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: June 16th-20th
Judge Shuts Down Kobach’s Latest Attack on Voting Rights
After a series of court decisions that have disappointed election integrity advocates, a federal judge in Kansas struck down a law implemented by Secretary of State Kris Kobach requiring proof of citizenship in order to vote. Kobach has been a champion of ever-stricter limits on voting rights, often pointing to “widespread” voter fraud to legitimize his efforts. He has failed, however, to provide evidence to substantiate his claims.
The ruling came down from federal District Judge Julie A. Robinson, who wrote in her decision that there were “a small number of noncitizen registrations in Kansas … largely explained by administrative error, confusion, or mistake.” Kobach intends to appeal the decision.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women Voters and private citizens in 2016; it went to trial earlier this year. Kobach opted to represent himself. Judge Robinson has additionally required that Kobach complete six hours of education related to following proper legal procedures and providing evidence.
Not long after Judge Robinson delivered her opinion, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Kobach claiming he unjustly exposed voters’ data — including Social Security numbers — through the Crosscheck program he has long touted as essential to a secure vote.
A Return to Paper Ballots?
While it seems likely that electronic voting machines — even the most vulnerable ones — are here to stay, paper ballots are looking like an attractive option to some election officials (and election security advocates). Electronic machines by and large replaced older systems after the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002 under the specter of the controversial Florida recount two years prior.
But the faults and flaws of those machines have become increasingly apparent, and many stakeholders believe a return to the tried-and-true paper ballot is the most secure way forward. Electronic machines, whether they are connected to the internet or not, present ample opportunities for tampering and interference. Some of the paperless machines don’t even keep an auditable record of ballots cast, making a true recount impossible.
A full return to paper ballots is unlikely any time soon. Despite $380 million in funding allocated for election security, many states are struggling to update their existing outdated equipment. States like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have made the transition to a vote-by-mail system, which some argue is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to increase security.
Supreme Court Delays Decision on Pivotal Gerrymander Cases
The US Supreme Court deferred rulings on a pair of seminal partisan gerrymander cases on Monday, squandering yet another chance to profoundly alter the country’s undemocratic redistricting process. The two cases — one from GOP-controlled Wisconsin, the other from Democrat-controlled Maryland — are cited by some as being the most egregious examples of gerrymandering.
In the Wisconsin case, the justices asked lower courts to reexamine whether the plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to challenge the statewide map; in the Maryland case, they simply decided to use the current, disputed maps for the upcoming midterms. All nine justices reached a consensus that both cases could not be adjudicated. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have dismissed the cases rather than sending them back to the lower courts.
Justices Explain Reason Behind Gerrymander Stalemate
The reason the Supreme Court returned the gerrymander case from Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford, back to the lower courts is to prevent a neutral, apolitical body from becoming too political and straying from the law, according to Chief Justice John Roberts. In his opinion, it is not appropriate for America’s highest court to choose “the Democrats over the Republicans,” for such a move will “cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country.”
While there was clear cause for the Supreme Court to outlaw racial gerrymandering, i.e., drawing districts in a way that blatantly suppresses minority voters, interpretations of the Constitution become blurrier with regard to partisan gerrymandering, i.e., drawing districts in a way that suppresses voters of one party. Partisan discrimination is more difficult to prove than racial discrimination.
Roberts, with three other conservative justices, decided that the liberal challengers of the Wisconsin case have no standing, as they failed to provide convincing evidence that they had been wronged on the basis of political affiliation. But rather than dismissing the case, he gave the challengers a chance to provide lower courts new evidence that proves Wisconsin’s current electoral maps “demonstrate a burden on their individual votes.”
Latest News: June 12th-16th
South Carolina's Ex-Felons Are Allowed to Vote, but Few Are Aware
In South Carolina, felons can retain their voting privileges immediately upon return to civilian life. But due to a lack of information and a spate of typical readjustment challenges, most returning citizens don’t know that they can, once again, register to vote.
Although South Carolina is one of 21 states that restores voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, it is not obligated to educate detainees of such rights. The participation of ex-felons in elections can make a crucial impact on state and national politics; with the midterms less than six months away, it may even determine who takes control of the House.
Could North Carolina’s Latest Voter ID Attempt Survive Legal Challenge?
If Republican lawmakers get their way in North Carolina, the state could amend its constitution to require photo identification at the polls. But can such an amendment withstand legal challenge?
Voter ID laws have historically been instruments of discrimination, and remain a potent (and popular) voter suppression strategy. Experts say that an identification requirement isn’t unconstitutional in the abstract — it depends on the motivation behind the laws. A federal court has already struck down an attempt to establish voter ID requirements in North Carolina two years ago. In 2016, the Fourth Circuit courts found that North Carolina’s previous attempts to require identification targeted African American voters with “surgical precision.”
House Speaker Tim Moore (R) maintains that the proposed law does not discriminate. But the proposed bill doesn’t specify details about what kind of identification would be required, which could influence whether or not such legislation could endure. For example, were lawmakers to allow a wide variety of identification, it might be harder to fight, whereas strict requirements are more obviously and directly discriminatory.
