Pennsylvania: GOP take gerrymandering case to US high court | Associated Press

Pennsylvania’s top Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to stop an order by the state’s highest court in a gerrymandering case brought by Democrats that threw out the boundaries of its 18 congressional districts and ordered them redrawn within three weeks. Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Legislature wrote that state Supreme Court justices unconstitutionally usurped the authority of lawmakers to create congressional districts and they asked the nation’s high court to put the decision on hold while it considers their claims.

Editorials: Vote auditing can ensure integrity of Virginia’s elections | Audrey Malagon/Virginian-Pilot

It’s time for better quality control in our election processes. Virginia’s 94th District in the House of Delegates drew names after disputes over a single ballot’s validity. In the 28th District, many voters were told to vote in the wrong district. A single district can determine party control of the House, affecting health care, taxes and education. Yet how can we be sure the ballots we cast are even read and counted correctly? Mathematics makes checking the integrity of our elections simple and inexpensive, and Virginia should do this more often. My grandmother worked in a syringe factory in my hometown. Her supervisor used to pull a few syringes off the line and inspect them. He didn’t check every syringe, but if the ones he randomly checked looked OK, he was confident that the products going out were the right quality. This idea of random checking isn’t just for factories; we rely on it to make sure smoke detectors will save us in a fire and restaurants won’t make us sick.

Wisconsin: Outrage as Republicans Fire State’s Top Ethics and Election Officials | Governing

Can the public trust the political process if politicians themselves don’t trust ethics and election regulators? That fundamental question has become pertinent in Wisconsin. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate voted, in effect, to fire Michael Haas and Brian Bell, respectively the administrators of the state election and ethics commissions. It was a strict party-line vote, with the Republican majority concluding that the individuals running the commissions had been tainted by partisanship and bad practices. “You need the ethics and election commissions to be trusted by all sides that have to deal with it,” says Mike Mikalson, chief of staff for GOP Sen. Stephen Nass. But Democrats complained that the move amounted to vendetta politics. Wisconsin Republicans have repeatedly attacked ethics and election officials whose actions they disliked.

Australia: Electoral Commission failed basic cyber-security requirements, misled public during 2016 federal election, audit finds | ABC

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) misled the public about the security of its data during the 2016 federal election and failed to ensure it had not been compromised, a damning audit has found. The National Audit Office has revealed the AEC 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. For the first time, the AEC contracted a company to digitally scan and count all Senate votes and preferences. But just days before the election, a decision was made to manually cross-check all ballots to ensure accuracy.

Netherlands: Dutch Spied on Russian Group Tied to 2016 U.S. Election Hack | Bloomberg

The Dutch intelligence service passed on “crucial evidence” to the FBI about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported Friday, citing the results of an investigation. Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service known as the AIVD gained access to the network of Russian hacking group “Cozy Bear” in the summer of 2014. While monitoring the group’s activities, the AIVD learned of attacks launched on the Democratic Party, according to six unidentified American and Dutch sources cited by the investigation. The information provided by the Dutch gave grounds for the FBI to start an investigation into the influence of Russian interference on the election race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, according to the newspaper report based on a collaborative investigation with Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal, a journalist at Dutch news program Nieuwsuur. A spokeswoman for the AIVD declined to comment on the report when contacted by phone on Friday.

National: Biden: McConnell stopped Obama from calling out Russians | Politico

Joe Biden said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped the Obama administration from speaking out about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign by refusing to sign on to a bipartisan statement of condemnation. That moment, the former Democratic vice president said, made him think “the die had been cast … this was all about the political play.” He expressed regret, in hindsight, given the intelligence he says came in after Election Day. “Had we known what we knew three weeks later, we may have done something more,” Biden, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said. Biden was speaking at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, a block from his old office at the Old Executive Office Building, to discuss his new article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin.”

National: Algorithm proves voter ID law’s discriminating intent |

In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill requiring that residents present certain types of identification before being allowed to vote. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas, arguing that the intent and effect of the bill was to discriminate against minority voters. That’s where Eitan Hersh, an associate professor of political science at Tufts, came in. Working as a consultant for the Department of Justice, along with a colleague at Harvard, Hersh devised a way to determine who qualified to vote under the controversial law, known as S.B. 12. Using an algorithm, and delving into millions of publicly available records, he determined that while fewer registered voters lacked the necessary ID than had been thought, the effect of the law was clearly discriminatory, disproportionately affecting minorities. To qualify to vote under the law, registered voters had to present a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo.

Venezuela: Opposition Blocked from Running Unity Ticket | Venezuelanalysis

Venezuela’s highest court ruled Thursday the country’s largest opposition coalition won’t be able to run a joint ticket in upcoming presidential election. The Supreme Court of Venezuela (TSJ) found the decade-old opposition coalition, the MUD, violated the norm of avoiding “double affiliation” – the act of holding membership of two parties at the same time. “This grouping character openly contradicts the prohibition of double membership,” the TSJ said. The court’s decision put a question mark over the future of the MUD, which has sought to unify Venezuela’s disparate opposition parties since 2008.

