Not since the death of poll taxes and literacy tests in the 1960s has access to the ballot box been so under siege. And as the march toward Election Day 2018 begins, the forces that helped abolish those voting obstacles appear to be moving in the opposite direction. Fueled by conservative Supreme Court rulings, GOP politics and President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, attacks on ballot access now threaten to make voting more of a privilege in the United States than a constitutional right, say voting rights advocates. “There appears to be an almost coordinated campaign unfolding across the country to institute voting suppression measures at the local and state level,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Whether it’s hostility, recalcitrance or recklessness, sadly, we’re seeing many efforts to turn back the clock on the voting rights of ordinary Americans.”
In the fall of 2010, the Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner took the stage for a Q. and A. at a technology conference in San Francisco. Mr. Milner, whose holdings have included major stakes in Facebook and Twitter, is known for expounding on everything from the future of social media to the frontiers of space travel. But when someone asked a question that had swirled around his Silicon Valley ascent — Who were his investors? — he did not answer, turning repeatedly to the moderator with a look of incomprehension. Now, leaked documents examined by The New York Times offer a partial answer: Behind Mr. Milner’s investments in Facebook and Twitter were hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kremlin. Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents. They include a cache of records from the Bermuda law firm Appleby that were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and reviewed by The Times in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal. The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser. The discovery is likely to stir concerns over Russian influence in US politics and the role played by social media in last year’s presidential election. It may also raise new questions for the social media companies and for Kushner. Alexander Vershbow, who was a US ambassador to Russiaunder George W Bush and to Nato under Bill Clinton, said the Russian state institutions were frequently used as “tools for Putin’s pet political projects”. Vershbow said the findings were concerning in light of efforts by Moscow to disrupt US democracy and public debate. “There clearly was a wider plan, despite Putin’s protestations to the contrary,” he said.
Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced a multifaceted election cybersecurity bill Tuesday, including a bug bounty program for systems manufacturers and a grant program for states to upgrade technology. “While the Intelligence Committee’s investigation is still ongoing, one thing is clear: The Russians were very active in trying to influence the 2016 election and will continue their efforts to undermine public confidence in democracies,” said Collins in a statement celebrating the bill. “The fact that the Russians probed the election-related systems of 21 states is truly disturbing, and it must serve as a call to action to assist states in hardening their defenses against foreign adversaries that seek to compromise the integrity of our election process.”
National: Fiery exchanges on Capitol Hill as lawmakers scold Facebook, Google and Twitter | The Washington Post
Senators from both parties took tech company officials to task in a hearing Wednesday for failing to better identify, defuse and investigate Russia’s campaign to manipulate American voters over social media during the 2016 presidential campaign. In the second of three Capitol Hill hearings this week on Russian’s online information operation, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee challenged Facebook, Google and Twitter in strikingly direct terms that, at times, seemed to carry the implicit threat of legislation that could rein in the nation’s wildly profitable technology industry. “I don’t think you get it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes all three companies. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”
National: Lawyers’ Committee spearheading election protection efforts in communities across U.S. | Wisconsin Gazette
With Election Day in many states less a week away, Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, is ramping up its efforts to safeguard voting rights across the country. Multiple states have attempted to impose severe restrictions on the right to vote. While courts have batted down many of these efforts to limit the franchise, the confusion surrounding recent rulings and the lack of accurate information could disrupt voting this election cycle. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is spearheading Election Protection’s efforts to protect voters this election cycle, using hotlines, field monitors and voter education, as well as its expansive network of national partners and state advocates, to respond to any questions or concerns voters may have.
Two senators introduced a new election security bill with the aim of providing assistance to states in order to protect against cyberattacks on voting infrastructure. The bipartisan bill — the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act — was put forward by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). The aim of the bill, according to Collins, is to “assist states in protecting the integrity of their voting systems. “Our bill seeks to facilitate the information sharing of the threats posed to state election systems by foreign adversaries, to provide guidance to states on how to protect their systems against nefarious activity and, for states who choose to do so, to allow them to access some federal grant money to implement best practices to protect their systems,” Collins said on the Senate floor. Collins said that she knew of “no evidence to date that actual vote tabulations were manipulated in any state” during the 2016 U.S. election, but noted that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found 21 states had election systems probed by Russian hackers.
Fewer than one in five polling places were fully accessible to voters with disabilities during the 2016 general election, a government report shows — a finding that has prompted federal officials to recommend the Justice Department adopt stricter compliance rules. The report released Thursday by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office comes less than a week before mayoral elections in Atlanta and New York, elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia and a special U.S. House election in Utah, and gives a window of only a year to address problems before the 2018 congressional elections. The bottom line in the report, provided to The Associated Press in advance of its publication, is that accessibility for voters with disabilities has not kept pace with the increase in early voting that has occurred in many states since the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Both early voting and the disabilities access improvements are top goals in making it easier to vote.
