Thank goodness Palm Beach County elections officials haven’t waited for the state of Florida for help in hardening our voting system from cyberattacks. First, the Legislature failed to approve money for a cyber-security unit in the state elections office, so Gov. Rick Scott is resorting to a federal grant to contract for five consultants to assist elections officials. Then the Scott administration let months go by without bothering to seek $19.2 million in federal money for cyber security that’s been available since President Trump signed the most recent spending bill, in March.
Among major democracies, only in the United States are self-interested politicians given the exclusive power to design election districts for themselves and their allies. Other countries lodge this power with independent commissions. In the absence of such institutions, the pressure for courts to impose constitutional constraints on partisan gerrymandering becomes powerful, particularly as the manipulation of electoral districts for partisan advantage has become more brazen, more extreme, more effective and more consequential. Decisions on two cases Monday by the Supreme Court — an alleged Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin and a Democratic one in Maryland — shut down one novel approach to attacking partisan gerrymanders on constitutional grounds.
Editorials: If more states start using Ohio’s system, how many voters will be purged? | The Washington Post
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s controversial voter purge program in the case Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. Ohio removes occasional voters from the rolls if they: fail to vote in a general election; do not respond to a postcard asking them to confirm their address; then fail to vote in two more general elections. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the purge does not violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, other states may adopt Ohio’s Supplemental Process as an aggressive way of removing inactive voters from the rolls. If Ohio’s Supplemental Process were adopted nationwide, how many other infrequent voters could be removed from the voter registration rolls? We try to answer that question.
Science has always been political. The Enlightenment brought forth a series of revolutions that transformed both our understanding of the universe and our role in it. New scientific discoveries often threaten the justification for power of those in authority, placing scientists at the center of politics. Galileo’s confrontation with the Catholic Church comes immediately to mind, but tensions between scientists and political authorities erupt with relative frequency. One of the early figures of the English Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes, fled to Paris over concern about how his political works would be taken by Parliament (Hobbes was a royalist, and hostile to the Catholic Church).
This redistricting process is as old as the republic, enshrined in the Constitution. It has been controversial from the start and vulnerable to distortion. Politicians with the power to draw the lines have done so to gain advantage — whether that meant ensuring that incumbents were reelected or that the political party in power produced districts that gave them a disproportionate share of the seats.This term, the Supreme Court is considering the role of partisanship. But is there a fair and equitable way to draw these district lines? Some states, California being the biggest, have decided the only way to produce fairer lines is to try to take politicians out of the process. Every redistricting cycle has produced oddly shaped districts, with lines snaking here and there across counties and neighborhoods. To the naked eye, there is no logic to the lines. To those who have drawn them, they are designed to give somebody, some group or some party an advantage, or to assure that racial minorities receive adequate representation.
The first thing to know about the Supreme Court decision that allows Ohio to purge its voter rolls is that it was a case of statutory construction, not constitutional interpretation. The justices were only trying to figure out what ordinary laws say, not what the Constitution means. … The second thing to know is that the Constitution doesn’t matter here in large part because there is no established constitutional right to vote for Ohio or anyone else to violate. Should there be? Yes. While Scott Lemieux points out the limits of advocating for and even passing a constitutional amendment making a right to vote explicit, there’s an excellent case to be made that such a right is already right there in the Constitution — indeed, that it is fundamental to the entire project the Framers were undertaking, even if, for them, that right was severely restricted, something that the 15th, 19th and 26th amendments corrected. The Constitution certainly does not require direct election for all offices, but it does require that all offices, directly or indirectly, get their authority from popular elections, which to me at least strongly implies that voting is fundamental to their notion of a republic. (I should remind everyone at this point that “republic” and “democracy” are best treated as synonyms, regardless of the vocabulary folks used in the 18th century, when they had a lot less experience with these things.)
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to uphold Ohio’s program of canceling registrations of infrequent voters — a decision that history shows disproportionately strikes minority and low-income voters from the rolls. Under Ohio’s program, which a federal appeals court had struck down as violating the National Voter Registration Act, registered voters who don’t cast a ballot in two years are sent a notice asking them to confirm that they still reside at the same address. If they don’t respond, and then fail to vote in the next two federal elections, they are assumed to have moved to a different county and are excised from the rolls.
