Maine: Ranked choice voting ball back in Legislature’s court | The Ellsworth American

Three and a half months ago, Maine legislators passed a bill that provoked instant pushback from ranked choice voting (RCV) supporters. The result was an apparently successful bid to repeal portions of that law. Now the Legislature may be faced with a new task related to changing Maine’s vote-count system: funding it. A people’s veto petition to repeal the bill delaying the implementation of RCV to 2021 was submitted to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office Feb. 2. The effort appears to have enough signatures to send the measure to a June referendum.

Minnesota: State pushes for tighter cyber security in wake of 2016 election | Brainerd Dispatch

State officials are making a concerted effort to revamp Minnesota’s defenses against cyber attacks—a preemptive initiative for the 2018 election season and beyond. Secretary of State Steve Simon made his annual 87-county tour of the state, stopping in Brainerd last week to tout new developments to the state’s cyber security systems. Under his guidance, the state has mobilized a cyber security team, hired consultants to analyze cyber security improvements and partnered with agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to address areas of weakness.

New York: Charter change recount loses court battle | Times Union

A bid to recount the votes cast in the city’s referendum on charter change has failed. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan ruled on Feb. 6 that “the petitioner presents no facts to support or justify” a recount of the November 2017 vote because there is no law that requires the Saratoga County Board of Elections to do so when the vote margin is slim. Gordon Boyd, a member of the now defunct Charter Review Commission, was looking for a recount after the proposal to update the city’s 100-year-old commission form of government was defeated by 10 votes.

Texas: Disability rights group threatens to sue Texas over voter registration | Houston Chronicle

Lawyers for a disability rights group are threatening to sue the state for failing to provide voter registration services to Texans with disabilities who obtain job training from state agencies, a violation of federal law, according to a letter sent Monday afternoon. The letter, from lawyers with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Texas Civil Rights Project, states that under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, Texas is mandated to make it easier for disabled people to register to vote if they receive job training from state agencies.

Colombia: Election tests Colombia’s democracy — and its peace | Financial Times

When Colombia struck a peace deal two years ago, the formula to end the western hemisphere’s longest civil conflict seemed simple: in return for handing in their weapons, leaders of the Marxist Farc guerrilla group would be able to run for office in elections this year. But nothing has proved simple when it comes to resolving a conflict that has claimed 200,000 lives, displaced millions and still inflames raw emotions. Although the fighting has not re-started, both the peace formula and Colombia’s democratic credentials are being severely tested ahead of presidential elections in May, thanks to a particularly poisonous campaign.

Egypt: Politicians move to disrupt election boycott calls | Ahram Online

The chairmen of seven political parties launched a campaign on Monday that seeks to mobilise the public to vote in the presidential election, scheduled for 26-28 March. In a statement issued following a meeting at the Wafd Party’s headquarters on 11 February political leaders said “a central operation room” will be formed in order to mobilise citizens in all governorates to cast their ballots. Yasser Qoura, assistant secretary-general of the Wafd Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the operation room will start work next week. “The campaign is a response to those who are calling for a boycott. We want as many citizens as possible to participate and vote,” he said.

Mexico: Independents Wrap Up Signature Collections | teleSUR

The National Indigenous Congress’ anti-capitalist, feminist and Indigenous candidate will most likely not make it to the ballots. Feb. 18 marks the deadline for gathering enough signatures to be registered as an independent candidate in Mexico. As of now, just a few of them will appear on the ballots. This is the first time Mexico is allowing independent candidates for the presidential elections, and the registering process proved to be discriminatory in more than one way. Of a total of six women and 34 men registered as aspiring independent candidates for the 2018 presidential elections, only three of them –Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco,” Margarita Zavala and Armando Rios Piter – will be eligible.

Russia: Opposition leader Navalny’s website blocked before election | Reuters

Russian authorities blocked opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s website on Thursday a month before a presidential election, a move Navalny said was designed to blunt his campaign for a boycott of what he says is a sham vote. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it had ordered telecoms operators to block parts of Navalny’s site because he had ignored a request to remove material covered in an injunction obtained by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska said his claim was related to the dissemination of false allegations about him based on leaked private information and was designed to protect his right to privacy.

United Kingdom: Voting age could be cut to 16 before next general election, says senior Tory | Evening Standard

A historic lowering of the voting age from 18 to 16 could be enacted before the next general election, a senior Conservative predicted today. Sir Peter Bottomley said there was “growing” support among Tory MPs for the reform, which is currently opposed by Theresa May’s Government. “It’s a question of when rather than whether it is going to happen,” the former minister told the Standard. Asked if there was enough backing for it to be made law in the current Parliament, the veteran MP said: “I think it would probably carry. Labour would vote in favour of it, so would every minority party and a growing number of Conservatives support it.”

