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: February 28 – March 2, 2018
Ohio Lawmakers at Odds Over Voting Equipment Funding
Funding for new voting equipment is poised to become an issue in the race for who will become Ohio’s next Secretary of State.
At issue is the funding process that is being proposed by Sen. Frank LaRose, the likely Republican candidate for the position, as well as what kind of voting systems should be used to safeguard elections in the Buckeye State.
LaRose (R) has proposed a bill that would allocate $114.5 million in funding to Ohio’s counties for the purchase of new voting equipment.
His likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Kathleen Clyde, criticized LaRose for not following the regular process for seeking funds for voting machines. In addition, she suggested that Ohio should focus on using verifiable paper ballots rather than new machines.
The Case for Paper Ballots and Widespread Audits
In an article that outlines the risks of electronic voting, Jennifer Cohn, attorney and election integrity advocate, makes proposals for ensuring election integrity and changing how Americans vote. Cohn advocates for two shifts: paper ballots and election audits.
First off, digital voting machines are anything but secure, she argues. Even when not connected to the Internet, they can be subject to hacking — every machine runs software, and software is vulnerable. Moreover, insiders on a political mission with direct access to the machines can interfere either directly with the voting machines or the memory cards that run software on optical scanners. And the vote counting system is massively centralized — two voting machine vendors provide more than 80 percent of voting equipment in the United States.
Ohio Republicans Vote to Amend Bipartisan Redistricting Commission
Ohio’s GOP lawmakers introduced a proposal to alter the independent redistricting commission that redraws congressional maps every decade, using updated census data. The measure would increase the number of commissioners from six to nine, and require just a majority vote — instead of the current two-thirds margin — to approve a redistricting map. Since the GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature, Ohio Republicans will no longer need Democratic support to render new boundaries.
Furthermore, the proposed system will significantly weaken the long-standing, bipartisan process used to elect commissioners. Under the present system, the leaders and state chairs of both parties each select one commissioner, who cannot be a government official or a lobbyist. The new arrangement preserves the procedure, but allows the House speaker and Senate president (both Republicans) and the legislative council (GOP-led) to select the three added members.
The proposal, should it pass the GOP-led state Senate and House, will be up for a vote on the November ballot.
Early Voting Bill Dies in Mississippi Senate
A bill aimed at facilitating online registration and early voting failed to pass the Mississippi Senate Elections Committee. The measure, authored by Democratic Sen. David Blount, would have substantially modernized the state’s antiquated and cumbersome balloting system, which requires voters to register at their respective county clerk’s office or to obtain a voter registration form through the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. And early voting is granted only to Mississippians who meet one of 15 seemingly arbitrary criteria, which include prior military service, current student, teacher or administrator status, and proven inability to return home on Election Day.
Alaskan Hispanic Cultural Center Offering Bilingual Election Information
A Hispanic Cultural Center in Anchorage, Alaska, is trying to connect the users of it’s food distribution service with more than just a good meal, as they have started distributing a vote by mail brochure translated into Spanish. This community saw low voter turnout in 2016 so the leaders of the Cultural Center hope a bilingual approach to the midterms will change this. There is no promotion for this initiative but the translated brochures will be distributed at food distributions throughout February and March. Reaching between 125 and 185 people a day, this offers a way to reach out to politically disengaged people in the county.
In a state where election material must also be written in the various Native American languages of the region, this is another step toward opening up democracy to more minorities. The use of bilingual ballots has risen slightly across the country over the past five years.
US Supreme Court Hears Case About Polling Stations and Political Apparel
The US Supreme Court spent an hour hearing arguments about the wearing of political apparel to polling stations. Minnesota, like nine other states, has a law preventing people inside polling sites from wearing badges, buttons, hats, T-shirts, or other items with overly political messages. The law is from 1912.
A man claims he was twice turned away from a polling station in 2010 for wearing a Tea Party shirt along with a button that said “Please ID Me.” His case has been heavily supported by many conservative groups.
The Supreme Court, which is expected to return a decision in June, peppered both sides with difficult questions, with the issue seeming to come down to the subjective question of what is “political” and what isn’t. Some justices expressed that the law seems too broad and puts too much interpretation in the hands of election workers, but it wasn’t obvious which way they were leaning.
South Dakota Votes Down Bill That Would Limit Out-of-State Contributions
Following recent action from South Dakota State Senators, out-of-state donors still can influence ballot measure campaigns in the state. Legislators voted down an attempt to restrict outside donations. The bill, HB 1216, introduced by Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) and Sen. Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre), would have restricted total donations to $100,000 per election cycle provided that the donor didn’t reside in South Dakota or the political committee/organization wasn’t organized in-state. HB 1216 passed the House on February 14 with the minimum number of votes, but the State Senate Affairs Committee rejected the bill in a 5-4 vote.
Out-of-state contributions have occupied the attention of many as the practice has grown increasingly common in the past decade. Critics call out such contributions as exertions of undue influence defined by external (i.e. outside, non-local) interests. Others suggest they lead to more extreme partisan federalism — rather than identifying primarily with state politics, people grow more loyal to the national political party.
Georgia Votes to Use Optical Scan Paper Ballot System
At the close of its most recent 40-day session, the Georgia legislature voted on dozens of bills, among them a proposal to replace electronic voting machines with a paper ballot system. Though votes would be cast on paper, Georgia would use optical scanning systems to count the votes. The Senate voted 50-1 in favor of the proposal, but the bill has yet to be considered by the Georgia house. Some of Georgia’s senators have pushed for years to move away from electronic voting machines, arguing that they are too susceptible to hacking. The bill requires the Secretary of State to select an “optical scanning voting system” by June 2019. Funding will determine whether new machines are in place for the elections in 2020 or 2024.
Wisconsin Loses Elections Commission Leader in Partisan Battle
Michael Haas, the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, has stepped down as a conflict between the bipartisan Commission and Senate Republicans has come to a head. The commission oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying statewide. Haas came to his position after working on the Government Accountability Board (GAB), the likely source of Republican resentment. The GAB played a role in a secret investigation, unpopular among Wisconsin Republicans, into Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) 2012 recall campaign.
The Senate rejected Haas’s confirmation from the outset, a move the Elections Commission countered with a 4-2 vote that would have kept him at the helm until April 30. Haas considered challenging the Senate vote but opted to step down at the end of February, not wanting to spend “additional time, effort and resources in the negative environment of litigation.”
Democratic colleagues find the Republican behavior to “run him out” appalling, but they are also worried about what it means for the 2018 elections. Haas was the only staffer at the Elections Commission with adequate security clearance to address threats to election security with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Upon his departure, Haas was fighting for approval for three additional positions at the Elections Commission, one of which focuses solely on election security. Wisconsin is one of the states where the DHS says Russian-backed interference occurred in 2016 and is likely to recur in the upcoming midterms.
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Latest News: February 24-27, 2018
Democrats Get Up Close and Personal With ‘Dark Money’
Anonymous political contributions are part and parcel of the Democratic strategy — despite the fervent critiques of so-called “dark money” by many party members. The recent special Senate election in Alabama is a shining example. Just weeks before Election Day, a super PAC called Highway 31 appeared more-or-less out of nowhere. The organization went on to contribute $5.1 million to the campaign of Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate. But, taking advantage of a legal loophole, the super PAC kept the identities of its donors secret until after the election.
When the identities were made public, they turned out to mostly be organizations that obscured the people behind the cash. Several of the organizations that made donations operate at the national level, including the Senate Majority PAC, PAC Priorities USA, and the nonprofit League of Conservation voters.
Billionaires like Donald Sussman and George Soros donate the majority of funds to the Senate Majority PAC (which in turn funded Highway 31). The organization boasts transparency and independence on its website, but significant funds come from corporations and labor unions. Worse still, the Senate Majority PAC takes donations from Majority Forward, a nonprofit that doesn’t report its donors at all, while spending big on political advertisements. Majority Forward and the Senate Majority PAC share office space and a president.
The willingness of the Democratic Party to engage in non-transparent funding clashes with its very mission to “end secret, unaccountable money in politics,” as the party’s website states. Senator Doug Jones’s website itself states, “We are all tired of politicians who have been bought and paid for by special interests.” Republicans, of course, engage in many of the same practices — they don’t, though, claim to have a problem with it.
Parkland Students’ Activism Opening Conversations on Lower Voting Age
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are opening up discussions on more than just gun control. By speaking at rallies and town halls, the students have arguably already taken part in civic duties far more important than casting a vote. This has led some to argue citizens under 18 should be welcomed at the polls.
New York Plans to Add 50,000 High School Seniors to Voter Roll
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced plans to add a voter registration program in high schools that would add 50,000 seniors to the rolls. This plan hinges on introducing much-needed civic education in schools, something that is sorely missing. However, activists say it also needs to focus on erasing barriers, such as easing voter-ID laws for city students who don’t have driver’s licenses and registration deadlines that fall in the heart of exam season.
Texas Attorney General Opposes Teachers Helping Students to Vote
Outside of New York there is opposition to youth voting, with Texas’s Attorney General Ken Paxton having written a non-binding opinion that teachers and schools should not drive students to polls — because, he says, it has no “educational purpose.” In a state where the 4.2 million voters in the 2016 presidential primaries was the highest ever but still represented only 30% of the registered voters, the prospect of civically engaged youth has Republicans panicking.
Survey Studies Impact of Increased Millennial Votes
While the impact of a large millennial turnout is unclear, surveys show millenials to be growing more liberal as their baby boomer parents grow more conservative. Millennials show more fear for the country’s future, are more open to the creation of a third party, and have less faith in the necessity of democracy than previous generations currently do. Should a change in age requirement or civic education lead to dramatic rises in millennial turnout rates, then we can expect to see a very different country in the future.
Russian Trolling Prompts Improbable Alliance
At a time when simply mentioning the words “Russia” and “elections” in the same sentence inevitably draws cries of partisan witch-hunts, two former political operatives — Jamie Fly and Laura Rosenberger, veterans of the Bush and Obama administrations respectively — have subdued their ideological differences to form the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan think tank that tracks and reports the activity of 600 Russian social media trolls.
Drawing on the extreme partisan divide within the US, trolls have taken advantage of national crises, like the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, to stir up heated, polarizing sentiments around issues like gun control.