Editorials: One Person, One Vote | David Leonhardt/The New York Times

Voting rights have been under attack recently. In several states, officials — almost all of them Republican, alas — have tried to reduce voting hours, close polling stations or erect barriers to voting, like strict ID rules. These measures have disproportionately affected minorities. In fact, that has sometimes been the stated goal. But now a counterattack is underway. Not only are civil-rights advocates fighting the various attempts to restrict voting, they’re also pushing for new laws to expand it. One of those efforts took a step forward this week. Organizers in Florida announced that they had gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot this November that would restore voting rights to nearly 1.5 million convicted felons. Today, felon disenfranchisement denies the right to vote to one in five black Floridians — and 10 percent of the state’s total voting population.

Florida: Scott’s office raps Broward’s ‘unacceptable’ ballot destruction in Wasserman Schultz race | Politico

Gov. Rick Scott’s office rapped Broward County’s election supervisor for giving an “insufficient response” to an official inquiry concerning her apparently “unacceptable” decision to destroy a congressional race’s paper ballots that were the subject of litigation. The ballots in question were cast in the 2016 South Florida Democratic primary between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and challenger Tim Canova, who later asked to inspect the paper trail because he was concerned about election integrity. Canova finally filed suit against Broward County’s election supervisor, Brenda Snipes, when he felt his public request to inspect a select number of ballots was not being honored in a timely fashion. In the middle of the suit, POLITICO first reported, Snipes’ office destroyed the paper ballots but said it made electronic copies of them.

Georgia: Cagle, Kemp battle over Georgia voting system | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Two of the most prominent Republicans in the race for governor locked in a war of words Thursday over a proposal that would replace the state’s aging voting system with paper ballots. It was the most public rift yet between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the two candidates in the governor’s race with statewide victories under their belts. And their feud, which escalated throughout the day, signaled the debate over the 16-year-old touch-screen voting network could play a larger role in the race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal. It started when Cagle announced he would back a measure to scrap the state’s touch-screen voting machines and largely replace them with a paper-based system. He told WABE that a paper-ballot trail ensures “no games” could be played with votes.

Kansas: Kris Kobach’s Office Leaks Last 4 Social Security Digits of Nearly Every Kansas Lawmaker and Thousands of State Employees, Including Kris Kobach | Gizmodo

This is starting to just get sad. Prior to receiving notice from Gizmodo this morning, Kris Kobach’s office was leaking sensitive information belonging to thousands of state employees, including himself and nearly every member of the Kansas state legislature. Along with a bevy of personal information contained in documents that, according to a statement on the website, was intended to be public, the Kansas Secretary of State’s website left exposed the last four digits of Social Security numbers (SSN4) belonging to numerous current and former candidates for office, as well as thousands—potentially tens of thousands—of high-ranking state employees at virtually ever Kansas government agency.

Massachusetts: Secretary Of State Galvin Calls For Same-Day Registration | WBUR

Massachusetts voters could both register to vote and cast a ballot on election day, under legislation proposed by the secretary of state. “Allowing voters to register on Election Day is the next step in our successful effort to expand access to the ballot,” Secretary of State William Galvin said in a statement Thursday. Galvin’s bill — which joins similar measures at the Legislature — would allow so-called same-day registration to start in 2019, before the 2020 presidential election. “Over the past few years, my office has worked to bring online voter registration, pre-registration, and early voting to Massachusetts,” Galvin added. “This is yet another way to make it easier to cast a ballot for any eligible citizen who wants to vote.”

New Hampshire: Republicans push for more voting restrictions | Associated Press

New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Legislature is again considering measures that would affect voter registration and the casting of ballots, even though the most recent change to the state’s election law remains in limbo in court. Under a law that took effect last year, voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election are required to provide proof that they intend to stay. But after Democrats and the League of Women Voters sued, a judge blocked penalties included in the law and said further hearings are necessary. Meanwhile, Republicans are pressing ahead with legislation they argue will help restore confidence in elections and prevent fraud, while opponents say the goal is to prevent certain groups of people from voting.

New Hampshire: Online Voter Registration in New Hampshire? Secretary of State’s Open to Studying It | NHPR

New Hampshire is one of about a dozen remaining states that doesn’t allow online voter registration — but a bill introduced this year could change that. Similar proposals surfaced in 2016 and 2017, but neither gained traction — in part, because they lacked buy-in from the Secretary of State’s office. Now, Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said they’re open to the idea, but they want the proposal to go through a study committee for more consideration first.

