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.
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.”
January 25, 2018
DNC Hires Former Yahoo Executive for New Security Role
Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez named Bob Lord as the DNC’s new Chief Security Officer (CSO), a newly minted role as the US heads into the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. Lord, Yahoo’s former Chief Information Security Officer, will work with the DNC’s internal team to beef up its cyber defenses, and field representatives to support state Democratic party operations. In a statement, Lord said he intends to update the DNC’s “information security strategies” and improve practices to “change the economics” for attackers. During the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers are believed to have intruded into the computer networks of the servers at the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Dutch Claim to Have Definitive Proof Russian Gov’t Behind DNC Hack
Dutch intelligence claims to have irrefutable evidence that “Cozy Bear,” the Russian group responsible for hacking the email servers of the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election, acted under direct orders of the Russian government.
By hacking computer networks and security cameras, the AIVD — “the Dutch equivalent of the CIA” — is said to have obtained pictures of Russian intelligence agents entering the building they surveilled, leading AIVD to determine that it was, in fact, a government operation. The Dutch were apparently even able to watch firsthand as the Russian hackers carried out their attack against the Democratic National Committee.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the original US intelligence reports accusing his government of instigating the attack, insisting those responsible had acted as independent operators.
In addition, the report points to National Security Agency agents’ observations that high-ranking members of Russian intelligence would search for news of impending attacks just before they were launched — a feat made possible by accessing the agents’ mobile devices — as additional proof of the Russians’ active role in interfering with American elections.
South Dakota Senate Approves Changes to Voter-Confirmation Process
In a 32-0 vote, the South Dakota Senate approved changes to House Bill 1011, a bill that would alter the voter-confirmation process, reports the Rapid City Journal. Currently, county auditors check registered voters in every odd-numbered year to purge voters who have been inactive in the previous four years.
The new bill doesn’t change that, but adds two new provisions to protect voters’ enfranchisement. One, county auditors must send a national change of address notice to voters who haven’t voted in the previous four years in an attempt to verify their residence information. Two, auditors must send a double postcard that notifies voters that their registrations may be canceled if they fail to sign and return the card to the election office.
Idaho Introduces Bill to Reduce Age for Poll Workers
Elections boards need poll workers in Idaho, according to the Idaho County Free Press. Thanks to low populations and lagging local interest, smaller counties have struggled to fill the poll workers positions needed to run elections. Lawmakers introduced new legislation that reduces the worker age of eligibility to 16 years of age — it had been 17 in the past. By letting youngsters participate, they gain firsthand experience of the democratic process and can better understand why elections matter from the local to the state and national levels.
January 24, 2018
How Wisconsin Pulled Off its Elaborate Election Rigging Scheme
With the one-two punch of gerrymandering and repressive voter ID laws, Wisconsin Republicans have held a stranglehold on the state legislature and, perhaps permanently, marred the democratic process. Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin leans slightly blue, but aggressive redistricting has corroded voter representation in liberal cities like Milwaukee, home to 70 percent of the state’s African American population. In 2012, Obama carried the state by seven points, and Democratic legislative candidates received 51.4 percent of the vote. Yet, it is the GOP that nabbed 60 of 99 seats in the Statehouse.
An equally potent election rigging tool has been the identity verification mandate, which the legislature passed in 2011. After recording the second highest voter participation rate in 2008 and 2012, Wisconsin saw its turnout drop by 3.3 percent in the 2016 presidential election. In black neighborhoods like Milwaukee, which voted en masse for Hillary Clinton, turnout fell by 23 percent. A post-election study revealed that roughly 23,000 nonvoters said they were blocked by the ID law — a tally that almost matched Trump’s margin of victory. Nationwide, the pattern is even grimmer: more than 1 million Americans were turned away at the voting booth because they couldn’t present an acceptable ID.
Indianapolis’s Marion County Replacing Polling Stations with Voter Centers
Voters within Indianapolis’s Marion County will now be able vote wherever it is convenient, as the Marion County Election Board unanimously voted in favor of turning current polling sites into voter centers. Under this new system voters can go anywhere in the county to vote, rather than a specific polling station based on voters’ residential addresses, as is currently the case.