While some, like The Intercept’s always-outspoken Glenn Greenwald and the conservative website The Federalist, have criticized the think tank’s effort for propagating what they consider to be a mythical “vast conspiracy between President Trump and Russia,” Fly and Rosenberger insist they’re not taking sides.
“What the president is missing and what those on the right like those at The Federalist are missing is we’re not drawing any conclusions about collusion,” Fly told Politico. “Those on the right who are just trying to cloud this issue and tie it to a broader debate about whether Donald Trump is our legitimate president — I think they’re just trying to distract from this very real national security challenge.”
Louisiana State Appeals Court Hears Argument on Felons Voting
A Louisiana state appeals court heard arguments on whether over 70,000 people on probation in the state should be allowed to vote. The whole case comes down to the phrase “under an order of imprisonment.”The state argues that the phrase includes probation, as violating parole results in being sent back to prison.It was used in the 1974 State Constitution, and its definition was expanded in a 1976 law to include people on probation and parole.
The plaintiffs in the case — a handful of felons and a group called Voice of the Ex-Offender — state that “order of imprisonment” means exactly that — in prison. The challenge is supported by The American Probation and Parole Association and Seventeen professors from the law schools at LSU, Southern and Tulane universities, and Loyola University New Orleans.
The three-judge panel took the arguments under advisement but no date is set for their decision.
Experts Worry GOP Will Suppress Teen Vote
The Parkland students sure are stirring up a lot of teen voters right now, and that terrifies the Republican party. Some experts worry there is only one option to stave off a millennial wave against the GOP in the 2018 midterms: Stop the teenagers from voting.
New Hampshire continued their war on student voters by passing what amounts to a student poll tax in January. The new law requires students to spend hundreds of dollars — getting a New Hampshire driver’s licence and registering their cars in the state — just to cast a ballot.
Last week, Texas’s Attorney General — Republican Ken Paxton — wrote a non-legally binding opinion opposing the efforts of teachers transporting students to polling stations, saying it has no “educational purpose.” He has also sent cease-and-desist letters to multiple school boards.
US Cyber Chief Says He Has Not Received Order to Confront Russian Meddling
US Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers told lawmakers Tuesday that President Donald Trump has not ordered him to address and deter Russian cyberattacks targeting US elections. “Nobody’s … directly asked me,” said Rogers. Rogers said he has not been granted authority to disrupt the influence operation at the source; the current defense strategy deployed by the cyber force “has not changed the calculus or the behavior on behalf of the Russians,” who Rogers expects will infiltrate the midterm elections.
The Trump administration’s response to Russian meddling has been widely-criticized as toothless. It has yet to impose a single sanction against the Kremlin on this issue — almost a month after Congress passed legislation mandating such retribution.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Sued for Not Holding Special Elections
A Democratic group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder sued Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Monday for refusing to call special elections to fill two legislative seats, which were vacated in December by GOP lawmakers who resigned to join Walker’s administration. In a shocker that thrilled Democrats as much as it alarmed Republicans, Patty Schachtner (D–Somerset) — in a special election last month — flipped a Senate seat that had been under GOP control for 17 years. Walker’s decision to hold off the ballots may be an attempt to prevent Democrats from collecting more state victories.
The lawsuit, filed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, emphasizes a state law that stipulates the prompt creation of a special election to fill vacancies “before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held.” Holder called Walker’s refusal to hold elections “an affront to representative democracy” that deprives citizens representation for more than a year.
Walker’s press secretary Amy Hasenberg said that the governor’s decision is “consistent with the law,” since the state Legislature will already be on hiatus before the special elections could be held.
Experts Warn of Imminent, Malicious AI Use
A group of 26 AI experts co-authored a cautionary 100-page report showing how the technology is ripe for exploitation by rogue states and terrorists. The parallel rise of drones and internet “bots” — the latter a popular tool for circulating misinformation and propaganda to influence elections — will pose a growing risk to both national security and democracy in the next decade. The report urges governments and corporations to analyze the three security domains most susceptible to misuse: the digital, physical, and political. To deter cyberwars, lawmakers need to collaborate with technical researchers to compile and implement best practices from “disciplines with a longer history of handling dual use risks, such as computer security.” Another recommendation is expanding the range of stakeholders with a vested interest in risk mitigation.
Senate Intel Committee Likely to Miss Deadline for Election Security Recommendations
Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, acknowledged a likely possibility of missing their own deadline for issuing election security recommendations to states facing potential Russian interference in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. The committee’s recommendations will be the first ones issued after a yearlong bipartisan investigation of the Russian cyberattacks against election systems. Burr and Warner had hoped to issue the recommendations before Texas holds its March 6 primary. The delay stems from the time needed to declassify the document for public release. Burr, the chairman of the panel, said he has a contingency plan if the deadline is not met. Burr suggested the panel could write a comprehensive overview of the classified document or call state election officials and share the recommendation by phone.
Hicks Replaces Masterson as Chair of Election Assistance Commission
On February 23, Thomas Hicks was promoted to chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Hicks replaces Matthew Masterson, who was passed up for a second four-year term by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Hicks previously served as chairman of the EAC from February 2016 to February 2017. As Speaker, Ryan gets to pick somebody for the chairman position. President Donald Trump makes the formal nomination, which is then subject to Senate confirmation.
It’s unclear why Ryan demoted Masterson, who will remain one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Masterson had expressed concern about impending Russian cyberattacks in the 2018 midterm and 2020 elections. “The threat is real and the response needs to be robust and coordinated,” said Masterson. State officials were surprised that Masterson was not re-nominated as chairman, given that he focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.
Governors’ Reactions to Election Cyber Threats are Partisan
At the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, some of the nation’s governors expressed concern about the current capability of their states to defend against cyberattacks from adversaries. While governors of both parties expressed concern, there was a clear difference as far as their sense of urgency.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said, “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s scary.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) likened Russia’s cyberattacks to a Pearl Harbor attack on elections.
In marked contrast, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said, “I do think hackers are a threat for the nation,” but she didn’t see a major threat in her state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said of Russian hackers, “We’re paying attention to it.” And, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) “insisted the media are overstating the problem.”
Vote Verification Experts Call for Return of Paper Ballots
Amid fears of hacking and difficulties verifying votes, some experts are calling for a return to paper ballots. Although 70 percent of Americans live in voting districts that leave a paper trail — creating a record so that voting machines can be checked — there are five states that solely use unverifiable voting machines. Known as Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, these machines were brought in by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 in order to prevent another hanging chad situation like in the 2000 presidential election. Although it solved this problem, it created ambiguity — the lack of paper ballots means there is no way to validate that the voters’ ballots were cast and counted as intended.
Activists hope that by borrowing methods from the criminal justice system on how to preserve evidence they can ensure that all votes are verifiable.
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Latest News: February 21-23, 2018
Memphis City Council Appears to Plot Against Ranked-Choice Voting
In 2008, Memphis voters elected to transition to Ranked Choice Voting, a process much delayed by concerns over whether or not the election machines could accommodate the procedure. Now, the city council is attempting a follow-up referendum this November. Sitting members of the council have made “spurious and easily disproven claims,” like comparing the process to the Jim Crow poll tax. In ranked choice voting, a process that does away with the low-turnout runoff elections, each voter selects candidates in order of preference, usually with three places.
At the same time, the council is scheduling a November referendum abolishing runoffs altogether. And, staying busy, the council is paying a lobbying firm to push a state law through the current legislative session that would ban ranked-choice voting statewide, rendering the referendum irrelevant.
North Carolina Struggles Without State Board of Elections
North Carolina has lacked a State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement for eight months now, leaving the state without leadership on issues like buying voting equipment and maintaining election integrity. The legal battle dates back to a 2016 dispute between Governor Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican-controlled General Assembly about representation on the state’s board of elections.
County election directors, without a state budget, are borrowing voting equipment from neighboring districts or renting machines from private vendors.
The ongoing legal battle in the North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals shows few signs of resolution. Even if a consensus were to be reached, it takes time to appoint a new state board and replenish membership of local election boards.
To make matters worse, the deadline to purchase new election machines for 2018 has already passed — while a need for more and updated equipment persists. Election workers in some counties have described the need to “beg, borrow, or steal” machines for the May 2018 primary. Elsewhere, voting machines have just been decertified and can no longer be put to legal use. Paper ballots may make something of a comeback — an expensive and time-consuming process.
Moreover, 23 of the 100 elections boards in North Carolina have just two members — the bare minimum to remain operational. A death, resignation, or change of address could result in their dissolution. The non-existent state board is the only body allowed to appoint new local election officials. Counties could be left without election boards as the 2018 midterm election season advances.
Will the US Mount Unified Defense of Elections?
Agreement may be rare across Washington, but there is general consensus that the Russians will interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. The question remains how Washington will respond to and manage the threat. Peter Grier argues in the Christian Science Monitor that it will take a comprehensive effort across all levels of government and political persuasions to combat electronic intrusions from the complex and well-financed Russian efforts.
Critics say the biggest hurdle remains at the top — President Donald Trump has yet to denounce Russian cyberattacks outright. While the cabinet agrees that the Russian operations amount to a nationwide threat, the president has tended to “muddy” the message, most recently in the “McMaster Incident.” Trump lashed out at national security advisor H.R. McMaster’s statement that the Russian meddling was “incontrovertible.” Moreover, some have expressed concern that the US is engaged in covert retaliation in Russia rather than exhibiting strong leadership on the issue at home.
Florida Senate Votes to Share Voter Information
The Florida legislature recently voted to share voter information with other states. Rep. Ross Spano (R) sponsored the bill, which passed the Florida Senate unanimously. The Department of State can now share voter information, including driver’s license details, provided the federal government doesn’t control the process. The idea that many voters have multiple registrations has been a fixture in President Donald Trump’s claims of rampant voter fraud nationwide.
State Agency to Help Disabled Texans to Register to Vote Following Lawsuit Threat
Responding to the threat of a lawsuit, the Texas Workforce Commission has announced it will be offering voter registration help to Texans with disabilities who receive job training help from the agency. Registration aid was cut in 2016 when the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services — which offered job training duties — was phased out. State figures estimate this affected at least 74,000 Texans.
