The Swiss government has issued a 150,000 Swiss franc (US$149,790) challenge to online hackers; break into our new generation electronic voting system and we’ll reward you. The federal chancellery announced a dummy run election will be held from February 25 to March 24 and invited anyone who wants to display their online piracy talents to sign up at https://onlinevote-pit.ch. They can then “try to manipulate the vote count, to read the votes cast, to violate voting secrecy or to bypass security systems,” it said in a statement. The amount of the reward paid out will depend upon the level of intrusion achieved by each hacker.
The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday began a broad inquiry into whether Russia and other foreign powers may be exercising influence over President Trump, acting only hours after a defiant Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the House would not be cowed by the president’s “all-out threat” to drop its investigations of his administration. Other committees were zeroing in on similarly sensitive oversight targets. On Thursday, Democrats will begin their quest to secure the president’s long-suppressed tax returns. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee readied a subpoena for the acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, in case he tried to avoid Democratic questioning. And a House Appropriations subcommittee chairwoman began an inquiry into administration rule-bending during the 35-day partial government shutdown.
In her response to President Trump’s State of the Union, Stacey Abrams went through some of the top issues for the Democratic Party. Health care. Climate change. Gun safety. Then she brought up a topic Democrats are planning to spend a lot of time on over next two years: voting. “Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real,” Abrams said. “From making it harder to register and staying on the rolls, to moving and closing polling places, to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.” The past two federal elections seem to have been a tipping point.
National: The U.S. military is quietly launching efforts to deter Russian meddling | The Washington Post
With little public fanfare, U.S. Cyber Command, the military’s new center for combating electronic attacks against the United States, has launched operations to deter and disrupt Russians who have been interfering with the U.S. political system. Like other U.S. cyberwar activities, the disruption effort against Russia is cloaked in secrecy. But it appears to involve, in part, a warning to suspected Russian hackers that echoes a menacing phrase that’s a staple of many fictional crime and spy thrillers: “We know where you live.” Beginning last fall, before the midterm elections, Cyber Command began directly contacting Russians who were linked to operations, such the Internet Research Agency, that allegedly helped coordinate Moscow’s campaign to subvert the 2016 presidential election. The apparent aim was to put people on notice that their covers had been blown, and that their ability to work and travel freely might be affected.
Arizonans could face a use-it-or-lose situation with the Permanent Early Voting List under a bill approved by a Senate committee on Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 1188 on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it. Voters who want to automatically receive an early ballot in the mail for every election can sign up for the Permanent Early Voting List. Under SB 1188, anyone who doesn’t vote in either the primary or general elections for two consecutive election cycles would be removed from the list, though they would still be registered to vote. At least that’s what the sponsor’s intent was. The bill may accidentally be much stricter than intended.
A federal appeals court says a lawsuit over the state’s outdated election system can continue. The 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a ruling Thursday that said that it did not have the jurisdiciton to hear the state’s assertion the two groups of plaintiffs had standing to file suit, and that the state was not immune from being sued in this particular case. In September, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg denied a preliminary injunction that would have moved the state’s 159 counties to hand-marked paper ballots ahead of the Nov. 6 general election, and also denied the state’s request to dismiss the suit. In October, Totenberg issued a stay in the proceedings pending the appeal to the 11th Circuit.
A reconstituted North Carolina elections board received a private preview Thursday of what investigators uncovered in their probe of absentee ballot irregularities in the country’s last unresolved congressional race. Chairman Bob Cordle said the new five-member State Board of Elections received a “full briefing” on findings in the 9th Congressional District race. The members met behind closed doors with attorneys and investigators for nearly four hours. Cordle said the findings will be released publicly at a hearing Feb. 18. He said the board will vote at the hearing’s close on whether to certify the 9th District results, order a new election or take some other step.
Ohio: New top elections official says Ohio’s congressional lines shouldn’t change before 2020 election | Cleveland Plain Dealer
ew Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday that he doesn’t think Ohio’s congressional lines should be changed before the 2020 election, something a pending federal lawsuit aims to do. LaRose, a Republican, said Ohio’s current congressional maps are “flawed,” but said changing them in the middle of an election cycle would cause confusion and possible lower turnout as a result. He said Ohio should wait until 2021, when the state will draw the maps using a new process approved by voters last year that was designed to help fix Ohio’s gerrymandered congressional districts. Those maps, if they meet meet new requirements to get minority-party approval, would remain in place for 10 years.
Pennsylvania: Paper chase: Fearing hacked election, officials scramble ahead of 2020 to bolster security | WHYY
A bitter cold snap in Erie last week didn’t keep away scores of people from visiting the city’s lakeside library last week, checking out the next generation in voting machines as county officials from across the state scramble with a new voting security mandate. Many, like Joe Gallagher, were poll workers who could be using the machines a little more than a year from now. Gallagher said he came out of “curiosity about the integrity of systems we’re putting into place. There are always some windows open for error.” Pennsylvania plans to close at least one of those windows, replacing every voting machine used in the state with machines that retain a paper record.
Two Tennessee state lawmakers on Wednesday introduced bills to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions after they serve their sentences. State Sen. Steven Dickerson (R) and State Rep. Michael Curcio (R) introduced bills in the state Senate and state House of Representatives, respectively. The bills restore “the voting rights of persons convicted of certain infamous crimes upon receipt of a pardon or completion of any sentence of incarceration,” according to a statement. Dickerson said the bill would exclude people who have been convicted of murder, aggravated rape, treason or voter fraud, but that all other felons would see their rights restored.
