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: August 1 – August 5
Judge Rules to Increase Transparency in Campaign Finance
Thanks to a recent ruling in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, any group that spends at least $250 in independent expenditures has to report each contributor who gave $200 or more. Independent expenditures are money spent by an organization or individual, usually in support of a candidate, without coordination from said campaign. Often, however, coordination thrives through backchannels and a flexible interpretation of independence.
The recent ruling in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. FEC and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies established standards for disclosure stricter than any enforced in the last three decades. The decision could bring much more transparency to campaign finance and reveal to the public how election influence operates.
Democratic Candidate for Kansas Governor Under Fire for Backing Voter ID Law
Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic frontrunner for Kansas governor, is under attack from her primary opponents for supporting a controversial voter ID law in 2011 — one championed by leading GOP candidate Kris Kobach, who is the architect of various voter suppression schemes. The bill, which had strong bipartisan backing, imposed a proof-of-citizenship requirement on voters, effective in 2013.
Hoisting tough voter ID policies as his signature issue, Kobach, the state’s secretary of state, claimed such measures are necessary to prevent election fraud, but neither he nor other proponents of the law could provide proof of a problem beyond a few scattered examples of registration by non-citizens. In fact, a district judge ruled in June that such stringent policies disproportionately hamstring qualified voters who may forget to bring acceptable documentation. In the three years since the law came into effect, more than 35,000 Kansas residents were barred from registration — an alarming figure for a state with just 1.8 million registered voters.
In defense of her initial support for the bill, Kelly said she has always been an advocate for voting rights but wanted to first ensure that the state’s balloting process is secure. She didn’t know that Kobach would so aggressively enforce the law.
GOP Rejects $250 Million Election Security Measure
Senate Republicans blocked a $250 million bill aimed at bolstering election system security as the November midterms near. The initiative would have directed the Federal Election Assistance Commission to provide states grants to upgrade voting equipment and combat cybersecurity threats. Only one Republican supported the amendment, which failed on a 50-49 party-line vote — 10 short of the 60-vote threshold. Congress blocked a $380 million election security grant last month, which was proposed after US intelligence found evidence of Russian election tampering.
Republicans said it’s not sensible to allocate more funds to election security before properly assessing how states used the 2018 grant money. Yet with the midterms just three months away, and as reports of foreign interference continue to pile up, the US is in a race against time to protect its voting integrity.
Election Infrastructure Companies Lack Oversight, Sowing Vulnerability
The US’s decentralized election administration has plenty of flaws — and cybersecurity is principal among them. A handful of private election equipment companies provide election equipment nationwide, but national standards for security protocol are lacking. The businesses that supply and maintain voting machines and software nationwide have taken advantage of weak oversight: Few have robust or clear security processes in place. Without common security standards, the largely unregulated industry of election equipment has become an easy target for interference. Many companies’ security measures fall short of the standards held by other tech companies, but few avenues exist to enforce stricter requirements. Each state government is responsible for its own election security, which foments a lack of accountability.
Latest News: July 28 – August 1
Facebook Discovers More Fake Accounts, Deletes Them
Despite a significant investment to prevent such activity, Facebook intercepted a “disinformation operation” on its platform this week. The company found 32 pages and profiles that contributed to efforts to sway opinion in advance of the upcoming midterm elections using ads, events, and standard posts. Much of the material hinged on topics like race, mindfulness, and feminism. At least one of the pages was connected to the Internet Research Agency — the organization responsible for the 2016 interference.
Facebook removed all of the pages and notified the users who had engaged with the materials. The discovery of the fake accounts follows several months of tightened security measures. But as Facebook has cracked down on such practices, “disinformation operators” have grown more adept and developed new tactics. Many bought ads through third parties and turned toward event promotion — a corner of the social media platform that is less closely monitored and more integrated into a user’s life. Facebook discovered the fake accounts through a combination of investigations, artificial intelligence, and collaboration with law enforcement.
Midterm Battlegrounds Broadening With 99 Days to Go
With 99 days to go until the midterm election, the electoral landscape is starting to become clearer — and it’s not at all like previously imagined. Initially, many election analysts were predicting the battlegrounds to only be the well-educated, suburban districts that supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. However, the map of competitive races actually seems to be much broader and it even contains some of the working-class and rural districts that constituted President Donald Trump’s base.
