Advocates of radically overhauling partisan gerrymandering are increasingly looking to ballot initiatives to reform the redistricting process, in hopes of circumventing recalcitrant legislatures. Supporters of a proposal to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Michigan say they will turn in more than 400,000 signatures by the end of the year. They need 315,000 of those signatures to be valid in order to qualify for next year’s ballot. In Ohio, a coalition of organizations is in the process of collecting the 305,591 valid signatures they need to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. And in Colorado, another coalition plans two ballot initiatives — one that would reform congressional redistricting, and another to reform legislative redistricting.
The FBI failed to notify scores of US officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year, an investigation found. The Associated Press dedicated two months and a small team of reporters to go through a hit list of targets of Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, that was provided by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks. Previous investigations based on the list had shown how Fancy Bear worked in close alignment with the Kremlin’s interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic party. The hacking campaign disrupted the 2016 US election and cast a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump, whom US intelligence agencies say the hackers were trying to help. The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election. The special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump aides and Russia. Indictments have been made.
The FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, The Associated Press has found. Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. “It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.”
In February 2016, Anita Johnson met a woman in Milwaukee fretting that, although she had voted faithfully for decades, she would be unable to cast a ballot in the presidential election. Her Wisconsin driver’s license was about to expire, and since she was 90 and no longer drove, she wouldn’t renew it. But she had heard about the state’s strict new voter ID law, requiring official photo identification. Without a license, she worried she was out of luck. Maybe not, said Ms. Johnson. The state coordinator for VoteRiders, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps citizens vote, Ms. Johnson pointed out that the state Department of Motor Vehicles could issue a photo ID. Poll workers would accept that as proof of identity. On the very last day the would-be voter had a valid license, Ms. Johnson drove her to the agency, which issued the necessary state card. So did she get to vote for president, at 91? “She did,” Ms. Johnson said. “I know, because I drove her to the polls.”
In October 2017, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent letters to five of the top voting machine companies in America asking how their organizations were structured and what steps they have taken to ensure their machines are protected from cyber threats. “As our election systems have come under unprecedented scrutiny, public faith in the security of our electoral process at every level is more important than ever before,” Wyden said. “Ensuring that Americans can trust that election systems and infrastructure are secure is necessary to protecting confidence in our electoral process and democratic government.” The questions touched on a wide range of topics related to cybersecurity, such as whether the companies had experienced a recent data breach, whether they employ a chief information security officer and how frequently their products have been audited by third-party evaluators.
Two House Democrats are pressing their colleagues to allot $400 million for states to upgrade outdated voting equipment and secure their election systems. Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Robert Brady (Pa.) made the appeal in a letter to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee released on Monday. “We know that Russia launched an unprecedented assault on our elections in 2016, targeting 21 states’ voting systems, and we believe this money is necessary to protect our elections from future attack,” wrote the lawmakers. “When a sovereign nation attempts to meddle in our elections, it is an attack on our country,” they wrote. “We cannot leave states to defend against the sophisticated cyber tactics of state actors like Russia on their own.”
A commission that President Donald Trump tasked with investigating his own unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud won’t meet again this year, according to court records, fueling more questions about the panel’s future and its viability. In an order Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said a Justice Department attorney told the court Friday that the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity “will not meet in December.” Federal rules require such committee meetings to be announced 15 days in advance, except for emergencies, so no meeting seems feasible this month, Asked about the lawyer’s reported statement Monday, the White House declined to comment on the record. However, an administration official acknowledged that a meeting of the commission before the end of the year was “unlikely.”
