Last Friday afternoon, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton took to Twitter to blast out alarming news. “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” the tweet said. “The @TXsecofstate discovered approx 95,000 individuals identified by DPS as non-U.S. citizens have a matching voter registration record in TX, approx 58,000 of whom have voted in TX elections.” The tweet ricocheted across the internet for two hours before the state sent notice of the explosive number of suspected non-citizen voters to county election officials, who are charged with verifying the initial findings and purging any ineligible voters. The state had been working on the analysis since March 2018, but it took the elections officials less than a day to spot glaring errors. By Tuesday, the original list of 95,000 had been cut to roughly 75,000 names. “I can’t speculate as to why the original list had mistakes,” said Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis, who is President of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators and was among the first to notify the state of inaccuracies. “We weren’t, my county, wasn’t consulted on search parameters or methodology.”
Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU, has been caught in a new round of computer intrusion attempts, this time aimed at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank heavy with ex-government officials. The new efforts by the Kremlin hackers who notoriously breached the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign to support Donald Trump suggests that indictments, international sanctions, a botched assassination and an unprecedented global spotlight have done little to deter Vladimir Putin from continuing to target the West with his hacker army, even as American intelligence agencies warn that Russia is gearing up to interfere in the 2020 election. “We’ve about exhausted our ability to achieve some kind of deterrent model that works,” said Robert Johnston, the security expert who investigated the 2016 DNC breach, and now heads the financial cybersecurity firm Adlumin. “You have indictments. You have Cyber Command releasing Russian malware. We ran psyops inside of Russia saying, ‘We know what you’re up to, stop it.’ Sanctions and diplomatic measures. The combination of all those isn’t enough to make it come to a complete halt.”
Editorials: Mitch McConnell just made it much easier for Democrats to accuse Republicans of voter suppression | Eugene Scott/The Washington Post
Democrats are going all in on voting rights ahead of the 2020 election. This week, House Democrats introduced a bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday. Experts say that would increase voter turnout, especially among minority voters and low-income people who aren’t able to take off work to vote. It’s a popular idea. Business and civic leaders have been offering a similar proposal for years, and Congress considered bills to make it so in 2001, 2002 and 2005. Election Day is a holiday in France, Australia and Mexico. But it’s unpopular with one key demographic: Republicans. The GOP has supported efforts to restrict voting access in the country and is opposed to the Democrats’ idea.
Georgia: Stacey Abrams to Take to Georgia Airwaves During Super Bowl Calling for Hand-Marked Paper Ballots | Associated Press
Before Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams delivers her party’s rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, she’ll take her voting rights campaign to the airwaves during the Super Bowl. Abrams’ political group, Fair Fight, has bought airtime on Georgia affiliates during Sunday’s NFL broadcast so the Atlanta Democrat can push for election law changes. Abrams narrowly lost her November bid to become the first black woman to be elected governor, in a contest marred by disputes over ballot access and integrity. But she is still a rising star among national Democrats and is their top choice to run for a Georgia Senate seat in 2020. In the Super Bowl ad, Abrams appears alongside a white Republican county commissioner from north Georgia. They call for hand-marked paper ballots to replace Georgia’s touch-screen voting system. “We don’t agree on everything,” says the Republican, Natalie Crawford. “But we love Georgia,” Abrams says, later adding, “Every vote should be counted, from every corner of our state.”
The Johnson County Clerk’s Office is looking into switching e-pollbook vendors before the May primary, but the clock is ticking. Electronic pollbooks, which poll workers use to check in voters at vote centers and make sure they have the right ballot, failed on Election Day, and the county last week asked its long-time vendor, Election Systems and Software, to cover the costs of purchasing new e-pollbooks from a different vendor while continuing to use ES & S’s voting machines. “We have asked (ES & S) to pay for it, but as of right now, they have not committed to that,” County Clerk Trena McLaughlin said on Thursday. “We’re going to have to do something.” McLaughlin and her staff are now weighing the other options because the county needs new e-pollbooks, she said. Election Systems and Software promised it would make things right with the county after it failed more than 52,000 Johnson County voters in November, but so far has not delivered on that promise.