Ohio: Jon Husted says Ohio’s gerrymandering problem could be fixed with 2 simple rules | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Thursday that legislators could fix Ohio’s partisan redistricting process with a few sentences. Husted said the two competing efforts to change how Ohio draws congressional districts are too complicated. A reform plan, he said, only needs two rules: Require a bipartisan vote and don’t divide counties until the entire population of the county has been used up to draw a district. “That’s all you have to do. Bipartisan vote, don’t divide counties — boom!” Husted said, speaking to reporters outside a conference of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies.

Texas: Changing redistricting rules could change who Texas sends to Congress – dramatically | The Texas Tribune

Drawing clever political districts is one way politicians in Texas and elsewhere avoid accountability — by protecting themselves from voters who disagree with them. They do this by stuffing weirdly shaped geographic districts with voters who agree with them. A new examination of redistricting shows how effective legislators have done that nationally — and in Texas, and how changing the rules for drawing political maps could dramatically change who represents you at the state and federal Capitols. FiveThirtyEight unleashed a fascinating series of maps for their Gerrymandering Project series Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court considers several cases that could solidify or disrupt redistricting practices in Texas and other states. 

Virginia: After ‘chaos’ of 2017, General Assembly looks to overhaul election laws | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Recounts, ballot problems and a televised tiebreaker made Virginia’s 2017 election cycle a wilder ride than normal, but the General Assembly will take a slow and steady approach to figuring out legislative fixes. Republican leaders from the House of Delegates and state Senate announced Thursday that they will create a joint subcommittee to study the issues and craft a comprehensive response for the 2019 session. At a news conference, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said legislators have heard plenty about “the chaos in some areas” of the 2017 elections. “Rather than doing this in a chaotic way, we have made a decision to undertake it in a deliberate and structured format,” Norment said.

Cyprus: Old guard against new blood in Cyprus presidential vote | Associated Press

Cypriots are voting Sunday to choose a president who could break a cycle of failure in talks to reunify the ethnically split island-nation — and deliver the benefits of a rebounding economy to citizens still recovering from a severe economic crisis. The incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades, 71, will face off against two main challengers: Nicholas Papadopoulos, the wealthy scion of Cyprus’ late former President Tassos Papadopoulos and leader of the center-right DIKO party, and independent Stavros Malas, who is backed by the communist-rooted party AKEL. Polls show Anastasiades comfortably leading both challengers, though he doesn’t appear likely to pick up more than half of the votes cast in order to win outright and avoid a Feb. 4 runoff. There are some 551,000 elible voters.

Czech Republic: Pro-Europe Czechs hope for early spring in Prague, push to defeat Putin-friendly president | The Washington Post

Over more than a millennium, the awe-inspiring Prague Castle has been home to Bohemian kings, Holy Roman emperors, Nazi commanders, communist apparatchiks and one playwright-turned-dissident who helped topple a superpower. Now the castle’s imposing stone walls and soaring Gothic spires are home to yet another era-defining figure — a president who for the past five years has turned it into a citadel of European populism. As Czech president, Milos Zeman has used his lofty official residence to hurl down verbal thunderbolts expressing, in characteristically profane terms, his disdain for Muslims, journalists and the European Union. He has meanwhile shown fawning admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and others who can bend democratic systems to their iron nationalist will. 

Germany: Angela Merkel′s conservatives and SPD open ′grand coalition′ talks | Deutsche Welle

The two largest parties have formally launched talks to form a new government after last year’s inconclusive elections. Party leaders were upbeat about the prospect of a “grand coalition” in the run-up to the talks. Formal coalitions talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) started on Friday. The talks are aimed at forming what is commonly referred to as a “grand coalition,” bringing together Germany’s two largest parties to form a government. Merkel was optimistic about the talks, saying: “People expect us to move towards forming a government and that’s why I’m very optimistic and very determined in these discussions that we reach a result and I believe that is achievable in a relatively manageable time frame.”

Russia: Boycott or vote? Putin foes split as Russian election nears. | The Washington Post

If you oppose Vladimir Putin, is it even worth voting? This basic question over how much remains of Russian democracy is driving an emotional and divisive debate in the ranks of this country’s political opposition. Barred from the ballot in the March 18 presidential election, Russia’s most prominent Putin critic, Alexei Navalny, is staging rallies across the country this Sunday to call for a boycott of the vote. Other opposition politicians are furious over Navalny’s effort, arguing that convincing anti-Putin voters to stay home would be a gift to a Kremlin looking to the election as affirmation of its power. 

Spain: Report Warns that Russian Hacking in Catalonia Could Intensify | VoA News

A new report says that Russian hacking operations to support Catalonian independence continue and could intensify. The Spanish Defense Ministry’s Center for Strategic and Defense Studies published the report this week. It says Russia is destabilizing Spain as tensions grow in the northeastern region. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hoped to ease tensions by holding local elections last month. Instead, the voting returned the pro-independence majority to the regional parliament. In another protest of the Spanish government, the party then nominated exiled leader Carles Puigdemont as president. Spanish defense minister Maria Dolores Cospedal, as well as EU and NATO officials, have expressed suspicion about Russian interference in Catalonia.

