It seemed like an important victory for voting rights advocates on Monday when the Supreme Court declined to reconsider an appellate decision striking down North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. But those who follow the arcana of election law have another view — that the justices have merely postponed a showdown over what kind of voting rules are acceptable and how much influence partisanship should have over access to the ballot box. And in that struggle, it is by no means certain who will prevail. A parade of voting rights cases is headed for likely review by the Supreme Court — including challenges to gerrymanders in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas and a ruling against another restrictive voter law in Texas. At the same time, states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors are continuing to enact stringent election laws, many of them similar to the ones already moving through the courts.
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters. The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
National: US spies caught Russian officers bragging about causing chaos in the election 6 months before the vote | Time
US spies caught Russian officers bragging about causing chaos in the election 6 months before the vote | Time #url#
National: How Trump’s new ‘election integrity’ appointee has unleashed chaos on elections in the South | Facing South
President Trump signed an executive order last week creating the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to promote “fair and honest Federal elections,” following up on his unproven claims that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton because of widespread voter fraud. The commission will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, and its vice chair will be Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican. Kobach’s appointment has alarmed voting rights advocates, who point to his record of making unsubstantiated claims about the extent of voter fraud — which study after study has found to be negligible — and using them to promote strict voter ID laws and other policies that make it harder to vote.
The U.S. is in the midst of a historic moment of civic participation. And while protesters march in the streets and politicians wrangle with each other over the aftermath of an election, the people who actually run elections are quietly working on making their systems better. And those systems are, by all accounts, in need of updating. At the first-ever Global Election Technology Summit on May 17 in San Francisco, hosted by the Startup Policy Lab, a diverse group of people involved in elections and the technology used to run them gathered to talk about how they can improve the process for everyone involved. Here are three things they said the government could use right now to make elections better.
National: ACLU files Right-to-Know request with Secretary of State over election commission | New Hampshire Union Leader
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire has filed a Right-to-Know request with Secretary of State Bill Gardner, seeking information about his participation in the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The commission is headed up by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The Right-to-Know request in New Hampshire is part of a national campaign targeting commission members who currently serve as secretaries of state.
House Republicans blocked a vote Wednesday on legislation to create an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. A Democratic effort to force a vote failed, with only one Republican – Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina – joining them in a procedural vote that would have allowed them to bring up the bill. But Democrats also launched a petition Wednesday that would allow them to force a vote on the bill at a later date if they get a majority of lawmakers to sign on. “Today is a courage call for our Republican colleagues,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell of Calif., who co-authored the bill with Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “Can they — as we have done with past attacks against our country — can they put party aside, put our country first and unite with Democrats to say that never again will we tolerate an attack like this?”
The 2016 U.S. election constituted a watershed for democracies in the digital age. During the election cycle, fears proliferated among policymakers and the public that foreign actors could exploit cyber technologies [PDF] to tamper with voter registration, access voting machines, manipulate storage and transmission of results, and influence election outcomes. Russian information operations and disinformation on social media compounded these fears about election cybersecurity by raising questions about foreign interference with the election’s integrity. Similar worries have arisen with elections this year in France, Britain, and Germany, and the Netherlands opted to hand count ballots in its March election to prevent hacking from affecting the outcome. In May 3 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, James B. Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, indicated that Russia had tried to tamper with vote counts in other countries and that it might attempt to do the same in the United States in the future. Technical strategies [PDF] to protect election systems from cyber interference exist, such as stopping the use of voting machines connected by wireless networks and deploying machines that produce auditable paper trails. However, the events of 2016 demonstrate that more high-level political action is required to manage real and perceived cyber vulnerabilities in election systems.
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to step in and potentially overturn a lower court ruling that North Carolina’s restrictive voter-identification law is unconstitutional, specifically for how it targets black Americans. While this decision counts as a win for voting rights, it comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will lead President Trump’s new Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity. Trump, of course, claims that millions of people voted illegally in the last election; Kobach supports that claim.