Kansas: Court orders elections officer to disclose records on dismissed ballots | The Hutchinson News
A Johnson County District Court judge ruled Thursday in favor of a voting rights advocate seeking records about hundreds of ballots that were tossed in the August primary. Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, asked for the names of individuals who cast provisional ballots and the justification for why they didn’t count. His request was rejected by the Johnson County election commissioner, Ronnie Metsker. The American Civil Liberties Union supported Hammet in a lawsuit challenging the lack of transparency. District Judge David Hauber ruled the refusal to provide names was a violation of the Kansas Open Records Act.”Now elections officials know that whenever they throw out a ballot people will know, and so they need to be really strict about standards,” Hammet said.
Maryland: In census trial, Trump administration tries to show citizenship question would not harm the 2020 count | The Washington Post
Testimony wrapped up Thursday over the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census as government attorneys sought to show it would not harm the accuracy of the count. In the second week of trial at U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, John Abowd, was called to testify by both sides. Abowd, who has testified in similar trials in New York and California, told government lawyers that although the citizenship question would be likely to produce a drop in the initial self-response rate and make the count more costly, the undercount could ultimately be mitigated by census enumerators doing a Nonresponse Followup Operation (NRFU). But when questioned by plaintiffs’ lawyers, Abowd said that even if the households that failed to initially respond could ultimately be counted by the NRFU, adding the question would irreparably harm the accuracy of many of those responses. “The increase in cost and the degradation of the data cannot be remediated by NRFU,” he said.
After more than a month without a State Board of Elections, Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday named five people to the reconstituted board. Cooper named Democrats Stella Anderson of Boone, Jeff Carmon III of Durham and Bob Cordle of Charlotte and Republicans David C. Black of Concord and Ken Raymond of Winston-Salem to the five-member board. “North Carolinians deserve fair and honest elections, and I am confident this board will work to protect our electoral process,” Cooper said in a statement. The board via conference call Thursday afternoon and elected Cordle chairman and Anderson secretary. Another meeting will be held next week, at which time members will set a date for a hearing into the ongoing investigation of alleged absentee ballot fraud in the 9th Congressional District race.
The North Dakota House rejected a bill backed by Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, Jan. 31, that sought to allow the state’s college students to use university-issued identification to vote. House Bill 1479 would have required colleges and universities to provide students with an identification card that could be scanned by a polling clerk to access their address in the state’s central voter file. It failed in a 78-13 vote that almost entirely fell along party lines. Rep. Matt Eidson, D-Grand Forks, was the bill’s primary sponsor.
South Carolina: Richland County failed to count hundreds of November election ballots | Post and Courier
Ballots cast by 1,040 Richland County voters were not counted in last November’s election — another voting mishap in the state’s capital county. While the missing ballots did not affect the outcome of any races and accounted for less than 1 percent of the 142,805 votes cast in the county, the failure to count all votes damages public trust, experts said. “It’s sends a very bad message that people cast a vote, and it might not matter,” Duncan Buell, a University of South Carolina professor who researches voting machines, said Thursday. “This is a big deal.” Richland County missed 832 in-person absentee votes from two voting machines that malfunctioned and 208 votes from two machines at two precincts that were closed incorrectly, Richland County Elections Director Rokey Suleman said.
Texas: Abbott sticks by flawed list of non-citizen voters, says review should continue | Dallas Morning News
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said the flawed list of tens of thousands of non-citizens who had potentially voted released by his secretary of state is a “work in progress” and that state and local officials should continue their reviews. “This is a list that we need to work on together to make sure that those who do not have the legal authority to vote are not going to be able to vote,” he said. “This is what you would categorize as a process, a work in progress. They’ll get it right.” On Friday, Secretary of State David Whitley, who was appointed by Abbott in December, sent an advisory to counties saying that about 95,000 people who received driver licenses — while legally in the country, but not U.S. citizens — also appeared on Texas voter rolls. Of them, 58,000 voted in one or more elections between 1996 and 2018, Whitley’s office said. It asked counties to review the eligibility of people on the list.
Texas: In reversal, Department of Justice under Trump backs Texas in redistricting fight | Austin American-Statesman
Reversing a stand taken by the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice has told a federal court that it no longer believes past discrimination by Texas officials should require the state to get outside approval for redistricting maps that will be drawn in 2021. As part of a long-running challenge to political districts drawn after the 2010 census, lawyers for minority voters, Democratic candidates and civil rights groups are seeking a ruling that requires federal approval before Texas can use any new maps. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department also had argued that such “preclearance” was necessary because “Texas has a history of intentional racial discrimination in redistricting.” The department no longer believes Texas requires federal oversight, according to a brief filed Tuesday evening by John Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general.
