National: In voting-rights case, liberal justices pitch to Kennedy | Reuters

Barely a minute into a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, liberal justices began a strategic barrage of questions that came down to this: Why should a time-honored plank of the 1965 Voting Rights Act be invalidated in a case from Alabama with its history of racial discrimination? What followed constituted a classic example of how justices can try to use oral arguments to dramatic effect and influence a swing vote justice. Key players were Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, appointees of President Barack Obama and the newest members of the bench. The likely target of their remarks: Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who is often the decisive fifth vote on racial dilemmas. “Think about this state that you’re representing,” Elena Kagan told the lawyer arguing against the law on Wednesday. “It’s about a quarter black, but Alabama has no black statewide elected officials.” Focusing on Shelby County, Alabama, the southern locale that brought the case, Sotomayor asked, “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”

National: Conservative Justices Voice Skepticism on Voting Law | NYTimes.com

A central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 may be in peril, judging from tough questioning on Wednesday from the Supreme Court’s more conservative members. Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” The court’s more liberal members, citing data and history, said Congress remained entitled to make the judgment that the provision was still needed in the covered jurisdictions. “It’s an old disease,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said of efforts to thwart minority voting. “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.” Four of the nine-member court’s five more conservative members asked largely skeptical questions about the law. The fifth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not ask a question, as is typical.

Mississippi: Clarksdale Mayor Candidate Found Dead — First Openly Gay Candidate in Mississippi | TPM

A Mississippi mayoral candidate was found dead Wednesday and the case is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said. Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said the body of 34-year-old Marco McMillian was found on the Mississippi River levee Wednesday at about 10 a.m. The 34-year-old McMillian was running for mayor of Clarksdale, a Blues hub where actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman co-owns a music club with Howard Stovall, a Memphis entertainment executive, and Bill Luckett, who also is running for mayor. Meredith said the body was found between Sherard and Rena Lara and was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. He declined to provide further details or speculate on the cause of death. The sheriff’s office said Wednesday in a news release on its Facebook page that a person of interest was in custody, but had not been formally charged.

Editorials: The partisan politics of election laws | Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis Fuentes-Rohwer/The Great Debate (Reuters)

Many commentators assume that the conservative Supreme Court justices will strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Like Abigail Thernstrom, however, we are not so sure. Congress clearly has the authority to continue to maintain Section 5. If the court does strike it down, though, it will give Congress an opportunity to update the act for the 21st century. In 2012, state legislatures passed many partisan initiatives designed to constrain the right to vote ‑ ranging from efforts to end same-day registration to adding voter identification laws. In Virginia, state senators used one colleague’s absence to pass a new, arguably discriminatory redistricting plan. In Indiana and North Carolina, new proposals would make it harder for some students to vote. Some states are considering tinkering with the way they choose electors to the Electoral College. Some of these initiatives may have a disparate racial impact — and might be actionable under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Some may even have been motivated by an intent to discriminate. But many of the actions that affect racial minorities seem to do so for partisan political purposes, not racial reasons. Unless Congress can stop these partisan initiatives, the parties will increasingly target the other side’s voters for political gain.  The American public, meanwhile, ends up as collateral damage.

Verified Voting Blog: Statement on the Dangers of Internet Voting in Public Elections

At a time when more and more transactions occur online, a number of election officials and private organizations are looking to the Internet as one more possible avenue for balloting. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that would be using an online voting system to help its members choose this year’s Oscar nominees and finalists, thereby adding to the “credibility” of online voting, we find ourselves compelled to remind the general public that it is dangerous to deploy voting by email, efax, or through Internet portals in public governmental elections at this time. Public elections run by municipal, local and state governments should not be compared to elections like the one run by the Academy. The following describes our concerns about the use of Internet voting systems in public elections.

• Cyber security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology[1] and the Department of Homeland Security[2] have warned that current Internet voting technologies should not be deployed in public elections. Internet voting systems, including email, fax and web based voting systems in which marked ballots are cast online, cannot be properly protected and may be subject to undetectable alteration.

• Citizens ask, “If I can bank online, why can’t I vote online?” Online banking and e-commerce are NOT secure, despite massive business investments in state-of-the-art cyber-security tools.

• Banking policies protect and reimburse people whose money or credit card numbers are stolen online. If a hacker deletes or alters a ballot, the action can neither be traced nor corrected.

