Editorials: Designing better ballots | Michael Byrne/Te Conversation

Election Day 2017 seems to have gone smoothly. There were few contests of major consequence and turnout was low – with Virginia the most notable exception. Election integrity – the extent to which the outcome of the election matches the will of the voters – was not an issue in the news. Things could, however, be different in 2018. Concern over election integrity could become amplified if turnout is high and margins close. Given the stakes in the 2018 midterms – now less than a year away – and other concerns such as widespread reports about Russian hacking, now is the time when election officials must begin the critical work of ensuring the integrity of the vote. When most people think about threats to election integrity, security and fraud are the primary concerns. For example, were the ballots or the election totals hacked? Were ballot boxes stuffed? Were there ballots cast by people who were not eligible to vote?

Editorials: Dunlap can sue, but election commission was always a sham | Cynthia Dill/Portland Press Herald

The federal lawsuit brought by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap demanding prompt communication from and meaningful participation on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity – which is studying nothing, in order to give advice to President Trump, who will ignore it – expends a lot of taxpayer money and judicial resources, but at least it’s deductible. “Voter fraud” is not a real thing, but like a Pet Rock it has become a commercial success. The political issue harkens back to Jim Crow-era literacy tests and poll taxes, but the latest voter-suppression push is relatively recent. Republicans work to disenfranchise an important chunk of the Democratic voting base – minorities and young and low-income people – by making it harder for them to vote. They do this by passing laws that restrict voting registration times and polling places and require government-sponsored identification, among other means.

Editorials: How Democrats may use election wins to re-draw voter districts | Joshua A. Douglas/Reuters

Most political observers say that Tuesday’s elections were a referendum on Donald Trump or a signal of what will happen in 2020. “The results across the country represent nothing less than a stinging repudiation of Trump on the first anniversary of his election,” wrote The Washington Post, in a typical statement of the conventional wisdom. True, the Democrats did well, picking up state legislative seats from Georgia to New Hampshire, including a massive swing of at least 15 seats in Virginia, as well as the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey. But politics can change quickly: Democrats lost the governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia in 2009 and took heavy losses in the 2010 congressional midterms, yet Barack Obama won reelection in 2012. Yesterday’s wins may portend Democratic gains in Congress in 2018. But maybe they won’t. The true implication of the 2017 elections is what they mean for redistricting and electoral reforms in the years to come.

Editorials: US campaign finance laws resemble legalized bribery. We must reform them | Russ Feingold/The Guardian

When powerful lobbyists work hard over the coming weeks to convince Republican lawmakers to change their tax package to please them, it would probably be of interest to know exactly how much campaign cash these so-called stakeholders and their industries have given or spent in recent years for the members of Congress who are writing tax laws. But because federal disclosure laws need to be updated, it’s probably too difficult to ever really know the complete answer. An opaque system of legalized bribery and legalized extortion is not an outrageous way to characterize the state of our nation’s federal campaign finance laws. Over the past few years, real campaign finance reform has gone the way of voting rights and gun control. There is no longer a bipartisan starting point where discussion and negotiation could begin. The Republican party has caved in to its right flank and put party interests ahead of the country’s.

Editorials: Voting Rights Could Be the Biggest Winner in Tuesday’s Democratic Victories | Ari Berman/Mother Jones

Brianna Ross of Richmond, Virginia, lost her right to vote at 19 when she received a felony conviction for stealing diapers for her newborn son. Now 53, she voted for the first time in her life in Virginia’s statewide elections yesterday. “I remember way back in 1993, when the judge told me, ‘You can’t ever vote,’” she told Sam Levine of the Huffington Post. “I didn’t know what that meant, but it made me feel empty, it made me feel unimportant. But I voted today.” …  Virginia was one of four states that blocked ex-felons from voting—disenfranchising 1 in 5 black Virginians—until Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to 168,000 ex-felons over the past year and a half. Ross was among them. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie sharply criticized McAuliffe and his lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, for this policy. But Northam’s victory in the governor’s race on Tuesday means that Virginia will continue to restore voting rights to ex-offenders. It’s just one way that Democratic victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington yesterday could lead to an expansion of access to the ballot.

