Control of the Iowa Senate is up for grabs this fall. Democrats currently have a 26-24 majority, a meager margin Republicans are eager to erase. Given the circumstances, you’d expect both parties to press hard to win every available seat. But that’s not the case. Half the Senate seats are up in November, but in nine of the 25 contests, one of the major parties hasn’t bothered fielding a candidate. That’s more common than you might think. When filing deadlines had passed in the first 27 states this year, one party or the other had failed to run candidates in nearly half the legislative seats — 45 percent, according to Ballotpedia, an online politics site that tracks races and ballot initiatives. Nearly all incumbents can rest easy in Georgia, because 80 percent of the races there will be uncontested. In recent years, it’s been common for a third to 40 percent of state legislative seats to lack major party competition. It’s even worse during primary seasons, meaning legislators win re-election simply by showing up. In the four states that held legislative elections last year, 56 percent of the races went uncontested in the fall.
National: Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump | The Washington Post
Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach. The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts. The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some GOP political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available. A Russian Embassy spokesman said he had no knowledge of such intrusions. Some of the hackers had access to the DNC network for about a year, but all were expelled over the past weekend in a major computer cleanup campaign, the committee officials and experts said.
It’s easy to get excited about internet voting. Social media, Skype, online banking—these types of tools and services have expanded our voices, connected us the world over, and added convenience and efficiency to our lives. Who wouldn’t want to see elections benefit from these kinds of advances? But internet voting isn’t online banking or video calling or…
Voters in Polk County, Florida, will be using 16-year-old machines on Election Day this November, and they are either nearing or have already surpassed their average lifespan. The region, which encompasses parts of the greater Tampa Bay area, is one of many jurisdictions in more than a dozen states that are using voting machines that are 15 or more years old in this year’s election cycle, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice revealed last September. Two years ago, ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, a 10-member commission President Obama formed to figure out how to prevent long lines at the polls after the 2012 presidential election warned that the state of voting technology was an “impending crisis.” Lawrence Norden, a co-author of the Brennan Center report, told CBS News that while a lot of jurisdictions have bought new equipment or have developed plans to do so, there are still a number of places that are dealing with even older machines. An overwhelming majority of the country — 43 states — will be using electronic voting machines that are at least 10 years old in this year’s election, the Brennan Center report said. These machines last around 10 to 20 years before conking out. Many election officials, the report said, want to replace their aging equipment in the next five years, but a lot of them do not yet know where they’ll find the money.
One day after a number of documents supposedly stolen during a hack on the Democratic National Committee servers were posted online, a cybersecurity expert says it is a clear act of “cyberwar.” “It’s really strange for a Russian intelligence agency,” Dave Aitel, an ex-NSA research scientist who’s now CEO of Immunity, told Tech Insider. “That’s straight up cyberwar.” At least two different groups associated with the Russian government were found inside the networks of the DNC over the past year, reading emails, chats, and downloading private documents, as was reported on Tuesday. The hack, which was investigated by the FBI and cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, was linked to Russia through a lengthy technical analysis, which was detailed on the firm’s blog. Aitel called the analysis “pretty dead on.”
National: Lone wolf claims responsibility for DNC hack, dumps purported Trump smear file | Ars Technica
In an intriguing follow-up to Tuesday’s report that Russian hackers gained access to Democratic National Committee servers, an anonymous blogger has claimed he alone was responsible for the breach and backed up the claim by publishing what purport to be authentic DNC documents taken during the online heist. In a blog post published Wednesday, someone with the handle Guccifer 2.0 published hundreds of pages of documents that the author claimed were taken during a lone-wolf hack of the DNC servers. One 231-page document purports to be opposition research into Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Other files purport to be spreadsheets that included the names and dollar amounts of large DNC donors. Yet another document purportedly came from the computer of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. “Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by ‘sophisticated hacker groups,” Wednesday’s blog post stated. “I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly))) But in fact, it was easy, very easy.”
The House approved a bill Tuesday that would bar the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, prompting warnings from campaign-finance watchdogs that it could lead to foreign interests illegally infiltrating American elections. The measure, which has the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also pits the Obama administration against one of the most powerful figures in Republican politics, billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. Koch’s donor network channels hundreds of millions of dollars each year into groups that largely use anonymous donations to shape policies on everything from health care to tax subsidies. Its leaders have urged the Republican-controlled Congress to clamp down on the IRS, citing free-speech concerns.
