Editorials: As Vladimir Putin steals the Russian election, our leaders are shamefully silent | Simon Tisdall/The Guardian

Russia will vote in presidential elections next month that Vladimir Putin is certain to win. Consider that statement for a moment. An election implies a contest. So how can the current president, who has already served three terms and wielded power in the Kremlin continuously since 1999, be assured of victory in advance? The answer is that Russia’s is an election in name only. In truth it is a sham and a smokescreen, designed to confer democratic respectability on to a corrupt oligarchy. For Russians accustomed to unaccountable rule from on high, this is nothing new. More surprising is the supine acquiescence, bordering on complicity, of western democracies. Putin will win on 18 March because the system he created, politely known as “managed democracy”, removes all elements of surprise. His most credible challenger, Alexei Navalny (who in any case did not expect to win), has been banned from participation on specious legal grounds. Last month Navalny was arrested while urging an election boycott.

National: Tillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms | The Hill

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that Russia is already trying to meddle in this year’s midterm elections in the U.S. “If it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to preempt it,” Tillerson told Fox News. Tillerson said it’s important for the U.S. to confront Russia about interfering in American elections instead of turning a blind eye. 

National: Air Force streamlines voting program to help optimize Airmen’s core missions | U.S. Air Force

Air Force officials recently released guidance that streamlines the organizational structure and functions of the Air Force Voting Assistance Program. A November 2017 Air Force guidance memorandum realigned the program under installation Airman and Family Readiness Centers, thereby eliminating voting assistance officers as an additional duty at Air Force units. The move is part of an Air Force-wide effort to reduce Airmen’s additional duties so they can more effectively focus on their core missions.

National: Black lawmakers continue King’s fight for jobs, justice and voting | USA Today

Three years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., 13 black members of Congress formed a group to tackle issues affecting their districts and constituents. Today, the Congressional Black Caucus has a record 48 members. Many say they’re fighting some of the same battles that the group’s founders fought nearly five decades ago. “There has been some progress. I don’t think that any of us would have thought … that in 2008 this country could elect an African-American president,” says Rep. Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Alabama. “But I think that we have to be ever vigilant fighting for jobs and justice. Those issues are still very much at the forefront today.” “I do believe that Martin Luther King’s life, and his legacy, was not in vain.”

National: Civil rights groups oppose a push to include citizenship on the Census | USA Today

Congressional lawmakers, mayors and civil rights activists are ramping up efforts to urge federal officials to reject a request to include a controversial question about citizenship in the upcoming Census. With only weeks before the deadline to submit questions for the 2020 Census, the groups are calling on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to turn down a request from the Justice Department to ask respondents if they are citizens. “This is not the time to parachute in and try to throw something in at the last minute, particularly something so incendiary that is likely to impact people’s willingness to participate,” said Terry Ao Minnis, director of Census and Voting Programs at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Alabama: Transgender people sue Alabama over driver’s license policy | Reuters

Three transgender people sued an Alabama state agency on Tuesday, alleging its policy requiring proof of gender surgery to change the gender indicator on driver’s licenses was discriminatory. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s policy denied transgender people access to identification, and applicants were forced to release medical information to get driver’s licenses. “Anyone who is eligible for a license should be able to get one that they can use without sacrificing their privacy, safety, health, autonomy or dignity,” ACLU lawyer Gabriel Arkles said on a conference call with reporters.

Kansas: Budget feud escalates between county officials, county election commissioners | Topeka Capital-Journal

Secretary of State Kris Kobach and election officials in the state’s four large counties Tuesday opposed a bill designed to shift budget authority for elections in the counties of Shawnee, Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte in hands of county commissions. Kobach argued Kansas law permitted election officers in each of these counties — all appointed by Kobach — to unilaterally certify an annual budget to their respective county commission, which must be financed regardless of amount. Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a nonbinding opinion last August affirming Kobach’s interpretation of state law. Under Senate Bill 299, county commissions in these four jurisdictions would be given authority for election budgets and decisions on personnel policy.

Pennsylvania: Concern over condition of voting machines in Pennsylvania | PAHomepage

The May primary election is fast approaching. Congressional seats are the big prize in the 2018 midterms. Questions have been raised about the condition of some of the Commonwealth’s voting machines. Are they up to snuff? The general consensus is, the voting machines can do the job but many of them are nearing the end of their life cycle. The big question is: where do counties, most of which are financially strapped, get the money to replace them? “It’s a huge expense to the county, but when you’re talking about transparency, about elections, we got no choice,” said David Petri, Luzerne County Manager.

