Today, Georgia’s “Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission” delivered to the state legislature a final recommendation for new, more reliable election equipment. I was honored to serve as a cybersecurity expert for the SAFE Commission to help improve a process at the very core of democracy – secure elections and the right to a private vote. However, I ultimately chose to vote against the Commission’s final report even though we agreed on many points. Below is a summary of everything I believe Georgia must consider going forward. The SAFE Commission was charged with studying options for Georgia’s next voting system, and our discussions focused heavily on which type of voting equipment to use at physical polling places, risks to election security and hacking methods, concerns for voter accessibility at physical polls, and intergovernmental coordination. State legislators next will review and ultimately determine which new election system to adopt, which new processes to enact or change, and how best to appropriate funds for purchase, maintenance, staffing, training, and voter education.
The next president of the NASS has strong words for House Democrats considering a range of election security measures: Butt out. H.R. 1, a Democratic grab-bag bill with election security provisions, “seems to be a huge federal overreach,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate told POLITICO. “No matter how well-intentioned, the provisions of the bill give the authority of overseeing and conducting elections and voter registration to the federal government.” (In fact, the bill would not do this.) Pate’s remarks, first reported by National Journal, mirror comments by former Georgia Secretary of State Paul Kemp in August 2016. Pate cited NASS’s long-standing opposition to federal mandates for election procedures — in October, the group warned against tying federal funds to regulations — and said state election offices like his are “better prepared than the federal government to determine what is right for their residents.” Despite Pate’s suggestion that “our country’s legal and historical distinctions in federal and state sovereignty” invest states with the exclusive authority to regulate elections, Article I Section 4 of the Constitution empowers Congress to “at any time by Law make or alter” election processes.
National: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia | The New York Times
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
National: Trump has hidden details of his encounters with Putin from White House officials | The Independent
President Donald Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former US officials said. Mr Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. US officials learned of Mr Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Mr Tillerson. The constraints that Mr Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Mr Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.
Perhaps even President Donald Trump is susceptible to the emotionalism of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He listened to the piece surrounded by his fellow G20 summiteers, the leaders of the world who had gathered in Germany in the summer of 2017. Sitting in a balcony, he leaned forward and seemed to listen intently to jocular chitchat from the Macrons. A good rendition of the Ninth—and it’s hard to top the Hamburg Philharmonic—is the musical equivalent of a venti Red Eye, a thunderous jolt to the circulatory system. When Trump joined his colleagues for a post-concert dinner, he seemed unable to stay put in his chair. More specifically, he roamed the banquet hall and gravitated to an empty chair next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was likely not a maneuver that Trump had discussed with his aides in advance. Protocol permitted him to bring one translator to dinner—and his interpreter of choice spoke Japanese. Part of the peril of the improvised conversation was Putin’s cunning, his skill at rewriting reality by cleverly insisting on his own pattern of facts. There was also Trump’s strange tendency to genuflect in the direction of the Russian leader.
House Democrats have waited eight years to regain the speakership, and now that they hold the gavel, they will clearly seek to move on pent-up priorities. For their first act out of the gate, they rolled several into one. The “For the People Act” — or H.R. 1 — runs just over 500 pages and includes proposals the Democrats have pursued during their time in the minority, such as ethics reforms, campaign finance changes, and a well-publicized section requiring presidential candidates to hand over their tax returns. But the bill also lays out a vision for election administration in 2020 and beyond, putting the voter at the center of the process instead of focusing on what is easier for government. Congress taking the lead could cause some heartburn at the state level.
Editorials: Florida restored voting rights to former felons. Now the GOP wants to thwart reform. | The Washington Post
In November, nearly two-thirds of Florida voters backed a state constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to roughly 1.4 million former felons — a measure that undid a feature of state law, enacted after the Civil War by racist white lawmakers, designed to disenfranchise African Americans. Now some Florida Republicans who opposed the ballot measure, written unambiguously to be self-executing, insist “clarifying” legislation is needed. That sounds like mischief intended to thwart the voters’ will and maintain a system under which at least 1 in 5 black Floridians faced a lifetime ban on voting.
Along with a new Georgia election system, a government panel is also proposing changes to state laws intended to make voting easier and more accurate. The panel, appointed by Gov.-elect Brian Kemp last summer, voted Thursday to recommend that the General Assembly revise how the state handles recounts, absentee ballots and election audits.
Indiana: Report: ES&S’s Johnson County voting ‘work-around’ violated election law | Indianapolis Star
Technical glitches and computer crashes led to long lines at Johnson County vote centers on Election Day, but the quick fix used to remedy the problem left the county open to fraud. It also violated election law because it cut off information sharing between polling sites, according to a preliminary investigation report released by the Secretary of State’s office. “I want to let the voters of Johnson County know that what happened is unacceptable,” said Johnson County Clerk Trena McLaughlin, who took office on Jan. 1. “The voters deserve more, and we are definitely going to get this issue resolved.”
After ranked-choice voting helped Democrats defeat two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in November, it’s perhaps no surprise that GOP leaders are eyeing the possibility of wiping away the new voting method. “We must go after this bad precedent,” former Gov. Paul LePage wrote recently to members of the Republican state committee. The two GOP leaders in the state Senate and the state House urged Republican officials to pick former state Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon as the next party chair in part because he can raise the money necessary to “directly assist with campaigns, such as the repeal of ranked choice voting.”