Editorials: In Ohio, Supreme Court delivers GOP a victory in the war on voting | The Washington Post
Imagine this scenario. Like many people, you didn’t bother voting in the last election or two, because you were busy, or none of the races really interested you, or maybe you’re in the military and were stationed overseas, or maybe you just haven’t gotten around to it for a while. You vaguely remember getting a notice about your registration from the state board of elections, but you threw it away with the other junk mail. You know you’re registered, so there shouldn’t be a problem. Then, on the next Election Day, you show up to vote only to discover that you’ve been “purged.” Because you didn’t vote for a time and you didn’t return that letter, the state has kicked you off the voting rolls. Today, the Supreme Court said that’s just fine.
The General Assembly turned down a request from the State Election Commission and Gov. Henry McMaster to expedite the replacement of the state’s aging voting machines, providing only $4 million of a $20 million request to get going on a project expected to cost about $50 million over two years. With heightened concerns over election tampering, lawmakers should reconsider their decision as soon as possible. Even if all of the funding was provided next year, the earliest South Carolina voters would have access to the new machines that produce a paper trail of their votes would be the November 2020 general election. The state is unlikely to have the new machines in time for the 2020 presidential primaries or other contests held before that time.
Editorials: North Carolina voter photo ID bill is vague and leaves lots of questions | Gerry Cohen /News & Observer
There are important questions to be resolved before the legislature votes to put voter photo identification in the state Constitution via referendum. The ballot question says, “Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.” This language appears to not allow exceptions for those without ID or those who have lost them, as the 2013 law did. Will it be a “hard ID” like that struck down in federal court, or a “soft ID” like the 2013 House version that allowed student ID, public assistance ID or employer ID? Will there be a tedious provisional ballot process?
Editorials: Ohio’s voter purges were upheld by the Supreme Court. That doesn’t make them defensible. | Daniel Nichanian/NBC
Only 41 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Ohio’s 2014 general elections; the following year, just 43 percent voted. In the face of these abysmal rates, state officials should be focused on engaging the electorate and improving participation. But Ohio instead treats a failure to vote over such a two-year period as sufficient reason to trigger the process of removing someone from the voter rolls entirely. And on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that doing so was perfectly legal. Registered voters in the state who have not cast a ballot over two years are — and will continue to be — sent a notice by the local election board to confirm their registration. If they do not respond to the notice, and if they do not engage the electoral process over the following four years, they are purged from the voter registration lists.
Editorials: Voter registration is useless. So let’s get rid of it. | Knut Heidar/The Washington Post
The automatic right to vote should be the essence of democracy. But it doesn’t exist in the United States — unless you remember to register. The problem is that about one in five U.S. citizens are eligible to vote but not registered. This makes turnout at elections in the United States much lower than in western Europe, shutting out significant voices in the democratic process. This democratic deficit deprives the less resourceful part of the population of its most central political right. It affects political campaigns as well as the election results. Candidates formulate policies and compete for office on the basis of policies targeting only registered voters. The unregistered are secondary citizens and excluded from the national “we.” But there is an easy way to ensure voting rights: automatic voter registration.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s decision upholding 11 challenged legislative districts shows just how high a bar opponents of gerrymandering need to clear. The anti-gerrymandering group OneVirginia2021 brought the case, arguing that the 11 districts violated the state’s constitutional requirement that districts must be compact. It brought in experts who testified that the districts failed to meet various statistical tests for compactness. For instance, Michael McDonald argued that reducing the compactness of an ideally compact district by more than 50 percent in order to meet other considerations not required by the Virginia Constitution meant that those latter considerations predominated over compactness — and any such predomination was unconstitutional.
Editorials: California’s open primaries are a cautionary tale about political reform | Dan Balz/The Washington Post
At a time of broken politics and polarization, the impulse to seek out reforms to the political process is understandable. California, which will hold important primary elections on Tuesday, offers a cautionary tale about how good intentions alone are not enough. Eight years ago, California voters approved a ballot initiative establishing a new open primary system. The new system called for primary contests in which all candidates from all parties would be listed on the same ballot. The top two finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the November election. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) hailed the initiative’s passage as a vehicle that would change the political complexion of the state legislature and the congressional delegation. He and other proponents claimed that it would lead to the nomination and ultimately the election of candidates who were more moderate — center-left and center-right, rather than far left and far right.