Virginia: Breaking logjam, Virginia House panel advances bill to establish redistricting criteria | Richmond Times-Dispatch

A bill to create a new rulebook for Virginia’s political redistricting process passed a Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee early Tuesday, giving anti-gerrymandering activists an incremental win as other bills they supported were struck down. A House subcommittee on elections, usually the place where redistricting bills go to die, voted 6-0 to advance a bill to set new redistricting criteria in Virginia law as state lawmakers prepare to redraw the General Assembly and congressional maps in 2021. House Bill 1598, sponsored by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, declares that districts should respect existing political boundaries between cities, counties and towns, preserve “communities of interest” and avoid the types of odd, jagged lines lawmakers from both parties have long used to gain political advantage.

Washington: Nearly 7,000 Washington Voters Will Get Last Minute Ballots Due To Motor Voter Error | NW News Network

A batch of late-arriving ballots is going out to nearly 7,000 Washington voters in advance of next Tuesday’s special election. That’s because of an error in the state’s Motor Voter system that allows people to register to vote when they get a drivers license. Washington’s Department of Licensing said a software error prevented Motor Voter information from being transmitted to the Secretary of State’s office. The error affects people who changed their names on their driver’s license and in the process were assigned a new license number. The Department of Licensing said it identified and fixed the error in late January, but it’s just now being made public.

Azerbaijan: Snap election in Azerbaijan: Fighting elite, Russia’s factor and economy | EADaily

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s decree to set the date of a snap presidential election on April 11, 2018, has become a kind of “information bomb.” The Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan has been charged to organize and conduct the presidential election in compliance with the Election Code. The regular presidential election was supposed to be held in October of 2018. The president’s aide for public and political affairs Ali Hasanov has already called the nation to support the incumbent president at the snap election.

Costa Rica: Evangelical, ruling party candidate eye runoff in Costa Rica | Associated Press

Two candidates with the same last name and opposing stances on gay marriage, an issue that came to dominate Costa Rica’s presidential campaign, led election returns and appear headed to a runoff to decide who will be the Central American nation’s next leader. With nearly 87 percent of the ballots counted late Sunday, Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical whose political stock soared after he came out strongly against same-sex marriage, had 24.8 percent of the vote. Carlos Alvarado — no relation — had 21.7 percent and was the only major candidate among 13 to support gay marriage.

Costa Rica: Women dress in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes for election-day protest | Salon

In the U.S., Poland and Australia, protestors have dressed in the bright crimson robes and white bonnets made famous by the book and Hulu television series the “Handmaid’s Tale” as a way to demonstrate against policies and politicians they feel are are oppressive to women. Sunday, the protest traveled to Costa Rica, where a group of women donned such costumes to the polls to demonstrate against the statements and proposed policies of presidential front-runner Fabricio Alvarado, an evangelical Christian singer and legislator whose popularity in the current campaign is tied to a platform that appears regressive in relation to women’s rights and is stridently against gay marriage. According to Global News, there were eight women in total who wore the recognizable garb from the series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel from 1985, when they showed up at a voting center in Heredia, outside San Jose.

Malaysia: Transgender voters face dreaded path to the ballot box | Malaysiakini

A group of Malaysians are hesitant about going to the polls this year – because it is too dangerous for them. “To be honest, even I myself previously didn’t want to vote,” said Nisha Ayub, a prominent transgender rights activist, when asked about her voting experience in the general elections. “That is not because I don’t know my rights, it’s that I just don’t want to go through the process. You have to queue and to give your IC (identity card). All things about the IC are a problem to us,” she explained.

United Kingdom: A century after women got the vote, many people are still disenfranchised | The Guardian

Barbara Waterman was born 13 years after the Representation of the People Act gave women over 30 the right to vote in 1918. But it was not until three years ago, in the 2015 election, at the age of 83, that she finally used that right. Until then, Waterman thought she was barred because of her learning disability. Her belief that universal suffrage didn’t extend to people such as her is not uncommon, according to Dimensions, a charity that runs a scheme to help and encourage people with learning disabilities and autism to vote. What changed for Waterman was that she became involved in the charity’s Love Your Vote scheme. It gave her a “voting passport”: a document that provides instructions for polling station staff regarding how she would like to be assisted to vote. After studying Easy Read manifestos produced by each of the political parties online, Waterman was supported to cast her vote for the first time in 2015, then again in June 2017. “The voting passport helped me remember what to do when I got to the place where you vote,” says Waterman.