Wisconsin Turns Blue in Special Election
Much to the dismay of Governor Scott Walker (R), Wisconsin voters leaned left this week when they elected progressive Democrat Caleb Frostman in a State Senate special election. Frostman’s victory is a major blow to the Republican establishment, and the latest of 44 districts to “flip” from red to blue since the 2016 presidential election. The district where he won voted overwhelmingly for both President Donald Trump in 2014 and Walker in 2016.
Walker had pushed hard to prevent the election to fill the vacant seat. His attempts to delay the election were met with widespread outcry — it looked very much like the governor was leaving a quarter of a million residents unrepresented in hopes of staving off a Republican loss. Unrepresented Wisconsinites eventually brought their case to court, where a judge rejected the claim from Walker and his team that special elections were a “waste of taxpayer resources.” Walker finally called for elections in March.
Latest News, June 8th-12th:
Supreme Court Upholds Ohio’s Voter Roll Purge
Led by its conservative majority, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s system of removing from rolls those who have not voted in two successive presidential elections and have also failed, in the interim, to answer a written notice. President Donald Trump backed the court’s decision.
Voting rights groups consider the purge system a draconian means of maintaining voter rolls and are worried that other states will follow Ohio’s example and use similar processes as a tool for voter suppression. Others are already using less aggressive policies. In Florida, for example, non-responsive voters are not purged but are instead placed on inactive status, and can still vote by mail or at the poll. Removal is possible only if the voter, declared inactive, does not vote in two consecutive elections.
GOP Credits Demographic Clustering, Not Gerrymandering, for Its Advantage in Congress
As the US Supreme Court weighs key cases that could overhaul the current redistricting process, Republican lawmakers are claiming, with flimsy evidence, that their dominance in Congress is a result of demographic clustering rather than aggressive gerrymandering.
They deployed this argument in purple states — Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — whose egregiously gerrymandered maps have been challenged or thrown out by courts. The GOP and its expert witnesses contended that Democrats tend to cluster in urban areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, while Republicans are more evenly spread out in suburbs and rural districts. Since Republicans outnumber Democrats in far more neighborhoods, it makes sense that their representatives would consistently win majority in Congress.
But while urban-clustering among Democrats is a real phenomenon, statisticians and competing experts said that it would give the GOP only a slight electoral advantage — if mapmakers used traditional, fairer procedures. After sweeping into power in 2010, Republicans redesigned the current maps in secret headquarters, drawing on new software to create surgically precise boundaries that made clustering look organic.
NAACP Threatens to Sue Over Voter ID Laws in North Carolina
The battle over voter ID laws continues in North Carolina. The NAACP threatened earlier this week to sue the state over the proposed constitutional amendment that would require photo identification at the polls. Such an amendment wouldn’t require a signature from the Democratic governor, but the public will have to vote it into effect this November. Part of the NAACP’s strategy is to discourage companies like Amazon and Apple, both of which are considering building campuses near the state’s major universities, from setting up shop in the state. Big business, they figure, could help their cause and convince residents to vote against a voter ID law.
Indiana Slows Down on Voter Suppression, Despite Ohio Decision
Just before the US Supreme Court handed a big win to voter suppression in Ohio, a federal judge in Indiana prevented the state from rolling out another program that would remove “suspicious” voters from the rolls. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt found the law to be in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, and ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Indiana law uses a system to flag voters that might be duplicates that is modeled after the infamous and deeply flawed Crosscheck program designed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Critics have demonstrated that the system overwhelmingly targets minority voters and is a fast track to disenfranchisement. It remains unclear whether or not the state will appeal the decision.
Latest News: June 2nd-8th
House Member Unveils Bill Mandating Reporting of Foreign Meddling
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member on the House Intelligence Committee, proposed a measure that would require campaigns to promptly report foreign election interference to law-enforcement agencies. Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election would have been less successful, Swalwell argues, had the Trump campaign informed FBI or Justice Department officials of its contacts with foreign agents, notably the infamous Trump Tower meeting, ahead of which a Kremlin-connected lawyer offered dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The legislation, dubbed the Duty to Report Act, would legally obligate candidates and their campaigns to alert the FBI when a foreign power offers incriminating information on an opponent seeking the same office. Failure to report such would be a criminal offense whether or not they were solicited. Those involved with a campaign, including immediate family, must file a report if they are “told about, are offered, or receive” material from a foreign source.
North Carolina GOP Pushes Hard, Again, for Voter ID
North Carolina could be on the cusp of passing a constitutional amendment about voter ID laws, depending on what the state legislative bodies decide. A bill sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and his Republican colleagues puts the question of requiring photo identification at the polls to a public vote on the November ballot. The specifics of the law — including what types of identification would be required — would follow in a separate bill.
State senate leadership is reportedly already discussing language, though the original bill will first have to pass the House. Advocates hope to wrap up the current legislative session in the next month, meaning North Carolina could see a vote in the next few weeks. To pass, the bill needs to pass both chambers and secure support from three-fifths of lawmakers. Republicans have enough of a majority in the North Carolina House for the proposed bill to pass uncontested.