• Banking policies generally do not protect companies when funds are stolen from their accounts. It has been reported that as many as ten percent of small business have had money stolen from their bank accounts.[3] Even so, businesses understand and accept that money lost through cyber-crime is part of the risk of doing business online, and they seek to reduce losses by obtaining fraud insurance. We cannot take that approach in counting votes in public elections; a cyber-attack that alters or deletes just a few hundred votes, and perhaps even fewer, can change the result of an election. There is no such thing as “fraud insurance” for ballots, and we can scarcely accept online fraud in ten percent of our election jurisdictions.

• The parties in online business transactions maintain and audit account records to detect fraudulent activities. But because we vote by secret ballot in public elections, individual voters have no way to check and verify that their ballots were properly counted. Thus online voting is particularly susceptible to tampering, all but certain to go undetected.

• Internet voting system vendors make claims about the security of their products that have never been substantiated by publicly reviewable testing and research.

Armenia: Day 17 of Armenia’s presidential campaign brings concerns about hunger-striking candidate’s health | ArmeniaNow.com

With one of the candidates in the current presidential race in Armenia still recovering in hospital after surviving an assassination attempt, another one refuses to be hospitalized after doctors registered some deterioration of his health condition on Wednesday. Andrias Ghukasyan, a 42-year-old director of Radio Hay, has been camped outside the National Academy of Sciences building in central Yerevan since the start of the campaign on January 21, refusing to take food and demanding that incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan be disqualified from the race and international observers discontinue their mission and leave Armenia. Responding to an emergency call on Wednesday, ambulance service doctors examined Ghukasyan, registering a drop in his blood pressure. The candidate, however, refused to go to hospital and said he was determined to continue his hunger strike until February 18 – Election Day.

Maine: Voter ID Law Not Recommended By Independent Elections Panel | Huffington Post

An independent panel formed by a Republican official and charged with examining Maine’s electoral system has concluded that the state should not a implement voter ID system. “The Commission, by a 4 to 1 vote, finds that the negative aspects of a Voter ID law outweigh its potential benefits and recommends that a Voter ID system not be pursued in Maine,” read the report from the five-member panel. Former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) — a backer of voter ID — put together the commission last year at the request of the Maine legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. The Huffington Post received an advance copy of the report, which Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) will present to the committee on Wednesday. In their report, the commissioners went through the pros and cons of implementing a voter ID law. Pros included the belief that voter ID would “provide an effective tool against voter impersonation” and the fact that such laws have already been implemented in dozens of other states. The panel ultimately concluded, however, that the potential drawbacks to Maine’s electoral system far outweighed any benefits.

Czech Republic: ‘Prince’ goes punk in presidential bid | ABC News

Riding a wave of popularity among youngsters wearing badges depicting him as punk rocker, blue-blooded Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg is proving a serious contender in his country’s first direct presidential election. At 75, some see him as too old for the job, yet young Czechs love him, lavishing him with more than 500,000 likes on his Facebook page, while Mr Schwarzenberg’s campaign team rewards them with rock concerts. Mr Schwarzenberg is famous for a love of good food, wine, whisky and for dozing off in public during tedious political meetings. “I fall asleep when others talk nonsense,” he once told reporters.

South Korea: Absentee ballots to count in South Korean election for first time | Asahi Shimbun

South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election will make history as the first to accept absentee ballots from voters living in Japan, including many long-term ethnic Korean residents denied a vote in Japanese elections. On Dec. 5 the South Korean Embassy opened its doors to voters, admitting them to a makeshift polling station inside. “Fill out ballots here,” said signs in Korean and Japanese affixed to a row of booths. After verifying voters’ identification, embassy staff explained what to do. “This is the first time I have ever voted in my life. My hands were shaking,” said 85-year-old Rhee Sang-bae, 85, whose eyes moistened as he spoke. Rhee had traveled by bus and train from Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.

Verified Voting Blog: Election, Tech Experts to Obama: Yes, “We Need to Fix That,” But E-Voting Not the Answer

Groups Warn Against Hasty Action on Internet Voting in Response to Long Lines, Technical Glitches in November

In a letter delivered to President Obama and congressional leaders this week, a broad coalition of experts, including congressional representatives, elections officers and cyber-security experts, is urging the president and Congress to reject any calls for Internet voting. They are warning officials that Internet voting remains a highly insecure option that leaves our systems vulnerable to cyber-attacks and technical failures. After voters across the country waited as long as seven hours to cast their ballots and Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on East Coast election systems last November, lawmakers in Congress are introducing legislation to facilitate the voting process in federal elections, and some parties have expressed Interest in online voting. The text of the letter can be found here.

