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: March 28 – 30, 2018
Wisconsin Republicans Brace for Liberal Surge as Walker Drops Bid to Block Special Elections
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) abandoned a last-ditch attempt to shield his state from a ferocious blue wave that has swept 30 Republicans out of power since Trump’s inauguration. After months of resistance, he issued an executive order on Thursday instating special elections to fill a pair of legislative seats that have been open since December.
In regular election years, state law mandates the creation of special elections to fill seats emptied before May; without the fix, positions could remain unoccupied for months or even, in Wisconsin’s case, an entire year. Walker, who called such races a waste of taxpayer money in light of their proximity to the November midterms, refused to comply with the law. Efforts to force his hand hit a wall until last week, when a group led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder took the case to a Madison judge and won a court order directing Walker to call the elections by noon Thursday. (The governor obliged only after losing an appeal the day before.)
The primary races for both seats are scheduled for May 15, and the special elections for June 12.
Unlike State Courts, the Supreme Court Is in No Hurry to End Gerrymandering
As lower courts across the country mount an inspired offense against partisan redistricting, tossing warped maps to ensure fairer representation, the US Supreme Court has not shown the same resolve to remedy the problem.
This year, opponents of gerrymandering have scored a string of victories. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a congressional map designed to cement Republican control; a federal court ruled that North Carolina’s district boundaries violated the state Constitution; and consequential cases in Wisconsin Maryland reached the US Supreme Court.
The momentum amassed by state activists and judges, however, seems to have reached a dead end in front of the Supreme Court justices, who are still debating the limits and purpose of redistricting. As with most controversial cases in recent years, the fate of gerrymandering will likely rest on Justice Anthony Kennedy who, like his liberal colleagues, finds the practice distasteful, but also considers it inseparable from politics.
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Latest News: March 24 – 27, 2018
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Adds Citizenship Question to Census
A memo from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has shown he overruled career officials to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census. These career leaders within the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, tried until the last minute to provide an alternative but were ultimately unable. It is the first time since 1950 that this question will be included in the census.
Democrats and activists are concerned that the inclusion of this question will result in a reduction of the number of respondents, as immigrants will fear reprisal for their answers. This is in large part due to the current administration’s attitude towards immigration. Ross, however, stated in the memo that he believes the information provided by the question is of great use and therefore worth the risk. The memo also states that “neither the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate would in fact decline materially.”
The census directly affects the number of electoral college seats assigned to each state, as well as the distribution of billions in federal funding. In direct response to the memo, California has filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, stating it has too much to lose to not act.
Former Election Assistance Commission Chair Joins Department of Homeland Security
The Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) loss is the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) gain, as former EAC Chairman Matthew Masterson was hired to be a senior advisor at the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications. He will be a part of the National Protection and Programs Directorate. The decision by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) not to recommend Masterson for another term was met by great criticism from the states he worked very closely with to improved the security of the elections. The biggest concern however was the idea of changing the man who was leading the way on cybersecurity during an election year.
As a testament to his great work at the EAC, Masterson’s role in the DHS will be largely the same — working with federal, state and local officials to protect the 2018 midterms from hackers. This will be welcomed by the states who prized his expertise on election security, and they will be able to continue to lean on this in the buildup to November.
Democrats Don’t Seem to Care About Cybersecurity Ahead of 2018 Midterms
While the Democrats know they were hacked in 2016, and are convinced it’ll happens again in the 2018 midterms, getting them to do something about it has proven surprisingly difficult. The problem isn’t one of software however, but more of culture. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has the reach to implement sweeping cybersecurity measures yet seems unable — or unwilling — to do something as simple as move it’s members over to a secure workplace messaging software called Wickr.
People involved both in the Democratic party and within cybersecurity companies report a surprising lack of control from the DCCC. It has left cybersecurity to the campaigns, who are placing too low a priority on it. This isn’t surprising however, since staffers are so busy and understaffed that anything not deemed vital is cast aside. Activists are saying the only way to make it a priority is to force the campaigns to take cybersecurity seriously. However, stories from the DCCC winter meetings, where staffers were begging attendees to come to a conference on cybersecurity, has left many believing this is unlikely.
A related problem is campaign staffers lack of understanding about this issue. Most are simply too busy to deal with cybersecurity, let alone learn about it, with the result being a system left wide open to foreign tampering.
Cambridge Analytica Assigned Foreign Advisers to GOP Candidates
In conducting an expansive operation to assist President Donald Trump and other GOP candidates, Cambridge Analytica may have violated US election laws limiting foreign involvement in political campaigns. The British data firm sent foreign employees to advise Republican campaigns in 2014, according to three former workers, including former Cambridge Analytica research director Christopher Wylie.
In July 2014, the firm’s attorney, Laurence Levy, warned its Trump-backing executives — president Rebekah Mercer, vice president Steve Bannon, and chief executive Alexander Nix — that US regulation grants foreign nationals only a a minor role in races. They are not to “directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process” of a campaign, such as providing strategy or messaging advice.
The foreign employees assigned to Republican hopefuls assumed responsibilities that went far beyond what’s appropriate, according to the three whistleblowers. Not only did they help construct political messages targeting specific demographics, they also managed media relations, and provided ‘‘talking points, speeches [and] debate prep.’’
Cambridge Analytica is already facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers after reports surfaced that it improperly obtained information from 50 million Facebook users to create psychological profiles of US voters.
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Latest News: March 21 – 23, 2018
Funding for Election Leaves States Reliant on Paperless Voting Machines
The omnibus spending act that President Donald Trump signed into law last week included $380 million for modernizing election infrastructure. But the Brennan Center for Justice evaluates that, as outlined in the law, the funds will not adequately meet the needs of all states. Some states will receive adequate funding to replace all infrastructure while others will only be able to replace pieces of their voting systems.
Of the 13 states that currently rely on voting machines that leave no paper record of ballots, just two will receive adequate funding to fully replace the equipment. Moreover, the bill includes no requirements to spend the funds on voting machines — states are at liberty to allocate the funds as they choose, be it cybersecurity, infrastructure, or other areas. The bill bases its allocation of funds on the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which ties funding amounts to population of states.
New Hampshire Faces ACLU Lawsuit Over Absentee Ballot Signatures
The American Civil Liberties Union – New Hampshire chapter recently filed a lawsuit in the state arguing that state law RSA 659:50 deprives citizens of their right to vote. The law allows election moderators to reject absentee ballots without notifying the voter or explaining their decision if they don’t believe “the signature on the affidavit appears to be executed by the same person who signed the application” for voting by absentee ballot, “unless the voter received assistance because the voter is blind or has a disability.” In Saucedo v. Gardner, in the US District Court in Concord, the plaintiffs allege that the law has disenfranchised voters in the past three election cycles. Other states have recently grappled with this issue, among them Florida, California, and Illinois, where courts struck down similar laws as unconstitutional. A hearing on the lawsuit is expected this summer.