National: Trump and Sessions Denied Knowing About Russian Contacts. Records Suggest Otherwise. | The New York Times
Standing before reporters in February, President Trump said unequivocally that he knew of nobody from his campaign who was in contact with Russians during the election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate the same thing. Court documents unsealed this week cast doubt on both statements and raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions could be called back to Congress for further questioning. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, unsealed his first charges Monday in a wide-ranging investigation into Russian attempts to disrupt the presidential election and whether anyone close to Mr. Trump was involved. Records in that case show that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser, had frequent discussions with Russians in 2016 and trumpeted his connections in front of Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions. For months, journalists have revealed evidence that associates of Mr. Trump met with Russians during the campaign and the presidential transition. But the court documents represent the first concrete evidence that Mr. Trump was personally told about ties between a campaign adviser and Russian officials.
National: Researcher discovers over 250 of Trump’s web domains are communicating with Russian servers, sharing weird files | BGR
The US Presidential election is almost a full year in the rear view mirror, but many are still working diligently to determine whether or not everything that happened during the course of the campaigns and voting process was above board. A new report from researchers at Unhack The Vote alleges that Donald Trump’s various web properties could hold a clue as to the President’s communication ties with Russia, and the evidence is quite substantial.
The hackers who upended the U.S. presidential election had ambitions well beyond Hillary Clinton’s campaign, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press. The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that stretched back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users across the globe – from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. “It’s a wish list of who you’d want to target to further Russian interests,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings. He said the data was “a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence.”
National: Senators say ‘cyber war’ with Russia continues far beyond ’16 election | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
U.S. Senators privy to the nation’s secrets declared Wednesday that the United States faces what one called a “cataclysmic” cyberwar with Russia and other hostile entities, and these senators were highly critical of the American-based but global social media platforms on which that struggle is taking place. Capping two days of hearings in which executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were hauled before various congressional committees probing Russian influence on the 2016 election, Senate Intelligence Committee members debunked as simplistic the narrative that Russian efforts in cyberspace were aimed solely at getting Donald Trump elected president. Instead, senators in both parties described a complex and ongoing effort to undermine western democracies as a continuation of the Cold War on platforms that barely existed a decade ago. The intent is to “sow conflict and discontent over this country,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who represents the Silicon Valley where the companies are headquartered.
American politicians are often compared to children. They finger-point, they’re stubborn and, at times, they can be downright manipulative. According to Justin Levitt, a law professor and associate dean for research at Loyola Law School, this immature behavior comes out in full force when it comes to drawing boundaries for voting districts. Levitt has written extensively about crafting electoral lines on his website All About Redistricting. He says that even though unfair redistricting can make the difference between voices being heard and voices being drowned out, politicians will often create these boundaries to best suit their own needs. But sometimes, when drawing questionable lines, lawmakers can get their hands caught in the cookie jar.
The guilty plea of a 30-year-old campaign aide — so green that he listed Model United Nations in his qualifications — shifted the narrative on Monday of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia: Court documents revealed that Russian officials alerted the campaign, through an intermediary in April 2016, that they possessed thousands of Democratic emails and other “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. That was two months before the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee was publicly revealed and the stolen emails began to appear online. The new court filings provided the first clear evidence that Trump campaign aides had early knowledge that Russia had stolen confidential documents on Mrs. Clinton and the committee, a tempting trove in a close presidential contest. By the time of a crucial meeting in June of last year, when Donald Trump Jr. and other senior Trump campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Mrs. Clinton, some may have known for weeks that Russia had material likely obtained by illegal hacking, the new documents suggested. The disclosures added to the evidence pointing to attempts at collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but they appeared to fall short of proof that they conspired in the hacking or other illegal acts.
National: Trump Fraud Commissioner’s System Purges Voters With A Database That Never Works, Lawsuit Says | Newsweek
Civil rights activists have sued the Indiana Election Division and associated officials over a law the state recently established allowing county officials to purge voter registrations immediately based on a database program that a new study found is 99 percent inaccurate. The American Civil Liberties Union and nonpartisan organization Common Cause Indiana filed a federal lawsuit Friday alleging that a law Indiana implemented in July “permits or requires Indiana counties to ignore the mandatory procedures and protections in the (National Voter Registration Act), resulting in non-uniform, discriminatory, and illegal cancellations of Indiana voter registrations.” Under Indiana’s new law, county officials no longer have to wait through a notice period to get rid of voters flagged through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which identifies people in different states with the same name and birthdate.