Oregon: Deanna Swenson, former Clackamas County elections worker, pleads not guilty to ballot tampering charges | OregonLive.com

Deanna Swenson, a former Clackamas County elections employee, pleaded not guilty in Circuit Court this afternoon to charges of ballot tampering. Swenson, 55, did not speak during the two-minute arraignment. The Beavercreek resident’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 16. Swenson, a part-time temporary elections employee and a registered Republican, allegedly filled in down-ballot races left blank to cast additional votes for Republicans around Oct. 30 or 31.

South Carolina: More uncounted votes discovered in Richland County | TheState.com

Two days after Richland County election officials assured their bosses and the public that all votes had been counted, they learned that a voting machine from the Lincolnshire precinct, stored in a warehouse after the election, contained 27 uncounted votes. The notice came not from keen-eyed election officials but from a USC computer science professor who analyzes elections and who happened to be a poll watcher at Lincolnshire, a precinct off Monticello Road north of I-20. The analysis by professor Duncan Buell also found that in addition to the machine used by curbside voters at Lincolnshire, votes in six machines at six other precincts might not have been counted.

Verified Voting Blog: Some modest proposals for voter signature verification

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz proposes that we use some kind of electronic scanning system to evaluate voter signatures. I have no idea how good signature comparison software is these days, but I do I know that my own signature isn’t very consistent. Would automatic signature matching software really work well enough to recognize that all of my signatures are mine while rejecting forgeries? I’m skeptical. If one person’s absentee ballot is incorrectly rejected because someone or some software thinks their signature does not match, that would seem to me to be a violation of that voter’s civil rights. If signature matching has a higher likelihood of failing for one group of people than for another, then signature verification can be said to systematically deny voting rights to that group.

South Carolina: South Carolina Governor Haley admits state failed to protect its residents | TheState.com

As more South Carolinians learned that hackers hold their tax return data, Gov. Nikki Haley admitted Tuesday that the state did not do enough to protect their sensitive financial information and accepted the resignation of the agency director in the middle of the controversy. “Could South Carolina have done a better job? Absolutely, or we would not be standing here,” said Haley, who had insisted in the first days after revealing the cyber attack that nothing could have prevented the breach. Hackers possess Social Security and other data belonging to 5.7 million people – 3.8 million taxpayers and their 1.9 million dependents, Haley said. The number of businesses affected has risen slightly to nearly 700,000. All of the stolen tax data dating back to 1998 was unencrypted.

Ghana: 4 Ways To Steal An Election In Ghana | GhanaWeb

Of course there are several ways to rig an election but I have put them in a four quadrant grid to cover some of the other variations as well. In the case of Ghana’s forthcoming elections I came up with these: the Tain Effect strategy (TES), flaws in the Biometric exercise, Voter suppression and the Voter maximizer strategy. Certain factors must come into play for it to execute efficiently: It must take place in a constituency you are highly favored to win aka Tain. You intentionally cause a delay in your Tain using ‘Dumsor’ (rolling blackouts) as an excuse- an act of their evil god. Your opponents have already turned in figures and all their polling stations closed. You cause disruptions using Djan’s method of machomen and foot soldiers to dispute your opponents figures.

Virginia: Long voting lines blamed on high turnout, too-few poll workers and voting machines | The Washington Post

In the District, there were technical glitches with equipment at polling places. In Montgomery County, budget constraints led to about 1,000 fewer election judges than during the previous presidential election. But there’s no question about it: Some precincts in Northern Virginia held the dubious distinction of having the most brutally long lines for voters in the Washington region on Tuesday. In Prince William and Fairfax counties, hundreds waited for more than three hours — and long after polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. The problems were blamed on high voter turnout, unusually long ballots, a shortage of poll workers and a limited number of touch-screen machines.

New Jersey: Email vote rule raises storm of protest | phys.org

Citizens of New Jersey’s Ocean County vote at the Ocean County Administration building in Toms River in a special early mail voting arrangement. New Jersey’s decision to allow voters displaced by superstorm Sandy to cast ballots by email has prompted a flood of warnings over security, secrecy and a potential for legal entanglements. New Jersey’s decision to allow voters displaced by superstorm Sandy to cast ballots by email has prompted a flood of warnings over security, secrecy and a potential for legal entanglements. State officials in New Jersey announced the plan Saturday, saying it could help victims of the unprecedented storm along with rescuers who may also be unable to get to polling places.

Ohio: Election Law Quirk Could Play Big Role if Vote Tally Sparks Court Fight | American Lawyer

As a key battleground in this year’s presidential election, Ohio has already seen its share of voting-related litigation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has already weighed in with several rulings on the counting of provisional ballots and on expanded early voting hours. But there is another important legal issue peculiar to Ohio that hasn’t gotten much attention so far, though it will be a significant factor should the state’s election tally spark litigation. Under a little-noticed provision of Ohio law, federal election results cannot be challenged in state court.