Thanks to the embarrassing incompetence of Humpty Trumpty and his virulent assault on America’s political institutions, many people are already looking forward to the 2018 elections as a way of throwing the Trump supporters out of Congress and putting America back on the path of being a true world leader and not a pale imitation of a banana republic. Much of the public anger focuses on deep cuts to programs like the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Social Security, but others are equally motivated by Trump’s obdurate ignorance about climate change. … J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, and Ph.D. student Matt Bernhard have assembled a number of reasons that they say render US voting machines susceptible to outside interference that could affect the accuracy of their tallies. In 2002, after the chaotic presidential election two years before, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act. The legislation provided funding for several private electronic voting machine manufacturers, including Diebold.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to breathe new life into North Carolina’s sweeping voter identification law might be just a temporary victory for civil rights groups. Republican-led states are continuing to enact new voter ID measures and other voting restrictions, and the Supreme Court’s newly reconstituted conservative majority, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch, could make the court less likely to invalidate the laws based on claims under the federal Voting Rights Act or the Constitution. The justices on Monday left in place last summer’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the law’s photo ID requirement to vote in person and other provisions, which the lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
Admiral Michael S. Rogers, head of U.S. Cyber Command, called Russia’s cyber operations “destabilizing.” During recent exchanges on Capitol Hill, Rogers appeared to be in agreement with the U.S. intelligence community that Russia’s election interference is likely to be a new normal. Russian President Vladimir Putin “figured that he was no military match for the United States, but he could launch a Manhattan Project for cyber attacks,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., declared last month at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform information technology subcommittee. It is still an open question how the United States will fight back, whether it’s Russia or other foreign hacking onslaught. U.S. officials and experts warn that it is time for fresh thinking on how to combat these threats, both in government agencies and in the cybersecurity industry.
National: Experts say Trump’s voter fraud commission is a solution in need of a problem | Sinclair Broadcast Group
On Thursday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to create a new commission to investigate his claims of widespread voter fraud, reigniting the storm of skepticism that has surrounded his past allegations of election interference and rigging. … Fact-checkers, state election authorities and lawmakers from both political parties have largely dismissed Trump’s claims that of election fraud since November 8. Immediately after the announcement of the new commission, some suggested that the administration will be using taxpayer resources to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Other critics suspect even more nefarious motives, suggesting that the panel’s leadership and its mission may actually be an effort to justify stricter voting laws that could suppress the vote.
On the same day that President Trump went on Twitter to renew his claim that the focus on Russian hacking was “a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election,” his two top intelligence officials told the Senate on Thursday that Russian cyberactivities were the foremost threat facing the United States and were likely to grow only more severe. The officials delivered the warning as the nation’s intelligence agencies released their annual worldwide threat assessment, which described the Kremlin’s “aggressive cyberposture,” evidenced by “Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election.” Dan Coats, Mr. Trump’s director of national intelligence, repeated and endorsed, almost word for word, the Obama administration’s conclusion that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 U.S. election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets.”
Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has been “well documented,” but it’s still in the interests of the U.S. to attempt to improve relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “I don’t think there’s any question that the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes,” Tillerson said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” on Sunday. He added that the impact of that meddling was “inconclusive.” Even so, “it’s in the interest of the American people, it’s in the interest of Russia, the rest of the world, that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world,” Tillerson said.
The premonition came in a Winston-Salem conference room, on an otherwise happy election night in 2004, before Richard M. Burr of North Carolina had even declared victory in his bid to join the Senate. News outlets had begun calling the race. A watch party was waiting for him. But his mind was elsewhere, at least for a moment. “He said, ‘I hope they don’t put me on the Intelligence Committee,’” recalled Paul Shumaker, a top strategist for Mr. Burr who sat with him to follow the returns. “‘It’s hard enough to sleep at night the way it is.’” Mr. Burr’s present sleep habits are unknown, particularly as he tiptoes at last toward criticism of a president he had generally praised — until the firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director. This much is less ambiguous: Now the committee’s chairman as it investigates ties between President Trump’s associates and Russia, the unobtrusive Mr. Burr is shrugging into a spotlight he never expected and does not especially seem to relish.
President Trump on Thursday launched a long-promised commission on “election integrity,” rekindling a controversy over the prevalence of voter fraud at U.S. polls. The commission, established by executive order, is the upshot of Trump’s unsubstantiated claim shortly after taking office that more than 3 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in November’s election. White House aides said the scope of the commission, chaired by Vice President Pence, will reach beyond allegations of voter fraud to include voter suppression and other suspect election practices, and would include members of both major political parties.