Editorials: The Russians are coming for our elections, and Florida is still not ready to fight back | Miami Herald
The Russians are ready for the midterm elections. Are we? The August primaries loom, with the general election in November soon after. But the state is getting a late start in protecting its voting system from tampering. Though county elections supervisors across the state have been persistent in their pleas for state help, too many state leaders, from lawmakers to the secretary of state, either dragged their feet in, or rejected outright, taking steps to assure Floridians that they can vote with confidence and that the integrity of the election process is paramount. To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott has stepped up, demanding that the state request the $19.2 million in federal funds available to harden the state’s voting system. Congress included $380 million in its 2018 budget bill for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to distribute to the states. President Trump signed the budget bill in March. Scott rightly overruled Secretary of State Ken Detzner and his oblivious announcement last month that Florida would not seek those much-needed funds.
Less than three months from the primary election, it is entirely unclear whether Florida is adequately prepared to fend off any cyber attacks that could compromise the results. Sen. Marco Rubio has his doubts, the state has yet to receive millions in federal dollars to improve security and county elections supervisors acknowledge they are scared. With the federal investigation continuing into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Gov. Rick Scott and state officials should accelerate efforts this summer to ensure voters can have confidence in the integrity of this year’s election. The state’s track record so far is not encouraging. The Legislature failed to approve money for the five cyber security experts Scott wanted to hire even though the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reported last year that five Florida counties were targeted in unsuccessful Russian attacks in 2016. Counties are still buying and installing sensors that can monitor and detect — but not stop — electronic attacks with $1.9 million in federal money sent by the state. And just last week, Scott overruled the state’s top elections official and declared the state will belatedly seek another $19 million in federal money to help counties further secure election systems.
Editorials: Russia will try again this fall. Congress doesn’t seem to care. | Karen Tumulty/The Washington Post
When top intelligence officials went to Capitol Hill one morning this week to give House members a classified briefing on the security of the upcoming elections, only 40 or so bothered to show up. In other words, 9 out of 10 lawmakers thought they had better things to do than listen to an assessment of threats to the integrity of a closely contested midterm that is less than six months away. “Well, it was at 8 o’clock,” Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said.
Editorials: America’s elections are vulnerable to manipulation. And Trump is making it worse. | Brian Klaas and Nic Cheeseman/The Washington Post
In 166 days, Americans will go to the polls to elect the next Congress. It will be one of the most consequential votes in modern history. If Republicans retain control of the House and Senate, President Trump will feel vindicated and emboldened, while reluctant “Never Trump” Republicans will be tempted to hold their noses and embrace a winner. But if Democrats take back at least one congressional chamber, Republicans may begin to stand up to a president who promised endless “winning” — but lost instead. Regardless of which party you’re rooting for, all Americans should be able to agree on one thing: The vote must be clean and free of manipulation. In a democracy, citizens must never accept rigged elections. In our new book, “How to Rig an Election,” we showcase striking findings from our research: A large number of elections across the globe are heavily manipulated. Increasingly, elections are becoming contests that are designed so that only the incumbent can win. Across the world, the opposition wins elections only about 30 percent of the time – and the figures are much, much lower in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Elections without democracy has become the new normal. Nonetheless, don’t make the mistake of thinking that American elections, or those in Britain, are perfect. They aren’t.
Editorials: Will Foreign Activists Sway Ireland’s Abortion Vote? | Jochen Bittner/The New York Times
This Friday, Irish voters will decide whether to change their constitution to legalize abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The debate itself contains few new arguments; instead it circles around a question most other European countries have asked themselves over the past 40 years: What is the proper balance between the mother’s right to self-determination and the unborn child’s right to life? But there’s another question, less about the substance of the issue and more about the campaign around it: In an era of global social media and well-funded foreign activists, what does it mean for a country to hold a vote at all? And if a democracy is no longer insulated from foreign influence, what integrity can any referendum claim? Forget hacking and illegal vote-buying. What’s happening in Ireland is more transparent, but also, for that reason, more troubling.
