Venezuela: Election push draws dismay | Associated Press

Venezuela is under mounting international pressure over the government’s decision to push up presidential elections under conditions that opponents say overwhelmingly favor President Nicolas Maduro, who is so far the only candidate. Spain, a major trading partner with deep roots in Venezuela, became the latest government to break diplomatic ties on Friday, while French President Emmanuel Macron said that he’s open to additional European Union sanctions against what he called an “unacceptable authoritarian shift” by Maduro. The pro-government national constituent assembly last week called for an election to be held by the end of April but set no date.

Pakistan: Supreme Court to learn about ‘challenges’ in framing system for overseas voters | Dawn

National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) Chairman Usman Mobin is set to apprise the Supreme Court on Monday of “non-technical challenges” and the minimum time required to develop an integrated internet voting system to enable overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in the upcoming general elections. During the last hearing of the petitions seeking the right of vote for overseas Pakistanis, the Nadra chairman had tried to make a presentation before a SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, on the internet voting system, but at the outset he was intercepted by the chief justice when he sought a five-month time for developing the system. … Nadra spokesman Faik Ali, when contacted, said that after the court’s directive a Nadra team headed by the chairman held meetings with the ECP officials to discuss modalities, time frame and non-technical challenges related to the mechanism. He said the Nadra chairman would apprise the Supreme Court of the outcome of these meetings on Monday.

National: States, Counties Seek Voting Tech Upgrades Amid Security Concerns | StateTech

With the 2016 presidential election bringing voting cybersecurity to the fore, many states and localities have been looking at innovative, technology-driven approaches to shore up voting machine security. There are growing concerns about the integrity of ballots nationwide following reports that hackers attempted to infiltrate voting machines in 21 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Those concerns are not unfounded, according to a 2017 report published by DEF CON, which unveiled the vulnerabilities of commonly used voting machines in the U.S. To address these weaknesses, several states are taking action to upgrade systems and ensure voting integrity for citizens everywhere. Rhode Island, for example, upgraded its systems to use a cellular connection with a double-encrypted signal that better protects against remote hacking. With worries of election hacking growing, more states are expected to follow suit to make cybersafety a priority at the polls.

National: Group sues for communications with Trump voter fraud panel | Associated Press

A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security for failing to release information connected to President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission. Voting rights advocates have expressed concern that the agencies might be working together as part of an effort by Trump and some commission members to justify his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. They also worry about possible efforts to enact tougher voting restrictions, such as proof of citizenship requirements. Without evidence, Trump has blamed “millions of people who voted illegally” as the reason why he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election.

Editorials: The courts may address partisan gerrymandering. Virginia and Maryland, take note. | The Washington Post

Courts have historically shied away from striking down redistricting plans for fear of showing favor to one party in a process that is inherently political. But recent decisions by state and federal judges in North Carolina and Pennsylvania suggest that the judicial branch thinks partisan gerrymandering has gone too far and needs to stop. We hope lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are paying attention and that those decisions serve as a trigger for them to overhaul how their states’ legislative and congressional districts are drawn.

Colorado: Former Colorado GOP chairman sentenced for voter fraud | CBS

The former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party was sentenced to four years of probation and 300 hours of community service for voter fraud. Steve Curtis blamed a “major diabetic episode” for causing him to vote his ex-wife’s absentee ballot in October 2016. Curtis, 57, told District Judge Julie Hoskins Friday it was “a customary thing” for him to fill out his wife’s ballot and he didn’t know it was illegal, but he said he didn’t remember doing it. In October of 2016, Kelly Curtis called the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s Office to obtain her mail-in ballot. She was told she had already voted, CBS Denver reports. 

Florida: Top two election system clears constitution panel | Orlando Sentinel

An effort to let voters decide if they want open primary elections advanced Friday, but moving to such a “top-two” system drew questions from members of the state Constitution Revision Commission. Commission member Bill Schifino, a Tampa attorney, initially proposed allowing unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in Republican or Democratic primaries. But Schifino altered the proposal to put all candidates seeking the same office — if there are more than two candidates — into a single primary regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters would run in the general election. That system, already in use by California, Nebraska and Washington, would also allow state parties to list on the ballot the candidate they “endorse.”

