National: Twitter, With Accounts Linked to Russia, to Face Congress Over Role in Election | The New York Times

After a weekend when Americans took to social media to debate President Trump’s admonishment of N.F.L. players who do not stand for the national anthem, a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the issue with hashtags such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee. As Twitter prepared to brief staff members of the Senate and House intelligence committees on Thursday for their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, researchers from a public policy group have been following hundreds of accounts to track the continuing Russian operations to influence social media discourse and foment division in the United States. For three weeks, a harsh spotlight has been trained on Facebook over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential campaign.

National: Former DHS chief feared catastrophic attack on election systems | FCW

Russian interference in U.S. institutions reaches further than the interference in the election infrastructure in 2016 and requires a strong strategy to counter a sustained effort by that country to undermine the integrity of the vote, former DHS leaders told a congressional task force. Russian probes and alleged attempted hacks of state election systems in the last election are “a wake up call” for upcoming state and congressional elections in 2018, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told House Democrats on the Election Security Task Force in a Sept. 28 public meeting. House Democrats created the Election Security Task Force in June to study ways to keep Russian interference out of 2018 elections. While Johnson told the panel that he found no evidence that Russian probes of state systems, including voter registration systems, altered ballots or election results, he said those efforts “exposed cyber vulnerabilities.”

National: Homeland Security Clarifying State Election Hacking Attempts | NECN

The Department of Homeland Security has notified two states that Russian hackers attempted to scan networks other than their election systems in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, contrary to details provided last week. On Wednesday, California became the second state — after Wisconsin — to receive the clarification. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement that homeland security officials told him the scanning activity took place on the state technology department’s network and not on the Secretary of State website, as the state was told last week. “Our notification from DHS last Friday was not only a year late, it also turned out to be bad information,” Padilla said in a statement. He said the public and officials who oversee elections “deserve timely and accurate information” from Homeland Security

National: Campaign watchdogs cite ‘significant concerns’ if Texas lawyer Trey Trainor gets FEC post | Dallas Morning News

Campaign watchdog groups blasted Austin lawyer Trey Trainor on Wednesday, warning senators that his ties to the White House and views on campaign finance should raise “significant concerns” should he win a spot on the Federal Election Commission. Ten groups wrote a letter to senators expressing their concerns, though they stopped short of urging the Senate to reject the nomination. “Americans expect and deserve an FEC that does not allow special interest to run roughshod over our campaign finance laws, and the Senate must take great care to make sure Trey Trainor is not just another fox to guard the henhouse,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “Trainor has exhibited an open contempt for many of the campaign finance laws he would be charged with enforcing at the FEC which is deeply troubling at a time when the agency is mired in dysfunction, unable or unwilling to enforce the laws passed by Congress.”

National: Democratic election task force to hear from Obama Homeland Security chief | The Hill

A task force of congressional Democrats is slated to meet with an Obama-era Homeland Security secretary this week as part of an ongoing effort to address cyber threats to election infrastructure. The election security task force announced that it will host a public forum on Thursday featuring Jeh Johnson, who led the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Obama administration. News of the forum comes days after the DHS notified nearly two dozen states that they were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election. It was Johnson who was responsible for engaging with state-level officials on cybersecurity ahead of the election last year. The department offered voluntary cybersecurity assistance to states to shore up their systems ahead of the vote.

National: Big stakes in high court fight over partisan political maps | Associated Press

Democrats and Republicans are poised for a Supreme Court fight about political line-drawing with the potential to alter the balance of power across a country starkly divided between the two parties. The big question at the heart of next week’s high court clash is whether there can be too much politics in the inherently political task of drawing electoral districts. The Supreme Court has never struck down a districting plan because it was too political. The test case comes from Wisconsin, where Democratic voters sued after Republicans drew political maps in 2011 that entrenched their hold on power in a state that is essentially evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. “It could portend massive changes in our electoral system,” Washington lawyer Christopher Landau said, if the court for the first time imposes limits on extreme partisan gerrymandering, or redistricting. Courts have struck down racially discriminatory maps for decades.

