National: Senate confirms commissioners to Election Assistance Commission, giving it full powers | The Hill

The Senate late Wednesday confirmed by voice vote a pair of commissioners to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving the agency a quorum for the first time since last March. Benjamin Hovland and Donald Palmer were among several nominees passed in the final hours of the Senate session. If they had not been confirmed before noon Thursday, when the 115th Congress adjourns, both nominees would have to go through the confirmation process again. Having a quorum means the EAC can now carry out major policy moves. The small federal agency — created in 2002 to help state and local officials administer elections — had only two commissioners since March, one short of the three needed to take on significant initiatives.

National: Cyber Threats and the Mid-Term U.S. Elections | Council on Foreign Relations

In 2018, the United States—for the first time in its history—held elections amidst wide-ranging efforts to protect this vital democratic process from foreign cyber threats. The Russian hacking and disinformation operations during the 2016 elections caught government officials, political campaigns, and voters unprepared and caused unprecedented controversies. For the 2018 mid-term elections, actions by local, state, and federal governments, the private sector, and civil society attempted to prevent the U.S. body politic from again being damaged by foreign cyber intrusions and information warfare. The 2018 elections ended without the cyber crises that marked the 2016 elections, but this outcome should not obscure the difficulties encountered this year in protecting U.S. elections from cyber threats. Despite progress, 2018 ended with the United States facing a daunting, unfinished policy agenda on strengthening election cybersecurity and responding to cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing citizens and discrediting democracy.

National: House Democrats unveil first major legislative package of voting, campaign finance and ethics overhauls | Roll Call

Automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, super PAC restrictions, forced release of presidential tax returns — these are just a handful of the provisions in a massive government overhaul package House Democrats will formally unveil Friday, according to a summary of the legislation obtained by Roll Call.  The package is being introduced as H.R. 1 to show that it’s the top priority of the new Democratic majority. Committees with jurisdiction over the measures will hold markups on the legislation before the package is brought to the floor sometime later this month or early in February.  H.R. 1 features a hodgepodge of policies Democrats have long promoted as solutions for protecting voters’ rights and expanding access to the polls, reducing the role of so-called dark money in politics, and strengthening federal ethics laws. 

National: Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer Introduce Nationwide Vote-by-Mail Bill | Willamette Week

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) today introduced a bill aimed at curbing voter suppression. The politicians are proposing a nationwide adoption of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, which they say will help democratize elections processes. The Vote-By-Mail Act would require passage by a Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump to become reality. On the eve of a 13-day government shutdown over funding of a U.S., Mexico border wall, that’s an unlikely scenario.

Editorials: Russia isn’t out to decide our elections, they want to divide us and damage our country | Eric Wang/USA Today

Like an Internet meme promoting a narrative, many now say Russia’s online propaganda in America was focused on interfering with the 2016 elections. Federal and state lawmakers introduced bills, some of which became law, on this predicate. But two reports recently released by the Senate Intelligence Committee suggest this premise is mistaken. As the 116th Congress and new state legislative sessions convene in 2019, lawmakers and their staff should carefully study these reports before they act. The reports reveal how the Russian efforts go far beyond election interference. The real goal is outright sabotage by tearing apart America’s social fabric.

Florida: Convicted felons worry red tape will delay restoring voting rights | WKMG

Next Tuesday, more than a million ex-felons will get their chance to register to vote again. This comes after more than 60 percent of Florida residents voted to approve Amendment 4 in November giving felons convicted of non-violent crimes who have served their time and paid all court fees the right to vote. Prior to Amendment 4, felons had to wait at least five years after completing their sentence before they could file a request to restore their voting rights with the Florida governor and Cabinet. About 1.5 million people are affected. Nearly all states allow felons to vote after completing their sentences. However, some ex-felons worry there may be a delay in restoring their voting rights after Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post last month that the amendment should take effect after lawmakers meet in March and pass “implementing language” in a bill that he signs.

