Election Integrity News
Drawn from various sources and updated frequently by our editorial team, the Election Integrity News is a compilation of the latest developments in the area of election integrity. That means stories covering everything from the administration of elections, the security of the vote, voter suppression, gerrymandering, money in politics, and much more.
If a story catches your eye that you think would make for an interesting item, send it to us at FairElectionTips@whowhatwhy.org.
Latest News: April 17 – April 20, 2018
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach Held in Contempt in Voter Registration Case
US District Judge Julie Robinson has held Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) in contempt of court over his failure to appropriately manage voter registration in the state. Kobach has been a staunch advocate of stricter voting regulations, and formerly served as the vice-chair of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission. He was instrumental in establishing a 2013 Kansas state law that blocks voters unable to provide proof of citizenship from registering to vote. The state would send postcards notifying voters of incomplete registrations, but if after 90 days, voters were unable to or failed to prove citizenship, they were removed from voter rolls. The ACLU estimates that the law prevented about 35,000 voters in the state from completing their registration.
Robinson first issued an injunction blocking the law in 2016 and inquired whether or not the Kansas voters who had been removed from the rolls would be notified of their polling places in the same manner as other voters. Kobach affirmed that anyone who had failed to prove citizenship would receive a postcard just the same as any registered voter. But the postcards never arrived in the mailboxes of many of potential voters. Kobach maintains that he issued an order to county election officials, but never actually followed up with written instructions or checked back to make sure the postcards had been sent.
Illinois Governor May Block Withdrawal from Controversial Interstate Crosscheck Program
Illinois’s House voted on Thursday to pass legislation that could dramatically transform the state’s voting infrastructure. The state seeks to join several other states that are moving to leave the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a controversial voter database intended to detect and flag duplicate registrations. The system has been widely criticized for inaccurate calculations, a failure to protect personal data, and a lack of safeguards against hackers.
But those hoping that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who could veto the measure, will end the state’s participation in the program may be disappointed after hearing the first statement from his team. Spokeswoman Rachel Bold called the legislation “troubling,” for undermining a system meant “to ensure access to voting, while preventing opportunities for fraud.” Bold also mentioned that the program has proved to be a valuable source of information for county clerks, who collect and maintain voter data across the state.
New Jersey Moves Ahead with Automatic Voter Registration
New Jersey joined 12 other states when it passed a law requiring automatic voter registration this week. Automatic voter registration encompasses a variety of options, from pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds to Election Day registration to signing up people registering with agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Center for American Progress estimates that automatic registration could add as many as 22 million voters in its first year alone, were it to be adopted nationwide.
Automatic registration is one of the first major bills signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D). It’s a sharp turn away from former governor Chris Christie’s (R) more conservative policies. Maryland and Washington State also passed similar bills recently. By all counts, registering more voters brings more people to the polls. The mounting enthusiasm for automatic voter registration follows several years of attempts by Republicans to restrict access to the polls, measures that overwhelmingly impact low-income communities and people of color. Republicans often cite concerns over “voter fraud” and a need to provide “clean and honest elections.” But research shows that incidents of fraudulent or noncitizen voting were entirely negligible.
New York Governor Cuomo to Use Pardons to Grant Voting Rights to Felons
One way or the other, paroled felons in New York will likely be able to vote in November. After watching so many attempts to reform the criminal justice system die in the Republican-held Senate, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his intention to grant voting rights to paroled felons via pardons granted by an executive order. The governor — who has issued 174 pardons in his seven years in office — would initially grant pardons to the 35,000 parolees currently living in the state, and then require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to send a monthly list of all those newly eligible for parole in the future. As long as they’re not flagged for special concerns, paroled felons will be pardoned “without delay,” according to the order.
Cuomo’s office has described the order as a narrow use of power. The pardon would not expunge a felon’s record or restore other civil rights, such as serving on a jury — it would just allow them to vote.
While New York Republicans have reacted in shock and outrage, the state would join Iowa and Virginia in using executive orders to grant pardons — and therefore voting rights — to felons. There are 18 states in total, plus Washington, DC, which allow parolees to vote. With Cuomo facing a runoff in the September primary against newcomer Cynthia Nixon — best known as a star from Sex and the City — Cuomo is hoping that a strong stance on criminal justice reform will guarantee a third term.
Senator Marco Rubio Sounds Alarm Over Florida’s Election Security
Florida’s Republican senator and intelligence committee member Marco Rubio issued a grave warning to his home state’s election officials: Florida’s election system is a “beacon” for foreign meddling. Accusing the state’s election officials of being “overconfident,” he cited concerns of foreign meddling with voter registration data. Rubio worries that if foreign actors were to alter or remove registration data and prevent people from voting, it would rip open the divides between left and right even more: “The narrative out there is going to be the Democrats in Broward County are keeping Republicans from voting. And suddenly, you are going to have mass chaos across this country and anger and division.”
Talking to the Florida Association of Counties about this issue, he openly pondered the lasting effects of this kind of election tampering. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in a similar manner in other former Soviet states and even stated he believes the Russians could have done it in 2016, should they have wanted to. He believes Florida to be very susceptible to Russian interference — due to its early poll closings and role as a swing state — and is concerned by the lack of urgency expressed by Florida’s election officials.
