Nepal: Poll panel calls meeting of political parties | Gulf Times

The Election Commission (EC) in Nepal yesterday called a meeting of five political parties and apprised them of the preparations, programmes, and processes of the February 7 National Assembly (NA) elections. CPN (UML) leader Subash Chandra Nembang after the meeting confirmed that the EC briefed the political parties on the poll programmes and processes. “The incumbent government will temporarily name the capitals of the seven provinces as per the constitution and laws. I believe that a political consensus will be reached on the matter,” he said. A total of 2,056 local and provincial representatives will vote in the NA polls.

Russia: Russia’s only independent pollster, the Levada Center, has been blocked ahead of the election | Quartz

The Levada Center has long served as a crucial member of Russian civil society. The pollster has published the country’s only independent surveys, since it split from state-run VTsIOM in 2003, providing unique insights into Russians’ views about politics, economics, culture, and much else besides. Now, it has become another casualty of the country’s 2012 “foreign agents” law, which the Kremlin uses to crack down on organizations that get funding from outside Russia. Having been designated a “foreign agent” in 2016, Levada announced this week that it won’t publish political polls in the run-up to the presidential election on March 18 for fear that authorities might shut it down for falling foul of the law. That means that as the country enters an election cycle where president Vladimir Putin’s victory is certain, we won’t have any trustworthy data to give us a sense of how voters feel about the situation.

National: A Case for Math, Not ‘Gobbledygook,’ in Judging Partisan Voting Maps | The New York Times

In October, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could reshape American politics, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. registered an objection. There was math in the case, he said, and it was complicated. “It may be simply my educational background,” the chief justice said, presumably referring to his Harvard degrees in history and law. But he said that statistical evidence said to show that Wisconsin’s voting districts had been warped by political gerrymandering struck him as “sociological gobbledygook.” Last week, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. came to the defense of math. “It makes no sense for courts to close their eyes to new scientific or statistical methods,” he wrote in a decision striking down North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Editorials: Our elections are in danger. Congress must defend them. | Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen/The Washington Post

While the 2016 election may have left our country divided on many issues, it exposed one critical problem that should unite all Americans: Our democratic process is vulnerable to attacks by hostile foreign powers. As our intelligence community unanimously assessed, Russia used social media channels to influence and mislead voters. It also hacked political campaign committees and local elections boards in a brazen attempt to undermine and subvert our elections. There is no reason to think this meddling will be an isolated incident. In fact, we expect the threat will grow in future years. The United States must do everything possible to prevent these attacks in the future — and lay out the consequences well in advance of our next elections. Today, we are introducing bipartisan legislation to do just that.

Alabama: NAACP Legal Defense Fund ‘disappointed,’ appealing judge’s dismissal of Alabama voter ID lawsuit |

Officials with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Friday filed a notice in court saying they are appealing Wednesday’s dismissal of the group’s lawsuit challenging Alabama’s voter ID laws. U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler ordered the lawsuit filed by Greater Birmingham Ministries, Alabama NAACP and individual plaintiffs against the State of Alabama be dismissed. “We are deeply disappointed by the judge’s ruling dismissing our case before trial,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “Over the course of two years, we have developed a sound case demonstrating that Alabama’s voter ID law is racially discriminatory. We had hoped to present our full case at trial next month.” The group filed the notice of appeal on Friday. 

Illinois: State elections board says Kansas-based voter database not up to task | The Rock River Times

The Illinois State Board of Elections this week said it would not be sending voter data for entry into a Kansas-based registry supported by the Trump administration, citing security concerns. The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, designed by Kansas election officials, supposedly collects and parses information on voter rolls around the country. Driven by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top figure in President Donald Trump’s recently disbanded “Voter Fraud Commission,” Crosscheck has come under fire for potentially exposing the personal data of more than 100 million voters. ISBE officials cited a lack of security measures in the Crosscheck system in declining to take part in the program. The board had originally indicated that it would begin sending data in January.

Massachusetts: Scheduling state primary turns into major political headache | Associated Press

What should have been a fairly routine administrative exercise — setting a date for this year’s primary election in Massachusetts — is turning into a major political headache for state Secretary William Galvin. The primary is normally held seven weeks before the November general election, which would be Sept. 18. But this year, that day also marks the start of Yom Kippur. Setting the primary for that date would clash with a state law requiring the primary to be moved when it conflicts with a religious holiday. Backing up a week to Sept. 11 doesn’t help, either, because that would fall on Rosh Hashanah. That presented Galvin, who oversees state elections, with a potentially dicey decision. The longtime Democratic officeholder decided to crowdsource the decision by making a public appeal for suggestions from voters, candidates or anyone else with an interest.