Georgia: Paper Ballot Push Gets Boost With Support Of Georgia Lt. Governor | WABE

The effort to retire Georgia’s aging, electronic voting machines got a boost Wednesday from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, leader of the state Senate, who said the legislature must act “in haste” to setup a new paper ballot system. “I think it is important that we have a paper ballot trail that ensures that accuracy is there, and that there are no games that potentially could be played,” Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor, said in an interview with WABE. Georgia is one of just a few states that exclusively use voting machines without a paper trail. Cybersecurity experts agree it exposes the system to potential doubt, hacks and glitches. “I’m super excited to have Lt. Gov. Cagle on board,” said Republican Rep. Scot Turner, the lead sponsor of a bi-partisan bill in the House that would require the state move to a paper ballot system, which could be audited.

National: The Courts Take Aim at Partisan Gerrymandering | The New Yorker

Donald Trump so dominates the media landscape that he crowds out other news. So what may be the most important political development of our time—the death of partisan gerrymandering—may not be receiving the attention it deserves. Following the 2010 census, and the Republican landslides in the midterm elections of that year, G.O.P. leaders at the state level created remarkably cynical legislative maps for both state offices and the U.S. House of Representatives. They drew district lines that gave Republicans many more seats than were justified by their over-all statewide numbers. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Republicans received only about half the statewide votes, but they now control thirteen of the eighteen seats in the House. Yet the Republicans may have overreached. A series of court decisions in recent weeks—in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and at the United States Supreme Court—have demonstrated that the judicial branch of government is mobilizing to end this shameful and destructive legislative practice.

National: Democrats draft own ‘memo’ in partisan spat over Trump-Russia probe | Reuters

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Democrats have drafted their own “memo” about the investigation of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, after calls for the release of a Republican memo critical of a special counsel’s criminal probe, the panel’s ranking Democrat said on Wednesday. Amid growing partisan rancor over the investigation of possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow, many of Trump’s fellow Republicans have been clamoring for the release of a classified memorandum commissioned by Republicans, which they say shows anti-Trump bias at the U.S. Department of Justice. Democrats have criticized that memo as “highly misleading” talking points intended to undermine the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Trump and his associates. They accused Republicans of inappropriately releasing classified information by allowing every House of Representatives member to read it.

Florida: Amendment to restore felons’ voting rights on Florida 2018 ballot | News Service of Florida

More than 1.5 million Floridians now unable to participate in elections would automatically have their voting rights restored, under a proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters in November. The “Voting Restoration Amendment,” which was approved Tuesday to appear on the ballot as Amendment 4, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. Floridians for a Fair Democracy, the political committee behind the petition drive, this week surpassed the requisite 766,200 signatures to put the proposed amendment on the November ballot.

Arizona: How all-mail elections impact homeless and disabled voters | AZ Central

Tempe’s upcoming election will be an all mail-in election, but some worry that as cities and school districts increasingly move to postal voting, homeless people and those with certain disabilities could be disenfranchised. All Maricopa County school districts opted to have voters cast ballots by mail last fall. Cities including Tempe, Fountain Hills, Queen Creek and Surprise are pursuing mail-in ballots this year. Renaldo Fowler of the Arizona Center for Disability Law, along with the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, are among those working to ensure voting by mail doesn’t leave some people out. They’ve been working to educate Arizona’s homeless population on how they can still vote without a home address. And to educate voters with visual impairments and other disabilities that special ballots can be requested, such as large print or braille.

Indiana: Redistricting reform moving forward | Journal Review

State legislative redistricting in Indiana took an important step forward Tuesday morning when the Senate Elections Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Greg Walker, voted unanimously in support of SB326 to create a set of redistricting standards. The bill will now move to the full Senate. The committee met in the Senate chambers with a crowd of more than 200 from all parts of Indiana in the balcony. Redistricting has been a top priority of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to supporting democracy, voter rights and voter projection. The LWV has co-sponsored with Common Cause Indiana a coalition for independent redistricting which has been educating and advocating for redistricting reform.

North Carolina: Judge Hears Arguments on Restoring Halted Judicial Primary | Associated Press

A North Carolina law canceling this year’s judicial primaries came Wednesday before a federal judge who will decide whether the law should be implemented after hearing arguments about the right of political parties to back candidates and the General Assembly’s authority to set election parameters. The state Democratic Party and several county Democratic parties sued last month over an October law that eliminated partisan primaries for trial and appellate court judgeships for this year only. They said it violated their constitutional right to associate as a party and choose in an election people they believe best represents their party for the general elections.