Let the People Vote, Scott Walker
A Wisconsin circuit judge informed Gov. Scott Walker (R) that his fear of losing does not exempt him from state law, ordering him to “promptly” hold elections for two state legislative seats that he’s kept vacant for over a year, according to Think Progress.
“To state the obvious, if the plaintiffs have a right to vote for their representatives, they must have an election to do so,” said Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds.
Despite the previous Republican claim to the two newly available seats (before Walker brought the representatives into his administration), there’s evidence that Democrats may have a shot here after taking back another Wisconsin district in January which had been held by Republicans since 2000.
Democratic candidates have had a strong year; the party has been on a roll riding the #Resistance movement since President Donald Trump’s election, overturning hotly contested districts that previously came out for Trump in 2016, as in last week’s Pennsylvania special election, and claiming stunning victories in deep-red states, like Sen. Doug Jones’s win in Alabama earlier this year.
Cambridge Analytica 2.0?
Following the international outcry over the unauthorized aggregation of Facebook data of more than 50 million users by Cambridge Analytica — data which may have been employed to help elect President Donald Trump and support the Brexit movement after the political advising firm was hired by the respective campaigns — a start-up founded by two “instrumental” former employees is quickly gaining unwanted attention thanks to a recent Buzzfeed report.
Founded in 2016, Genus AI relies on “insights and algorithms to unlock the value hidden in” first and third-party data sources, according to its website. Genus AI founders Tadas Jucikas and Brent Clickard, along with former Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie, came up with the original vision for Cambridge Analytica as an independent venture before they ultimately opted to develop the firm in-house under the umbrella of SCL, with funding by billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump-backer Robert Mercer, and under the leadership of Steven Bannon, who previously served as the firm’s vice-president and White House Chief Strategist.
Previously, Clickard worked for a company owned by Cambridge University data scientist Aleksandr Kogan, whose personality quiz was used by Cambridge Analytica to harness the data of respondents on Facebook, as well as millions of their unwitting social media connections, in order to create “psychological profiles” to target voters.
The founders seem determined to distance themselves and their new business venture from the controversy: there is no mention of Cambridge Analytica on either Jucikas’s or Clickard’s LinkedIn profiles, and the Buzzfeed article says a link to a staff bio page was removed from the Genus AI website.
Jucikas claims that his new business has no access to the troublesome Facebook data set and insists that “as a business, we do not use Facebook customer data to drive insight.”
Cambridge Analytica’s (now suspended) CEO Alexander Nix made a similar claim to the British Parliament in a hearing last month. The company, however, has since acknowledged using this data in its operations.
Zuckerberg Addresses Cambridge Analytica Scandal
After several days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally spoke to the public and press about the data controversy that has wiped out nearly $50 billion of the company’s market value. The billionaire landed in media and legal crosshairs last Saturday when the New York Times’s reported that Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that backed President Donald Trump’s presidential bid, exploited the personal information of 50 million users, the vast majority of which did not consent to that use. In a Facebook post, which has been rebuked for insufficient transparency and remorse, Zuckerberg acknowledged his mistakes and laid out safeguards he plans to implement in order to better protect user data.
Perhaps to abate the criticism, he conducted interviews with prominent outlets, including CNN, Wired and the Times, in which he confirmed he will testify before Congress but remained skeptical that Facebook should be regulated.
The social media behemoth blocked Cambridge Analytica last Friday, in what may be an unsuccessful effort to preempt the Times’s publication of the scandal. It also banned Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), a company that used third-party apps to siphon and transfer data to Cambridge Analytica. The State Department contracted SCL last February to locate potential ISIS recruits.
Cambridge Analytica has become, in recent months, a central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference. In December, Mueller requested all emails from employees assigned to Trump’s presidential bid. His investigators have also met the digital experts who worked on the campaign, ABC News reported Wednesday.
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Latest News: March 17 – 20, 2018
Wisconsin Grapples with a Lawsuit over Special Elections
Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) decision to hire two state representatives to work in his administration left Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District without representation. Walker has refused to call special elections to fill the vacant seats, instead opting to leave the seats empty until the general election in November 2018, which means they will be vacant for upwards of a year.
In response, a group of voters filed a lawsuit, Newton v. Walker, in the Dane County Circuit Court in February 2018. The lawsuit contests Walker’s decision on the grounds that he is preventing people from exercising their right to vote, but in Wisconsin and beyond, there is scarce legal precedent for how to handle the situation. The US Constitution requires that governors run special elections to fill vacant seats in the US House of Representatives, but the requirements at the state level vary and lack clarity. There are few, if any, instances where a judge has invoked state law to force a governor to fill a state-level legislative vacancy with a special election.
Cambridge Analytica Denies Mishandling Private Data of Facebook Users
Cambridge Analytica, the British data firm that boosted Donald Trump’s bid for presidency through targeted advertising, reportedly obtained, without permission, private information from 50 million Facebook users, the New York Times reported Sunday. The trove gave the firm enough insight to create psychographic profiles of voters, which became a blueprint for the highly sophisticated techniques used to influence behavior in the 2016 presidential campaign. Of the 30 million profiles probed in the process, only 270,000 people had agreed to have their information collected.
Facebook, which suspended Cambridge Analytica on Friday and launched an internal review of the crisis, faced fierce backlash from lawmakers, who decried the violation of privacy rights and demanded a briefing on how the company handled the matter.
Cambridge Analytica gathered the data in 2014 through Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at the University of Cambridge, who told Facebook he needed user information for academic purposes. Using a method that Facebook permitted at the time, Kogan paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which extracted particulars from their profiles and from those of their connections.
Senators Ask Why Funds Countering Foreign Propaganda Hasn’t Been Spent
A bipartisan group of senators is asking why the State and Defense departments have yet to spend a significant amount of money allocated for efforts to counter disinformation and propaganda by foreign governments. Six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter urging both departments to explain why they are sitting on the funds, especially at a time when foreign interference in elections has become a national security priority.
The letter, written by Sens. Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), also asked the departments to produce a timeline and spending plan. Congress delegated the responsibility for countering disinformation and propaganda to the Department of State’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) in 2016, but the GEC has yet to receive its authorized funds. Moreover, the GEC lacks the necessary staff, thanks to a hiring freeze.
What the Election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District Says About Ranked Choice Voting
Lost among the coverage of the nearly too-close-to-call special election to fill the congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th district was the role of Independent candidate Drew Miller, who captured 1,379 votes — more than twice the margin of victory that Democrat Conor Lamb celebrated. Miller was quick to realize that either way, as an Independent, the votes he received would be seen as responsible for Republican Rick Saccone’s loss. Could ranked choice voting (RCV) change the way that Independent candidates impact elections?