Critics warn that this choice could come at a cost however, as statistics have shown that the switch to voter centers usually leads to a reduction in the number of available sites. Marion County currently has over 300 polling stations.
Marion County is a Democratic stronghold in Indianapolis and its democracy has suffered since the Republicans took power — with the county having significantly fewer early voting stations when compared to the more Republican-leaning counties in the state. This was challenged by Common Cause Indianapolis and the NAACP, with both groups arguing the single early voting location was discriminatory.
January 23, 2018
Late ‘Dark Money’ Donations Gave Trump a Major Boost
The Russians may not have had the biggest, or only, influence in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, reports VICE. According to a new report from the Institute for New Economic Thinking, then-candidate Donald Trump received a “massive” quantity of late state campaign contributions that may have been significantly more influential than most expected. The influx of cash, or “dark money,” spiked after Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway took over the campaign. Acquired in part through super PACs and careful targeting of specific states, the campaign officials sought out big and small donations alike. Their success, the report argues, matters for the future of elections — Democrats and Republicans alike need to take into account the kind of language and attitude that compels voters to donate.
Are State Courts the Most Reliable Defenders of Voter Rights?
In the fight against partisan gerrymandering, state courts and constitutions prove to be far more reliable allies than their federal counterparts. State constitutions provide broad safeguards against unfair redistricting to ensure that voters are fairly represented. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, used the equal protection clauses in the state constitution to invalidate its congressional map this past Monday. Earlier this month, a federal court rejected a challenge to the same map, for the US Constitution only prohibits discrimination based on arbitrary factors like race, sex and age. Federal laws do not effectively capture the gamesmanship involved in redrawing boundaries.
January 22, 2018
Pennsylvania Ordered to Redraw Congressional Map
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared Monday that the state’s electoral map violated its constitution, and ordered the Republican-led legislature to redraw the districts within three weeks. Experts consider the state one of the most egregious examples of partisan gerrymandering. Given that — until Donald Trump won by less than 1 percent in 2016 — Pennsylvania had not elected a single Republican presidential candidate since 1988, it seems bizarre that the GOP hold 13 of 18 seats in the House of Representatives. In fact, the 7th district has even earned the nickname “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” for its conspicuously tampered borders. While Republican lawmakers have asked the US Supreme Court to stay the ruling, the effort may be futile: when a state supreme court makes a decision solely based on the state constitution, the federal court does not review it.
January 20, 2018
Washington State Allows Same-Day Registration, Empowers Minority Voters
In two bold moves, the Washington State Senate passed two bills aimed at expanding minority representation in government and granting voters more opportunities to register. Senate Bill 6021-Extending the period for voter registration allows voters to register in-person on Election Day, and online or by mail eight days earlier. Also, the Senate passed the 2018 Voting Rights Act, which allows local governments to redraw district boundaries to ensure fairer representation of minority constituents. State Republicans, however, were skeptical about the necessity of the new laws. Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) said: “Where there is [sic] allegations of real discrimination, there is the Federal Voting Rights Act which was passed in 1965 and we have 50 years of interpretations.”
January 19, 2018
Campaign Finance and Special Counsel Investigation
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has yet to dive headlong into campaign finance in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The focus instead has been on obstruction of justice and certain business crimes. Whether or not they have evidence with enough substance or conviction to bring campaign finance charges remains unclear. Attorney Bob Bauser notes in Just Security that the Russian government, rather than making direct cash contributions to the campaign, supported the Trump candidacy with “things of value” like hacked emails. Such actions don’t form a strong case for financial interference from a foreign government, but the Russian intervention is of such a distinct nature that any legal basis should be used to bear consequence on less-than-democratic processes.