This is good news for Democrats, as they can start to see a clear path to regaining control of Congress. With many retiring Republicans contributing to the 42 open seats on the map, Democrats stand to benefit from a lack of incumbent opponents. So far, the results have been positive too: The Democrats are ahead in five districts that Trump carried by at least 10 points. Experts are unsure of the reason for this swing but one dominant theory is that a voter’s presidential choice plays a smaller role in determining their midterm vote than previously thought. This is bearing out, looking at the Democrats’ struggle in areas where Clinton was successful: They are tied or losing in many of the well-educated districts she carried in 2016.
Although Republicans have structural advantages in many states — such as gerrymandered maps and voter ID laws that suppress eligible votes — the courts may lessen the impact of these: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, struck down the state’s Republican-created electoral map as it was too gerrymandered; and, last week an Iowa judge blocked portions of a voter ID law. The GOP’s best bet appears to be a campaign that hammers at issues such as immigration and trade to divide the population and drive voters back to their traditional parties.
99 days is a long time in politics, but this far out, the broadened battlegrounds suit the Democrats and could lead to another divisive campaign.
UK Organizations Petitioning Government to Suspend Voter ID Program
More than 20 UK charities and organizations are petitioning the UK government to put a stop to the new voter ID laws tested in local elections in May. In 2018, five council areas required voters to present ID to vote, leading to 350 voters being turned away. In 2017, only 28 cases of voter impersonation occurred. The petitioners are pointing to these numbers as evidence of voter ID laws doing more damage than good.
Another issue is that the trials were carried out in areas with very similar demographics, meaning experts are unable to fully judge the impact this will have on minorities. As with all trials of this nature, it’s also difficult to calculate how many people were dissuaded from voting by this requirement.
The UK government was very happy with the results — and are hoping to push on and do a larger trial: “We plan to continue to pilot voter ID at next year’s local elections so we can explore further what works best for voters.” The statement went on to declare the tests a “success,” and called the requirement a “reasonable and proportionate measure.”
Wisconsin’s Election System Highly Vulnerable to Interference, Experts Warn
Local news has outlined all the ways that Wisconsin is a battleground for election integrity — and how divisive the issue has become. In the 2016 election, social media played a key role in manipulating voters, and the risk persists. Voting machines in the city of Marinette miscounted votes by a huge margin. Green Party candidate Jill Stein asked for a recount. The state district map was the subject of a Supreme Court case.
Now, state elections officials are figuring out what to do next. Wisconsin received $7 million in federal funding to address election infrastructure issues, part of which will fund new positions dedicated to cybersecurity at the state’s Elections Commission. In addition, it plans to implement election security trainings and amend its registration system. But their needs are bigger and more numerous than better job training.
The state’s election equipment itself is at risk, experts have concluded. Voting equipment is notoriously easy to hack, and few jurisdictions have adequate audit measures. Some see the decentralized nature of election administration as a safeguard against wholesale attempts to manipulate the vote, but others are less sure. Election integrity advocates are pushing for more comprehensive risk-limiting audits like the ones carried out in Colorado, but elections officials have yet to agree on how best to manage the numerous threats.
Latest News: July 25–July 28
The Homegrown Element of America’s Russia Problem
The constant conversation about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election obscures a more substantial homegrown problem, argues a recent article in Slate. While easier, and more dramatic, to focus on the nefarious intentions of an opaque foreign entity, the more significant troubling behavior lies at home. Members of the Republican Party, elected officials, and President Donald Trump’s voter base are all a little bit too comfortable with a blossoming pro-Russia position, the author posits.
From congressional visits to Russia on the Fourth of July to an unexpected alliance between the American evangelical right and Russia’s Christian authoritarianism, the connections are growing. Meanwhile, as little is being done to protect future American elections from foreign interference, domestic efforts to suppress the vote intensify daily. Hanging on to the power they currently hold is the first priority for Republicans and Trump’s constituents — not maintaining electoral legitimacy, the piece suggests.
Republican Representative Comes Down Hard on Electronic Voting Equipment
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his concerns over the security of electronic voting equipment. In an interview he said such equipment was “really dangerous” and “should not be used.” He says the counties he represents do not use electronic systems and is concerned about the lack of paper trail in digital voting. Nunes pointed to the ability to conduct a manual recount, which some electronic equipment renders impossible, as a necessity. Nevertheless, he remains a staunch supporter of Trump.
