Election Integrity News
Drawn from various sources and updated frequently by our editorial team, the Election Integrity News is a compilation of the latest developments in the area of election integrity. That means stories covering everything from the administration of elections, the security of the vote, voter suppression, gerrymandering, money in politics, and much more.
If a story catches your eye that you think would make for an interesting item, send it to us at FairElectionTips@whowhatwhy.org.
Latest News: May 2 – May 5, 2018
Michigan Puts Up Barriers to Recounts
Candidates looking to recount votes in Michigan will now have to prove a “reasonable chance of victory” to be able to instigate the process. The shift would apply in situations much like the one Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein founder herself in following the 2016 presidential election. Uncertain about the integrity of the election results, Stein pushed for a recount. The rules then required that Stein allege fraud or error and pay a per-precinct fee.
But now, the obstacles are higher. The new regulations will apply for the upcoming 2018 election, when Michigan will elect a new governor and hold elections for its members of congress. Representative Jim Lilly (R, Park Township) sponsored the bill, stating, “The last election cycle just brought to light something with our election law in Michigan that could be exploited” and that he “didn’t want to see somebody taking advantage of that again for basically political gain.” Democrats have come out against the new laws, citing concerns over how it might limit the integrity and verifiability of elections. Following the turmoil of the 2016 elections, though, Michigan has implemented manual audits for the midterm election season.
Native Americans Get Injunction on Photo ID Laws
Election integrity scored a victory in North Dakota this week, with a federal judge siding with six Native American plaintiffs who claim a voter identification law was extremely prohibitive. Last week US District Judge Daniel Hovland struck down a ruling requiring a residential address, and then yesterday rejected a motion to reinstate the requirement. A large portion of Native Americans live on reservations or live in rural areas with P.O. boxes, meaning they are unable to prove their address.
Native Americans claim this law was passed to suppress their votes and the numbers support this: Voter turnout in areas heavily populated by Native Americans dropped by 12 percent in 2014, despite statewide numbers remaining the same, following the passage of voter ID laws.
Why target a demographic that only accounts for 2% of the entire nation’s population? Well, because in 2012 Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp carried over 80% of the Native American vote on the way to a surprise election win by just 3,000 votes. Since then, laws preventing Democratic-leaning voters from casting a ballot has been a main priority for the GOP. The Republicans have even partially admitted this, with state representative Dan Ruby (R) stating that Heitkamp’s win “shined a light on it in a way that it was decided that now we should fix the issue.” North Dakota is a very red state, with Republicans owning every statewide office and both legislative chambers before Heitkamp’s win. With Heitkamp in for a tough reelection fight in November, this ruling could have a huge impact.
The injunction by federal district-court judge means Native Americans can again use their federally issued tribal ID — along with other easily accessed tribal documents as supplemental evidence of identity and address — to vote in November. The future of the law after November however is unknown, with Republicans seemingly very intent on keeping as many Democrats home as possible.
New Research Shows How Gerrymandering Threatens Economic Security
Far more serious than flipping party control in Congress, gerrymandering also chips away at the economic welfare of voters, according to a new research paper. The trend has been observed in both Democratic and Republican strongholds.
Gerrymandered electoral maps allow one party to establish lasting sway in competitive, often racially diverse, states. Relieved of the pressure to win re-elections, politicians become less invested in the needs and grievances of their constituents. The researchers found that, the more heavily gerrymandered the state, the more difficulties consumers encounter in getting credit access. In fact, people living in heavily gerrymandered districts need to earn $3,400 more in personal income to obtain a loan approval from a lender.
Lenders answer to state regulations and oversight, which are, in turn, determined by politicians. Public support matters only if it translates into voting power; as long as gerrymandering continues, politicians will be less and less inclined to do right by the people.
Popular Georgia Democrat Under Fire for Backing Gerrymandered Map
Progressive darling Stacey Abrams, who is vying to become Georgia’s first black female governor, allegedly approved a racially gerrymandered map in 2015 while she was minority leader in the state House.
Last year, the NAACP and a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder filed separate lawsuits against Georgia’s reconfigured maps, arguing that they diluted African American voting power. Republican lawmakers, discrediting the lawsuits, testified that Abrams “signed off” on the measure and instructed the Democratic caucus to support it, too. With help from the tinkered boundaries, Georgia Republicans easily held onto their majority in the 2016 elections. Many Democratic candidates didn’t even enter races they thought they had no shot at winning, and the state recorded the highest number of uncontested seats in the country.
The controversy is notably ironic given Abrams’s carefully cultivated reputation as a protector of voting rights; equally as jarring is the image of a leading African American lawmaker scheming to undermine the voices of African American constituents. Worse still, if Abrams did in fact back the redistricting proposal, Holder’s effort to instate fairer boundaries could be thwarted by the court. Abrams has denied consenting to final tweaks on the maps, and insisted that she was mislead in the initial district-drawing discussion.