January 18, 2018
Kobach’s Crosscheck System on Hold
Bryan Caskey, a Kansas election official, told reporters that the Interstate Crosscheck System, which compares instate voter rolls with other member states, will postpone an upload of data until a cybersecurity review of the system is conducted. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach spearheaded the Crosscheck program to identify duplicate registrants and voters. Caskey stressed that he wasn’t aware of any breaches of the system; nevertheless, Illinois election officials won’t transmit its digital voter rolls to Crosscheck until they are comfortable with the system’s state of security. Caskey also stated that the Department of Homeland Security will review the state’s election security protocols next month. Critics of Crosscheck say it can be used as a voter suppression tool to target minorities.
January 17, 2018
Mueller Investigation Digs Into Payments By the Russian Embassy
Authorities are currently reviewing payments made by the Russian embassy that may expose interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Under exclusive review by BuzzFeed News, the records show several years of suspicious activity. The team of special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating the transactions, which are notable for several reasons.
Former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak was involved in transactions and payments in the days immediately following the 2016 presidential election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation in part because of a secret meeting with Kislyak; Michael Flynn pled guilty to several conversations with the former ambassador, too. Two of Kislyak’s transactions are at the core of the investigation: an irregular payment of $120,000 ten days after Donald Trump’s election, and a blocked attempt to withdraw $150,000 in cash from the embassy account in January 2017.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hears Gerrymandering Case
The congressional districts in a key swing state could be redrawn before the 2018 midterms, Reuters reports. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is reviewing a lawsuit brought by a the League of Women Voters, which claims the state illegally favored Republicans when congressional maps were redrawn in 2011. Currently, Republicans hold 13 of the 18 seats in the US House of Representatives in a state President Donald Trump won by less than 1 percent.
Though they appeared largely sympathetic to the case, justices expressed concerns about whether or not there is sufficient time to redraw the districts before November 2018. Several other lawsuits have been filed nationwide. But Pennsylvania is an important battleground for the Democrats, who need to flip 24 seats nationwide to gain control of the House.
Russian Cyber Meddling Extends Beyond Election Systems
The Russian government’s intent to meddle in the US 2016 elections was to undermine trust in US democratic processes. However, the Russians have gone beyond the attacks on the nation’s electoral systems. At a hearing on January 17, Clint Watts, a former FBI agent, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that the Russians attacked the network servers of federal entities such as the Federal Communications Commission’s servers this past summer, and last week, a Russian group known as Pawn Storm [also known as Fancy Bear and APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) 28] targeted the US Senate.
House Science Committee Must Step Up to the Plate
In a January 17 letter, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Don Beyer (D-VA), members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, challenged their Republican colleagues Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Darin LaHood (R-IL) to shore up the country’s election security. Citing the 2016 Science Committee hearing titled “Protecting the 2016 Elections from Cyber and Voting Machine Attacks,” Johnson and Beyer wrote “the Science Committee has done nothing to conduct a post-mortem on those [Russian] attacks and efforts to enhance election security” despite the “groundswell of information . . . publicly released about the Russian attacks against our election infrastructure.” Also, the Democratic lawmakers referenced last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee report “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for US National Security.” Noting that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lacks jurisdiction over elections, the Science Committee, which is charged with cybersecurity matters, is obligated to conduct “further study” of the threats to the US election infrastructure.
January 16, 2018
Iowa Becomes Latest State to Roll Out Voter ID
Iowa’s new voter ID law kicked off with a “soft rollout” Tuesday, in which county voters who could not produce the required identification at the polls were permitted to sign an affidavit testifying they were who they claimed to be. The law also cut short the early voting period by 11 days.
Iowa’s Secretary of State has been mailing out free ID cards to registered voters lacking driver’s licenses or state ID since December.
The law was passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by the state’s then-governor, Republican Terry Branstad, currently serving as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to China.
An Iowa county election official was quoted as saying he’d “never witnessed any activity that [he] felt would warrant the implementation of a voter ID requirement.”
Virginia Loses Security-Minded Election Commissioner
Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés announced his resignation on January 16. Cortés, appointed the Virginia’s first Commissioner of Elections by outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), achieved recognition for modernizing the state’s election systems, including the transition to electronic voter registration and absentee ballot requests. His tenure was marred, however, when the state’s voter registration system crashed during the 2016 presidential election, as well as a couple of other voter registration snafus. The newly elected governor Ralph Northam (D) has not yet named a successor.