His solution is to have more information sharing. He also recommends having at least one person in every county election office with enough security clearance that they can be briefed on electoral threats in real time.
Latest News: April 14 – April 17, 2018
Overcrowded Ballots Could Invalidate Thousands of Votes in California’s Races
Stacked fields in California’s upcoming elections for governor and US Senate may cause scores of constituents to nullify their votes by inadvertently over-voting. Because the list of candidates for a crowded race often take up two or three columns on both sides of the ballot form, voters can mistakenly vote for multiple candidates by marking one name from each side.
In California’s 2016 US Senate primary, nearly a quarter million voters marked their ballots for multiple candidates. The 33 counties that listed the candidates in multiple columns yielded four times as many “overvotes” as those that needed only a single column. The margin of error is notably greater in counties that didn’t use machines to screen ballots for mistakes, according to a university study.
The threat of “overvoting” is more pronounced this year: 32 candidates are dueling in the Senate primary, and 27 are eyeing the race for governor. Ballots for both elections have two columns of names.
Candidates Employ Targeted Campaigning to Win Tight Race for Maryland Governor
So little separates the seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s governor race that only a 125,000-votes margin (or 25 percent of voters) is needed to crown a victor. And the stakes are higher than usual: in an increasingly liberal state like Maryland, the winner of the Democratic primary may have a shot at unseating Republican incumbent Larry Hogan.
An unusually crowded field means that the candidates also have less money than those in the past gubernatorial primaries. Due to a lack of funding and a need to secure every last vote they can, some candidates have devised unorthodox outreach strategies to cater to specific constituencies rather than the Democratic populace at large.
Benjamin Jealous, former NAACP head and one of the seven hopefuls, decided to target progressive voters, civil rights groups, and backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign. “The only way you can win with a field this crowded is you have to build a solid coalition,” Jealous campaign spokesman Kevin Harris said. “We’ve gone after endorsements that either bring money or bring people who can help go out and reach voters.”
Florida Lawyers Accusing State of Dragging Feet on Restoring Voting Rights to Felons
Lawyers fighting to restore voting rights to felons in Florida are accusing the state of “foot-dragging,” after an appeal to stay an earlier decision to revamp the state’s controversial rights-restoration process was rejected by the federal appellate court. Back in February the court set a deadline of April 26 for the state to overhaul the current system, but this time has instead been spent fighting the court’s ruling. With the deadline now looming, the state is asking for more time or for the ruling to be halted. However, neither of those outcomes appear likely.
Lawyers from the firm that filed the initial lawsuit last year have said the state could have implemented a new system while also fighting it in court. However, the state has now backed itself into a corner by not implementing a new system and losing its appeal to overturn the decision.
They are arguing the court did not give them enough time to change the current system. The judge is not concerned the state will disregard his decision completely — since the government has walked back from these threats — and has therefore decided not to file an injunction. But the felons’ lawyers are still skeptical about the state’s willingness to implement a new system.
This all stems from a movement led by a political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which gathered over one million signatures on a petition to get the issue of felons’ voting onto the ballot in November. If passed, voting would be immediately restored to all ex-felons who have finished probation in Florida, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sexual violence.
Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General Says Voter ID Laws Helped Trump Win the State
Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) stated on a local radio station that he believes Donald Trump was able to win his state because of the voter ID laws he has fought so hard to keep. Both Democrats and the lawyers attempting to remove the laws jumped on the comments, seeing them as him admitting the laws are capable of rigging elections in the GOP’s favor. Schimel has fought hard to ensure voter ID laws stay in the state. Recent legal challenges have struck down parts of the law, but the general aim of voter suppression has remained.
While Schimel’s comments will not necessarily have any effect on the legal battles, they have turned attention toward voter ID laws ahead of the November election. Studies have shown the laws have had a negative effect on the turnout of minorities within the state, and many people believe Schimel’s support comes mainly from the fact he directly benefits from this.
Lancaster County in Need of 45 More Voting Machines
Lancaster County, South Carolina, is in need of 45 more voting machines come election time. South Carolina state law requires the governing body of any county to provide one voting machine per 250 registered voters. But following an uptick in registered voters from 35,000 to 58,000, the counties’ 190 machines are spread too thin — currently, each machine serves 305 voters.
Rick Crimminger, Lancaster County Election Commission chairman, notes that “the election commission is an unfunded mandate.” The county only had 160 machines until it purchased 30 more in the last few years, still falling short of the necessary machine-to-voter ratio thanks to a lack of funds.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis observes that understanding financial difficulties in state government can only go so far: “2010 rolls around and today rolls around and they’re just not paying us.”
South Carolina’s Act 388, which limits a municipality’s power to raise taxes, has only made it harder for Lancaster County to purchase more machines. It has prevented Lancaster County from raising taxes in order to support itself and purchase additional voting machines over the years. Crimminger says he is worried about how the lack of voting machines and their accessibility may affect county constituents: “All it takes is if you get a candidate, or voter, saying that voting rights were infringed due to five-hour wait lines at the polls. All because the county isn’t providing the correct amount of voting machines.”