National: Democratic Task Force Outlines Voting Security Plan, With First Primary Just Weeks Away | WIRED

In recent weeks, intelligence officials have said clearly that Russia will likely meddle again in the 2018 midterm election season—which begins in Texas in less than three weeks. United States election systems, though, have not yet adequately improved defenses since the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, House Democrats outlined a last-ditch effort to step up security while there’s still some time. The Congressional Task Force on Election Security—which counts not a single Republican among its members—announced a findings report and new bill outlining a comprehensive plan for funding and enforcing minimum security standards for all US election systems. Three other election security bills have already been introduced, but neither the Senate nor the House has held an election security hearing so far. President Donald Trump’s continuing skepticism that Russia interfered in the 2016 election process has also slowed momentum.

National: Democrats propose $1.7 billion in grants for election security | The Hill

A Democratic congressional task force convened to study U.S. election security on Wednesday unveiled new legislation to help protect voting infrastructure from foreign interference. The legislation would authorize more than $1 billion in federal grants to help states replace outdated voting technology, train employees in cybersecurity and conduct audits of elections to ensure the accuracy of their result. It represents the latest push in Congress to address Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election through legislation and follows bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate to address election vulnerabilities and deter future foreign meddling.

National: State and local election infrastructure vulnerable to attacks ahead of midterm elections, Democrats warn in new report | ABC

State and local election systems remain vulnerable to outside attacks ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, House Democrats warned in a new report obtained by ABC News. The final report issued by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, a Democratic working group formed last summer by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls for increased federal resources to protect local and state election systems and replace aging infrastructure and new regulations to help election technology vendors to improve security. The House Democratic effort is being released after the nation’s top intelligence officials Tuesday warned in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that Russia is actively working to interfere in the 2018 elections.

National: Russia Sees Midterm Elections as Chance to Sow Fresh Discord, Intelligence Chiefs Warn | The New York Times

Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections this year, the top American intelligence officials said on Tuesday, warning that Moscow is using a digital strategy to worsen the country’s political and social divisions. Russia is using fake accounts on social media — many of them bots — to spread disinformation, the officials said. European elections are being targeted, too, and the attacks were not likely to end this year, they warned. “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee at its annual hearing on worldwide threats.

National: Judges Say Throw Out the Map. Lawmakers Say Throw Out the Judges. | The New York Times

In Pennsylvania, a Republican lawmaker unhappy with a State Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering wants to impeach the Democratic justices who authored it. In Iowa, a running dispute over allowing firearms in courthouses has prompted bills by Republican sponsors to slash judges’ pay and require them to personally pay rent for courtrooms that are gun-free. In North Carolina, the Republican Party is working on sweeping changes to rein in state courts that have repeatedly undercut or blocked laws passed by the legislature. Rather than simply fighting judicial rulings, elected officials in some states across the country — largely Republicans, but Democrats as well — are increasingly seeking to punish or restrain judges who hand down unfavorable decisions, accusing them of making law instead of interpreting it.

National: Can The U.S. Combat Election Interference If Some Don’t Believe It’s Happening? | NPR

America’s adversaries are circling like coyotes just beyond the light from the campfire, top intelligence officials warn — but that’s not the scariest thing to some members of the Senate intelligence committee. What bothers them is the need to convince people the coyotes are there. “My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say, ‘the whole thing is a witch hunt and it’s a hoax,’ because that’s what the president told me,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. The leaders of the U.S. intelligence community gave bleak evidence on Tuesday about the ongoing threat Russia poses to Western democracies — among many other threats around the world. King contrasted that with the frequent denials and equivocations about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by President Trump and the White House, which King said have led to a major disparity in belief around the country. 

Editorials: Why Does Trump Ignore Top Officials’ Warnings on Russia? | The New York Times

The phalanx of intelligence chiefs who testified on Capitol Hill delivered a chilling message: Not only did Russia interfere in the 2016 election, it is already meddling in the 2018 election by using a digital strategy to exacerbate the country’s political and social divisions. No one knows more about the threats to the United States than these six officials, so when they all agree, it would be derelict to ignore their concerns. Yet President Trump continues to refuse to even acknowledge the malevolent Russian role. It’s particularly striking that four of the men who gave this warning to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday — the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo; the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats; the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray; and the Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley — were all appointed by Mr. Trump. They testified that the president has never asked them to take measures to combat Russian interference and protect democratic processes.