Latest News: April 28 – May 1, 2018
New York City Could Be Next for Ranked Choice Voting
New York City is the latest municipality to consider a transition to ranked choice — or instant runoff — voting. Advocates are pushing for change through the Charter Revision Committee that would mean the end of local primary races. In an instant runoff system, voters rank the candidates according to preference. Through a process of elimination, the candidate who receives the majority of the vote wins.
Primary runoff elections cost the city millions and narrow the field on election day. Prominent figures (and potential hopefuls for the 2021 mayoral race) like Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Comptroller Scott Stringer have noted the lower costs and higher turnout rates that instant runoff elections can deliver. James has called the system the “most democratic option.” With instant runoff, voters only have to come to the poll one time, which could increase turnout in New York, where participation rates are extremely low in primary elections. Moreover, in such elections the field of candidates is often more diverse and less driven by big dollar donations.
Kobach’s Office: Stopping Him From Paying Contempt Fine With State Money ‘Illegal’
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is reportedly trying to use state money to pay the fines associated with having been found in contempt of court. The Kansas House of Representatives is trying to stop him, and the Kobach camp says the intervention is illegal. In its most recent budget, the House included a prohibition on using state funds to cover defense or penalties for elected officials related to contempt of court findings. Kobach’s senior counsel has taken issue with the provision, calling it illegal and an unnecessary draw on state resources. Nevertheless, the change passed in a 103-16 vote, though it still will need to weather negotiations between the House and Senate.
Department of Justice Internal Manual Review Producing Questionable New Policies
The Department of Justice’s US Attorneys’ Manual — the document all federal prosecutors use as a reference point on the department’s policies and priorities — has been under review since the fall. The results are starting to trickle out … and they’re not good for election integrity.
In the section of the manual that deals with civil rights, the DOJ has removed any direct references to redistricting and racial gerrymandering, although the document does still mention other forms of discrimination such as bans on literacy tests and poll taxes. This follows the administration’s stance on this issue, as they are currently supporting Texas in a Supreme Court battle to keep their gerrymandered districts. The administration switched sides in this case when President Donald Trump took office.
The implications of this removal could have a massive impact going forwards, as manual reviews like this are not common — the last one was twenty years ago. Although each attorney general makes changes through memos and other avenues, the manual still sets the standard for the country. Completely removing racial gerrymandering and redistricting from the manual is a stark reminder of not only how we can expect this issue to be treated in the future, but also how the administration truly feels about election integrity.
Arkansas Appeals Judge’s Decision to Block Voter Identification Laws
With early voting for Arkansas’s upcoming primary scheduled for May 7th, the state has predictably appealed a judge’s decision to block a voter identification law requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. Judge Alice Gray ruled on Thursday that the law introduces a new criteria for voting, meaning people who have already registered to vote but don’t have appropriate photo ID are now barred from voting.
The Arkansas law is nearly identical to legislation that the state Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional four years ago. Interestingly, the discussion in both cases never hinged on the legality requiring photo ID itself but rather concerned the constitutionality of implementing the law. Arkansas’s constitution contains a section that outlines the qualifications for voting — a photo ID is a requirement. Judge Gray’s decision states that the law creates a new voter qualification but does not place it into the correct section of the constitution, therefore rendering it void.
Due to the obvious time constraints, the state’s appeal addresses the State Supreme Court directly, rather than petitioning Judge Gray to stay her decision. With this law already having been struck down once, the government doesn’t have much time to persuade the court and reinstate this potentially disenfranchising law.
Latest News: April 24 – April 28, 2018
Republicans on House Intelligence Panel Absolve Trump Campaign in Russian Meddling
House Republicans found no substantial evidence that the Trump campaign had much of anything to do with Russian election meddling over the course of a lengthy investigation led by the House Intelligence Committee. A new report details the findings of the investigation, targeting intelligence agencies for insufficient responses to interference from Moscow and highlighting dubious ties between the Clinton Campaign, the DNC, and Russian actors.
President Donald Trump himself celebrated the announcement on Twitter, to no one’s surprise. The Republicans did find evidence of bad decisions and “ill-advised” contacts, but by their evaluation, none amounted to collusion. House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee disagree, arguing that the Republican contingent is closing the book with far too much haste.
So Long As Politics Stay Polarized, Gerrymandering Isn’t Going Anywhere
For the past four months, state courts have delivered a string of victories to opponents of partisan redistricting. They’ve struck down electoral maps that reduce the influence of minority voters, ordered new districts drawn before the upcoming midterms, and forced the US Supreme Court to seriously address a practice many consider the biggest threat to democracy. But such incremental steps have little chance of ending it, according to Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University.