For those of you keeping track of the “As Texas goes, so goes the nation” notion, I have either very good or very bad news. The state that gave you two recent mediocre-to-crummy Republican presidents (who are starting to look downright Lincolnesque compared to you-know-who), gerrymandering in the guise of redistricting (thanks a lot, Tom DeLay) and a profound if misguided antipathy to government in general is now surging ahead in a new field: voter suppression. As someone who loves Texas with a triple shot of ambivalence, I take no pleasure in spreading this news. But if it is your goal to keep people of color from the polls — some Republican leaders come to mind — it’s time once again to look to Texas for guidance. Our state officials in their infinite wisdom last week announced that they hoped to excise 95,000 people from voter rolls because they didn’t seem to be citizens. Our secretary of state, David Whitley, insisted that, with the help of the Department of Public Safety, he had been able to compile a list of those supposedly illegally registered. It was even suggested that 58,000 of those folks had actually already voted, a felony in these parts. This finding was heralded in a tweet by our attorney general, Ken Paxton, as an all-caps “Voter Fraud Alert.” Paxton, you may or may not know, is himself under indictment for securities fraud.
Editorials: Virginia is finally moving forward on bipartisan redistricting. It’s about time. | The Washington Post
Virginia has been trending Democratic. A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in nearly a decade. But Republicans continue to control the state legislature thanks to what federal judges have concluded is a racially gerrymandered electoral map drafted by GOP lawmakers in 2011. Little wonder, then, that the party’s grandees in Richmond are reeling at what looks like a federal court’s imminent decision to impose a map that seems likely not only to flip both houses of the General Assembly to Democratic control in this fall’s elections but also to unseat several of the legislature’s top Republicans. The map, chosen by the court from configurations drafted by a professor in California, would shift six incumbent Republicans to newly drawn, and Democratic-leaning, districts. Among the probable casualties would be the current GOP House speaker, Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights).
Israel: Coalition of diplomats, programmers working to beat election cyber bots | The Times of Israel
Numerous Israeli journalists recently received direct messages on their Twitter accounts linking to a sensational news story. The sender, using the Jewish-sounding name “Bina Melamed,” directed them to a fake story falsely alleging former Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman was a Russian spy. Four Israeli journalists — hoodwinked by the article appearing on a rogue but convincing duplicate of Harvard University’s website — spread the story, before it was exposed. Bina Melamed, which turned out to be a fake account operating from Turkey, has become a cause celebre of attempts to propagate fake news in Israel through bots. And cases of cyber sabotage are rising, ahead of April elections.
The United Nations is likely to delay a conference intended to prepare Libya for elections this year until there is more support from rival leaders, sources familiar with the plans said. The national meeting is central to a U.N. and Western roadmap for a vote in Libya as a way out of its eight-year war since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. But big players and their allied armed groups wield considerable power under the status quo, and there is mistrust between rival governments and parliaments. Libya splintered following the NATO-backed revolt against Gaddafi and has since 2014 been divided between competing political and armed groups based in Tripoli and the east. More delay in the U.N.-sponsored conference, where Libyans from all walks of society are supposed to decide details of their elections such as the presidential or parliamentary system, would also probably push back an actual vote.
The wheels of justice turn slowly in Nigeria. On the rare occasions when corruption cases are brought against prominent people, petitions can take years to resolve. It was therefore unusual that on January 25th President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, a mere 15 days after allegations of impropriety were lodged against the most senior judge in the country. This was the first time that Nigeria’s head of state had sacked a chief justice since 1975, when the country was under military rule. Mr Buhari’s move was not merely unusual. It was also unlawful. Nigeria’s constitution seeks to balance the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; a power play by one part against a second needs the consent of the third. Mr Buhari did not seek support from the Senate, where he lacks the two-thirds majority needed to oust the chief justice, so his act is widely viewed as being against the law.
Venezuela: Venezuela set for another round of protests as Maduro rules out fresh elections | Telegraph
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said he was prepared to hold negotiations with the US-backed opposition but ruled out early presidential elections as Caracas braced itself for fresh street protests. “I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” Maduro told the Russian state news agency in an interview in Caracas. Last week the oil-rich but economically devastated Latin American country was plunged into uncertainty when the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself “acting president”. The United States, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada have recognised Guaido as interim president, while China and Russia – Venezuela’s two main creditors – have urged non-interference.