Kansas: House panel prepares for votes on precinct results, candidate advertising | Topeka Capital Journal

The House Elections Committee is scheduled to vote Monday on legislation mandating precinct election results be posted online and clarifying sponsorship of candidate advertisements. The Kansas secretary of state’s office stopped publishing precinct level voting data on their website in 2014. The data remains accessible through the Kansas Open Records Act, but only by request. Bryan Caskey, director of elections for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, cited formatting and privacy concerns for the lack of online reporting of that precinct voting. Much of the data comes to the office in a non-user-friendly format. “Votes cast are a public record,” Caskey said. “However, if a person obtains the list of registered voters, which has the precinct that they’re in, and obtains precinct-level results, pretty quickly you can determine how people cast in small precincts.”

New Hampshire: Alternative voting, math oversight of redistricting shot down by House committee | Concord Monitor

Amid all the high-profile discussion of possible changes to New Hampshire election laws and processes, a trio of less-mainstream proposals were shot down Tuesday. One of them would have used mathematics to draw legislative districts, and the other two would allow people to vote for more than one candidate, showing their ballot preference by systems other than the traditional process. All three were marked as inexpedient to legislate by sweeping votes in the House Election Law Committee, which makes their demise in the full House likely. Under one bill, House Bill 1666, a calculation known as efficiency gap analysis would have been applied to statewide districts in New Hampshire after the next redistricting in 2021. If the analysis found problems, “the redistricting for that elected body shall be deemed to be gerrymandered and therefore not valid” and the districts redrawn before the next election. It was unanimously voted as ITL by the 20-person committee.

Pennsylvania: The governor of Pennsylvania rejects Republicans’ new map | The Economist

The best thing that can be said about a new Republican-drawn congressional map for Pennsylvania is that none of the districts resembles a cartoon character. But erasing the lines of a comically gerrymandered district dubbed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” was not enough to satisfy an order from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, said Tom Wolf, the state’s Democratic governor, on February 13th. When the court ruled on January 22nd that the map in use since 2011 was an extreme partisan gerrymander that violates Pennsylvania’s constitution, it gave legislators until February 9th to send Mr Wolf a fairer map. The redrawn districts, the court advised, should be “composed of compact and contiguous territory” and should not gratuitously divide cities and counties. Curiously, the initial order said nothing about fixing the map’s skew toward Republican candidates, which has afforded their party a reliable 13-to-5 advantage in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Editorials: With Russia set to attack our elections again, Pennsylvania needs to replace aging voting machines so people can have faith in the vote | LNP

Last week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered counties planning to replace their electronic voting systems to purchase machines that provide a paper trail. Paper trails serve as a safeguard against hacking and make audits of the vote easier. But as The Associated Press noted, the governor’s “budget doesn’t include any money to fund the replacement of the state’s aging, increasingly vulnerable fleet” of voting machines. The AP reported that the Wolf administration “said in a statement later Friday that it’s working on a comprehensive overhaul of Pennsylvania’s election apparatus, including its voter registration database.” Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential elections, and it will try to do so again in this year’s congressional elections. That was the unanimous assessment delivered by our nation’s intelligence chiefs to a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday. So Gov. Wolf is absolutely correct in seeking to protect our voting systems. Pennsylvania — the birthplace of American democracy — should lead the way in protecting the vote.

Virginia: Confusion reigned ahead of Virginia’s dramatic 2017 election | WTOP

Several officials at the Virginia Department of Elections and in the City of Fredericksburg were confused about how Virginia’s district lines were defined in the years leading up to the 2017 election, according to documents obtained by WTOP through the Freedom of Information Act. That confusion likely contributed to 147 people voting in the wrong House of Delegates races Nov. 7. One of those races, along with control of the House, was decided by just 73 votes. The process is complicated, and the lines are not defined on a map but are based on the voting precincts that were in place during the most recent census. Those precinct lines immediately become out of date after any General Assembly redistricting process, since local governments are similarly required to redraw lines based on the new population information.

West Virginia: Redistricting bill sent to House floor without independent commission | Charleston Gazette-Mail

A House of Delegates committee sent a bill to the floor Wednesday that would change the factors legislators use when drawing political district lines after each decennial census. The bill does not, however, create an independent commission to handle the redistricting process, as had been the original reason for drafting the updated House Bill 2383. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, introduced an amendment to the bill that would have formed an independent commission. His amendment was essentially a reincarnation of a draft that a subcommittee killed last week. His amendment failed on a party-line vote.

