National: Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny | The New York Times

In a big partisan gerrymandering case that will come before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have already devoted thousands of words to the question of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn. But the best answer by far comes from the man who drew them. In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program called Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic House members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially more challenging for a Republican. In the first election after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 percent of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added another House seat to the six they already boasted. Asked in a deposition last year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he said.

National: States, Counties Seek Voting Tech Upgrades Amid Security Concerns | StateTech

With the 2016 presidential election bringing voting cybersecurity to the fore, many states and localities have been looking at innovative, technology-driven approaches to shore up voting machine security. There are growing concerns about the integrity of ballots nationwide following reports that hackers attempted to infiltrate voting machines in 21 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Those concerns are not unfounded, according to a 2017 report published by DEF CON, which unveiled the vulnerabilities of commonly used voting machines in the U.S. To address these weaknesses, several states are taking action to upgrade systems and ensure voting integrity for citizens everywhere. Rhode Island, for example, upgraded its systems to use a cellular connection with a double-encrypted signal that better protects against remote hacking. With worries of election hacking growing, more states are expected to follow suit to make cybersafety a priority at the polls.

National: Group sues for communications with Trump voter fraud panel | Associated Press

A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security for failing to release information connected to President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission. Voting rights advocates have expressed concern that the agencies might be working together as part of an effort by Trump and some commission members to justify his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. They also worry about possible efforts to enact tougher voting restrictions, such as proof of citizenship requirements. Without evidence, Trump has blamed “millions of people who voted illegally” as the reason why he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election.

National: Key House Democrat: U.S. ‘dramatically unprepared’ for potential 2018 election hacking | Philadelphia Inquirer

One of the leading voices in Democrats’ efforts to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election is coming to the University of Pennsylvania Monday with a warning. U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Californian who serves as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says the threat of foreign interference is being dangerously downplayed by President Trump, and fears that many states are not ready to combat potential hacking during the 2018 elections. Much of Pennsylvania, he said, could be vulnerable because of a lack of a paper trail for its voting machines, leaving no physical record of votes cast. The state was among 21 that Russian hackers targeted during the 2016 campaign.

National: Has the Tide Turned Against Partisan Gerrymandering? | The Atlantic

Across the nation, judges are discovering that if you look for it, partisan gerrymandering actually is all around you. Courts have historically been reluctant to strike down redistricting plans on the basis of political bias—unwilling to appear to be favoring one party—but Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania state supreme court ruled that the state’s maps for U.S. House violate the state constitution’s guarantees of free expression and association and of equal protection. That follows a ruling earlier this month in North Carolina, in which a federal court struck down the state’s maps, the first time a federal court had ruled a redistricting plan represented an unconstitutional gerrymander. The decision was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is already considering another partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin. The court has also agreed to hear another case, from Maryland, and rejected a case from Texas on procedural grounds.

National: Biden: McConnell stopped Obama from calling out Russians | Politico

Joe Biden said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped the Obama administration from speaking out about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign by refusing to sign on to a bipartisan statement of condemnation. That moment, the former Democratic vice president said, made him think “the die had been cast … this was all about the political play.” He expressed regret, in hindsight, given the intelligence he says came in after Election Day. “Had we known what we knew three weeks later, we may have done something more,” Biden, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said. Biden was speaking at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, a block from his old office at the Old Executive Office Building, to discuss his new article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin.”

National: Algorithm proves voter ID law’s discriminating intent |

In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill requiring that residents present certain types of identification before being allowed to vote. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas, arguing that the intent and effect of the bill was to discriminate against minority voters. That’s where Eitan Hersh, an associate professor of political science at Tufts, came in. Working as a consultant for the Department of Justice, along with a colleague at Harvard, Hersh devised a way to determine who qualified to vote under the controversial law, known as S.B. 12. Using an algorithm, and delving into millions of publicly available records, he determined that while fewer registered voters lacked the necessary ID than had been thought, the effect of the law was clearly discriminatory, disproportionately affecting minorities. To qualify to vote under the law, registered voters had to present a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo.

