The Alaska Division of Elections has announced it will suspend a little-used absentee voting program in an effort to improve the security of the state’s elections. In a note released last week, the division said it had received a “B” grade for election security in a recent study conducted by the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy group. “B” was the highest grade awarded to any state in the country; 11 states received the ranking, the report indicated. Alaska’s report drew attention to the way the state handles absentee ballots submitted from overseas.
Articles about voting issues in Alaska.
A national group is focusing on Alaska in a bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit a 2010 decision that upended how campaigns are run in this country. The court decision paved the way for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures, and in Alaska, was viewed by state officials as likely rendering several provisions of law prohibiting or limiting certain contributions unconstitutional. Washington, D.C.-based Equal Citizens wants to put that interpretation to the test but it could face an uphill battle. Equal Citizens is supporting complaints that have been filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission over contributions made in the 2016 election to independent groups that backed candidates to the Alaska Legislature. One group supported a Republican and the other leaned toward Democrats during the general election.
On Friday, the state of Alaska is appealing the court’s decision on a lawsuit regarding unaffiliated candidates to run in a specific party’s primary election. The court ruled last month that candidates do not have to be a registered member of a party to appear on that party’s primary ballot. The suit was originally brought by the Alaska Democratic Party. A superior court judge found that the requirement violates the party’s first amendment right to associate with candidates who are not Democrats. The case will now be taken to the Alaska Supreme Court.
In a 33-page ruling, an Alaska Superior Court judge has ruled that the Alaska Democratic Party may run candidates in its primary who are not officially aligned with any political party. In practical terms, this means a non-Democrat could win against a registered Democrat in the Democrats’ primary, and then go on to represent the Democrats in the general election. For example, if Gov. Bill Walker decides to run in the Democrats’ primary, he might beat Mark Begich, whom many have thought is considering a run. If he won in the Democrats’ primary, he’d have to appear on the General Election ballot as a Democrat, according to the court ruling.
Oops!… They did it again. For what seems like the billionth time, U.S. voter records have been exposed, this time targeting Alaska. A cache of voter records containing the personal information of nearly 600,000 voters in Alaska was inadvertently exposed online. The culprit? An unsecured CouchDB database. And just, you know, a giant oversight. The cause of the hack was discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Research Center, who determined that the database of about 593,000 voters (that’s every registered voter in the state of Alaska) was accidentally configured for public access. That means it was just out there, floating in the breeze without any sort of password protection or security wall, making it accessible to anyone who knew where to look. No logging in, no verification, nada.
IT security researchers at Kromtech Security Center discovered an unprotected database exposed online due to misconfiguration of CouchDB containing nearly 600,000 records belonging to Alaskan voters. “The exposed data is a larger voter file called Voterbase compiled by TargetSmart, a leader in national voting databases that contains the contact and voting information of more than 191 million voters and 58 million unregistered, voting age consumers,” said researchers. The database with 593,328 records was available to the public for anyone to download without any security or login credentials. Each record contained names, date of birth, addresses, voting preferences, marital status, income details, children’s age, gun ownership related data and points which might help decide what issue the voter might be appealed to. TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier blamed a third-party firm for the incident and told ZDNetthat “We’ve learned that Equals3, an AI software company based in Minnesota, appears to have failed to secure some of their data and some data they license from TargetSmart and that a database of approximately 593,000 Alaska voters appears to have been inadvertently exposed.”
A cache of voter records on over a half-million Americans has been found online. The records, totaling 593,328 individual sets of records, appear to contain every registered voter in the state of Alaska, according to security researchers at the Kromtech Security Research Center, who found the database. The records were stored in a misconfigured CouchDB database, which was accessible to anyone with a web browser — no password needed — until Monday when the data was secured and subsequently pulled offline. The exposed data is just a portion of a larger voter file compiled by TargetSmart, which said its national voter file — that contains 191 million voters — is the “most comprehensive and up-to-date voter file ever assembled.” The data is collected and used to help political campaigns with their fundraising, research, and voter contact programs, the company said. ZDNet was provided a small sample of the records for verification. Each XML-formatted record contained details, some sensitive and personally identifiable information, on prospective voters, including names, addresses, dates of birth, their ethnic identity, whether an individual is married, and the individual’s voting preferences.
The state of Alaska is exploring options for conducting elections after 2018, as it is faced with an aging voting system and financial pressures amid an ongoing state budget deficit. A bipartisan working group established by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is examining the issue. Josie Bahnke, director of the state Division of Elections, said one option that has gotten attention is a hybrid system would include allowing for early, in-person voting and voting by mail. But she said discussions are preliminary and more research must be done to see if this approach would work in Alaska, a vast state with far-flung communities. In certain parts of Alaska, the state must provide language assistance, including for a number of Alaska Native languages and dialects.
An obscure legal challenge in the Land of the Midnight Sun may join a recent line of U.S. Supreme Court cases that have shaken up the status quo in campaign finance law. The case is Thompson v. Hebdon. David Thompson and District 18 of the Alaska Republican Party are challenging a section of the state constitution imposing a $500 cap on contributions to candidates, and a $5,000 cap on donations to political parties. Although a limit on contributions by out-of-state residents to candidates and political parties is drawing the most attention, restrictions on contributions made by in-state residents also will face scrutiny — and possible changes — if the case reaches the nation’s highest court.
Facing a civil rights advisory committee, multiple Alaskans expressed concerns over Alaska Native voting rights Thursday. From challenges with location to overcoming language barriers, a group of activists discussed some of the changes they say are still needed to improve Alaska Native voting rights, particularly for those in rural areas. In 2014, a ruling in a historic lawsuit shifted the way 29 communities of voters understand election information. As part of the settlement for the Toyukak v. Treadwell lawsuit voting materials were translated into Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages. Changes, Indra Arriaga, the elections language assistance compliance manager for the state of Alaska division of elections said could be seen in the 2016 Presidential Election.