Verified Voting Blog: Recount Roulette

We risk an election meltdown worse than the Florida 2000 debacle when the presidential election came down to hanging chads and chaos. This time we are looking at another razor close result and perhaps another recount. However, if a recount is required in either of two key states — Virginia and Pennsylvania — we risk catastrophe, because most of those votes will be cast on paperless voting machines that are impossible to recount. To make matters even worse, the wake of superstorm Sandy could cause disruption on Election Day. Polling places without paper ballots that lack power will have to close, resulting in voter disenfranchisement. This is inexcusable, especially as voting advocates have long urged states to provide emergency paper ballots. Other states present their own hazardous recount challenges. About one quarter of voters nationwide will use paperless direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, most of which have touch screens. Unfortunately, the DRE software can store voters’ choices incorrectly.

Guinea: Opposition in Guinea threatens court action over makeup of new election commission | The Washington Post

Guinea’s opposition is threatening court action over the makeup of the country’s election commission, whose new members were appointed via a presidential decree this week. The coalition of opposition parties held a meeting Tuesday, and in a press conference following their session, they said that if the list is not changed, they will file a lawsuit, further complicating an already drawn-out fight which has made it impossible for Guinea to hold legislative elections.

Editorials: A New Right to Vote? Voter Suppression and the Judicial Backlash | The New Yorker

Is there a clear constitutional right to vote in the United States? The answer, traditionally, has been no. That’s what Republican-dominated states were banking on when they moved, after the 2010 elections, to restrict the franchise. But their campaign has seen a legal backlash against those efforts—one that may end up establishing that there is a right to vote in the U.S. after all. Many people are surprised that the Constitution contains no affirmative statement of a right to vote. Several amendments phrase the right in a negative way: the right to vote shall not be denied “on account of race” (fifteenth amendment), “on account of sex” (nineteenth), or, as long as you’re eighteen, “on account of age” (twenty-sixth, which lowered the voting age from twenty-one). But within those broad strictures, the Constitution has long been read as leaving up to the states how to register voters, conduct elections, and count the votes.

Ukraine: Ukraine president’s party set for election win, OSCE unhappy | Reuters

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich’s party was on course on Monday to secure a parliamentary majority but international monitors said flaws in the way the election was conducted meant the country had taken a “step backwards”. Exit polls and first results from Sunday’s vote showed Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions would, with help from long-time allies, win more than half the seats in the 450-member assembly after boosting public sector wages and welfare handouts to win over disillusioned voters in its traditional power bases. They will face, though, a revitalized opposition boosted by resurgent nationalists and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

Ohio: Romney/Hart voting conspiracy theory spreads | Cincinnati.com

Hamilton County officials find themselves facing an unexpected distraction as they prepare for next month’s presidential election: a conspiracy theory that investments by Mitt Romney’s political allies in a voting machine company could rig Ohio’s results.The topic began gaining traction on the Internet earlier this month, propelled largely by left-wing websites spreading the idea that Romney-linked investments in Hart InterCivic, a Texas-based voting machine firm, could somehow jeopardize the accuracy of Ohio’s vote count on Nov. 6.

Colorado: Voting in Colorado

Arapahoe County Colorado was in the news the week with the Denver Post reporting that envelopes containing absentee ballots mailed to over 230,000 voters included “I Voted” stickers, which rubbed up against the ballot and in some cases left a faint, near-linear mark that appeared exactly where voters draw a line to select their candidates. The Secretary of State has issued a list of procedures to address the potential of un-readable ballots and because there is a software independent record of the voted, officials are confident that the problem can be resolved. Unfortunately not all potential problems with the Colorado’s voting technology can be resolved.

For polling place and early voting, Colorado uses Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines and paper based optical scan systems as well as at least two counties doing hand count of paper ballots. About 70% of ballots cast in Colorado are returned by mail. Some counties have only residual use of DRE to satisfy HAVA requirements, others collect substantial votes on DRE in precinct polling places. Some counties receive paper ballots at polling places but count them centrally by optical scan.

Verified Voting Blog: Internet Voting in the U.S.

The assertion that Internet voting is the wave of the future has become commonplace. We frequently are asked, “If I can bank online, why can’t I vote online?” The question assumes that online banking is safe and secure. However, banks routinely and quietly replenish funds lost to online fraud in order to maintain public confidence. We are told Internet voting would help citizens living abroad or in the military who currently have difficulty voting. Recent federal legislation to improve the voting process for overseas citizens is a response to that problem. The legislation, which has eliminated most delays, requires states to provide downloadable blank ballots but does not require the insecure return of voted ballots.