Latest News: April 10 – April 13, 2018
Billionaires Spend Big in 2018
Big dollar donations have only solidified in 2018, with billionaires across party lines making handsome donations in advance of a hotly contested midterm election season. Tom Steyer, the California-based former hedge fund investor, has given more money to Democrats than anyone else, while Richard Uihlein, an “elusive packaging supplies magnate” has done the same for Republicans. Steyer spends through an advocacy group that he controls called NextGen Climate Action, which has financed political ads and traditional PACs. Independently of his campaign spending, Steyer has pledged $20 million towards an impeachment campaign in hopes of unseating President Donald Trump.
Uihlein supports hard-line conservatives through donations to super PACS and candidates. For 2018, his expenditures already exceed his 2016 contributions. Despite his massive donations, Uihlein hasn’t occupied the spotlight to the same degree as major Republican donors (like the Kochs or Mercers). Much of his money moves through the Club for Growth, and he has also contributed to a super PAC controlled by National Security Advisor John Bolton.
To Prepare for 2018 Midterms, States Test Drive Responses to Cyberattacks
To best prepare for potential breaches during the 2018 midterm elections, the Department of Homeland Security is giving states the opportunity to test their responses to cyber attacks. Called “Cyber Storm” exercises, the biennial series of drills began this week. The program doesn’t target election security specifically, but rather tests how states and equipment manufacturers respond to threats to infrastructure more broadly, including transportation and communication systems. This is the sixth year of the program, and seven states are going through three days of situation simulations. In light of the Russians involvement in the 2016 elections, many officials are particularly invested in addressing what amounts to a major national security threat.
More News: April 10-13
Latest News: April 6 – April 9, 2018
Facebook to Establish Independent Election Integrity Commission
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Monday that the company will create an independent commission to develop strategies to quickly identify and curb future election interference. Staffed by academic experts, the team will use the platform’s resources to draw “unbiased conclusions about Facebook’s role in elections.”
Zuckerberg released the statement just a day before his scheduled testimony before Congress, where he is expected to explain how Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm that backed Donald Trump’s presidential bid, harvested the personal information of more than 87 million users.
Election Security Extends Beyond Voting Machines
Local and national news outlets alike have covered Congress’s inclusion of $380 million to improve election infrastructure in the latest spending bill. Many have concluded that the allocated funds are wildly insufficient. Several states are using the funds at least in part to address out-of-date voting machines. But the replacement machines won’t be enough on their own, writes The Conversation.
A return to paper ballots could provide additional security and legitimacy, but the weaknesses in US election infrastructure and voting systems extend far beyond the hardware. Part of the problem is the voter confidence and engagement with the election process. Turnout has reached rock bottom in recent elections: 2016 marked a 20-year low when just 55% of eligible citizens made it to the polls. Election machines need voters, and so does democracy.
‘Bow and Arrows Against the Lightning’ — State Election Official Describes Fighting Off a Russian CyberAttack
Demonstrating just how outmatched states seem to be when facing a hostile nation-state, the IT Director for Illinois’s election board described the security breach of the state’s voter registration database prior to the 2016 election as “unlike anything we had ever seen” in a recent 60 Minutes interview.
Illinois’s system was one of 20 that was targeted by hackers, though not all attempts were successful.
In the same segment, former Obama cyberczar Michael Dante said that it is “entirely possible” we still don’t know the full range of the Russian attack.
“It was always our working assumption that we did not detect all of the potential Russian activity that was going on,” said Dante.
Federal Funds May Fall Short; Election Security Remains Uncertain
Malfunction among outdated voting machines is resurfacing all around the country as communities prepare for the November elections. To address lacking election infrastructure around the country, Congress approved $380 million in funds to be distributed nationwide in an effort to prevent breaching of the election systems by Russian hackers, as occurred in 2016 in 21 states.
Illinois, the only state that publicly acknowledged a breach of their election machines, fears that they won’t have the time or finances to secure voting machines, or subsequently secure voters’ faith in democracy. Even with their $13 million portion of the congressional plan, state officials are saying it isn’t enough to achieve election security by November. In Chicago, the third-largest city in the US, estimates put the cost of wholly replacing faulty voting machines in the tens of millions of dollars.
Moreover, old voting machines scattered statewide are causing delays and decreased cybersecurity protection.
As a result, voting sites equipped with such machines often open late, putting additional pressure on already-long lines that discourage people from spending the time to cast their votes on election day. Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, recommends going beyond replacing machines by protecting voter registration systems and implementing better post-election audits to further strengthen public trust. With the goal to fasten election security and reignite the US citizens’ faith in democratic institutions, state officials consider how to spend their federal funding most proactively in anticipation for November.
Santa Clara County Votes to Spend Big on 2020 Census
Even before the census citizenship question become an important issue for the Trump administration, Santa Clara County already planned to spend big. With an estimated 130,000 undocumented immigrants and the second largest Vietnamese American population in the nation, Santa Clara County has a sizeable stake in the outcome of the census. Both of these groups are skeptical of government interference, meaning the current administration and mood within the country only exacerbates this concern.
