The Voting News Weekly

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 20-26 2017

The Washington Post reported that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and other administration officials enlisted senior members of the intelligence community as well as the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia. These actions may have violated multiple existing Justice Department rules controlling contacts between the bureau and White House officials first established by the Carter Administration in the wake of Watergate and imposed ever since by administrations of both parties. The involvement of the committee chairs led Congressional Democrats to question if the impartiality of Senate and House investigations into alleged Russian interference in the November election had been compromised and Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Government Oversight Committee agreed in an interview that a special prosecutor should investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

According to advocates for election security and reliability say a bill that Republican leaders recently passed out of the House Administration Committee would make it unlikely that a crucial nationwide upgrade of voting technology can be completed in time for the 2020 election. The EAC is in the process of developing a new set of the voting system standards, used by forty-seven states as a benchmark for voting equipment certification. After announcing her that she would be leaving the Federal Election Commission when her current term expires next month, Ann Ravel wrote in a scathing editorial in the New York Times that deadlock and dysfunction at the commission was “betraying the American public and jeopardizing our democracy.”

The nomination of Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to head the Interior Department in his administration set up the necessity of a special election to fill his seat in Congress. Responding to complaints from counties in the state who were having a hard time finding the money for a special election, Republican State Senator Steve Fitzpatrick introduced a bipartisan bill that would allow counties to use mail-in ballots for the election. Not only would the proposal save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, it would also make voting incredibly easy. But making voting easier benefits Democrats and therefore many Republicans opposed the bill. The resulting split in the Republican caucus allowed the bill to pass in the Senate. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is expected to sign it into law.

In the final days of his administration Republican Governor Pat McCrory requested a Supreme Court review a Circuit Court of Appeals decision that key provisions of North Carolina’s voter ID law were unconstitutional. The new Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and state Attorney General Josh Stein have requested a withdrawal of the previous Governor’s request. However, the law firm hired by the Republican-led General Assembly to defend the controversial measure contends that the new Governor and Attorney General have overstepped their authority. This dispute seems unlikely to go away any time soon.

In a case challenging limits on early voting in Wisconsin, three federal judges expressed skepticism over claims that Wisconsin Republicans had deliberately made it harder for minorities to vote, suggesting that it is somehow okay for a party to change the election law in ways that are politically expedient. As noted by Richard Hasen, “Judge Easterbrook asks plaintiffs’ counsel: “A large part your brief reads as if the argument is: ‘When Democrats are in control they are free to expand voting. When Republicans in control they are prohibited from making any pro-Republican changes.’ That can’t be right… Why are the standards when Republicans are in control any different from when Democrats are in control?” So “pro-Republican changes” must equal contracting the right to vote. And that’s ok?”

Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission rejected the sole bid to rent voting machines to it for snap elections, next month meaning that it will be impossible to comply with a Supreme Administrative Court ruling that voting machines should be available at all polling stations. After frontrunner Lenin Moreno feel just short of the 40% required to avoid a run-off, Ecuador’s Presidential election is heading for a second round.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 13-19 2017

The New York Times reported that NSA investigations of phone records and intercepted calls show that members of the Trump campaign had repeated contact with Russian intelligence operatives prior to the election contradicting the campaign’s claims. The calls between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russians were initially captured as part of routine foreign surveillance, but subsequently the NSA was asked by the FBI to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operatives on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.

The Atlantic posted an extensive piece on efforts by House Administration Committee chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. On a party-line vote, his bill to terminate the agency was the first piece of legislation approved by the Committee in the new Congress. Voting rights advocates worry that this version of the bill may actually get a floor vote. Supporters of the EAC argue that it would be especially foolhardy to get rid of it at a time of heightened concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections. “This is the time when we should be focusing on strengthening the only federal agency charged with making elections work for all Americans, not trying to eliminate it,” said Representative Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Stanford computer scientist and Verified Voting founder David Dill wrote about the potential of foreign powers hacking American computerized voting systems and the importance of post-election audits in protecting the integrity of our elections. “We need to audit computers by manually examining randomly selected paper ballots and comparing the results with machine results. Audits require a voter-verified paper ballot, which the voter inspects to confirm that his or her selections have been correctly and indelibly recorded.”

As he blatantly lied on a series of talk shows last Sunday about the extent to which illegal voting occurs in American elections, White House aide Stephen Miller told George Stephanopoulos to “invite Kris Kobach onto your show, and he can walk you through some of the evidence of voter fraud in greater detail.” On Monday, three separate networks gave Kobach the chance to do just that. It did not go well for him. Leaders from both parties are defending New Hampshire’s electoral system in the wake of another unsubstantiated Trump claim that there’s massive voter fraud happening in the state. Republican strategist and former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath wrote “Let me be as unequivocal as possible: allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless, without any merit-it’s shameful to spread these fantasies.”