National: Russia-backed Facebook posts ‘reached 126 million Americans’ during US election | The Guardian
Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential election, according to the company’s prepared testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of hearings this week. Facebook believes 120 fake Russian-backed pages created 80,000 posts that were received by 29 million Americans directly, but reached a much bigger audience by users sharing, liking and following the posts. The social network plans to disclose these numbers to the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the testimony. The tech giant’s testimony will follow dramatic developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 election, with three indictments, including two top Trump campaign aides.
Congress will put Facebook, Twitter and Google under a public microscope Tuesday about Russia’s use of their networks to meddle in the 2016 election, a day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation disclosed its first indictments and guilty plea. Senators want to know how the companies failed to keep Russians from exploiting their networks and using fake accounts to spread chaos and disinformation. The three companies’ general counsels will appear before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, with Facebook poised to say Russians bought 3,000 Facebook ads mostly with rubles and that posts reached the newsfeeds of 126 million users. “If someone is paying you in rubles to place a political ad, or an ad that is intended to sow the seeds of discontent and discord, that ought to be a red flag,” Senate Intelligence panel member Susan Collins of Maine said in an interview Monday. “How much more of a tipoff do you need?”
Facebook has been happy to keep congressional investigators focused on the Russian-bought online ads that helped sway voters in last year’s election — despite the many other ways that fake messages and bogus accounts spread on the dark side of social media. But that may be about to end: Facebook, Twitter and Google are preparing for hearings this week where lawmakers are expected to grill the companies about the broad reach that foreign actors achieved through fake accounts and deliberate misinformation, a topic that encompasses far more than the 3,000 paid political ads that Facebook disclosed last month. Some lawmakers are already pressing for more details about so-called organic content, including unpaid posts from thousands of fake, automated and hijacked user accounts. Those questions could require Facebook to divulge more details about the priceless proprietary algorithms it uses to decide what messages its users see.
State and federal officials are worried that obsolete voting equipment may be putting state election infrastructure at risk. At an Oct. 24 meeting of the Congressional Task Force on Election Security Forum, Election Assistance Commission Commissioner Thomas Hicks, called aging voting equipment “one of the biggest vulnerabilities I see right now.” Some states are using 15-year-old machines that are at the end of their lifecycles and don’t have resources to buy new equipment, Hicks said. Concerns about aging equipment are heightened because of reports from the Department of Homeland Security that Russian hackers targeted voting systems in 21 states.
These ain’t your grandfather’s gerrymanders. Gone is the era of elaborate cartographical sketches and oil paintings of salamanders, and of salted old-timer politicians drawing up their “contributions to modern art” armed with markers and heads full of electoral smarts. Today, political mapmaking is a multimillion dollar enterprise, with dozens of high-profile paid consultants, armies of…
National: First Charges Filed in Russia Probe Led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller | Wall Street Journal
At least one person was charged Friday in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the matter. That person could be taken into custody as soon as Monday, these people said. The number and identity of the defendants, and the charges, couldn’t be determined. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, Peter Carr, declined to comment. The news of the charges, marking the first in Mr. Mueller’s investigation, was first reported by CNN on Friday.
State election officials on Tuesday urged members of Congress to send more resources to states to bolster the security of their election IT infrastructure. Officials from Rhode Island and Virginia made the plea to Democratic members of a task force focused on election cybersecurity that was formed in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “States need additional funding and resources dedicated to the security of election systems,” Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) told lawmakers at the public forum on Capitol Hill. “These funds are critically needed for the assessments, testing procedures and the strengthening of IT capacity. In many states, they also need funding for the hardware of voting systems themselves.” Gorbea urged Congress to play a “critical role” by both appropriating additional resources to states for election cybersecurity and exercising oversight of the federal government’s efforts to safeguard future elections.
The vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s election fraud commission says he wants to change U.S. election law so states have an incentive to require proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote, according to a deposition unsealed Thursday. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading advocate of tighter voting laws, gave the testimony in a deposition made public as part of a federal lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union challenging a Kansas voter registration law that requires documents such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers. The deposition in August is the result of an ACLU court filing after Kobach was photographed holding a document with the words on one page facing out as he entered a meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump to talk about immigration. The ACLU asked a court to force Kobach to release the document. A federal judge said there was a pattern of Kobach misleading the court in that suit, fined him $1,000 and ordered him to submit to questioning under oath by the ACLU about that document and a proposed draft amendment to the National Voter Registration Act.