Pildes credits two key developments for turning gerrymandering into an entrenched and pervasive practice: the proliferation of one-party states and the polarization of national politics. The herculean, existential battles over the House we’ve become accustomed to are in fact a relatively new phenomenon; Democrats controlled the lower chamber of Congress for most of the 20th century. But since 1994, power has shifted back and forth between the two parties by consistently thin margins. The constant threat of losing the House — and the country’s cultural identity — has increased the stakes in redistricting cycles.
The opportunity to consolidate power is greater for state governments whose governorships and legislatures are controlled by the same party. The number of these one-party states have increased from 21 in 2000 to 33 in 2010. As party parity becomes simultaneously more vital and more tenuous, the incentive to gerrymander rises. This year, for examples, Democrats need to flip just 24 seats to regain control of the lower chamber; nabbing a few decisive districts could make a crucial difference.
FEC Plans Crackdowns on ‘Zombie’ Campaigns
In a rare display of action, the FEC intends to intensify crackdowns — but not on issues like dark money, or independent spending. Instead, the agency will target ex-representatives who keep spending campaign donations after leaving office. Officially called “dormant” campaigns, but often referred to as “zombie” campaigns, the FEC wants to close the loophole that allows former lawmakers to spend campaign donations long after the close of an election season — in some cases, after the death of the candidate. The new pursuit of such spending follows an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and 10News WTSP that demonstrated how the FEC glossed over campaign finance reports that included “zombie” spending from upwards of 100 politicians. Reportedly, the issue was “not on the FEC’s radar.”
Latest News: April 20 – April 24, 2018
US Supreme Court Split on Texas Gerrymandering Case
As has become the norm for pivotal gerrymandering cases, the US Supreme Court appeared divided on a challenge to reinstate Texas’s Republican-drawn electoral map. A lower court had tossed the state’s districts after finding that some of its configurations reduced the power of black and Hispanic voters.
The division during oral arguments may not appear surprising to those who followed the Supreme Court’s initial consideration of the case last fall, wherein the justices splintered along ideological lines and stalled the lower court’s decision while they mulled its implications. The split call meant that Texas would likely retain its disputed map in the upcoming midterm elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the mere creation of the current map — court-imposed in 2013 after previous iterations were overturned on grounds of racial discrimination — deserves “the presumption of good faith.” That Texas demonstrated good faith in drawing these districts,” Roberts said, “is significant to the determination of their intent to discriminate.”
As they did at the first hearing, the court’s liberal justices maintained that it had been premature to hear the case before the lower court ordered the state to redraw its map. By doing so, the Supreme Court lost its jurisdiction to hear a challenge.
140,000 Maricopa County (AZ) Residents Still Awaiting Registration Card Days Before Special Election
Although voters are hitting the polls in Arizona’s Maricopa County today, there are 140,000 voters still awaiting their registration card. While this isn’t a necessity to vote, members of both parties worry the snafu will lead to confusion, especially for first-time voters. Voter registration is activated regardless of when the cards are mailed and there are multiple other methods to provide registration come election day. Should a voter not know this however, the lack of a voter registration card could keep them away from the polls.
The delay is a result of a change in printers that was made in December. However, it took officials until March to test for accuracy, and it was late March before they were able to send any cards out. While they have sent out 60,000 cards since then, there are still 140,000 to go and time is running short.
The special election is to replace Trent Franks (R) who had to resign after allegations emerged that he had asked a female staffer to have his surrogate baby in exchange for $5 million. Republicans are expected to win this conservative district, which President Donald Trump won by 21 points. However with the 2018 midterms on the horizon, Democrats are hoping to use the election as a gauge of their chance of winning back Congress.
DNC Sues Trump Campaign for Not Doing Enough About Russian Meddling
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has brought a civil lawsuit against the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia in an attempt to deter interference from Moscow in the upcoming midterm elections. In an interview with chief ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, DNC chairman Tom Perez expressed his concern over continued foreign interference. Perez sees the civil suit as wholly independent of the criminal investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrat David Axelrod expressed his concern that the civil suit would make it easier to treat the Trump-Russia question as a partisan issue, an opinion echoed by several members of the party and elected representatives.
The United States Remains Unprotected From Possibilities of an Attack on the Midterms
If Russia were planning a repeat attack on this year’s midterm elections, the United States would not have adequately protected itself, the editorial board of the Washington Post says in a scathing editorial.
While more than $300 million in federal funds have been set aside to help states invest in election infrastructure that is more up-to-date and could help prevent interference, not much has been done in the past month since Congress has introduced the spending bill.