National: The Courts Take Aim at Partisan Gerrymandering | The New Yorker

Donald Trump so dominates the media landscape that he crowds out other news. So what may be the most important political development of our time—the death of partisan gerrymandering—may not be receiving the attention it deserves. Following the 2010 census, and the Republican landslides in the midterm elections of that year, G.O.P. leaders at the state level created remarkably cynical legislative maps for both state offices and the U.S. House of Representatives. They drew district lines that gave Republicans many more seats than were justified by their over-all statewide numbers. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Republicans received only about half the statewide votes, but they now control thirteen of the eighteen seats in the House. Yet the Republicans may have overreached. A series of court decisions in recent weeks—in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and at the United States Supreme Court—have demonstrated that the judicial branch of government is mobilizing to end this shameful and destructive legislative practice.

National: Democrats draft own ‘memo’ in partisan spat over Trump-Russia probe | Reuters

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Democrats have drafted their own “memo” about the investigation of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, after calls for the release of a Republican memo critical of a special counsel’s criminal probe, the panel’s ranking Democrat said on Wednesday. Amid growing partisan rancor over the investigation of possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow, many of Trump’s fellow Republicans have been clamoring for the release of a classified memorandum commissioned by Republicans, which they say shows anti-Trump bias at the U.S. Department of Justice. Democrats have criticized that memo as “highly misleading” talking points intended to undermine the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Trump and his associates. They accused Republicans of inappropriately releasing classified information by allowing every House of Representatives member to read it.

National: House Democrats ask DHS for details of voter fraud investigation takeover | The Hill

The co-chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Election Security want to know what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans do now that President Trump has turned the work of his defunct voter fraud commission over to the agency. In a letter Tuesday, Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.) asked DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen to clarify what the agency’s responsibilities are related to the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity Trump dissolved earlier this month. The commission, which Trump created to investigate his unfounded claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, was plagued by controversy and legal battles from its inception.

National: Facebook says it can’t guarantee social media is good for democracy | Reuters

Facebook Inc (FB.O) warned on Monday that it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy, but the company said it was trying what it could to stop alleged meddling in elections by Russia or anyone else. The sharing of false or misleading headlines on social media has become a global issue, after accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the United States, Britain and France. Moscow denies the allegations. Facebook, the largest social network with more than 2 billion users, addressed social media’s role in democracy in blog posts from a Harvard University professor, Cass Sunstein, and from an employee working on the subject.

National: Alleged payment to porn star was illegal donation to Trump campaign, watchdog says | Politico

A watchdog group filed a pair of complaints on Monday alleging that a $130,000 payment reportedly made to a pornographic film actress who claims to have had an affair with Donald Trump violated campaign finance laws. In submissions to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission, Common Cause said the alleged payment to Stephanie Clifford — who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels — amounted to an in-kind donation to Trump’s presidential campaign that should have been publicly disclosed in its official reports. An attorney for Common Cause, Paul Ryan, said the payment appeared to be hush money.

National: Mueller adds veteran cyber prosecutor to special-counsel team | The Washington Post

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes. Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller’s team in early November from the Justice Department’s computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel’s office. He joined 16 other lawyers who are highly respected by their peers but who have come under fire from Republicans wary of some of their political contributions to Democrats.

National: Trump’s attempts to show voter fraud appear to have stalled | PBS

President Donald Trump hasn’t backed away from his unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016, but his efforts to investigate it appear to have stalled. He transferred the work of the commission investigating his claim to the Department of Homeland Security. This week, the department’s top official made it clear that, when it comes to elections, her focus is on safeguarding state and local voting systems from cyberattacks and other manipulation.

National: Judge Knocks DOJ Claim That Kobach Can’t Speak For Voter Fraud Panel | TPM

A federal judge didn’t buy the Justice Department’s argument that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach couldn’t speak to what was being done with the data collected by the now-defunct voter fraud commission he led. The judge ordered that Kobach or another commission member file a declaration giving a full explanation. The declaration will state “what information was collected or created by the Commission and/or its members on behalf of the Commission, where that information was and is being stored, by whom the information has been accessed, and what plans were made by the Commission to maintain or dispose of the information,” U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said Thursday.

