As the government shutdown drags on, a rising number of federal websites are falling into disrepair — making it harder for Americans to access online services and needlessly undermining their faith in the Internet’s security, experts warn. In the past week, the number of outdated Web security certificates held by U.S. government agencies has exploded from about 80 to more than 130, according to Netcraft, an Internet security firm based in Britain. Various online pages run by the White House, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Archives and the Department of Agriculture appear to be affected by the latest round of expirations, Netcraft said.
Two years on from the U.S. presidential election, Facebook continues to have a major problem with Russian disinformation being megaphoned via its social tools. In a blog post today the company reveals another tranche of Kremlin-linked fake activity — saying it’s removed a total of 471 Facebook pages and accounts, as well as 41 Instagram accounts, which were being used to spread propaganda in regions where Putin’s regime has sharp geopolitical interests. In its latest reveal of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — aka the euphemism Facebook uses for disinformation campaigns that rely on its tools to generate a veneer of authenticity and plausibility in order to pump out masses of sharable political propaganda — the company says it identified two operations, both originating in Russia, and both using similar tactics without any apparent direct links between the two networks.
National: Giuliani now says he has ‘no knowledge’ of Trump campaign colluding with Russia | The Hill
President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on Thursday sought to clarify widely publicized comments he made about possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, saying that he had “no knowledge” of it taking place. “There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form,” Giuliani said in a statement to The New York Times. “Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.” He also argued that “the only knowledge I have in this regard is the collusion of the [Hillary] Clinton campaign with Russia, which has so far been ignored.”
Ballot measures have become a popular way to enact new policies — from minimum wage hikes and legalized marijuana to abortion restrictions and ethics reforms. But voter-approved measures are meeting more pushback. Republican legislators in several states are fighting ballot measures on two fronts: As was the case following the 2016 election, they are trying to overturn provisions of some laws that voters just passed in November. They are also seeking legislative changes that would make it harder for ballot measures to pass in the future. “Lawmakers are undermining the will of their constituents by unraveling these voter-approved changes and attacking the ballot measure process,” says Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which promotes progressive ballot measures.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is leading a push to amend the state constitution to allow voters a minimum of three days of voting before Election Day, but the proposal is being panned by Republican leadership, which says Merrill should focus more on protecting the democratic process from voter fraud. The Connecticut Constitution now requires voters to cast their ballots in person on Election Day or meet certain requirements to vote by absentee ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment Merrill announced Tuesday would remove from the constitution restrictions on absentee ballots and require a minimum of three days of early voting.
After a decade-long push by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, approval from voters last March, and the change of a state law in July, the county board has voted in favor of the dissolution of the election commission. With an 11-7 vote the dissolution starts immediately. Aside from an estimated $300,000 in annual savings to county taxpayers, the merger will streamline services, with the County Clerk helming the commission’s duties and addressing past problems at the polls. The push for the vote came as a majority of the board- those being republican, felt it was necessary to adopt the merger as soon as possible for the April 2 election.
New Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson moved Thursday to settle a lawsuit that challenges the state’s Republican-drawn legislative and congressional districts, a step that potentially could lead to new maps for the 2020 election. The Democrat, who took office two weeks ago, filed a brief seeking to halt a federal trial scheduled for Feb. 5. The filing says a resolution is in the best interest of the state and its voters, “as it will correct any lasting impact of impermissible partisan gerrymandering that may have occurred in the past.” Democrats and the League of Women Voters sued just over a year ago , alleging that Michigan’s U.S. House and state legislative districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered to dilute the voting power of Democrats. The districts were enacted in 2011 by the Republican-led Legislature and former Gov. Rick Snyder.
Minnesota: Bid to get federal election security money picks up early in session | Minneapolis Star Tribune
One of 21 states whose elections systems Russian hackers targeted in 2016, Minnesota is still the only one unable to use federal money awarded to improve election security across the country. But an early victory this week in the House has Secretary of State Steve Simon optimistic that he will soon be able to access that money to update the state’s voter registration system, among other upgrades, in what could be one of the first pieces of legislation to reach Gov. Tim Walz’s desk. Two House measures seeking to utilize $6.6 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds made available to the state last year won quick passage in House committee this week. The proposals died last year after being tied up in a broad spending package Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed as part of a feud with legislators.
Montana: Bill would again attempt to regulate accuracy of election materials | Helena Independent Record
A state legislator is trying to clarify what kind of information can go on the campaign flyers sure to fill mailboxes across Montana during the 2020 election cycle. House Bill 139, introduced by Rep. Kimberly Dudik, a Democrat from Missoula, would require printed election material referencing another candidate’s voting record to provide specific bill numbers, the year of the vote and titles of bills or resolutions. References to another candidate’s statements would require the date and location the statement was made.
