In his 2008 white paper that first proposed bitcoin, the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto concluded with: “We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust.” He was referring to blockchain, the system behind bitcoin cryptocurrency. The circumvention of trust is a great promise, but it’s just not true. Yes, bitcoin eliminates certain trusted intermediaries that are inherent in other payment systems like credit cards. But you still have to trust bitcoin—and everything about it. Much has been written about blockchains and how they displace, reshape, or eliminate trust. But when you analyze both blockchain and trust, you quickly realize that there is much more hype than value. Blockchain solutions are often much worse than what they replace. First, a caveat. By blockchain, I mean something very specific: the data structures and protocols that make up a public blockchain. These have three essential elements. The first is a distributed (as in multiple copies) but centralized (as in there’s only one) ledger, which is a way of recording what happened and in what order. This ledger is public, meaning that anyone can read it, and immutable, meaning that no one can change what happened in the past.
Cautious about the government’s efforts to safeguard the 2020 presidential race, election-security experts worry that the job is too formidable to finish in the time that remains. One issue at stake is outdated voting machines and technology, but Maurice Turner, a senior technologist with the Center for Democracy and Technology, warned that equipment updates require legislatures to make funding appropriations. With the first 2020 primaries scheduled for February, the process of issuing, receiving and evaluating proposals along can take months. After that comes testing and configuration, another months-long process, before the machines can be delivered on a large scale. “No election official wants to be rolling out new equipment 30 or 60 days before the general election,” Turner said in a phone interview, “so they’re going to need to identify other races, other contests they can test this equipment on.”
The crisis of democracy that has attended Donald Trump’s Presidency has visibly manifested itself in challenges to the free press, the judiciary, and the intelligence agencies, but among its more corrosive effects has been the corruption of basic mathematics. Since the 2016 election, Trump has periodically rage-tweeted about an alleged three million non-citizens whose ballots delivered the popular-vote majority to Hillary Clinton. His fulminations were a fanciful extension of the Republican Party’s concern, despite all evidence to the contrary, that American elections are riddled with voter fraud. The math does, however, support a different number—one that truthfully points to how American democracy is being undermined. Nearly two million fewer African-Americans voted in the 2016 election than did in 2012. That decline can be attributed, in part, to the fact that it was the first election since 2008 in which Barack Obama was not on the ballot and, in part, to an ambivalence toward Clinton among certain black communities. Civil-rights groups and members of the Congressional Black Caucus point to another factor as well: 2016 was the first Presidential election since the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision, which eviscerated sections of the Voting Rights Act. Suppressive tactics, some old, some new, ensued—among them, voter-roll purges; discriminatory voter-I.D. rules; fewer polling places and voting machines; and reductions in early-voting periods. After an election in which some two million Americans went missing, the Administration concluded that three million too many had shown up at the polls. (The equation here is: reality minus delusion equals three million.)
Connecticut: Merrill wants constitutional amendments for early voting, registration | Journal Inquirer
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced her legislative proposals Thursday, two of which require constitutional amendments allowing for a minimum of three days of early voting before Election Day and allowing 16-year-olds to register early to vote. The proposal to allow 16-year-olds to register two years before their 18th birthday would require them to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, but Merrill said she envisions allowing them to register at school, their town hall, or anywhere voters can register. Merrill, a Democrat, said 16-year-olds usually have their first interaction with the DMV when getting their driver’s licenses, and her proposed amendment would make it more likely that younger people are involved in the voting process as soon as they turn 18.
Georgia: US appeals court ruling allows paper ballots lawsuit to move ahead | Atlanta Journal Constitution
A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a judge’s ruling that said Georgia’s electronic voting system poses a “concrete risk” to secure elections. The decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows the voting system lawsuit to move forward. The plaintiffs, who are election integrity advocates and concerned voters, want U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg to switch Georgia’s statewide voting system to hand-marked paper ballots. Totenberg ruled in September that the plaintiffs will likely succeed in the lawsuit, but she denied their request to immediately switch to paper ballots so close to November’s midterm elections. “Now we can get past the defendants’ delays and move forward with the case on the merits and get the relief Judge Totenberg already ruled we’re entitled to,” said David Cross, an attorney for Georgia voters who sued. “This appeal was meritless from the start.”