North Carolina: State Democrats set to introduce voter registration bill | WCTI

North Carolina Senate Democrats are slated to introduce a new bill Tuesday that would impact how many people might be registered to vote in time for the next election. Senate Bill 704, known as the Universal Senate Voter Registration Bill, is aimed at getting more people registered to vote. The bill proposes automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices, public agencies, community colleges and state universities. It also requires the bi-partisan state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to implement an outreach campaign informing citizens of automatic voter registration. Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. said the bill will make registration easier and in turn increase voter turnout.

Texas: Supreme Court adds Texas election case to those in Wisconsin, Maryland | USA Today

The way state legislatures draw election districts for political gain is coming to dominate the Supreme Court’s docket. The justices agreed Friday to hear two cases challenging congressional and state legislative districts in Texas, adding them to ones already pending from Wisconsin and Maryland. Other cases are brewing in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The Texas lawsuits involve more traditional challenges to the use of race in drawing district lines, something the high court deals with perennially from states with a history of violating the 1968 Voting Rights Act. By contrast, the Wisconsin and Maryland cases allege excessive political gerrymandering — designing districts to benefit one party over the other.

Washington: Legislators consider expanding voting rights | Snoqualmie Valley Record

Voting rights legislation proposed by Democratic lawmakers aims to boost election turnout for young and low-income voters and enhance representation in communities often left out in political affairs. One bill would allow local governments to change their local election processes without going through court; the other would extend the voter registration period and allow same-day in-person registration. Both bills have versions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two bills in the House were heard on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and the two bills in the Senate were heard on Wednesday Jan. 10.

West Virginia: Judiciary committee passes single-member redistricting plan to House floor | Charleston Gazette Mail

The West Virginia House Judiciary Committee sent a bill to the chamber floor Monday designed to reorganize the state into 100, single-member House districts during the decennial redistricting process. During the debate, the committee also voted down an amendment to the bill that would have compelled the Legislature to appoint an independent, nonpartisan committee to handle the redistricting, which is typically executed by legislators themselves. The bill passed on a party-line vote of 16 to 8, with Democrats in the minority. Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, sponsored the single-member redistricting plan, House Bill 4002, which would fundamentally change the electioneering mechanics of several House districts, especially those in urban pockets of the state, starting in 2022.

Wisconsin: Heads of ethics, elections commissions fight for their jobs | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Brian Bell removed roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the efforts now to force him out of his job as the head of the state Ethics Commission are mild by comparison. “No one’s — at least not yet — trying to shoot at me or blow me up,” Bell said in a recent interview down the street from the Capitol. But the risks for Bell — as well as Michael Haas, the director of the state Elections Commission — are real. Republicans who control the state Senate say they plan to vote Jan. 23 to deny their confirmations as a way to push them out of their jobs.

Iraq: Critical May Elections Set As Prime Minister Leads New Party | AFP

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced plans Sunday to run for re-election in May at the head of a new coalition separate from key rival and Dawa party co-member Nuri al-Maliki. Abadi said in a statement he set up the “Victory Alliance” coalition as a “cross-sectarian” list aimed at overcoming divisions and battling inequalities in the country. The coalition, the 65-year-old premier said, would strive to “protect the victory and the sacrifices” of the Iraqi people and to “fight against corruption… (and for) the unity of Iraq”.

New Caledonia: Worries as New Caledonia’s independence vote approaches | The Interpreter

Last month, a year before the deadline for the referendum on independence from France, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe visited the semi-autonomous territory of New Caledonia. Philippe is anxious about potential unrest. In October, a special delegation of New Caledonians expressed their concerns to the UN decolonisation committee in New York. According to them, the Noumea Accord (the territory’s roadmap leading to the 2018 referendum) is not being applied correctly. How this situation unfolds will be of significant interest to the region.

Spain: Madrid to maintain direct rule if self-exiled Catalan separatist reelected: Prime Minister | Reuters

Spain rejected as absurd suggestions that Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont could lead the region from exile if elected president by the new Catalan parliament, and said if he were chosen Madrid would maintain direct central rule. Puigdemont fled to Brussels in October after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired him as Catalonia’s leader for declaring an independent republic following an illegal referendum. He faces arrest and possibly decades in jail if he returns to Spain. With only days before Catalonia’s parliament convenes to elect a new regional government, separatists said Puigdemont was their candidate to lead the region again. They are exploring the possibility he could do so by video link from Brussels.

Switzerland: Does a minority rule Switzerland? | SWI

Switzerland is often regarded internationally as a model of functioning democracy. But a closer look shows that Swiss democracy is far from perfect. The “rule of all” turns out to be the “rule of some”. It is September 24, 2017, a “voting Sunday” as we say here in Switzerland. Voters have the final say on a crucial reform of the old age pension system. This is a topic that will concern everyone, sooner or later. Over the course of the day it becomes apparent that the proposed reform isn’t getting a majority of votes and is going down to defeat. But the real letdown begins to be felt late in the evening, when the last municipalities send in their tallies to the election authorities.

