The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for August 7-13 2017

Writing in the New York Review of Books Daily, Sue Halpern points out that the hacking of voting machines at this year’s Defcon convention should come as no surprise. “Since computerized voting was introduced more than two decades ago, it has been shown again and again to have significant vulnerabilities that put a central tenet of American democracy—free and fair elections—at risk.” Her extensive examination of the background of electronic voting in the US comes to the conclusion that we should be voting on paper ballots and performing rountine post-election audits to verify the accuracy of election results.

A group of advocates including representatives of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters has called on the Delaware Elections Director to expedite the process of replacing the state’s aging voting equipment. First deployed in 1996, Delaware’s 1,600 Danaher Shouptronic 1242 voting machines are among the oldest in the nation and have outlived their expected lifespan, creating a growing list of potential problems. The computer operating system used to create electronic ballots, for instance, is no longer supported by Microsoft, meaning security updates are no longer available. Delay in the report of a state task force created last year to study the issue could push replacement back from 2018 to 2020.

An investigation by the Indianapolis Star suggests that state and local Republican election officials have expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas. Democrats are challenging the state’s early voting system in a lawsuit alleging the secretary of state and legislative supermajority have launched a concerted effort to suppress the Democratic vote, a debate that is also playing out on the national front.

Facing a deadline for re-drawing 28 legislative districts found to be unconstitutional last year, North Carolina Republican legislators adopted rules for drawing new district lines. Federal courts found that the current lines were drawn in a way to unfairly disenfranchise black voters. As the News & Observer notes “[w]hile racial gerrymandering is illegal, the U.S. Supreme Court has so far allowed political gerrymandering, and one of the new rules is that legislators may consider past election results when drawing the new lines.” The Republicans insist that they are not including race as a factors in the new redistricting effort. Democrats were incredulous. Quoted on WRAL Rep. Mickey Michaux asked “[d]o you understand that, by not using race, you’re defeating your own purpose? The districts were declared unconstitutional because of race. If you don’t use race to correct it, how are you going to show the court that they’re not still unconstitutional?”

The question of partisan gerrymandering is at the heart of a Supreme Court case to be heard this Fall that challenges the redistricting plan passed by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2011. A federal court struck down the plan last year, concluding that it violated the Constitution because it was the product of partisan gerrymandering – that is, the practice of purposely drawing district lines to favor one party and put another at a disadvantage. This week Texas joined 15 other states in supporting Wisconsin in a high-profile Supreme Court case that chllenges limits on state lawmakers in drawing political maps to advantage one party.

In a closely watched voting case in Ohio, the Justice Department has reversed its previous position to side with the state in allowing the purging of voters from the rolls for not answering election mail and not voting in recent elections. Justice attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involved the state’s removal of thousands of inactive voters from the Ohio voting rolls. In New Zealand as many as 60,000 voters may be scrubbed from the rolls ahead of next month’s general election for failing to respond to a similar mailing.

In a party-line vote, the Texas House approved a bill that would increase penalties for mail-in election crimes that included an amendment that would repeal a recently signed overhaul of rules for absentee balloting at nursing homes. A bill with rare bi-partisan support, the nursing home bill was an attempt to simultaneously remove opportunities to commit ballot fraud while expanding ballot access to nursing home residents. Supporters of the nursing home bill suspect that it was precisely the bi-partisan support that led to the effort to repeal.

Widespread protests have led to dozens of deaths after Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed that results from last weeks elections had been manipulated to allow victory for the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga claimed hackers broke into election commission computer systems and databases overnight to “create errors”. International election observers as well as delegations from the EU, the African Union and the US have urged politicians defeated in Kenya’s fiercely contested polls to concede gracefully without taking their struggle to the streets.

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