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.

February 1, 2018

  1. Nikki Haley Says US is “Taking Steps” to Prevent Future Russian Election Interference

    At an annual Republican policy retreat, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, called the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 elections an “outrageous thing” and said the Trump administration is “taking steps” to prevent interference in the future. Although Haley admitted that Russia meddled in US elections, the commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump refused to impose additional congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia for its elections interference.

  2. Pennsylvania GOP Leader Sets the Stage for a Constitutional Crisis

    In an audacious move, Joseph Scarnati (R-25), president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate, refused to comply with a last week’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order to turn over data that would be used to redraw the state’s “spectacularly biased,” Republican controlled congressional districts maps. Members of the Pennsylvania highest court stated that the GOP drawn maps “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Pennsylvania’s constitution and ordered redrawing of district boundaries by February 9. Expressing outrage, the Republican leader, Scarnati, claims Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overstepped its legal authority by legislating from the bench, usurping the role of the state’s bicameral legislature, the General Assembly. Pennsylvania Republican filed an emergency appeal to conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the justice in charge of emergency appeals out of Pennsylvania. If the Supreme Court’s conservative majority stays the state court’s order, the state will remain one of the country’s most gerrymandered congressional district maps. If the High Court orders the extremely partisan gerrymandered district boundaries to be redrawn, representation in the Pennsylvania Legislature and the US House of Representatives could swing in the upcoming 2018 elections.

  3. Kentucky and West Virginia to Use Harvard’s Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook

    Kentucky and West Virginia’s Secretaries of State are emailing political campaigns, candidates, and their staff the November 2017 Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. The playbook is the product of the Center’s Defending Digital Democracy (DDD), a bipartisan initiative focused on providing tools and strategies to better protect political campaigns against cyberattacks. The playbook is intended for regular campaign staffers with little to no cybersecurity training. Besides the DDD, other organizations like the Cyber Peace Foundation, the National Cyber Security Alliance and The SANS Institute are helping campaigns defend against interference in the 2018 elections.

  4. Supporters of Ranked-Choice in Maine Intend to Force a Vote

    In Maine, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has been collecting signatures to push ahead with a people’s veto, a citizen-initiated ballot referendum, of a law that delays the implementation of ranked-choice voting until 2021, three years from now to give the Maine Legislature enough time to amend the state’s Constitution. Currently, the state Constitution requires a plurality vote — meaning the candidate who receives more votes in a general election than anyone else wins, whereas ranked-choice voting lets voters rank multiple candidates based on order of preference.

    Last year, the Maine Legislature enacted a law that delayed the implementation of a 2016 vote to transition from plurality voting to ranked-choice voting. The Committee needs 61,123 valid signatures from registered voters to implement ranked voting and override the 2017 delay — a procedure advocates would like to see implemented before the state’s June 2018 primary election.

  5. DNC Plans to Appeal Court Decision Allowing RNC Poll Watching

    The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced a Third Circuit appeal of a New Jersey district court decision that would allow the Republican National Committee (RNC) to pursue its “ballot integrity” activities unabated. In the 1980s, Democrats brought a lawsuit against Republicans in a New Jersey gubernatorial race that resulted in a consent decree barring the RNC from election day “ballot security” measures. The Dems accused the GOP of voter intimidation tactics like poll watching that targeted minority voters. The resulting decree had been extended several times but was allowed to expire last month.

    New Jersey Democrats began the litigation to extend the deadline of the 2016 consent decree in the wake of voter fraud rhetoric from then-candidate Donald Trump. In November 2017, US District Judge John Michael Vazquez lifted the consent decree.

  6. Florida’s Vote-Restoration System for Felons Ruled Unconstitutional

    In a landmark decision, Judge Mark Walker for the US District Court Northern District of Florida, struck down Florida’s Jim Crow-era law that permanently strips convicted Florida felons of their right to vote unless their voting rights are restored (after a waiting period of five years) by a clemency board consisting of the governor and three of his Cabinet members. Warner ruled that dependence upon the favor of four state officials is arbitrary and discriminatory, and thereby unconstitutional under federal law.