A pair of bills aimed at tightening Maine’s voter identification requirements were broadly panned as unconstitutional and unneeded Wednesday during daylong public hearings before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Massachusetts Auditor Susan Bump has determined that early voting in last year’s presidential election constituted a state mandate on cities and towns, and the state should pay for it and the North Carolina Supreme Court has restored a block on the legislature’s overhaul of the state elections board and ethics commission while Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit awaits resolution.

The Dutch government will allow municipalities to use computers to tabulate the votes cast in upcoming elections, provided that they are not connected to the Internet. The voting itself is done on paper in pencil and the contents of the ballot boxes are counted by hand. The head of front-running French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s independent Onwards Party has said that they have been the target of hundreds if not thousands of Russian hacks and a fake news smear campaign.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 6-12 2017

As they have in the last three Congresses Republicans on the House Administration Committee voted in favor of legislation that would shut down the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency set up in 2002 to help states improve their election systems. This legislation is considerably stronger than previous versions in that rather than transferring responsibilities for voting system testing and certification to other Federal agencies, this bill would simply eliminate federal involvement in voting systems entirely. Previous versions of this legislation have not been brought to the floor, in part because they faced a certain veto, but this time, who knows? Speaker Paul Ryan has given no indication of whether or when the bill may come to the House floor.

In response to the House Committee action, Matthew Weil of the Bipartisan Policy Center noted that “If this seems like a strange response to an election marked by allegations of voter fraud, voter suppression, and election rigging—from both sides of the political aisle—you’re not wrong.” Weil joined the many voices raised in support of the EAC, noting, among other significant factors, the role of the EAC in gathering election data through it’s Election Administration and Voting Survey, an important resource for researchers and advocates and, not incidentally Verified Voting in maintaining the Verifier.

In spite of hyperventilating in some quarters about a “federal takeover of elections”, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has confirmed that he supports the Obama administration’s decision to designate elections systems as critical infrastructure. While not accepting the merits of the plaintiff’s arguments, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has settled a federal lawsuit that accused him of disenfranchising minority voters through a requirement on registration forms “to avoid the expense of further litigation.” The advocacy groups that filed the suit in September, maintained that the “exact match” language followed by the Secretary of State disproportionately affected black, Latino and Asian-American voters across the state and violated the Voting Rights Act.

The Iowa ACLU legal director argued that House Study Bill 93, labeled the “Election Integrity Act,” would not only make voting more difficult and more confusing for voters, but it would also be more expensive for taxpayers. The contentious legislation, sponsored by Republican Secretary of State Pete Pate, was promoted as an effort to “enhance integrity and boosting Iowans’ confidence in the process” though the state already enjoys some of the highest rates of voter participation and no indication of any voter impersonation fraud.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach continued his push for a two ballot system for state and federal voting in the face of impassioned opposition from civic groups and advocates. The prospect for new state legislative districts this spring and elections this fall in North Carolina are looking slim despite a court order. A Texas mother of four has sentenced to eight years in prison – and almost certainly deportation later — after she voted illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accused the Kremlin of trying to block him from running in next year’s presidential election after a court found him guilty of embezzlement and celebrations erupted on the streets of Somalia after the election of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a 55-year-old former prime minister and dual US-Somali national with a reputation for independence and competence.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 30 – February 5 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday said he doesn’t want to spend federal funds to investigate what President Trump claimed was massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. President Trump may want to “move on” from Russia’s attempted interference in last fall’s presidential election, but two senators announced Thursday that they are launching a bipartisan investigation of Russia’s efforts to influence the U.S. election and democratic elections in other nations.

Doug Chapin blogged about the importance of the work of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, now that the commission’s report and the rest of its work is no longer available online after the new Administration decided to remove it from its home at Arkansas counties say they need a major upgrade to voting equipment to prevent system failures in the next election.

New voter identification requirements that would do away with an affidavit option that was available during November’s election passed the North Dakota House. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill that effectively repealed a voter-approved campaign finance and ethics law. A federal appeals court ruled that the Pasadena Texas election system that a judge ruled violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics cannot be used in the upcoming May council elections. The Public Council to Bulgaria’s electoral body, the Central Electoral Commission said the future of electronic voting in Bulgaria must be determined after thorough analyses and public debate.