Lawyers representing the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities released a letter last week claiming the removal of this registration aid violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. This act requires state agencies that help people with disabilities to also offer help registering to vote or changing voter information.
After Controversial Interview, Manfra Talks to Press Again
Jeanette Manfra, Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official, said “we have every reason to expect that … foreign influence activity will continue, but we don’t see any specific credible threat or targeting of election infrastructure.”
After the stir created by the February 8 interview with reporters from NBC News, Manfra sat down — this time with a CNET reporter — to answer more questions about all the ways hackers can sow chaos in the upcoming primaries and midterm elections.
Read an edited transcript of the conversation here.
Voting Machine Manufacturers in the Spotlight; It’s About Time
Three private voting technology vendors — Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic — could face new scrutiny as lawmakers, election administrators, and computer security experts try to combat nation-state interference in America’s elections. Ed Smith, the vice president of products at election technology firm Clear Ballot, said he “sensed a desire on the part of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to treat election vendors more like other critical infrastructure companies, all of which are more heavily regulated.” Election systems were deemed vital “critical infrastructure” by DHS in January 2017.
A section of the Election Security Act, a bill House Democrats introduced recently, would mandate election technology vendors to adopt specific cyber security standards to secure their products. The legislation was introduced at the same time as the release of a report by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security. The Democratic Task Force, a congressional panel of the party’s foremost experts on cyber threats, pointed out that “there is no federal law that governs what steps election vendors must take to safeguard their systems from attack.” Moreover, voting machines are “made and maintained by a monopoly of private firms and contractors with little regulation or marketplace pressure to do better.”
In March 2017, the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania and the OSET Institute released The Business of Voting, a comprehensive analysis of the market structure and innovation outlook in the election technology industry. The study revealed that “the election technology industry is dominated by three firms whose products cover approximately 92% of the total eligible voter population. These firms are neither publicly nor independently held which limits the amount of publicly available information available about their operations.”
Alaska Suspends Electronic Absentee Program
The Alaska Division of Elections announced it will suspend an absentee voting program. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported earlier this month, “Alaska allows voters stationed or living overseas to return voted ballots electronically, a practice that election security experts say is notoriously insecure. Unlike most states, Alaska allows all absentee voters — not just Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters — to return voted ballots via fax. Alaska’s broad allowance of the practice leaves it vulnerable to Election Day problems.”
After the CAP report’s release, Alaska Division of Elections supervisor Josie Bahnke wrote, “Alaska is suspending the return of completed ballots through a web portal in 2018 until a more secure solution is available. The Division will continue to accept voted ballots via fax and by mail.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Alaska’s voting system was one of 21 state systems targeted by Russian hackers before and after the 2016 election.
Online Elections with Blockchain: Is it a Magic Bullet?
Casting ballots online is fraught with security problems. However, blockchain voting technology has become the focus of attention as a possible solution; some people say it’s the next revolutionary technology for accurate, verifiable, and secure elections.
“Blockchain is a distributed ledger that operates on multiple computer nodes. Every time a change is made to the chain (in this case, someone new casts a ballot), the entire ledger is updated. Because the information is not being stored in a centralized location, it’s virtually impossible to hack.”
Several states, including California, are exploring the use of the blockchain to update their election systems leading up to the 2020 elections. Voatz, a startup company that recently raised $2.2 million in venture funding, is building a platform for blockchain voting.
Whether the promise of blockchain technology will turn out to be the magic bullet is unknown, but California Secretary of State Alex Padilla thinks it’s a step in the right direction. “Technologies like blockchain provide insight into what’s possible and where conversations about election security might go,” he said.
Secure Elections Act Receives Bipartisan Support from National Security Officials
On February 22, a group of former national security officials — Republicans and Democrats — sent a letter to all US senators in support of the proposed bipartisan Secure Elections Act, introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in late December. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), would authorize $386 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to increase election system security and upgrade election infrastructure without undermining states’ control over the administration of those elections. Former members of Congress and presidents of public policy think tanks also signed the letter, including Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform.
Secretaries of State Receive a Less-Than-Satisfying Security Briefing from DHS
During last week’s four-day annual meeting of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), several secretaries of state expressed deep frustration with a new classified briefing from officials representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the intelligence community, and law enforcement.
Although all 50 secretaries of state received “secret”-level information, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) said “The briefing was good to confirm what we already knew, but I didn’t really hear a lot of information that was new.” Mac Warner, the Republican secretary of state in West Virginia said, “Why things are classified has to be explained to us, and then we can keep our mouths shut. But really what happened yesterday, where we all signed our lives away or whatever and can’t talk about it, I think made it worse than what we had before.” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D), pressing DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to explain why President Donald Trump continues to downplay Russian hacking, pointed out that top intelligence agents as well as members of Trump’s own Cabinet have warned that Russians are likely to interfere again in the 2018 elections.
Decision to Replace Election Security Official Raises Eyebrows
At a time when concerns over interference in US elections are at an all-time high, the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) appear to be destabilizing the federal agency that has helped states keep election infrastructure secure from cyberattacks.
It was revealed this week that Matthew Masterson, the current chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, will not be nominated to serve a second four-year term. The news was greeted with unhappiness by state officials, who believed he had been doing a good job preparing the states against cyberattacks. With the midterms just over eight months away and some primaries starting next week, the timing couldn’t be worse. While the reasoning is unclear, many consider it a sign of the lack of seriousness afforded to election security by the White House.
As speaker, Ryan gets to pick somebody for the position. President Donald Trump makes the formal nomination, which is then subject to Senate confirmation. Masterson, chosen by Ryan’s predecessor John Boehner (R-OH), was confirmed for his first unanimously.
States Scrambling to Defend Elections but Hindered by Late Start
Forty state election officials have been briefed by federal officials on election security ahead of the midterm elections. At least 21 states are said to have been targeted by the Russians in 2016; with US intelligence agencies expecting Russia to launch another attack on the midterm election, states know they have to take action. However, reluctance from the White House to help and to share information has left the states unsure of the exact threat and how to deal with it.
Only 14 states and three local election agencies have asked for detailed vulnerability assessments from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and only five of these two-week examinations are complete. Illinois, for example, requested one in January — ahead of its March 20 primaries — and is stilling waiting. DHS has stated it expects to have all the assessments completed by mid-April.
State officials have also talked about the difficulties DHS has had establishing relationships with the states; DHS officials have little institutional understanding of how to administer and few connections within the various communities. DHS is hoping to hold more of these briefings in the future to bridge this gap.
Less than half of the estimated 50 senior state elections officials that requested federal security clearances have received them, limiting the capacity for information to be shared between the federal government and the states.
US Explores Possible Sanctions Against Russia
Following the indictment of 13 Russian nationals for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, the federal government is considering new sanctions against Russia. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike criticized President Donald Trump’s hesitancy to act after the administration opted not to impose sanctions. Administration officials claim the process of enacting sanctions is a long one, making it difficult to use it as a tool in response to breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment named two Russian companies — Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting — that already have sanctions placed against them. Those sanctions, related to Russian involvement in the Ukraine, date back to June 2017. The two companies controlled the Internet Research Agency, the group responsible for meddling.
Democrats Want More Money for the FBI Before 2018 Midterms
In an effort to help combat Russian interference in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are pushing to increase the FBI budget by $300 million in next month’s government funding bill. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to Republican majority leaders seeking support for their efforts. “Congress must respond immediately to attacks on our democracy by a foreign adversary,” the Democrats wrote.
The additional funds would allow for a greater effort to target “hostile foreign actors” in the US alongside Russian activity on social media platforms. The Democrats also requested extra funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Election Assistance Commission.
Additionally, Schumer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wrote to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen asking for the public release of information about anticipated interference by the Russians in the 2018 elections. Klobuchar noted that the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), is among the Republicans supporting legislative efforts to boost spending on election security.
The Republicans declined to immediately endorse the Democrats’ bid for a boost in funding; instead the Democrats were told, essentially, to wait in line — “This request will be carefully considered along with the thousands of individual choices and decisions that will have to be weighed and made as a FY2018 omnibus bill is written,” a Senate GOP aide wrote.
But, there’s still time — albeit very little — for Republicans to act against Russian interference.
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Latest News: February 16-20, 2018
New FEC Complaint Claims Trump Affair Hush Money Violated Campaign Finance Laws
The watchdog group Common Cause on Tuesday asked two federal institutions — the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice — to investigate a $150,000 payment from the National Enquirer’s parent company to a former Playboy model who has alleged an affair with the president. In its complaint, the group argued that the August 2016 transaction, intended to “buy and bury” the story of the affair to insure Trump’s presidential bid, constituted an in-kind campaign contribution and, thereby, violated federal campaign finance laws.
The FEC prohibits direct corporate donations to federal candidates, though this stipulation does not apply to the cost of distributing news stories. Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, said the campaign’s hush payment to the model, Karen McDougal, does not qualify for “press” exemption because it’s essentially a quid pro quo unrelated to journalism and news production.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, said last week that, ahead of the election, he personally paid $130,000 to an adult film actress who also claims to have had an affair with Trump.
States Desperately Need New Voting Technology: "Who Ya Gonna Call?"
With aging voting machines running obsolete and insecure software, state and local election officials are begging for federal and state funding to replace ancient voting technology. A recent ProPublica analysis of voting machines found that over two-thirds of the nation’s counties used machines more a decade old for the 2016 election. Election officials in 33 states reported that they need to replace their voting equipment by 2020, according to a recent survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice. Yet state and local governments don’t have the money needed to upgrade their insecure election infrastructure. Election Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson said, “Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise. A lot of times it’s you or a new gazebo or improvements to the local golf course.”
State Elections Officials Left in the Dark About Election Threats
Chief election officials nationwide are expressing concern that they don’t have enough information to adequately protect their constituents against election threats. The federal government, they say, hasn’t shared enough specific information about threats to registered voter databases, voting machines, and communication networks. Many don’t have the appropriate level of clearance to review classified federal documents, leaving them ill-equipped to manage or identify incoming threats. Many are worried that the federal government won’t act quickly enough to remedy the situation before midterm election season begins — as soon as March in some states. Though the vulnerability in election mechanics runs deep, experts have suggested that the largest threat is deflating confidence in the fairness of elections.