National: Facebook isn’t consulting the experts to fight Russian election meddling on its platform | Quartz

There’s a crop of experts in Washington, DC with decades of experience in running campaigns and writing legislation, who are trying to keep America’s elections free and fair. They can be found at Democracy 21, founded by veteran campaign-finance lawyer Fred Wertheimer; at the government transparency group Sunlight Foundation; at Issue One, which aims to keep outside groups from hijacking elections; in the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations; and the at the Campaign Legal Center, which hopes to give regular Americans more of a voice in elections. Outside the capital, New York University’s Brennan Center looks at voting rights and elections. As Facebook grapples with how Russia may have used its platform to influence the US election, however, it hasn’t reached out to a single one of these organizations, representatives from the groups told Quartz this week. A Facebook spokesman said he had no more information to offer than was already public on the situation.

National: 7 Senators Demand To Know If DOJ Is Involved With Trump Fraud Probe | HuffPost

Seven Democratic senators on Tuesday asked the Department of Justice to explain any involvement it has with President Donald Trump’s commission convened to investigate voter fraud. Justice Department officials have said it has no involvement with the commission, which Trump created in May. But in a Tuesday letter, Democrats said two incidents made them suspicious. In June, the department sent an unusual letter to 44 states asking them for information on their practices for purging voters from the rolls. The same day, the voter fraud panel sent out a request to all 50 states for sensitive voter information. Earlier this month, a public records request by the Campaign Legal Center revealed that a February email from Hans von Spakovsky, a commission member, was forwarded to the Department of Justice with instructions for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to read it. In the email, von Spakovsky said Democrats shouldn’t be appointed to the commission and lamented it also might be filled with Republicans whose views were too mainstream.

National: Russian-funded Facebook ads backed Stein, Sanders and Trump | Politico

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was the beneficiary of at least one of the Russian-bought political ads on Facebook that federal government officials suspect were intended to influence the 2016 election. Other advertisements paid for by shadowy Russian buyers criticized Hillary Clinton and promoted Donald Trump. Some backed Bernie Sanders and his platform even after his presidential campaign had ended, according to a person with knowledge of the ads. The pro-Stein ad came late in the political campaign and pushed her candidacy for president, this person said. “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” the ad reads. “Trust me. It’s not a wasted vote. … The only way to take our country back is to stop voting for the corporations and banks that own us. #GrowaSpineVoteJillStein.”

National: Group led by Dolphins owner wants to see every professional athlete registered to vote | The Washington Post

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills had an innovative idea last year. Having recently become interested both in politics and working as a voice for social change, the 25-year-old decided it was time for his team to think about getting more involved, too. So one day early in the 2016 NFL season, he printed out dozens of voter registration forms and stuck them in each of his 52 teammates’ lockers. “I was already registered, but I thought it would be cool for the team, to get everyone involved,” he said of the personal campaign he began a couple months before the 2016 presidential election. His effort didn’t exactly go as planned, however. “I didn’t get too many responses,” he said.

National: Voting machine concerns have states eyeing return to paper ballots | Fox News

When voters in Virginia head to the polls this November, they’ll be casting their ballots the old-fashioned way. The state’s Board of Elections decided earlier this month to de-certify the widely used Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines ahead of the gubernatorial election – prompting counties and cities to replace their touchscreen machines with those that produce a paper trail. Virginia is not alone. Several states are now considering a return to old-fashioned paper ballots or a reinforced paper trail so results can be verified, amid concerns over hacking attempts in last year’s presidential race as well as longstanding cybersecurity worries about touchscreen machines. “Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that Virginia elections are carried out in a secure and fair manner,” James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement, calling the move “necessary to ensure the integrity of Virginia’s elections.”

National: Russian operatives used Facebook ads to exploit America’s racial and religious divisions | The Washington Post

The batch of more than 3,000 Russian-bought ads that Facebook is preparing to turn over to Congress shows a deep understanding of social divides in American society, with some ads promoting African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, and others suggesting that these same groups pose a rising political threat, say people familiar with the covert influence campaign. The Russian campaign — taking advantage of Facebook’s ability to send contrary messages to different groups of users based on their political and demographic characteristics — also sought to sow discord among religious groups. Other ads highlighted support for Democrat Hillary Clinton among Muslim women. These targeted messages, along with others that have surfaced in recent days, highlight the sophistication of an influence campaign slickly crafted to mimic and infiltrate U.S. political discourse while also seeking to heighten tensions between groups already wary of one another.