This isn’t the first time that North Carolina has tried to implement strict voter ID laws. Its last attempt in 2013 fell flat after a 2016 US Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that the law, supported by a Republican majority, “targeted black voters with almost surgical precision.”
Los Angeles County Misprints Voter Rolls, Causing Confusion
Many Californians arrived at the polls in last Tuesday’s primary to discover that their names had been left off the voter rolls in over a third of the voting precincts in Los Angeles County. Thanks to a printing error, the election authorities inadvertently left off nearly 119,000 names from vote rosters across the county. That amounts to almost 2.5 percent of voters. Poll workers reassured voters that they could still vote via provisional ballot. The cause of the printing error was not immediately clear. Two hotly contested House seats fall within Los Angeles County. Delays are expected in counting and verifying the provisional ballots; some have called to keep the polls open for additional days.
Latest News May 30th-June 2nd:
Year-Long Review Shows No Voter Fraud in New Hampshire
In an announcement that didn’t really surprise anyone, virtually no voter fraud was found in New Hampshire in 2016; Donald Trump lost fair and square. In a presentation to the Law Ballot Commission, Secretary of State Bill Gardner also showed how his department used the controversial Interstate Crosscheck system to whittle down a list of 94,610 voters — the number of people with the same first and last name as somebody from out of state — to just 142. Of these 51 have been sent to the attorney general for investigation while the other 91 are awaiting more information. Considering Trump lost by 2,732, this discrepancy barely registers.
However, looking closer at the cases reveals there isn’t anything even resembling a cohesive voter fraud plan at all: Ballot Law Commission Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards says history shows a lot of these cases will be misunderstandings rather than intentional voter fraud: Spouses sending in absentee ballots right after the spouses death or people voting everywhere they have properties.
New Hampshire is currently a state trying to push through laws requiring proof of residence, such as a state driver’s licence, which would make it more difficult for college students to vote. The bill has passed and is just awaiting approval from Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who has asked the Supreme Court if the law is constitutional.
The emergence of proof there is not a systematic voter fraud plan in place — and virtually zero intentional voter fraud at all — should lay waste to the attempts by Republican legislators across the country attempting to pass voter suppression laws like the one in New Hampshire. It won’t, but it should.
Trump Says Russia Probe Puts Midterms at Risk
Federal investigators working on the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election are meddling in the upcoming midterms, according to President Donald Trump. In a flurry of tweets comprising no proof, he accused Democrats of using special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe — a “witch hunt” — to influence the midterms, especially after Republicans eclipsed them in the polls. The inquiry, which recently turned a year old, has yielded 17 indictments and five guilty pleas, unleashing a torrent of scandals on the White House.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani deemed Mueller’s findings “illegitimate,” and admitted to smearing the latter’s credibility to shield the president from impeachment. While it’s true that several members on the special counsel team have donated to Democrats, both Mueller and the man who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, are registered Republicans.
Iowa Under Legal Scrutiny for State Constitution Violating Voter ID Law
The first legal challenge against a voter identification law passed last year on behalf of Iowa’s newly Republican-dominated legislature was filed last Wednesday.
The voter identification law will go into full effect in 2019, and requires citizens to present ID if they wish to vote, otherwise they would only be able to cast a provisional vote. Voters’ ballots will remain uncounted until they return with acceptable ID. Currently, if someone without an ID wishes to vote, they are asked to sign an oath verifying their identity.
With litigation funding from Priorities USA Foundation, an NGO specializing in voting-related lawsuits, The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Iowa State University student Taylor Blair have been named as the plaintiffs involved in the suit. Arguing that these steps burden the peoples’ rights to vote, therefore violating the Constitution. This justification, alongside concern over the law and how it may affect “minority groups, college students, the elderly and disabled students” are the lawsuit’s key points.
Portions of the law have gone into effect this year, and will be applied in the state’s June 5 primary elections. Defending the voter ID law, Secretary of State Paul Pate has made clear that the request to halt fractions of the law’s arrangements will not be granted as early voting has already begun. Instead, he argued this “baseless and politically motivated lawsuit” was “apparently timed to disrupt the June 5 primary elections.”
The lawsuit claims that, “each of the challenged provisions burdens the right to vote directly by complicating and slowing down elections administration in Iowa.” Pate, however, firmly believes that implementation of the voter ID law will not deny eligible voters the right to vote.
How a Decades-Old Supreme Court Decision Inspired Today's Gerrymandering
Though the term “gerrymandering” has existed for more than two centuries, it was only about 30 years ago that the practice became so effective, widespread, and lethal to democracy. Ironically, the roots of modern gerrymandering can be traced back to a pivotal 1986 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed one prominent method of subjugating minority voters: by spreading them across districts so their numbers are too small to matter in a given election.
Partisan lawmakers, in response, concocted another strategy that proved far more damaging and enduring: packing African American constituents into select areas that became known as “majority-minority districts.” The practice, while engendering the long-overdue elections of black officials in the South, also ensured that minority voters remained permanently voiceless in the surrounding, majority-white districts, which far outnumber those they dominate. As a result, most legislative districts in the South stayed solidly red. “It’s an irony: more African-American districts meant less Democrats were elected,” said Carter Wrenn, a Republican political consultant.