Editorials: Don’t Let Mexico’s Elections Become Putin’s Next Target | Shannon O’Neil/Bloomberg

Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been confirmed by no fewer than 17 U.S. intelligence and security agencies. Widespread evidence exists that Moscow’s spy services also sought to influence contests held in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Many worry out loud about possible Russian machinations in Italy’s general election next May. Yet if Russia truly wants to damage the U.S. and weaken the western world order, Mexico’s elections next year offer a more rewarding and more vulnerable target. No other country influences the U.S. as much as its southern neighbor. Mexico remains one of America’s largest trading partners, exchanging nearly $600 billion in goods that support millions of U.S.-based jobs and communities. It is the ancestral home to some 37 million Mexican-Americans and immigrants, and the place of residence for the largest U.S. diaspora.

Editorials: Let the People Pick the President | The New York Times

The winners of Tuesday’s elections — Republican or Democrat, for governor, mayor or dogcatcher — all have one thing in common: They received more votes than their opponent. That seems like a pretty fair way to run an electoral race, which is why every election in America uses it — except the most important one of all. Was it just a year ago that more than 136 million Americans cast their ballots for president, choosing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly three million votes, only to be thwarted by a 200-year-old constitutional anachronism designed in part to appease slaveholders and ratified when no one but white male landowners could vote? It feels more like, oh, 17 years — the last time, incidentally, that the American people chose one candidate for president and the Electoral College imposed the other.

Editorials: The Right to Vote Is Never Safe | Jon Grinspan/The New York Times

One hundred and fifty years ago this month, ex-slaves lined up across the South, clutching their ballots, joining the first elections in which large numbers of black Southerners participated. One year ago, on Nov. 8, Americans voted in another historic election. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral College. On the strength of this mandate, he began an inquiry into alleged voter fraud, raising the very real specter of voter suppression. These two anniversaries are part of the same story of voting rights. It cannot be told as a succession of amendments and laws protecting ever greater freedoms. But neither is it simply a tale of dreams deferred and disenfranchisement. Rather, the vote has expanded and contracted, through law and custom.

Editorials: Beware: this Russian cyber warfare threatens every democracy | Natalie Nougayrède/The Guardian

Anyone in Europe and Britain worried about the state of US democracy should take time to watch the videos of this week’s congressional hearings over Russian online meddling in the 2016 presidential election. If the words “checks and balances” mean anything, this surely is it. My favourite moment is when senator Dianne Feinstein leans into the microphone and says sternly to the Facebook, Twitter and Google representatives (whose evasive answers have exasperated her): “You don’t get it! This is a very big deal. What we’re talking about is cataclysmic. It is cyber warfare. A major foreign power with sophistication and ability got involved in our presidential election.” We don’t yet know the full picture. In particular, we don’t know if Russian-promoted bots, trolls and online ads had an impact that in any way altered the outcome of the US election. At this stage, to claim they did may be crediting Vladimir Putin with more power than he actually wields. What emerged from the hearings is that Russia’s likeliest goal was to sow discord and confusion among citizens of the world’s most powerful democracy.

Editorials: Florida should help protect Puerto Ricans’ voting rights | Katherine Culliton-González/Miami Herald

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico 2 weeks ago, creating devastating damage and a humanitarian crisis for 3.5 million U.S. citizens. Today, 88 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents lack electricity, 43 percent lack water, the health care and school systems are in shambles, and over 58 citizens have died, while the president has been throwing paper towels at people and tweeting racist diatribes. All this is exacerbated by 100 percent of Puerto Ricans lacking equal access to voting rights. Under the 1917 Jones Act, Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens do not have voting representatives in Congress, and cannot cast votes for president. The Jones Act was in the news recently, as it restricted non-U.S. ships from docking in Puerto Rico. After being temporarily lifted, the Act’s colonialist shipping restrictions are back in place, limiting access to life-saving supplies.

