Indiana: Senate panel backs redistricting ‘baby step’ | Indianapolis Business Journal

An Indiana Senate panel advanced a bill Monday that would set criteria for redrawing electoral districts. But the measure approved on an 8-0 vote falls far short of a comprehensive redistricting overhaul that good government groups have sought for years. Senate Elections Committee Chairman Greg Walker acknowledged his bill was a “baby step,” though the Columbus Republican said it still moves the conversation forward. Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts are currently drawn to favor Republicans. That’s because the Legislature, which oversees the once-in-a-decade effort that comes after the census, is in GOP control. In the past, when Democrats had more power, the maps tilted in their favor.

Indiana: Election security bill passes Senate committee | The Statehouse File

County election boards that beef up security around voting equipment and elections will be able to seek reimbursement for their expenses under a bill approved by a state Senate committee Monday. Senate Bill 327 requires counties to make sure their voting systems follow new security procedures and allows county election boards to apply to the Indiana Secretary of State for full or partial compensation of any resources or staff implemented to meet the new standards. However, it does not say where the money is coming from. The bill passed with a unanimous 8-0 vote and was referred to the Appropriations Committee for review of possible funding sources as the result of an approved amendment.

Kansas: Voter data for nearly 1000 Kansas residents exposed in Florida | Associated Press

Efforts to detect voter fraud led to the exposure of private voter data from nearly 1,000 Kansas residents this year by officials in Florida, who released information including partial Social Security numbers to a woman who had filed an open records request. The incident is raising more questions about the Interstate Crosscheck System, which was designed in Kansas to detect double voting or people who register to vote in more than one state, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The Crosscheck system, set up in 2005 by former Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, has been criticized in the past for concerns about security and identifying false matches. In response to the data exposure, Florida election officials on Friday offered a year of free fraud detection and protection services to those affected by the data release.

Kansas: Election chief tries to reassure lawmakers on security of Crosscheck voter database | Lawrence Journal-World

The director of the state’s elections division tried to reassure Kansas lawmakers Wednesday that steps are being taken to ensure the security of a multistate database of voting rolls known as Interstate Crosscheck that is administered by the secretary of state’s office. Bryan Caskey, who runs the elections office under Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, told the House Committee on Government, Technology and Security that the system currently is not accepting any new data, either from Kansas or any of the other 27 states that participate in the program, and it won’t be reactivated until new security procedures have been tested and verified.

Michigan: Groups propose voters rights amendment on November ballot | Michigan Radio

A petition drive hopes to put a voters’ rights amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot. The amendment would let people vote absentee without giving a reason. It would allow early voting. And it would guarantee the right to vote a party-line ticket with one mark on the ballot. “We need to make sure that voting is accessible to all citizens and that everyone’s vote gets counted,” said Judy Karendjeff with the League of Women Voters.

Ohio: Redistricting advocates oppose Republican lawmakers’ plan | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Backers of a ballot measure to change how Ohio draws congressional districts are moving forward with little hope state lawmakers will draft a better plan. The congressional redistricting reforms proposed last week by Republican Sen. Matt Huffman would make it impossible to draw districts such as the “snake on the lake”-shaped 9th district. But critics say the proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 5, will also ensure that the majority party — currently Republicans — can draw a map that gives them plenty of safe seats. When leaders of the Fair Districts = Fair Elections coalition were asked what lawmakers could change about the proposal to win their support, they laughed. “How much time do you have?” Ann Henkener of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said at a Monday press conference. 

Pennsylvania: Supreme court rejects GOP-drawn congressional districts | The Guardian

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. Republicans who controlled the legislature and governor’s office following the 2010 census broke decades of geographical precedent when redrawing the map, producing contorted shapes including one that critics said resembled “Goofy kicking Donald Duck”. They shifted whole counties and cities into different districts in an effort to protect a Republican advantage in the congressional delegation. They succeeded, securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans five to four.