California’s Republican Candidate for Secretary of State Promises More Election Integrity
The Republican candidate running for California’s Secretary of State Mark Meuser has promised to clean up the voter rolls and return integrity to the state’s elections. Meuser, a constitution and election law attorney, is trying to ride the interest in election integrity created by a recent lawsuit in which the State of California and Los Angeles County were sued by Judicial Watch and Election Integrity Project California. These organizations say they seek fairer elections.
The lawsuit wasn’t without good reason: Los Angeles County’s registration rate is 144% of its adult population, while California’s rate is 101% of its population. The lawsuit also alleges that California has the highest rate of inactive registrations of any state in the country, while Los Angeles County has the highest number of inactive registrations of any county in the country. There are even reports of people who have died almost 40 years ago still on the voter roll.
Meuser accuses the Democrats of not placing any priority on the voter roll or election integrity and he has promised to fix this. He said the role of a Secretary of State is to take over these counties if necessary, to ensure fair elections. The worry is, should he be elected, based both on his comments and the history of his party, the possibility of the introduction of voter ID laws. California currently has none but their introduction could damage election integrity in a state with such a high immigrant population.
Native American Tribes in North Dakota Fall Short in Reaching Settlement Over Voter Identification Requirement
Backlash is mounting against attempts to implement more severe voter ID laws in North Dakota. A new provision put forth by the state would require locals prove their residency with a street address — a requirement that poses problem in Native American communities where people often use post office boxes, which are not considered sufficient proof of eligibility.
North Dakota remains the only US state to not require registration prior to casting a vote. Since 2004, North Dakotans citizens were required to present ID. However, those without ID could sign an affidavit saying they were eligible to vote. North Dakota’s Republican-led legislature has made a point of advocating for stricter requirements, which have an outsize impact on Native American voters’ ability to cast a ballot. The suggested new standards would require a street address.
Following the recent proposal, US District Judge Daniel Hovland suggested talks between the state and representatives of the Native American community, which have so far been unproductive (and behind closed doors).
Despite Hovland’s suggestions that all members be involved in the settlement, “sit down for one day and create workable and reasonable solutions so that all homeless persons, and all persons who live on Native American reservations in North Dakota, can have a meaningful opportunity to vote,” a consensus has yet to be reached on how tribal members can provide sufficient identification in order to vote.
Republican Secretary of State, Al Jaeger, has denied any matter of discussion on potential proposals and solutions, saying they “possibly may continue.” Tom Dickson, a lawyer for tribal members, while optimistic that a settlement will be reached, said that “the ball is in the state’s court.” These contrasting responses to confidential proposals leave North Dakotan citizens defending either side of the agreement unsure of what is to come.
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Latest News: May 26-30th
Pennsylvania Moves Toward Transferring Redistricting Power to Citizens
Pennsylvania took a crucial step toward combating gerrymandering, as the Senate State Government Committee unanimously voted to create an independent citizens commission to handle the redistricting process. The amendment, Senate Bill 22, gathered widespread bipartisan support: 15,000 Democratic and Republican voters who participated in the state primary signed a petition endorsing it. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out the state’s 2011 electoral map on grounds of blatant discrimination against minority voters, and subsequently ordered the enactment of new districts.
Still, the victory is but an incremental one. The bill is up for a vote in the state Senate early next month. Then it will be delivered to and deliberated by a House committee — with at least one Republican chairman saying he would not even consider it. Only after passing both sessions will the proposal be approved for a statewide voter referendum. This means that its supporters have little room for error if they wish to clear all three legislative hurdles before the 2021 redistricting cycle.
Meanwhile, lawmakers seeking to maintain the status quo are mounting a fierce resistance. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R), who ruled out debating Senate Bill 22, and all 15 Republican members of his committee voted for a separate amendment that would endow the majority party with even greater redistricting power.
Poll Shows Californians Like ‘Top-Two’ Primaries
California voters have no intention of abandoning the state’s “top-two” primary elections — despite opposition from political parties (and some candidates). A new poll from USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times shows widespread support for the system and little popular interest in revisiting the primary elections of the past.
The top-two system is something of a compromise between open and closed primary systems. In a closed primary, voters can only cast a ballot in their party of registration. Independent voters tend to dislike this system, which in effect prevents them from casting a meaningful ballot. California ran closed primaries for several decades. Voters opted to transition to an open primary system in 1996 that allowed all voters to elect nominees for all political parties, much to the dislike of the major political parties. The Democratic and Republican parties challenged it in a case that went to the US Supreme Court and ruled in their favor. The judges found that allowing non-members to select the nominees of political parties was unfair.
A decade later, though, voters implemented the current top-two primary system, and enthusiasm is still high. Voters cast ballots for their preferred candidate and no party is guaranteed a spot on the ballot — California allows two members of the same party to face off in the general election.