In the 2010, Santa Clara county spent $750,000 on the whole census process. In 2020 the county will spend a lot more following a March vote to allocate over $1 million towards the first phase of surveying alone. Although local officials decided to increase the census budget before the federal decision to include the citizenship question, former county officials and experts alike are quick to point out the damage this question could cause, both in terms of funding and representation.
Although Santa Clara has not yet followed the example of others and filed lawsuits against the Trump administration, the county hasn’t completely ruled it out either. County officials feel its demographics leave it susceptible to the damaging effects of inaccurate numbers: The census is used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funding as well as redistribute the electoral college seats, meaning a reduction in replies means a direct reduction in money and representation.
The county is concerned not only for the immigrants in the county, but for the 7,300 homeless people, low-income families, and single-parent households who all record low turnout rates. The allocated money will go towards data gathering, canvassing, and community engagement in hopes of increasing the turnout despite the obstacles put up by the Trump administration.
World War Two Japanese Internment Camps Show There Is a Legal Precedent to Access Census Information
As the census citizenship question debate rages on and government agencies promises there are safeguards in place to ensure the answers are used for nothing more than statistics, it’s important to take a quick history lesson and see this hasn’t always been the case. Two researchers in the early 2000s found that, during the Second World War, the Census Bureau shared information on Japanese citizens with the federal government. This information was then used to intern these people.
Most worrisome of all — the process was completely legal. Due to the second War Powers Act, the confidentiality of the census information was suspended. This allowed the Census Bureau to share the information of Japanese citizens ancestry with the federal government.
Although the federal government and the Census Bureau have apologized for this breach, and there have been laws passed to secure the data gathered through the census, this history has added to a great distrust. With the language of the current administration around immigrants, many people are concerned a repeat of history could occur.
More News: April 6-10
Latest News: April 1 – April 6, 2018
Insufficient Funds and Lack of Consensus Delay Voting Machine Replacement
Direct record voting machines, which seemed like a state-of-the-art solution just a decade ago, are now the subject of much concern. But money is running out to guarantee a secure voting system, according to an op-ed in the Intelligencer, a local Pennsylvania paper. Congress recently appropriated $380 million to secure the nation’s election systems, but by and large, experts say this isn’t nearly enough money. State governors, like Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in Pennsylvania, are mandating that counties update voting systems without providing enough — or even any — financial support. In Bucks County, officials opted to upgrade voting systems 12 years ago to the tune of several million dollars. Now, without enough funding from either the state or the federal level the county has to find another solution to secure its election equipment. Rather than jumping to find a quick solution, it might be better to wait for more guidance and, though unlikely, funding.
But in Texas, counties have taken the opposite approach — spending big to replace touch-screen voting machines without a paper record. It turns out, though, that many of those machines, which are used in at least a dozen states nationwide, are equally vulnerable. But despite warnings from cyber exerts, federal and state officials haven’t sufficiently alerted states about the dangers associated with paperless machines. In 2007, the agency tasked with distributing election guidelines to state and local elections officials outright rejected the findings by a team of experts warning against such equipment. And now, the money for replacement is running out.
US Slaps Sanctions on Putin Cronies Over Election Interference
The Trump administration announced Friday that it will impose sanctions on 38 Russian oligarchs, corporations, and government officials for offenses from undermining democratic elections to intervening in Ukraine and Syria. The US has now sanctioned 189 Kremlin-connected individuals and entities.
Initiated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the list includes some of the most powerful figures in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orbit: Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law and the recipient of a $1 billion loan from a state-owned bank; Oleg Deripaska, a businessman who has been tied to organized crime and to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort; and Viktor Vekselberg, the head of the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy whose associates have been arrested for bribing officials.
Campaign Donor Identities Continue to Remain in the ‘Dark’
Ninety-one percent of voters in Tempe, Arizona recently approved an amendment to the city charter that would require independent groups spending upwards of $1,000 to reveal details about donors. But thanks to a bill just passed by the Arizona legislature, it won’t matter. The state bill prevents local governments from requiring such transparency from nonprofits.
The tension over disclosure for nonprofits isn’t unique to Tempe, though nowhere else has a state law overridden a local effort to require transparency. Mostly recently, South Dakota enacted a bill in March that requires campaigns for ballot measures to disclose their donors only during the signature-gathering phase. But last year, the state legislature shied away from a more comprehensive bill that would have required nonprofits supporting such campaigns with $25,000 or more to disclose details about their donors.
Cities elsewhere, notably Santa Fe and Denver, have passed ordinances much like the Tempe charter amendment that focus on disclosure from nonprofits. Those states haven’t squashed local efforts with statewide regulation like Arizona did, but the local efforts have been met with resistance and lawsuits from critics who claim that transparency dissuades participation in campaigns.
Cambridge Analytica Data Loot Affects 87 Million Facebook Users
Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica, the British data-mining firm hired by the Trump campaign, harvested personal information of up to 87 million users — almost twice the initial estimate of 50 million. The statement was released as part of the social media giant’s new plan to tighten its data policy; users whose information may have been compromised will be alerted starting April 9.