Warning that the “likelihood of severe harm is high,” civil rights organizations asked a federal judge to order an immediate halt to a state-initiated process that questions the citizenship of thousands of registered voters in Texas. The MOVE Texas Civic Fund, the Jolt Initiative, League of Women Voters of Texas and Texas resident Nivien Saleh filed a motion for a preliminary injunction Wednesday, seeking to prevent any Texans from wrongly being removed from the voter rolls while the groups’ lawsuit against the state and five county elections officials proceeds. The request focuses on a Jan. 25 advisory sent by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, asking local election offices to look into the citizenship of 95,000 people on the voter rolls. Whitley recommended that counties send notices to people the state flagged as possible non-citizens, giving them 30 days to prove they’re eligible to vote by presenting proper documentation. If they don’t respond, their registrations would be canceled by the county voter registrar. Even if a notice is returned as undeliverable, the advisory instructs the county to cancel the registration.
Texas: David Whitley could face a tough confirmation for Texas secretary of state | The Texas Tribune
The governor’s appointments for secretary of state typically sail through the Texas Senate. But against the backdrop of a flawed voter citizenship check that risked the votes of tens of thousands of naturalized citizens, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest pick finds himself in need of Democratic support. And the minority party’s doubts about — if not outright opposition to — his confirmation are growing. A longtime Abbott aide appointed to the post in December, David Whitley is set to face the Senate Nominations Committee on Thursday after almost two weeks of intense scrutiny of his decision to question the citizenship status of almost 100,000 voters using flawed data that seemingly singled out naturalized citizens for review. He’s since been named as a defendant in three lawsuits alleging the review was unconstitutional and violated federal safeguards for voters of color, who are more likely to support Democrats. And he’s facing questions from Democratic lawmakers about why he handed that list of voters to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution even before the names were reviewed by local elections officials.
Virginia: ‘Taking redistricting into a smoke-filled room:’ Why Democrats are pushing back on reform measure | Virginia Mercury
Virginia is closer than ever to figuring out how to fix the process of drawing voting maps, but some Democrats are backing away from the bill that would do it.
House Democrats have serious concerns about the redistricting reform bill that passed their chamber, saying it doesn’t keep legislators far enough from drawing the districts they serve. “They say it’s independent but that’s like saying up is down and left is right,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. “It takes redistricting into a smoke-filled room.” On a party-line vote, the House passed a proposal from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, that would create a 12-member commission, with four members picked each by the speaker of the House of Delegates, the Senate Committee on Rules and the governor. The appointments would be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
The Australian Parliament said on Friday that hackers had tried to break into its computer network, which includes lawmakers’ email archives, but that so far there were no indications that data had been stolen. “Following a security incident on the parliamentary computing network, a number of measures have been implemented to protect the network and its users,” Parliament’s presiding officers, Tony Smith and Scott Ryan, said in a joint statement. “All users have been required to change their passwords. This has occurred overnight and this morning.” “There is no evidence that any data has been accessed or taken at this time, however this will remain subject to ongoing investigation,” the statement read. Australian news outlets reported that security agencies were investigating the possibility that a foreign government was behind the attack, possibly China’s.
Canada: Cyber security expert briefs parties on protecting themselves during election campaign | CBC
One of Canada’s top cyber security experts says he’s been quietly giving the main political parties threat briefings in the lead-up to the upcoming federal election. “It’s an ongoing conversation,” Scott Jones, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security within the Communications Security Establishment, told CBC News in an interview. “We told them basic cyber security matters. Taking action and thinking about how this could be turned against you is really important.” Earlier this week, Canada’s chief electoral officer raised concerns about the parties’ abilities to protect themselves from cyberattacks.
Israel: Election law ‘screams out’ for update to thwart online abuse, judge warns | The Times of Israel
The chairman of the Central Elections Committee on Thursday appealed to the Israeli media to help protect the April 9 national elections from illicit foreign interference by, among other precautions, refusing to report news from anonymous sources. Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer said current election law, which does not extend to digital media the basic transparency requirements that have long been applied to traditional media, “screams out” to be updated. But in the absence of such a change, local media needed to take additional care, Melcer said, to prevent the spread of stories that were unsubstantiated and possibly malicious and false. (The ruling Likud party has to date been preventing the necessary unanimous agreement among existing Knesset parties to extend those requirements voluntarily.) Addressing a press conference at the Knesset called one day before the onset of the 60 day period during which, according to law, the media is banned from facilitating election propaganda, Melcer said journalists should employ their instincts and common sense when it came to any material, notably including survey results, that looked odd.
Ukraine’s parliament has barred Russian citizens from serving as election monitors during an upcoming presidential election. The Supreme Rada voted to exclude Russians from international observers’ missions that will be monitoring the voting in Ukraine next month. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe submitted a list of candidates for the Ukrainian monitoring missing and it included two Russians. The organization’s observers are considered one of the most credible voices on elections in the region.
Although Thailand will officially hold its first general election in five years on March 24, 2019, the notion that the country will become fully democratic as a result is naive at best and dangerous at worst. The fact is that after the election, Thailand will remain just as undemocratic and most likely governed by an undemocratic administration that has seized and held onto power through undemocratic means. It is absolutely imperative that the international community is aware of this and continues to apply pressure on the Thai government to undergo genuine democratic reforms. The current leader, General Prayuth Gen-o-cha, became prime minister of Thailand in May 2014 after engineering a coup following months of street protests against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. It was Thailand’s 12th coup d’état since the abolishment of absolute monarchy in 1932. Since then, General Prayuth has ruled with an iron grip through essentially unlimited powers that he has granted himself in the 2014 interim constitution. He has arrested hundreds who have dared to criticize the junta and has gone out of his way to stifle both online and offline political discourse.