National: Why Facebook Will Struggle to Regulate Political Ads | WIRED

In 2011, Facebook asked the Federal Election Commission to exempt it from rules requiring political advertisers to disclose who’s paying for an ad. Political ads on TV and radio must include such disclosures. But Facebook argued that its ads should be regulated as “small items,” similar to bumper stickers, which don’t require disclosures. The FEC ended up deadlocked on the issue, and the question of how to handle digital ads has languished for six years. Now, it’s blowing up again—and damaging Facebook in the process. The renewed interest follows Facebook’s disclosure earlier this month that it had sold $150,000 worth of political ads linked to Russian troll accounts during the 2016 election. Under pressure from investigators, Facebook has turned over records about the ads to Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller III. Some in Congress want to summon Facebook executives to testify about the purchases. On Thursday, Facebook tried to defuse the controversy. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new transparency measures that would require political advertisers on Facebook to disclose who’s paying for their ads and publicly catalog different ad variations they target at Facebook users. Members of Congress, meanwhile, are mulling a bill that would require such disclosures.

National: Facebook, Google and Twitter face proposed bill targeting shadowy political ads | The Washington Post

Democratic lawmakers are pushing for new legislation that would require greater disclosure of political ads that run on Internet platforms, despite a pledge by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg that the company will voluntarily pull back the curtain on political advertising on the social network. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Mark R. Warner (Va.) urged colleagues Thursday to support a bill that would create new transparency requirements for platforms that run political ads online akin to those already in place for TV stations, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post. The senators said that the Federal Election Commission, the independent agency that regulates political spending, “has failed to take sufficient action to address online political advertisements and our current laws do not adequately address online political advertisements published on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.”

National: Kris Kobach Can Prove U.S. Elections Are Messy, But That’s Not The Same Thing As Fraudulent | FiveThirtyEight

President Trump’s voter fraud commission has the stated goal of ensuring the integrity of the vote as “the foundation of our democracy.” But, like the buried foundations of a building, who votes and how they vote aren’t easy things to examine. In alleging that there’s widespread voter fraud, commission Vice Chair Kris Kobach has relied on proxies, such as the indirect measure of matching up names in voter registries to identify people registered in more than one state. In the lead-up to the commission’s second meeting last week, he also railed against thousands of New Hampshire voters who registered using out-of-state licenses — which he claimed proved that people were hopping state borders to illegally swing elections. The experts I spoke with said those metrics don’t really measure the existence or risk of illegal voting. In fact, they said, it’s probably impossible to conclusively prove or disprove allegations of widespread illegal voting — though they pointed out that very few cases have ever been found and prosecuted, even as Kobach is aggressively seeking them out to prove his hypothesis of rampant voter fraud.

National: DHS tells states about Russian hacking during 2016 election | The Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security contacted election officials in 21 states Friday to notify them that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers during the 2016 election campaign. Three months ago, DHS officials said that people connected to the Russian government tried to hack voter registration files or public election sites in 21 states, but Friday was the first time that government officials contacted individual state election officials to let them know their systems had been targeted. Officials said DHS told officials in all 50 states whether their systems had been attacked or not. “We heard feedback from the secretaries of state that this was an important piece of information,” said Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “We agreed that this information would help election officials make security decisions.”

National: DHS notifies states that Russian hackers targeted during election | Politico

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday notified the 21 states that it says Russian government hackers tried to breach during the 2016 election. Alabama, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin have all confirmed that DHS had said they were among the states targeted. But all four said the breach attempts were unsuccessful. In total, a DHS official said only a few networks were successfully breached, and none of those networks involved vote tallying. “DHS notified the Secretary of State or other chief election officer in each state of any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election,” DHS spokesman Scott McConnell told POLITICO.

National: Group urges Senate to probe DOJ link to Trump voter fraud commission | The Hill

A civil rights group on Thursday called on members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Attorney General Jeff Sessions at an oversight hearing next month about the Department of Justice’s connection to President Trump’s voter fraud commission. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, urged the senators in a statement to “closely examine evidence” that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is engaged in collusion with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. “The goals of the Commission are fully antithetical to the mission of the Division, which is charged with fighting — not prompting — voter suppression,” she said.Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced on Wednesday that Sessions is scheduled to appear before the Senate committee for DOJ’s annual hearing on Oct. 18.