The scandal unleashed widespread condemnation from the public and lawmakers alike. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
Texas Violated Voter Registration Laws, Judge Says
In another win for voting rights — and another blow to Texas’ reputation — US District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio ruled in favor of a civil rights group claiming that Texas violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their drivers’ license information online. While Texas currently does not allow online voter registration, the interface to renew a drivers’ license online was sufficiently confusing that many people thought they had registered to vote digitally, the plaintiffs in the 2016 lawsuit claimed.
The NVRA requires that states provide residents with the opportunity to register whenever they renew or apply for a drivers’ license. No details have been provided as to how Judge Garcia will require Texas to comply with the law, but it could involve changes to the voter registration process, including an option for online registration when tied to a drivers’ license renewal. An appeal is expected from the Attorney General’s Office, which called Judge Garcia’s decision “judicial activism.”
Does the Future of Gerrymandering Rest on West Virginia?
Since Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry introduced the practice in 1812, partisan gerrymandering has become one of the most efficient and entrenched methods of consolidating party control in districts. Efforts to weaken it have faltered in the past, and the two parties have established permanent majorities in a string of heavily contested states. But the US Supreme may finally be ready to rule on cases that could reduce the partisanship involved in redistricting.
The battle over West Virginia’s districts is such a case. Before the state redistricts after the 2020 census, it will have to decide whether the authority rests with the GOP-led legislature or a nonpartisan commission. A handful of other states have appointed an independent commission to draw congressional maps that fairly reflect voter demographics. West Virginia has already took a significant step toward fair voting by eliminating the outdated multi-member districts for the House of Delegates, mandating the each district is represented by only one delegate.
Will the EU’s New Data Law Finally Force Facebook to Self-Regulate?
After the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal that was uncovered last month, Facebook faces intense public pressure to reform its data policy and better protect its users. But the social media giant’s troubles are more pressing in Europe, where it faces legal pressure to self-regulate.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, slated to come into effect this May, will dictate how tech companies manage the personal information of Europeans, including expats in the US. Transparency is a top priority: under the new law, Facebook must disclose the data it collects, explain to users their right to erase anything they share, and protect information from being used for anything other than its originally stated purpose. The penalty for data violations rose to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, which, for Facebook, amounts to more than $1 billion.
Facebook did not confirm whether it would abide by the same demands in the US, where tech firms operate without proper guidelines.
More News: April 1 – April 6, 2018
Latest News: March 31 – April 2, 2018
Will the EU’s New Data Law Finally Force Facebook to Self-Regulate?
After its massive Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook faces intense public pressure to reform its data policy and better protect its users. But the company’s troubles are more pressing in Europe, where it faces legal pressure to self-regulate.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, slated to come into effect this May, will dictate how tech companies manage the personal information of Europeans, including expats in the US. Transparency is a top priority: under the new law, Facebook must disclose the data it collects, explain to users their right to erase anything they share, and protect information from being used for anything other than its originally-stated purpose. The penalty for data violations rose to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, which, for Facebook, amounts to more than $1 billion.
Facebook did not confirm whether it would abide by the same demands in the US, where tech firms operate without proper guidelines.
Latest News: March 28 – 30, 2018
Wisconsin Republicans Brace for Liberal Surge as Walker Drops Bid to Block Special Elections
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) abandoned a last-ditch attempt to shield his state from a ferocious blue wave that has swept 30 Republicans out of power since Trump’s inauguration. After months of resistance, he issued an executive order on Thursday instating special elections to fill a pair of legislative seats that have been open since December.
In regular election years, state law mandates the creation of special elections to fill seats emptied before May; without the fix, positions could remain unoccupied for months or even, in Wisconsin’s case, an entire year. Walker, who called such races a waste of taxpayer money in light of their proximity to the November midterms, refused to comply with the law. Efforts to force his hand hit a wall until last week, when a group led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder took the case to a Madison judge and won a court order directing Walker to call the elections by noon Thursday. (The governor obliged only after losing an appeal the day before.)
The primary races for both seats are scheduled for May 15, and the special elections for June 12.
Unlike State Courts, the Supreme Court Is in No Hurry to End Gerrymandering
As lower courts across the country mount an inspired offense against partisan redistricting, tossing warped maps to ensure fairer representation, the US Supreme Court has not shown the same resolve to remedy the problem.
This year, opponents of gerrymandering have scored a string of victories. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a congressional map designed to cement Republican control; a federal court ruled that North Carolina’s district boundaries violated the state Constitution; and consequential cases in Wisconsin Maryland reached the US Supreme Court.
The momentum amassed by state activists and judges, however, seems to have reached a dead end in front of the Supreme Court justices, who are still debating the limits and purpose of redistricting. As with most controversial cases in recent years, the fate of gerrymandering will likely rest on Justice Anthony Kennedy who, like his liberal colleagues, finds the practice distasteful, but also considers it inseparable from politics.