The U.S. Congress’ watchdog office has agreed to investigate President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud after three Democratic senators raised concerns the panel’s work may diminish the public’s confidence in the democratic process. The Government Accountability Office said in a letter dated on Wednesday that it had accepted a request from Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet and Cory Booker to investigate the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Trump established the panel in May after charging, without evidence, that millions of illegal immigrants voted in the November 2016 election. Most state election officials and election law experts say that U.S. voter fraud is rare.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers held a hearing to evaluate how states maintain accurate and up-to-date voter registration rolls.
Chairman of the House Administration Committee Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said it is paramount for elections to be conducted in a fair and open manner. “Ensuring the accuracy of voter registration lists is the foundation to a successful election. Having accurate lists increases voter confidence, it eases the administration of elections, reduces wait times, and certainly helps prevent voter fraud and irregularity,” Harper said. The hearing also questioned crosscheck programs and automatic voter registration practices. … Hearing witness and Director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union Dale Ho claimed that the interstate crosscheck program struggles with accuracy.
Fires need fuel. In this era of political rage, a Twitter account that called itself the unofficial voice of Tennessee Republicans provided buckets of gasoline. Its pre-election tweets were a bottomless well of inflammatory misinformation: “Obama wants our children to be converted to Islam! Hillary will continue his mission.” A mysterious explosion in Washington, it said, had killed one of Mrs. Clinton’s aides, raising her “body count” to six. Another proclaimed, “Obama is the founder of ISIS.” The account, @TEN_GOP, eventually reached more than 130,000 followers — 10 times that of the official state Republican Party’s Twitter handle. It was one of the most popular political voices in Tennessee. But its lies, distortions and endorsements came from the other side of the world.
National: Voting Technology Needs an Upgrade: Here’s What Congress Can Do | Union of Concerned Scientists
Voting systems throughout the United States are vulnerable to corruption in a variety of ways, and the federal government has an obligation to protect the integrity of the electoral process. At a recent meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on the Future of Voting, the Department of Homeland Security’s Robert Kolasky put it bluntly: “It’s not a fair fight to pit Orange County (California) against the Russians.” While the intelligence community has not confirmed that the hackers working on behalf of the Russian government to undermine the 2016 election were successful at tampering with actual vote tallies, they certainly succeeded at shaking our confidence in the electoral process, which over time could undermine faith in democracy. The management of statewide eligible voter lists is a particularly challenging but crucial responsibility. On the one hand, data entry errors, duplicate records and “live” records for deceased voters invite voter fraud and inaccuracies in voting data. On the other hand, overly broad purging of voter lists can result in the exclusion of eligible voters from the rolls.
The work of President Trump’s commission studying voter fraud and other voting problems has been stalled by the eight lawsuits filed against it, according to one commission member. Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson says the suits, which seek release of all of the commission’s correspondence, among other things, have had a “chilling” effect. Some Democrats on the 11-member panel have complained in recent weeks that they’re being kept in the dark about its activities and plans. But Lawson says she doesn’t think anybody’s being shut out because “right now, there’s nothing going on.” Speaking to reporters after testifying about voting matters on Capitol Hill, Lawson says her understanding is “that they wanted to get some of these lawsuits settled and then move forward.” “It’s very chilling to know that you can’t really work without somebody suing over something that you’ve done,” she adds. “We’re not emailing each other. We’re not conversing with each other.”
National: The Supreme Court’s quiet gerrymandering revolution and the road to minority rule | London School of Economics
On October 3rd the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that will, for better or worse, literally reshape American democracy. Wisconsin plaintiffs in Whitford v Gill asked for constitutional protection against the dilution of their votes from extreme partisan gerrymandering in the state, the practice of drawing legislative and Congressional district boundaries to maximize the seat advantage for the incumbent party. Several justices voiced concern over the courts jumping into this political thicket. But there was no acknowledgement that this Court has been an enabler in allowing political parties to draw electoral districts with the explicit goal of maximizing electoral advantage, over the right of citizens to cast an equally weighted vote.
Cybersecurity has become an increasingly salient topic in the realm of national defense. The reliance on technology for military, intelligence, and domestic infrastructure has made the disruptive potential of cyber-attacks for national security greater than ever. Elections are uniquely at risk. The aftermath of 2016 highlighted the importance of cybersecurity in election integrity. Almost four-fifths of states in 2016 claim to have been victims of foreign interference, with most pointing to the Russian government as the source. This threat of election-related cybersecurity is intertwined with national security interests, the U.S. response to cyber-attacks in 2016, and the implications for future election cyberattacks.