Editorials: The real fraud is Trump and Kobach’s Voter Integrity Commission | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman and driving force behind President Donald Trump’s bogus Commission on Election Integrity, has gone silent. This could be because court documents unsealed last week, after he misled a federal judge, show his real agenda is amending the national Voting Rights Act to suppress votes. The commission hasn’t met since Sept. 12, when it was embarrassed by Kobach’s claim that 5,500 people may have committed fraud by registering to vote in New Hampshire without having a state driver’s license. It turns out that voting without a state ID is not illegal as long as someone — like a college student — is legally “domiciled” in the state. Reputable studies have shown fraud by voter impersonation is all but non-existent. But Kobach appears deeply worried about brown people. He’s the one who inspired the president-elect’s startling claim last November that Trump would have “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Editorials: Why has Kris Kobach’s voter fraud commission disappeared? | The Kansas City Star

What has happened to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity? The president — convinced he actually won the popular vote in 2016 over Hillary Clinton — established the commission in May. Vice President Mike Pence is the chairman, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is widely considered the real leader of the group. The commission has all but disappeared publicly, and there are growing indications it will set a new standard for uselessness. The commission ran into immediate problems last summer when it asked for voter data from all 50 states. Several states denounced the request and refused to comply in whole or in part. Lawsuits followed. By mid-July, the Washington Post reported, at least seven plaintiffs had sued the commission, including the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The cases are winding their way through the courts.

Editorials: A draft US law to secure election computers that isn’t braindead | Iain Thomson/The Register

A law bill was introduced today to the US Senate designed to safeguard American elections from hacking by miscreants or manipulation by Russian or other foreign agents. The Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act [PDF] would designate elections systems as part of the US national critical infrastructure, task the Comptroller General of the United States with checking the integrity of voting machines, and sponsor a “Hack the election” competition to find flaws in voting machines. “Our democracy hinges on protecting Americans’ ability to fairly choose our own leaders. We must do everything we can to protect the security and integrity of our elections,” said cosponsor Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM). “The SAVE Act would ensure states are better equipped to develop solutions and respond to threats posed to election systems. Until we set up stronger protections of our election systems and take the necessary steps to prevent future foreign influence campaigns, our nation’s democratic institutions will remain vulnerable.”

Editorials: North Carolina Republicans are worried about the man who might redraw our voting map. They should be. | News & Observer

N.C. Republicans don’t like the idea of using an outside expert to draw new legislative districts for our state. Federal judges, who say the current map relies too heavily on race, intend to assign that job to Stanford University law school professor Nathan Persily. An attorney for the GOP objected Monday in a court filing, according to the Associated Press. Republicans don’t necessarily have a problem with Persily’s credentials, which are many, or his map-drawing chops, which are considerable. They worry about what GOP lawyer Phil Strach called “possible bias.” They’re right about that, but maybe not for the reason they think. We looked at more than a dozen op-eds, interviews and projects that Persily has participated in during the last decade. He’s commented on court decisions involving North Carolina cases – as Strach notes in his filing – but Persily’s analysis of those cases wasn’t particularly controversial or partisan. Still, Republicans should be worried about the maps that Persily might draw – not because he’s biased against the GOP, but because he’s biased against voters being disenfrachised.

Editorials: The great revolution in UK prisoner voting will affect … a few dozen people | Rob Allen/The Guardian

n 2005 the European court of human rights ruled that the UK’s blanket ban on voting by convicted prisoners was a violation of the right to free elections. Fearful of media and parliamentary uproar, successive Labour, coalition and Conservative governments have refused to make even a partial relaxation to the ban – until now. A leaked paper suggests that some short-term prisoners may finally be permitted to vote in elections, albeit in very limited circumstances. It’s not exactly clear which prisoners will get the vote. It could be those serving sentences of less than 12 months who happen to be outside prison on day release on the date an election happens to fall. Or a more proactive scheme could be introduced for short-term prisoners who are eligible for what’s called “release on temporary licence” either to go out to a polling station or cast a vote in jail.  Whichever proposal emerges from the Whitehall consultation, it’s a tiny number who will be enfranchised. The leaked paper talks of hundreds (out of 86,000 prisoners), but it could be tens. Day release is almost never used for the 6,000-odd short-term prisoners as things stand.