Texas: Trump voting commission asked for Texas lists flagging Hispanic voter surnames | The Washington Post

President Trump’s voting commission asked every state and the District for detailed voter registration data, but in Texas’s case it took an additional step: It asked to see Texas records that identify all voters with Hispanic surnames, newly released documents show. In buying nearly 50 million records from the state with the nation’s second-largest Hispanic population, a researcher for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity checked a box on two Texas public voter data request forms explicitly asking for the “Hispanic surname flag notation,” to be included in information sent to the voting commission, according to copies of the signed and notarized state forms. White House and Texas officials said the state’s voter data was never delivered because a lawsuit brought by Texas voting rights advocates after the request last year temporarily stopped any data handoff.

Czech Republic: Fake News Kicks Into High Gear In Czech Presidential Runoff | RFERL

In the first round of the Czech presidential election earlier this month, Jiri Drahos was variously portrayed — without substantiation — as a pedophile, a thief, and a communist collaborator. The smears were part of a string of unfounded allegations in social media and on websites suspected of dealing in fake news. Now that the pro-Europe challenger’s campaign in a second-round runoff against incumbent Milos Zeman, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongest allies in central Europe, is in full swing, the disinformation gloves have come off once again.

Germany: SPD gives cautious green light to Merkel coalition talks | The Guardian

Germany has inched a step closer to forming a new government after the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) gave its lukewarm endorsement for a renewed Angela Merkel-led “grand coalition”. At a special SPD congress in Bonn that welcomed a speech by the party’s leader, Martin Schulz, with sarcastic applause and saw standing ovations for his fiercest critics, 56% of the party’s delegates voted in favour of moving on to the second and final stage of coalition talks with Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The cautious green light provides major relief not just for the beleaguered leaders of Germany’s two largest parties but also European heads of government, who have been holding off on major strategic decisions since federal elections in September.

Honduras: Clashes turn deadly in protests over disputed election in Honduras | AFP

Activists blocked roads and clashed with police in Honduras on Saturday as part of nationwide protests against the contested re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds jailed since Hernandez was declared the winner of the November 26 run-off election — after a three week stretch of often-interrupted ballot counting that stoked tensions and sparked accusations of fraud in the Central American country. The left-wing Alliance in Opposition against the Dictatorship is heading a protest campaign insisting that the election was stolen from its candidate, former TV anchor Salvador Nasrallah.

Iraq: Parliament sets May 12 as date for national elections | Associated Press

Iraq’s parliament on Monday set May 12 as the date for holding national elections despite calls from the country’s Sunni community to delay the vote until the return of nearly 3 million people displaced by the fight against the Islamic State group. Shiite lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati said lawmakers at a session in the Shiite-dominated house “unanimously” approved the date proposed by the government.

Russia: Court Closes Foundation of Aleksei Navalny, a Kremlin Critic | The New York Times

A Moscow court on Monday ordered the closing of a foundation supporting the activities of Aleksei A. Navalny, the country’s leading opposition politician, moving quickly in a case filed only this month by the Justice Ministry. The court order came before a series of rallies in more than 90 Russian cities and towns, scheduled for Sunday and organized by Mr. Navalny and his supporters. The foundation, the Fifth Season of the Year, has been used by Mr. Navalny to collect donations that finance campaign materials, salaries and offices in 84 regions across Russia, among other weapons in his drive against corruption and the workings of the Kremlin under President Vladimir V. Putin. More than 145,000 Russians have donated $4.9 million to the foundation over the past 13 months, Mr. Navalny says.

National: Mueller adds veteran cyber prosecutor to special-counsel team | The Washington Post

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes. Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller’s team in early November from the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel’s office. He joined 16 other lawyers who are highly respected by their peers but who have come under fire from Republicans wary of some of their political contributions to Democrats.

National: Trump’s attempts to show voter fraud appear to have stalled | PBS

President Donald Trump hasn’t backed away from his unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016, but his efforts to investigate it appear to have stalled. He transferred the work of the commission investigating his claim to the Department of Homeland Security. This week, the department’s top official made it clear that, when it comes to elections, her focus is on safeguarding state and local voting systems from cyberattacks and other manipulation.