National: DHS Shares More Details With States About Russian Election Hacking | NPR

One of the public’s unanswered questions about Russia’s attempts to break into election systems last year was which states were targeted. On Friday, states found out. The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this year that it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but it failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. Instead, DHS authorities say they told those who had “ownership” of the systems — which in some cases were private vendors or local election offices. State election officials were finally contacted by federal authorities on Friday about whether their election systems were among those targeted for attack last year by Russian hackers. State election officials have complained for months that the lack of information from the federal government was hampering their efforts to secure future elections. “We heard that feedback,” says Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “We recognize that it is important for senior state election officials to know what happens on their state systems.”

National: Facebook to turn over thousands of Russian ads to Congress, reversing decision | The Washington Post

Facebook on Thursday announced it would turn over to Congress copies of more than 3,000 politically themed advertisements bought through Russian accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, reversing a decision that had frustrated lawmakers. The company has been struggling for months to address the steadily mounting evidence that Russians manipulated the social media platform in their bid to tip the presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump. Democratic lawmakers in recent days had demanded that Facebook be more open about what it knows and to dig more deeply into its troves of data to analyze the propaganda effort, which the company has acknowledged involved at least 470 fake accounts and pages created by a shadowy Russian company that spent more than $100,000 targeting U.S. voters.

National: Russia’s election ad campaign shows Facebook’s biggest problem is Facebook | The Guardian

Mark Zuckerberg marked his return from paternity leave Thursday with a concerted effort to put lipstick on the pig of Facebook’s role in swaying the 2016 presidential election. In a Facebook live address from an earth-toned, glass-walled office, the chief executive laid out a series of steps the company will take to “protect election integrity and make sure that Facebook is a force for good in democracy”. This proactive approach to a growing public relations problem is par for the course for Facebook. The company has a tendency to respond to negative press, and with US lawmakers making noise about the $100,000 in Facebook ads purchased by a Russian influence operation during the election, Zuckerberg may hope that he can pre-empt regulation. But the problem for Zuckerberg is not just that pigs don’t look good in lipstick. The problem is that more and more people are waking up to the fact that Facebook is less little piggy than it is out-of-control Tyrannosaurus Rex whose creator thought he was building a fun and profitable theme park until it was too late.

National: How Facebook Could Crack the Trump-Russia Case | Just Security

Facebook should be treated like a crime scene. The social media company likely has troves of data that could provide critical leads for the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The effort to investigate possible coordination between the Trump team and Russia has so far centered on the growing number of meetings and interactions between the campaign and Kremlin-linked figures. These meetings already tell us a lot about intent. For instance, with the revelation of the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Paul Manafort, the chairman of the Trump campaign at the time, and a handful of Russians with various ties to the Kremlin, we now know that at the very least the Trump campaign at the highest levels were interested in working with the Russians during the election. And likewise, from the Jan. 6 Intelligence Community report, we know that Russians also wanted to help elect Donald Trump and effectively set up a campaign to do so.

National: Voter Fraud? A Trump Nominee Looks as if He Cast an Illegal Ballot | The New York Times

As President Trump’s voter integrity commission looks under rocks for possible voter malfeasance, its members might want to examine a presidential nominee awaiting confirmation by the Senate Finance Committee. Documents indicate that Jeffrey Gerrish, the president’s pick to be a deputy United States Trade Representative, moved from Virginia to Maryland last year, but opted in November to vote in the more competitive state of Virginia than his bright blue new home. The Senate Finance Committee, which has been considering Mr. Gerrish’s nomination, was briefed on the matter on Tuesday, including the fact that Mr. Gerrish had almost certainly voted illegally, according to three Democratic congressional aides familiar with the briefing. Public records back up that notion.