Abortion Tops the List of 2018 Campaign Issues
Abortion is slated to be among the most pivotal issues in the 2018 elections. Both parties are betting on their proposals and positions to bring voters to the polls and shape political conversations. Pro-choice advocates are organizing around federal funding for Planned Parenthood and access to health care. Democrats celebrate the increase in women running for office. President Donald Trump and the GOP are doing much the opposite in an effort to secure the representation to pass a ban on late term abortions and confirm Supreme Court nominees. Democrats want to flip Congress to halt efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and limit the right to choose. And issue-driven donations are flowing in across party lines — candidates and parties alike are counting on the issue to motivate voters to show up, and pay up.
Latest News, May 23-26th:
Republican Primary Candidates Disagree on Whether Puerto Ricans Should Be Allowed to Vote
Florida’s Republican primary candidates can all agree Puerto Ricans are American citizens, but whether that means they should be allowed to vote is apparently more complicated. Political newcomer John Ward stated he didn’t believe Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria should be able to participate in the election: “First of all, I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote. And it’s not lost on me that, I think, the Democrat Party’s really hoping that they can change the voting [registration] in a lot of counties and districts. And I don’t think they should be allowed to do that.” Ward later clarified the comments by stating he believed they were citizens, but thinks they should only register if they intended to become permanent residents of the state.
For a party attempting to win over Puerto Ricans in the state — a demographic which is registering as “no-party-affiliation” in increasing numbers — Ward’s comments have caused quite a backlash. His GOP primary opponent in Florida’s 6th congressional district, former state Rep. Fred Costello, called his comments “horse manure”. He believes the GOP should be ensuring Puerto Ricans vote for them, rather than denying them the vote.
While this will have little impact on the 6th congressional district race, where Puerto Ricans only make up 7% of the population, it could affect the midterms statewide. With the Democrats portraying the Republicans as ignorant, Ward’s comments (and refusal to back down on them) couldn’t come at a worse time.
Wisconsin Voter Registration Initiative Could Topple Governor Scott Walker
An initiative started in 2012 as a direct answer to Governor Scott Walker’s (R) voter suppression laws could topple him in 2018. Madison election clerks in metro voting districts, who are designated as “ambassadors,” started to train voting rights workers on how to register and vote under Walker’s repressive laws. These groups have been targeting the demographics most affected by the laws — such as the homeless, students, those living in poverty — and assisting them in guaranteeing they can vote. This help includes anything from driving them to the DMV to get an ID to helping them fill our their registration forms.
The results? November 2016 saw Madison’s voter turnout rise while the rest of the state’s fell. In April, the capital’s turnout nearly doubled the rest of the state’s. The city now has a state-record 15 early-voting sites. And other municipalities are taking note. Kenosha, the state’s fourth-most populous city, adopted a similar ambassador style outreach program in 2017 and saw their turnout double in a single year. Milwaukee is opening 20 voter registration kiosks at libraries all across the city, while increasing the number of early-voting sites from three to eight.
The result of all of this could be the removal of Walker, as the increased number of voters could give the Democrats enough votes to topple him. While the ambassadors are impartial and instead just want an election which is fair and open to all, removing Walker would certainly be a step towards accomplishing this goal.
Latest News May 19-23:
Florida Court Case Targets Yet Another Voter Suppression Policy
Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) administration is the subject of another lawsuit that targets its diverse efforts to restrict access to the polls. Filed by the League of Women Voters, the lawsuit hinges on what qualifies as a “government-owned community center.” Secretary of State Ken Detzner says student centers at state university buildings don’t count; students and their advocates feel otherwise.
The League of Women Voters sees the state’s position as a direct attempt to make it harder for young people to vote in the 2018 elections. The group filed a lawsuit in the US District court in Tallahassee on behalf of six students who report difficulty accessing the polls.
Florida turned to early voting in 2004, still under the shadow of the recount following the 2000 election. Now, two-thirds of votes cast in Florida in the 2016 elections were either cast early or by mail. In 2011, his first year in office, Scott cut early voting hours to disastrous effect: lines were several hours long at the polls; accusations of voter suppression followed. The legislature soon course corrected in 2012, expanding hours and expanding the reach of early voting sites to “fairgrounds, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center and government-owned community center.”
Nevertheless, Detzner’s office ruled in early 2014 that the student union building at the University of Florida, Gainesville, didn’t qualify as a community center, to the outrage of many voters. Democratic state senators filed bills in attempt to explicitly include state-owned colleges and universities; the majority Republican legislature blocked all of them.
Few Recognize Maduro’s Reelection in Venezuela
To no one’s surprise, Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro won “reelection” this past Sunday. A coalition of opposition parties called for a boycott of the election. Many of their candidates were kept from running at all. Governments worldwide have denounced the election, which is largely considered to be fraudulent. Official records show a 46 percent turnout; the coalition of opposition candidates estimates 30 percent. Either way, it’s the lowest turnout since the 1940s.
The country is faced with rampant hunger, shortages of medication, and a migrant crisis, which many attribute to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the current administration. Maduro’s leading opponent, Henri Falcón, called for a new election. He refused to recognize the results, alongside US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Trump Racked Up Twice the Legal Fees in One Year Than Obama Did in Two
President Donald Trump and his team have accrued more than twice the amount of legal fees this election cycle than his predecessor did in 2010 and 2014. The Republican National Convention forked over nearly $3.2 million while the Democratic National Convention spent just $1.2 million — in twice the time. Though the legal fees accounted for just 2 percent of the RNC’s total expenditure, they comprised 17.6 percent of the Trump campaign’s. (In contrast, legal consulting made up just 11.9 percent of spending by the Obama committees in the 2009 cycle.)