Editorials: Taking a strong stance to protect election integrity | Brad Schneider and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen/The Hill

By now, there is no disputing that Russia launched a targeted campaign on orders of Vladimir Putin to interfere in our most recent national elections. Our intelligence community agrees that Russia hacked political campaign committees and leaked stolen documents, used a sophisticated social media network of bots to spread misinformation and influence voters, and targeted dozens of state election systems for sensitive voter data, including in Illinois and Florida. This meddling is nothing short of a grievous attack aimed at the very foundation of our democratic system. As with any other attack by a hostile foreign government, Russia’s actions demand a serious response to hold our attackers accountable. The United States must take strong, corrective measures to protect the integrity of our elections and also deter any future attempts to interfere in our electoral process. This is a bipartisan concern, and indeed, a concern for all Americans. That is why we partnered together to introduce the House companion to a bill by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act – H.R. 4884.

Ohio: Lawmakers, coalition reach deal on new Ohio congressional redistricting plan | The Columbus Dispatch

Republicans, Democrats and a coalition of redistricting-reform advocates reached a deal to put a proposal on the May ballot aimed at curtailing partisan gerrymandering of Ohio’s congressional map. After weekend negotiations that capped off about two weeks of heavy talks, the Senate on Monday night voted 31-0 for the compromise plan. The House is likely to approve it Tuesday, one day ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline to qualify the issue for the May statewide ballot.

National: Committee Votes to Release Democratic Rebuttal to G.O.P. Russia Memo | The New York Times

The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to make public a classified Democratic memorandum rebutting Republican claims that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department had abused their powers to wiretap a former Trump campaign official, setting up a possible clash with President Trump. The vote gives Mr. Trump five days to review the Democratic memo and determine whether he will try to block its release. A decision to stop it could lead to an ugly standoff between the president, his top law enforcement and intelligence advisers and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump vocally supported the release of the Republicans’ memo last week, declassifying its contents on Friday over the objections of Democrats and his own F.B.I., which issued a rare public statement to warn that it had “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy. On Saturday, he claimed, incorrectly, that the memo “totally vindicates” him in the continuing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Editorials: Fighting hackers with vetted outsiders the best way to secure midterm elections | Mark Kuhr/The Hill

In the midterm elections set to take place later this year, all 435 seats in the house, 33 seats in the Senate and a number of local and state elections will be contested. Regardless of how the elections shake out, the most important factor in the election is the security of the process. If the past few years fraught with election hacking around the globe serve as an any indicator, we should be skeptical of what might happen. The voting process of the United States, and no doubt countries around the world, is inadequately equipped to defend against professional cyberattack attempts. Ethical hackers hacked a WINVote machine during the DEFCON conference last year in Las Vegas, and it took only a few minutes to hack into and tamper with votes and voter information. So, how do we go about protecting ourselves against these attacks and ensuring secure elections for the future? We should utilize hackers that have been vetted for trust and skill to test these critical assets in a controlled and managed environment.

Illinois: Chicago area could see nearly 2-week delay of early voting | Associated Press

Millions of voters in the Chicago area could see a nearly two-week delay in the start of early voting over ongoing candidate ballot challenges, election officials said Monday. Early voting was slated to start across Illinois on Thursday. However, due to objections to several candidates’ paperwork that haven’t been resolved, ballots won’t be ready on time, said Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen. He estimated early voting will be available Feb. 21, possibly earlier. “Programming and testing of the equipment in the city’s more than 1,000 ballot variations in four languages is still under way,” Allen said in a statement.

Kansas: Bills Clarify That, Yes, Kansans Who Have Trouble Signing Their Names Can Vote By Mail | KCUR

Last November, nearly two dozen mail-in ballots cast by disabled voters got tossed away in Sedgwick County. Some state officials say local election authorities misread a technicality in state law, and the votes could have been counted. Now Kansas lawmakers are pushing through bills aimed at wiping out any confusion — and making sure that people who have trouble filling out their own ballots can still vote by mail. One bill aiming to clarify the law has passed the Senate. Another measure drew no opposition in a hearing in the House on Monday.

Maine: Ranked-choice voters submit signatures for ‘people’s veto’ ballot initiative | Portland Press Herald

Supporters of ranked-choice voting submitted more than 80,000 signatures Friday to send the issue back to the Maine ballot in June after lawmakers voted to delay and potentially repeal the law. In November 2016, voters approved a ballot initiative that would make Maine the first state in the nation to implement ranked-choice voting. But lawmakers passed a law delaying the effective date until December 2021 and then repealing the ranked-choice voting process altogether if a constitutional amendment hasn’t been passed by then to address legal concerns.