President Trump on Thursday named Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has pressed for aggressive measures to crack down on undocumented immigrants, to a commission investigating vote fraud, following through on his unsubstantiated claim that millions of “illegals” voted for his Democratic rival and robbed him of victory in the national popular vote. Mr. Kobach, who has championed the strictest voter identification laws in the country, will be the vice chairman of the commission, which will be led by Vice President Mike Pence and is expected to include about a dozen others, including state officials from both political parties, said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary.
National: Firing Fuels Calls for Independent Investigator, Even From Republicans | The New York Times
President Trump’s decision on Tuesday to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, immediately fueled calls for an independent investigator or commission to look into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election and any connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government. Calls to appoint an independent prosecutor have simmered for months, but until now, they had been voiced almost entirely by Democrats. Mr. Comey’s insistence that he was pressing ahead with the Russia investigation, and would go wherever the facts took him, had deflected those calls — especially because he was in such open defiance of a president who said the charges were “fake.” Mr. Comey’s firing upended the politics of the investigation, and even Republicans were joining the call for independent inquiries.
National: U.S. Census director resigns amid turmoil over funding of 2020 count | The Washington Post
The director of the U.S. Census Bureau is resigning, leaving the agency leaderless at a time when it faces a crisis over funding for the 2020 decennial count of the U.S. population and beyond. John H. Thompson, who has served as director since 2013 and worked for the bureau for 27 years before that, will leave June 30, the Commerce Department announced Tuesday. The news, which surprised census experts, follows an April congressional budget allocation for the census that critics say is woefully inadequate. And it comes less than a week after a prickly hearing at which Thompson told lawmakers that cost estimates for a new electronic data collection system had ballooned by nearly 50 percent.
Let’s be clear at the outset. There is no evidence of a massive voter fraud problem in the United States. There is no evidence of even a modest voter fraud problem in the United States. There is no statistical evidence. There is no anecdotal evidence. There is no more evidence that we need national protections from voter fraud than there is that we need to wear personal lightning-rod suits so that we avoid the 30-odd deaths each year from electrical storms. For any other president, then, an executive order establishing a “presidential advisory commission on election integrity” such as the one Donald Trump signed on Thursday would prompt a flurry of questions about why such a commission was needed. For Trump, though, it’s part of the package: Directing government resources, however modest, to bolster a faulty political argument that he’s embraced despite being repeatedly shown that it’s false.
Kris Kobach, who as Kansas secretary of state repeatedly made unsubstantiated voter-fraud allegations, will co-chair President Donald Trump’s new Commission on Election Integrity, igniting outrage from civil rights groups and top Democrats. Critics ridiculed the very creation of the commission Thursday, as well as Kobach’s role, saying it’s all intended to perpetuate the president’s false claim that millions voted illegally in November. The 12-member bipartisan commission will review claims of improper registrations and voting, fraudulent registrations and voter suppression, White House officials told McClatchy. Members will provide the president with a report in 2018 and may issue recommendations to the states. It’s a sham, charged critics.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena on Wednesday demanding documents related to Russia from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, ramping up its monthslong investigation of Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. In a joint statement, Senators Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, said the committee had first requested the documents from Flynn in a April 28 letter, but the retired lieutenant general had declined, through counsel, to cooperate with the committee’s request. It was the first subpoena announced by the committee in its investigation.
The acting director of the F.B.I. contradicted the White House on two major issues on Thursday: the support of rank-and-file agents for the fired F.B.I. chief James B. Comey and the importance of the agency’s investigation into Russian election interference. In a striking repudiation of official White House statements, the acting director, Andrew G. McCabe, said the inquiry was “highly significant” and pledged to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the F.B.I. would resist any attempt to influence or hobble the investigation. “Simply put,” he said, “you cannot stop the men and women of the F.B.I. from doing the right thing.” That Mr. McCabe felt compelled to assert the F.B.I.’s independence was itself remarkable, a byproduct of the unusually public effort by Mr. Trump and his aides to take focus off the investigations into Russia’s election meddling. He also said the F.B.I. investigation had the resources it needed, partly disputing an account that Mr. Comey had sought more aid. Mr. McCabe did not hesitate to make clear where Mr. Comey stood in the eyes of F.B.I. agents and employees.