New Jersey: Progress Seen in Test of Paper-Trail voting Machines that Allow Audit of Results | NJ Spotlight

Review of midterm election offers assurance that electronic vote counts are reliable, but lawmakers show limited interest in deploying the technology statewide. New Jersey’s first pilot tests of voting machines that provide a way to verify results proved successful in the last election, and now some officials are looking forward to expanding testing later. Typically, elections with state Assembly seats topping the ticket — like this coming fall — have low turnouts and so make this an ideal time to roll out new machines. These machines include a paper ballot alongside an electronic screen which both allows voters to check that their choices were properly marked and keeps a paper trail for the elections board. Fewer people casting ballots should help reduce the wait some may experience as voters who may be confused by the new technology take more time on the machine.

New Jersey: Governor calls for redistricting reform | The Hill

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) says he wants to reform the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn in his state, days after legislative leaders canceled a vote on a controversial plan that good government groups called a blatant power grab. In an interview with The Hill, Murphy applauded the decision to shelve the proposed overhaul, despite the fact that it likely would have cemented Democratic control of the state legislature and congressional delegation for years to come. The measure sparked outrage from Republicans, Democrats and groups that advocate for fair district lines. 

North Carolina: Fight over 9th District election could drag on for months, with no one seated | Charlotte Observer

A new election might not take place in North Carolina’s disputed 9th District for months even if a new State Board of Elections orders a re-run of the contest, leaving local elections officials scrambling and constituents without representation in the U.S. House. “The election might wind up in November,” said Gerry Cohen, former special counsel for the North Carolina General Assembly. “Obviously, people would like to have the vacant seat filled earlier. There’s a lot of moving pieces.” And the timetable for seating a representative in the district that stretches from south Charlotte to Fayetteville got even murkier this week. Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that a planned Jan. 11 hearing by the state elections board won’t happen, after the board was dissolved by a three-judge panel last week following a long-running, partisan battle between Cooper and the state legislature over its makeup.

North Carolina: ‘No reason to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome,’ Harris says as he sues to join Congress | News & Observer

While winners of 2018 House races were being sworn into a new Congress in Washington on Thursday, Republican Mark Harris met with staff from the North Carolina state board of elections in Raleigh. Harris and two attorneys met with state board Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach and Chief Investigator Joan Fleming for nearly two hours Thursday morning, the board said in a news release. Earlier in the day, Harris filed a motion with the Wake County Superior Court urging the court to compel the board to certify his election. “It’s during this hour,” Harris said, “my 434 colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives will raise their hand and take the oath of office and be seated. I’m the one seat remaining of the 435 to be seated.”

Pennsylvania: Counties given new option for voting machine | The Sentinel

In April, the Pennsylvania Department of State informed counties that they must have voting machines that provide a paper record of each vote as a matter of election integrity. Paper ballots provide for more accurate and reliable post-election audits compared to direct recording electronic voting machines, like those used in Cumberland County, according to the Department of State. Gov. Tom Wolf earmarked $13.5 million in federal funds to help counties buy compliant machines, and the state is required to provide a 5 percent match to those funds, leaving more than $14 million available to counties. The Wolf administration said it wants new machines to be in place by the May 2020 primary.

South Carolina: Wrong Votes and System Failures Mar South Carolina Elections, Report Finds | WhoWhatWhy

South Carolina miscounted hundreds of votes in the 2018 primary and midterm elections, according to a new report by the League of Women Voters state chapter. The errors cast doubt on the quality of programming in the election computers, on the functionality of the old hardware, and on the state’s current election infrastructure itself. (Neither political party was favored by these problems.) The state even upgraded the software on its voting machines before these elections, yet failed to fix basic problems. “These are old machines, the software quality is questionable, there are bugs that contributed to the votes being counted wrong, and we need to find a new system,” Duncan Buell, the report’s author, told WhoWhatWhy. “I think the next step is to stop using them and going to something else. Given that known bugs in the software were not fixed in the revision, I would not hold my breath for software I would trust.”