Editorials: Floridians should scrap these retrograde, racist voting laws | The Washington Post

No state comes close to disenfranchising its citizens at the rate Florida does. By doing so, the state extends the iniquities of Jim Crow into the modern era to the detriment of minority and, for the most part, Democratic voters. Now, after years of serving as an anti-democratic model, Florida appears about to see its voters drag it into the 21st century. They should. Of 6.1 million former felons who remain barred from voting across the United States, more than a quarter of them — nearly 1.7 million — are Floridians. It is one of just three states that permanently bars all felons from voting unless their rights are individually restored following an arduous, years-long process. The result: More than 10 percent of voting-age adults, and more than 20 percent of African Americans, have no access to the ballot box in Florida. You read that correctly: 1 in 5 black adults in Florida cannot vote.

Indiana: Republicans consider watered-down redistricting reform bill | Indianapolis Star

A redistricting reform bill is heading to the Senate floor, but it’s not what good-government advocates have been asking for. For years, advocates have called for an independent committee to draw the Indiana’s legislative and congressional maps, instead of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 236, however, would create criteria lawmakers must consider when they redraw the maps every 10 years. Bill author Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said his bill was just a “baby step” in the right direction. He said that the criteria used to draw maps was far more important than who was drawing the maps.

Massachusetts: State Inches Toward Election-Day Voter Registration | Courthouse News

Massachusetts is still fighting a ruling that struck down its voter-registration deadline of 20 days prior to an election, but the state on Thursday proposed same-day voter registration in the commonwealth. Secretary of State William Galvin filed the bill on Jan. 25, six months after Suffolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins struck down the 20-day rule as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts represented the challengers who brought the underlying suit, including voter Rafael Sanchez, and the groups Chelsea Collaborative and MassVote.

Minnesota: When a T-Shirt Gets You in Trouble at the Voting Booth | The New York Times

Minnesota has a dress code for voting. The idea, the state says, is to create a safe space for democracy. To make sure voters are in a properly contemplative mood at their polling places on Election Day, the state bans T-shirts, hats and buttons that express even general political views, like support for gun rights or labor unions. The goal, state officials have said, is “an orderly and controlled environment without confusion, interference or distraction.” Critics say the law violates the principle at the core of the First Amendment: that the government may not censor speech about politics. They add that voters can be trusted to vote sensibly even after glancing at a political message. “A T-shirt will not destroy democracy,” a group challenging the law told the Supreme Court this month.

New Mexico: Senate bill would drop lieutenant governor primaries | Santa Fe New Mexican

Under New Mexico law, the state’s governor and lieutenant governor are forced to coexist in a sort of arranged marriage. Each runs in a separate primary election. This means major-party candidates for governor have no direct say-so about who will become their running mate in the general election. More importantly, says state Sen. Mark Moores, the system creates the very real possibility that the governor and lieutenant governor might not get along or agree on policy. So Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, have introduced a bill to change the way lieutenant governor candidates are selected. Their proposal, Senate Bill 178, would eliminate primary elections for lieutenant governor.

North Carolina: Judges refuse to delay legislative districts | Associated Press

A three-judge panel Friday refused North Carolina Republican lawmakers’ request to block the use of new legislative district maps the judges approved for this year’s elections. Even with the unanimous denial by the federal judges, GOP lawmakers have a similar request pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts wants a brief from the voters who’ve successfully sued over state House and Senate districts by late next week. Candidate filing begins Feb. 12, with primaries to be held in May. Republican legislative leaders “fall far short of meeting their ‘heavy burden’ to obtain the extraordinary relief of a stay under the unique facts of this case,” the judges wrote.

