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: February 21-23, 2018
Memphis City Council Appears to Plot Against Ranked-Choice Voting
In 2008, Memphis voters elected to transition to Ranked Choice Voting, a process much delayed by concerns over whether or not the election machines could accommodate the procedure. Now, the city council is attempting a follow-up referendum this November. Sitting members of the council have made “spurious and easily disproven claims,” like comparing the process to the Jim Crow poll tax. In ranked choice voting, a process that does away with the low-turnout runoff elections, each voter selects candidates in order of preference, usually with three places.
At the same time, the council is scheduling a November referendum abolishing runoffs altogether. And, staying busy, the council is paying a lobbying firm to push a state law through the current legislative session that would ban ranked-choice voting statewide, rendering the referendum irrelevant.
North Carolina Struggles Without State Board of Elections
North Carolina has lacked a State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement for eight months now, leaving the state without leadership on issues like buying voting equipment and maintaining election integrity. The legal battle dates back to a 2016 dispute between Governor Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican-controlled General Assembly about representation on the state’s board of elections.
County election directors, without a state budget, are borrowing voting equipment from neighboring districts or renting machines from private vendors.
The ongoing legal battle in the North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals shows few signs of resolution. Even if a consensus were to be reached, it takes time to appoint a new state board and replenish membership of local election boards.
To make matters worse, the deadline to purchase new election machines for 2018 has already passed — while a need for more and updated equipment persists. Election workers in some counties have described the need to “beg, borrow, or steal” machines for the May 2018 primary. Elsewhere, voting machines have just been decertified and can no longer be put to legal use. Paper ballots may make something of a comeback — an expensive and time-consuming process.
Moreover, 23 of the 100 elections boards in North Carolina have just two members — the bare minimum to remain operational. A death, resignation, or change of address could result in their dissolution. The non-existent state board is the only body allowed to appoint new local election officials. Counties could be left without election boards as the 2018 midterm election season advances.
Will the US Mount Unified Defense of Elections?
Agreement may be rare across Washington, but there is general consensus that the Russians will interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. The question remains how Washington will respond to and manage the threat. Peter Grier argues in the Christian Science Monitor that it will take a comprehensive effort across all levels of government and political persuasions to combat electronic intrusions from the complex and well-financed Russian efforts.
Critics say the biggest hurdle remains at the top — President Donald Trump has yet to denounce Russian cyberattacks outright. While the cabinet agrees that the Russian operations amount to a nationwide threat, the president has tended to “muddy” the message, most recently in the “McMaster Incident.” Trump lashed out at national security advisor H.R. McMaster’s statement that the Russian meddling was “incontrovertible.” Moreover, some have expressed concern that the US is engaged in covert retaliation in Russia rather than exhibiting strong leadership on the issue at home.
Florida Senate Votes to Share Voter Information
The Florida legislature recently voted to share voter information with other states. Rep. Ross Spano (R) sponsored the bill, which passed the Florida Senate unanimously. The Department of State can now share voter information, including driver’s license details, provided the federal government doesn’t control the process. The idea that many voters have multiple registrations has been a fixture in President Donald Trump’s claims of rampant voter fraud nationwide.
State Agency to Help Disabled Texans to Register to Vote Following Lawsuit Threat
Responding to the threat of a lawsuit, the Texas Workforce Commission has announced it will be offering voter registration help to Texans with disabilities who receive job training help from the agency. Registration aid was cut in 2016 when the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services — which offered job training duties — was phased out. State figures estimate this affected at least 74,000 Texans.
Lawyers representing the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities released a letter last week claiming the removal of this registration aid violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. This act requires state agencies that help people with disabilities to also offer help registering to vote or changing voter information.
After Controversial Interview, Manfra Talks to Press Again
Jeanette Manfra, Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official, said “we have every reason to expect that … foreign influence activity will continue, but we don’t see any specific credible threat or targeting of election infrastructure.”
After the stir created by the February 8 interview with reporters from NBC News, Manfra sat down — this time with a CNET reporter — to answer more questions about all the ways hackers can sow chaos in the upcoming primaries and midterm elections.
Read an edited transcript of the conversation here.
Voting Machine Manufacturers in the Spotlight; It’s About Time
Three private voting technology vendors — Election Systems & Software, Dominion Voting Systems, and Hart Intercivic — could face new scrutiny as lawmakers, election administrators, and computer security experts try to combat nation-state interference in America’s elections. Ed Smith, the vice president of products at election technology firm Clear Ballot, said he “sensed a desire on the part of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to treat election vendors more like other critical infrastructure companies, all of which are more heavily regulated.” Election systems were deemed vital “critical infrastructure” by DHS in January 2017.
A section of the Election Security Act, a bill House Democrats introduced recently, would mandate election technology vendors to adopt specific cyber security standards to secure their products. The legislation was introduced at the same time as the release of a report by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security. The Democratic Task Force, a congressional panel of the party’s foremost experts on cyber threats, pointed out that “there is no federal law that governs what steps election vendors must take to safeguard their systems from attack.” Moreover, voting machines are “made and maintained by a monopoly of private firms and contractors with little regulation or marketplace pressure to do better.”