Problems with mail-in ballots in California. Overcrowded polling places in Arizona. Missing names on the voter rolls in New York. Those are just some of the problems that Democratic and Republican primary voters faced over the last few months, leaving voting rights advocates concerned about the November elections, where turnout will be dramatically higher. “We are at a crossroads in our democracy. This is a moment that really requires that states and elected officials to explore ways to make voting easier,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. There’s no single fix to the problems, since each state runs elections in its own way. But advocates have found issues with malfunctioning voting machines, too few polling places and election workers misunderstanding state laws.
Campaigns routinely spend millions of dollars on get-out-the-vote drives, but it’s money down the drain if voters can’t figure out the ballot. That’s where Drew Davies comes in. The college art major has parlayed his knack for graphic design into a career as one of the nation’s premier ballot fix-it guys. His job description may come as a surprise to those who assume that the federal government has ironed out the kinks since the 2000 presidential election uproar in Florida. As Mr. Davies can attest, there are still causes for concern. He sees ballots jammed with races, impossibly tiny print and fill-in bubbles that don’t quite align with candidates’ names. “It’s not just about prettying things up,” said Mr. Davies, who founded Oxide Design in 2001 after earning a fine arts degree from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Design is affecting our democracy. It’s affecting your lives. Look at the election in 2000: Bad design affected your life.” His work with the nonprofit Center for Civic Design to create 10 pocket-sized field guides for state and local election officials has been honored by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, which will showcase the pamphlets as part of an exhibit starting Sept. 30.
They have nicknames like “the dead lizard,” ”the praying mantis” and “the upside-down elephant.” The odd-shaped legislative districts that dot many states are no coincidence. The jagged lines often have been carefully drawn by state lawmakers to benefit particular incumbents or political parties. The tactic, known as gerrymandering, is nearly as old as the country itself. It’s also a maneuver that can result in an underrepresentation of minorities in some legislatures. Across the U.S, minorities now comprise nearly two-fifths of the population, yet hold less than one-fifth of all legislative seats, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Congress and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal guidelines require that legislative districts are similar in population and not drawn to deny minorities a chance to elect the candidate of their choice. But racial gerrymandering can occur in a couple of ways: when minority communities are divided among multiple districts, thus diluting their voting strength; or when minorities are heavily packed into a single district, thus diminishing their likelihood of winning multiple seats.
Fifty-nine-year-old veteran Larry Harmon got a surprise when he went to cast a ballot in Ohio last year: He was no longer registered to vote. Harmon hadn’t voted since 2008, a result of being fed up with politics and not liking any of his choices. He didn’t know you could lose your registration just for taking a vacation from the political process. Tens of thousands of other voters in the state were taken off the rolls for the same reason, which they might not figure out until they go to cast a ballot this fall — and Ohio will be an important swing state this year. Voters all over Brooklyn had the same problem in April, when at least 70,000 people were taken off the voter rolls because they hadn’t voted enough in the past. Thousands of voters may have been mistakenly removed for other reasons as well. A baker from Bushwick who had been excited to vote for Bernie Sanders told the New York Daily News, “I’m feeling profoundly snuffed.” And it was hardly the first time this has happened. Ari Berman notes in his book Give Us the Ballot that during the notoriously messy 2000 election in Florida, about 12,000 voters were wrongfully labeled as felons and taken off the rolls. About 44 percent of those were likely African-American.
This year’s primaries have been filled with complaints about the voting process. Voters in Arizona were furious that they had to wait up to five hours to cast ballots. Thousands of New Yorkers had their names mistakenly dropped from voter registration rolls. Republican candidate Donald Trump called his party’s nominating system “rigged.” Bernie Sanders said the Democrats’ nominating system was “dumb.” And many state voting laws, like strict new photo ID requirements, faced court challenges by those who said they would block minorities and other voters from participating in the election. Supporters defended the laws as necessary to prevent fraud at the polls. All this controversy has left many voters uneasy, and raised questions about how confident Americans are that their votes count, and will be counted accurately in November. So far at least, voters do seem to have faith that the system works. Most say they’re confident — at least somewhat — that their votes will be counted correctly.