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Latest News: March 24 – 27, 2018
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Adds Citizenship Question to Census
A memo from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has shown he overruled career officials to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census. These career leaders within the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, tried until the last minute to provide an alternative but were ultimately unable. It is the first time since 1950 that this question will be included in the census.
Democrats and activists are concerned that the inclusion of this question will result in a reduction of the number of respondents, as immigrants will fear reprisal for their answers. This is in large part due to the current administration’s attitude towards immigration. Ross, however, stated in the memo that he believes the information provided by the question is of great use and therefore worth the risk. The memo also states that “neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially.”
The census directly affects the number of electoral college seats assigned to each state, as well as the distribution of billions in federal funding. In direct response to the memo, California has filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, stating it has too much to lose to not act.
Former Election Assistance Commission Chair Joins Department of Homeland Security
The Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) loss is the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) gain, as former EAC Chairman Matthew Masterson was hired to be a senior advisor at the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications. He will be a part of the National Protection and Programs Directorate. The decision by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) not to recommend Masterson for another term was met by great criticism from the states he worked very closely with to improved the security of the elections. The biggest concern however was the idea of changing the man who was leading the way on cybersecurity during an election year.
As a testament to his great work at the EAC, Masterson’s role in the DHS will be largely the same — working with federal, state and local officials to protect the 2018 midterms from hackers. This will be welcomed by the states who prized his expertise on election security, and they will be able to continue to lean on this in the buildup to November.
Democrats Don’t Seem to Care About Cybersecurity Ahead of 2018 Midterms
While the Democrats know they were hacked in 2016, and are convinced it’ll happens again in the 2018 midterms, getting them to do something about it has proven surprisingly difficult. The problem isn’t one of software however, but more of culture. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has the reach to implement sweeping cybersecurity measures yet seems unable — or unwilling — to do something as simple as move it’s members over to a secure workplace messaging software called Wickr.
People involved both in the Democratic party and within cybersecurity companies report a surprising lack of control from the DCCC. It has left cybersecurity to the campaigns, who are placing too low a priority on it. This isn’t surprising however, since staffers are so busy and understaffed that anything not deemed vital is cast aside. Activists are saying the only way to make it a priority is to force the campaigns to take cybersecurity seriously. However, stories from the DCCC winter meetings, where staffers were begging attendees to come to a conference on cybersecurity, has left many believing this is unlikely.
A related problem is campaign staffers lack of understanding about this issue. Most are simply too busy to deal with cybersecurity, let alone learn about it, with the result being a system left wide open to foreign tampering.
Cambridge Analytica Assigned Foreign Advisers to GOP Candidates
In conducting an expansive operation to assist President Donald Trump and other GOP candidates, Cambridge Analytica may have violated US election laws limiting foreign involvement in political campaigns. The British data firm sent foreign employees to advise Republican campaigns in 2014, according to three former workers, including former Cambridge Analytica research director Christopher Wylie.
In July 2014, the firm’s attorney, Laurence Levy, warned its Trump-backing executives — president Rebekah Mercer, vice president Steve Bannon, and chief executive Alexander Nix — that US regulation grants foreign nationals only a a minor role in races. They are not to “directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process” of a campaign, such as providing strategy or messaging advice.
The foreign employees assigned to Republican hopefuls assumed responsibilities that went far beyond what’s appropriate, according to the three whistleblowers. Not only did they help construct political messages targeting specific demographics, they also managed media relations, and provided ‘‘talking points, speeches [and] debate prep.’’
Cambridge Analytica is already facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers after reports surfaced that it improperly obtained information from 50 million Facebook users to create psychological profiles of US voters.
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Latest News: March 21 – 23, 2018
Funding for Election Leaves States Reliant on Paperless Voting Machines
The omnibus spending act that President Donald Trump signed into law last week included $380 million for modernizing election infrastructure. But the Brennan Center for Justice evaluates that, as outlined in the law, the funds will not adequately meet the needs of all states. Some states will receive adequate funding to replace all infrastructure while others will only be able to replace pieces of their voting systems.
Of the 13 states that currently rely on voting machines that leave no paper record of ballots, just two will receive adequate funding to fully replace the equipment. Moreover, the bill includes no requirements to spend the funds on voting machines — states are at liberty to allocate the funds as they choose, be it cybersecurity, infrastructure, or other areas. The bill bases its allocation of funds on the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which ties funding amounts to population of states.
New Hampshire Faces ACLU Lawsuit Over Absentee Ballot Signatures
The American Civil Liberties Union – New Hampshire chapter recently filed a lawsuit in the state arguing that state law RSA 659:50 deprives citizens of their right to vote. The law allows election moderators to reject absentee ballots without notifying the voter or explaining their decision if they don’t believe “the signature on the affidavit appears to be executed by the same person who signed the application” for voting by absentee ballot, “unless the voter received assistance because the voter is blind or has a disability.” In Saucedo v. Gardner, in the US District Court in Concord, the plaintiffs allege that the law has disenfranchised voters in the past three election cycles. Other states have recently grappled with this issue, among them Florida, California, and Illinois, where courts struck down similar laws as unconstitutional. A hearing on the lawsuit is expected this summer.