In March 2017, the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania and the OSET Institute released The Business of Voting, a comprehensive analysis of the market structure and innovation outlook in the election technology industry. The study revealed that “the election technology industry is dominated by three firms whose products cover approximately 92% of the total eligible voter population. These firms are neither publicly nor independently held which limits the amount of publicly available information available about their operations.”
Alaska Suspends Electronic Absentee Program
The Alaska Division of Elections announced it will suspend an absentee voting program. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported earlier this month, “Alaska allows voters stationed or living overseas to return voted ballots electronically, a practice that election security experts say is notoriously insecure. Unlike most states, Alaska allows all absentee voters — not just Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) voters — to return voted ballots via fax. Alaska’s broad allowance of the practice leaves it vulnerable to Election Day problems.”
After the CAP report’s release, Alaska Division of Elections supervisor Josie Bahnke wrote, “Alaska is suspending the return of completed ballots through a web portal in 2018 until a more secure solution is available. The Division will continue to accept voted ballots via fax and by mail.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Alaska’s voting system was one of 21 state systems targeted by Russian hackers before and after the 2016 election.
Online Elections with Blockchain: Is it a Magic Bullet?
Casting ballots online is fraught with security problems. However, blockchain voting technology has become the focus of attention as a possible solution; some people say it’s the next revolutionary technology for accurate, verifiable, and secure elections.
“Blockchain is a distributed ledger that operates on multiple computer nodes. Every time a change is made to the chain (in this case, someone new casts a ballot), the entire ledger is updated. Because the information is not being stored in a centralized location, it’s virtually impossible to hack.”
Several states, including California, are exploring the use of the blockchain to update their election systems leading up to the 2020 elections. Voatz, a startup company that recently raised $2.2 million in venture funding, is building a platform for blockchain voting.
Whether the promise of blockchain technology will turn out to be the magic bullet is unknown, but California Secretary of State Alex Padilla thinks it’s a step in the right direction. “Technologies like blockchain provide insight into what’s possible and where conversations about election security might go,” he said.
Secure Elections Act Receives Bipartisan Support from National Security Officials
On February 22, a group of former national security officials — Republicans and Democrats — sent a letter to all US senators in support of the proposed bipartisan Secure Elections Act, introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in late December. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), would authorize $386 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to increase election system security and upgrade election infrastructure without undermining states’ control over the administration of those elections. Former members of Congress and presidents of public policy think tanks also signed the letter, including Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform.
Secretaries of State Receive a Less-Than-Satisfying Security Briefing from DHS
During last week’s four-day annual meeting of the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), several secretaries of state expressed deep frustration with a new classified briefing from officials representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the intelligence community, and law enforcement.
Although all 50 secretaries of state received “secret”-level information, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) said “The briefing was good to confirm what we already knew, but I didn’t really hear a lot of information that was new.” Mac Warner, the Republican secretary of state in West Virginia said, “Why things are classified has to be explained to us, and then we can keep our mouths shut. But really what happened yesterday, where we all signed our lives away or whatever and can’t talk about it, I think made it worse than what we had before.” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D), pressing DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to explain why President Donald Trump continues to downplay Russian hacking, pointed out that top intelligence agents as well as members of Trump’s own Cabinet have warned that Russians are likely to interfere again in the 2018 elections.
Decision to Replace Election Security Official Raises Eyebrows
At a time when concerns over interference in US elections are at an all-time high, the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) appear to be destabilizing the federal agency that has helped states keep election infrastructure secure from cyberattacks.
It was revealed this week that Matthew Masterson, the current chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, will not be nominated to serve a second four-year term. The news was greeted with unhappiness by state officials, who believed he had been doing a good job preparing the states against cyberattacks. With the midterms just over eight months away and some primaries starting next week, the timing couldn’t be worse. While the reasoning is unclear, many consider it a sign of the lack of seriousness afforded to election security by the White House.
As speaker, Ryan gets to pick somebody for the position. President Donald Trump makes the formal nomination, which is then subject to Senate confirmation. Masterson, chosen by Ryan’s predecessor John Boehner (R-OH), was confirmed for his first unanimously.
States Scrambling to Defend Elections but Hindered by Late Start
Forty state election officials have been briefed by federal officials on election security ahead of the midterm elections. At least 21 states are said to have been targeted by the Russians in 2016; with US intelligence agencies expecting Russia to launch another attack on the midterm election, states know they have to take action. However, reluctance from the White House to help and to share information has left the states unsure of the exact threat and how to deal with it.
Only 14 states and three local election agencies have asked for detailed vulnerability assessments from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and only five of these two-week examinations are complete. Illinois, for example, requested one in January — ahead of its March 20 primaries — and is stilling waiting. DHS has stated it expects to have all the assessments completed by mid-April.
State officials have also talked about the difficulties DHS has had establishing relationships with the states; DHS officials have little institutional understanding of how to administer and few connections within the various communities. DHS is hoping to hold more of these briefings in the future to bridge this gap.
Less than half of the estimated 50 senior state elections officials that requested federal security clearances have received them, limiting the capacity for information to be shared between the federal government and the states.