Newly elected Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose says he won’t stop the state’s voter purges, but he wants to reduce dramatically the number of inactive voters removed going forward. Ohio’s method of removing inactive voters from the rolls led to a U.S. Supreme Court fight between ballot access advocates and the state. In the end, the top court upheld Ohio’s voter purge for those who haven’t voted or updated their residency in six years. LaRose, who was sworn in Saturday, told The Enquirer that Ohio’s current process is less than ideal and “kind of antiquated.” But he won’t halt the removal of voters initiated by former Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted earlier this month.
Voters may get to decide whether to change the term limit for South Dakota legislators. Senate Joint Resolution 1, introduced on Wednesday, asks voters in November to amend the South Dakota Constitution to limit legislators to two four-year terms instead of the current limit of four two-year terms. The amendment wouldn’t change the total of eight years that a legislator can serve in the House or Senate. Once legislators reach their term limit, they’ll still be eligible to serve in the other legislative chamber or sit out an election before running again for the same chamber.
Virginia: Lawmakers consider creating new job protections for election officials to prevent political firings | Richmond Times-Dispatch
A bill to create new job protections for the local officials who run elections is advancing in the General Assembly with the support of Virginia registrars who say their livelihoods can be threatened for political or personal reasons. House Bill 2034, patroned by Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, would require local electoral boards to remove registrars through the court system. Currently, two of three electoral board members can decide to oust a registrar with a majority vote, a system some registrars say jeopardizes the independence of election officials who are supposed to remain above the political fray. Because registrars can be removed at will, they don’t have access to government legal resources if their jobs are on the line. If fired registrars want to challenge their terminations in court, they have to use their own money to hire a lawyer. “It’s not fair that just…. I don’t like the way you wear your jacket and you’re gone,” McGuire said. “This is America.”
Wisconsin: Judge eliminates early voting limits approved by GOP lawmakers during lame-duck session | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Moving swiftly, a federal judge on Thursday struck down limits on early voting that Republican lawmakers approved last month in a lame-duck session. In a five-page ruling, U.S. District Judge James Peterson concluded the new limits on early voting are invalid because they so closely mirror ones he struck down as unconstitutional in 2016. His decision also threw out parts of the lame-duck laws affecting IDs and other credentials that can be used for voting. “This is not a close question: the three challenged provisions are clearly inconsistent with the (2016) injunctions that the court has issued in this case,” Peterson wrote.
The Wyoming Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Thursday morning took testimony on a bill that aims to discourage crossover voting in Wyoming primary elections, but held-over taking a vote on the proposal until Tuesday. Committee members also said they would take more testimony on the bill at that time. Senate File 32 would bar people from changing their party registration in the ten weeks leading up to the primary election. That date coincides with the first day for candidates to file to run in a Wyoming primary.
Algeria is set to hold the presidential election on April 18, the North African country’s presidency announced. It is unclear whether Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s frail 81-year-old president who has been in power since 1999, will stand for a fifth consecutive term. Djamel Ould Abbes, the former chief of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), was sacked in November, a month after he announced that Bouteflika would be the party’s candidate in the presidential poll. “Bouteflika… is the candidate of the FLN for the presidential election,” Ould Abbes was quoted as saying following a meeting with legislators from the party last year.
The African Union on Thursday called on Democratic Republic of Congo to suspend the release of the final results of its disputed presidential election due to its doubts over the provisional results. The rare move from the group injects fresh uncertainty into the post-election process, which was meant to usher in the country’s first democratic transfer of power in 59 years of independence, but has been mired in controversy since the Dec. 30 vote. The final tally is scheduled to be released by the election commission once the constitutional court has ruled on challenges to the provisional results on Friday, but the union called for this to be postponed following a meeting in Addis Ababa.
Establishment parties in Sweden closed ranks and agreed to form a government to block out an anti-immigrant party, possibly breaking a political deadlock that has dragged on since the far-right party surged in last autumn’s elections. The surprise cross-party deal shows how the ascendance of nativist and anti-immigration parties is scrambling longstanding political alliances. The fragmentation of the Swedish party system has—as in many European countries—complicated governing and made the formation of coalition governments more difficult. It took German and Italian parties months before they finally managed to form governments last year, while Sweden has been in limbo since last September’s general election in which no single party secured a clear majority.
A backlash is growing in Thailand against the military junta’s apparent move to further delay elections that are supposed to restore civilian rule, with pro-democracy demonstrators planning to step up their protests in the capital this weekend. The government had given assurances that voting would take place on Feb. 24. But in the latest suggestion that the polls could be pushed back yet again, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Thursday said March 24 was the “most suitable date” because it would not overlap with events related to King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation in early May.