    “By giving ‘unfettered discretion’ to Gov. Rick Scott (R), who has more power to grant or deny the right to vote than any Cabinet member, Florida arbitrarily chooses who gets to vote and who doesn’t,” he said in his decision.

    Walker gave the parties until February 12 to brief the court on proposed remedies. After the February 12 deadline, Walker will issue a permanent order, which likely will be challenged in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Warner’s decision could impact about 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida, many of them African-Americans.

    In November, the state will vote on a ballot initiative that would also restore voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence.

  7. Virginia Amends Election Laws in Response to 2017 Hiccups

    The Virginia House of Delegates passed last Thursday a series of bills aimed at reforming state election laws, including one that prescribes random drawing as the proper way to resolve a tie.  Several amendments directly addressed mistakes in the 2017 elections, in which dozens of constituents voted in the wrong House of Delegates races. One bill, passed with a 91–6 vote, would grant misassigned voters provisional ballots for each race. Another measure targets partisan gerrymandering by allowing the General Assembly to redraw district lines more than once per decade — should local governments draw new precinct boundaries.

  8. San Francisco District 2 Candidate Sues to Reschedule Election

    In San Francisco, the District 2 supervisor seat opened up after now-Mayor Mark Farrell was sworn in. As is standard, he appointed a replacement, Catherine Stefani, a former clerk, to fill in before the next election schedule for November. But current BART Board Director Nick Josefowitz, who is running to fill the seat, thinks the election should be moved up, reports the SF Gate. “Our democracy was founded on the principle that we the people elect our representatives,” he said.

    Citing a 2001 city charter amendment, he, alongside District 2 resident Noah Shanok, is suing to move the upcoming election from November to June, when District 8 is already scheduled to elect its new supervisor. Designed to level the playing field, the amendment in question states that election dates should minimize the amount of time a political appointee spends in office to diminish the ability to develop political advantage.

  9. Florida Lawmakers Move to Protect Voters’ Personal Data

    Until now, voter information has been publically available in Florida, including details like home addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, and email addresses. But local election experts are pushing to change the practice and impose stricter protections of voters’ personal information, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

    The enthusiasm for private records comes on the coattails of an influx of requests following President Trump’s voter integrity commission, which alerted the public to the accessibility of their personal information. Representative Cyndi-Stevenson (R) filed the bill to keep the information secret in the House, where it passed unchecked. Rep. Stevenson said keeping the information public would subject private citizens to “unacceptable” commercial solicitation and harassment. The future of the bill is in the hands of the Senate, where no one has filed the same proposal, though a different bill limiting secrecy to pre-registration for 16 and 17 year old voters is under review.

January 31, 2018

  1. What’s Trending in Election Administration?

    After a wild year for American elections, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) took “a sober look back on 2017” in its annual report on national trends and state accomplishments in election administration legislation.

    While “security concerns” may have dominated the conversation of the past year after Russia’s reported election interference, “arguably the biggest trend” in state legislation, according to the report, “was an uptick in states providing state funding,” ranging from Utah’s $275,000 appropriations up to $10 million in Michigan; surely, welcome relief for administrators and activists who have been clamoring for upgrades to election infrastructure — including vulnerable and outdated voting equipment — since the last major federal election stimulus came in the form of 2002’s Help America Vote Act.