US Explores Possible Sanctions Against Russia
Following the indictment of 13 Russian nationals for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, the federal government is considering new sanctions against Russia. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike criticized President Donald Trump’s hesitancy to act after the administration opted not to impose sanctions. Administration officials claim the process of enacting sanctions is a long one, making it difficult to use it as a tool in response to breaking news. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment named two Russian companies — Concord Catering and Concord Management and Consulting — that already have sanctions placed against them. Those sanctions, related to Russian involvement in the Ukraine, date back to June 2017. The two companies controlled the Internet Research Agency, the group responsible for meddling.
Democrats Want More Money for the FBI Before 2018 Midterms
In an effort to help combat Russian interference in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, Democrats are pushing to increase the FBI budget by $300 million in next month’s government funding bill. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to Republican majority leaders seeking support for their efforts. “Congress must respond immediately to attacks on our democracy by a foreign adversary,” the Democrats wrote.
The additional funds would allow for a greater effort to target “hostile foreign actors” in the US alongside Russian activity on social media platforms. The Democrats also requested extra funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Election Assistance Commission.
Additionally, Schumer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) wrote to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen asking for the public release of information about anticipated interference by the Russians in the 2018 elections. Klobuchar noted that the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), is among the Republicans supporting legislative efforts to boost spending on election security.
The Republicans declined to immediately endorse the Democrats’ bid for a boost in funding; instead the Democrats were told, essentially, to wait in line — “This request will be carefully considered along with the thousands of individual choices and decisions that will have to be weighed and made as a FY2018 omnibus bill is written,” a Senate GOP aide wrote.
But, there’s still time — albeit very little — for Republicans to act against Russian interference.
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Latest News: February 16-20, 2018
New FEC Complaint Claims Trump Affair Hush Money Violated Campaign Finance Laws
The watchdog group Common Cause on Tuesday asked two federal institutions — the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice — to investigate a $150,000 payment from the National Enquirer’s parent company to a former Playboy model who has alleged an affair with the president. In its complaint, the group argued that the August 2016 transaction, intended to “buy and bury” the story of the affair to insure Trump’s presidential bid, constituted an in-kind campaign contribution and, thereby, violated federal campaign finance laws.
The FEC prohibits direct corporate donations to federal candidates, though this stipulation does not apply to the cost of distributing news stories. Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause, said the campaign’s hush payment to the model, Karen McDougal, does not qualify for “press” exemption because it’s essentially a quid pro quo unrelated to journalism and news production.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, said last week that, ahead of the election, he personally paid $130,000 to an adult film actress who also claims to have had an affair with Trump.
States Desperately Need New Voting Technology: "Who Ya Gonna Call?"
With aging voting machines running obsolete and insecure software, state and local election officials are begging for federal and state funding to replace ancient voting technology. A recent ProPublica analysis of voting machines found that over two-thirds of the nation’s counties used machines more a decade old for the 2016 election. Election officials in 33 states reported that they need to replace their voting equipment by 2020, according to a recent survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice. Yet state and local governments don’t have the money needed to upgrade their insecure election infrastructure. Election Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson said, “Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise. A lot of times it’s you or a new gazebo or improvements to the local golf course.”
State Elections Officials Left in the Dark About Election Threats
Chief election officials nationwide are expressing concern that they don’t have enough information to adequately protect their constituents against election threats. The federal government, they say, hasn’t shared enough specific information about threats to registered voter databases, voting machines, and communication networks. Many don’t have the appropriate level of clearance to review classified federal documents, leaving them ill-equipped to manage or identify incoming threats. Many are worried that the federal government won’t act quickly enough to remedy the situation before midterm election season begins — as soon as March in some states. Though the vulnerability in election mechanics runs deep, experts have suggested that the largest threat is deflating confidence in the fairness of elections.
The indictment of 13 Russians last week underscored concerns about the clear need to tackle the issues of interference and hacking head-on. Nevertheless, a briefing last Friday following the indictment stuck to general information. During the meetings, no one clarified why state election officials were kept in the dark, nor were the details of the threat explained. The Department of Homeland Security claims to be aware of the problem and is developing strategies for more open communication. Experts have offered guidance on security measures to state officials, mediated through a voluntary effort coordinated by state and local election officials and federal liaisons. Communication between state and local officials has been strained — the Republican secretary of state in Indiana, Connie Lawson, joked that the effort was “going about as well as any arranged marriage can go.”
Sessions Convenes a Cybersecurity Task Force; Better Late Than Never, Right?
More than one year after the intelligence community acknowledged that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential elections, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the launch of a new Justice Department Cyber-Digital Task Force. The task force will examine how the department can better protect the nation from adversarial cyberattacks, “including efforts to interfere in future elections.” In a memo, Sessions wrote “The internet has given us amazing new tools that help us work, communicate, and participate in our economy, but these tools can also be exploited by criminals, terrorists, and enemy governments.” He added: “At the Department of Justice, we take these threats seriously.”
At an October hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, shocked lawmakers when he claimed that the federal government was not prepared to combat malicious cyber interference in future elections. Four months later and after mounting bipartisan pressure from Congress to prioritize election cybersecurity, Sessions promised in a press release that the task force would provide a report, due at the end of June, to “identify how federal law enforcement can more effectively accomplish its mission in this vital and evolving area.”