Advocates of RCV argue that letting voters order candidates by preference, rather than casting a sole (and often pessimistic) vote, would make elections more inclusive and democratic. Miller would have been one of three options to rank top to bottom, rather than a choice seen solely as disruptive, indicative that ranked choice voting could build a more legitimate platform for independent candidates. Nationwide, cities and counties are moving towards RCV, notably in Maine where voters demanded a shift towards the practice in a statewide referendum.
Michigan Legislature Passes ID and Online Registration Bills
Major electoral reforms could be coming to Michigan.The state House passed a bill on acceptable forms of voter identification documents, and the Senate approved online voter registration. While these bills must pass both chambers before they become law, it could mean a step towards reshaping voting in Michigan.
The House approved a bill which lists the acceptable alternative IDs to a state drivers license, but the narrowness of the list has many worried about the potential for voter suppression. Passed 62-44, the bill states that only other state IDs, a US passport, a military photo ID, or student ID are acceptable IDs to driver’s licenses.
It’s been a busy week for Michigan’s lower chamber. It also passed a bill that creates procedures for ordering new absentee ballots should a voter need a replacement ballot, and a bill that would ensure that Michigan’s qualified voter list is compared with the federal Social Security program’s death records to ensure a more accurate voter roll. All these bills are on their way to the Senate for consideration.
The Senate also passed a near unanimous bill almost — 35-1 — that would allow voters to register online through the Secretary of State’s official website. This website is used to register driver’s licences in the state, so supporters of the legislations see it as a way to streamline the voter registration process, without sacrificing any electoral security. Voters looking to register online can do so with a valid driver’s license or an official state ID card.
If the state house passes the legislation, Michigan would join become the 39th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow online registration.
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Latest News: March 14 – 16, 2018
New Survey Shows Americans Deeply Disillusioned, Still Support Democracy
While much of the globe has been subsumed by a populist storm in the past couple of years, more than 75 percent of Americans still support democracy, according to a comprehensive survey conducted by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. The survey asks respondents to rate three different political systems — strong-man leadership, democracy, and army rule — by answering five questions.
While an overwhelming majority, almost half of the respondents, chose democracy, a sizable number of participants took non-democratic positions on at least one question, and almost a third exhibited some support for either a “strong leader” or “army rule.” On the other hand, a majority of those dissatisfied with democracy still don’t champion an authoritarian regime.
Support for strong-man leadership is higher among those who are culturally conservative, detached from politics, distrustful of experts, and harbor resentment toward racial minorities.
A variety of factors contribute to declining public faith in government. The broadening influence of special interest groups and hyper-partisanship between political parties have made compromise and swift decision-making nearly impossible. Technology has provided a microphone for fringe ideas and misinformation that corrode public trust in the government. And of course, foreign actors in the Kremlin and beyond have actively — and successfully — exposed the vulnerability of election infrastructure and democratic processes.
US Enacts New Sanctions Against Russia
After a months-long delay and a pair of missed deadlines, the Trump administration, caving to a frustrated Congress, will finally impose some new sanctions on Moscow for meddling in the 2016 US election. The measure will punish five Russian entities and 19 individuals for cyber intrusion. A majority of those on the blacklist were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February, including Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a financial backer to the troll farm Internet Research Agency (IRA) with deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (The IRA allegedly created fake social media accounts to disseminate incendiary content that sowed chaos ahead of the election.)
The administration also accused Moscow of attempting to hack the US energy grid, a previously undisclosed development, and carrying out a chemical attack against a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain.
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Latest News: March 10 – 13, 2018
Trump Wants to Deploy Armed Secret Service Agents to Polling Places
Top bipartisan election officials from 19 states sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) demanding the Senate leave out a proposal from final Department of Homeland Security reauthorization legislation that would allow Secret Service agents to accompany lawmakers to local polling places.
“This is an alarming proposal which raises the possibility that armed federal agents will be patrolling neighborhood precincts and vote centers,” reads a letter obtained by The Boston Globe.
“This is worthy of a Third World country,” said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin. (D)
Are Algorithms Our Best Shot at Restoring Voter Confidence?
Regulations at state and federal levels haven’t been particularly successful at combating gerrymandering. Though the US Constitution requires that populations be uniformly distributed across districts, state legislatures faced little challenge in manipulating the racial composition of neighborhoods to tilt the balance of power. They employed two primary tactics: “cracking,” which carves minority voters into minority groups across multiple districts, and “packing,” which groups minority voters into majority groups in a few districts to dilute their voting power elsewhere.
Since human-led redistricting is error-strewn and vulnerable to exploitation, why not simply let algorithms design maps? With consistent metrics and open source algorithms, an automated redistricting process can eliminate human bias, increase transparency, and maintain the compactness and distinct characteristics of each district. One technique touted by statisticians aims to rid partisan bias by comparing prospective maps to a database built from more than a billion randomly generated maps.
Top Dem on Senate Intel Committee Warns Country Is “Woefully Unprepared” for Cyber Threats
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, warned that the US is “woefully unprepared” to combat active measures, like cyber threats and Russian influence campaigns, intended to interfere with democracies. Speaking on Saturday at the SXSW festival in Austin, Warner said it’s time to consider the liability of tech platforms and software makers.
“One of the things I want to do is bring together parliamentarians of all the Western nations that have been attacked,” he said. “The West ought to start seeing if we can get some commonality,” around cybersecurity efforts. Listen to a recording of Warner’s comments during the Hacking our Democracy and Discourse panel discussion.
At a panel discussion held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on March 1, Warner said, “We need a president who will lead not just a whole-of-government effort, but in a sense a whole-of-society effort to try to take on these challenges. We need someone that will actually unify our nation against this growing asymmetric threat. We can’t let Putin and his allies succeed.”
Alarm Bells Are Sounding Over Election Security
With more midterm elections fast approaching, election integrity is finally becoming an issue. However, while there is a lot of talk, solutions are in short demand.
Few states are as confident as California, where the top elections official said the Golden State’s security is “strong.” Many others, however, such as Michigan, which played a crucial role in the 2016 elections are barely meeting the standards.
Barbara Simons, a board member of Verified Voting, is warning, “with cybersecurity, you have to protect against everything — but your opponent only has to find one vulnerability.”
Last year, she conducted an experiment using four voting machines (of which three types are still in use) and a team of hackers to test election security. The findings were not comforting. “Within hours of getting their hands on the machines, the hackers had discovered vulnerabilities in all four.”
Despite all of the concerns and warnings regarding election security, a recently updated report from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that “not much has changed.” Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, says, “it is too late to make a substantive dent in voting machine replacements or upgrades before the 2018 election.”
Amidst Budget Negotiations, Dems Call for $700 Million in Election Protections
Washington lawmakers — primarily Democrats — called on Republican leaders to prove their dedication to election security with financial commitment as the House tries to pass a $1.3 trillion spending bill by March 23 to avoid a repeat of February’s government shutdown.