Another Bipartisan Push to Punish Foreign Election Meddlers
On January 16, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, which lays out specific foreign governments’ actions against US elections that would warrant retaliatory measures from the federal government. If enacted, the law would expand the penalties currently imposed by the Countering America’s Adversaries Act of 2017. The intent of the legislation is clear: if any foreign government, be it Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, mess with future US elections, severe sanctions can and will be imposed. The highlights of the bill are outlined here.
New DHS Secretary on the Election Hot Seat
On January 16, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee where she was peppered with questions about defending the country’s elections infrastructure. Responding to a question posed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Nielsen said she was aware of the recently introduced bipartisan Secure Elections Act, a bill sponsored by Klobuchar, that would authorize grants for states to bolster the cybersecurity of voting technology. Nielsen, however, stopped short of an outright endorsement of the legislation. Instead, she agreed that sending more money to states to upgrade their election security “makes sense.” Nielsen also told the committee members that her agency would not take over the investigation of the recently disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (the Voter Fraud Commission), as previously suggested by the Commission’s former vice chair Kris Kobach. Although Nielsen confirmed that Kobach has no role at DHS, it remains unclear if Homeland Security will receive the state voter roll data collected by the defunct Voter Fraud Commission.
January 15, 2018
The Numbers Matter for Voting Districts, Says a North Carolina Federal Judge
In North Carolina, Judge James Wynn came to the defense of math and statistics in his decision to strike down current voting districts, stating that the courts shouldn’t dismiss new scientific and statistical methods. His reasoning falls at the heart of a debate over how much weight to give data in court cases.
Many states consider “efficiency gaps” when they draw voting districts — essentially a metric that evaluates wasted votes in either party. Whether through “packing” or “cracking,” legislators can influence how districts vote: either packing like-minded voters into the same district to the point that their votes don’t matter, or distributing them among several districts to dissolve their votes. Last October, Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed such complex statistics as “sociological gobbledygook,” arguing that mathematical formulas don’t provide a solid legal framework.
January 12, 2018
Report: Russian Hackers Targeting Senate
After infiltrating the Democratic National Committee, Russian hackers have set their sights on the Senate at-large, according to a new report from cybersecurity firm Trend Micro Inc.
The firm, which previously discovered a set of decoy websites used to harvest emails from the campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron, says the same technique is now being used against the Senate, attributing the attempt to Fancy Bear, a hacker group allegedly aligned with the Russian government.
The group has targeted Senate staffers in the past, including those working under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R).
DHS Breaks with Trump’s Faith in Russia over Elections
In defiance of Trump’s faith in the good will of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed innocence regarding interference in the 2016 election, Bob Kolasky, an acting deputy undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the threat of election hacking by a nation-state or a malicious actor, “a national security issue.” After reports broke that Russia had meddled in American elections, election systems received a “critical infrastructure” designation, allowing DHS to provide expanded and prioritized risk and vulnerabilities assessments to states’ election infrastructure.
After the White House asked DHS to “to review the now-disbanded voter fraud commission’s initial findings and determine next courses of action,” a DHS spokesman indicated that the agency would continue its work on “election security.” The director of White House Information Technology said any state data collected by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity during its short-lived mandate would not be transferred to DHS; instead the data will be destroyed.
Checklist for Protecting US Elections from Foreign Meddling
With the 2018 midterm elections right around the corner, the US must take necessary steps to prevent foreign interference in elections that go beyond congressional legislation, the DHS’s designation of elections as “critical infrastructure,” and improved transparency of political ads on social media platforms. Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection provides an anti-election, foreign meddling checklist.
January 11, 2018
Time Running Out to Secure Elections Against Foreign Hacking
Unless immediate proactive steps are taken by the Trump administration, future elections, including the 2018 and 2020, US elections remain vulnerable to Russian interference, according to a Democratic staff report. The 206-page report, Putin’s Asymmetrical Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for US National Security, commissioned by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, highlights the Russian government’s nearly two decades-long information operations assault on democracies worldwide.