Pennsylvania's New Map Would Be a Big Boon to Democrats
Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, released by the state Supreme Court Monday, may drastically improve the Democrats’ chances at reclaiming the House. Drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University, the updated boundaries could help Democrats pick up as many as six congressional seats in Pennsylvania, whose current district composition is deemed one of the most extreme cases of partisan gerrymandering. The party needs to net 24 seats to win a majority in the lower chamber.
While the new map undoubtedly benefits Democrats, it’s also a much more equitable representation of the popular vote in the 2016 elections, and therefore a win for democracy. In 2012, two years after it won control of the House and redrew districts, the GOP won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats, even though Democrats received more votes overall. The new lines are carved along the 10 districts President Donald Trump won in 2016, and the eight that Hillary Clinton scored. The tighter distribution of boundaries more accurately captures the razor-thin margin in popular vote — Trump’s 48.2 percent to Clinton’s 47.5.
Russian Interference Raises the Question: Are US Election Laws Underpowered?
Are failed legislation and regulation to blame for America’s vulnerability to foreign interference in elections?
The charges listed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russian individuals and organizations — including identity theft and the use of “dark money”-funded online ads to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election — demonstrate the inadequacy of current US election laws, says a Loyola Law School professor who believes these laws are far too narrow in scope.
While one such law prohibits foreign-funded political ads that “express advocacy … which clearly and unambiguously advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate,” she says the law’s limited focus still leaves foreign adversaries with legal avenues to achieve their goals to influence American voters.
Some, however, argue that expanding the reach of these laws comes with its own constitutional problems.
Of course, many of the laws in existence today were devised long before technology like Facebook had even been imagined, let alone before it became the massive, global social force it is today.
Lawmakers hope to rectify this with the Honest Ads Act, a Senate bill that would require companies like Facebook and Twitter to disclose the identities of those purchasing political ads on their sites.
Clinton Campaign Manager Mook Talks Policy
Former Clinton campaign manager, Robby Mook, penned a CNN op-ed explaining the nuances and complexities of the US election system, a decentralized network of around 7,000 election jurisdictions nationwide. Acknowledging “the restraints of law, budget, and bureaucratic architecture” faced by state and local election administrators, Mook asks several well-formed policy questions: “Do election administrators have the funding they need to make necessary improvements to our election systems and the tools to hold vendors accountable for security? Do they have access to the intelligence they need to anticipate incoming threats? And are the state’s IT and procurement systems sufficiently modern to account for a dynamic threat like cybersecurity?”
Study Examines Impact of Voter Laws on Transgender Voters
Election watchdog group ElectionLine has researched the impact of voter laws on transgender voters — focusing on the effects of the requirement of gender on registration forms, and on the effects of strict voter ID laws. They found that, of the 34 states — and DC — that replied to their inquiries, 15 don’t ask for gender, 13 consider it optional, and six deem it mandatory. Meanwhile, North Dakota doesn’t require registration. Some activists feel gender is irrelevant to voting and that stating it should never be required. ElectionLine also found that many states are considering legislation to remove or change their gender questions. Although there is nothing on the books currently, Idaho will be scheduling a public hearing on this issue.
On the topic of voter ID laws, the group found that in the 2016 election there were no known cases of transgender voters being turned away for not matching their photo ID. Each state has a protocol for cases where a voter and their ID photograph don’t match, ranging from asking about weight gain, haircuts, etc. to requiring a signed affidavit to prove identity — or requiring the voter to cast a provisional ballot. Their main concern going forward is that President Donald Trump’s stance on transgender rights will embolden poll workers to discriminate, but this is something we will not know the extent of until after the 2018 midterm elections.
Brennan Center Finds More Expansive Voter Bills than Restrictive Ones in State Legislatures
Looking toward the 2018 midterm elections, the Brennan Center has released a summary of the restrictive and expansive voting bills that are currently in state legislatures. They have found there is a large push to expand access to voting, with 467 expansive bills having been introduced — or carried over from the previous year — in 39 states. As of February 13, 2018, there are 62 restrictive bills introduced or carried over in 23 states.
These do not include non-legislative successes — such as the ballot initiative on felons voting in Florida, or the actions by the Department of Justice earlier this year encouraging a voter-list purge.
The restrictive bills include plans to change voter ID requirements, early voting rules, absentee voting rules, and list maintenance protocols, among other things. The expansive bills are focusing on various registration reforms; rights restoration; and disability, military, and student voting. This report is a welcome read for those hoping for fairer elections in the future.