According to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, most states continue to use outdated electronic voting machines that are paperless and leave behind no physical record of having had a vote cast. Since 2016, Virginia is the sole state to have disposed of their antiquated machines. Other states have merely recognized the need for change in election security. While efforts have been made to swap out paperless machines, bills have either not been passed (like in Georgia), or upgrades will not be active until after the November vote.
However, even if upgrades and paper-friendly machines were to be implemented on time, the US would remain unprepared in the face of a Russian attack. Electronic voting rolls and vote-tallying servers are among the electronic resources that Russia hacked into in 2016.
Among all these possibilities and lack of election infrastructure, President Donald Trump continues to be unclear on how he would protect election integrity or respond to an attack if it were to occur this coming November.
Latest News: April 17 – April 20, 2018
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach Held in Contempt in Voter Registration Case
US District Judge Julie Robinson has held Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) in contempt of court over his failure to appropriately manage voter registration in the state. Kobach has been a staunch advocate of stricter voting regulations, and formerly served as the vice-chair of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission. He was instrumental in establishing a 2013 Kansas state law that blocks voters unable to provide proof of citizenship from registering to vote. The state would send postcards notifying voters of incomplete registrations, but if after 90 days, voters were unable to or failed to prove citizenship, they were removed from voter rolls. The ACLU estimates that the law prevented about 35,000 voters in the state from completing their registration.
Robinson first issued an injunction blocking the law in 2016 and inquired whether or not the Kansas voters who had been removed from the rolls would be notified of their polling places in the same manner as other voters. Kobach affirmed that anyone who had failed to prove citizenship would receive a postcard just the same as any registered voter. But the postcards never arrived in the mailboxes of many of potential voters. Kobach maintains that he issued an order to county election officials, but never actually followed up with written instructions or checked back to make sure the postcards had been sent.
Illinois Governor May Block Withdrawal from Controversial Interstate Crosscheck Program
Illinois’s House voted on Thursday to pass legislation that could dramatically transform the state’s voting infrastructure. The state seeks to join several other states that are moving to leave the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a controversial voter database intended to detect and flag duplicate registrations. The system has been widely criticized for inaccurate calculations, a failure to protect personal data, and a lack of safeguards against hackers.
But those hoping that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who could veto the measure, will end the state’s participation in the program may be disappointed after hearing the first statement from his team. Spokeswoman Rachel Bold called the legislation “troubling,” for undermining a system meant “to ensure access to voting, while preventing opportunities for fraud.” Bold also mentioned that the program has proved to be a valuable source of information for county clerks, who collect and maintain voter data across the state.
New Jersey Moves Ahead with Automatic Voter Registration
New Jersey joined 12 other states when it passed a law requiring automatic voter registration this week. Automatic voter registration encompasses a variety of options, from pre-registering 16 and 17 year-olds to Election Day registration to signing up people registering with agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Center for American Progress estimates that automatic registration could add as many as 22 million voters in its first year alone, were it to be adopted nationwide.
Automatic registration is one of the first major bills signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D). It’s a sharp turn away from former governor Chris Christie’s (R) more conservative policies. Maryland and Washington State also passed similar bills recently. By all counts, registering more voters brings more people to the polls. The mounting enthusiasm for automatic voter registration follows several years of attempts by Republicans to restrict access to the polls, measures that overwhelmingly impact low-income communities and people of color. Republicans often cite concerns over “voter fraud” and a need to provide “clean and honest elections.” But research shows that incidents of fraudulent or noncitizen voting were entirely negligible.
New York Governor Cuomo to Use Pardons to Grant Voting Rights to Felons
One way or the other, paroled felons in New York will likely be able to vote in November. After watching so many attempts to reform the criminal justice system die in the Republican-held Senate, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his intention to grant voting rights to paroled felons via pardons granted by an executive order. The governor — who has issued 174 pardons in his seven years in office — would initially grant pardons to the 35,000 parolees currently living in the state, and then require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to send a monthly list of all those newly eligible for parole in the future. As long as they’re not flagged for special concerns, paroled felons will be pardoned “without delay,” according to the order.
Cuomo’s office has described the order as a narrow use of power. The pardon would not expunge a felon’s record or restore other civil rights, such as serving on a jury — it would just allow them to vote.
While New York Republicans have reacted in shock and outrage, the state would join Iowa and Virginia in using executive orders to grant pardons — and therefore voting rights — to felons. There are 18 states in total, plus Washington, DC, which allow parolees to vote. With Cuomo facing a runoff in the September primary against newcomer Cynthia Nixon — best known as a star from Sex and the City — Cuomo is hoping that a strong stance on criminal justice reform will guarantee a third term.