Iowa Judge Temporarily Blocks Three Provisions of Voter ID Law Ahead of November Midterms
Iowa scored a temporary election integrity victory, with Polk County District Judge Karen Romano blocking three provisions of the state’s new voter ID law: the shortening of the early voting period from 40 days to 29 days, the requirement of an identification number to cast an absentee ballot, and the ability of election officials to reject a ballot based on the signature not matching the one on record. The temporary blocks — which are part of a larger lawsuit filed by League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC) and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair — cover the November midterms, with the rest of the lawsuit being decided after that.
Judge Romano’s block also requires Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to stop using language in election ads which lead voters to believe ID is mandatory in the midterms. The voter ID law does not come into effect until January 2019. Voters can vote in the midterms without ID by signing an “Oath of Identification.” However, recent advertisements from Pate’s office have been very misleading on this, leading to concerns that many voters will stay home.
Pate condemned Judge Romano’s decision, saying this law protected Iowa from voter fraud and was “overwhelmingly” supported by Iowans. He said the decision will be appealed immediately as he believes it makes “it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.”
LULAC said it is happy with the decision but that this is just the first step in the larger fight for the integrity of Iowa’s elections: “This is just a first step, but we welcome it because it means every Iowan will continue to have his or her right to vote.”
New Emails Reveal GOP Plan to Gerrymander Michigan
Internal emails made public Wednesday reveal a concerted effort by Michigan Republicans to aggressively gerrymander the state’s electoral maps. The trove was submitted as evidence by the League of Women Voters of Michigan in a federal lawsuit that alleges GOP legislators unconstitutionally manipulated districts when they swept to power in 2010.
In one email, a staffer crudely bragged about wielding the widely deployed tactic of “clustering” or, in his words, “cramming Dem garbage” into just four districts to dilute their voting power elsewhere. In another email, an executive from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce predicted that the gerrymandered maps will help the GOP maintain power for years. The messages contain jarringly blatant examples of foul play: One aide said a Macomb County district is shaped like “it’s giving the finger” to Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), while another implied that the drawing of one district may have been dictated primarily by a now-retired congressman.
At the same time, the Michigan Supreme Court is deliberating a case that would allow an anti-gerrymander initiative to appear on the November ballot. The measure, if approved, could transfer map-drawing authority from the GOP-controlled legislature to an independent commission. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is the largest financial backer of efforts to prevent that from happening.
Latest News: July 15th–July 19th
Latest News: July 10th–July 15th
Latest News: July 5th-July 10th
Latest News: June 30th-July 5th
Latest News: June 27th-30th
Latest News: June 23rd-June 27th
Silicon Valley and US Intelligence to Cooperate on Election Security
Big tech and law enforcement are beginning to converse about how to handle digital interference in the upcoming elections, despite failures from both to identify or address these issues in the 2016 election. Executives from companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter met last month with officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. But just what they’re planning or talking about — besides “looking for more activity” and “running investigations” — is opaque.
The Washington Post suggests that if private tech companies and public law enforcement had cooperated during the 2016 election, they could have reduced the scope and scale of Russian interference. Facebook has complained about a lack of engagement and openness from intelligence officials. Just what the implications of such cooperation would mean beyond cyber-security for elections remains to be seen.
States Struggle With Time Crunch to Replace Voting Equipment
Congress allocated $380 million in funding to upgrade voting equipment state-by-state, and it has proven insufficient in more ways than one. The latest issue? Time. It takes more time than state governments have to outline their budget proposals, get them approved, then contract with equipment vendors, and eventually procure equipment.
As a result, it’s unlikely that the money will prove useful before the 2018 midterms. Some say that it would be more efficient to use the funds to hire security auditors, rather than investing outright in new equipment. Such auditors would inspect the machines on a county level, identify, and hopefully address vulnerabilities. The trend appears to be toward the former — upgrading outdated machines that may not come into use until 2020.
Mainstream Media Catches Up With Alabama’s Attacks on Voting Rights
Half a decade after the Supreme Court struck down a key requirement of the Voting Rights Act, Alabama has implemented a string of highly effective laws to curtail representation from marginalized groups — and the New York Times seems to be finally catching on.