US Democrats Make Major Pushes for Election Security Before Primaries
House Democrats introduced H.R.5011 – Election Security Act on February 14 that, if passed, would provide $1.75 billion in federal grants to help states replace outdated voting technology with auditable paper ballots, train employees in cybersecurity and conduct, audits of elections to ensure the accuracy of their result. The introduction of the bill is a Hail Mary plan to shore up the security of voting systems that will be used in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
The legislation was introduced after a six-month effort by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security, whose leaders are the same as the co-sponsors of the Election Security Act. In its 52-page report, the Democratic Task Force members made several recommendations, such as the upgrade of election infrastructure (including voter registration databases), mandates for election technology vendors to secure their products, and a call for the federal government to develop a national strategy to undermine democratic institutions. Three other election security bills in the lower and upper chambers (the PAPER Act, the SAVE Act, and the Secure Elections Act) have bipartisan support, but no election security hearings have been scheduled. February 20 was the first day of early voting for the first primary, on March 6, in Texas.
Pence Tells Proven Lie About Intelligence Assessment of Russian Interference
“Well, the first thing that we all agree on is that, irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election. This is the accepted view.”
“Let me say again, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that there was no impact on the outcome of the 2016 election from any foreign meddling in our elections. And I believe that bears repeating. The American people can be confident about the results of the election in 2016.”
In fact, the oft-cited intelligence community report published on January 6, 2017, made no such assertion. In Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t conclude that Russian interference changed the election outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The declassified intelligence report clearly stated, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
US Intelligence Agents Outline Steps to Fight Foreign Election Influence
Mike Rogers, a former Republican congressman who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, and Rick Ledgett, the former Deputy Director of the National Security, proposed four measures the US government should immediately take to protect its election system from another foreign attack. The first is to formally declare election meddling unacceptable behavior that erodes the mechanics of a democracy. Congress, they say, should then pass legislation to facilitate a wholescale evaluation of each state’s electoral infrastructure, and to address vulnerabilities foreign actors have exploited. Comprehensive assessment would pave way for the next step: the creation of an interagency task force that works with private sector firms to combat influence campaigns. Responsibility for the final step falls largely on the Trump administration, which Rogers and Ledgett say should develop a range of countermeasures — from diplomacy and sanctions to military action — to not just defend but deter foreign infiltration.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Backs Return to Paper Ballots
Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, said the US’s reliance on a fragile electronic voting infrastructure has made it a prime target for hackers, both domestic and international. Many states use machines that employ software so old it’s not even supported by Microsoft security patches. A majority of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states report needing new voting systems. The most effective and economic way to boost election security, Chertoff said, is to reinstate paper ballots. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, last September unveiled the Paper Act: a bill allowing federal authorities to help states replace electronic systems with voter-verified paper ballots. The most optimistic estimates show that a complete overhaul of electronic voting structures would cost roughly $250 million — the same price as a single F-22 fighter jet.
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February 14, 2018
GOP Governors Refusing to Hold Special Elections
Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) are refusing to hold special elections for state senators and representatives, claiming they are a misuse of taxpayer dollars. In Florida, following the guidance of local election officials estimating special elections could cost upwards of $1 million each, Scott opted not to hold special elections to fill a state Senate seat opened last year. Scott’s press secretary described the elections as “a waste of taxpayer money.” Wisconsin also has legislative vacant seats. Though new lawmakers will be elected in upcoming November midterm elections, the empty seats mean constituents in each state are left unrepresented in the democratic process. Democrats see the move as an attempt by Republicans to protect legislative seats and avoid facing the possibility of competition. Special elections in the fall of 2017, ranging from governorships to legislative positions, brought several Democrats into office. Some see the move to avoid special elections in Wisconsin and Florida as an attempt to preserve the status quo. “By refusing to call for special elections, these governors are effectively silencing thousands of voices,” says Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
February 13, 2018
DNI Head Dan Coats: The Russians are Coming – Again!
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified Tuesday at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on global threats to the US and warned that Russia is “likely to pursue even more aggressive cyberattacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances.” Coats warned that these cyber-operations “will continue against the United States and our European allies, using elections as opportunities to undermine democracy, sow discord, and undermine our values.” Coats’s statement comes days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Russians are already working to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.
Coats was joined at the hearing by the country’s top intelligence officials, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo.
Criticizing the intelligence officials, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chair of the Committee, stated, “We’ve had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks. But we still do not have a plan.”
February 12, 2018
GOP Crusade Against Court Orders Could Set Dangerous Precedent Nationwide
With the first of the 2018 midterm primaries just weeks away, the recent streak of invalidated congressional maps should be an encouraging sign for voter rights advocates. But GOP resistance, particularly against court orders, may build the stage for more vitriolic fights in the future.
After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the state’s heavily gerrymandered map unconstitutional, the Republican-led legislature circulated a petition to impeach the court’s Democratic judges. Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center, a policy center at New York University School of Law, warned that threatening retribution against legal institutions could undermine their credibility and further corrode democratic practices.
Since it swept into power nationwide after the 2010 midterm elections, the GOP has established a stranglehold on moderate states like Pennsylvania — where Republicans hold 13 of 18 House seats — Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina.
DHS Calls NBC News Report on Election Security False
On February 8, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity Chief Jeanette Manfra told reporters, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, that US officials observed “a targeting of 21 states [voter registration rolls] and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated before the 2016 election.”
The NBC News interview has caused quite a stir. On February 12, DHS officially discredited the NBC News report. DHS called NBC’s version “false.” Manfra, in a statement from DHS, said “[r]ecent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking.” She added, “As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”
The journalistic brouhaha derives from a difference between NBC’s printed report of the interview and Manfra’s on-camera words during the interview — the technical difference between the targeting and penetrating voter registration databases. “An exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated” versus “a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors.”