Three-thousand Wisconsinites were chanting Donald Trump’s name. It was Oct. 17, 2016, just after the candidate’s now-infamous “locker-room” chat with Billy Bush became public knowledge. But the crowd was unfazed. They were happy. And they were rowdy, cheering for Trump, cheering for the USA, cheering for Hillary Clinton to see the inside of a jail cell. The extended applause lines meant it took Trump a good 20 minutes to get through the basics — thanks for having me, you are wonderful, my opponent is bad — and on to a rhetorical point that was quickly becoming a signature of his campaign: If we lose in November, Trump told the supporters in Green Bay, it’ll be because the election is rigged by millions of fraudulent voters — many of them illegal immigrants. That night wasn’t the first time Trump had made this accusation, but now he had statistics to support it. His campaign had recently begun to send the same data to reporters, as well. In both cases, one of the chief pieces of evidence was a peer-reviewed research paper published in 2014 by political scientists at Virginia’s Old Dominion University. The research showed that 14 percent of noncitizens were registered to vote, Trump told the crowd in Green Bay, enough of a margin to give the Democrats control of the Senate. Enough, he claimed, to have given North Carolina to Barack Obama in 2008.
National: ACLU Files FOIA Request for Voter Fraud Evidence After Trump Orders Election Commission | Law News
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday to learn why President Donald Trump thinks there is voter fraud. This comes after POTUS signed an Executive Order to implement a commission to examine voter fraud in federal elections. “The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections,” it says. When done, they’d report to Trump on relevant policies, and vulnerabilities in voting systems. The ACLU’s FOIA request targets our head-of-state’s public comments on voter fraud, citing a Jan. 25 interview with ABC. It is old news that Trump has claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, but he didn’t provide his sources. The ACLU’s stance: Prove it.
The Department of Commerce announced on Tuesday that Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson will step down at the end of June, creating the possibility of a leadership void at the bureau in the run-up to undertaking the 2020 Census. In a statement, Thompson, who will retire on June 30, said he plans to “pursue opportunities in the private sector.” Thompson was sworn in as census director in 2013, and had reportedly been expected to remain in the role through the end of 2017. The results of the United States census, which takes place every decade, are crucial for determining the allocation of government resources for schools, law enforcement, and housing. Information collected by the census also has a direct bearing on how American citizens are represented in federal government since the population count serves as the basis for how congressional districts are carved out.
National: Lawyers who said Trump has no ties to Russia named Russian law firm of 2016 | The Guardian
The law firm that said Donald Trump has no financial ties to Russia “with a few exceptions” was recognized in 2016 as Russia law firm of the year. In the letter released on Friday – but dated 8 March – Morgan Lewis tax partners Sherri A Dillon and William F Nelson said a review of Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years did not find income from Russian sources during that period, save for “a few exceptions”. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, a break with decades of tradition. The law firm did not release copies of the returns, rendering its assessment of the documents impossible to verify independently. Morgan Lewis was honored by Chambers Europe, a division of publisher Chambers & Partners that ranks law firms based in the region. According to a press release dated 2 May 2016: “The prestigious honor was announced at the publication’s recent annual awards dinner in London, where firms from 24 countries were recognized.”
President Donald Trump has fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, smack in the middle of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into potential ties between the Trump administration and Russia. But while whomever Trump appoints to take Comey’s place could shut down the Russia probe eventually, Comey’s removal won’t make it skip a beat. According to press secretary Sean Spicer, the decision to terminate Comey had nothing to do with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties but rather Comey’s handling—including controversial public statements—of the Clinton email case. In a statement, Trump said that he relied on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ guidance that “a fresh start is needed” to restore confidence in the FBI. In a letter to the president, Sessions wrote, “It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions.”
National: Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry | The New York Times
Days before he was fired as F.B.I. director, James B. Comey asked the Justice Department for more prosecutors and other personnel to accelerate the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election. It was the first clear-cut evidence that Mr. Comey believed the bureau needed more resources to handle a sprawling and highly politicized counterintelligence investigation. His appeal, described on Wednesday by four congressional officials, was made to Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, whose memo was used to justify Mr. Comey’s abrupt dismissal on Tuesday.