Editorials: How to Steal an Election in Broad Daylight | Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas/Foreign Policy
In Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, droves of voters turned out in opposition strongholds, hoping to oust the incumbent, Viktor Yanukovych. Upon arrival at their assigned polling stations, they received their crisp ballot papers and pens to mark them with. They dutifully ticked the box for the opposition — and against the ruling regime. Then, they slipped their cleanly marked ballot papers into the ballot box to be counted. Having done their democratic duty, they left. Four minutes later, their ballots were blank. Although the opposition voters didn’t know it, they had been given pens that were filled with disappearing ink. The ballot boxes were filled with stacks of unmarked ballots. Despite such dirty tricks, Yanukovych eventually lost. Election observers noticed the disappearing ink trick — and many others — leading to the election being rerun. But Yanukovych’s defeat was unusual; incumbents win most elections these days for two reasons. First, they enjoy many legitimate advantages, such as the ability to set the political agenda. Second, a remarkably high proportion of elections are rigged. Most incumbents have learned to transform elections from a threat to their grip on power into something that can instead be used to tighten it. They’ve figured out how to rig an election, leading to the greatest political paradox of our time: There are more elections than ever before, and yet the world is becoming less democratic.
There are some big things that are wrong with the way Marylanders elect candidates to office. We hand the drawing of legislative and congressional district lines to self-interested politicians who abuse the process to bolster their political parties, reward friends and punish enemies. And we have a campaign finance system that magnifies the influence of wealthy special interests. Those are foundational problems in our political system, and the possible solutions to them — redistricting reform and publicly financed campaigns — have proven to be difficult to enact. But this year’s elections have uncovered some dumb problems that are eminently fixable.
Editorials: California’s ‘jungle primary’ isn’t working. We need election reform 2.0 | Andrew Gumbel/Los Angeles Times
As California hurtles toward its state primary June 5, it is obvious there’s a problem. Its open primary system — which sends the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party affiliation — is not working as intended and risks throwing the midterm election into acrimony and confusion. This system is called a “jungle primary” for a reason: It is brutal and unpredictable. In three high-profile House races, there are so many candidates from the two major parties eating into one another’s support that the election results may end up owing more to chance than any discernible will of the people. Polls show that Democrats have an excellent chance of capturing the Southern Californian seats being vacated by Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Darrell Issa (R-Isla Vista) and have a good shot at unseating Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach). These are all bona fide swing districts that surely deserve an up-and-down contest between a Republican and a Democrat in November.
Editorials: Congress must act to restore the integrity of American elections | Donna Brazile/The Hill
Before the 2017 German election, Angela Merkel issued a loud call to build an election firewall. Everyone listened. By contrast, Eric Rosenbach, in charge of cybersecurity for the Defense Department from 2011 to 2017, told the Financial Times, “They [the states] are just not equipped to be fighting the pointy end of the spear of the Russian [intelligence agency] GRU.” He got that right. Are people listening? To some extent, they cannot hear through the constant distractions. It’s time to issue a loud call to protect our upcoming midterm elections from foreign interference. Where are we now? In April, 38 states took part in an election “cybersecurity bootcamp” conceived and directed by Rosenbach. A few weeks later on May 4, the White House issued a readout of President Trump’s meeting on election security: “The president received an update about current federal election security-related efforts, including…best practices like using paper ballots, issuing security clearances, and conducting security assessments.”
As many as five million people went to the polls in Burundi on Thursday to vote on a referendum to alter the country’s constitution. I came here as one of the few foreign reporters with a visa and accreditation to cover the scenes at the polls, where voters are deciding on some significant changes. The biggest change of the new constitution would be the extension of the presidential term, from five years to seven years. Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been president of Burundi since 2005, is widely expected to use the new constitution — if it passes — to run in 2020. Under the new rules, he could stay in power until 2034 — and then run again (and again) after sitting out for just one term. Most foreign correspondents were denied access, and two weeks ago the government suspended the BBC and Voice of America from broadcasting inside the country. With help from local journalists, I visited polls in the northern province, home to both Burundi’s president and his biggest challenger, Agathon Rwasa, and I spoke with those casting their ballots. These ladies posed for a photo as they waited after the president left his polling station.
Elections are supposed to enable voters to improve their fortunes. Sadly, that is not the case with this weekend’s vote in Venezuela. Regardless of the outcome, voters can expect no quick exit from their country’s downward spiral. Officials from the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the European Union, the U.S., and Venezuela’s neighbors have denounced the upcoming vote as flawed beyond redemption. Even if one of President Nicolas Maduro’s three opponents were allowed to win — other more popular candidates have been barred, leading to a broader opposition boycott — he would be hamstrung by Maduro’s allies. They control the military and effectively all branches of government. Maduro’s tenure has been an economic disaster. Inflation will exceed 13,000 percent this year. Gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 15 percent; it has fallen by almost 50 percent since 2013. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves — but thanks to mismanagement, you’d never know it: By 2020, oil production will be less than half of what it was in 2013. Venezuela has already defaulted on some of its debt, which stands at nearly 120 percent of GDP.