National: Russian hackers who compromised DNC are targeting the Senate, company says | The Washington Post

The Russian hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee as part of a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election have been trying to steal information from the U.S. Senate, according to a report published Friday by a computer security firm. Beginning in June, the hackers set up websites meant to look like an email system available only to people using the Senate’s internal computer network, said the report by Trend Micro. The sites were designed to trick people into divulging their personal credentials, such as usernames and passwords. The Associated Press was first to write about the report. These “spear phishing” techniques are frequently used by the Russian group, which the company dubs Pawn Storm, to read or copy emails or other private documents.

National: Russia-linked hackers targeting US Senate | The Hill

Russian hackers from the group known as “Fancy Bear” are targeting the U.S. Senate with a new espionage campaign, according to cybersecurity firm Trend Micro. The Tokyo-based cybersecurity group tells The Hill that it has discovered a chain of suspicious-looking websites set up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system, and learned that the sites were being operated as part of an email-harvesting operation. The websites were reportedly set up by Fancy Bear, a group linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. The group has been implicated in the hack of the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The Associated Press first reported Trend Micro’s findings.

Editorials: A few words on the difficulty of voting while black | Leonaard Pitts Jr./Miami Herald

A few words on the difficulty of voting while black. As we mark what would have been his 89th birthday, it seems fitting to recall that Martin Luther King spoke to that difficulty in a 1957 speech whose words ring relevant 61 years later. “All types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters,” lamented King. As he saw it, neither political party was blameless. He castigated Democrats for capitulating to the rabid racists of their Southern wing — the so-called “Dixiecrats” — and blasted Republicans for caving in to “rightwing reactionary Northerners.” “Both political parties,” he said, “have betrayed the cause of justice.”

Editorials: The constitutional case against partisan gerrymandering | Chicago Tribune

North Carolina is a purple state, narrowly electing a Democratic governor in 2016 while giving a slim presidential victory to Republican Donald Trump. But its congressional delegation is not split so evenly. Republicans hold 10 seats and Democratsonly three. Asked why, one GOP state legislator involved in designing district boundaries had a pithy explanation: “Because I don’t believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” North Carolina’s lawmakers made no bones about their intention to divvy up voters so that the GOP would retain a large majority of the state’s congressional delegation no matter which way the political winds blow. And they succeeded. But last week, a federal appeals court ruled the redistricting plan unconstitutional because of its discriminatory purpose and effect. It was the first time a federal court had ever struck down a map because of partisan gerrymandering. Parties in power have practiced this method to entrench themselves for as long as anyone can remember. But modern technology has made it possible for legislators to carry out their mission with nearly infallible results.

Editorials: President Trump is playing politics with the 2020 Census. It could backfire. | Judith Giesberg/The Washington Post

The 2020 Census is set to take place at a time of political turmoil, when Americans are experiencing a crisis in confidence in federal institutions. Unfortunately, the census is likely to exacerbate that crisis, because the Trump administration has enlisted it in the work of maintaining Republican political control. Signs of the administration’s strategy emerged in May, when John Thompson, director of the Census Bureau and a 27-year veteran of the agency, resigned over a congressional budget forecast he said was inadequate. The proposed cuts would undermine efforts to expand access — getting the word out to undercounted communities or experimenting with online responses. Those warning bells rang louder in December when news broke that President Trump would appoint as deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political scientist who has defended Republican gerrymandering tactics in court. Then, two weeks ago, ProPublica reported that administration officials have asked to include a new question about citizenship status — an addition clearly aimed at scaring immigrants away from participating and being counted. This should concern every American.

Voting Blogs: Squashing the Praying Mantis: Why Maryland 3rd Should be Redrawn | State of Elections

The Washington Post called it the “second-most gerrymandered” district. Its shape is comical and unwieldly. It has been compared to a praying mantis. This is Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District. Yet, when the topic of gerrymandering in Maryland arises, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District receives an outsized amount of attention and focus. The focus on the 6th makes some sense; it is the focus of a federal court case. Certainly, from a lawsuit perspective, focusing on a district where the incumbent lost his seat because of gerrymandering makes more sense than a district where the incumbent kept his seat. However, the 3rd is still more gerrymandered, because it is a weirder shape and the margin of victory for Democrats in the 3rd is higher than it is in the 6th. It is good that both the current governor, Larry Hogan, and the former governor, Martin O’Malley, agree that the gerrymandering in Maryland is bad. However, they should speak out about the 3rd specifically, because, as stated before, the 3rd is more gerrymandered, and because it makes more political sense to focus on the 3rd. The two should draw attention specifically to the 3rd.