    Other highlights include:

    * Voter ID: 113 bills and 6 enactments in 37 states (“Texas alone considered 22 bills on the subject,” while Iowa introduced a law “which included mailing free voter identification cards to people who were registered to vote, but did not have a driver’s license or state-issued ID card”)

    * Felon voting rights: 67 bills and 6 enactments in 23 states

    * Voter registration list maintenance: 119 bills and 21 enacted in 16 states (“the most of any topic”)

    * Use, distribution, and sale of lists: 46 bills and 6 enactments in 5 states

    * Technology and equipment: 19 bills enacted by 10 states (though, as the report notes, “many were minor”)

    * Automatic voter registration: in Illinois, Rhode Island, and Colorado, automatic voter registration overtook its online counterpart, which may have been the “the big trend of the past,” but “got no traction in 2017”

    In addition, the report took a dig at the 27 states for their “kindergartener” methodology of electoral tie breaking and featured an obituary for President Donald Trump’s “Election Integrity” Commission.

  2. US Commission on Civil Rights Evaluates State of Voting Rights

    The United States Commission on Civil Rights participated in a daylong briefing concerning the federal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act late last week. The event brought together experts and commentators and included public commentary on the state of access among minorities to voting rights. The event was held in North Carolina, a state with a long history of both voter suppression and organizing around the right to expand the vote.

    Debo P. Adegbile, who serves on the US Commission on Civil Rights and argued Shelby County v. Holder, the landmark Voting Rights Act case before the US Supreme Court, wrote in the News Observer about the importance of continuing to organize around expanded voting rights. He notes that minorities have always fought for the right to vote in democracies — both the right to vote and the struggle to attain it are pillars of democratic societies and democratic process, he says.

  3. Stop the Partisanship: Elections are a Matter of National Security

    Francis X. Taylor, a 47-year veteran in national security, including a stint as the former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), called upon the highest levels of the federal government to protect the country’s election system as a matter of national security. Last month marked the one-year anniversary of DHS designating elections as “critical infrastructure,” a sector considered so vital to America’s sovereignty that protection by DHS is a matter of national security. And yet, he says there is “federal procrastination” to protect national security, from the top down — from President Donald Trump, to his Executive Cabinet, to the Senate and the House of Representatives. Taylor adroitly recognized the federalism argument that election administration is constitutionally reserved to the states, but state and local election bodies are overburdened and under-resourced. They can’t possibly be expected to adequately defend against cyberattacks launched by a highly sophisticated nation-state like Russia. Taylor calls upon newly appointed DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to “firewall democracy” and finally put the nation’s defense over partisan politics.

  4. South Dakota Allows Tribal Identification Cards to Register to Vote

    South Dakota’s Senate State Affairs Committee passed a bill allowing tribal identification cards to be used when registering to vote. This bill will now be sent to the full chamber to be debated and voted on.

    The primary sponsor, Sen. Troy Heinart (D-Mission) — a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — knew that most members of the tribe carried a tribal card, but not all have a driver’s license. To register in South Dakota, a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number is required.

    Should this bill pass into law, the next step is for the tribal ID cards to be amended so that they carry the last four digits of the carrier’s Social Security number. The bill stipulates that the tribal ID card must include the last four digits to be accepted. Although this will be a large undertaking, the inclusion of the tribal card opens the doors of democracy to a minority that has long been shut out.

January 30, 2018

  1. Koch-Backed Americans for Prosperity Refuses to Release Donation Histories

    Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an organization launched by Charles and David Koch, has refused to release redacted Schedule B tax forms from 2016, reports Maplight, a money in politics watchdog based in California. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies politically active nonprofits as “dark money” organizations because donors can remain anonymous, a move originally intended to protect donors to the NAACP in the 1950s.

    The Schedule B forms, which the IRS requires nonprofit organizations to make public, outline donations exceeding $5,000 dollars. The AFP claims releasing the documents would threaten the privacy of its donors — documents filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office suggest that more than 80 percent of the AFP’s 2016 contributions came from five donors.

    The Schedule B form would reveal the individual amounts of donations, but no personal or identifying information about who made contributions. Maplight filed a formal complaint in January. Even though the source of the donation remains anonymous, identifying the amount of individual donations clarifies how big the donations are, and how many different people they’re coming from.

January 29, 2018

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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.”

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.