Senator Marco Rubio Sounds Alarm Over Florida’s Election Security
Florida’s Republican senator and intelligence committee member Marco Rubio issued a grave warning to his home state’s election officials: Florida’s election system is a “beacon” for foreign meddling. Accusing the state’s election officials of being “overconfident,” he cited concerns of foreign meddling with voter registration data. Rubio worries that if foreign actors were to alter or remove registration data and prevent people from voting, it would rip open the divides between left and right even more: “The narrative out there is going to be the Democrats in Broward County are keeping Republicans from voting. And suddenly, you are going to have mass chaos across this country and anger and division.”
Talking to the Florida Association of Counties about this issue, he openly pondered the lasting effects of this kind of election tampering. He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in a similar manner in other former Soviet states and even stated he believes the Russians could have done it in 2016, should they have wanted to. He believes Florida to be very susceptible to Russian interference — due to its early poll closings and role as a swing state — and is concerned by the lack of urgency expressed by Florida’s election officials.
His solution is to have more information sharing. He also recommends having at least one person in every county election office with enough security clearance that they can be briefed on electoral threats in real time.
Latest News: April 14 – April 17, 2018
Overcrowded Ballots Could Invalidate Thousands of Votes in California’s Races
Stacked fields in California’s upcoming elections for governor and US Senate may cause scores of constituents to nullify their votes by inadvertently over-voting. Because the list of candidates for a crowded race often take up two or three columns on both sides of the ballot form, voters can mistakenly vote for multiple candidates by marking one name from each side.
In California’s 2016 US Senate primary, nearly a quarter million voters marked their ballots for multiple candidates. The 33 counties that listed the candidates in multiple columns yielded four times as many “overvotes” as those that needed only a single column. The margin of error is notably greater in counties that didn’t use machines to screen ballots for mistakes, according to a university study.
The threat of “overvoting” is more pronounced this year: 32 candidates are dueling in the Senate primary, and 27 are eyeing the race for governor. Ballots for both elections have two columns of names.
Candidates Employ Targeted Campaigning to Win Tight Race for Maryland Governor
So little separates the seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s governor race that only a 125,000-votes margin (or 25 percent of voters) is needed to crown a victor. And the stakes are higher than usual: in an increasingly liberal state like Maryland, the winner of the Democratic primary may have a shot at unseating Republican incumbent Larry Hogan.
An unusually crowded field means that the candidates also have less money than those in the past gubernatorial primaries. Due to a lack of funding and a need to secure every last vote they can, some candidates have devised unorthodox outreach strategies to cater to specific constituencies rather than the Democratic populace at large.
Benjamin Jealous, former NAACP head and one of the seven hopefuls, decided to target progressive voters, civil rights groups, and backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign. “The only way you can win with a field this crowded is you have to build a solid coalition,” Jealous campaign spokesman Kevin Harris said. “We’ve gone after endorsements that either bring money or bring people who can help go out and reach voters.”
Florida Lawyers Accusing State of Dragging Feet on Restoring Voting Rights to Felons
Lawyers fighting to restore voting rights to felons in Florida are accusing the state of “foot-dragging,” after an appeal to stay an earlier decision to revamp the state’s controversial rights-restoration process was rejected by the federal appellate court. Back in February the court set a deadline of April 26 for the state to overhaul the current system, but this time has instead been spent fighting the court’s ruling. With the deadline now looming, the state is asking for more time or for the ruling to be halted. However, neither of those outcomes appear likely.
Lawyers from the firm that filed the initial lawsuit last year have said the state could have implemented a new system while also fighting it in court. However, the state has now backed itself into a corner by not implementing a new system and losing its appeal to overturn the decision.
They are arguing the court did not give them enough time to change the current system. The judge is not concerned the state will disregard his decision completely — since the government has walked back from these threats — and has therefore decided not to file an injunction. But the felons’ lawyers are still skeptical about the state’s willingness to implement a new system.
This all stems from a movement led by a political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which gathered over one million signatures on a petition to get the issue of felons’ voting onto the ballot in November. If passed, voting would be immediately restored to all ex-felons who have finished probation in Florida, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sexual violence.
Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General Says Voter ID Laws Helped Trump Win the State
Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) stated on a local radio station that he believes Donald Trump was able to win his state because of the voter ID laws he has fought so hard to keep. Both Democrats and the lawyers attempting to remove the laws jumped on the comments, seeing them as him admitting the laws are capable of rigging elections in the GOP’s favor. Schimel has fought hard to ensure voter ID laws stay in the state. Recent legal challenges have struck down parts of the law, but the general aim of voter suppression has remained.
While Schimel’s comments will not necessarily have any effect on the legal battles, they have turned attention toward voter ID laws ahead of the November election. Studies have shown the laws have had a negative effect on the turnout of minorities within the state, and many people believe Schimel’s support comes mainly from the fact he directly benefits from this.