Virginia: An Election Debacle That Didn’t Happen | Governing

For the election-obsessed among us, the two months of turbulence that followed last November’s elections for Virginia’s House of Delegates would be hard to top for its riveting back-and-forth legal drama and fingernail-biting suspense. Now, as the nation heads into midterm elections on which might hinge party control not only of several state legislatures but also of both houses of Congress, it’s not implausible to imagine similar dramas playing out across the country. Virginia’s experience holds some key lessons that policymakers and election administrators in other states should be moving quickly to follow. …  Not surprisingly, many journalists couldn’t resist the analogy to another close election that involved razor-thin margins and disputed ballots. As a New York Times headline put it in late December, “Virginia Voting Mess Was Never Supposed to Happen After Bush v. Gore.” But Virginia election officials are hardly deserving of Florida 2000-like scorn. Their administration of last November’s voting certainly wasn’t perfect; the mis-assignment of District 28 voters, for example, was a non-trivial mistake. Still, it’s important to understand some key things Virginia election officials did right that allowed them to dodge what might have been a far-worse catastrophe. The most important step Virginia took — and just in the nick of time — was to revert to paper ballots and ditch its high-tech, ATM-like voting machines.

Virginia: After race that ended in drawing, election bills advance | WTOP

Plans to prevent an infinite recount loop appear to be on track for passage in Richmond. On Friday, the House Privileges and Elections Committee unanimously supported a bill from Del. Marcus Simon of Falls Church that would clearly state only one recount is permitted. After a Newport News delegate race recount ended in a controversial tie, there were questions about whether state law would have allowed a second due to conflicting statutes. The full House could approve the bill next week and send it to the Senate. A bill sent to the full House — sponsored by the committee chairman, Del. Mark Cole of the Fredericksburg area — would address the issues in Cole’s district and the adjoining 28th District, where at least 147 voters cast ballots in the wrong races Nov. 7.

Australia: A new type of scrutineer needed for Senate elections | CIO

There are few processes as critical to the smooth running of a society than the electoral process. It’s a procedure in which we must all trust. So it’s surprising that the current Senate count process was found by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to have several deficiencies which were not disclosed at the time of the election. ANAO identified several anomalies in the running of the 2016 Senate election which, although not necessarily casting doubt on the correctness of who was elected, are cause for concern.

Cyprus: President faces runoff after failing to win overall majority | The Guardian

Presidential polls in Cyprus were inconclusive on Sunday, with no candidate winning an overall majority, forcing a runoff on 4 February between the incumbent, Nicos Anastasiades, and Stavros Malas, a communist-backed former health minister. Anastasiades, leader of the conservative Democratic Rally (Disy) party, came in first with 35.50% of the vote but fell short of the 50% required to win outright. In a repeat of the island’s last presidential election, he now faces Malas, who ran as an independent with the support of the Progressive Party of Working People (Akel). The geneticist won 30.35%, sparking scenes of jubilation among supporters.

Czech Republic: Czech Republic Re-elects Milos Zeman, Populist Leader and Foe of Migrants | The New York Times

After an election campaign centered on questions of civility in politics and the Czech Republic’s place in Europe, voters decided on Saturday to stick with President Milos Zeman and his often-caustic brand of populism that has stoked resentment toward Muslim immigrants and ruptured the country’s relationship with its allies to the west. His opponent, Jiri Drahos, a political novice whose views were not well known, sought to present himself as an antidote to what he characterized as Mr. Zeman’s bitter and divisive leadership. In recent years, Mr. Zeman, 73, has strengthened the country’s ties with Russia and has courted China. Mr. Drahos, 68, offered a firm commitment not just to the country’s membership in the European Union, but also to the bloc’s values. In rejecting his vision, the country was poised to continue in the same euroskeptic direction as its neighbors Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

Egypt: Presidential election looks set to be a one-man affair | Los Angeles Times

Seven years after massive street protests in Cairo that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak and galvanized “Arab Spring” revolts across the region, Egypt’s field of hopefuls in its presidential election has essentially dwindled to one: President Abdel Fattah Sisi. And for supporters of the former field marshal, that’s a bit embarrassing: Even if Sisi scores a near-unanimous victory at the ballot box, as he did in a previous vote, many in his camp would like him to have at least a symbolic opponent. But critics say it is the president’s backers who have engineered a string of abrupt bowings-out by potential rivals.

Finland: President Wins Landslide Re-Election in Historic Vote | Bloomberg

Sauli Niinisto was re-elected as Finland’s president without recourse to a runoff — a first since the post has been settled by popular vote. The 69-year-old former finance minister won the election with 62.7 percent backing, surpassing the 50 percent needed to avoid a second vote. His closest rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, who ran against Niinisto in 2012, had support of 12.4 percent and conceded defeat, YLE said. Turnout was 66.7 percent. “Finland is a great country — it’s the most stable country in the world,” Niinisto told his supporters in Helsinki on Sunday. “Better to be small and stable than large and fractured.”