The report charges President Donald Trump with ignoring a “national security” threat, the continuation of which will leave the US vulnerable to Russian cyberattacks against the election infrastructure in the US, and across Europe. The report outlines 10 key recommendations including: asserting greater US presidential leadership; supporting democratic institution-building; freezing Kremlin-linked dirty money; increasing sanctions; publicizing asymmetrical hybrid threat actors; building coalitions, defenses and norms; holding social media companies accountable, and reducing European dependence on Russian energy sources.
January 10, 2018
Ohio’s Strict Voter Roll Laws Attempting to Pave the Way in Supreme Court
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case that could have far-reaching consequences for existing and future voter suppression efforts. At issue is the legality of Ohio’s system of removing people from voter rolls.
Under the current system, which is the strictest in the country, a voter missing a single election is sent a confirmation of address card; if the card is not replied to and the resident doesn’t vote in the following four years, they are removed from the voter roll. The idea is to maintain the integrity of the voter roll (by removing people who have died or moved to another state, for example) but opponents argue the result has been the disenfranchisement of many poor, homeless, and transient people.
Federal law states that “failure to vote” is not enough to deregister a voter, but the lawyers representing Ohio are arguing that the law allows failing to vote as a trigger to start the removal process. The Supreme Court seemed sympathetic to Ohio’s argument, with only the three liberal justices raising major concerns about the current law’s legality.
This case has national implications as many Republican states have shown an interest in implementing a similar system should the Supreme Court deem it legal, with 17 Republican-controlled states submitting briefs to the court. Twelve Democratic-led states have submitted opposing arguments, branding it as a system more interested in preventing minorities from voting than with cleaning up the voter roll.
18,000 Illegal Voters in Kansas Will Never Be Found, According to Kobach
Kansas’ Secretary of State Kris Kobach continued his crusade against alleged voter fraud today, presenting the possibility of 18,000 illegal voters in Kansas that may never be found. This number came from a witness — political scientist Jesse Richman — who in January 2017 was subject to a letter signed by 200 leading political scientists objecting to his work on voter fraud. The math that resulted in the 18,000 illegal voters is suspicious at best, as it extrapolates from a very small sample size.
When pressed, Kobach was only able to point to 127 individuals who had illegally registered to vote, of which less than half actually voted and only two have been prosecuted. Kobach however, see’s these individuals as evidence of voter fraud, therefore proving the need for tighter controls.
These statistics were revealed as part of Kobach’s report to a house committee on elections, regarding the voter fraud system Cross Check. The system is highly controversial as it’s strict controls result in a lot of false positives.
Campaign Legal Center Files Lawsuit Against Federal Election Commission
During the 2016 presidential election, GEO Group, one of America’s largest private prison companies, donated $225,000 to a super PAC supporting the Trump campaign, despite the fact that government contractors are prohibited from making political contributions. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) delayed its enforcement of federal law and neglected to penalize the GEO Group for its actions. In response, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has filed a lawsuit concerning these violations.
Shortly after the inauguration, President Donald Trump awarded $110 million in contracts to the GEO Group — exactly why the 75-year old protection against political contributions from private contractors exists. The CLC filed a complaint in late 2016, which the FEC has failed to recognize, despite having fined a separate government contractor for its contributions to a pro-Clinton super PAC. In January 2018, the CLC filed a lawsuit against the FEC.
January 9, 2018
Is Russia Going to Influence the Mexican Elections?
Russia’s attempts to use advanced cyber tools to spread disinformation continues to grow according to US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. McMaster claims there is evidence of “Russian meddling” to influence the outcome of Mexico’s July election. This accusation is the latest in a string of similar claims that Russia attempted to spread disinformation prior to elections in the US, UK, France, Kenya, and Catalonia. The Czech Republic and Italy also have concerns about the Kremlin’s attempts to impede free and fair elections.
Voter Fraud Commission is Destroying All Its Data
President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was killed last week and with it goes all its data, according to the White House Director of Information Technology Charles Herndon. When the commission was originally dissolved, many assumed any data it had accrued would be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as is the norm.