A letter to the House Appropriations Committee requested $400 million for states to replace old, vulnerable voting machines — especially those lacking the security of paper ballots — and $14 million to bolster the federal Election Assistance Commission’s “bare-bones budget” as it works with states to secure election systems ahead of the 2018 midterms. Signees told recipients to consider the appropriations a “down payment” on a previous $1.8 billion request by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, a congressional Democratic panel of the party’s foremost experts on cyber threats.
Another letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and signed by minority leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), lobbied for $300 million in FBI funding to ward off foreign interference in elections.
There’s been little action taken by the Trump White House since news broke that Russian actors targeted 21 state election systems and successfully breached Illinois’ voter registration database.
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Latest News: March 7 – 9, 2018
ACLU Squares Off Against Notorious Vote Suppressor in Kansas
A spreadsheet documenting instances of undocumented voters looks poised to play a big role in both the plaintiff and defendant’s case.
Kobach, who proposed enacting a similar law on the federal level and helped spearhead President Donald Trump’s short-lived investigation into national voter fraud, believes this document will prove his law is necessary to protect the integrity of Kansas elections. The ACLU says it demonstrates just how overblown the issue of non-citizen voting really is.
The spreadsheet created by Kobach’s office shows that “only five alleged non-citizens have voted in Sedgwick County, the second most populous Kansas county, over the last two decades,” according to Talking Points Memo. Since 2004, that’s about a dozen votes out of 1.3 million, said the plaintiffs.
In addition, the document alleges that 18 people registered or attempted to vote before the law was passed, 16 were blocked from doing so once it went into effect, and another four managed to register while the law was temporarily blocked in 2016.
However, Kobach’s defense seemed to suggest there could be more instances that went undocumented in other counties, or occurred before tracking began.
Earlier in the case, a high-ranking member of the Kansas League of Women Voters testified that the law had made it much more time-consuming to register new voters: whereas before, she said, doing so only took a few minutes, it averaged out to an hour once the law took effect.
In addition, she claimed that one local division of the league saw a 90 percent drop in voter registration following the statute’s implementation.
Confusing Registration Forms Could be Disenfranchising Thousands of Nevadan Felons
Voter registration forms in Nevada don’t seem to reflect the laws, especially when it comes to first-time nonviolent offenders. These felons are allowed to vote, but according to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the forms don’t make that clear. The forms require the voter to state they are “not laboring under any felony conviction or other loss of civil rights that would make it unlawful … to vote.” Anyone who has been convicted of one violent crime or of more than one nonviolent crime is ineligible to vote, but the CLC charges this wording makes “tens of thousands” of ex-felons believe they are unable to vote.
In a letter addressed to Nevada’s Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R), who is up for election this year, the CLC ask her to change the wording on the registration form and update information on the Secretary of State’s website. A spokesperson for Cegavske said they intend to do this but set no deadline, leaving the CLC no option but to threaten legal action.
According to the Sentencing Project’s 2016 study, Nevada has the ninth highest felony disenfranchisement rate in the country, with 4,020 people per 100,000. This accounts for 89,267 people across the state.
Man Behind Push to Add Citizenship Question to Census Revealed as Trump Appointee
Although the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) letter requesting the census include a question about citizenship was released in December, the author has only just been discovered: John Gore, the acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, appointed by President Donald Trump last summer. Prior to his appointment, he was an appellate specialist at law firm Jones Day, best known for making sure Republicans can continue to gerrymander freely.
Emails obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request show the letter was written by Gore. For unknown reasons he did not sign it but sent it to career official Arthur Gary, who put his own name on it and sent it to the Census Bureau.
The decision on adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census is expected by the end of the month, with it having a direct effect on the distribution of House seats and $600 billion in federal funding. Many worry that including the question will dissuade many minorities from responding, especially in the anti-immigration climate of the Trump administration.
Trump’s administration seems committed to adding citizenship to the census: His first political appointment to the Census Bureau is longtime legislative aide to former Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), an ardent supporter of the citizenship question. Christopher Stanley, who will be the chief of congressional affairs, worked with Vitter for 15 years, during which time Vitter tried on three separate occasions to get the question added to the census.
Santa Fe Uses Ranked-Choice System for First Time
If Santa Fe, New Mexico’s first use of a new ranked-choice voting system taught them anything, it’s that election fairness takes a while. It was nearly midnight — almost five hours after polls closed — before they were able to declare a winner. The city spokesperson, Matt Ross, said the wait was not due to the new machines but instead was caused by delays shutting down the polling stations and cross-checking the ballots. However, City Clerk Yolanda Vigil, who announced the winner, disagreed — claiming it was the system redistributing the votes.
The ranked-choice system, which was passed by popular vote in 2008 but only used for the first time this year, asks voters to vote for their first, second, and third choice candidates instead of the traditional one vote. Should nobody get a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest first-choice votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes on the ballots get redistributed. This continues until somebody has a majority. It took four rounds for Allan Webber to beat Councilor Ron Trujillo 13,088 to 6,689, with 66 percent of the vote. Santa Fe is now the 12th city in the country to use this method.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Decide on Corporate Donations, Voter Registration Deadlines
The future electoral landscape of Massachusetts is in the hands of the Supreme Judicial Court as it is considering two major decisions. One is the constitutionality of the requirement for voters to be registered 20 days before election, while the other is whether corporations can be barred from making political contributions.
In the voter registration case, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts argued that the 20-day requirement is arbitrary and therefore unconstitutional. It told Justice Scott Kafker “there is no evidence that this 20-day deadline is necessary, warranted or even rational,” but he shot back that it is up to the legislatures to make these decisions, and that “having an orderly election is clearly rational.” According to court briefs, over the last three elections more than 20,000 people have attempted to register to vote in the 20 days before the election and were not allowed to cast ballots.
On the topic of corporations being unable to contribute to political campaigns, James Manley, the attorney representing two Massachusetts businesses — 126 Self Storage Inc. and 1A Auto Inc. — is arguing for fairness and equality for corporations. He says not only is it unfair that labor unions and nonprofits can donate while corporations cannot, but it also violates federal finance laws and therefore the Supreme Judicial Court should strike it down. Arguing in favor of the law was Assistant Attorney General Julia Kobick — who stated that this law prevents corruption, and that corporations have a track record of unlawful acts that labor unions and nonprofits do not.
The implications of these decisions, in particular the corporate contribution case, cannot not be overstated. As shown by the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, opening the political process to corporations can easily lead to an expensive, compromised democracy.
Implementation of Electronic Poll Books Tested to Speed Up Voting
Anoka County, Minnesota received a grant of $237,825.81 to purchase electronic rosters, which are also known as electronic poll books or e-pollbooks, to check in pre-registered voters and to process same-day voting registrations instead of using manual paper entries. These electronic rosters include iPads, printers, and readers which will create a quicker process overall to speed up voting for voters. These changes will allow for quicker times when voting, but will also allow same-day registration.