Editorials: Georgia’s voting system – Outrageous security lapse | SavannahNow

The fact that the state university housing the servers that are at the center of a case over the security of Georgia’s election system wiped them clean of all data is both an outrage and extremely suspicious. If a pending state investigation into this breach at the Center for Elections System at Kennesaw State University shows that laws were broken, then Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr shouldn’t hesitate to file charges. The sanctity of Georgia’s ballot box and its elections records must be protected. Our democracy is based on free and fair elections. The public must have confidence that the process is safe and secure. According to The Hill newspaper in Washington, the servers in question had been in the possession of the Center for Elections System, which runs Georgia’s election system on a contract basis. On July 3, a diverse group of election reform advocates filed suit, alleging that Georgia’s election system was flawed and could potentially be rigged. The plaintiffs want to scrap the state’s 15-year-old vote-management system, particularly its 27,000 AccuVote touchscreen voting screens, which are used in Chatham County and elsewhere, that don’t employ paper ballots or keep hardcopy proof of how voters voted. They allege these machines are hackable.

Editorials: Who’s Cheating Kenyan Voters? | Helen Epstein/The New York Review of Books

On September 1, after Kenya’s Supreme Court became the first in Africa to nullify a flawed presidential election, Kenyans danced in the streets and some revelers pledged to convert to Seventh Day Adventism, the religion of Kenya’s somber chief justice, David Maraga. Then the mood darkened. President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose dubious victory had been overturned, told supporters that the judges were “crooks” and threatened to “fix” them. Chief Justice Maraga revealed that he and his bench colleagues had received numerous threats; when nearly $5 million mysteriously appeared in his bank account, he instructed the bank to return it at once. A rerun was scheduled for October 26. but the opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out two weeks ago, claiming that nothing had been done to remedy the problems that marred the first election. Then, just last week, the election commission’s chairman confirmed that his institution was presently incapable of guaranteeing a credible poll. The previous day, one of his own officials, made the same claim after fleeing to the US in fear of her life. Throughout October, street demonstrations against the electoral commission have taken place across the country, and security forces have killed dozens of people. Meanwhile, the United States and the rest of the international community appear to be looking the other way as this nation, an important US trading and defense partner, dissolves into undemocratic chaos. 

Editorials: What more proof do we need that Venezuela’s ruling party rigged the vote? | Francisco Toro/The Washington Post

The surprises are still coming from Venezuela’s elections for state governor on Oct. 15. The headline result — a shocking, across-the-board victory for the ruling Socialists — stunned the public in Caracas and those up and down the hemisphere. But that, as has now become clear, is not the end of the story. The ruling party founded by the late Hugo Chávez and run by his handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, piled on the dirty tricks to win this election. In itself, that is nothing new. Illegal campaign funding, intimidation, threats, harassment, coercion: All these things have become sadly normalized in Venezuela over the past five years, and they no longer count as news.

Editorials: Kenya’s election rerun could be a major setback for African democracy | The Washington Post

Kenya’s fragile political system has veered between breakthrough and breakdown over the past two months amid a hotly contested presidential election. Now the country itself appears in danger of a violent implosion. The government of Uhuru Kenyatta insists it will go ahead with a rerun of the presidential vote on Thursday even though the incumbent’s principal challenger has withdrawn and senior election officials have warned that the outcome will not be credible. That could lead to mass protests and bloodshed — not to mention a major setback for African democracy.