The indictment of 13 Russians last week underscored concerns about the clear need to tackle the issues of interference and hacking head-on. Nevertheless, a briefing last Friday following the indictment stuck to general information. During the meetings, no one clarified why state election officials were kept in the dark, nor were the details of the threat explained. The Department of Homeland Security claims to be aware of the problem and is developing strategies for more open communication. Experts have offered guidance on security measures to state officials, mediated through a voluntary effort coordinated by state and local election officials and federal liaisons. Communication between state and local officials has been strained — the Republican secretary of state in Indiana, Connie Lawson, joked that the effort was “going about as well as any arranged marriage can go.”
Sessions Convenes a Cybersecurity Task Force; Better Late Than Never, Right?
More than one year after the intelligence community acknowledged that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential elections, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the launch of a new Justice Department Cyber-Digital Task Force. The task force will examine how the department can better protect the nation from adversarial cyberattacks, “including efforts to interfere in future elections.” In a memo, Sessions wrote “The internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments.” He added: “At the Department of Justice, we take these threats seriously.”
At an October hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, shocked lawmakers when he claimed that the federal government was not prepared to combat malicious cyber interference in future elections. Four months later and after mounting bipartisan pressure from Congress to prioritize election cybersecurity, Sessions promised in a press release that the task force would provide a report, due at the end of June, to “identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively accomplish its mission in this vital and evolving area.”
Pennsylvania's New Map Would Be a Big Boon to Democrats
Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, released by the state Supreme Court Monday, may drastically improve the Democrats’ chances at reclaiming the House. Drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University, the updated boundaries could help Democrats pick up as many as six congressional seats in Pennsylvania, whose current district composition is deemed one of the most extreme cases of partisan gerrymandering. The party needs to net 24 seats to win a majority in the lower chamber.
While the new map undoubtedly benefits Democrats, it’s also a much more equitable representation of the popular vote in the 2016 elections, and therefore a win for democracy. In 2012, two years after it won control of the House and redrew districts, the GOP won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats, even though Democrats received more votes overall. The new lines are carved along the 10 districts President Donald Trump won in 2016, and the eight that Hillary Clinton scored. The tighter distribution of boundaries more accurately captures the razor-thin margin in popular vote — Trump’s 48.2 percent to Clinton’s 47.5.
Russian Interference Raises the Question: Are US Election Laws Underpowered?
Are failed legislation and regulation to blame for America’s vulnerability to foreign interference in elections?
The charges listed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian individuals and organizations — including identity theft and the use of “dark money”-funded online ads to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election — demonstrate the inadequacy of current US election laws, says a Loyola Law School professor who believes these laws are far too narrow in scope.
While one such law prohibits foreign-funded political ads that “express advocacy … which clearly and unambiguously advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate,” she says the law’s limited focus still leaves foreign adversaries with legal avenues to achieve their goals to influence American voters.
Some, however, argue that expanding the reach of these laws comes with its own constitutional problems.
Of course, many of the laws in existence today were devised long before technology like Facebook had even been imagined, let alone before it became the massive, global social force it is today.
Lawmakers hope to rectify this with the Honest Ads Act, a Senate bill that would require companies like Facebook and Twitter to disclose the identities of those purchasing political ads on their sites.
Clinton Campaign Manager Mook Talks Policy
Former Clinton campaign manager, Robby Mook, penned a CNN op-ed explaining the nuances and complexities of the US election system, a decentralized network of around 7,000 election jurisdictions nationwide. Acknowledging “the restraints of law, budget, and bureaucratic architecture” faced by state and local election administrators, Mook asks several well-formed policy questions: “Do election administrators have the funding they need to make necessary improvements to our election systems and the tools to hold vendors accountable for security? Do they have access to the intelligence they need to anticipate incoming threats? And are the state’s IT and procurement systems sufficiently modern to account for a dynamic threat like cybersecurity?”
Study Examines Impact of Voter Laws on Transgender Voters
Election watchdog group ElectionLine has researched the impact of voter laws on transgender voters — focusing on the effects of the requirement of gender on registration forms, and on the effects of strict voter ID laws. They found that, of the 34 states — and DC — that replied to their inquiries, 15 don’t ask for gender, 13 consider it optional, and six deem it mandatory. Meanwhile, North Dakota doesn’t require registration. Some activists feel gender is irrelevant to voting and that stating it should never be required. ElectionLine also found that many states are considering legislation to remove or change their gender questions. Although there is nothing on the books currently, Idaho will be scheduling a public hearing on this issue.
On the topic of voter ID laws, the group found that in the 2016 election there were no known cases of transgender voters being turned away for not matching their photo ID. Each state has a protocol for cases where a voter and their ID photograph don’t match, ranging from asking about weight gain, haircuts, etc. to requiring a signed affidavit to prove identity — or requiring the voter to cast a provisional ballot. Their main concern going forward is that President Donald Trump’s stance on transgender rights will embolden poll workers to discriminate, but this is something we will not know the extent of until after the 2018 midterm elections.
Brennan Center Finds More Expansive Voter Bills than Restrictive Ones in State Legislatures
Looking toward the 2018 midterm elections, the Brennan Center has released a summary of the restrictive and expansive voting bills that are currently in state legislatures. They have found there is a large push to expand access to voting, with 467 expansive bills having been introduced — or carried over from the previous year — in 39 states. As of February 13, 2018, there are 62 restrictive bills introduced or carried over in 23 states.
These do not include non-legislative successes — such as the ballot initiative on felons voting in Florida, or the actions by the Department of Justice earlier this year encouraging a voter-list purge.
The restrictive bills include plans to change voter ID requirements, early voting rules, absentee voting rules, and list maintenance protocols, among other things. The expansive bills are focusing on various registration reforms; rights restoration; and disability, military, and student voting. This report is a welcome read for those hoping for fairer elections in the future.
US Democrats Make Major Pushes for Election Security Before Primaries
House Democrats introduced H.R.5011 – Election Security Act on February 14 that, if passed, would provide $1.75 billion in federal grants to help states replace outdated voting technology with auditable paper ballots, train employees in cybersecurity and conduct, audits of elections to ensure the accuracy of their result. The introduction of the bill is a Hail Mary plan to shore up the security of voting systems that will be used in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
The legislation was introduced after a six-month effort by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, whose leaders are the same as the co-sponsors of the Election Security Act. In its 52-page report, the Democratic Task Force members made several recommendations, such as the upgrade of election infrastructure (including voter registration databases), mandates for election technology vendors to secure their products, and a call for the federal government to develop a national strategy to undermine democratic institutions. Three other election security bills in the lower and upper chambers (the PAPER Act, the SAVE Act, and the Secure Elections Act) have bipartisan support, but no election security hearings have been scheduled. February 20 was the first day of early voting for the first primary, on March 6, in Texas.
Pence Tells Proven Lie About Intelligence Assessment of Russian Interference
“Well, the first thing that we all agree on is that, irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election. This is the accepted view.”
“Let me say again, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that there was no impact on the outcome of the 2016 election from any foreign meddling in our elections. And I believe that bears repeating. The American people can be confident about the results of the election in 2016.”
In fact, the oft-cited intelligence community report published on January 6, 2017, made no such assertion. In Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t conclude that Russian interference changed the election outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The declassified intelligence report clearly stated, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
US Intelligence Agents Outline Steps to Fight Foreign Election Influence
Mike Rogers, a former Republican congressman who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, and Rick Ledgett, the former Deputy Director of the National Security, proposed four measures the US government should immediately take to protect its election system from another foreign attack. The first is to formally declare election meddling unacceptable behavior that erodes the mechanics of a democracy. Congress, they say, should then pass legislation to facilitate a wholescale evaluation of each state’s electoral infrastructure, and to address vulnerabilities foreign actors have exploited. Comprehensive assessment would pave way for the next step: the creation of an interagency task force that works with private sector firms to combat influence campaigns. Responsibility for the final step falls largely on the Trump administration, which Rogers and Ledgett say should develop a range of countermeasures — from diplomacy and sanctions to military action — to not just defend but deter foreign infiltration.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Backs Return to Paper Ballots
Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, said the US’s reliance on a fragile electronic voting infrastructure has made it a prime target for hackers, both domestic and international. Many states use machines that employ software so old it’s not even supported by Microsoft security patches. A majority of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states report needing new voting systems. The most effective and economic way to boost election security, Chertoff said, is to reinstate paper ballots. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, last September unveiled the Paper Act: a bill allowing federal authorities to help states replace electronic systems with voter-verified paper ballots. The most optimistic estimates show that a complete overhaul of electronic voting structures would cost roughly $250 million — the same price as a single F-22 fighter jet.
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February 14, 2018
GOP Governors Refusing to Hold Special Elections
Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) are refusing to hold special elections for state senators and representatives, claiming they are a misuse of taxpayer dollars. In Florida, following the guidance of local election officials estimating special elections could cost upwards of $1 million each, Scott opted not to hold special elections to fill a state Senate seat opened last year. Scott’s press secretary described the elections as “a waste of taxpayer money.” Wisconsin also has legislative vacant seats. Though new lawmakers will be elected in upcoming November midterm elections, the empty seats mean constituents in each state are left unrepresented in the democratic process. Democrats see the move as an attempt by Republicans to protect legislative seats and avoid facing the possibility of competition. Special elections in the fall of 2017, ranging from governorships to legislative positions, brought several Democrats into office. Some see the move to avoid special elections in Wisconsin and Florida as an attempt to preserve the status quo. “By refusing to call for special elections, these governors are effectively silencing thousands of voices,” says Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
February 13, 2018
DNI Head Dan Coats: The Russians are Coming – Again!
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified Tuesday at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on global threats to the US and warned that Russia is “likely to pursue even more aggressive cyberattacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances.” Coats warned that these cyber-operations “will continue against the United States and our European allies, using elections as opportunities to undermine democracy, sow discord, and undermine our values.” Coats’s statement comes days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Russians are already working to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.
Coats was joined at the hearing by the country’s top intelligence officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo.
Criticizing the intelligence officials, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chair of the Committee, stated, “We’ve had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks. But we still do not have a plan.”