Spain: Court rules Puigdemont must return to Spain for re-election | Associated Press

Spain’s top court said Saturday that Catalonia’s fugitive ex-president must return to the country and be present in the regional parliament to receive the authority to form a new government. The Constitutional Court ruled that a session of Catalonia’s parliament scheduled for Tuesday would be suspended if former leader Carles Puigdemont tries to be re-elected without being physically present in the chamber. The court also said that Puigdemont must seek judicial authorization to attend the session. Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers have been considering voting Puigdemont back in as regional chief without him returning from Belgium, weighing options that included another parliament member standing in for him or him addressing the lawmakers via video.

Thailand: Ousted party slams fresh election delay to 2019 | Borneo Bulletin

Thailand’s former ruling party yesterday slammed the junta’s latest postponement of elections until 2019, accusing the generals of buying time to consolidate support ahead of a return to voting. The junta has delayed several poll dates since toppling the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014 and instituting a ban on all political activity. Late Thursday, the military government’s rubber-stamp parliament voted to change an election law and pave the way for polls to be pushed back from the junta’s previously-stated timetable of November 2018. Elections will likely be delayed for three months and fall some time in 2019, deputy prime minister General Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters yesterday, without giving a clear date.

United Kingdom: Over-16s to get voting rights in some Welsh elections | The Guardian

The Labour-controlled Welsh government also wants new voting methods introduced, including the chance to vote in places such as supermarkets, leisure centres and railway stations. Alun Davies, the cabinet secretary for local government and public services, said: “Local democracy is all about participation. We want to boost the numbers registered as electors, make it easier for people to cast their votes and give more people the right to take part.” Under the proposals to be announced this week, 16 and 17-year-olds would be given the right to vote in council elections, along with all foreign nationals legally resident in Wales.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 22 -28 2018

The ranking member of theHouse intelligence committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has warned that the threat of foreign interference is being dangerously downplayed by President Trump, and fears that many states are not ready to combat potential hacking during the 2018 elections. He specifically called on states to abandon voting equipment that does not provide a software-independent record of the vote arguing that “[a]fter what we saw in the last election, it’s malpractice for any Secretary of State to not have a paper trail.”

With the Supreme Court set to on at least three redistricting cases, the Atlantic posted an extensive piece considering the future of partisan gerrymandering. While courts have sometimes invalidated gerrymandered districts on the basis of racial bias, they have been reluctant to weigh on gerrymandering for partisan advantage. This may change with challenges in Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina and Maryland.

Former felons could have their Florida voting rights restored under a proposed constitutional amendment headed to voters in November, a measure that could have a significant impact on a state known for historically close elections. Floridians for a Fair Democracy has more than 799,000 certified petition signatures, or about 33,000 more than the group needed to get the measure on the ballot.

Legislation was introduced in Georgia by Republican Rep.Scot Turner  to finally replace the Diebold touchscreen voting machines the state has used since 2002 with a paper ballot voting system. The Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, who is running against Secretary of State Brain Kemp for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, voiced his support of the paper ballot legislation leading to a perhaps predictable but nevertheless unfortunate response from his rival Kemp, who accused Cagle of “joining “liberal conspiracy theorists.”

The Dayton Daily News published an article examining the state of voting equipment in Ohio. State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson,has introduced Senate Bill 135, which has had one hearing in the Senate Finance Committee. LaRose has said he will amend his bill to include paying for new voting equipment for every county board of election, including training and maintenance contract costs. 

The Pennsylvania supreme court on Monday struck down the boundaries of the state’s 18 congressional districts, granting a major victory to plaintiffs who contended that they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. After the state court decision, those Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the order, arguing that “the question of what does and does not constitute a ‘legislative function’ under the Elections Clause is a question of federal, not state, law, and this Court is the arbiter of that distinction.”