National: Can Geometry Fix Partisan Gerrymandering? | Bowdoin News

A mathematician and a political scientist joined forces this week to give a two-part talk at Bowdoin about gerrymandering, which is the practice of redrawing congressional districts to help ensure partisan outcomes. Though gerrymandering lands squarely in the political realm, math has always played a big role in congressional districting. Math determines how the U.S. counts voters in its Census and how those voters get divided up to apportion representatives to the government. And today, math could possibly lead the way to a more fair and just political system that is based on mathematically derived voting districts, according to an academic who visited Bowdoin this week. Moon Duchin, an associate professor of mathematics at Tufts University, gave a talk Monday evening about how she is applying her expertise in the geometry of groups and surfaces to gerrymandering. “We’re looking at aspects of this big mess that is US congressional and legislative redistricting, and trying to find places where math has something to say,” she said.

National: Paper ballots are back in vogue thanks to Russian hacking fears | USA Today

Once about as newsworthy as water meters, the voting machines and computers used to record and tally the nation’s ballots are suddenly a hot button issue due to mounting evidence Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. According to the FBI, as many as 39 states had their election systems scanned or targeted by Russia. There’s no evidence of votes changed. But given the stakes, some state agencies that run elections are trying to curb any further interference prior to mid-term elections in November. Their tool of choice: Ensuring systems can’t be hacked, and if they are, making those breaches immediately obvious. To do this, some are taking the unusual move of rewinding the technological dial, debating measures that would add paper ballots — similar to how many Americans voted before electronic voting started to become widespread in the 1980s. 

National: Huntsman Says ‘No Question’ Russia Meddled in U.S. Election | Bloomberg

Jon Huntsman, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Russia, took a firm stance against Russia and its interference in the 2016 presidential election during his confirmation hearing Tuesday. “There is no question — underline no question — that the Russia government interfered with the U.S. election last year and Moscow continues to meddle in processes of our friends and allies,” Huntsman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in his opening statement. Trump has at times questioned the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the interference in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately help him win the White House.

National: Political campaigns prep for battle with hackers | Politico

Candidates are quizzing prospective campaign managers on anti-hacking plans. Democratic committees like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was breached last year, have switched internally from email to encrypted messaging apps. And both parties are feverishly trying to spread advice and best practices to new campaigns before they become targets. The political world is officially obsessed with cybersecurity in 2017 — especially the Democrats burned by the hacking of their committees and operatives during the 2016 election. Much of the Democratic Party’s permanent apparatus has already changed its day-to-day operations as a result, while beginning the slow process of persuading its decentralized, startup-like campaign ecosystem to follow suit.

National: Trump Nominee to FEC Tried to Shred Texas’ Already-Weak Ethics Laws | Texas Observer

In yet another case of the cosmic satire in which we live hitting its mark a little too hard on the nose, the Trump administration last week nominated Texas lawyer Trey Trainor to a seat on the Federal Election Commission, an agency that’s supposed to enforce and interpret campaign finance laws. Trainor is notable mainly for his general opposition to campaign finance laws, so his nomination makes sense, in that most of Trump’s appointees so far either hate or are ignorant of the thing they’re expected to oversee. But Trainor’s nomination also provided an opportunity to make note, once again, of the similarities between Texas’ screwed-up politics and the nation’s increasingly screwed-up politics. If you haven’t heard of Trainor, you’re not alone — he’s well-known around the Capitol, but he’s a behind-the-scenes guy. His name rarely pops up in news stories.

National: Trump using campaign, RNC funds to pay legal bills from Russia probe: sources | Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump’s legal fees related to the probe. RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner. The RNC is scheduled to disclose its August spending on Wednesday. The Trump campaign is due for a disclosure on Oct. 15.

National: Yes, U.S. election integrity could be improved. Here’s why the Pence commission probably won’t do it. | The Washington Post

In May, President Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate electoral fraud in last November’s election, appointing Vice President Pence as its head. While the president has repeatedly argued that millions of unauthorized voters cast ballots, political scientists have debunked his claims. Experts do believe that the quality of elections in the United States could improve. But the Pence commission is unusual in several ways that may prevent that improvement. Here’s what the United States could learn from how other countries reduce electoral law violations, maintain accurate voter rolls, improve voter registration and ensure that voter’s choices are reliably recorded. The Pence commission’s objective is to evaluate the strengths and vulnerabilities of the voting process. Its first task, however, has been to investigate Trump’s contention that millions of illegal votes were cast last November.