February 12, 2018
GOP Crusade Against Court Orders Could Set Dangerous Precedent Nationwide
With the first of the 2018 midterm primaries just weeks away, the recent streak of invalidated congressional maps should be an encouraging sign for voter rights advocates. But GOP resistance, particularly against court orders, may build the stage for more vitriolic fights in the future.
After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the state’s heavily gerrymandered map unconstitutional, the Republican-led legislature circulated a petition to impeach the court’s Democratic judges. Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center, a policy center at New York University School of Law, warned that threatening retribution against legal institutions could undermine their credibility and further corrode democratic practices.
Since it swept into power nationwide after the 2010 midterm elections, the GOP has established a stranglehold on moderate states like Pennsylvania — where Republicans hold 13 of 18 House seats — Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina.
DHS Calls NBC News Report on Election Security False
On February 8, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity Chief Jeanette Manfra told reporters, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, that US officials observed “a targeting of 21 states [voter registration rolls] and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated before the 2016 election.”
The NBC News interview has caused quite a stir. On February 12, DHS officially discredited the NBC News report. DHS called NBC’s version “false.” Manfra, in a statement from DHS, said “[r]ecent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking.” She added, “As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”
The journalistic brouhaha derives from a difference between NBC’s printed report of the interview and Manfra’s on-camera words during the interview — the technical difference between the targeting and penetrating voter registration databases. “An exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated” versus “a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors.”
NBC has defended the accuracy of its reporting.
State election officials took a defensive posture against Manfra’s claims. Members of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) issued a press release soon after the NBC interview defending states’ efforts to protect election infrastructure, including online voter databases. NASS wanted to set the record straight on two counts: first, targeting or scanning a database “is not a hack,” and second, election officials in “some of the 21 states” . . . “discovered it was not their election networks that were targeted or scanned, but other networks in the state and non-election related websites.”
Numerous reports, including one from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have concluded that Russian intelligence agents successfully hacked at least one election system — the Illinois voter registration system.
Despite the claims of manipulation of NBC’s reporting of Manfra’s comments, Americans have a bleak view of the electoral process. Last week, NBC News conducted a poll the results of which indicated that 64 percent of American adults, including people across the political spectrum — from Republicans to Independents to Democrats — think a “foreign government will try to interfere with the 2018 midterms.” “Fifty-seven percent of all Americans believe Russia will attempt to influence the 2018 midterm elections.”
More direly, Americans don’t think the Trump administration is doing enough to protect the nation’s election infrastructure before the 2018 midterm elections. The White House has opted to refrain from imposing sanctions on Russia and Congress has yet to pass any of the several bipartisan bills that seek to shore up elections systems, now a DHS-designated critical infrastructure of national security importance.
Even former President George W. Bush, a Republican, said that President Trump’s denials that the Russians didn’t interfere with his presidential win against Hillary Clinton is unfounded. “There’s pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled,” Bush said.
Several Election Security Reports Published in Same Week: Is Anyone Reading Them?
The bipartisan Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) led by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, released three new election security playbooks this week for state and local election administrators:
These latest D3P playbooks follow the November 2017 Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook for campaign officials. The set of playbooks seek to help campaign and election officials defend themselves against cyberattacks and information operations aimed at undermining trust in the American election system.
Also this week, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, published the results of its survey about outdated voting machines and computer systems. In Cybersecurity Threats Loom, Nation’s Outdated Election Infrastructure Must Be Upgraded, the Brennan Center reported that 33 states need to replace voting machines by 2020, but many election officials don’t have the resources to replace these antiquated machines.
Finally, the Center for American Progress (CAP) launched its new report, Election Security in All 50 States: Defending America’s Elections, a state-by-state report card based on adherence to best election security practices and preparedness for the 2018 midterms. Each state was graded under seven categories, including: (1) minimum cybersecurity standards for voter registration systems, (2) voter-verified paper ballots, (3) post-election audits that test election results, (4) ballot accounting and reconciliation, (5) return of voted paper absentee ballots, (6) voting machine certification requirements, and (7) pre-election logic and accuracy testing.
February 9, 2018
Pennsylvania Issues Directive to Use Voting Machines With a Paper Trail
In Pennsylvania, many counties rely on electronic voting systems that leave no record of votes cast, making it impossible to investigate tampering or evaluate accuracy. Now, Governor Tom Wolf (D) is asking counties across the state to replace such equipment with alternative models that leave a paper trail. But he isn’t requiring them to do so, nor has the administration allocated any state funds to assist in the costly process of replacing voting infrastructure.
Pennsylvania is one of 13 states using such “direct-record” electronic voting equipment. A recent survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that election officials in 41 states will rely on older machines for the 2018 midterm elections, and that most feel the costs of replacing decades-old machines are too high — new voting machines can cost as much as $3,000 each. Nevertheless, the risk of interference remains high. In September 2017, the federal government warned election officials in 21 states of tampering prior to the 2016 presidential election.
February 8, 2018
Too Little, Too Late? Former Navy Intel Officer Calls Out Tillerson, Trump for Insipid Russia Response
After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed new attempts by Russia to undermine the 2018 midterms were already underway, Malcolm Nance, a former Navy crypto-intelligence officer and author of The Plot to Hack America, said the White House and State Department’s hesitancy to call out the threat from the get-go may have endangered states’ election security.
“I find myself confused, because the secretary of state himself is saying now that Russia intends to meddle in the election, which we’ve known since the 2016 election, that they had the capability, and given that no one is doing anything, they will try again,” said Nance.
Nance said President Donald Trump’s denial regarding Russia’s attempts to manipulate the 2016 election may have led to complacency among the secretaries of state responsible for securing electoral systems, and will likely embolden Russia to continue its efforts to destabilize American democracy.
Illinois Primary Voting Hampered by Legal Challenges
Over 3.5 million people in Chicago will be unable to start early voting in the Illinois primary on Thursday due to legal challenges by candidates. Although every county has not yet stated whether they are delaying early voting, those who have responded have stated it’ll be February 21st before voters can cast their ballot.
While the primary isn’t until March 20th, the Illinois State Board of Elections is urging counties to set up early voting “in a timely manner”. Each county decides when early voting starts, although one of the issues seems to be with the programming and testing of voting machines, which will need to display the ballot in four languages.
One of the races has statewide implications, with one of the legal challenges concerning Democrat Scott Drury’s bid for the Attorney General’s office. Drury’s name was initially rejected from the ballot due to questions about a candidate economic disclosure statement, but his appeal means he will remain an option for voters.
The implication of a shorter early voting window is currently unclear, but the longer this delay lasts the larger an impediment this becomes to Illinois voters.
Connecticut Will Study Voting by Mail to Increase Turnout
Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy (D) signed an executive order to study voting by mail, much to the displeasure of House Republicans. The study will look at states, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which conduct all of their elections by mail, as well as California and Arizona who conduct a majority of theirs by mail. The executive order came after a passionate State of the State address in which he called for “fairness” for voters. The speech, which will be Malloy’s last before he leaves office, was greeted emphatically by Democrats and with stone silence by the Republicans.
While Connecticut does allow same-day registration, it does not allow early voting, which state Democrats believe would increase turnout numbers. Should this initiative pass, it would require a public vote to change the constitution. Last year an effort to start this process passed 70-78 in the House but never made it to a vote in the Senate.
Prisoners to Register as Residents at Facilities in 2020 Census
The US Census Bureau announced last Thursday that it will maintain its largely unpopular system on tallying prisoners for the 2020 national headcount. Opponents of the policy have called on the agency to document the incarcerated as residents of their home addresses rather than their correctional facilities, as the latter allows the government to pick “favorites based on economic and racial privilege.” The bureau rejected such a change as being inconsistent with “the concept of usual residence, since the majority of people in prisons live and sleep most of the time at the prison.” But the public is firmly against the current procedure: most of the 77,995 public comments the agency fielded supported an overhaul of the policy.
Meanwhile, the bureau will alter its policy on overseas troops, registering them as residents of the bases or ports to which they’re temporarily deployed.
Ukrainian and Congolese Election Systems Require Support from US
There is US support for assisting Ukraine and the Congo with securing its elections, but Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation to defend its own infrastructure.
On February 7, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, the H.R.1997 – Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act of 2017. The language of the bill, which passed 404-4, includes a reference to Russia’s cyberattack on Ukraine’s voting infrastructure days before that country’s post-revolution 2014 presidential election. To develop a cybersecurity partnership between the US and Ukraine, the bill recommends, among other things, that the US Secretary of State “[p]rovide Ukraine such support as may be necessary to secure government computer networks from malicious cyber intrusions, particularly such networks that defend the critical infrastructure of Ukraine.”
The legislation deliberately requires the US to help provide Kiev with “advanced security protection on government computers, particularly systems that defend Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.”
“Critical infrastructure,” became an elections related buzz phrase when the Department of Homeland Security added election infrastructure to the list of 16 vitally important economic and civic sectors that make up the nation’s “critical infrastructure.”
On February 12, at a US-organized meeting before the UN Security Council meeting, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned the Democratic Republic of Congo “against using an electronic voting system for a long-delayed presidential election in December this year because it has the potential to undermine the credibility of the poll. Haley told the Congolese that deploying “an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk.” Haley argued for voting by paper ballots “so there is no question by the Congolese people about the results.”
February 7, 2018
Rex Tillerson Says Russians Already Working to Interfere in US Midterm Elections
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted that Russia has attempted to interfere “in the US in 2018” and he warned that the nation is “ill-prepared” to prevent Russian interference in the upcoming midterms.
“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson said. “The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to preempt it.”
“I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,’” said Tillerson.
But what could those “consequences” be? President Donald Trump has refused to impose congressionally approved sanctions against Russia for its 2016 interference.
South Dakota Considers Curbing Out-Of-State Influence in Ballot Initiatives
South Dakota legislators voted Wednesday to limit contributions from out-of-state donors and committees for fear that outside influence would stifle issues important to voters. Under the new proposal, non-resident donors can spend no more than $100,000 on ballot measure campaigns per election cycle, and non-resident circulators must list their name and contact information on petition forms.
The bill’s opponents, however, worry that it goes too far and may make it more difficult for South Dakotans themselves to bring policy questions to the ballot. “What I oppose is a total onslaught against our initiative and referendum process,” said Rep. Spencer Hawley (D-Brookings). “It’s just an unreasonable expectation on all our people in South Dakota who are acting in good faith.”