Australia: Parliamentary inquiry finds Western Australia’s electoral system ‘stuck in the past’ | Perth Now

Western Australia’s electoral system has become “stuck in the past” amid outdated legislation and a lack of funding, a parliamentary inquiry into the 2017 state election has found. The final report from the standing committee inquiry highlighted several problems with the security of internet voting, poor transparency for political donations and the state’s ageing Electoral Act. Inquiry chair Peter Katsambanis says the state’s 111-year old electoral legislation is a “hodgepodge of contradictory provisions that make no sense“, which prevented the use of electronic voting systems.

Italy: ‘Whoever Wins Won’t Govern’ | The New York Review of Books

“This is a non-election,” a professor of philosophy tells me in a bar in Milan. “I will not vote.” “Meaning?” “Whoever wins, they will not govern. All will go on just the same. Most key policies will be decided outside Italy.” The Italians go to the polls on March 4, and from outside, it might look as though there are major, exciting, and, above all, dangerous developments in the offing: the return of the octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, the rapid rise of anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the ever more aggressive rhetoric of the xenophobic Northern League. Yet the perception among most Italians is that the political system is simply too dysfunctional and blocked for much to happen at all.

Venezuela: Electoral Council Confirms Election Dates, Plans | teleSUR

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council highlights 15 audits have been planned to guarantee the process’ transparency. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has confirmed the date for the next presidential elections will be April 22 and provided details on the dates for voter and candidate registration. The announcement was made by Sandra Oblitas, CNE’s Vice-president, who added that 531 locations would be open throughout the country for voters to register and to change where they vote. Venezuelans will have until Feb. 20 to register to vote in the presidential elections.

Pennsylvania: Governor rejects proposed redistricting map from GOP lawmakers | The Hill

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Tuesday rejected a new district map drawn by GOP lawmakers, bringing the state closer to handing its redistricting process over to a court. The GOP map was drawn after the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s current congressional map in a gerrymandering case. Wolf’s press office confirmed that the governor told Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court that he won’t approve the new congressional lines on the grounds that it’s a “partisan gerrymander that does not comply with the court’s order” or state constitution. “Partisan gerrymandering weakens citizen power, promotes gridlock and stifles meaningful reform,” Wolf said in a statement. “As non-partisan analysts have already said, their map maintains a similar partisan advantage by employing many of the same unconstitutional tactics present in their 2011 map.”

National: Federal vote-protection efforts lag ahead of first primaries | Associated Press

With the first primaries of the 2018 elections less than a month away, you might expect federal officials to be wrapping up efforts to safeguard the vote against expected Russian interference. You’d be wrong. Federal efforts to help states button down elections systems have crawled, hamstrung in part by wariness of federal meddling. Just 14 states and three local election agencies have so far asked for detailed vulnerability assessments offered by the Department of Homeland Security — and only five of the two-week examinations are complete. Illinois, for instance —one of two states where voter registration databases were breached in 2016 — requested an assessment in January and is still waiting. Primary voters go to the polls there March 20; state officials can’t say whether the assessment will happen beforehand. DHS says the assessments should be finished by mid-April.

National: As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up voting systems | Tribune News Service

Even as it is consumed by political fallout from Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Washington is still struggling to respond to what many officials see as an imminent national security threat: a network of voting systems alarmingly vulnerable to foreign attack. As hackers abroad plot increasingly brazen and sophisticated assaults, the United States’ creaky polling stations and outdated voter registration technology are not up to the task of fighting them off, according to elections officials and independent experts. Senior national security officials have repeatedly said that the U.S. should prepare for more foreign efforts to interfere with elections. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s top intelligence adviser warned a Senate committee that Russia is moving to build on its earlier efforts to interfere with U.S. elections, which included a sustained campaign of propaganda and the unleashing of cyberoperatives.

National: US intel officials say Russia targeting midterms | Associated Press

Three of the nation’s top intelligence officials said Tuesday that the U.S. has seen Russian activity aimed at meddling in the upcoming midterm elections. “We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, agreed. They didn’t describe the activity, other than to say it was related to information warfare. They told Congress that they would provide more details in a classified session later in the day. The intelligence officials said the information will be shared with state and local governments and state election officials.

National: FBI chief: Trump hasn’t directed me to stop Russian meddling in midterms | The Hill

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said President Trump hasn’t directed him to stop Russian efforts to interfere in this year’s midterm elections. “We’re taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt Russian efforts,” Wray said when Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) asked if he’d been directed by Trump to do so. “As directed by the president?” Reed interjected. “Not as specifically directed by the president,” Wray responded.