Editorials: States Take On Election Hacking. Washington Ignores It. | The New York Times

As Washington ignores the danger, state election officials have finally begun facing up to the threat of Russian hackers and other troublemakers infiltrating the American voting process in the midterm and presidential elections. There have been months of apparent indifference in many state election offices, despite stern warnings from federal security experts that hackers will be back for more after their 2016 meddling. But now state election officials have begun trying to tighten the security of outdated, vulnerable balloting systems. These systems were last updated after the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 election, before internet hackers were a powerful threat.

Editorials: Voting Rights: The Struggle of Our Lifetime | Eric Holder/Harvard Law Review

When our nation was founded, only a minority of the new country’s people enjoyed the right to vote. Guided by the belief that more Americans participating in our democracy would make our union stronger and more just, our foremothers and fathers fought to expand voting rights to the poor, to women, and to people of color. Those who came before us gave their lives fighting for an America where race, gender, and economic status would not keep future generations from the ballot box. Despite setbacks along the way, we made significant progress advancing voting rights. But our struggle is not over. Today, voting rights face renewed attacks that threaten to reverse our hard-won progress and ultimately hijack our democracy.

Editorials: Puerto Ricans get short shrift as U.S. citizens | Orlando Sentinel

Puerto Rico faces an imminent humanitarian crisis. President Trump and Vice President Pence’s recent visits hopefully will result in additional federal resources and attention to address the human suffering happening on the ground. But their visits also highlight a democratic crisis that can no longer be ignored — one that Trump and other American leaders would be wise to address. As a Puerto Rican who relocated to Virginia shortly after Hurricane Irma, these issues are deeply personal. Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth, although nearly half of Americans do not know this. However, residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands — whose population of nearly 4 million is greater than the smallest five states combined — cannot vote for president and are denied any voting representatives in the U.S. House or Senate.

Editorials: In Election, Austria’s Nazi Past Raises Its Head | The New York Times

An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party won the Austrian elections on Sunday, and its leader might form a government with a party founded by ex-Nazis. So much for the hopes of spring that election results in the Netherlands and France hinted that the political tide in Europe had turned away from the far right. Last month, Alternative for Germany became the first far-right party to enter Germany’s Parliament since World War II, winning 13 percent of the vote and 94 parliamentary seats. 

Editorials: North Carolina should care about Wisconsin redistricting case | Andrew Chin and Steph Tai/News & Observer

Redistricting shapes the power of political parties. When states redraw their electoral maps every 10 years, they alter the relative power of parties by changing the partisan makeup of each district. And when states engage in gerrymandering by creating districts with the intent of reducing the electoral weight of certain categories of voters, we should be even more concerned. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a particularly important redistricting case on October 3. In this case, Gill v. Whitford, the Court addressed the legality of gerrymandering for partisan purposes. To answer these questions, the Court must resolve how lower courts can and should approach the use of scientific and statistical expertise regarding partisan gerrymandering.

Editorials: Ohio’s illegal voter purges shouldn’t be getting Justice Department’s blessing | Vanita Gupta/Cleveland Plain Dealer

Throughout our history, the country has marched toward a more perfect union by expanding access to the ballot. That progress has helped enshrine our core values of justice, fairness and inclusivity, and slowly strengthened America’s foundation. The first eight months of the Trump administration have shaken that foundation. President Donald Trump’s bogus assertion that millions of people voted illegally has been widely debunked. The sham commission he created to validate this absurd claim has already suppressed voting. Its attempt to create a national database through its unprecedented request for personal voter information, such as partial Social Security numbers and party affiliation, led thousands of voters to cancel their registrations. 

Editorials: Make commitment for secure voting system in South Carolina | Post and Courier

Faced with increasingly convincing evidence that electronic voting systems can be hacked to alter election results, a majority of states are wisely moving to adopt voting methods that enhance security, in part by producing a paper ballot record that can be used to audit results. South Carolina should do the same. In fact, that’s the goal of the state Election Commission, if the Legislature will come up with $40 million to purchase the 13,000 new machines needed to serve every precinct in the state. The commission has attempted to get the Legislature’s attention for five years about the need to build up a fund to replace the existing machines. So far, legislators have demurred, awaiting the completion of new state standards for voting machine security. Those standards are expected to be completed in time for legislative review next year. Timely action will be needed if there is to be any chance to replace the 13-year-old touch-screen machines before the next general election in 2020.