Audrey Malagon wrote an excellent oped for the Virginian-Pilot advocating post-election audits for the state. “What if we could check only a very small number of ballots to make sure our elections were running as smoothly as the syringe factory? Risk-limiting audits let us do just that, and Virginia has started this process.”

In a vote along party lines, Wisconsin Senate Republicans voted to oust Ethics Administrator Brian Bell and Elections Administrator Michael Haas from their respective roles by denying to confirm them on a permanent basis. Neither got a customary public hearing before the vote. “For a state that used to be held up as a paragon of good government, it’s a sad and significant step for legislators to remove staff in this way,” says Barry Burden, director of the elections research center at the University of Wisconsin. “It is micromanaging what should be independent agencies.”

The National Audit Office has revealed theAustralian Electoral Commission did not comply with the Federal Government’s basic cyber-security requirements due to time restraints, and accepted the extra security risk. The audit also revealed the Government’s cyber-spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), warned the AEC it was unlikely to resolve its security weaknesses before the July 2 poll.

Dutch domestic intelligence service AIVD had access to the infamous Russian hacking group Cozy Bear for at least a year starting in mid-2014. According to the reports, the Dutch government alerted the United States to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections after Netherlands-based officials watched the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other operations by the Russians, including a 2014 State Department hack.

National: Key House Democrat: U.S. ‘dramatically unprepared’ for potential 2018 election hacking | Philadelphia Inquirer

One of the leading voices in Democrats’ efforts to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election is coming to the University of Pennsylvania Monday with a warning. U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Californian who serves as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says the threat of foreign interference is being dangerously downplayed by President Trump, and fears that many states are not ready to combat potential hacking during the 2018 elections. Much of Pennsylvania, he said, could be vulnerable because of a lack of a paper trail for its voting machines, leaving no physical record of votes cast. The state was among 21 that Russian hackers targeted during the 2016 campaign.

National: Has the Tide Turned Against Partisan Gerrymandering? | The Atlantic

Across the nation, judges are discovering that if you look for it, partisan gerrymandering actually is all around you. Courts have historically been reluctant to strike down redistricting plans on the basis of political bias—unwilling to appear to be favoring one party—but Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania state supreme court ruled that the state’s maps for U.S. House violate the state constitution’s guarantees of free expression and association and of equal protection. That follows a ruling earlier this month in North Carolina, in which a federal court struck down the state’s maps, the first time a federal court had ruled a redistricting plan represented an unconstitutional gerrymander. The decision was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is already considering another partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin. The court has also agreed to hear another case, from Maryland, and rejected a case from Texas on procedural grounds.

Florida: Floridians will vote this fall on restoring voting rights to 1.5 million felons | Orlando Sentinel

Florida voters will decide this fall whether 1.5 million felons will get their voting rights back. Floridians for Fair Democracy, led by Desmond Meade, of Orlando, successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures in their years-long petition drive, just a week before the deadline to reach the required total of about 766,000. Because of that, the state on Tuesday certified the initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved by 60 percent of voters, the amendment would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions after they fully complete their sentences, including parole or probation. Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would continue to be barred from voting.

Georgia: Legislation would replace Georgia electronic voting with paper | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Elections in Georgia could return to paper ballots. A bill recently introduced in the Georgia General Assembly calls for the state to scrap its 16-year-old touch-screen voting system and replace it with a paper-based system. Paper ballots, used by about 70 percent of the nation, are more secure than electronic machines because they can’t be hacked, said state Rep. Scot Turner, the sponsor of House Bill 680. Currently, Georgia’s 27,000 touch screens leave no paper record of how people voted, making it impossible to audit elections for accuracy or to conduct verifiable recounts.

Ohio: ‘On its last legs’: Why election boards are seeking new voting machines | Dayton Daily News

Voting equipment in many Ohio counties, including Butler County, is becoming obsolete as replacement parts are more difficult to obtain and software continues to age. State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, said he knows of at least one county board of elections that has used parts from an auto supply store. He said replacing voting machines before the 2020 presidential election is vital to ensure votes are recorded and counted correctly. “It’s just time to replace them,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that has to be done right.”  LaRose, who is running for Ohio Secretary of State, said there is “widespread agreement that we need to replace voting machines” among those within the legislature. He introduced Senate Bill 135 last April, which has had one hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.