National: Judge Knocks DOJ Claim That Kobach Can’t Speak For Voter Fraud Panel | TPM

A federal judge didn’t buy the Justice Department’s argument that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach couldn’t speak to what was being done with the data collected by the now-defunct voter fraud commission he led. The judge ordered that Kobach or another commission member file a declaration giving a full explanation. The declaration will state “what information was collected or created by the Commission and/or its members on behalf of the Commission, where that information was and is being stored, by whom the information has been accessed, and what plans were made by the Commission to maintain or dispose of the information,” U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said Thursday.

Alabama: Bill to eliminate Alabama Senate special elections advances |

A bill to eliminate special elections when there are vacancies in the U.S. Senate is in position for a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives next week. It comes in the wake of last year’s bruising battle to fill the seat Jeff Sessions left to become attorney general, won by Democrat Doug Jones. House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said his bill to eliminate Senate special elections “has nothing to do with the personalities in last year’s election. It has everything to do with the cost to the General Fund.” Clouse said $11 million has been allocated to cover the cost of the three rounds of the special election to fill Sessions’ seat.

Florida: Proposals to restore felons’ rights move forward | Naples Herald

Two proposals that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences were approved Thursday by a Florida Constitution Revision Commission panel. In a 6-2 vote, the commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee approved a measure (Proposal 7), sponsored by former Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their prison time and completed any probation or parole requirements. Felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be excluded. In another 6-2 vote, the panel endorsed a measure (Proposal 21), sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, that would also automatically restore felons’ voting rights after sentences are completed.

Editorials: Redistricting reform in Indiana is long overdue | South Bend Tribune

Indiana lawmakers have the perfect opportunity before them to reform the redistricting process, to make for more open and fair elections. A recent federal court ruling should serve as a nudge to take that opportunity. Redistricting reform is long overdue in the Hoosier state, given that the current system — which gives the legislature responsibility for drawing its own legislative and congressional districts — has resulted in maps that make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive. Both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of this system over the years, with the voters, whose role in political process has been reduced, coming up the big losers. Small wonder that the nonpartisan nonprofit FairVote calls redistricting a “blood sport” that allows incumbent politicians to “choose their voters before the voters choose them.”

Michigan: Straight-ticket voting fight heads to trial | Detroit News

A fight over the Michigan Republican-led Legislature’s attempted ban on straight-ticket voting can head to trial this spring, a federal judge ruled Friday, rejecting Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s request for dismissal. In a 42-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain denied Johnson’s request to toss a lawsuit alleging a 2015 law to eliminate straight-ticket voting would diminish the voice of African American voters.

South Dakota: House approves repealing direct electronic recording | The Daily Republic

Despite some lawmakers leaving early, 59 representatives happened to still be in the House on Friday afternoon when Rep. Nancy York stood to talk. She explained what’s behind changes sought for parts of South Dakota’s election laws. York, R-Watertown, said election officials in different states are backing away from direct electronic recording of votes. South Dakota law allows it but it hasn’t been used. Security of a person’s ballot is the main reason. HB 1013 would repeal references to direct electronic recording from state law, she said.

Texas: Texas voting rights litigation spotlights Greg Abbott’s role | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the scene that played out among the Greater Arlington Missionary Baptist Church’s wooden pews was, in some ways, reminiscent of the civil rights movement from decades before. Civil rights activists and social justice advocates had gathered to plan a protest. They talked about the fight for equity and the importance of standing up for their community. And they discussed the role of a collective voice to draw attention to the grievances laid out by the NAACP’s Arlington branch over the selection of Gov. Greg Abbott as the North Texas MLK parade’s honorary grand marshal. Abbott “has done more to damage and undermine African-American and Latino civil and voter rights” than any modern-day governor, the NAACP-Arlington said. It pointed, in part, to the role of Abbott, a former attorney general, in both defending and advocating for redistricting maps and strict voter ID requirements that have been tangled up in court for years over concerns they discriminate against Texans of color.

U.S. Territories: 7th Circuit rules vs expanding territorial voting rights | Saipan Tribune

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Saturday against expanding territorial voting rights in Segovia v. United States. The case presented an equal protection challenge by plaintiffs in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who would be able to absentee vote for President and voting representation in Congress if they lived in other U.S. territories or a foreign country, but are denied such rights. The appeals court panel concluded that plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge federal overseas voting laws, a potentially far-reaching conclusion that has previously been rejected by other courts.