Lancaster County in Need of 45 More Voting Machines
Lancaster County, South Carolina, is in need of 45 more voting machines come election time. South Carolina state law requires the governing body of any county to provide one voting machine per 250 registered voters. But following an uptick in registered voters from 35,000 to 58,000, the counties’ 190 machines are spread too thin — currently, each machine serves 305 voters.
Rick Crimminger, Lancaster County Election Commission chairman, notes that “the election commission is an unfunded mandate.” The county only had 160 machines until it purchased 30 more in the last few years, still falling short of the necessary machine-to-voter ratio thanks to a lack of funds.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis observes that understanding financial difficulties in state government can only go so far: “2010 rolls around and today rolls around and they’re just not paying us.”
South Carolina’s Act 388, which limits a municipality’s power to raise taxes, has only made it harder for Lancaster County to purchase more machines. It has prevented Lancaster County from raising taxes in order to support itself and purchase additional voting machines over the years. Crimminger says he is worried about how the lack of voting machines and their accessibility may affect county constituents: “All it takes is if you get a candidate, or voter, saying that voting rights were infringed due to five-hour wait lines at the polls. All because the county isn’t providing the correct amount of voting machines.”
Latest News: April 10 – April 13, 2018
Billionaires Spend Big in 2018
Big dollar donations have only solidified in 2018, with billionaires across party lines making handsome donations in advance of a hotly contested midterm election season. Tom Steyer, the California-based former hedge fund investor, has given more money to Democrats than anyone else, while Richard Uihlein, an “elusive packaging supplies magnate” has done the same for Republicans. Steyer spends through an advocacy group that he controls called NextGen Climate Action, which has financed political ads and traditional PACs. Independently of his campaign spending, Steyer has pledged $20 million towards an impeachment campaign in hopes of unseating President Donald Trump.
Uihlein supports hard-line conservatives through donations to super PACS and candidates. For 2018, his expenditures already exceed his 2016 contributions. Despite his massive donations, Uihlein hasn’t occupied the spotlight to the same degree as major Republican donors (like the Kochs or Mercers). Much of his money moves through the Club for Growth, and he has also contributed to a super PAC controlled by National Security Advisor John Bolton.
To Prepare for 2018 Midterms, States Test Drive Responses to Cyberattacks
To best prepare for potential breaches during the 2018 midterm elections, the Department of Homeland Security is giving states the opportunity to test their responses to cyber attacks. Called “Cyber Storm” exercises, the biennial series of drills began this week. The program doesn’t target election security specifically, but rather tests how states and equipment manufacturers respond to threats to infrastructure more broadly, including transportation and communication systems. This is the sixth year of the program, and seven states are going through three days of situation simulations. In light of the Russians involvement in the 2016 elections, many officials are particularly invested in addressing what amounts to a major national security threat.
More News: April 10-13
Latest News: April 6 – April 9, 2018
Facebook to Establish Independent Election Integrity Commission
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Monday that the company will create an independent commission to develop strategies to quickly identify and curb future election interference. Staffed by academic experts, the team will use the platform’s resources to draw “unbiased conclusions about Facebook’s role in elections.”
Zuckerberg released the statement just a day before his scheduled testimony before Congress, where he is expected to explain how Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining firm that backed Donald Trump’s presidential bid, harvested the personal information of more than 87 million users.
Election Security Extends Beyond Voting Machines
Local and national news outlets alike have covered Congress’s inclusion of $380 million to improve election infrastructure in the latest spending bill. Many have concluded that the allocated funds are wildly insufficient. Several states are using the funds at least in part to address out-of-date voting machines. But the replacement machines won’t be enough on their own, writes The Conversation.
A return to paper ballots could provide additional security and legitimacy, but the weaknesses in US election infrastructure and voting systems extend far beyond the hardware. Part of the problem is the voter confidence and engagement with the election process. Turnout has reached rock bottom in recent elections: 2016 marked a 20-year low when just 55% of eligible citizens made it to the polls. Election machines need voters, and so does democracy.
‘Bow and Arrows Against the Lightning’ — State Election Official Describes Fighting Off a Russian CyberAttack
Demonstrating just how outmatched states seem to be when facing a hostile nation-state, the IT Director for Illinois’s election board described the security breach of the state’s voter registration database prior to the 2016 election as “unlike anything we had ever seen” in a recent 60 Minutes interview.
Illinois’s system was one of 20 that was targeted by hackers, though not all attempts were successful.
In the same segment, former Obama cyberczar Michael Dante said that it is “entirely possible” we still don’t know the full range of the Russian attack.
“It was always our working assumption that we did not detect all of the potential Russian activity that was going on,” said Dante.
Federal Funds May Fall Short; Election Security Remains Uncertain
Malfunction among outdated voting machines is resurfacing all around the country as communities prepare for the November elections. To address lacking election infrastructure around the country, Congress approved $380 million in funds to be distributed nationwide in an effort to prevent breaching of the election systems by Russian hackers, as occurred in 2016 in 21 states.