Yet another claim is that email voting is safer than Web-based voting, but no email program in widespread use today provides direct support for encrypted email. As a result, attachments are generally sent in the clear, and email ballots are easy to intercept and inspect, violating voters’ right to a secret ballot. Intercepted ballots may be modified or discarded without forwarding. Moreover, the ease with which a From header can be forged means it is relatively simple to produce large numbers of forged ballots. These special risks faced by email ballots are in addition to the general risks posed by all Internet-based voting schemes.

Verified Voting Blog: Virginia – the new Florida?

There are many ways in which Virginia 2012 could resemble the Florida 2000 – only worse. At least in 2000 there were paper ballots to recount in Florida.  But only 7 out of 134 Virginia localities (Virginia terminology for counties and independent cities) do not use paperless  Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. If a DRE loses or miscounts ballots, it is essentially impossible to determine the correct results.

As if to guarantee that it will be impossible ever to verify an election in Virginia, Virginia law actually prohibits manual post-election ballot audits of paper ballots, except in extremely narrow and unlikely circumstances. This prevents election verification even in the 7 localities that have no paperless DREs (Chesterfield, Gloucester, Hanover, New Kent, Wythe, Fredericksburg, and Williamburg), together with the 30 other localities that have a mix of paper ballots and paperless voting machines.  Unless the anti-verification law is repealed, Virginia will continue to be a poster child for how not to run an election, even after Virginia replaces all of its antiquated paperless DREs with paper ballot based optical scan systems, as it should. But it gets worse.

Two notoriously unreliable paperless DRE systems are still being used in Virginia, years after their inadequacies had become common knowledge. A distinctive feature of the WINVote that makes it particularly vulnerable is it’s use of wifi to communicate between equipment in the polling place. The AVS WINVote, used only in Hind County, Mississippi and in the state of Virginia, failed to qualify for federal certification in 2007, even to the lower testing of the two voting systems standards. Since then, AVS seems to have folded, with maintenance  done by Election Services Online, a Philadelphia based company with ties to the Shoup family, that founded AVS predecessor company over a century ago.

The other unreliable paperless DRE system is the Unilect Patriot, which gained notoriety in November, 2004 in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Carteret County, N.C. a Patriot machine lost almost 4500 votes in early voting, while in Pennsylvania the Patriot appears to have lost a significant number of votes in the 2004 presidential race. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes issued a report claiming that the Patriot was not “capable of absolute accuracy” and was not “safely and efficiently usable”. Pennsylvania decertified the Patriot; it is now used only in Virginia. Should either the AVS WINVote or the Unilect Patriot malfunction on Election Day with the Presidential or Senate race hanging in the balance, our country could be in uncharted territory.

Verified Voting Blog: Ohio – Improved but Still a Concern

Ohio’s status as a large battleground state means that problems in Ohio could have a significant impact nationwide. Although Ohio is in better shape than a number of states because there are no paperless voting machines,The major concern is that about half the counties use Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines, though they are equipped with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) printers. In theory a VVPAT is supposed to accurately represent the choices the voter makes with the touch screen machine. In practice, VVPATs can be difficult and even confusing to read. Tests have shown that most voters do not bother to check the VVPAT.  Therefore, VVPATs offer only limited protection against election theft. Someone wishing to steal an election could change both the electronic version of the voter’s choices and the VVPAT, while retaining the correct version on the DRE screen, so that the change would not be obvious to the voter.  If the voter happens to notice and void the VVPAT, election rigging software could print and store in memory the voter’s correct choices. That way, the VVPAT results would match the electronic ones, even though the overall result was rigged.

National: E-Mail Votes Seen Raising Election Security Risk: BGOV Barometer | Bloomberg

The Nov. 6 presidential election is the first in which almost half the states will permit Americans in the military or overseas to cast ballots via e-mail or online, raising concerns that voting may be vulnerable to hacking or cyber attacks. The BGOV Barometer shows that 23 states and the District of Columbia will permit some degree of Internet-enabled voting for armed forces personnel and U.S. citizens living abroad, according to data compiled by the Overseas Vote Foundation. Among contested states in the presidential race, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina will allow e-mailed ballots, raising the possibility that the winner of a state’s electoral votes might depend on a few thousand electronic ballots. “From a security point of view, it’s the riskiest form of voting ever invented,” said David Jefferson, a director of the Verified Voting Foundation, a Carlsbad, California-based non- profit that works to improve the security of online and electronic balloting.