South Carolina: Lawmakers push for independent commission to redraw district lines after 2020 | The Post and Courier

Some state lawmakers want to create a new commission to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts after 2020, setting the stage for a debate over gerrymandering and whether the Republican-led Legislature should be in charge of divvying up voters. A group of senators and representatives filed several pieces of legislation last week that would give South Carolinians the ability to choose whether state lawmakers or a commission made up of nine other people draw the state’s future political boundaries. Anyone who is or was a lobbyist, a candidate for office, a legislative staffer, an employee of a political party or contributed $2,000 or more to a political candidate in any given year could not serve on the proposed commission.

Bangladesh: Opposition boycotts oath, calls for new election | Reuters

Opposition members of Bangladesh’s parliament boycotted a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, after rejecting results of a general election that they said was rigged to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina her third straight term. Hasina’s ruling alliance won more than 90 percent of the seats contested in Sunday’s election, which was marred by accusations of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and violence that killed at least 17 people. Hasina and her ruling Awami League party have dismissed the accusations. While newly elected members of parliament from the ruling bloc, including Hasina, were sworn in, the seven opposition members stayed away.

Congo: A shambolic, unfair election, two years late – Who will win the count? | The Economist

Standing on a chair in a shabby classroom, a technician peels the plastic off the end of a cable with his teeth and attaches it to some exposed wires that dangle around a light bulb. “Soon the machine will work again,” he says cheerfully to a queue of voters, most of whom have waited for more than five hours. Across Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, hundreds of voting machines did not work on polling day, December 30th. The electronic tablets, nicknamed machines à voler (stealing machines), did little to redeem their dodgy reputation. A lot of voters, unfamiliar with touchscreen technology, struggled to use them. Officials from the electoral commission, widely believed to be in President Joseph Kabila’s pocket, offered unsolicited help. Observers feared they were nudging people to vote for the president’s chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Editorials: The Congo’s Crooked Contest | Wall Street Journal

A long history of misrule has made the Democratic Republic of Congo one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. The Congolese people had reason for optimism this summer when President Joseph Kabila agreed to step down. This makes the hijinks surrounding Sunday’s election particularly dispiriting. This was only the fourth multiparty election since independence in 1960, and it is the central African nation’s best chance at a peaceful transfer of power. After delaying elections for years, in August Mr. Kabila agreed to abide by the constitution and forgo another presidential run. That left his chosen successor, Emmanuel Shadary, to face off against some 20 candidates. The opposition largely coalesced around Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, and Mr. Shadary trailed in polls.

Germany: ‘Mass hack attack’ against politicians raises eyebrows in Berlin | Euractiv

Hackers posted personal data, including credit card details and mobile phone numbers, of hundreds of German politicians, national media reported on Friday (4 January). All major German parties except for the far-right AfD have been affected, the report said. The identity of the hackers and their motive are not known yet. The data, published on a Twitter account seen by EURACTIV, also included addresses, personal letters, and copies of identity cards, the public broadcaster said. The data was spread on Twitter before Christmas, staged as an advent calendar, but the breach was not noticed until Thursday evening. The operator of the account in question claims to be based in Hamburg and had more than 17.000 followers as of Friday morning. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report as it was initially open if all data is authentic.

Switzerland: Zurich wants to ease political participation for non-Swiss | SWI

Switzerland’s main business hub is very well connected globally and attracts many expatriates. But Zurich does not grant its foreign residents any say in political matters – an apparent contradiction in a country proud of its direct democracy. The authorities in Switzerland’s most populous city are now considering ways to enhance the participation of this important group. The city of Zurich has about 425,000 residents – 32% of whom do not hold a Swiss passport. Many are expats working for international or Swiss companies. They are highly skilled, hold good jobs and earn high salaries.