Next week marks the third anniversary of an incredibly consequential U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of landmark civil rights legislation. The high court’s 5-4 ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder meant that Alabama and many other southern states no longer had to seek federal approval to change their election laws under the Voting Rights Act. But what happened, and how we got there, is so much more complicated. To really understand the narrative arc of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, you have to go back 100 years to the end of the Civil War and the three so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments outlawed slavery, established citizenship for blacks, and gave them the right to vote. “For nearly a century, the U.S. government had done very little to defend voting rights under the 15th Amendment, and you fall into a long, deep period of disenfranchisement,” University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie told KGOU’s Oklahoma Voices. “By 1910, across the South – including Oklahoma – you have a variety of different acts, state actions, put into place that keep blacks out of the polling place and the last black officeholder has been driven from politics.” … There was no federal statute to enforce voting rights until 1957. Blacks that did try to register to vote faced poll taxes, literacy or educational competence tests, and even violence. Georgia had the highest rate of black voter registration in the Deep South by 1960, but even then, only 1 in 4 blacks eligible to vote registered. “In 1946, a black man voted in the gubernatorial election in Georgia and was shot dead in the streets in Spaulding County,” Gaddie said.
National groups are translating state voter ID laws into Spanish to help make sure Hispanic voters bring proper identification to the polls on Election Day. “There are so many voter ID laws they can be confusing because in every state they are different,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram, associate counsel with Latino Justice PRLDEF (Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund). “There’s a need for clarity. We believe every vote counts and every voter should have access to information regardless of the language they speak.’’ Latino Justice PRLDEF is teaming with the Brennan Center for Justice and Rock the Vote to translate into Spanish voter ID requirements and registration deadlines for all 50 states for the Nov. 8 elections. The groups plan to unveil the project later this summer.
If, like a growing number of people, you’re willing to trust the Internet to safeguard your finances, shepherd your love life, and maybe even steer your car, being able to cast your vote online might seem like a logical, perhaps overdue, step. No more taking time out of your workday to travel to a polling place only to stand in a long line. Instead, as easily as hailing a ride, you could pull out your phone, cast your vote, and go along with your day. Sounds great, right? Absolutely not, says Stanford computer science professor David Dill. In fact, online voting is such a dangerous idea that computer scientists and security experts are nearly unanimous in opposition to it. Dill first got involved in the debate around electronic voting in 2003, when he organized a group of computer scientists to voice concerns over the risks associated with the touchscreen voting machines that many districts considered implementing after the 2000 election. Since then, paperless touchscreen voting machines have all but died out, partly as a result of public awareness campaigns by the Verified Voting Foundation, which Dill founded to help safeguard local, state, and federal elections. But a new front has opened around the prospect of Internet voting, as evidenced by recent ballot initiatives proposed in California and other efforts to push toward online voting. Here, Dill discusses the risks of Internet voting, the challenge of educating an increasingly tech-comfortable public, and why paper is still the best way to cast a vote.
Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court expanded the meaning of one of the most important civil rights laws in U.S. history — the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Among other things, the court prohibited a then-common practice among some states of spreading minorities across voting districts, leaving them too few in number in any given district to elect their preferred candidates. The practice became known as “racial gerrymandering.” The court’s solution required that states create majority-minority districts — districts in which the majority of the voting-age population belonged to a single minority. With voting that occurred largely along racial lines, these districts allowed minority voters to elect their candidates of choice. But a fascinating development occurred in the years since. These districts, rather than giving African Americans more political power, might have actually started to deprive them of it. Majority-minority districts, by concentrating the minority vote in certain districts, have the unintended consequence of diluting their influence elsewhere. Experts say some Republican legislatures have capitalized on this new reality, redistricting in their political favor under the guise of majority-minority districts.
National: Online voting would be a ‘complete disaster’ according to Stanford Computer Scientist | Examiner
Imagine the convenience of being able to cast a vote from the comfort of a couch, coffee shop, library or a toilet if you’re truly trying to capture the spirit of the 2016 election cycle. Online voting may seem like a no-brainer given myriad of ways one can connect to the internet. However, according to David Dill, a computer scientist from Stanford, it would be a ‘complete disaster.’ It’s not just him that isn’t fond of the idea of putting the future of our country into computer, but security experts as well. “Computers are very complicated things and there’s no way with any reasonable amount of resources that you can guarantee that the software and hardware are bug-free and that they haven’t been maliciously attacked,” Dill said in an interview. “The problems are growing in complexity faster than the methods to keep up with them. From that perspective, looking at a system that relies on the perfectibility of computers is a really bad idea.”