National: Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference | The Hill

A pair of senators from each party is introducing legislation meant to deter foreign governments from interfering in future American elections. The bill represents the latest push on Capitol Hill to address Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and counter potential threats ahead of the 2018 midterms. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Tuesday introduced the “Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act,” which lays out specific foreign actions against U.S. elections that would warrant penalties from the federal government.

National: DHS won’t do voter-fraud investigation after Trump commission shut down | Washington Times

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tamped down on claims her department is going to pursue an investigation into voter fraud, saying Tuesday that her role will be limited to assisting states looking to weed out their own voter lists. President Trump earlier this month canceled his voter fraud commission and asked Homeland Security to pick up some of the work. Republican commissioners had said they expected Ms. Nielsen to take on the work they started of using government data to figure out how many non-citizens are registered and, in some cases, actually casting ballots. But the new secretary told Congress on Tuesday that’s not her goal.

National: Election security hearing sought by Democrats | Washington Times

Democratic members of the House Science Committee have called on the panel’s Republican leadership to hold another hearing on security issues related to the nation’s election infrastructure. Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Virginia Rep. Donald Beyer requested the hearing in a letter sent Wednesday to Texas Rep. Lamar Smith and Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood —the Republican chairs of the House panel and its oversight subcommittee, respectively — citing lingering concerns raised in the wake of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. “We believe it is our obligation as Members of the Science Committee to examine concerns regarding the cybersecurity of our election infrastructure as well as efforts to identify foreign covert influence operations against U.S. citizens and our democratic institutions that are likely to reemerge as a major issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections,” the Democrats wrote.

National: FBI investigating whether Russia funneled cash to NRA to aid Trump’s campaign | McClatchy

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up. All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information. A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.

National: The Russia scandal just got bigger. And Republicans are trying to prevent an accounting. | The Washington Post

Aside from the president of the United States, almost no one denies that Russia mounted a serious and concerted effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential campaign. The Russians hacked into Democratic Party emails and gave what they obtained to WikiLeaks so that it could be released publicly to maximize the political damage to Hillary Clinton. They used social media to spread fictional stories meant to do the same. They made repeated attempts to engage the Trump campaign in a cooperative effort to undermine Clinton and help then-candidate Donald Trump. They attempted to hack into state voting systems.

National: States Waiting To Share Voter Data While Kansas Shores Up Security | KCUR

Some states fear that a Kansas voter record system could fall prey to hackers, prompting a delay in the annual collection of nearly 100 million people’s records into a database scoured for double-registrations. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach touts the program, called Crosscheck, as a tool in combating voter fraud. Last year, 28 states submitted voters’ names, birth dates, and sometimes partial social security numbers, to Kobach’s office. But last fall, the news outlets ProPublica and Gizmodo reported a raft of cybersecurity weaknesses. For instance, Crosscheck relied on an unencrypted server for transmitting all that data.

National: Russian hackers move to new political targets | The Hill

Russia’s cyber operations against the United States are showing signs of accelerating even as lawmakers grapple with how to deter and respond to the threat. Moscow-linked hackers have expanded to new political targets, including the U.S. Senate, in the wake of the hacking and disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential race. The hackers, said to have links to Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit, are part of the same group that was implicated in the 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

National: How the Threat of Exposure Killed Trump’s ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission | WhoWhatWhy

Was President Donald Trump’s controversial “election integrity” commission shut down because its secret inner workings and true purpose were about to be exposed? In an exclusive interview with WhoWhatWhy, Matt Dunlap, one of the few Democrats on the commission and the man who successfully sued for internal documents to be released, says he believes the answer is “yes.” Though Dunlap, Maine’s Secretary of State, was appointed to the commission, he was denied access to documents and kept in the dark about its work after he criticized the tactics of its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach is an architect of many voter suppression measures and has perpetuated the myth that there is a “voter fraud epidemic.” Shortly after Dunlap won a lawsuit on the issue, and a court ruled that he has a right to the information, Trump pulled the plug on the commission. The Department of Justice then notified Dunlap that, as a result, it would no longer provide him with access to the documents. Undeterred, Dunlap says he’ll continue fighting on behalf of the public’s right to this information, even if it means heading back to court.