Three Democrats on a House panel considering a change to the Idaho Constitution involving redistricting walked out in protest on Friday at what they called a clear attempt at gerrymandering before the 10 Republicans voted unanimously to send the legislation to the full House. A short time later, the Democratic House Minority Leader, Mat Erpelding, continued the protest by requiring the full text of three bills be read before debate could begin. Democrats have said the redistricting legislation made public Wednesday followed by the hearing on Friday happened too fast to allow adequate public participation. “If they want to speed up the process, I can slow down the process,” Erpelding said after the House adjourned.
New Hampshire: Amid Election Scrutiny, Dixville Notch’s Midnight Voting Tradition Could Be At Risk | NHPR
Once every four years, for a brief moment, it seems the whole world turns its eyes to Dixville Notch. Since 1960, voters in this tiny Coos County community have been casting their ballots just after the stroke of midnight to mark the official start of the New Hampshire presidential primary. Of course, Dixville Notch isn’t the only place in New Hampshire that opens its polls at midnight. But it’s kept its tradition running the longest, so it gets most of the press coverage. But Dixville Notch has lately found itself under a different kind of spotlight: from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.
Ohio: Federal judges reject state of Ohio’s request to delay gerrymandering trial | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A three-judge federal panel on Friday rejected a request from the state of Ohio to delay a gerrymandering lawsuit that aims to put a new Ohio congressional district map in place in time for the 2020 election. The state wanted to delay the trial, scheduled to start March 4, until after rulings are released this summer in two gerrymandering cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – one brought by Republicans in Maryland and one brought by Democrats in North Carolina. But the judges in their Friday ruling cited time considerations. The state has said any changes to a map must be in place by Sept. 20, 2019, to get ready for the 2020 election.
Rhode Island: Brown University study on Rhode Island voter ID law raises questions | Providence Journal
Opponents of Rhode Island’s eight-year-old voter ID law cheered this week when research showing the law stifled voting by low-income residents appeared to confirm their long-held fears. The study from Brown University academics published by the National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER] found that the photo ID law passed in 2011 and used for the first time in 2014 resulted in a “significant decline in turnout, registration, and voting conditional on registration (for more vulnerable groups of voters) in presidential elections after the law was implemented.” After making the rounds among national election law watchers Monday, the study was cited in a General Assembly press release Wednesday promoting Sen. Gayle Goldin’s package of voting reform bills, including one to repeal the voter ID law.
South Carolina: State needs new voting machines before 2020, election officials say | Post and Courier
The debate over what type of new voting machines South Carolina should purchase may be vexing lawmakers in the Statehouse, but many county election officials have reached one consensus: the state needs new polling equipment and soon. The 15-year-old computers that roughly 3.1 million registered voters currently use are costing tens of thousands of dollars to maintain, a burden that falls onto the state’s 46 counties. And at least a few local election directors worry the aging equipment could result in longer lines at polling places if the Legislature doesn’t find the money for a new statewide system this year. Parts for the current computerized voting system somtimes have to be recycled from other machines, they pointed out. And even if a few machines go down, it could take longer for South Carolinians to cast their votes at precincts, especially in a presidential election year like 2020.
South Carolina: Judge dismisses lawsuit claiming South Carolina’s voting machines endanger voter rights | The Hill
A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit claiming that South Carolina’s antiquated voting machines infringed upon residents’ right to vote. U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs said the machines could impose “some conceivable risk” to the state’s ability to accurately count votes, but the suit did not prove there was a “substantial” threat to the right to vote, The State reported. “A plaintiff…must do more than merely assert that there is some conceivable risk that she will be harmed on account of defendant’s actions,” wrote Childs, who is an appointee of former President Obama.