Let the People Vote, Scott Walker
A Wisconsin circuit judge informed Gov. Scott Walker (R) that his fear of losing does not exempt him from state law, ordering him to “promptly” hold elections for two state legislative seats that he’s kept vacant for over a year, according to Think Progress.
“To state the obvious, if the plaintiffs have a right to vote for their representatives, they must have an election to do so,” said Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds.
Despite the previous Republican claim to the two newly available seats (before Walker brought the representatives into his administration), there’s evidence that Democrats may have a shot here after taking back another Wisconsin district in January which had been held by Republicans since 2000.
Democratic candidates have had a strong year; the party has been on a roll riding the #Resistance movement since President Donald Trump’s election, overturning hotly contested districts that previously came out for Trump in 2016, as in last week’s Pennsylvania special election, and claiming stunning victories in deep-red states, like Sen. Doug Jones’s win in Alabama earlier this year.
Cambridge Analytica 2.0?
Following the international outcry over the unauthorized aggregation of Facebook data of more than 50 million users by Cambridge Analytica — data which may have been employed to help elect President Donald Trump and support the Brexit movement after the political advising firm was hired by the respective campaigns — a start-up founded by two “instrumental” former employees is quickly gaining unwanted attention thanks to a recent Buzzfeed report.
Founded in 2016, Genus AI relies on “insights and algorithms to unlock the value hidden in” first and third-party data sources, according to its website. Genus AI founders Tadas Jucikas and Brent Clickard, along with former Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie, came up with the original vision for Cambridge Analytica as an independent venture before they ultimately opted to develop the firm in-house under the umbrella of SCL, with funding by billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump-backer Robert Mercer, and under the leadership of Steven Bannon, who previously served as the firm’s vice-president and White House Chief Strategist.
Previously, Clickard worked for a company owned by Cambridge University data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, whose personality quiz was used by Cambridge Analytica to harness the data of respondents on Facebook, as well as millions of their unwitting social media connections, in order to create “psychological profiles” to target voters.
The founders seem determined to distance themselves and their new business venture from the controversy: there is no mention of Cambridge Analytica on either Jucikas’s or Clickard’s LinkedIn profiles, and the Buzzfeed article says a link to a staff bio page was removed from the Genus AI website.
Jucikas claims that his new business has no access to the troublesome Facebook data set and insists that “as a business, we do not use Facebook customer data to drive insight.”
Cambridge Analytica’s (now suspended) CEO Alexander Nix made a similar claim to the British Parliament in a hearing last month. The company, however, has since acknowledged using this data in its operations.
Zuckerberg Addresses Cambridge Analytica Scandal
After several days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally spoke to the public and press about the data controversy that has wiped out nearly $50 billion of the company’s market value. The billionaire landed in media and legal crosshairs last Saturday when the New York Times’s reported that Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that backed President Donald Trump’s presidential bid, exploited the personal information of 50 million users, the vast majority of which did not consent to that use. In a Facebook post, which has been rebuked for insufficient transparency and remorse, Zuckerberg acknowledged his mistakes and laid out safeguards he plans to implement in order to better protect user data.
Perhaps to abate the criticism, he conducted interviews with prominent outlets, including CNN, Wired and the Times, in which he confirmed he will testify before Congress but remained skeptical that Facebook should be regulated.
The social media behemoth blocked Cambridge Analytica last Friday, in what may be an unsuccessful effort to preempt the Times’s publication of the scandal. It also banned Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), a company that used third-party apps to siphon and transfer data to Cambridge Analytica. The State Department contracted SCL last February to locate potential ISIS recruits.
Cambridge Analytica has become, in recent months, a central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference. In December, Mueller requested all emails from employees assigned to Trump’s presidential bid. His investigators have also met the digital experts who worked on the campaign, ABC News reported Wednesday.
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Latest News: March 17 – 20, 2018
Wisconsin Grapples with a Lawsuit over Special Elections
Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) decision to hire two state representatives to work in his administration left Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District without representation. Walker has refused to call special elections to fill the vacant seats, instead opting to leave the seats empty until the general election in November 2018, which means they will be vacant for upwards of a year.
In response, a group of voters filed a lawsuit, Newton v. Walker, in the Dane County Circuit Court in February 2018. The lawsuit contests Walker’s decision on the grounds that he is preventing people from exercising their right to vote, but in Wisconsin and beyond, there is scarce legal precedent for how to handle the situation. The US Constitution requires that governors run special elections to fill vacant seats in the US House of Representatives, but the requirements at the state level vary and lack clarity. There are few, if any, instances where a judge has invoked state law to force a governor to fill a state-level legislative vacancy with a special election.
Cambridge Analytica Denies Mishandling Private Data of Facebook Users
Cambridge Analytica, the British data firm that boosted Donald Trump’s bid for presidency through targeted advertising, reportedly obtained, without permission, private information from 50 million Facebook users, the New York Times reported Sunday. The trove gave the firm enough insight to create psychographic profiles of voters, which became a blueprint for the highly sophisticated techniques used to influence behavior in the 2016 presidential campaign. Of the 30 million profiles probed in the process, only 270,000 people had agreed to have their information collected.