Illinois, the only state that publicly acknowledged a breach of their election machines, fears that they won’t have the time or finances to secure voting machines, or subsequently secure voters’ faith in democracy. Even with their $13 million portion of the congressional plan, state officials are saying it isn’t enough to achieve election security by November. In Chicago, the third-largest city in the US, estimates put the cost of wholly replacing faulty voting machines in the tens of millions of dollars.
Moreover, old voting machines scattered statewide are causing delays and decreased cybersecurity protection.
As a result, voting sites equipped with such machines often open late, putting additional pressure on already-long lines that discourage people from spending the time to cast their votes on election day. Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, recommends going beyond replacing machines by protecting voter registration systems and implementing better post-election audits to further strengthen public trust. With the goal to fasten election security and reignite the US citizens’ faith in democratic institutions, state officials consider how to spend their federal funding most proactively in anticipation for November.
Santa Clara County Votes to Spend Big on 2020 Census
Even before the census citizenship question become an important issue for the Trump administration, Santa Clara County already planned to spend big. With an estimated 130,000 undocumented immigrants and the second largest Vietnamese American population in the nation, Santa Clara County has a sizeable stake in the outcome of the census. Both of these groups are skeptical of government interference, meaning the current administration and mood within the country only exacerbates this concern.
In the 2010, Santa Clara county spent $750,000 on the whole census process. In 2020 the county will spend a lot more following a March vote to allocate over $1 million towards the first phase of surveying alone. Although local officials decided to increase the census budget before the federal decision to include the citizenship question, former county officials and experts alike are quick to point out the damage this question could cause, both in terms of funding and representation.
Although Santa Clara has not yet followed the example of others and filed lawsuits against the Trump administration, the county hasn’t completely ruled it out either. County officials feel its demographics leave it susceptible to the damaging effects of inaccurate numbers: The census is used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funding as well as redistribute the electoral college seats, meaning a reduction in replies means a direct reduction in money and representation.
The county is concerned not only for the immigrants in the county, but for the 7,300 homeless people, low-income families, and single-parent households who all record low turnout rates. The allocated money will go towards data gathering, canvassing, and community engagement in hopes of increasing the turnout despite the obstacles put up by the Trump administration.
World War Two Japanese Internment Camps Show There Is a Legal Precedent to Access Census Information
As the census citizenship question debate rages on and government agencies promises there are safeguards in place to ensure the answers are used for nothing more than statistics, it’s important to take a quick history lesson and see this hasn’t always been the case. Two researchers in the early 2000s found that, during the Second World War, the Census Bureau shared information on Japanese citizens with the federal government. This information was then used to intern these people.
Most worrisome of all — the process was completely legal. Due to the second War Powers Act, the confidentiality of the census information was suspended. This allowed the Census Bureau to share the information of Japanese citizens ancestry with the federal government.
Although the federal government and the Census Bureau have apologized for this breach, and there have been laws passed to secure the data gathered through the census, this history has added to a great distrust. With the language of the current administration around immigrants, many people are concerned a repeat of history could occur.
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Insufficient Funds and Lack of Consensus Delay Voting Machine Replacement
Direct record voting machines, which seemed like a state-of-the-art solution just a decade ago, are now the subject of much concern. But money is running out to guarantee a secure voting system, according to an op-ed in the Intelligencer, a local Pennsylvania paper. Congress recently appropriated $380 million to secure the nation’s election systems, but by and large, experts say this isn’t nearly enough money. State governors, like Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in Pennsylvania, are mandating that counties update voting systems without providing enough — or even any — financial support. In Bucks County, officials opted to upgrade voting systems 12 years ago to the tune of several million dollars. Now, without enough funding from either the state or the federal level the county has to find another solution to secure its election equipment. Rather than jumping to find a quick solution, it might be better to wait for more guidance and, though unlikely, funding.
But in Texas, counties have taken the opposite approach — spending big to replace touch-screen voting machines without a paper record. It turns out, though, that many of those machines, which are used in at least a dozen states nationwide, are equally vulnerable. But despite warnings from cyber exerts, federal and state officials haven’t sufficiently alerted states about the dangers associated with paperless machines. In 2007, the agency tasked with distributing election guidelines to state and local elections officials outright rejected the findings by a team of experts warning against such equipment. And now, the money for replacement is running out.
US Slaps Sanctions on Putin Cronies Over Election Interference
The Trump administration announced Friday that it will impose sanctions on 38 Russian oligarchs, corporations, and government officials for offenses from undermining democratic elections to intervening in Ukraine and Syria. The US has now sanctioned 189 Kremlin-connected individuals and entities.