A parade of Republican-controlled states in recent years has made it more difficult to cast a ballot, imposing strict identification requirements at polling stations, paring back early-voting periods and requiring proof of citizenship to register. Then there is Oregon. It is leading what could become a march in the opposite direction. From January through April, Oregon added nearly 52,000 new voters to its rolls by standing the usual voter-registration process on its head. Under a new law, most citizens no longer need to fill out and turn in a form to become a voter. Instead, everyone who visits a motor-vehicle bureau and meets the requirements is automatically enrolled. Choosing a political party — or opting out entirely — is a matter of checking off preferences on a postcard mailed later to registrants’ homes. With the change, Oregon now boasts perhaps the nation’s most painless electoral process; mail-in ballots long ago did away with polling places’ snaking lines and balky voting machines
The November election will be the first presidential contest to take place since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strip some of the major protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal clearance before changing their voting laws. Seventeen states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time. Among them, Wisconsin, Texas, and North Carolina have tightened their photo ID requirements; Kansas now requires proof of citizenship to cast a ballot; and Arizona has made it a felony for people to collect ballots from others and take them to the polls. Some people—mostly Democrats—say these laws disenfranchise poor and minority voters. But others—mostly Republicans—defend the stringent requirements as part of an effort to prevent voter fraud (an occurrence scholars largely consider to be a myth, and in some states, is more rare than a lightning strike). But just as some states are making it more difficult to vote, others are passing legislation to make it easier.
Three Democratic U.S. congressmen on Wednesday asked a federal agency to provide information regarding whether a top federal elections official had the right to unilaterally change voter registration forms in three states to require proof of citizenship. Reps. Elijah Cummings, Robert Brady and James E. Clyburn asked the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission for records connected to EAC executive director Brian Newby’s amendment in February of forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia. The group is seeking documents relating to requests from the three states to modify voter registration forms; all analysis of the impact of modifying federal voter registration forms; and all documents giving Newby the authority to unilaterally make the changes. Voting rights activists criticized the changes Newby made in February as a “secretive move” that created additional barriers for potential voters.
A DW analysis of campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics finds that US subsidiaries of international companies have so far spent almost ten million dollars (9.8 million euros) supporting candidates in this election cycle with most of the contributions coming from European-based firms ($8.6 million). The only other foreign, but non-European-based, companies that have spent money on the US election so far hail from five countries: Japan ($597,000), Israel ($159,000), Canada ($108,000), Mexico ($61,000) and Australia ($32,000). While foreign nationals without permanent US residence status and foreign entities are prohibited from contributing to US elections, American subsidiaries of foreign companies are not. Just like their US counterparts, they can legally establish so-called Political Action Committees (PACs) to collect contributions for political candidates from their US employees and families. All PACs are registered with the Federal Election Commission. “It doesn’t surprise me,” said James Davis, dean of the School of Economics and Political Science at St. Gallen University in Switzerland, when asked about the fact that PACs set up by European-based companies have so far contributed more than eight million dollars to the US election campaign.
National: The Price of Public Money: The Presidential Election Campaign Fund Has $300 Million and No One Wants It | The Atlantic
Matthew King of suburban Tacoma, Washington, is a Democrat who believes the average American should donate to presidential candidates to thwart big money’s influence. Though he is looking for work, he feels so strongly about the issues that he makes small monthly contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. “It’s democracy in action,” King says, describing his hopes for a president who will combine leftist ideals with strong Christian values. “Right now, money is our voice in politics.” Last fall, King, who is in his late 30s, was working at a local Taco Bell; he charged $20 to his credit card to support a presidential candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. King did not know it at the time, but his donation would help O’Malley’s campaign qualify for more than $1 million in matching funds thanks to a cumbersome bureaucratic process: a relic known as the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. O’Malley was the only one of 23 initial primary contenders in 2016 to seek public funds for his campaign. Only three candidates are still in the race, but more than $300 million remains in the fund—and no one wants to touch it.
Elvis Norquay, a member of the Chippewa Indian tribe, has lived most of his 58 years on North Dakota’s remote Turtle Mountain reservation and says he’s never had a problem voting. That was before 2014, when he hitched a ride with a friend to cast a ballot in local and congressional elections and was turned away. Embarrassed, he asked why he couldn’t vote. He was told he lacked proper ID under new state requirements. He has no phone, no current driver’s license and his tribal ID lacks a street address. “When we left, my friend said, ‘that’s not right’,” said Norquay, who has lived on disability since 2002 in a rural county near the Canadian border.