Jonell Sawyer, the division manager for the elections department says, “the electronic rosters will be ready for use at both the 2018 primary election in August and the general election in November.”
NSA’s Soon-to-Be Director Concerned about Future Election Cyberattacks
There are few issues Republican and Democratic senators agree on these days. One of them is the lackluster response by the Trump administration to Russian election interference. And even Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the soon-to-be National Security Administration (NSA) director joined the chorus of those concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime is not being held accountable for its actions in the interference in the 2016 elections — or deterred from continuing its interference in future elections.
This became apparent at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday, March 1, when both Republicans and Democrats alike indicated that they were troubled by the US’s lack of response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) commented that the US is a “cyber punching bag of the world,” while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stated that the US’s lack of action is “deeply disturbing.”
Both senators were joined by Nakasone, who, if confirmed, will lead the NSA once current Director Mike Rogers retires later this year. Nakasone agreed that the response “to Russian meddling in the 2016 election has not been strong enough.” Despite “the State Department [being] allotted $120 million in the past two years to counter Russia’s ‘information warfare’ … not a dime has been spent.” There has been no response.
On Tuesday, March 6, President Trump said “certainly there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals,” but he had spent over a year without “holding cabinet or high-level National Security Council meetings [regarding] combating Russian interference.” After voicing skepticism since the 2016 election, Trump admitted there was tampering. Despite the White House’s engagement the threat for foreign cyberattacks is still predicted in the 2018 elections. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats says, “It’s highly likely that they will be doing something. We just don’t know how much and when and where.”
Democratic Senators Put the Heat on Voting Machine Manufacturers
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to the three largest US voting equipment manufacturers requesting information on their cybersecurity practices. The senators want to know if Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic exposed their products’ software source code — the “inner workings” — in sales or distributions to Russian entities, a practice that could allow a nation-state such as Russia to hack America’s elections infrastructure. American companies including Cisco, IBM, and SAP allow the Russian government to review their proprietary source code to comply with the country’s regulations to gain entry to their markets.
“Most voting machines contain software from firms which were alleged to have shared their source code with Russian entities,” the senators wrote. Russian voters cast their ballots in writing, and they are tallied manually.
ES&S, the largest of the three voting machine manufacturers, faced additional scrutiny this week. Referencing a story in the New York Times Magazine, The Myth of the Hacker-Proof Voting Machine, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Tom Burt, the President and CEO of ES&S. Burt has until March 30 to answer questions about whether ES&S sold any products with pre-installed remote-access software, a capability that poses a serious election security gap.
The voting technology seller wrote, in a statement, that it “does not sell or distribute products with remote access software installed,” but it left open Wyden’s second question: “Have ES&S officials or technical support personnel ever recommended that customers install remote-access software on voting machines or other election systems?” The Times article reported that the ES&S advised election officials to install remote-access software so the company’s technicians could service the machines while connected to the Internet.
Wyden also reminded Burt to respond to unanswered questions regarding its voting system security, contained in an earlier letter from Wyden to the company. ES&S claims it never received Wyden’s first letter sent in October 2017.
California Declares It Unconstitutional to Invalidate Ballots With Mismatched Signatures
Until recently, California elections officials refused to count absentee ballots with mismatched voter signatures. But a state court judge ruled on March 5 that the process is unconstitutional. Californians cast millions of votes outside traditional polling places in a given election.
The case started when election officials rejected a ballot cast via mail by Peter La Follette. The signature on the back of his vote-by-mail envelope didn’t match the signature on record. La Follette and the ACLU of Northern California sued the officials last summer. The lawsuit alleged that Sonoma County failed to count as many as 45,000 votes across the state for the same reason, despite no existing standards for how to manage mismatched voter signatures.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer ruled in favor of La Follette and the ACLU, deciding that “The statute fails to provide for notice that a voter is being disenfranchised and/or an opportunity for the voter to be heard … These are fundamental rights,” Ulmer wrote.
Now, elections officials must notify voters if their signatures don’t match, rather than simply dismissing the vote as invalid. Ulmer didn’t provide specifics on how such a system would work but did note that it takes 30 days to certify an election, providing enough of a window to address any issues. The decision is of particular importance as California moves away from day-of voting at polling sites and more voters cast their ballots by mail.
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Latest News: March 3-6, 2018
Are Ballot Marking Devices Democratic?
Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) have increased in popularity in the past several years. Originally designed as a tool for people who struggled with paper ballots, counties and states nationwide — among them Los Angeles County and the state of Georgia — are considering using the tools for all voters. Voters cast their vote on a touchscreen computer that then prints out a paper copy. An optical scanner counts the printout like any other vote.
Digital voting tools, among them optical scanners, have come under scrutiny in light of the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. BMDs double the number of potentially-hackable computers involved in casting a vote. Hacking aside, the technology itself presents several issues, among them “vote flipping,” meaning when voters touch the screen to select a candidate and the machine shows a different selection. Instead of traditional paper ballots, some machines print out barcodes illegible to human readers, which experts say makes it much harder to find signs of interference.
Moreover, voters don’t tend to double-check the machines’ work. One survey found that less than 40 percent of voters check the paper printout from the machine; another found that 60 percent fail to notice on review screens if the machine records votes incorrectly. Neither statistic bodes well for the accuracy or integrity of BMD printouts. To make matters worse, another report found that fewer than one in 10 people, after being told the machine had made an error, were likely to recast their ballots.
Putin Thumbs His Nose at Mueller’s Indictment of 13 Russians
In an exclusive interview with NBC News journalist Megyn Kelly, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to deny his government’s involvement in meddling in the 2016 US presidential election to support then-candidate Donald Trump, and disparage Hillary Clinton. The Russian president demanded proof of the charges specified in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian businesses. Putin suggested that the US go through the formality of sending Russia’s general prosecutor a notice of the alleged criminal charges and hard evidence of election interference. Then, the Russian prosecutor can determine whether the charged Russian nationals violated any Russian laws, a legal threshold that must be met before the Russian government would consider extraditing its citizens to law enforcement officials in the US. Putin told Kelly that he will “never” extradite 13 nationals indicted by Mueller, an incontestable given because Russian and the US don’t have a bilateral extradition treaty.
In a half-turn, Putin said on Tuesday that the accused Russians may be prosecuted in Russia if they were found to have violated Russian laws. “Should it turn out that they really violated Russian laws, then we will bring them to justice. If they did not violate Russian laws, then there is no reason for indicting them,” Putin said. “In the final count you should realize that people in Russia live in accordance with Russian laws and not US laws, and it will remain so.”
