the US election system, which is run by a fragmented group of officials in all 50 states as well as dozens of smaller local governments, to be a part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” in January 2017. The agency doesn’t have any legal authority over election officials, but it offers programs to help them keep hackers out of voting machines, voter registration databases and public-facing election websites.

National: What’s The Best Way To Verify Votes? | NPR

What’s the best way to safeguard elections from hackers? Good old-fashioned paper ballots, says Marian Schneider, President of Verified Voting. She talks with NPR’s Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Remember hanging chads – harried poll workers staring at punched paper ballots trying to determine what a dangling chad or stray mark may have indicated how somebody wanted to cast their ballot in the presidential election of 2000? Punch-card ballots and paper got a bad rap in favor of smooth, sleek, instantaneous electronic voting systems that were supposed to remove doubt. With those advancements came bigger problems. The major fear is now hacking, and more voices now urge a return to paper ballots. Marian Schneider is president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that’s dedicated to verifiability in elections. She joins us from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARIAN SCHNEIDER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Should we return to paper?

SCHNEIDER: Short answer – yes. But I want to point out that 70 percent of the country already uses an electronic voting system with either a voter-marked paper ballot or a paper record, so it’s not exactly a return to paper. There’s just a few locations that still use what we perceive as unverifiable voting systems, and that’s what we need to change.

National: At least 18 states are looking into changes in the way they draw congressional and legislative districts | Associated Press

Responding to complaints about partisan gerrymandering, a significant number of states this year are considering changing the criteria used to draw congressional and state legislative districts or shifting the task from elected officials to citizen commissions. The proposals, being advanced both as ballot initiatives and legislation, are part of a larger battle between the political parties to best position themselves for the aftermath of the 2020 Census, when more than 400 U.S. House districts and nearly 7,400 state legislative districts will be redrawn. Since the start of this year, more than 60 bills dealing with redistricting criteria and methods have been introduced in at least 18 state legislatures, already equaling the total number of states that considered bills last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

National: Trump Endorses G.O.P. Fight to Keep Gerrymandered Congressional Map | The New York Times

President Trump added his voice on Saturday to the continued conservative outcry over the court-ordered redistricting of the Pennsylvania congressional map, calling the decision “very unfair to Republicans and to our country.” “Democrat judges have totally redrawn election lines in the great State of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “This is very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole. Must be appealed to the United States Supreme Court ASAP!” The Supreme Court this month denied a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to stop the state’s highest court from requiring lawmakers to redraw the map of the state’s 18 House districts. The new map, released by the state court this past week, effectively eliminates the Republican advantage in Pennsylvania, endangering several incumbent Republican seats and bolstering Democrat standings in two open races.

National: The rural South faces uphill battle for accurate headcount in 2020 Census | McClatchy

Political, operational and funding uncertainties surrounding the 2020 Census have put rural residents in the Deep South at heightened risk of being overlooked in the decennial headcount. Another possible hurdle to a comprehensive census count: demands for a question about citizenship that researchers say could lay the groundwork for a loss of seven congressional seats from the nation’s three most populous states, California, Texas and Florida.

Editorials: Safeguarding Elections in the Digital Age | Jimmy Carter/New Europe

New media, including social media, are fueling political polarization as people communicate with general audiences and narrowly focused groups, without the deliberation typical of traditional forms of communication. Hacking, misinformation, “fake news” and cybersecurity threats are expanding the power of a few while undermining public confidence in the accuracy of mass media and information. Politicians are using detailed voter information to play to their bases, allowing them to ignore the rest of their constituents. Democratization, which had advanced steadily for decades, is now threatened by the rise of authoritarian governments and the closing of the political space to civil society, journalists and others. Advances in election technology are also bringing new opportunities and new fears — founded and unfounded — about the security of the election process. Technology is being introduced into electoral processes to promote efficiency, but it also moves voting and counting into the unobservable digital realm.

Maine: Court Urged to Institute Ranked-Choice Voting | Courthouse News

Vying to implement ranked-choice voting by the June primaries, Maine political candidates have asked a court to institute the nation’s first electoral system where voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a ballot for them. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and eight candidates filed the suit on Feb. 16 in Kennebec Superior Court, quoting Secretary Matthew Dunlap as stating weeks earlier that he planned to delay enactment of the new system, which is also known as instant runoff. Represented by the Portland firm Bernstein Shur, the candidates claim that they are “left guessing which method of election will decide their respective races.”

Minnesota: Justices to hear challenge to Minnesota voting dress code | SCOTUSblog

In 2010, Andrew Cilek went to his local polling place in Hennepin County, Minnesota, to vote. Cilek was wearing a T-shirt that had three different images on it: the Tea Party logo, the message “Don’t Tread on Me,” and an image of the Gadsden flag, which dates back to the American Revolution but is often associated these days with the Tea Party and libertarianism. Cilek also wore a small button bearing the message “Please I.D. Me,” worn by opponents of voter fraud. An election worker in the polling place told Cilek he would have to cover up or take off the shirt and button. Cilek refused to do so, and later made two more attempts to enter the polling place. On his third try, he was allowed to vote, but an election worker took down his name and address.

Nebraska: Federal form gives incorrect info on felon voting rights in Nebraska | Omaha World-Herald

A federal voter registration form incorrectly instructs potential voters that no felons can vote in Nebraska. But, under state law, voting rights are automatically restored two years after felons complete their sentences. The Nebraska Legislature changed the law in 2005. The inaccurate instructions on the National Voter Registration Form were pointed out by the nonpartisan voter advocacy group Campaign Legal Center in a letter to Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale last month.