Editorials: Closing Florida’s write-in loop hole a way to protect voters’ rights | Tallahassee Democrat

Of all the wide-ranging suggestions the Constitution Revision Commission has received, there are two dealing with Florida’s election laws that we hope the panel will put on the 2018 ballot for a statewide referendum. Actually, the Legislature should have taken care of these things the old-fashioned way long ago. But since the elected politicians won’t, we hope the CRC will act to close the “write-in loophole” and bring about open primaries next year. First, that write-in gimmick. The last time the state constitution was overhauled, 20 years ago, commissioners decided that when only Republicans or only Democrats run for an office, everybody should be allowed to vote in the primary in that race. But then the Division of Elections issued a legal opinion decreeing that write-in candidates are real contenders for a public office. Legally, on paper, perhaps they are — but as a matter of practical politics, they’re not. Meaning no disrespect to sincere, well-intended people who can’t afford the qualifying fee, so they offer themselves as write-in candidates, they have no chance of winning. Not one state legislator ran as a write-in, nor has anyone won that way in modern times.

Editorials: The Math Behind Gerrymandering and Wasted Votes | Patrick Honner/Quanta Magazine

Imagine fighting a war on 10 battlefields. You and your opponent each have 200 soldiers, and your aim is to win as many battles as possible. How would you deploy your troops? If you spread them out evenly, sending 20 to each battlefield, your opponent could concentrate their own troops and easily win a majority of the fights. You could try to overwhelm several locations yourself, but there’s no guarantee you’ll win, and you’ll leave the remaining battlefields poorly defended. Devising a winning strategy isn’t easy, but as long as neither side knows the other’s plan in advance, it’s a fair fight. Now imagine your opponent has the power to deploy your troops as well as their own. Even if you get more troops, you can’t win. In the war of politics, this power to deploy forces comes from gerrymandering, the age-old practice of manipulating voting districts for partisan gain. By determining who votes where, politicians can tilt the odds in their favor and defeat their opponents before the battle even begins.

Editorials: Clear path for Florida ex-felons to regain right to vote | Orlando Sentinel

Try to imagine the uproar if every single active registered voter in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties were turned away at the polls. Yet that’s the equivalent effect of Florida’s hardline policy against voting by ex-felons, which has disenfranchised almost 1.6 million people in the state. Civil rights activists have been working diligently to give Florida voters the opportunity to overturn this punitive policy, but it’s a long, hard — and expensive — slog. It’s much easier for a state panel to clear the way to right this historical wrong. Florida’s policy forces ex-felons who want to regain their right to vote to wait at least five years after they have completed their sentences, then apply to have their rights restored by the governor and the Cabinet. They meet just four times a year as the Board of Executive Clemency to consider applications on a case-by-case basis, normally reviewing fewer than 100 cases per meeting. The board has a waiting list more than 20,000 people long.

Editorials: Let’s Consider The Risks of Applying Election Ad Rules to the Online World | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Social media platforms are avenues for typical Americans—those without enough money to purchase expensive television or radio ads—to make their voices part of the national political dialogue. But with news that a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin maintained hundreds of Twitter accounts and purchased $100,000 worth of Facebook ads aimed at influencing American voters—and specifically targeting voters in swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan—these same social media companies are now at the center of a widening government investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. This controversy has also sparked renewed calls for more government regulation of political ads on social media and other online platforms—including creating news rules for Internet ads that would mirror those the FEC and FCC currently apply to political ads on TV, cable, and radio. In the past, policymakers proposed essentially extending the broadcast rules to the Internet without adequately and thoughtfully considering the differences between the broadcast and online worlds. As a result, we argued for limiting the burden on online speakers from campaign finance regulations in both 2006 and 2014.