Claiming no consensus has been found on an alternative system, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau abandoned his promise to reform Canada’s electoral system and Dutch authorities will count by hand all the votes cast in next month’s general elections, ditching “vulnerable” computer software to thwart any cyber hacking bid.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 23-29 2017

President Donald Trump said he would seek an investigation into what he believes was voter fraud in last November’s election, drawing rebukes from both Republicans and Democrats who said the unsubstantiated claims of large-scale fraud could undermine voting rights efforts as well as confidence in the new U.S. chief executive. Less than a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, both chambers of Congress have launched probes into alleged hacking by Russia that spy chiefs believe was designed to help him win.

The New York Times considered the motives behind Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud. An Arkansas House panel has backed a proposal to reinstate the state’s voter ID law that was struck down more than two years ago, The Michigan Administrative Board unanimously approved up to $82.1 million in spending over the next 10 years under contracts with three vendors who will supply new tabulator machines, election-management software and maintenance agreements. 

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Texas seeking to revive the state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification requirements that a lower court found had a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic people. Bulgaria’s new president called an early national election for 26 March and appointed a former parliamentary speaker as caretaker prime minister and a report on the Canadian government’s online survey about electoral reform suggest that about two-thirds of Canadians are generally satisfied with the country’s democracy, but just as many think parties should make decisions collaboratively.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 16-22 2017

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump. As the nation marked the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., USA Today considered the future of civil rights in this country will soon rest in the hands of a new president and in large part his attorney general, who must champion the rights of all Americans.

A three-judge federal court panel has blocked Alabama from using in next year’s elections 12 legislative districts challenged as unconstitutional by black political groups. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach asked for a bill to be introduced Tuesday that would give him authority to hold “bifurcated” elections so that potentially tens of thousands of registered voters could not vote in state or local elections. The U.S. Supreme Court justices offered no clue Thursday as to whether special elections ordered for North Carolina in 2017 will move ahead. Within hours of Donald Trump being sworn in as president Friday, a federal court in Corpus Christi postponed a scheduled hearing in the Texas voter ID case until next month at the request of the Justice Department.

Yahya Jammeh, the former Gambian president, has left the country after he finally agreed to step down following 22 years of rule and with eight months until Germans go to the polls, the country’s intelligence agencies believe foreign actors – namely Russia – may use similar tactics to those allegedly deployed during the US presidential election to divide public opinion and boost the fortunes of non-mainstream parties.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 9-15 2017

Responding to the DHS decision to add voting systems to the list of critical infrastructure Pamela Smith of Verified Voting commented “Voting systems should receive at least as much attention and care as other critical infrastructure systems do. The fact that all or nearly all of the 50 states as well as more than 30 local jurisdictions availed themselves of support from Department of Homeland Security this year in the run-up to the election makes it clear that cyber-security considerations in elections are serious.”

Voting rights featured prominently in the confirmation hearings for Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. Green Party candidate Jill Stein wrote about election reform in The Guardian. San Francisco extended a voting machine contract with Dominion Voting Systems for two years, in spite of plans to switch over to an open source system.

The Justice Department is suing the city of Eastpointe, Michigan, alleging that it violates the Voting Rights Act by denying black residents an equal opportunity to elect city council members of their choice. The Justice Department also joined a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections, alleging that the board’s Brooklyn office violated federal voter registration law by purging more than 117,000 inactive Brooklyn voters.

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a court-ordered legislative redistricting and 2017 special election in North Carolina while it reviews Republican legislators’ appeal in an ongoing lawsuit. Wisconsin election officials are hoping to improve election administration based on lessons learned from the Presidential recount.

The political party of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, who lost an election last month but has refused to accept his defeat, filed a request for an injunction with the Supreme Court on Thursday aimed at blocking the swearing in of his rival and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta approved a law requiring back up plans for an August election if electronic voting systems fail, despite fierce opposition from rivals who say any manual arrangements will open the ballot to rigging.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 2-8 2017

In a remarkably blunt assessment released Friday, the CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded with “high confidence” that Russia carried out a comprehensive cyber campaign to sabotage the U.S. presidential election, an operation that was ordered by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and ultimately sought to help elect Donald Trump. Also on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Friday that he’s designating U.S. election systems critical infrastructure, a move that provides more federal help for state and local governments to keep their election systems safe from tampering.

At the New York Review of Books, Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen considered alternatives to the electoral college. Among the alternatives they consider are district-level assignment of electors and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which has been passed by many state legislatures. Elimination of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment – highly unlikely to say the least.

A steadfast champion for voters, election integrity advocate, and inspirational defender of democracy Ion Sancho has retired from his position as Leon County Florida Supervisor of Elections after 28 years. His local newspaper, The Tallahassee Democrat published a review of Sancho’s career, highlighting his service on behalf of Leon County voters, his leadership of the 2000 Florida recount (at least until the US Supreme Court got in the way), to the courage he showed in allowing Harri Hursti to demonstrate the vulnerability of voting equipment, documented in the 2006 film Hacking Democracy.