The propriety of using party funds to cover the legal costs for a president and his staff has incited testy discussions among members. But none seemed to have deterred current and former occupants of this White House, who continue to field subpoenas from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia election interference. Last Sunday, reporters revealed that the RNC paid half a million dollars to a law firm representing former communications director Hope Hicks and others in the special counsel inquiry.
Will the Russia Probe Make or Break Democrats in the Midterms?
Bombshells revelations from the concurrent inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election could determine which party dominates the midterms — and wins control of Congress. For more than a year, the Senate Intelligence Committee and Mueller have been investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. Mueller’s inquiry is the more prolific, having produced 22 indictments of individuals and companies and led to five guilty pleas. Both probes are expected to continue, if not escalate, into the midterm season. (A third, by the House Intelligence Committee, concluded in acrimonious fashion last month.)
With the adoption of early voting, any new findings announced by the Senate panel or Mueller’s team from September to November could affect the election outcome. A major development pointing to an “impeachable offense by the president” could spell doom for not just Trump loyalists but also moderate Republicans. But a spate of Russia updates is no guarantee of a blue wave. If neither investigation yields damning evidence of collusion, more credence could be awarded to the president’s “witch hunt” narrative, and Republicans may regain the upper hand, particularly in swing states.
Election Infrastructure Is in Dire Straights, Experts Say
Experts believe that the United States faces a national crisis: the state of its voting machines. A recent survey collected opinions from over 100 cybersecurity experts. The general consensus was that the situation is dire, especially with midterm elections less than six months away. Congress made a small dent when it allocated $380 million for states to secure local election systems, but more action is needed.
States determine the specifics of their own elections and often resist oversight or intervention from the federal level. But lacking adequate funds and leadership alongside vulnerable machines, states may not be well equipped to manage the threats of interference from abroad. Many of the experts interviewed called for stronger federal action around cyber threats and election security. Dave Aitel, chief executive of Immunity Inc. and a former National Security Agency security scientist called state-level control “insane.”
States rely on voting machine vendors to secure their own systems and software. Many machines don’t produce any paper record of votes cast, eliminating the possibility of a true audit. But the machines are far from the only vulnerability: voter registration databases are easy targets. In 2016, Russia accessed Illinois’s statewide voter database — the potential to create mass confusion and disenfranchise voters is enormous. States and counties often don’t have the IT resources or expertise to combat such threats.
Latest News: May 15-19
Colorado Delivers Two Anti-Gerrymander Measures to November Ballot
Colorado voters will get two chances to overhaul the state’s redistricting process this November. The pair of bills lawmakers signed last Wednesday could serve as a national model against gerrymandering: they would change the state constitution to explicitly ban the practice, better protect minority voters, transfer map-drawing duties and approval rights to a non-partisan commission, and recruit more moderates to the process at large.
Colorado’s current electoral districts favor Democrats, allowing them to win a majority in the state House in 2016 despite nabbing fewer popular votes than Republicans. Disagreement over the fairness of the state’s redistricting process has led to bitter altercations between the two parties, so much so that the courts have had to intervene in four of the past six redistricting cycles.
Louisiana Restores Voting Rights to Felons on Parole and Probation
More than 3,000 felons in Louisiana could be heading back to the polls: the House approved a bill restoring voter rights to people on probation and parole. After a lengthy — and unexpected — debate during a routine amendment session, the bill passed 54-42 and is on it’s way to the governor’s desk, who is expected to sign it.
House Bill 265 will eliminate a decades-old statute which extended — to felons on parole and probation — the state’s ban on felony prisoners voting. The rights will be restored five years after leaving prison and will be effective March 1st, 2019. The state currently has 70,000 formerly incarcerated people.
This legislation is a boost after an appellate court judge reluctantly rejected a challenge to the 1976 law by rights group Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), saying that — although he agreed the law is unfair — it isn’t unconstitutional and therefore is out of his jurisdiction.
Counties, States Lose Faith in Paperless Voting Machines
Many of the voting machines in use in America don’t produce paper records of votes cast. Ballots are tabulated electronically, and we are supposed to trust the software (and voting machine vendors) and hope that everything adds up correctly. But experts on voting and cybersecurity have long been ringing the alarm bell: the lack of a verifiable, paper audit trail makes it impossible to verify election outcomes.
Despite a report last week from the Senate Intelligence Committee that recommends replacing machines that don’t produce a paper record, several states will rely on such equipment in upcoming primary elections. Georgia, where there will be a primary election on Tuesday, exclusively uses electronic voting equipment without a paper trail, alongside several other states and counties.
Efforts to upgrade equipment are underway nationwide. Congress allocated $380 million in funds to defray the costs of changing voting machines for states, but many local officials have reported that the funds are wildly insufficient. Advocates across the country are pushing to abandon electronic equipment like optical and digital scanners in favor of the simplest strategy: hand counted paper ballots and public tabulation of election results.