Pennsylvania: Federal shutdown ties up new voting machines for Montgomery County | Philadelphia Inquirer
Montgomery County officials thought they were ahead of the game with their plan to have a paper-ballot voting system in place for the primary election in May.
Now, the partial federal government shutdown has left that plan in limbo — the voting machines the county wants to use have not received final federal certification. If the federal government doesn’t reopen soon, those machines won’t be in place for the primary. “It’s stunning,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, the Democrat representing the 4th District. While federal workers and their families are hurt the most, she said, the shutdown has begun to bite those who need federal services: “And now we’re rippling out to the notion of the protection of our vote? It’s really staggering.” County officials said they’re still hoping for the best.
South Carolina: How often do South Carolina’s voting machines mess up? New election report details count problems | The State
In the last election, some votes in South Carolina got counted twice. Others were credited to the wrong candidate. Also, one observer thinks, the state’s 14-year-old voting machines are starting to show their age, producing other errors. Those are some of the conclusions in a report released last week by the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. On Jan. 22, the league will host a public forum at the Richland County Public Library on ways to improve the state’s election system. The group is backing efforts in the S.C. Legislature to require a paper ballot system. “Over the years, they’ve made upgrades, and it’s still flawed,” Lynn Teague, vice president of the league, said of the state’s existing voting system. “They’re still counting votes wrong … and all this without someone deliberately trying to mess with the system.”
Newly proposed state legislation would implement a safeguard against the voter check-in problems that afflicted Pennington and other counties during last June’s primary election. The legislation is House Bill 1027, which was filed Jan. 6 by the House Committee on Local Government at the request of the state Board of Elections. If passed into law, the bill would require county auditors to provide paper voter-registration lists and bound paper poll books as backups at polling places where electronic poll books are used. The legislation aims to avoid a repeat of the problems that the Secretary of State’s Office said were encountered during the June 5 primary election in Pennington and seven other counties: Brookings, Brown, Hughes, Hyde, Potter, Sully and Yankton.
Washington: Native American voting rights bill proposed ahead of upcoming legislative session | WNPA
A proposed bill would allow the residential address portion of a voter registration form to be filled out with a nontraditional address. Democrat majority caucus chair, Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, pre-filed SB 5079, titled The Native American voting rights act of Washington. “The Washington state Legislature has a chance to rectify historical wrongs with the passage of the Native American Voting Rights Act. In doing so, we will send a loud and simple message to the Native community: we recognize that civic participation as we know it today began with American Indians, and as sovereign citizens of the United States you have the right to have your voice heard at every level of government,” said McCoy.
A bill to open up Wyoming to mail-in ballot elections failed to gain any traction against a headwind of concerns about voter fraud and uninformed voters having an easier time participating in the system. House Bill 36 would have allowed county commissioners to choose to run state and federal elections through a mail-in ballot system. It failed on a 4-3 vote Thursday in the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, with Reps. Aaron Clausen, R-Douglas; Dan Furphy, R-Laramie; and Chairman Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, voting in favor. Two freshman members were excused from the meeting and didn’t enter a proxy vote.
In the wake of Bangladesh’s recent general election, opposition coalition and pro-democracy activists expressed disappointment with alleged episodes of vote manipulation going largely unreported in the local media. But several journalists argue that fear of government reprisals led many media outlets to avoid publishing stories about the alleged wrongdoing. “The level of vote robbery in the December 30 general election was unprecedented in world history. Ahead of conducting the massively rigged election, the government introduced some black laws, like the Digital Security Act, to shackle the media,” BNP senior joint secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed told VOA.
Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Martin Fayulu on Saturday asked the country’s constitutional court to order a recount of the Dec. 30 presidential vote to find a successor to President Joseph Kabila. The Central African nation is still reeling from the surprise announcement Wednesday that another opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, had won the election. Mr. Kabila’s handpicked candidate came in third. Police and members of Mr. Kabila’s presidential guard on Saturday blocked many supporters of Mr. Fayulu from reaching the constitutional court, where his lawyers entered a petition for a manual recount of the presidential election. “I will take this to the very end. I won’t accept that my victory is stolen,” Mr. Fayulu said.
Israel: Months before Shin Bet warning, Israeli cyber chief cautioned of election interferene | Haaretz
Israel’s National Cyber Directorate warned that cyber attacks could influence the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election last October, nearly three months prior to a similar statement made by the head of the Shin Bet security service. The threat is the stream of assaults on state facilities, Yigal Unna said at a conference on high tech at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, which was also attended by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Israel Defense Forces’ outgoing Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Demonstrators took to the streets in Bangkok for the third time in a week to criticize the looming postponement of the general election due next month in military-run Thailand. About 200 people on Sunday held placards and chanted slogans calling for an end to delays in the schedule for voting. A group called “We Vote” said it organized the protest in the capital as well as in other cities across the country. “The objective for today is to secure a date for the election after five postponements,” Nuttaa Mahattana, one of the leaders of the group, said on her Facebook page.