NBC has defended the accuracy of its reporting.
State election officials took a defensive posture against Manfra’s claims. Members of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) issued a press release soon after the NBC interview defending states’ efforts to protect election infrastructure, including online voter databases. NASS wanted to set the record straight on two counts: first, targeting or scanning a database “is not a hack,” and second, election officials in “some of the 21 states” . . . “discovered it was not their election networks that were targeted or scanned, but other networks in the state and non-election related websites.”
Numerous reports, including one from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have concluded that Russian intelligence agents successfully hacked at least one election system — the Illinois voter registration system.
Despite the claims of manipulation of NBC’s reporting of Manfra’s comments, Americans have a bleak view of the electoral process. Last week, NBC News conducted a poll the results of which indicated that 64 percent of American adults, including people across the political spectrum — from Republicans to Independents to Democrats — think a “foreign government will try to interfere with the 2018 midterms.” “Fifty-seven percent of all Americans believe Russia will attempt to influence the 2018 midterm elections.”
More direly, Americans don’t think the Trump administration is doing enough to protect the nation’s election infrastructure before the 2018 midterm elections. The White House has opted to refrain from imposing sanctions on Russia and Congress has yet to pass any of the several bipartisan bills that seek to shore up elections systems, now a DHS-designated critical infrastructure of national security importance.
Even former President George W. Bush, a Republican, said that President Trump’s denials that the Russians didn’t interfere with his presidential win against Hillary Clinton is unfounded. “There’s pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled,” Bush said.
Several Election Security Reports Published in Same Week: Is Anyone Reading Them?
The bipartisan Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) led by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, released three new election security playbooks this week for state and local election administrators:
These latest D3P playbooks follow the November 2017 Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook for campaign officials. The set of playbooks seek to help campaign and election officials defend themselves against cyberattacks and information operations aimed at undermining trust in the American election system.
Also this week, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, published the results of its survey about outdated voting machines and computer systems. In Cybersecurity Threats Loom, Nation’s Outdated Election Infrastructure Must Be Upgraded, the Brennan Center reported that 33 states need to replace voting machines by 2020, but many election officials don’t have the resources to replace these antiquated machines.
Finally, the Center for American Progress (CAP) launched its new report, Election Security in All 50 States: Defending America’s Elections, a state-by-state report card based on adherence to best election security practices and preparedness for the 2018 midterms. Each state was graded under seven categories, including: (1) minimum cybersecurity standards for voter registration systems, (2) voter-verified paper ballots, (3) post-election audits that test election results, (4) ballot accounting and reconciliation, (5) return of voted paper absentee ballots, (6) voting machine certification requirements, and (7) pre-election logic and accuracy testing.
February 9, 2018
Pennsylvania Issues Directive to Use Voting Machines With a Paper Trail
In Pennsylvania, many counties rely on electronic voting systems that leave no record of votes cast, making it impossible to investigate tampering or evaluate accuracy. Now, Governor Tom Wolf (D) is asking counties across the state to replace such equipment with alternative models that leave a paper trail. But he isn’t requiring them to do so, nor has the administration allocated any state funds to assist in the costly process of replacing voting infrastructure.
Pennsylvania is one of 13 states using such “direct-record” electronic voting equipment. A recent survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that election officials in 41 states will rely on older machines for the 2018 midterm elections, and that most feel the costs of replacing decades-old machines are too high — new voting machines can cost as much as $3,000 each. Nevertheless, the risk of interference remains high. In September 2017, the federal government warned election officials in 21 states of tampering prior to the 2016 presidential election.
February 8, 2018
Too Little, Too Late? Former Navy Intel Officer Calls Out Tillerson, Trump for Insipid Russia Response
After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed new attempts by Russia to undermine the 2018 midterms were already underway, Malcolm Nance, a former Navy crypto-intelligence officer and author of The Plot to Hack America, said the White House and State Department’s hesitancy to call out the threat from the get-go may have endangered states’ election security.
“I find myself confused, because the secretary of state himself is saying now that Russia intends to meddle in the election, which we’ve known since the 2016 election, that they had the capability, and given that no one is doing anything, they will try again,” said Nance.
Nance said President Donald Trump’s denial regarding Russia’s attempts to manipulate the 2016 election may have led to complacency among the secretaries of state responsible for securing electoral systems, and will likely embolden Russia to continue its efforts to destabilize American democracy.
Illinois Primary Voting Hampered by Legal Challenges
Over 3.5 million people in Chicago will be unable to start early voting in the Illinois primary on Thursday due to legal challenges by candidates. Although every county has not yet stated whether they are delaying early voting, those who have responded have stated it’ll be February 21st before voters can cast their ballot.
While the primary isn’t until March 20th, the Illinois State Board of Elections is urging counties to set up early voting “in a timely manner”. Each county decides when early voting starts, although one of the issues seems to be with the programming and testing of voting machines, which will need to display the ballot in four languages.