Ohio Voters to Determine Fate of Bipartisan Redistricting Plan
Ohioans will have a chance in a May referendum to overhaul the state’s redistricting process — one which has heavily favored Republicans in local races. Under the current congressional map, drawn by the GOP in 2011, the majority party holds 12 of 16 seats despite winning just 56 percent of the overall vote in the 2016 elections.
The measure that constituents will be voting on in the spring is the product of months of tense bipartisan negotiation, and finally received unanimous approval Monday from the Ohio Senate. New maps must garner three-fifths support in the House and Senate, including votes from at least half the members of the minority party. Should lawmakers fail to meet this requirement, a seven-member bipartisan commission will determine district borders.
Should the commission fail as well, the legislature can draw either 10-year maps with support from one-third of the minority party or a four-year map with only majority support.
As Petitions to Change Missouri Laws Soar, Some Want to Charge Fees to Get on the Ballot
In Missouri, eager citizens are filing petitions they hope to make it to the ballot in record numbers, says the Kansas City Star. In response, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who described the number of petitions as out of hand, has called for an overhaul to the process. He has cited concerns about special interests dominating the petition process and exploiting it as a tool to bypass the state legislature. His proposals for revising the rules for filing a petition include a $500 flat fee to file alongside a fee of 40 cents per signature. The latter fee is designed to offset the costs of time and money spent verifying signatures, while the $500 fee targets individuals who file multiple petitions, a common practice in Missouri.
But both labor unions and a major donor to the GOP, Rex Sinquefield, are pushing back. Each has used the petition process in its own favor recently as a strategy to enact or repeal legislation. They consider Secretary Ashcroft’s move to redefine the petition process unconstitutional for how it limits citizens’ capacity to participate in changing state government. Some consider the proposed fees an unreasonable burden, especially given the existing expenses associated with getting a petition to the ballot. Were the proposed fees to go into effect, it would cost $65,000 to amend the state constitution through a petition (which necessitates 160,000 signatures).
Democrats Fear GOP Strategy to Regain Control of Statehouses
Nevada Republicans have been gathering signatures to launch recalls of two new Democratic state Senators, a strategy that Democrats fear could undermine elections nationwide, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Through a recall, a sitting Senator can be removed from office before the end of his or her term via direct vote. Republicans had gathered enough signatures to bring their recall petition to the ballot. But recent efforts from Democrats have convinced many people who had already signed the petition to withdraw their support.
In addition, local Democrats filed a lawsuit arguing the move to recall violates the US Constitution because of how it is being used to alter the election process itself. There is a general concern among Democrats nationwide that this tactic could be useful for Republicans who want to maintain power through the upcoming 2018-midterm elections.
February 6, 2018
Citizenship Question Drives Uncertainty Over 2020 Census
In light of a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census, uncertainty abounds as to whether or not the survey will be accurate, reports The Hill. The counts matter — House districts are redrawn based on census numbers, as are the number of representatives each state receives. Asking about citizenship could dissuade people from responding and produce highly skewed results, and the census agency isn’t constitutionally obliged to collect citizenship information.
The DOJ claims citizenship data is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but many see it as a reflection of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The overwhelming concern is of an undercount in predominantly Latino and foreign-born areas. Moreover, the agency is strapped for cash currently, and a lack of funds could further contribute to incomplete results.
February 5, 2018
In Blow to GOP, US Supreme Court Backs Redrawing Pennsylvania Congressional Map
The US Supreme Court handed critics of gerrymandering a major victory Monday, rejecting requests from Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers to stay a court-ordered redrawing of the state’s congressional map. Justice Samuel Alito, an Associate Justice nominated by President George W. Bush, handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania. Alito denied a pair of motions — one from from lawmakers and one from voters — to maintain the state’s current congressional district makeup, leaving the Republican-led Legislature just three days to craft a new set of boundaries before Friday’s deadline. The updated map will then be sent to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for review. Should lawmakers and Wolf fail to reach a consensus, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will redraw the map. The state’s top court ruled last month that the current map unfairly favored Republicans, thereby violating the state constitution, which offers broader voter protections than the federal constitution.
Rochester, MN Voters Organize Around Ranked-Choice Voting
Before voters in Rochester, MN head to the polls in November, supports of ranked-choice voting are busy collecting signatures, reports the Post Bulletin. Currently, the Rochester city charter doesn’t allow ranked-choice voting, but the Charter Commission is reviewing whether or not to allow for the process. Supporters of ranked-choice need to gather petition signatures from a number of registered voters equal to 5 percent of turnout in the 2016 midterm elections — meaning about 2900 signatures — by July 10 to meet the deadlines for the November ballot.
Some have expressed concern that ranked-choice voting would drive partisan politics and create administrative challenges. Current voting equipment isn’t able to record ranked-choice votes, meaning they would have to be counted manually or through external software. Ballot layout presents another logistical hurdle — strict rules dictate the order of offices. City races would use ranked-choice while federal and state wouldn’t, presenting something of a graphic design challenge.
Seattle Takes on Tech Companies Over Transparency in Political Advertising
Seattle’s election authority recently decided that Facebook is violating a city law requiring candidates to disclose who purchases election ads, reports Reuters, in the first attempt in the United States to regulate online political ad sales. If the company refuses to provide details about spending for city election ads, it will face penalties. Facebook claims to have provided certain data and to support transparency in political advertising, but the election commission finds its response insufficient. Some spending numbers were provided, but no data was delivered providing information about the ads themselves, their target audiences, or who purchased them.
Under federal law, companies like Facebook aren’t required to provide data about who pays for political ads, though tech companies have provided some information willingly. But in Seattle, a 1977 law requires companies that sell political ads to keep public records outlining who purchased the ads, for how much, and the nature of the services. Tech companies have been off the hook until December 2017, when a local paper published a story asking why companies like Facebook haven’t been held accountable. Seattle has also asked Google for data and the request is pending.
February 3, 2018
Fear of Administration’s Policies Could Have Political Implications for 2020 Census
The immigration policies of the Trump administration could have a chilling effect on the participation of Hispanics in the 2020 census, experts warn. That, in turn, could have wide-reaching consequences, e.g., the distribution of seats in the US House of Representatives and the amount of federal funding states receive.
With the 2020 census looming, survey results already show that many immigrants, fearing repercussions, will be unwilling to participate. Their fears have only been ramped up following the Department of Justice’s request that a question about citizenship — last used in 1950 — be reinstated on the survey. This request is now under legal review.
Analysts estimate that Latinos were underreported by 775,000 people in the 2010 census, and Trump’s stance on immigration could only drive this number up. There are financial implications too, with the 2020 census expected to cost $3 billion more due in part to the extra effort required to convince these people to partake.
The census is used to decide the number of seats alloted to each state in the House of Representatives. Studies are projecting that up to 16 states could gain or lose a seat.
February 2, 2018
Displaced Houstonians Can Still Vote in Upcoming Primaries
Houston residents, in Harris County, who were displaced by Hurricane Harvey can still vote in the upcoming March primaries, even though their voter registration cards were automatically suspended because they were undeliverable. Texas election law states that new voter registration cards must be sent out every two years and if the delivery fails, the voter’s registration is suspended. However, by filling out a statement of residence form at the polling station hurricane victims can override the suspension.
Voters Come Out in Support of Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine
In early February, Maine voters submitted over 80,000 signatures in support of a ballot measure that would implement ranked-choice voting in the state, reports the Portland Press Herald. Ranked-choice voting allows people to rank candidates by order of preference, rather than voting for a single one. A ballot initiative in November 2016 first addressed the issue, but state lawmakers delayed the effective date until December 2021. More recently, the state legislature voted to repeal the process altogether stating concerns as to its legality — in Maine, the constitution requires candidates be elected by a plurality vote. The state has yet to pass an amendment addressing this issue.
Last fall, supporters of ranked-choice voting organized a ‘people’s veto’ campaign to override state lawmakers’ move to repeal the measure. Signatures were collected over three months, the majority of which have been verified, effectively suspending the law to delay and repeal ranked-choice voting. In upcoming June elections, voters will decide if they want to restore ranked-choice statewide, while simultaneously using the ranked-choice system during primary elections for the governor, state legislature, and Congress.
February 1, 2018
Nikki Haley Says US is “Taking Steps” to Prevent Future Russian Election Interference
At an annual Republican policy retreat, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, called the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 elections an “outrageous thing” and said the Trump administration is “taking steps” to prevent interference in the future. Although Haley admitted that Russia meddled in US elections, the commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump refused to impose additional congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia for its elections interference.
Pennsylvania GOP Leader Sets the Stage for a Constitutional Crisis
In an audacious move, Joseph Scarnati (R-25), president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate, refused to comply with a last week’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order to turn over data that would be used to redraw the state’s “spectacularly biased,” Republican controlled congressional districts maps. Members of the Pennsylvania highest court stated that the GOP drawn maps “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania’s constitution and ordered redrawing of district boundaries by February 9. Expressing outrage, the Republican leader, Scarnati, claims Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overstepped its legal authority by legislating from the bench, usurping the role of the state’s bicameral legislature, the General Assembly. Pennsylvania Republican filed an emergency appeal to conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the justice in charge of emergency appeals out of Pennsylvania. If the Supreme Court’s conservative majority stays the state court’s order, the state will remain one of the country’s most gerrymandered congressional district maps. If the High Court orders the extremely partisan gerrymandered district boundaries to be redrawn, representation in the Pennsylvania Legislature and the US House of Representatives could swing in the upcoming 2018 elections.
Kentucky and West Virginia to Use Harvard’s Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook
Kentucky and West Virginia’s Secretaries of State are emailing political campaigns, candidates, and their staff the November 2017 Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. The playbook is the product of the Center’s Defending Digital Democracy (DDD), a bipartisan initiative focused on providing tools and strategies to better protect political campaigns against cyberattacks. The playbook is intended for regular campaign staffers with little to no cybersecurity training. Besides the DDD, other organizations like the Cyber Peace Foundation, the National Cyber Security Alliance and The SANS Institute are helping campaigns defend against interference in the 2018 elections.