On its face, the notice sent to 248 county election officials asked only that they do what Congress has ordered: Prune their rolls of voters who have died, moved or lost their eligibility — or face a federal lawsuit. The notice, delivered in September by a conservative advocacy group, is at the heart of an increasingly bitter argument over the seemingly mundane task of keeping accurate lists of voters — an issue that will be a marquee argument before the Supreme Court in January. At a time when gaming the rules of elections has become standard political strategy, the task raises a high-stakes question: Is scrubbing ineligible voters from the rolls worth the effort if it means mistakenly bumping legitimate voters as well? The political ramifications are as close as a history book. Florida’s Legislature ordered the voter rolls scrubbed of dead registrants and ineligible felons before the 2000 presidential election. The resulting purge, based on a broad name-matching exercise, misidentified thousands of legitimate voters as criminals, and prevented at least 1,100 of them — some say thousands more — from casting ballots.
A panel led by former Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney campaign officials has released a slate of recommendations for future election operations to guard themselves against cyberattacks. The final report from Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy project comes roughly a year after the 2016 November presidential election, ahead of which the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were successfully targeted by cyberattacks. The U.S. intelligence community has tied the hacks to a broader campaign by Russia to interfere in the election. Robby Mook and Matt Rhoades, former campaign managers to Clinton and Romney, respectively, positioned the project as an effort to help future campaign operations be more secure against cyber threats, regardless of their party affiliation.
National: Judges question privacy watchdog’s right to sue Trump election commission | The Washington Post
Federal judges questioned Tuesday whether privacy advocates have the right to sue President Trump’s election-integrity commission to try to block its planned collection of millions of voter records. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seemed skeptical of the specific harm to a privacy watchdog group trying to protect voter data the commission is seeking from 50 states and the District, including individual birth dates, political affiliations and partial Social Security numbers. Judge Stephen F. Williams asserted that the commission’s powers appeared limited to requesting — not demanding — the information from states and said its “potency seems very low.” Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg suggested the commission would have access only to publicly available voter data. “Isn’t this information already public?” he asked the attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau’s plans. Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.” The choice would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 census, the nationwide count that determines which states lose and gain electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives.
An appeals court gave a skeptical reception Tuesday to a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission violated federal law by failing to study the privacy impact of a demand for voter rolls and other personal data on millions of Americans. During oral arguments, a three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t say much about the possibility that the President’s Advisory Committee on Election Integrity violated a requirement Congress created in 2002 that federal agencies conduct a “privacy impact assessment” before embarking on collection of data on individuals. Instead, the judges repeatedly questioned whether the organization pressing the suit — the Electronic Privacy Information Center — had legal standing to pursue the case.
A bipartisan Harvard University project aimed at protecting elections from hacking and propaganda will release its first set of recommendations today on how U.S. elections can be defended from hacking attacks. The 27-page guidebook shown to Reuters ahead of publication calls for campaign leaders to emphasize security from the start and insist on practices such as two-factor authentication for access to email and documents and fully encrypted messaging via services including Signal and Wickr. The guidelines are intended to reduce risks in low-budget local races as well as the high-stakes Congressional midterm contests next year. Though most of the suggestions cost little or nothing to implement and will strike security professionals as common sense, notorious attacks including the leak of the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, have succeeded because basic security practices were not followed.
With gerrymandering being one of the highest-profile cases to go before the U.S. Supreme Court this session , the issue has taken center stage as lawmakers prepare for another round of redistricting based off the 2020 census. Lawmakers across the country re-draw political district boundaries every decade, but gerrymandering happens when those lines are drawn to give themselves an unfair advantage. Redistricting is a normal and important element of U.S. government, but the line between redistricting and gerrymandering can be fuzzy. With technology drastically improving mapping software and the data behind it, there are more tools to effectively gerrymander districts than ever before. “Redistricting has always been a controversial issue because it’s political,” said Dr. Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “You really have to go back, some of the odd-shaped districts are the result of, actually, an order of the U.S. Supreme Court years ago.”
National: Top Russian Official Tried to Broker ‘Backdoor’ Meeting Between Trump and Putin | The New York Times
A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter. The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.