One of the races has statewide implications, with one of the legal challenges concerning Democrat Scott Drury’s bid for the Attorney General’s office. Drury’s name was initially rejected from the ballot due to questions about a candidate economic disclosure statement, but his appeal means he will remain an option for voters.
The implication of a shorter early voting window is currently unclear, but the longer this delay lasts the larger an impediment this becomes to Illinois voters.
Connecticut Will Study Voting by Mail to Increase Turnout
Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy (D) signed an executive order to study voting by mail, much to the displeasure of House Republicans. The study will look at states, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which conduct all of their elections by mail, as well as California and Arizona who conduct a majority of theirs by mail. The executive order came after a passionate State of the State address in which he called for “fairness” for voters. The speech, which will be Malloy’s last before he leaves office, was greeted emphatically by Democrats and with stone silence by the Republicans.
While Connecticut does allow same-day registration, it does not allow early voting, which state Democrats believe would increase turnout numbers. Should this initiative pass, it would require a public vote to change the constitution. Last year an effort to start this process passed 70-78 in the House but never made it to a vote in the Senate.
Prisoners to Register as Residents at Facilities in 2020 Census
The US Census Bureau announced last Thursday that it will maintain its largely unpopular system on tallying prisoners for the 2020 national headcount. Opponents of the policy have called on the agency to document the incarcerated as residents of their home addresses rather than their correctional facilities, as the latter allows the government to pick “favorites based on economic and racial privilege.” The bureau rejected such a change as being inconsistent with “the concept of usual residence, since the majority of people in prisons live and sleep most of the time at the prison.” But the public is firmly against the current procedure: most of the 77,995 public comments the agency fielded supported an overhaul of the policy.
Meanwhile, the bureau will alter its policy on overseas troops, registering them as residents of the bases or ports to which they’re temporarily deployed.
Ukrainian and Congolese Election Systems Require Support from US
There is US support for assisting Ukraine and the Congo with securing its elections, but Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation to defend its own infrastructure.
On February 7, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, the H.R.1997 – Ukraine Cybersecurity Cooperation Act of 2017. The language of the bill, which passed 404-4, includes a reference to Russia’s cyberattack on Ukraine’s voting infrastructure days before that country’s post-revolution 2014 presidential election. To develop a cybersecurity partnership between the US and Ukraine, the bill recommends, among other things, that the US Secretary of State “[p]rovide Ukraine such support as may be necessary to secure government computer networks from malicious cyber intrusions, particularly such networks that defend the critical infrastructure of Ukraine.”
The legislation deliberately requires the US to help provide Kiev with “advanced security protection on government computers, particularly systems that defend Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.”
“Critical infrastructure,” became an elections related buzz phrase when the Department of Homeland Security added election infrastructure to the list of 16 vitally important economic and civic sectors that make up the nation’s “critical infrastructure.”
On February 12, at a US-organized meeting before the UN Security Council meeting, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned the Democratic Republic of Congo “against using an electronic voting system for a long-delayed presidential election in December this year because it has the potential to undermine the credibility of the poll. Haley told the Congolese that deploying “an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk.” Haley argued for voting by paper ballots “so there is no question by the Congolese people about the results.”
February 7, 2018
Rex Tillerson Says Russians Already Working to Interfere in US Midterm Elections
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted that Russia has attempted to interfere “in the US in 2018” and he warned that the nation is “ill-prepared” to prevent Russian interference in the upcoming midterms.
“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson said. “The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. 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 preempt it.”
“I think it’s important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don’t see what you’re doing. We do see it and you need to stop. If you don’t, you’re going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,’” said Tillerson.
But what could those “consequences” be? President Donald Trump has refused to impose congressionally approved sanctions against Russia for its 2016 interference.
South Dakota Considers Curbing Out-Of-State Influence in Ballot Initiatives
South Dakota legislators voted Wednesday to limit contributions from out-of-state donors and committees for fear that outside influence would stifle issues important to voters. Under the new proposal, non-resident donors can spend no more than $100,000 on ballot measure campaigns per election cycle, and non-resident circulators must list their name and contact information on petition forms.
The bill’s opponents, however, worry that it goes too far and may make it more difficult for South Dakotans themselves to bring policy questions to the ballot. “What I oppose is a total onslaught against our initiative and referendum process,” said Rep. Spencer Hawley (D-Brookings). “It’s just an unreasonable expectation on all our people in South Dakota who are acting in good faith.”
Ohio Voters to Determine Fate of Bipartisan Redistricting Plan
Ohioans will have a chance in a May referendum to overhaul the state’s redistricting process — one which has heavily favored Republicans in local races. Under the current congressional map, drawn by the GOP in 2011, the majority party holds 12 of 16 seats despite winning just 56 percent of the overall vote in the 2016 elections.
The measure that constituents will be voting on in the spring is the product of months of tense bipartisan negotiation, and finally received unanimous approval Monday from the Ohio Senate. New maps must garner three-fifths support in the House and Senate, including votes from at least half the members of the minority party. Should lawmakers fail to meet this requirement, a seven-member bipartisan commission will determine district borders.
Should the commission fail as well, the legislature can draw either 10-year maps with support from one-third of the minority party or a four-year map with only majority support.