Washington: State bills allowing same-day voter registration, local redistricting to empower minorities move ahead | Sequim Gazette

The state Senate passed several bills aimed at expanding access to voting and promoting minority representation in local governments through redistricting. On the evening of Jan. 17, in a reconvened Senate floor vote session, the body passed SB 6021, which would allow voters to register for elections in-person up until 8 p.m. on the day of an election and eight days before if registering online or by mail. The bill passed 29-20 and now goes to the House.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker mum on ousting ethics, elections chiefs | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As Republican state senators prepare to oust the state’s ethics and elections chiefs, GOP Gov. Scott Walker won’t say if he agrees the pair should go. Three times on Friday, Walker sidestepped questions about whether he thought the Senate should deny the confirmations of ethics director Brian Bell and elections director Michael Haas. “I’ll leave that up to them and focus on our ambitious agenda,” Walker told reporters. 

Colombia: Russia using disinformation tactics to disrupt Colombia elections: Former US official | Colombia Reports

Russia is using social media to interfere in Colombia’s pending elections, according to the director of the Kimberly Green Latin and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. In an interview with newspaper El Tiempo, Frank Mora of the FIU said that “what we have seen so far is that they are using social media to generate mistrust and confusion among the electorate.” Disinformation played a major role in a 2016 vote in which the country rejected a peace agreement with the FARC. A recent social media campaign seemingly promoted by far right activists that claimed that an online population census was meant to benefit the FARC, the Marxist group that laid down its weapons last year.

Czech Republic: Presidential election headed for tight run-off vote -poll | Reuters

Czech voters are equally split ahead of a presidential vote next weekend between an academic who promises a better relationship with the European Union and incumbent Milos Zeman, who has used his time in office to push closer ties with Russia and China. A poll by Kantar TNS for Czech Television shows voters leaning 45.5 percent for Zeman and 45 percent for Jiri Drahos, who is a former head of the Academy of Sciences. In the poll, which had 1,522 respondents, some 9.5 percent were undecided or not answering. Drahos also had a slightly higher number of “certain” voters than Zeman.

Egypt: El-Sisi Enters Egyptian Election That Looks More Like a Coronation | Bloomberg

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi finally declared his candidacy for re-election in March and pledged a “transparent” election process. The widely-anticipated announcement came at the end of a three-day conference that focused on the president’s record since he was elected in a 2014 landslide. With no formidable challenger on the horizon, and given the support he enjoys among many Egyptians as well as from the country’s security institutions, another victory for the former military chief seems all but assured. “If you think that I gave my maximum energy with you and want to return the favor to me, all I wish from you and regardless of your choice is to show the world your participation in the vote and choose whoever you want,” El-Sisi said in a speech aired live on TV.

Honduras: Military clashes with protesters over president′s re-election | Deutsche Welle

One protester has been shot dead and several people arrested during the latest confrontation with authorities. Honduras has been rocked by violence since President Juan Orlando Hernandez was re-elected in November. Security forces in Honduras used tear gas against rock-throwing protesters on Saturday as anger over the country’s disputed presidential election continued to spill onto the streets, officials said. At least one person was shot dead by police in the town of Saba, 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of the capital, Tegucigalpa. Authorities tried to clear roadblocks of burning tires in several towns and cities following a call for a national day of strikes.

Mexico: From Russia with Love: Will Mexico be Putin’s Next Guinea Pig? | Modern Diplomacy

Next July 2018, Mexico will elect over 3000 public posts all over the country, including a new president, members of the Congress, local officials and several state governors. The result of such election will be determinant in Mexico’s future for years to come as it remains unclear which direction the country will take not only domestically, but also regionally and internationally. The so-called leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been the clear front runner of the contested election for several months. This should not come as a surprise as Mexico’s political environment is facing a perplexed field of presidential candidates: José Antonio Meade, the PRI’s candidate, is a well-seasoned public servant with ample experience in public administration, but a very clumsy campaigner that has the difficult task of defending the dire legacy of the incumbent president, Enrique Peña Nieto; Ricardo Anaya, the third candidate is running on a brittle right-left coalition that has been struggling to find its sense of direction.