Homeland Security Reauthorization Bill May Be Best Chance for Bolstering Election Security
On March 7, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), both members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, plan to introduce an election security-related amendment to the House-passed Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act (H.R.2825). Lankford and Harris are the bipartisan co-sponsors of the Secure Elections Act (S.2261), one of several stalled efforts in Congress to strengthen and modernize state and local election systems against cyberattacks. The senators will try to get the provisions of the Secure Elections Act that focus on streamlining shared communication between the Department of Homeland Security and state election officials on election cyber threats enacted into law. If signed into law, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act would be the first time the Department of Homeland Security’s work has been codified into law since its creation following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Hacker Responsible for Russian-attributed Cyberattacks on DNC Wants to Explain His Exploit
Konstantin Kozlovsky, a 29-year-old Russian hacker held in a Moscow high-security prison, said he’s ready to tell how he, on behalf of the Kremlin, custom-built software to compromise the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems in 2016, as well as those of the US government, the military, social media companies, and leading US publishers. “I’m ready to collaborate with the US specialists, to show evidence, and to confirm information,” he said in an interview with Fast Company.
Americans Don’t Believe Trump Can Stop Future Meddling
Most Americans do not trust the Trump administration to prevent Russians from interfering in the 2018 midterm elections, according to a new Axios survey that polled responses from 3,574 adults. Though 81 percent of Republicans have faith in the president’s ability to deter foreign meddling, an overwhelming majority of independents and Democrats are skeptical. Public discontent extends to the private sector, as more than two-thirds of Americans believe both the government and tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — whose platforms Russians used to disseminate misinformation — have a “major responsibility” to stop election tampering.
Former WH Chief of Staff: McConnell ‘Watered Down’ Obama’s Russia Warning
Denis McDonough, a former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of softening the Obama administration’s response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. On NBC’s Meet The Press, McDonough said McConnell significantly “watered down” the language in a September 2016 letter congressional leaders addressed to state election officials that was meant as a warning to protect election infrastructure from foreign attacks.
McDonough also defended his former boss — whose failure to aggressively counter Russian interference has drawn fierce criticism from the left and right — by insisting that foreign actors would have acted more egregiously had the administration not alerted states in such a timely manner.
On the other hand, he ripped into Congress for having shown a “stunning lack of urgency about this question,” which continues to undermine election security today. “It’s beyond time for Congress to work with the administration, to work with the states, to ensure that our electoral systems are ready to go,” McDonough said. “This is not a game.”
The State Department Has $120 Million to Fight Russian Interference. It Hasn’t Spent a Cent.
As more and more experts warn of Russian cyberattacks in the upcoming midterms, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has still not used any of the $120 million Congress allocated the State Department in 2016 to combat election meddling. In the final months of the Obama administration, Congress ordered the Pentagon to send the department $60 million to suppress anti-democratic messaging by Russia and China, but Tillerson reportedly spent so long mulling whether to spend the money that the Pentagon decided to withhold funds until the next fiscal year. He then engaged in a five-month dispute with the Pentagon over how much funding the State Department could have, before finally settling on a transfer of $40 million.
One costly setback of the prolonged stalemate is that the Global Engagement Center, which tackles Moscow’s potent disinformation campaign, contains no Russian-speaking analysts.
Tillerson’s inaction reflects the dovish stance the Trump administration has taken toward the Kremlin. Yet unlike the president, who has routinely denied or downplayed the impact of Russian activity on the election results, Tillerson doubts foreign attacks can be effectively averted.
“If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” he told Fox News last month. “And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.”
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Latest News: February 28 – March 2, 2018
Ohio Lawmakers at Odds Over Voting Equipment Funding
Funding for new voting equipment is poised to become an issue in the race for who will become Ohio’s next Secretary of State.
At issue is the funding process that is being proposed by Sen. Frank LaRose, the likely Republican candidate for the position, as well as what kind of voting systems should be used to safeguard elections in the Buckeye State.
LaRose (R) has proposed a bill that would allocate $114.5 million in funding to Ohio’s counties for the purchase of new voting equipment.
His likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Kathleen Clyde, criticized LaRose for not following the regular process for seeking funds for voting machines. In addition, she suggested that Ohio should focus on using verifiable paper ballots rather than new machines.
The Case for Paper Ballots and Widespread Audits
In an article that outlines the risks of electronic voting, Jennifer Cohn, attorney and election integrity advocate, makes proposals for ensuring election integrity and changing how Americans vote. Cohn advocates for two shifts: paper ballots and election audits.
First off, digital voting machines are anything but secure, she argues. Even when not connected to the Internet, they can be subject to hacking — every machine runs software, and software is vulnerable. Moreover, insiders on a political mission with direct access to the machines can interfere either directly with the voting machines or the memory cards that run software on optical scanners. And the vote counting system is massively centralized — two voting machine vendors provide more than 80 percent of voting equipment in the United States.
Ohio Republicans Vote to Amend Bipartisan Redistricting Commission
Ohio’s GOP lawmakers introduced a proposal to alter the independent redistricting commission that redraws congressional maps every decade, using updated census data. The measure would increase the number of commissioners from six to nine, and require just a majority vote — instead of the current two-thirds margin — to approve a redistricting map. Since the GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature, Ohio Republicans will no longer need Democratic support to render new boundaries.
Furthermore, the proposed system will significantly weaken the long-standing, bipartisan process used to elect commissioners. Under the present system, the leaders and state chairs of both parties each select one commissioner, who cannot be a government official or a lobbyist. The new arrangement preserves the procedure, but allows the House speaker and Senate president (both Republicans) and the legislative council (GOP-led) to select the three added members.
The proposal, should it pass the GOP-led state Senate and House, will be up for a vote on the November ballot.
Early Voting Bill Dies in Mississippi Senate
A bill aimed at facilitating online registration and early voting failed to pass the Mississippi Senate Elections Committee. The measure, authored by Democratic Sen. David Blount, would have substantially modernized the state’s antiquated and cumbersome balloting system, which requires voters to register at their respective county clerk’s office or to obtain a voter registration form through the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. And early voting is granted only to Mississippians who meet one of 15 seemingly arbitrary criteria, which include prior military service, current student, teacher or administrator status, and proven inability to return home on Election Day.
Alaskan Hispanic Cultural Center Offering Bilingual Election Information
A Hispanic Cultural Center in Anchorage, Alaska, is trying to connect the users of it’s food distribution service with more than just a good meal, as they have started distributing a vote by mail brochure translated into Spanish. This community saw low voter turnout in 2016 so the leaders of the Cultural Center hope a bilingual approach to the midterms will change this. There is no promotion for this initiative but the translated brochures will be distributed at food distributions throughout February and March. Reaching between 125 and 185 people a day, this offers a way to reach out to politically disengaged people in the county.
In a state where election material must also be written in the various Native American languages of the region, this is another step toward opening up democracy to more minorities. The use of bilingual ballots has risen slightly across the country over the past five years.