As Petitions to Change Missouri Laws Soar, Some Want to Charge Fees to Get on the Ballot
In Missouri, eager citizens are filing petitions they hope to make it to the ballot in record numbers, says the Kansas City Star. In response, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who described the number of petitions as out of hand, has called for an overhaul to the process. He has cited concerns about special interests dominating the petition process and exploiting it as a tool to bypass the state legislature. His proposals for revising the rules for filing a petition include a $500 flat fee to file alongside a fee of 40 cents per signature. The latter fee is designed to offset the costs of time and money spent verifying signatures, while the $500 fee targets individuals who file multiple petitions, a common practice in Missouri.
But both labor unions and a major donor to the GOP, Rex Sinquefield, are pushing back. Each has used the petition process in its own favor recently as a strategy to enact or repeal legislation. They consider Secretary Ashcroft’s move to redefine the petition process unconstitutional for how it limits citizens’ capacity to participate in changing state government. Some consider the proposed fees an unreasonable burden, especially given the existing expenses associated with getting a petition to the ballot. Were the proposed fees to go into effect, it would cost $65,000 to amend the state constitution through a petition (which necessitates 160,000 signatures).
Democrats Fear GOP Strategy to Regain Control of Statehouses
Nevada Republicans have been gathering signatures to launch recalls of two new Democratic state Senators, a strategy that Democrats fear could undermine elections nationwide, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Through a recall, a sitting Senator can be removed from office before the end of his or her term via direct vote. Republicans had gathered enough signatures to bring their recall petition to the ballot. But recent efforts from Democrats have convinced many people who had already signed the petition to withdraw their support.
In addition, local Democrats filed a lawsuit arguing the move to recall violates the US Constitution because of how it is being used to alter the election process itself. There is a general concern among Democrats nationwide that this tactic could be useful for Republicans who want to maintain power through the upcoming 2018-midterm elections.
February 6, 2018
Citizenship Question Drives Uncertainty Over 2020 Census
In light of a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census, uncertainty abounds as to whether or not the survey will be accurate, reports The Hill. The counts matter — House districts are redrawn based on census numbers, as are the number of representatives each state receives. Asking about citizenship could dissuade people from responding and produce highly skewed results, and the census agency isn’t constitutionally obliged to collect citizenship information.
The DOJ claims citizenship data is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but many see it as a reflection of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The overwhelming concern is of an undercount in predominantly Latino and foreign-born areas. Moreover, the agency is strapped for cash currently, and a lack of funds could further contribute to incomplete results.
February 5, 2018
In Blow to GOP, US Supreme Court Backs Redrawing Pennsylvania Congressional Map
The US Supreme Court handed critics of gerrymandering a major victory Monday, rejecting requests from Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers to stay a court-ordered redrawing of the state’s congressional map. Justice Samuel Alito, an Associate Justice nominated by President George W. Bush, handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania. Alito denied a pair of motions — one from from lawmakers and one from voters — to maintain the state’s current congressional district makeup, leaving the Republican-led Legislature just three days to craft a new set of boundaries before Friday’s deadline. The updated map will then be sent to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for review. Should lawmakers and Wolf fail to reach a consensus, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will redraw the map. The state’s top court ruled last month that the current map unfairly favored Republicans, thereby violating the state constitution, which offers broader voter protections than the federal constitution.
Rochester, MN Voters Organize Around Ranked-Choice Voting
Before voters in Rochester, MN head to the polls in November, supports of ranked-choice voting are busy collecting signatures, reports the Post Bulletin. Currently, the Rochester city charter doesn’t allow ranked-choice voting, but the Charter Commission is reviewing whether or not to allow for the process. Supporters of ranked-choice need to gather petition signatures from a number of registered voters equal to 5 percent of turnout in the 2016 midterm elections — meaning about 2900 signatures — by July 10 to meet the deadlines for the November ballot.
Some have expressed concern that ranked-choice voting would drive partisan politics and create administrative challenges. Current voting equipment isn’t able to record ranked-choice votes, meaning they would have to be counted manually or through external software. Ballot layout presents another logistical hurdle — strict rules dictate the order of offices. City races would use ranked-choice while federal and state wouldn’t, presenting something of a graphic design challenge.
Seattle Takes on Tech Companies Over Transparency in Political Advertising
Seattle’s election authority recently decided that Facebook is violating a city law requiring candidates to disclose who purchases election ads, reports Reuters, in the first attempt in the United States to regulate online political ad sales. If the company refuses to provide details about spending for city election ads, it will face penalties. Facebook claims to have provided certain data and to support transparency in political advertising, but the election commission finds its response insufficient. Some spending numbers were provided, but no data was delivered providing information about the ads themselves, their target audiences, or who purchased them.
Under federal law, companies like Facebook aren’t required to provide data about who pays for political ads, though tech companies have provided some information willingly. But in Seattle, a 1977 law requires companies that sell political ads to keep public records outlining who purchased the ads, for how much, and the nature of the services. Tech companies have been off the hook until December 2017, when a local paper published a story asking why companies like Facebook haven’t been held accountable. Seattle has also asked Google for data and the request is pending.