Senate Breaks With House, Concludes Russia Meddled in 2016 Election
The Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), broke from the House Intelligence Committee and White House by announcing that it agreed with the assessment of the intelligence community: Russia did try to intervene in the 2016 US presidential election on behalf of Trump. Burr stated that the panel has been “reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions.” This is a radical departure of the House panel’s report, which concluded that Russia did interfere but not on behalf of Trump, and urged Mueller to end his investigation.
Mueller, who has indicted 19 people and three companies in the past year (five pleaded guilty), has expressed interest in interviewing Trump, though the president (and recently Vice President Mike Pence) have called on the special counsel to end the investigation.
The Obstacles Native Americans Face Just to Vote Are Many and Varied
Native Americans still face major hurdles just to vote in the US. Be it registering, traveling to the polls, or simply reading the forms, every step in the process is a major obstacle which leaves many unable to partake in the electoral process.
A look into these obstacles in Arizona — a state that only granted Native Americans the right to vote in 1948 — shows just how far the country needs to come to make elections equal and fair. For example, a law in 2015 removed four Native American languages from the mandatory list, leaving only Apache and Navajo as the official languages. Although the numbers of speakers of this language are dropping, removing these languages made it impossible for many to vote.
On top of language issues, the forms require a fixed street-address. This is something a lot of Native Americans cannot provide as they live in places that do not have traditional addresses, such as reservations or extremely rural areas. In Arizona, a voter has the option to draw a map and describe surrounding areas, but this can cause problems should election officials put all of these voters under the same address, such as a government office in that area.
Another issue Native Americans face is the photo ID requirements, which depend upon the possession of a birth certificate, a tribal ID number, or a passport — all of which are very difficult to obtain in rural areas. Also, living rurally means travelling hours to get these IDs, and to vote, creating a barrier to the ballot box.
Overcoming the problems of language, addresses, and photo IDs are crucial if we want the system open to all Americans. Although Native Americans do not make up a huge a portion of the population, a nation that prides itself on free and fair elections has to do better to include them in the process.
Is Venezuela Politicizing Government Aid?
Venezuela’s election cycle falls in the midst of several ongoing national crises: chief among them is hunger. About 70 percent of Venezuelans rely on subsidized food to survive and leadership is using it as a sinister get-out-the-vote strategy. To receive subsidized meals, medicine, and government cash bonuses, Venezuelans have to show a “Carnet de la Patria” or “Fatherland Card.” The idea is that citizens will register their cards at booths attached to polling stations so that data about who has and has not voted will be tied to the card. Critics argue that this threatens voters — if you don’t vote, or vote wrong, what will that mean for future government aid? The government claims that there is nothing political about the project.
Moreover, Venezuela uses electronic voting machines; some wonder if the data is shared between the machines and the records associated with Fatherland Cards. Others have expressed concern about the privacy of their votes. Michael Penfold, a political science professor in Caracas and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. has researched the issue and found that the cards do increase turnout, but mostly in favor of the current administration. He is wary of how the cards intimidate opposition voters who fear a vote against the current power structures could imperil their access to much-needed aid.
Michigan Anti-Gerrymander Group Awaits Approval for Ballot Proposal
Voters Not Politicians, a prominent anti-gerrymandering group in Michigan, collected nearly half a million signatories in an online petition calling for reforms in the state’s redistricting process. Now, it just needs to collect one more signature — from the Board of State Canvassers — to send their proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot.
Michigan has one of the most egregious cases of gerrymandering in the US. Since maps are drawn by state legislators, the majority party always controls the process. Under the measure, redistricting rights will be given to a bipartisan, independent commission of state citizens.
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Judge’s Ruling Leaves Door Open for Online Voter Registration in Texas
Texas may be dragged — kicking and screaming — into the 21st century: a federal judge’s recent ruling now allows online registration in the state. Currently voters can only register through paper submissions, but a May 10 decision may change that. The National Voter Registration Act is a decades-old law which aims to make registering to vote easier by forcing states to allow drivers to register when applying for or renewing their licenses. Texans are currently allowed to renew their licenses online but are not offered the option to register to vote while doing so, therefore violating the National Voter Registration Act — at least in the opinion of US District Judge Orlando Garcia.
While the state has promised to appeal this decision, activists are hoping this will open the door to Texas joining the other 38 states that allow online registration. Should the platform to register online while renewing a license be created, proponents argue, there is no reason for it not to be adopted across the board.
With other states adopting automatic registration, Texas is behind the times on this issue. There have been previous legislative attempts to implement online voting, but each has failed at the hands of Republicans. With online registration predominately benefiting young and minority voters, there isn’t a lot of appetite on the right to advance the issue. However, Garcia’s ruling at least gives an alternative way to secure what is becoming a commonplace feature of elections.