Before 2013, certain states, including Alabama, needed to obtain federal approval to alter election laws, which worked as a safeguard against arbitrary restrictions that disproportionately harmed minority voters. But the ruling of Shelby County v. Holder created an opportunity for states like Alabama to pass laws without federal oversight — regulations ostensibly aimed at preventing voter fraud that actually just discouraged voter participation in majority-minority districts.
That decision has had a massive ripple effect: Alabama instated a photo ID law within 24 hours of the Supreme Court decision; studies have shown that black and Hispanic voters are more likely than whites to lack acceptable documentation. A year after the ruling, the state shut down 31 driver’s license offices — the most-frequented place to obtain photo ID. (Eight of 10 counties with the highest concentration of black voters were subject to office closures). Alabama also closed at least 66 polling places between 2013 and 2016, many in counties dominated by marginalized voters. Much of this news has been covered by WhoWhatWhy and others — and it’s reassuring to see major news outlets giving these issues their due.
The Decades-Long Process for a Florida Felon to Become a Voter Again
The process for a felon in Florida to become a full citizen again is long, obstacle-filled, and ends with the governor asking if you go to church or take your parents out to eat often. Once convicted, a felon in the state loses their right to vote, sit on juries, or purchase firearms for the rest of their lives. In order to get their rights renewed, they must file an application with the state government and then wait: The current wait time is approximately a decade, due to the wait list that consists of 10,000 people. Current Governor Rick Scott (R) changed the laws to state that felons must wait between five and seven years after they complete their sentence to even apply. There are currently 1.5 million people in the Sunshine State who have had their rights stripped due to a felony charge, accounting for 10% of eligible voters. This is the highest rate in the country.
Once the application has been selected, the Florida Commission on Offender Review begins its formal investigation. The commission is looking for any evidence the felon has turned their life around, and the investigation typically takes six months to a year before a hearing date occurs.
The hearing itself takes place in a cabinet meeting room in the lower level of the Florida Capitol before the Executive Clemency Board. This board consists of Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam. They meet four times a year, seeing around 100 people each time, although some people can have their rights restored without a hearing.
The felon presents a case of why they should be granted their rights back, and witnesses are able to testify for them in person or through a letter. The felon is then interrogated by the board, with no questions off limits — after all, there are no guidelines to what evidence they can or cannot make their ruling based on. Questions of drug use, alcohol consumption, family relations, employment records, church attendance, and anything else they deem to make a morally sufficient voter can be enquired about.
Latest News: June 20th-23rd
Michigan Clears Anti-Gerrymandering Measure for Midterm Ballot
Delivering an important victory for election integrity activists, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved a ballot proposal on Wednesday that calls for sweeping changes to the current redistricting process.
The proposal, created by the non-partisan group Voters Not Politicians, will transfer map-drawing duties from legislators to an independent, 13-person commission comprising “four Democrats, four Republicans, and five Independent members.” Under the current redistricting system, Michigan Republicans have managed to dominate the state legislature while tying for— or losing — the popular vote. (They hold a whopping 63–47 majority in the House.)
The proposal threatens to unravel this stranglehold they’ve maintained through gerrymandering, and GOP groups have asked the courts to block it — so far to no avail. After the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously cleared the measure for the midterm ballot, their last remaining hope became an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. Should the higher court back the lower court’s decision, voters will get the rare chance to rid their state of gerrymandering, one of the biggest threats to democracy.
Arizona Laws Making It Even Harder for Native Americans to Vote
It may be 2018, but — for Native Americans in Arizona — voting is as tough as it has ever been. Since the US Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that certain states no longer needed to have their voting laws pre-cleared, Arizona has opened the floodgates on voter suppression laws — most of which have directly hurt the Native American population.
Mail-in ballots — which account for 80 percent of Arizona’s voting in 2016 — are a huge obstacle for Native Americans, as they often live in extremely rural places without an address, or even a PO box. The rise of mail-in ballots has led to a decrease in polling stations, making voting more of a tough-to-arrange event than a proud civic duty.
A 2016 law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature against “ballot harvesting” — a term coined to describe mailing in a ballot that isn’t your own — is another blow to a community where only one of every four people has a vehicle. The law — opposed by Democrats and currently working its way through the legal system — would make a felon out of those who offer such assistance to the sick or elderly Native Americans who still want to vote.
This is on top of the fact that the rollback of the Voting Rights Acts has resulted in a large decrease in the number of US polling stations and the hours they’re open, refusal to place stations on reservations, and eliminating language services.