Colorado: Battle lines being drawn over how Colorado sets political boundaries | Colorado Springs Gazette

The battle is heating up over how Colorado draws its legislative and congressional boundaries. After failing to knock out a pair of proposed redistricting and reapportionment ballot measures in court, a rough coalition of mostly liberal and good-government groups filed competing ballot measures in late December and is vowing to take the choice before voters this fall – potentially a case of, if you can’t beat ’em in court, join ’em on the ballot. Backers of the original measures, meanwhile, say they welcome the tacit acknowledgment that the current system needs fixing and are offering to work out a plan with their rivals that “ends gerrymandering, protects communities of interest and promotes truly competitive elections.”

Editorials: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights | Tampa Bay Times

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony, and Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are making it nearly impossible to persuade them to restore that right. Now the potential to modernize an archaic practice appears better than ever, and Florida cannot waste this opportunity. Over the next month, it will become clearer whether the most viable path to reform is through a yearslong voter petition drive for a constitutional amendment, the Constitution Revision Commission or the Florida Legislature. The most time-sensitive proposal is a ballot initiative that would ask voters to amend the Florida Constitution so voting rights would be automatically restored for nearly all felons who complete the terms of their sentences, including prison and probation. 

Georgia: How redrawing districts has kept Georgia incumbents in power | Atlanta Magazine

After Joyce Chandler and Brian Strickland, two white Republican state representatives in metro Atlanta, barely won re-election against Democrats in 2014, their colleagues in the General Assembly didn’t take it as a sign to step up minority outreach. Instead, they pulled out their maps. When the state Legislature convened the following January, as part of a “midcycle” redrawing of more than 15 House seats, lawmakers decided to swap out heavily black and Latino areas in Chandler and Strickland’s suburban districts with nearby precincts that leaned Republican. Two years later, Strickland again eked out a victory. The creative mapmaking appeared to be yet another political power play, one practiced just as deftly by Democrats during their more than 150 years of control over the General Assembly. But according to a federal lawsuit filed last October, the 2015 effort was an “assault on voting rights” that amounted to racial gerrymandering—an unconstitutional act.

Louisiana: Redistricting Louisiana’s electoral districts is no cure-all | The Advocate

This week, an interest group and LSU will hold a conference dedicated to making Louisianans think that the sky isn’t blue. LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs will host Fair Districts Louisiana to discuss changing the way the state draws up its electoral districts. The group criticizes the current process as excessively partisan. As things now stand, members of the Louisiana Legislature draw electoral districts for themselves, Congress, the courts, and the Public Service Commission. Some other interest groups across the country also think there’s a better way to redistrict than relying on state legislatures with the input of governors. This procedure, used by most states for decades, has produced lines favoring the party in power and/or incumbents in office just after the census every 10 years triggers a new look at how districts are shaped.

Ohio: Supreme Court Weighs Purge of Ohio Voting Rolls | The New York Times

In a spirited argument on Wednesday, the Supreme Court appeared deeply divided over whether Ohio may kick people off the voting rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state officials. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Ohio’s approach effectively disenfranchised minority and homeless voters in the state’s major cities and was part of a broader effort to suppress voting. “All of these impediments result in large numbers of people not voting in certain parts of the state,” she said. But Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer expressed concern about maintaining the integrity of the state’s list of eligible voters.

Editorials: North Carolina’s ‘partisan gerrymander’ could prompt supreme court action | Andrew Gumbel/The Guardian

The last time North Carolina Republicans redrew the state’s 13 congressional districts, they made absolutely no secret of their ambition to rig the system and lock in a 10-3 balance in their favour – regardless of whether they or the Democrats won a majority of the votes in future elections. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” bragged the chair of the redistricting committee in the state general assembly, David Lewis. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Drastic improvements in mapping technologies and voter information databases meant specialist mapmakers had unprecedented power to manipulate political outcomes, even in a swing state like North Carolina where one would ordinarily expect to see US House and state legislative seats split more or less evenly between the two parties. The instruction from Lewis and his colleagues, according to court documents, was “to create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office”.

Texas: U.S. Supreme Court will hear Texas redistricting case | Houston Chronicle

Texas’ disputed U.S. and state House maps will come under an election-year review by the U.S. Supreme Court in a nationally-followed case that alleges racial discrimination by the state Legislature. The justices agreed Friday to review a lower-court ruling that took issue with a pair of U.S. House districts and several state House districts. The Republican-drawn maps – hotly disputed by Democrats – have muddled through the courts for three election cycles amid challenges that several of the districts were drawn in a way that diluted voting power for Latino and African American voters.