US Supreme Court Hears Case About Polling Stations and Political Apparel
The US Supreme Court spent an hour hearing arguments about the wearing of political apparel to polling stations. Minnesota, like nine other states, has a law preventing people inside polling sites from wearing badges, buttons, hats, T-shirts, or other items with overly political messages. The law is from 1912.
A man claims he was twice turned away from a polling station in 2010 for wearing a Tea Party shirt along with a button that said “Please ID Me.” His case has been heavily supported by many conservative groups.
The Supreme Court, which is expected to return a decision in June, peppered both sides with difficult questions, with the issue seeming to come down to the subjective question of what is “political” and what isn’t. Some justices expressed that the law seems too broad and puts too much interpretation in the hands of election workers, but it wasn’t obvious which way they were leaning.
South Dakota Votes Down Bill That Would Limit Out-of-State Contributions
Following recent action from South Dakota State Senators, out-of-state donors still can influence ballot measure campaigns in the state. Legislators voted down an attempt to restrict outside donations. The bill, HB 1216, introduced by Rep. Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) and Sen. Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre), would have restricted total donations to $100,000 per election cycle provided that the donor didn’t reside in South Dakota or the political committee/organization wasn’t organized in-state. HB 1216 passed the House on February 14 with the minimum number of votes, but the State Senate Affairs Committee rejected the bill in a 5-4 vote.
Out-of-state contributions have occupied the attention of many as the practice has grown increasingly common in the past decade. Critics call out such contributions as exertions of undue influence defined by external (i.e. outside, non-local) interests. Others suggest they lead to more extreme partisan federalism — rather than identifying primarily with state politics, people grow more loyal to the national political party.
Georgia Votes to Use Optical Scan Paper Ballot System
At the close of its most recent 40-day session, the Georgia legislature voted on dozens of bills, among them a proposal to replace electronic voting machines with a paper ballot system. Though votes would be cast on paper, Georgia would use optical scanning systems to count the votes. The Senate voted 50-1 in favor of the proposal, but the bill has yet to be considered by the Georgia house. Some of Georgia’s senators have pushed for years to move away from electronic voting machines, arguing that they are too susceptible to hacking. The bill requires the Secretary of State to select an “optical scanning voting system” by June 2019. Funding will determine whether new machines are in place for the elections in 2020 or 2024.
Wisconsin Loses Elections Commission Leader in Partisan Battle
Michael Haas, the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, has stepped down as a conflict between the bipartisan Commission and Senate Republicans has come to a head. The commission oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying statewide. Haas came to his position after working on the Government Accountability Board (GAB), the likely source of Republican resentment. The GAB played a role in a secret investigation, unpopular among Wisconsin Republicans, into Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) 2012 recall campaign.
The Senate rejected Haas’s confirmation from the outset, a move the Elections Commission countered with a 4-2 vote that would have kept him at the helm until April 30. Haas considered challenging the Senate vote but opted to step down at the end of February, not wanting to spend “additional time, effort and resources in the negative environment of litigation.”
Democratic colleagues find the Republican behavior to “run him out” appalling, but they are also worried about what it means for the 2018 elections. Haas was the only staffer at the Elections Commission with adequate security clearance to address threats to election security with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Upon his departure, Haas was fighting for approval for three additional positions at the Elections Commission, one of which focuses solely on election security. Wisconsin is one of the states where the DHS says Russian-backed interference occurred in 2016 and is likely to recur in the upcoming midterms.
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Latest News: February 24-27, 2018
Democrats Get Up Close and Personal With ‘Dark Money’
Anonymous political contributions are part and parcel of the Democratic strategy — despite the fervent critiques of so-called “dark money” by many party members. The recent special Senate election in Alabama is a shining example. Just weeks before Election Day, a super PAC called Highway 31 appeared more-or-less out of nowhere. The organization went on to contribute $5.1 million to the campaign of Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate. But, taking advantage of a legal loophole, the super PAC kept the identities of its donors secret until after the election.
When the identities were made public, they turned out to mostly be organizations that obscured the people behind the cash. Several of the organizations that made donations operate at the national level, including the Senate Majority PAC, PAC Priorities USA, and the nonprofit League of Conservation voters.
Billionaires like Donald Sussman and George Soros donate the majority of funds to the Senate Majority PAC (which in turn funded Highway 31). The organization boasts transparency and independence on its website, but significant funds come from corporations and labor unions. Worse still, the Senate Majority PAC takes donations from Majority Forward, a nonprofit that doesn’t report its donors at all, while spending big on political advertisements. Majority Forward and the Senate Majority PAC share office space and a president.
The willingness of the Democratic Party to engage in non-transparent funding clashes with its very mission to “end secret, unaccountable money in politics,” as the party’s website states. Senator Doug Jones’s website itself states, “We are all tired of politicians who have been bought and paid for by special interests.” Republicans, of course, engage in many of the same practices — they don’t, though, claim to have a problem with it.
Parkland Students’ Activism Opening Conversations on Lower Voting Age
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are opening up discussions on more than just gun control. By speaking at rallies and town halls, the students have arguably already taken part in civic duties far more important than casting a vote. This has led some to argue citizens under 18 should be welcomed at the polls.
New York Plans to Add 50,000 High School Seniors to Voter Roll
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced plans to add a voter registration program in high schools that would add 50,000 seniors to the rolls. This plan hinges on introducing much-needed civic education in schools, something that is sorely missing. However, activists say it also needs to focus on erasing barriers, such as easing voter-ID laws for city students who don’t have driver’s licenses and registration deadlines that fall in the heart of exam season.
Texas Attorney General Opposes Teachers Helping Students to Vote
Outside of New York there is opposition to youth voting, with Texas’s Attorney General Ken Paxton having written a non-binding opinion that teachers and schools should not drive students to polls — because, he says, it has no “educational purpose.” In a state where the 4.2 million voters in the 2016 presidential primaries was the highest ever but still represented only 30% of the registered voters, the prospect of civically engaged youth has Republicans panicking.
Survey Studies Impact of Increased Millennial Votes
While the impact of a large millennial turnout is unclear, surveys show millenials to be growing more liberal as their baby boomer parents grow more conservative. Millennials show more fear for the country’s future, are more open to the creation of a third party, and have less faith in the necessity of democracy than previous generations currently do. Should a change in age requirement or civic education lead to dramatic rises in millennial turnout rates, then we can expect to see a very different country in the future.
Russian Trolling Prompts Improbable Alliance
At a time when simply mentioning the words “Russia” and “elections” in the same sentence inevitably draws cries of partisan witch-hunts, two former political operatives — Jamie Fly and Laura Rosenberger, veterans of the Bush and Obama administrations respectively — have subdued their ideological differences to form the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan think tank that tracks and reports the activity of 600 Russian social media trolls.
Drawing on the extreme partisan divide within the US, trolls have taken advantage of national crises, like the recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, to stir up heated, polarizing sentiments around issues like gun control.