Initiated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the list includes some of the most powerful figures in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orbit: Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law and the recipient of a $1 billion loan from a state-owned bank; Oleg Deripaska, a businessman who has been tied to organized crime and to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort; and Viktor Vekselberg, the head of the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy whose associates have been arrested for bribing officials.
Campaign Donor Identities Continue to Remain in the ‘Dark’
Ninety-one percent of voters in Tempe, Arizona recently approved an amendment to the city charter that would require independent groups spending upwards of $1,000 to reveal details about donors. But thanks to a bill just passed by the Arizona legislature, it won’t matter. The state bill prevents local governments from requiring such transparency from nonprofits.
The tension over disclosure for nonprofits isn’t unique to Tempe, though nowhere else has a state law overridden a local effort to require transparency. Mostly recently, South Dakota enacted a bill in March that requires campaigns for ballot measures to disclose their donors only during the signature-gathering phase. But last year, the state legislature shied away from a more comprehensive bill that would have required nonprofits supporting such campaigns with $25,000 or more to disclose details about their donors.
Cities elsewhere, notably Santa Fe and Denver, have passed ordinances much like the Tempe charter amendment that focus on disclosure from nonprofits. Those states haven’t squashed local efforts with statewide regulation like Arizona did, but the local efforts have been met with resistance and lawsuits from critics who claim that transparency dissuades participation in campaigns.
Cambridge Analytica Data Loot Affects 87 Million Facebook Users
Facebook announced that Cambridge Analytica, the British data-mining firm hired by the Trump campaign, harvested personal information of up to 87 million users — almost twice the initial estimate of 50 million. The statement was released as part of the social media giant’s new plan to tighten its data policy; users whose information may have been compromised will be alerted starting April 9.
The scandal unleashed widespread condemnation from the public and lawmakers alike. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
Texas Violated Voter Registration Laws, Judge Says
In another win for voting rights — and another blow to Texas’ reputation — US District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio ruled in favor of a civil rights group claiming that Texas violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their drivers’ license information online. While Texas currently does not allow online voter registration, the interface to renew a drivers’ license online was sufficiently confusing that many people thought they had registered to vote digitally, the plaintiffs in the 2016 lawsuit claimed.
The NVRA requires that states provide residents with the opportunity to register whenever they renew or apply for a drivers’ license. No details have been provided as to how Judge Garcia will require Texas to comply with the law, but it could involve changes to the voter registration process, including an option for online registration when tied to a drivers’ license renewal. An appeal is expected from the Attorney General’s Office, which called Judge Garcia’s decision “judicial activism.”
Does the Future of Gerrymandering Rest on West Virginia?
Since Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry introduced the practice in 1812, partisan gerrymandering has become one of the most efficient and entrenched methods of consolidating party control in districts. Efforts to weaken it have faltered in the past, and the two parties have established permanent majorities in a string of heavily contested states. But the US Supreme may finally be ready to rule on cases that could reduce the partisanship involved in redistricting.
The battle over West Virginia’s districts is such a case. Before the state redistricts after the 2020 census, it will have to decide whether the authority rests with the GOP-led legislature or a nonpartisan commission. A handful of other states have appointed an independent commission to draw congressional maps that fairly reflect voter demographics. West Virginia has already took a significant step toward fair voting by eliminating the outdated multi-member districts for the House of Delegates, mandating the each district is represented by only one delegate.
Will the EU’s New Data Law Finally Force Facebook to Self-Regulate?
After the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal that was uncovered last month, Facebook faces intense public pressure to reform its data policy and better protect its users. But the social media giant’s troubles are more pressing in Europe, where it faces legal pressure to self-regulate.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, slated to come into effect this May, will dictate how tech companies manage the personal information of Europeans, including expats in the US. Transparency is a top priority: under the new law, Facebook must disclose the data it collects, explain to users their right to erase anything they share, and protect information from being used for anything other than its originally stated purpose. The penalty for data violations rose to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, which, for Facebook, amounts to more than $1 billion.
Facebook did not confirm whether it would abide by the same demands in the US, where tech firms operate without proper guidelines.
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Will the EU’s New Data Law Finally Force Facebook to Self-Regulate?
After its massive Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook faces intense public pressure to reform its data policy and better protect its users. But the company’s troubles are more pressing in Europe, where it faces legal pressure to self-regulate.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, slated to come into effect this May, will dictate how tech companies manage the personal information of Europeans, including expats in the US. Transparency is a top priority: under the new law, Facebook must disclose the data it collects, explain to users their right to erase anything they share, and protect information from being used for anything other than its originally-stated purpose. The penalty for data violations rose to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, which, for Facebook, amounts to more than $1 billion.
Facebook did not confirm whether it would abide by the same demands in the US, where tech firms operate without proper guidelines.