Facebook, which suspended Cambridge Analytica on Friday and launched an internal review of the crisis, faced fierce backlash from lawmakers, who decried the violation of privacy rights and demanded a briefing on how the company handled the matter.
Cambridge Analytica gathered the data in 2014 through Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at the University of Cambridge, who told Facebook he needed user information for academic purposes. Using a method that Facebook permitted at the time, Kogan paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which extracted particulars from their profiles and from those of their connections.
Senators Ask Why Funds Countering Foreign Propaganda Hasn’t Been Spent
A bipartisan group of senators is asking why the State and Defense departments have yet to spend a significant amount of money allocated for efforts to counter disinformation and propaganda by foreign governments. Six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter urging both departments to explain why they are sitting on the funds, especially at a time when foreign interference in elections has become a national security priority.
The letter, written by Sens. Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), also asked the departments to produce a timeline and spending plan. Congress delegated the responsibility for countering disinformation and propaganda to the Department of State’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) in 2016, but the GEC has yet to receive its authorized funds. Moreover, the GEC lacks the necessary staff, thanks to a hiring freeze.
What the Election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District Says About Ranked Choice Voting
Lost among the coverage of the nearly too-close-to-call special election to fill the congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th district was the role of Independent candidate Drew Miller, who captured 1,379 votes — more than twice the margin of victory that Democrat Conor Lamb celebrated. Miller was quick to realize that either way, as an Independent, the votes he received would be seen as responsible for Republican Rick Saccone’s loss. Could ranked choice voting (RCV) change the way that Independent candidates impact elections?
Advocates of RCV argue that letting voters order candidates by preference, rather than casting a sole (and often pessimistic) vote, would make elections more inclusive and democratic. Miller would have been one of three options to rank top to bottom, rather than a choice seen solely as disruptive, indicative that ranked choice voting could build a more legitimate platform for independent candidates. Nationwide, cities and counties are moving towards RCV, notably in Maine where voters demanded a shift towards the practice in a statewide referendum.
Michigan Legislature Passes ID and Online Registration Bills
Major electoral reforms could be coming to Michigan.The state House passed a bill on acceptable forms of voter identification documents, and the Senate approved online voter registration. While these bills must pass both chambers before they become law, it could mean a step towards reshaping voting in Michigan.
The House approved a bill which lists the acceptable alternative IDs to a state drivers license, but the narrowness of the list has many worried about the potential for voter suppression. Passed 62-44, the bill states that only other state IDs, a US passport, a military photo ID, or student ID are acceptable IDs to driver’s licenses.
It’s been a busy week for Michigan’s lower chamber. It also passed a bill that creates procedures for ordering new absentee ballots should a voter need a replacement ballot, and a bill that would ensure that Michigan’s qualified voter list is compared with the federal Social Security program’s death records to ensure a more accurate voter roll. All these bills are on their way to the Senate for consideration.
The Senate also passed a near unanimous bill almost — 35-1 — that would allow voters to register online through the Secretary of State’s official website. This website is used to register driver’s licences in the state, so supporters of the legislations see it as a way to streamline the voter registration process, without sacrificing any electoral security. Voters looking to register online can do so with a valid driver’s license or an official state ID card.
If the state house passes the legislation, Michigan would join become the 39th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow online registration.
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Latest News: March 14 – 16, 2018
New Survey Shows Americans Deeply Disillusioned, Still Support Democracy
While much of the globe has been subsumed by a populist storm in the past couple of years, more than 75 percent of Americans still support democracy, according to a comprehensive survey conducted by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. The survey asks respondents to rate three different political systems — strong-man leadership, democracy, and army rule — by answering five questions.
While an overwhelming majority, almost half of the respondents, chose democracy, a sizable number of participants took non-democratic positions on at least one question, and almost a third exhibited some support for either a “strong leader” or “army rule.” On the other hand, a majority of those dissatisfied with democracy still don’t champion an authoritarian regime.
Support for strong-man leadership is higher among those who are culturally conservative, detached from politics, distrustful of experts, and harbor resentment toward racial minorities.
A variety of factors contribute to declining public faith in government. The broadening influence of special interest groups and hyper-partisanship between political parties have made compromise and swift decision-making nearly impossible. Technology has provided a microphone for fringe ideas and misinformation that corrode public trust in the government. And of course, foreign actors in the Kremlin and beyond have actively — and successfully — exposed the vulnerability of election infrastructure and democratic processes.
US Enacts New Sanctions Against Russia
After a months-long delay and a pair of missed deadlines, the Trump administration, caving to a frustrated Congress, will finally impose some new sanctions on Moscow for meddling in the 2016 US election. The measure will punish five Russian entities and 19 individuals for cyber intrusion. A majority of those on the blacklist were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February, including Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a financial backer to the troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA) with deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (The IRA allegedly created fake social media accounts to disseminate incendiary content that sowed chaos ahead of the election.)
The administration also accused Moscow of attempting to hack the US energy grid, a previously undisclosed development, and carrying out a chemical attack against a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain.
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