While some, like The Intercept’s always-outspoken Glenn Greenwald and the conservative website The Federalist, have criticized the think tank’s effort for propagating what they consider to be a mythical “vast conspiracy between President Trump and Russia,” Fly and Rosenberger insist they’re not taking sides.
“What the president is missing and what those on the right like those at The Federalist are missing is we’re not drawing any conclusions about collusion,” Fly told Politico. “Those on the right who are just trying to cloud this issue and tie it to a broader debate about whether Donald Trump is our legitimate president — I think they’re just trying to distract from this very real national security challenge.”
Louisiana State Appeals Court Hears Argument on Felons Voting
A Louisiana state appeals court heard arguments on whether over 70,000 people on probation in the state should be allowed to vote. The whole case comes down to the phrase “under an order of imprisonment.”The state argues that the phrase includes probation, as violating parole results in being sent back to prison.It was used in the 1974 State Constitution, and its definition was expanded in a 1976 law to include people on probation and parole.
The plaintiffs in the case — a handful of felons and a group called Voice of the Ex-Offender — state that “order of imprisonment” means exactly that — in prison. The challenge is supported by The American Probation and Parole Association and Seventeen professors from the law schools at LSU, Southern and Tulane universities, and Loyola University New Orleans.
The three-judge panel took the arguments under advisement but no date is set for their decision.
Experts Worry GOP Will Suppress Teen Vote
The Parkland students sure are stirring up a lot of teen voters right now, and that terrifies the Republican party. Some experts worry there is only one option to stave off a millennial wave against the GOP in the 2018 midterms: Stop the teenagers from voting.
New Hampshire continued their war on student voters by passing what amounts to a student poll tax in January. The new law requires students to spend hundreds of dollars — getting a New Hampshire driver’s licence and registering their cars in the state — just to cast a ballot.
Last week, Texas’s Attorney General — Republican Ken Paxton — wrote a non-legally binding opinion opposing the efforts of teachers transporting students to polling stations, saying it has no “educational purpose.” He has also sent cease-and-desist letters to multiple school boards.
US Cyber Chief Says He Has Not Received Order to Confront Russian Meddling
US Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers told lawmakers Tuesday that President Donald Trump has not ordered him to address and deter Russian cyberattacks targeting US elections. “Nobody’s … directly asked me,” said Rogers. Rogers said he has not been granted authority to disrupt the influence operation at the source; the current defense strategy deployed by the cyber force “has not changed the calculus or the behavior on behalf of the Russians,” who Rogers expects will infiltrate the midterm elections.
The Trump administration’s response to Russian meddling has been widely-criticized as toothless. It has yet to impose a single sanction against the Kremlin on this issue — almost a month after Congress passed legislation mandating such retribution.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Sued for Not Holding Special Elections
A Democratic group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder sued Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Monday for refusing to call special elections to fill two legislative seats, which were vacated in December by GOP lawmakers who resigned to join Walker’s administration. In a shocker that thrilled Democrats as much as it alarmed Republicans, Patty Schachtner (D–Somerset) — in a special election last month — flipped a Senate seat that had been under GOP control for 17 years. Walker’s decision to hold off the ballots may be an attempt to prevent Democrats from collecting more state victories.
The lawsuit, filed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, emphasizes a state law that stipulates the prompt creation of a special election to fill vacancies “before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held.” Holder called Walker’s refusal to hold elections “an affront to representative democracy” that deprives citizens representation for more than a year.
Walker’s press secretary Amy Hasenberg said that the governor’s decision is “consistent with the law,” since the state Legislature will already be on hiatus before the special elections could be held.
Experts Warn of Imminent, Malicious AI Use
A group of 26 AI experts co-authored a cautionary 100-page report showing how the technology is ripe for exploitation by rogue states and terrorists. The parallel rise of drones and internet “bots” — the latter a popular tool for circulating misinformation and propaganda to influence elections — will pose a growing risk to both national security and democracy in the next decade. The report urges governments and corporations to analyze the three security domains most susceptible to misuse: the digital, physical, and political. To deter cyberwars, lawmakers need to collaborate with technical researchers to compile and implement best practices from “disciplines with a longer history of handling dual use risks, such as computer security.” Another recommendation is expanding the range of stakeholders with a vested interest in risk mitigation.
Senate Intel Committee Likely to Miss Deadline for Election Security Recommendations
Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, acknowledged a likely possibility of missing their own deadline for issuing election security recommendations to states facing potential Russian interference in the 2018 congressional midterm elections. The committee’s recommendations will be the first ones issued after a yearlong bipartisan investigation of the Russian cyberattacks against election systems. Burr and Warner had hoped to issue the recommendations before Texas holds its March 6 primary. The delay stems from the time needed to declassify the document for public release. Burr, the chairman of the panel, said he has a contingency plan if the deadline is not met. Burr suggested the panel could write a comprehensive overview of the classified document or call state election officials and share the recommendation by phone.
Hicks Replaces Masterson as Chair of Election Assistance Commission
On February 23, Thomas Hicks was promoted to chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Hicks replaces Matthew Masterson, who was passed up for a second four-year term by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Hicks previously served as chairman of the EAC from February 2016 to February 2017. As Speaker, Ryan gets to pick somebody for the chairman position. President Donald Trump makes the formal nomination, which is then subject to Senate confirmation.
It’s unclear why Ryan demoted Masterson, who will remain one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Masterson had expressed concern about impending Russian cyberattacks in the 2018 midterm and 2020 elections. “The threat is real and the response needs to be robust and coordinated,” said Masterson. State officials were surprised that Masterson was not re-nominated as chairman, given that he focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.
Governors’ Reactions to Election Cyber Threats are Partisan
At the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, some of the nation’s governors expressed concern about the current capability of their states to defend against cyberattacks from adversaries. While governors of both parties expressed concern, there was a clear difference as far as their sense of urgency.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said, “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s scary.” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) likened Russia’s cyberattacks to a Pearl Harbor attack on elections.
In marked contrast, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said, “I do think hackers are a threat for the nation,” but she didn’t see a major threat in her state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said of Russian hackers, “We’re paying attention to it.” And, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) “insisted the media are overstating the problem.”
Vote Verification Experts Call for Return of Paper Ballots
Amid fears of hacking and difficulties verifying votes, some experts are calling for a return to paper ballots. Although 70 percent of Americans live in voting districts that leave a paper trail — creating a record so that voting machines can be checked — there are five states that solely use unverifiable voting machines. Known as Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, these machines were brought in by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 in order to prevent another hanging chad situation like in the 2000 presidential election. Although it solved this problem, it created ambiguity — the lack of paper ballots means there is no way to validate that the voters’ ballots were cast and counted as intended.
Activists hope that by borrowing methods from the criminal justice system on how to preserve evidence they can ensure that all votes are verifiable.
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