The halfway point between the election of President Donald Trump and the 2018 midterms has come and gone, and it still isn’t fully clear what Russian hackers did to America’s state and county voter registration systems. Or what has been done to make sure a future hacking effort won’t succeed. US officials, obsessed for now with evidence that Russia’s intelligence services exploited social media to sway US voters, have taken solace in the idea that the integrity of the country’s voting is protected by the system’s acknowledged clunkiness. With its decentralized assortment of different machines, procedures, and contractors, who could possibly hack into all those many systems to change vote totals? … Most states’ elections officials still don’t have the security clearances necessary to have a thorough discussion with federal officials about what’s known about Russian, or others’, efforts to hack into their systems.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that the Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, states are adopting auditing measure to detect any possible direct ballot fraud and give voters confidence in the results. After clear evidence emerged that Russia attempted to influence the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election by social media, and more directly by hacking election systems, state governments are embarking on a variety of efforts to use statistical auditing to verify election results. On Nov. 15, Colorado kicked off its first statewide statistical audit of its most recent election by using a statistical technique known as risk-limiting audits to establish the integrity of the vote. Because of mail-in ballots from voters serving in the military, the state had to wait eight days to receive all votes and initiate the audit. Risk-limiting audits, or RLAs, allow election officials to verify the outcome of an election by sampling a much smaller subset of ballots compared to a full recount. Verifying the results of presidential elections in each state from 1992 to 2008, for example, only requires an average of 307 ballots per state. The number of ballots required to verify the vote, however, increases as the contests become closer and eventually defaults to a full recount, in the case of an extremely close race. Colorado’s legislature voted to adopt an election-wide audit in 2010, and election officials began piloting RLA in 2013.
It’s been almost a year since Election Day 2016, but the campaign news hasn’t stopped. October 30th brought the first indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. On Tuesday and Wednesday, representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter faced congressional grilling over widespread Russian influence on their platforms. Also on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice is considering charging Russian government officials for crimes related to the Democratic National Committee hack. Amid the flurry, it’s easy to blur these conversations—especially because they all seem to feature Russia. But the election-hacking conversation desperately needs to be untangled. Whatever other revelations may come, it helps to remember that election hacking is really about three separate threats: hacking voters, hacking votes, and causing disruption or chaos.
Emboldened both by President Donald Trump’s claim that millions of noncitizens voted in 2016 and by his creation of a panel to investigate the alleged fraud, lawmakers in several states want to require people registering to vote to provide proof of their citizenship – even though federal registration forms don’t require it. This year at least four states – Kansas, Maryland, Texas and Virginia – considered proof of citizenship measures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. That means residents must provide documentation such as a passport or birth certificate when registering to vote.
National: Jared Kushner failed to disclose emails sent to Trump team about WikiLeaks and Russia | The Guardian
Jared Kushner shared emails within Donald Trump’s team about WikiLeaks and a “backdoor overture” from Russia during the 2016 election campaign and failed to turn them over to investigators, it emerged on Thursday. Senators said that a disclosure of files to their committee by Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, “appears to have been incomplete” and was missing “documents that are known to exist but were not included”. They said in a letter to Kushner’s attorney that they knew of emails received and then sent on by Kushner during the campaign that appear relevant to inquiries into alleged collusion between Moscow and Trump’s team.
Senior White House adviser and son-in-law to the president, Jared Kushner, failed to hand over to Senate investigators emails concerning contacts with WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture,” according to a letter sent by two senior lawmakers. The letter, released Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says Kushner failed to turn over “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks” and other emails pertaining to a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” The lawmakers said they were seeking the documents that were “known to exist” from other witnesses in the investigation. “We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the letter, sent to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said. “It appears your search may have overlooked several documents.”
Following the recent declaration by the U.S. National Security Agency that Russian hackers tried to infiltrate the electronic voting machines used in the last U.S. presidential election, many people are calling for a lot of things especially for the electronic voting machines to be scrapped. Although the Russians did not succeed, more questions are still left on the table. U.S. senators looking for answers have constituted a committee and is hoping to pass a bipartisan bill called the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act. The bill will enlist help from the Department of Homeland Security to organize an event like the one held at the DEFCON hackers conference in July, themed the “Voting Machine Hacking Village.”