National: New Rubio bill would punish Russian meddling in future U.S. elections | McClatchy

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have a message for Moscow: Any interference in future U.S. elections will be met with swift punishment if Congress acts. The Florida Republican who ran for president in 2016 and the Maryland Democrat will introduce a bill on Tuesday that sets explicit punishments for the Russian government — and other countries — if they meddle in future federal elections and directs the Director of National Intelligence to issue a report on potential election interference within one month of any federal election. Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill comes as President Donald Trump has characterized two congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election as Democrat-led “witch hunts” and cast doubt on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that has already indicted four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

National: Former Trump aide Bannon refuses to comply with House subpoena | Reuters

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon declined on Tuesday to comply with a subpoena ordering him to answer questions from a U.S. House intelligence panel about his time at the White House as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election. After Bannon initially refused to answer questions about the matter, Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican party chairman, authorized a subpoena during the meeting to press Bannon to respond. Even then, Bannon refused to answer questions after his lawyer had conferred with the White House and was told again to refuse to answer questions about the transition period immediately after Trump was elected, or Bannon’s time in the administration, according to Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.

National: A Case for Math, Not ‘Gobbledygook,’ in Judging Partisan Voting Maps | The New York Times

In October, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could reshape American politics, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. registered an objection. There was math in the case, he said, and it was complicated. “It may be simply my educational background,” the chief justice said, presumably referring to his Harvard degrees in history and law. But he said that statistical evidence said to show that Wisconsin’s voting districts had been warped by political gerrymandering struck him as “sociological gobbledygook.” Last week, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. came to the defense of math. “It makes no sense for courts to close their eyes to new scientific or statistical methods,” he wrote in a decision striking down North Carolina’s congressional map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

National: Russian hackers who compromised DNC are targeting the Senate, company says | The Washington Post

The Russian hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee as part of a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election have been trying to steal information from the U.S. Senate, according to a report published Friday by a computer security firm. Beginning in June, the hackers set up websites meant to look like an email system available only to people using the Senate’s internal computer network, said the report by Trend Micro. The sites were designed to trick people into divulging their personal credentials, such as usernames and passwords. The Associated Press was first to write about the report. These “spear phishing” techniques are frequently used by the Russian group, which the company dubs Pawn Storm, to read or copy emails or other private documents.

National: Russia-linked hackers targeting US Senate | The Hill

Russian hackers from the group known as “Fancy Bear” are targeting the U.S. Senate with a new espionage campaign, according to cybersecurity firm Trend Micro. The Tokyo-based cybersecurity group tells The Hill that it has discovered a chain of suspicious-looking websites set up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system, and learned that the sites were being operated as part of an email-harvesting operation. The websites were reportedly set up by Fancy Bear, a group linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. The group has been implicated in the hack of the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The Associated Press first reported Trend Micro’s findings.

National: Cybersecurity firm: US Senate in Russian hackers’ crosshairs | Associated Press

The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday. The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite. “They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.” The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

National: Elections: Another unsecured enterprise application? | GCN

As hackers become more sophisticated, state and local election officials must ramp up their IT expertise to protect registration data and elections results. “Elections offices have become IT offices that happen to run elections,” Jeremy Epstein, deputy division director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computer and Network Systems said at the Jan. 10 Election Assistance Summit. “We need to be focused on detection and recovery.” When Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea was appointed in January 2015, she made election security a priority by growing her IT department by 40 percent to deal with increasing threats. She also worked with legislative leadership to get more funding to replace old election equipment.