Amid suspicions of interference in the 2016 elections, states must be more careful than ever to provide heightened security in this year’s primaries. Yet, West Virginia has just introduced a more vulnerable form of voting for deployed military personnel. West Virginia is now the first state to pilot blockchain technology, to allow some deployed soldiers to vote through mobile phones. Yet cyber security experts warn that this technology, also used for cryptocurrencies, poses dangers for voting. Instead of pioneering voting’s future, West Virginia is paving the way for future election hacking. Blockchain technology addresses only part of the security process currently used by those administering U.S. elections. It’s like installing a high-tech lock and alarm system in your home, and then leaving a front door key and the alarm pass code under the doormat. The alarm system may work perfectly, but until the keys and pass codes are also secure, your home won’t be secure, either.
Editorials: It’s up to Trump to prepare for Kremlin cyberattacks. He’s falling short. | The Washington Post
The Obama administration was slow and ineffective in its response to Russian election interference in 2016. But it is now on President Trump and his team to prepare for a new round of Kremlin cyberattacks — and this White House, too, is falling short. That was the upshot of a bipartisan report on Russian election interference that the Senate Intelligence Committee released Tuesday, the first in a series that promises to provide a fairer picture of the Russian threat than what the highly partisan House Intelligence Committee offered following its brief and slanted investigation.
Not long after midnight, the crowd of thousands began to sense that something historic was taking place. They had gathered on a vast lawn to watch the election results roll in through the night, and the mood was cheerful and relaxed. Here, in Petaling Jaya, a heavily residential city that blends into Kuala Lumpur, support for the opposition party, Pakatan Harapan, the Alliance of Hope, runs high, and as P.H.’s tally began to outstrip that of Barisan Nasional, the ruling party, everyone present began to contemplate the unthinkable: the end of the only government Malaysia has ever known. The ramifications of P.H.’s stunning victory in Wednesday’s elections are only just starting to filter through. The person who appears to be our new prime minister is Mahathir Mohamad, who is 92 years old and earlier served as prime minister — with B.N. Even after the election commission confirmed this morning that P.H. had won at least 112 of the 222 seats in Parliament (or the simple majority that entitles it to form the next government) Najib Razak, the outgoing prime minister, was not clearly conceding his loss. Twelve of the country’s 13 states also held assembly elections yesterday, and B.N. won in just three.
Editorials: Kentucky felons may get voting rights back after Florida case | Ben Carter/Courier Journal
When it comes to people without a lot of political power, people with felony convictions are near the top of an increasingly long list. All but two states (Vermont and Maine) temporarily strip people convicted of felonies of their right to vote. Three states (Florida, Kentucky and Iowa) permanently strip people with felony convictions of the right to vote. In between these extremes, the rest of the states automatically restore the right to vote at varying stages of rehabilitation: after release, after parole or after probation. Here in Kentucky, people convicted of felonies lose their voting rights permanently. The only way get the right to vote back is to apply to the governor and, according to the application for restoration of voting rights, that decision is solely within the governor’s “prerogative.”
Editorials: Crosscheck is ineffective and insecure. But states aren’t withdrawing | Aaron Sankin/Salon
At least eight states have stopped using Kansas’ anti-voter fraud program because of its ineffectiveness, but put citizens’ personal data at risk by not formally withdrawing. The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program was supposed to help states scrub ineligible voters, but many states have for years found the program’s data to be inaccurate and burdensome to verify. Rather than immediately cancelling the free program, these states continued to send sensitive voter information — in one case, for nearly a full decade — through a system with serious cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Sending data through this insecure system had the potential of opening up millions of American citizens to identity theft. Based on interviews with state election officials and communications obtained through public record requests, the following states have sent voter registration data to Crosscheck without using the analysis received in return to clean their voter lists: South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Louisiana and Colorado. None of the states listed have submitted voter data into the Crosscheck program since these cybersecurity vulnerabilities were made public late last year.