Supporters of Ranked-Choice in Maine Intend to Force a Vote
In Maine, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has been collecting signatures to push ahead with a people’s veto, a citizen-initiated ballot referendum, of a law that delays the implementation of ranked-choice voting until 2021, three years from now to give the Maine Legislature enough time to amend the state’s Constitution. Currently, the state Constitution requires a plurality vote — meaning the candidate who receives more votes in a general election than anyone else wins, whereas ranked-choice voting lets voters rank multiple candidates based on order of preference.
Last year, the Maine Legislature enacted a law that delayed the implementation of a 2016 vote to transition from plurality voting to ranked-choice voting. The Committee needs 61,123 valid signatures from registered voters to implement ranked voting and override the 2017 delay — a procedure advocates would like to see implemented before the state’s June 2018 primary election.
DNC Plans to Appeal Court Decision Allowing RNC Poll Watching
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced a Third Circuit appeal of a New Jersey district court decision that would allow the Republican National Committee (RNC) to pursue its “ballot integrity” activities unabated. In the 1980s, Democrats brought a lawsuit against Republicans in a New Jersey gubernatorial race that resulted in a consent decree barring the RNC from election day “ballot security” measures. The Dems accused the GOP of voter intimidation tactics like poll watching that targeted minority voters. The resulting decree had been extended several times but was allowed to expire last month.
New Jersey Democrats began the litigation to extend the deadline of the 2016 consent decree in the wake of voter fraud rhetoric from then-candidate Donald Trump. In November 2017, US District Judge John Michael Vazquez lifted the consent decree.
Florida’s Vote-Restoration System for Felons Ruled Unconstitutional
In a landmark decision, Judge Mark Walker for the US District Court Northern District of Florida, struck down Florida’s Jim Crow-era law that permanently strips convicted Florida felons of their right to vote unless their voting rights are restored (after a waiting period of five years) by a clemency board consisting of the governor and three of his Cabinet members. Warner ruled that dependence upon the favor of four state officials is arbitrary and discriminatory, and thereby unconstitutional under federal law.
“By giving ‘unfettered discretion’ to Gov. Rick Scott (R), who has more power to grant or deny the right to vote than any Cabinet member, Florida arbitrarily chooses who gets to vote and who doesn’t,” he said in his decision.
Walker gave the parties until February 12 to brief the court on proposed remedies. After the February 12 deadline, Walker will issue a permanent order, which likely will be challenged in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Warner’s decision could impact about 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida, many of them African-Americans.
In November, the state will vote on a ballot initiative that would also restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence.
Virginia Amends Election Laws in Response to 2017 Hiccups
The Virginia House of Delegates passed last Thursday a series of bills aimed at reforming state election laws, including one that prescribes random drawing as the proper way to resolve a tie. Several amendments directly addressed mistakes in the 2017 elections, in which dozens of constituents voted in the wrong House of Delegates races. One bill, passed with a 91–6 vote, would grant misassigned voters provisional ballots for each race. Another measure targets partisan gerrymandering by allowing the General Assembly to redraw district lines more than once per decade — should local governments draw new precinct boundaries.
San Francisco District 2 Candidate Sues to Reschedule Election
In San Francisco, the District 2 supervisor seat opened up after now-Mayor Mark Farrell was sworn in. As is standard, he appointed a replacement, Catherine Stefani, a former clerk, to fill in before the next election schedule for November. But current BART Board Director Nick Josefowitz, who is running to fill the seat, thinks the election should be moved up, reports the SF Gate. “Our democracy was founded on the principle that we the people elect our representatives,” he said.
Citing a 2001 city charter amendment, he, alongside District 2 resident Noah Shanok, is suing to move the upcoming election from November to June, when District 8 is already scheduled to elect its new supervisor. Designed to level the playing field, the amendment in question states that election dates should minimize the amount of time a political appointee spends in office to diminish the ability to develop political advantage.
Florida Lawmakers Move to Protect Voters’ Personal Data
Until now, voter information has been publically available in Florida, including details like home addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, and email addresses. But local election experts are pushing to change the practice and impose stricter protections of voters’ personal information, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
The enthusiasm for private records comes on the coattails of an influx of requests following President Trump’s voter integrity commission, which alerted the public to the accessibility of their personal information. Representative Cyndi-Stevenson (R) filed the bill to keep the information secret in the House, where it passed unchecked. Rep. Stevenson said keeping the information public would subject private citizens to “unacceptable” commercial solicitation and harassment. The future of the bill is in the hands of the Senate, where no one has filed the same proposal, though a different bill limiting secrecy to pre-registration for 16 and 17 year old voters is under review.
January 31, 2018
What’s Trending in Election Administration?
After a wild year for American elections, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) took “a sober look back on 2017” in its annual report on national trends and state accomplishments in election administration legislation.
While “security concerns” may have dominated the conversation of the past year after Russia’s reported election interference, “arguably the biggest trend” in state legislation, according to the report, “was an uptick in states providing state funding,” ranging from Utah’s $275,000 appropriations up to $10 million in Michigan; surely, welcome relief for administrators and activists who have been clamoring for upgrades to election infrastructure — including vulnerable and outdated voting equipment — since the last major federal election stimulus came in the form of 2002’s Help America Vote Act.
Other highlights include:
* Voter ID: 113 bills and 6 enactments in 37 states (“Texas alone considered 22 bills on the subject,” while Iowa introduced a law “which included mailing free voter identification cards to people who were registered to vote, but did not have a driver’s license or state-issued ID card”)
* Felon voting rights: 67 bills and 6 enactments in 23 states
* Voter registration list maintenance: 119 bills and 21 enacted in 16 states (“the most of any topic”)
* Use, distribution, and sale of lists: 46 bills and 6 enactments in 5 states
* Technology and equipment: 19 bills enacted by 10 states (though, as the report notes, “many were minor”)
* Automatic voter registration: in Illinois, Rhode Island, and Colorado, automatic voter registration overtook its online counterpart, which may have been the “the big trend of the past,” but “got no traction in 2017”
In addition, the report took a dig at the 27 states for their “kindergartener” methodology of electoral tie breaking and featured an obituary for President Donald Trump’s “Election Integrity” Commission.
US Commission on Civil Rights Evaluates State of Voting Rights
The United States Commission on Civil Rights participated in a daylong briefing concerning the federal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act late last week. The event brought together experts and commentators and included public commentary on the state of access among minorities to voting rights. The event was held in North Carolina, a state with a long history of both voter suppression and organizing around the right to expand the vote.
Debo P. Adegbile, who serves on the US Commission on Civil Rights and argued Shelby County v. Holder, the landmark Voting Rights Act case before the US Supreme Court, wrote in the News Observer about the importance of continuing to organize around expanded voting rights. He notes that minorities have always fought for the right to vote in democracies — both the right to vote and the struggle to attain it are pillars of democratic societies and democratic process, he says.
Stop the Partisanship: Elections are a Matter of National Security
Francis X. Taylor, a 47-year veteran in national security, including a stint as the former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), called upon the highest levels of the federal government to protect the country’s election system as a matter of national security. Last month marked the one-year anniversary of DHS designating elections as “critical infrastructure,” a sector considered so vital to America’s sovereignty that protection by DHS is a matter of national security. And yet, he says there is “federal procrastination” to protect national security, from the top down — from President Donald Trump, to his Executive Cabinet, to the Senate and the House of Representatives. Taylor adroitly recognized the federalism argument that election administration is constitutionally reserved to the states, but state and local election bodies are overburdened and under-resourced. They can’t possibly be expected to adequately defend against cyberattacks launched by a highly sophisticated nation-state like Russia. Taylor calls upon newly appointed DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to “firewall democracy” and finally put the nation’s defense over partisan politics.
South Dakota Allows Tribal Identification Cards to Register to Vote
South Dakota’s Senate State Affairs Committee passed a bill allowing tribal identification cards to be used when registering to vote. This bill will now be sent to the full chamber to be debated and voted on.
The primary sponsor, Sen. Troy Heinart (D-Mission) — a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — knew that most members of the tribe carried a tribal card, but not all have a driver’s license. To register in South Dakota, a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number is required.
Should this bill pass into law, the next step is for the tribal ID cards to be amended so that they carry the last four digits of the carrier’s Social Security number. The bill stipulates that the tribal ID card must include the last four digits to be accepted. Although this will be a large undertaking, the inclusion of the tribal card opens the doors of democracy to a minority that has long been shut out.
January 30, 2018
Koch-Backed Americans for Prosperity Refuses to Release Donation Histories
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an organization launched by Charles and David Koch, has refused to release redacted Schedule B tax forms from 2016, reports Maplight, a money in politics watchdog based in California. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies politically active nonprofits as “dark money” organizations because donors can remain anonymous, a move originally intended to protect donors to the NAACP in the 1950s.
The Schedule B forms, which the IRS requires nonprofit organizations to make public, outline donations exceeding $5,000 dollars. The AFP claims releasing the documents would threaten the privacy of its donors — documents filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office suggest that more than 80 percent of the AFP’s 2016 contributions came from five donors.
The Schedule B form would reveal the individual amounts of donations, but no personal or identifying information about who made contributions. Maplight filed a formal complaint in January. Even though the source of the donation remains anonymous, identifying the amount of individual donations clarifies how big the donations are, and how many different people they’re coming from.
January 29, 2018
FEC Calls for Greater Political Ad Disclosure
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) will draft a rule — to be voted on before the 2018 midterm elections — mandating that all online advertisements urging viewers to vote for or against a specific candidate must contain its source of origin. FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said, “increasing political ad transparency is the most important thing the government can do as the 2018 election approaches.” Facebook has pushed back against the Honest Ads Act co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA), but seems more inclined to cooperate with the Canadian government. In Canada, Facebook is piloting a program whereby it would label political ads as such and create an archive that holds political ads for four years after they run including demographic information on users who saw the ad.
CIA Chief Expects Russia to Target Midterm Elections
Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo described his agency as “the world’s finest espionage service,” but will his agents be able to deter foreign interference in the 2018 midterm elections? Pompeo’s comments to BBC News were less than confident, offering few specifics as to what steps will be taken. Pompeo said he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease” in Russian attempts to subvert elections in the US and abroad.
“I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that, but I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great,” Pompeo stated.