Herndon also stated that earlier comments from the White House were wrong and the commission didn’t create any preliminary findings. DHS has stated it will not be continuing this review of alleged voter fraud but should they decide to, they will now be starting from scratch.
Thousands in Virginia Appear to Have Voted in Wrong District
As many as 6,000 Virginians may have voted in the wrong state House districts last November, The Washington Post reported. The registration errors may have been caused by a lack of safeguards in the district assignment process. Before a redrawn congressional map is sent to legislators for approval, local registrars must manually match each apartment building in the state to a district. Some voters were misassigned because street names had been mixed up during redistricting. A blunder of this scale is particularly salient in Virginia, where fewer than 500 votes separated six delegate races. A state investigation found that in the 28th House District, which Republican Bob Thomas won by just 73 votes, 147 voters received the wrong ballot.
Supreme Court Delays North Carolina Gerrymandering Challenge
The Supreme Court blocked an unprecedented challenge on gerrymandering last Thursday by delaying a lower court’s order to block North Carolina’s congressional map. Judge James A. Wynn Jr, who presided over the initial January 9 case, had deemed the map unconstitutional because it handed Republicans 10 of the 13 delineated districts, thereby violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection mandate. The decision marked the first time a federal court ruled against a partisan gerrymander, and would have given Democrats a chance to even the odds in a state that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, North Carolina’s current map will likely be used in the November midterm elections.
January 8, 2018
Critics Believe Voter Fraud Battle Only Just Beginning
Critics of President Donald Trump’s failed Voter Fraud Commission aren’t celebrating too much as they know the battle is far from over. Despite the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promising to not continue the commission’s review, critics are worried DHS provides the perfect cover to carry out a new phase of the commission. Rudy Mehrbani, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, states that the government should be focusing on the proven cyberattacks on the 2016 elections, instead of chasing proof for Trump’s unproven claims of voter fraud.
His real concern however, is DHS’ ability to use resources — such as their immigration database and their law enforcement authority — to either strike people off the voter roll or scare them from voting altogether.
January 5, 2018
DOJ Wants to Ask About Immigration Status in 2020 Census
Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is pushing the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau to include a question about immigration status on the 2020 census questionnaire. Critics fear that a citizenship question “will reduce response rates, harm accuracy and increase the need for expensive face-to-face follow-up.”
The Census Bureau is constitutionally mandated to count every person in the US once, in the right place, regardless of citizenship status. Numbers of people living in different areas are used, for example, to apportion funding for schools and hospitals. While the White House may couch immigration status, the new data point, as an enhancement to demographic data, answering the question could have dire ramifications for illegal immigrants already targeted for arrest and deportation, and even for permanent foreign residents who fear wrongful deportation despite their legal status in the country. Including such a question could almost certainly cause a dramatic undercount in communities already politically underrepresented, such as large Asian and Latino populations in predominantly Democratic urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston. Trump’s leading contender to head up the daily operations of the 2020 census is Thomas Brunell. Brunell, an ultra-partisan, political science professor with no government experience, has testified numerous times on behalf of Republicans seeking to redraw congressional districts.
Kobach Prosecutes 67-year-old for Voter Fraud
Kris Kobach, the Republican Secretary of State of Kansas and mythmaker of widespread voter fraud, has actually found a fraudulent voter! — one 67-year-old Que J. Fullmer. Kobach, currently the only secretary of state in the country with the power to bring prosecutions against voters, charged Fullmer with four counts of felony voter fraud for voting in two states. If convicted, Fullmer faces steep fines and two years’ probation. Fullmer, a Republican, splits his time between his cattle ranch in Kansas and his home in Colorado. As a taxpayer in two states, Fullmer mistakenly believed that, if he voted for Trump in only one state, he could still vote down the ballot, for state and local candidates, in both states. Without fully understanding the charges he faces, Fullmer will, nevertheless, represent himself in a Kansas court on February 1.