Florida Judge Orders Expert to Watch Over Broward County Election Following Destruction of Ballots
Woes continue to pile up in Broward County, Florida, where Circuit Judge Raag Singhal has ruled that County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes illegally destroyed ballots in a 2016 congressional election. This ruling is the latest step in an 18-month battle that started when Tim Canova, worried about the election’s integrity, requested to see the ballots for a Democratic primary race he lost to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz by 16 points. Snipes ignored the request until Canova sued, creating a legal battle — which took a twist in November when Snipes’s office admitted the ballots had been unintentionally destroyed. There were however digital copies made of every ballot.
While Snipes’s attorney has stated that the destruction of ballots is not illegal and has promised to appeal the ruling, the immediate impact is the presence of election experts in the county to ensure “all laws are followed.” Canova was also awarded attorney fees for his troubles. He is once again challenging Wasserman Schultz, this time as an independent.
This ruling will cause concerns over the validity of the election in one of the state’s most reliably Democratic counties. Hopefully the presence of an expert will restore some order to an election office that has seen its fair share of issues over the years. The most notable is the infamous 2000 recount, but Snipes has also been unsuccessfully sued once, and investigated by Broward prosecutors another time.
Austin Explores Alternative, Open Source Voting Machines
Voting machines nationwide have been proven to fail a basic requirement: election security. Thanks to outdated technology and design flaws, many are vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. Congress recently allocated federal funds to upgrade equipment nationwide (though, overwhelmingly, the available resources are wildly insufficient to cover the costs of wholesale upgrades to old and inadequate voting machines).
Austin is at the forefront of efforts to provide more secure elections. Texas is one of over a dozen states that uses a kind of direct record electronic voting machine that leaves no paper trail — voters cast their vote at the push of a button, and that’s it. This has long been a subject of concern among cybersecurity experts and academics.
Local advocates for more secure elections have taken matters into their own hands, devising a new system called STAR Vote (Secure, Transparent, Auditable, and Reliable). Unlike the existing systems, STAR was designed with streamlined audits in mind — the system produces a paper record that can be used to verify electronic vote totals.
But the system is built on open source software, and voting machine manufacturers are refusing to build the machines. The creators of the STAR system see open source voting equipment both as an important security measure and key cost-reducer. With open source voting machines, counties wouldn’t have to rely on single vendors for hardware and software. Voting machine companies not only charge for the equipment, they also license expensive, proprietary software. Open source voting machines present a direct challenge to the grip of manufacturers over election infrastructure. Until the group behind STAR can find a willing partner, secure, open election equipment will remain a mere idea.
Canadian Oil Company Donates to the Pro-Gerrymandering Cause in Michigan
Michigan is notorious for its gerrymandered legislative districts — the leading party has historically drawn the lines to support its own interests. Right now, that means Republicans, but Democrats have been equally enthusiastic in the past. But the advocacy group Voters Not Politicians has proposed a constitutional amendment that would create a new redistricting process. Rather than sitting legislators, a nonpartisan citizen redistricting commission would draw the map. A majority of Ohioans voted in favor of a similar measure in last week’s elections.
But the major opposition for the proposal suggests an uncomfortable alliance between a local lobby and Canadian oil money. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has opposed the ballot initiative while the Canadian oil giant Enbridge simultaneously contributed to the Chamber’s political action committee, Chamber PAC II.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the donations from Enbridge account for over half of the total funds Chamber PAC II has acquired this election cycle. Both claim the timing and scale of the donations are unrelated — local activists see it differently. Enbridge Oil manages a controversial pipeline that cuts through the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. Some see the company’s opposition to the redistricting reform as an effort to keep sympathetic lawmakers in office.
Voter Misalignment May Have Cost Democrats a Crucial Seat in the Virginia House
Last November’s nailbiter state delegate race in Newport News, Virginia, was so tight it had to be decided by a coin toss. Democrat Shelly Simonds, who received one more vote than Republican David Yancey in the recount, had to swallow her disappointment and prepare for a 2019 run. But it turns out she may have been the outright winner had local election officials handed correct ballots to 26 voters in a majority-black precinct. Had Simonds won, Democrats would have split control of the House, after notching 15 seats in a blue wave that swept across the nation after Trump’s elections.
After new maps are drawn, local registrars are charged with the unenviable task of matching streets to districts, which are sometimes so precise that voters living on opposite sides of a street would vote in different races. Numerous apartment buildings in Newport News — home to 76 registered voters — were misassigned to a neighboring district that a Democrat comfortably won. The error is particularly tragic for Simonds because records suggest that 17 of the 26 people who cast the wrong ballots had voted since 2008 exclusively in Democratic primaries. Only one had voted in Republican primaries.
New Transatlantic Commission Seeks to Counter Election Meddling
Former Western leaders have created a new multinational council to address and preempt foreign interference in democratic societies. The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, led by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, will focus on Russian meddling in not just the 2016 US presidential race but also European elections.
In addition to identifying threats to election security, the panel will also investigate Russia’s financial contributions to fringe candidates in Europe. Marine Le Pen, the president of France’s National Front who lost the presidency to centrist Emmanuel Macron, received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank.
The commission will hold its first meeting in Denmark at the end of June; its primary focus will be the Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections next year. Former Vice President Joe Biden is a member on the commission.