Iowa Secretary of State Pete Pate has announced proposed legislation that would require a photo id for voting. A three-judge panel upheld North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to block a revamp of the state elections board while his lawsuit makes its way through the courts. In a ruling that could provide a key test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, a federal judge ruled that officials in the City of Pasadena Texas deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members.

The final cost of Wisconsin’s presidential recount will likely be about half of the estimated $3.8 million that the state had required Green Party candidate Jill Stein pay before the recount began. In a reversal of his previous pledge,

The Gambia’s army chief pledged his loyalty to President Yahya Jammeh, who has refused to accept defeat in last month’s election and a former head of MI6 has warned against switching elections to electronic voting because of the risk of hacking and cyber attacks.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for January 1 2017

Responding to the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that the Kremlin ordered attacks on the DNC and other political organizations, President Obama retaliated by ejecting 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. The State Department announced the closing of two waterfront estates — one in Upper Brookville, N.Y., and another on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — that it said were used for Russian intelligence activities, although officials declined to say whether they were specifically used in the election-related hacks.

A widely distributed AP article noted that Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use what the article accurately describes as “antiquated machines that store votes electronically without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting”, i.e. Danaher Shouptronics and Sequoia AVC Advantage machines but also slightly newer equipment made by Diebold, Sequoia and ES&S without VVPAT printers. The other 10 states are Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia. Florida still uses paperless DREs in some counties but only as accessible equipment for voters with disabilities.

While they didn’t affect the outcome, the partial recounts of November’s election highlighted the unprecedented extent to which the American political system is vulnerable to cyberattack, according to two computer scientists,J Alex Halderman and Matt Bernhard, both of the University of Michigan, who helped the effort to audit the vote. Halderman, who is a member of Verified Voting’s Board of Advisors, drew attention to the involvement of third party vendors that are responsible for the maintenance and programming of voting equipment. For example, 75% of Michigan counties use one of two companies to program their machines. Compromising those two companies would theoretically be sufficient to swing the vote in the state. “How central these points of attack are, that was news to me,” Halderman said. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein said Wednesday her abbreviated recount effort showed the vote “was not carefully guarded” in Michigan and should spur legislative action to require automatic post-election audits.

In a US News editorial, Robert Schlesinger observed that the Electoral College doesn’t function today the way the Founding Fathers planned. U.S. Department of Transportation officials said that Alabama has agreed to expand driver’s license office hours after determining that black residents in the state were disproportionately hurt by a slate of closures and reductions in 2015. North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s attorneys persuaded a Wake County Superior Court judge to block enactment of a law revamping the state elections board until further court proceedings could take place. Plaintiffs in an ongoing court battle over Texas’ 2011 district maps have filed a joint motion calling for the federal judges considering the case to issue a ruling by next month.

The Gambia’s electoral commission building  reopened, though defeated incumbent President Yahya Jammeh continues to demand a new election and the British government announced that it would begin rolling out mandatory identity checks for voters, prompting a backlash from those who say the move could effectively disenfranchise millions.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for December 12-18 2016

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the agency charged with ensuring that voting machines meet security standards was itself penetrated by a hacker after the November elections, according to a security firm working with law enforcement on the matter.

Forty members of the Electoral College on Tuesday signed a letter demanding an intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the election ahead of their Dec. 19 vote. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, conceded Tuesday that her three-state vote recount drive was “stopped in its tracks,” but said she’d illuminated the need to shore up the security of balloting nationwide. The Detroit News observed that Stein’s recount effort revealed that election administration in many places in Michigan is “rife with incompetence that results in the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters who cast ballots that don’t get counted”.

The North Carolina Governor has signed a bill passed in special session that creates a single board to oversee the state’s ethics, lobbying and elections administration. Computer hackers attempted to hold Henry County Ohio’s voter database for ransom just days before the Nov. 8 general election. A federal judge rejected a Green Party-backed request to recount paper ballots in Pennsylvania’s presidential election  and scan some counties’ election systems for signs of hacking.

Dan Lopresti wrote about security issues in the voting machines used in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the country. A federal appeals court upheld a Virginia law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, rejecting a challenge from Democrats who argued that it suppressed voting by minorities and young people. European governments are bracing for cyber-meddling by Moscow in upcoming national elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has moved to resist his presidential election defeat, sending armed soldiers to take control of the electoral commission headquarters and filing a petition to the supreme court as a delegation of African leaders urged him to stand down.