After over two months of silence, there was a blip of activity from President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission this week when a commissioner sent an email requesting information on voter fraud prosecutions by the Department of Justice and suggested the agency was not pursuing those types of cases vigorously enough. J. Christian Adams, a commissioner and former DOJ official, sent an email to Andrew Kossack, a federal official charged with the panel’s administration, and copied all of the other commissioners Monday. He asked that Kossack request an annual public report from DOJ on election crimes as well as voter fraud cases the department has pursued over the last decade.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter-protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, provided live assistance to more than 1,000 voters through its 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. Voters reported complaints, some of which impacted systemic problems, or sought assistance with voting. Since 2001, Election Protection has been the…
National: Russia’s Election Meddling Was Another U.S. Intelligence Failure | Dana Priest/The New Yorker
After American intelligence agencies failed to detect and stop Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, sixteen years ago, Congress more than doubled their budgets and gave them unprecedented secret authorities. As the intelligence beat reporter for the Washington Post at the time, I watched these agencies grow in size, as dozens of new buildings appeared around the Washington region to house a ballooning workforce of over a million people with top-secret security clearances. The National Security Agency obtained permission to collect and store the private Internet correspondence and cell-phone data of millions of Americans. The F.B.I. was granted the power to obtain citizens’ banking, library, and phone records without court approval. The C.I.A. opened secret prisons abroad where they tortured terrorist suspects. Local police departments began employing military-grade weapons, armored vehicles, and cell-phone-tracking devices.
On November 7th, in Washington, D.C., after delivering a speech to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Eric Holder grabbed his Blackberry in search of results from the Virginia elections. As the former Attorney General scrolled backward through a long e-mail thread, he quickly learned just how stunning a night it had been for the Democrats. He also understood that, after this triumph, it might be a little harder to keep his party focussed on gerrymandering. “The system didn’t become more fair as a result of what happened last night,” Holder told me the next day. “The system appears to be more fair in spite of the reality that those Democratic candidates faced. The job that I have is to make sure people don’t become complacent.”
Russian trolls used Twitter to challenge the validity of the U.S. presidential election months before it took place, according to new NBC News analysis. In apparent expectation of a Trump loss, the trolls began sowing seeds of doubt to make voters question a win by Hillary Clinton. But when Donald Trump’s victory began rolling in, they changed their tune and began tweeting about the Trump success. Kremlin propaganda tweets using the “VoterFraud” hashtag first appeared in August 2016 and slowly ramped up to an Election Day blitz, according to the NBC News analysis of some 36,000 archived tweets from a single anonymous source with knowledge of social media data.
Donald Trump said on Saturday he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian involvement in the manipulation of the 2016 presidential election. However, he appeared to contradict himself on Sunday when he said he was “with our agencies” on the question of Russian interference. Speaking at a news conference in Hanoi on Sunday, he was asked about his comments that he believed Putin’s reassurances given by the Russian president on the sidelines of Saturday’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam. “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” Trump told a news conference in Vietnam. “As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.” The president’s comments were criticised by senator John McCain who said in a tweet that there was “nothing America First about taking the word of KGB colonel [Putin]” over the US intelligence community.
The recent death of one member, the child pornography arrest of a key staffer and a blizzard of lawsuits have paralyzed the work of the federal Election Integrity Commission, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who serves on the controversial panel. “There is so much inertia because the powers that be worry about whether there will be a lawsuit in response to whatever we do,” Gardner said during a telephone interview. “They have really tied this commission up pretty well with all the different lawsuits in all kinds of different directions.” But Gardner, a Democrat, said he’s got no evidence to confirm fellow member and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s claims that some on the commission have been communicating only among themselves.
Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.) The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”