One of the records inside a massive and rapidly growing Republican National Committee database contains three predictive numbers about President Barack Obama’s political leanings. There’s a 95 percent likelihood Obama will vote in the 2016 general election, the database predicts, based on computer modeling. It also shows an 83 percent chance Obama will side with his party’s nominee, while suggesting a 10 percent shot he’ll back the Republican candidate. It’s an extreme example—Obama, a two-term Democratic president, has repeatedly said he plans to support his party’s nominee and has been highly critical of Donald Trump—but it illustrates how the RNC has attached a score to each of the 192 million registered voters in America as part of a massive push to regain parity with Democrats in using data to win elections. Democrats have used similar scoring for several election cycles, but this will be the first in which the RNC has used such a system in a presidential election.
National: Getting a photo ID so you can vote is easy. Unless you’re poor, black, Latino or elderly. | The Washington Post
In his wallet, Anthony Settles carries an expired Texas identification card, his Social Security card and an old student ID from the University of Houston, where he studied math and physics decades ago. What he does not have is the one thing that he needs to vote this presidential election: a current Texas photo ID. For Settles to get one of those, his name has to match his birth certificate — and it doesn’t. In 1964, when he was 14, his mother married and changed his last name. After Texas passed a new voter-ID law, officials told Settles he had to show them his name-change certificate from 1964 to qualify for a new identification card to vote. So with the help of several lawyers, Settles tried to find it, searching records in courthouses in the D.C. area, where he grew up. But they could not find it. To obtain a new document changing his name to the one he has used for 51 years, Settles has to go to court, a process that would cost him more than $250 — more than he is willing to pay. “It has been a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Settles, 65, a retired engineer. “The intent of this law is to suppress the vote. I feel like I am not wanted in this state.”
Calling it “the civil rights cause of the 21st Century,” U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, has sponsored a bill that would restore voting rights to more than a million Floridians. The bill, dubbed the No One Can Take Away Your Right to Vote Act, would guarantee that ex-convicts have the right to vote after they leave prison, though it excludes anyone convicted of murder, manslaughter or a sex crime. Florida, which is one of only three states in which all felons lose the right to vote forever unless it’s restored by the state, has more than 1.5 million citizens unable to vote. That’s about ten percent of the state’s voting age population.
National: Bill Is Proposed Requiring Presidential Candidates to Show Tax Returns | The New York Times
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require major presidential candidates to publicly disclose their three most recent personal income tax returns, a challenge to the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, who has resisted releasing his filings. Mr. Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is trying to goad Republicans, including the committee chairman, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, and the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, into defending Mr. Trump, giving Democrats a legislative rallying point. But Mr. McConnell and Mr. Hatch, as leaders of the majority, are likely to ignore the bill.
Ahead of what’s likely to be the first presidential election since 1965 without the Voting Rights Act in full effect, 50 members of Congress have joined to form the Voting Rights Caucus. The caucus will work to educate the public about voting restrictions enacted since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. “The caucus is long overdue,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, speaking at a press conference outside the House of Representatives Tuesday to launch the caucus. Seventeen states will have voting rights restrictions in effect for the first time in a presidential election since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have something in common (as strange as that sounds)—they both seem to be turning out first-time voters. But before those newly-minted participants in democracy can cast their ballots, there are a few boxes to be checked. Registration is often the first step for those voters towards casting their first-ever vote—it’s required in 49 states (North Dakota does not have voter registration). And when it comes to registering to vote, it’s all about residency. Residency requirements matter in elections. They are one of the basic requirements for voting, along with age, U.S. citizenship and other factors. While those requirements have clear yes or no answers (you either are or aren’t old enough to vote; you’re either a U.S. citizen or not) residency requirements are more complex.
Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over what would be fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party. In a significant shift, Republican officials said it now seemed unlikely that the four states to vote first would all retain their cherished place on the electoral calendar, with Nevada as the most probable casualty. Party leaders are even going so far as to consider diluting the traditional status of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as gatekeepers to the presidency. Under one proposal, those states would be paired with others that voted on the same day as a way to give more voters a meaningful role much sooner. But in a move that would sharply limit who could participate in presidential primaries, many party activists are also pushing to close Republican contests to independent voters, arguing that open primaries in some states allowed Donald J. Trump, whose conservative convictions they deeply mistrust, to become the presumptive nominee.