Gowdy Pressed to Issue a Subpoena to DHS, Or Else
Led by ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee demanded in a letter to their chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) that he subpoena the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for documents related to Russia’s efforts to target state systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The Democrats accuse President Donald Trump’s administration of withholding “critical information” from Congress on the Kremlin’s targeting of 21 states’ voter registration databases. Previous requests to DHS have gone unanswered or provided inadequate generic responses. The Dems are pressing Gowdy, who recently announced that he will not seek re-election, to subpoena the DHS by February 5, or allow the committee to vote on a motion to issue a subpoena.
Minnesota Gets $7 Million to Improve Voting Equipment
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D) announced a $7 million grant for new election equipment that was the result of bipartisan legislation approved in 2017. The grant covers half the cost of mandatory equipment, like ballot counters, and 75 percent of the cost of electronic voter rosters. Local election officials requested $13.3 million, but for now, they’ll have to make do with a paltry grant to replace equipment more than a decade old and would cost $28 million to replace.
Virginia Senate Passes Anti Voter Fraud Laws, Critics Worry More to Come
Virginians may have to take a look at themselves when they vote, as the Senate passed a bill that means voting machines will display their driver’s license photo before voting. This bill, supposedly another protection against voter fraud, was approved along party lines and will now be considered by the House of Delegates.
While Republicans say the legislation merely serves to move information from the DMV’s database into the voter roll database, Democrats claim it’s a pointless exercise, or worse, it sets the stage for large suppression down the line.
This wasn’t the only change proposed in Virginia this week. The Senate also voted 28 to 12 in favour of a bill that stated the party affiliations of all candidates must be listed on the ballot. Currently only the affiliations of the candidates for federal, statewide and General Assembly offices are listed.
More changes are expected in the coming week, as bills must be passed by February 14th to ensure they become law this year. This deadline means the conversations over other election changes — such as recount amendments following the tied-race confusion in last November’s race — will be short and sweet.
Georgia Ponders Changing Constitution to Make English Official Language
Just days after Georgia’s Hall County Elections Board scrapped an earlier decision to allow ballots to be written in Spanish, a bill was introduced to amend Georgia’s constitution and make English the official language of the state. This is already a law in Georgia but it is rarely followed — making it constitutional would certainly change that however.
The bill was introduced by Republican Josh McKoon for the second time – the first time it died in a General Assembly session. Republicans claim this bill will benefit the community by forcing the non-English speakers to learn the language, and that it would also save money. They’re still waiting for the results of a study on the costs, but early estimates have it around $100,000 in election years.
However, there will definitely be other implications should this bill succeed, including the disenfranchisement of Hispanic voters. The law would mean the drivers test would only be conducted in English, which would have major repercussions in a state where the license is one of the few government IDs accepted when registering to vote.
Since it’s a constitutional amendment it requires a supermajority in both houses, as well as the governor’s signature and a state-wide popular vote.
January 28, 2018
Alabama State Representative Suggests Special Elections Should Follow Electoral Calendar
Following the controversial and fraught special election between former twice-fired Alabama Supreme Chief Justice Roy Moore and former US Attorney Doug Jones in Alabama in December, State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) introduced a bill that would require special elections for US Senate vacancies to coincide with the next scheduled general election in Alabama. He argues off-schedule elections are too expensive — sticking to schedule would save the state cash. Clouse claims to have introduced the bill in August, but it has come into the public eye after Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore for the vacated Senate seat left by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Louisiana Group Attempting to Return Voter Rights to Felons Gets Boost from Probation Association
The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) has filed papers supporting an attempt to restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole in Louisiana. A 1974 law states that since these felons could still return to prison should they violate their parole or probation, they are deemed to be “under an order of imprisonment” and therefore cannot vote, as per the state constitution.
Last year, this law was upheld by a reluctant judge who said he agreed with the plaintiffs, but the law was in line with the state constitution. This is being appealed by the group Voice of the Ex-Offender, and some individual plaintiffs.
Should this effort be successful it would add 71,000 voters to the rolls.
January 26, 2018
Virginia Debates Special Runoff Elections to Decide Ties
After being mocked over the internet for the last two months, Virginians are hoping to retire the artisan bowls and film canisters used to decide their deadlocked elections, and instead break ties via a special runoff. Although this will cost more, both in time and in dollars, Virginian lawmaker Marcia S. Price — who introduced the bill into the State House of Delegates — hopes this will return people’s trust to the electoral process.
Price’s bill would apply to all elections except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general as they are decided by an upper house General Assembly vote, as stated in the Virginia Constitution. This law won’t be used too often however, as the last election to end in a tie before this one was in 1971.
This all stems from November’s election between Democrat Shelly Simonds and incumbent Republican David E. Yancey. Initially, Yancey was declared the winner, but a recount found Simonds actually won by one vote, and a three-judge panel declared it a tie after allowing a previously dismissed ballot to stand. Yancey’s name was pulled from a film canister meaning the Republicans retained power over the House in a 51-49 split.
Bipartisan House and Senate Bills to Deter Election Interference
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced H.R.4884 — the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act of 2018, a bipartisan House companion to S.2313, which was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) on January 16. Both bills impose sanctions against Russia or other foreign powers that engage in efforts to interfere in American elections. President Donald Trump has been reluctant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. The Senate bill, if enacted, would mandate a report on the president’s strategy to deter future interference in US elections by China, Iran, North Korea, or any other foreign government.
NC Supreme Court Sides with Democratic Governor in Elections Board Fight
The North Carolina Supreme Court’s Democratic majority dealt a blow to the GOP-led General Assembly by denying the legislative branch the power to radically overhaul the makeup of the state’s elections board. In a 4-3 party-line vote, the court ruled that a 2017 law merging the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission hinders Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s ability to make crucial election calls. As has been the case for decades, the governor’s party has control of appointments to elections boards at state and county levels. The law, which passed despite Cooper’s veto, would have combined the two boards into a single, eight-member panel evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Cooper’s attorneys argued that the governor should have some say in who gets appointed to carry out his policy decisions; Cooper himself maintained that a perfectly bipartisan body could deadlock and stall important decisions like whether to implement early voting or introduce additional polling stations to a district.
Dissenting opinions from the court’s Republican justices emphasized the implicit partisanship and overreach of the court’s power in the ruling. “With today’s sweeping opinion, the majority effectively eliminates the political question doctrine, embroiling the Court in separation-of-powers disputes for years to come,” Justice Paul Newby wrote. “The only separation of powers violation in this case is this Court’s encroachment on the express constitutional power of the General Assembly,” Newby wrote.
Floridians Will Decide on 2018 Ballot Whether Felons Can Vote
Floridians will have the opportunity to decide whether felons can vote after serving their sentence and probation, following a successful attempt by Floridians for a Fair Democracy (FFAFD) to get the decision on the ballot. The campaign managed to amass over 1 million signatures — well over the 766,000 needed to get it on the ballot. It now needs a minimum of 60% support at the polls to pass into law.
While the referendum excludes ex-felons who committed murder or sex crimes, it would still put 1.5 million people back on the state voter roll, potentially changing the demographics of Florida for the 2020 election. Since minorities represent a disproportionate share of the number of felons, and because these demographics tend to vote for the Democrats, the referendum could provide a significant boost to them if successful.
The week before, two proposals were approved by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission Panel, one which mirrored FFAFD’s initiative and one that had the same idea but excluded more felons. Former Sen. Chris Smith, whose plan was identical to FFAFD’s, has since withdrawn his proposal due to the petition’s success. Senator Daryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) — who submitted the other proposal — has said he will wait for more information to come out before deciding whether to withdraw.
Idaho Considering Dropping Gender from Voter Registration Requirements
Fearing future legal issues, Idaho is considering dropping the requirement for voters to identify their gender when registering to vote. A proposal introduced by Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst to the House State Affairs Committee was approved for consideration, with two Republican members voting against it.
Hurst stated this information isn’t used by either his office or any state office (to his knowledge) and therefore it should be struck, before it causes problems for the state. Other committee members discussed bringing in a third term, such as other or non-binary, so that this information could continue to be collected. Researchers however, say that gender is a statistic that largely goes unused.
Idaho currently requires voters to provide their full name, sex, address, date of birth, driver’s license number or last four digits of the Social Security number to register.
Voting Machine Vendors Seek to Prevent Another DEF CON Hackfest
Last July, a group of white-hat hackers breached every single electronic voting machine, some in minutes, at the Voting Village at DEF CON, the world’s largest underground hacking conference. Organizers of the Voting Village purchased the outdated voting machines, some over a decade old. Others no longer manufactured were bought on eBay. Not only were the good guy hackers able to break into the machines’ software, but they also discovered other shocking insecurities: machines that lacked software patches; another machine had not been wiped and contained 600,000 voter registration records; all Sequoia brand voting machines shared a common, hard-coded password. In one horrifying instance, a voting machine was hacked wirelessly! It’s no wonder that voting machine vendors are doing everything they can to prevent an encore performance at the upcoming DEF CON Meeting. Voting machine vendors are sending letters to eBay resellers demanding they yank their auctions for fear that their vulnerable products may be exposed again at DEF CON 2018.
Study Shows Voting at Home Increases Turnout for Both Sides
A recent study by Pantheon Analytics, commissioned by Washington Monthly, has found that allowing people to vote at home leads to an uptick in voting for both parties. The study uses data from Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, as these three states conduct their elections by mail.
Looking at the voting data from the three states where people can vote at home — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — the study found that overall turnout increased by 3.3 percent, with young and low-propensity voting increasing by even more. While those numbers should thrill Democrats, the study also found signs of an increase in Republican voters too.
Voters deemed “near-certain” Republicans voted at a higher rate than “near-certain” Democrats.
The system of vote at home involves mailing the ballots to people’s homes and then they have a time period — usually two weeks — in which to send in their vote. While this is not the only solution, Pantheon’s study has shown this could be a good method to get disengaged people involved again.
Virginia State Senate Approves Redistricting Bill
Constituents in yet another GOP-led state could be voting in different districts come the November midterms. Virginia’s state Senate passed, with a 22-17 vote, a redistricting reform bill that forbids congressional districts to be “oddly shaped or have irregular or contorted boundaries.” Suspicious shapes include “fingers or tendrils extending from a district core”, “thin and elongated,” and those containing “multiple core populations connected by thin strips of land or water.”