North Carolina: GOP responds to voters’ claims of bias in legislative redistricting saga | Greensboro News & Record

Attorneys for North Carolina’s legislative defendants urged Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay of a lower-court order that recently imposed new state House and Senate districts in the Greensboro area and several other parts of the state. They said a three-judge panel based in Greensboro mistakenly bought into arguments by civil rights activists that the lawyers for three, current Republican leaders and one former GOP legislator called illogical and unconstitutional. “In sum, plaintiffs did not properly challenge the 2017 law … and their federal law objections rest on the Orwellian claim that the legislature engaged in racial gerrymandering by not considering race,” lead lawyer Paul Clement and several others said in the petition filed Monday.

Pennsylvania: Justices Won’t Block Pennsylvania Gerrymandering Decision | The New York Times

The United States Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop Pennsylvania’s highest court from requiring lawmakers there to redraw the state’s congressional map, which the state court had found to be marred by partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court’s order was expected, as the Pennsylvania court had based its decision solely on the state constitution. On matters of state law, the judgments of state supreme courts are typically final. The order, which gave no reasons, came from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who acted without referring the case to the full court. The Supreme Court has been busy lately addressing cases on partisan gerrymandering, in which the party in power draws voting districts to give its candidates lopsided advantages. It is considering two such cases, from Wisconsin and Maryland, and has intervened in a third one, from North Carolina. But all of those cases were decided by federal courts.

Washington: Seattle says Facebook is violating city campaign finance law | Reuters

Seattle’s election authority said on Monday that Facebook Inc is in violation of a city law that requires disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet. Facebook must disclose details about spending in last year’s Seattle city elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement. The penalties could be up to $5,000 per advertising buy, Barnett said, adding that he would discuss next steps this week with Seattle’s city attorney. It was not immediately clear how Facebook would respond if penalized. Facebook said in a statement it had sent the commission some data.

China: Bought-and-paid-for elections in villages erode China’s grass-roots democracy | Global Times

Late into the night at a small rural Chinese village of just 29 households, the lights of each household were still turned on. The village, which ordinarily would have been asleep, was as bustling as on the eve of the Lunar New Year. It was the night before the village’s general election. The homes had left their lights on as a signal to invite each candidate to come inside and “buy” their vote. This scene was described by one of the residents of Sanxian village in North China’s Shanxi Province. The resident told the Global Times that buying votes frequently happens at many Shanxi village elections, “and some villagers don’t turn off their lights until accepting money from every candidate.” A similar scenario happened in Nailin village of Shanxi on January 6, which drew nationwide attention. China Youth Daily reported that each candidate running for village head had paid each villager 1,000 yuan ($159) each. Screen shots of text messages and photos of villagers counting their money were posted online.

Ecuador: Current, former presidents at odds in Ecuador referendum | Associated Press

With a fresh victory in hand, Ecuadoreans will be looking for President Lenin Moreno to move beyond the political duel with his domineering predecessor and focus his attention on the nation’s stagnant economy. Ecuadoreans voted by a landslide in a nationwide referendum Sunday to limit presidents to just one re-election, barring three-time former President Rafael Correa from returning to power. The measure was approved by an almost 2-to-1 margin, sending the strongest signal yet that the Andean nation is ready to shift gears away from Correa, the leftist strongman who has dominated the nation’s politics over the last decade. But how far Moreno will diverge from Correa’s agenda remains to be seen.

Editorials: Ecuador bucks the authoritarian trend | The Washington Post

Rafael Correa, like Vladi­mir Putin, Hugo Chávez and other authoritarian rulers, found himself stymied by term limits. So in 2015, the Ecuadoran president persuaded his legislature to lift a ceiling of two presidential terms by promising not to run in 2017. His idea was to install a follower for four years and then return to power, as Mr. Putin once did. Then, on Sunday, came a much-deserved comeuppance: Ecuadoran voters, prompted by Mr. Correa’s own successor, voted overwhelmingly to restore a two-term presidential limit, thus blocking the planned second act. It was a victory for democracy not just in Ecuador but also in a region where numerous rulers have sought to entrench themselves in power.

Germany: Merkel ready for ‘painful compromises’ with coalition deal in sight | Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was ready to make painful compromises to clinch a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), whose leader said Tuesday was “decision day” for negotiators after months of political uncertainty. Both blocs agreed late on Monday they needed more time to reach a deal on renewing their “grand coalition” and decided to resume talks at the headquarters of Merkel’s party on Tuesday. “Each of us will have to make painful compromises and I am ready for that,” Merkel told reporters. “When we see the movements on the stock markets over the last hours, we live in turbulent times and what is expected of us as popular parties … is that we form a government for the good of the people, one that brings stability,” she said.