Department of Homeland Security Will Not Be Pursuing Voter Fraud Review
Following the dissolution of Trump’s Voter Fraud Commission, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated it has no plans to pursue the issue despite being handed the task by the president. The commission — which was formed following unfounded accusations from Trump that voter fraud was the reason he lost the popular vote by over three million votes — was dissolved last week due to legal battles and multiple states being unwilling to share voter information with the commission. DHS also stated that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — who led the commission — would not be advising them, contradicting earlier conflicting reports.
The biggest motivation for not reviewing voter fraud seems to be a concern on DHS’ part of eroding the working relationship built with the states over the previous months. Working together to protect against cyberattacks in the 2018 midterm elections has created a good relationship and there is concern that taking over from the commission would undermine this.
January 4, 2018
Good News for the EAC
Congressmember Gregg Harper (R-MS) will not seek re-election at the end of his term in 2018. That’s good news for the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a cash-strapped, independent agency born out of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The EAC and its technical advisor, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, offer states help meeting HAVA requirements, including drafting election systems cybersecurity guidelines.
As chair of the House Administration Committee, Harper oversees federal elections matters. Last year, Harper, a main critic of the EAC, introduced a bill to terminate the commission. Harper has called the agency “a waste of taxpayer funds” and said it has “outlived its usefulness, mismanaged its resources, and cost taxpayers millions.” Presumably to Harper’s chagrin, the EAC will host a public meeting on January 10 to discuss voting system cybersecurity for the 2018 midterm elections. Congress has introduced numerous bills in the current legislative session to help states shore up their voting systems in the wake of Russia’s scans and probes last year of over 20 state voter registration systems.
Booz Allen Predicts Manipulation of Voting Machines in 2018
Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the top contractors of the federal government, forecasts a “bumpy ride” for the 2018 midterm elections. The government-services company predicts that in 2018 we will likely see “the first confirmed instance of an election being directly manipulated at the voting machine or election infrastructure levels.” Russian hackers interfered in the 2016 US elections by probing voter registration databases. But those databases do not tally ballots cast by voters. In the Top 9 Cybersecurity Trends for 2018 report, Booz Allen predicts that in 2018 malicious hackers (“espionage groups, local political parties, and political hacktivists”) may “change vote totals, not just voters’ preferences and enthusiasm.” Booz Allen points to “rampant poor security” of voting machines, in particular, the supply-chain risk of procuring voting machine components from vendors based in nation states that are adversarial in nature. More alarmingly, the report predicts that state election boards “will be generally slow to take steps to secure electronic votes for a multitude of reasons, including costs and a lack of uniform security standards.”
New Algorithm Offers Easy and Accurate Way to Show Effects of Voter ID Laws
A recent collaboration between Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard and Eitan Hersh of Tufts has created an easy-to-understand algorithm that demonstrates the true impact of voter ID laws. The hope is that this algorithm can be used in court to demonstrate the negative impact of voter ID laws.
Created while working as expert witnesses in a Department Justice case against voter ID laws in Texas, the aim was to create an algorithm which was both accurate and easy to comprehend. In the past, algorithms are dismissed by judges as too difficult to understand and therefore it’s results, although statistically correct, are not accepted.
Ansolabehere and Hersh’s algorithm scans government records by address, date of birth, gender, and name to understand which combination offers the most accurate result. They used the records that contained Social Security numbers to check their results. The results? 98 percent of the records that were matched using Social Security Numbers could also be matched using any three of a voter’s address, date of birth, gender and name. The ease and accuracy of this algorithm should be a useful tool to prove the discriminatory nature of Voter ID laws.
Virginia House of Representatives is Republican — For Now.
Republican David Yancey’s name was pulled out of a cobalt-and-white ceramic bowl (made by a local artist), breaking a tie in his race against Democrat Shelly Simonds and keeping Virginia’s House of Representatives red — for now at least. Yancey was originally declared the winner but a recount showed Simonds actually won by one vote. The following day, a three-person panel ruled that a previously discarded ballot was legitimate, creating a 50-50 tie.
The option still remains for the unlucky Simond’s to follow another provision of the law and challenge the results. A federal lawsuit is also an option. In the meantime the House is a 51-49 split in favor of the Republicans, allowing them to select a speaker and set an agenda.