A regime for “cyber sanctions” is taking shape — and it could already hit mischievous election hackers in May. The European Union is closing in on a procedure that would allow it to sanction foreign hacker groups when they target the upcoming EU election. A plan drafted by the EU’s diplomatic service has been presented to national cyber experts and will be forwarded to foreign affairs attachés later this month, three officials briefed on the plan told POLITICO, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the ongoing talks. The measures would not only allow EU countries to slap sanctions on hacker groups that succeed in intruding into IT systems, but also those attempting to get in, like the suspected Russian intelligence officers who allegedly plotted but failed to hack into the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons last year, the officials said.
Thirteen candidates have been cleared for the March presidential vote in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros, the Supreme Court announced Saturday, barring the main challengers of President Azali Assoumani. Nineteen candidates had registered for the March 24 election and of those given the go ahead, only Azali is backed by a party. The others are contesting as independents. Azali, who was voted into office in 2016, is tipped to win the election. His chief rivals were former vice-president Mohamed Ali Soilih and Ibrahim Mohamed Soule, whose bids for the top job were quashed by the Supreme Court, which is composed exclusively of Azali’s allies.
Estonia is the first member state in the European Union that might be called Extremely Online. Over the past decade, the Baltic republic of 1.3 million people fully digitized its government services and medical data. More than 30 percent of Estonians voted online in the last elections, and most critical databases don’t have paper backups. To sleep a little better at night, the country has recruited volunteer hackers to respond to the kinds of electronic attacks that have flummoxed the U.S. and other countries in recent years. While many are civilians, these men and women, numbering in the low hundreds, have security clearances and the training to handle such attacks. Their sturdy, bearded commander, Andrus Padar, previously a military reservist and policeman, says the threat is taken as a given: “We have a neighbor that guarantees we will not have a boring life.”
Late last week, Indonesia’s military chief issued a call to the country’s security forces to upgrade their digital skills to confront a range of challenges. His comments were just the latest in a long string of similar statements issued by Indonesian officials highlighting the country’s cyber challenges as it prepares to head into presidential elections in April. As I have noted before in these pages, along with other Asian states, Indonesia has been taking steps to confront some of the cyber challenges it has long faced. Indonesia is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to cyber attacks, and the challenge has grown at an alarming rate over the past few years including under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, with the full spectrum of challenges including not just national security or e-commerce, but also in the distribution of so-called fake news and even issues related to e-voting.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is adopting additional security features in the ballots to be used in the coming May 2019 midterm elections to ensure their integrity and credibility. “The ballots will have the normal security features like marks, barcodes and a few others,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez disclosed in an interview over the weekend. One of the additional features is machine-readable ultraviolet (UV) markings on the ballots, he said. “UV marks can be read by machine and if not readable it will then be rejected,” Jimenez said. He declined to discuss the other features for security reasons.
The Swiss government will make its future e-voting system available for a public intrusion test and is now inviting companies and security researchers to have a go at it. “Interested hackers from all over the world are welcome to attack the system,” the government said in a press release. “In doing so, they will contribute to improving the system’s security.” … A mock e-voting session is planned on the last day of the testing period, on March 24, but participants can attack the e-voting system before that, as well. To participate, companies and security researchers will have to sign up in advance of the PIT session’s official start. Signing up will give participants the legal permission to attack the system, will ensure the cash rewards will reach those who first report an issue, and it enforces a set of rules and restrictions on participants.
Officials have disqualified a Thai princess from running for prime minister in next month’s general election after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, said her nomination would be “inappropriate.” Thailand’s Electoral Commission announced on Monday that the “monarchy must remain above politics.” In a shock announcement on Friday, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, 67, said she would stand as the prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party (Thai Save The Nation, or TSN) aligned with populist former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in a 2006 coup.