Voting rights and election reform are hot topics in PA


Same-day voter registration, automatic registration, in-person early voting, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register, holding “open” primaries, and forcing “dark money” groups to disclose their donors are among myriad concepts that Pennsylvania lawmakers are proposing. Six months into the 2019-2020 legislative session, 252 pieces of election-related legislation have already been introduced in the state.

Lee Hamilton: Voter suppression isn’t democracy


“Voting is a basic right of citizenship. It’s the foundation of a democracy—people’s ability to participate and engage with the issues facing their communities and their country. That ideal lies at the core of American values, and I’m always mindful of the fact that a lot of Americans gave their lives for that ideal. Moreover, excluding groups of voters encourages resentment, risking protests and potentially violence. … Winning power by keeping people away from the polls is a perversion of what democracy is about. Our political institutions need to reflect the will of the people, and if you disenfranchise people, it means our representative government doesn’t reflect accurately the will of the people.”

State officials scrutinize voting machine vendors


Election officials in North Carolina and Maryland are probing whether top voting system vendors are foreign-owned and demanding more transparency after revelations in the Mueller report. Russian-backed hackers inserted malware into VR Systems’ voting registration system in Florida in 2016, and equipment from the same vendor caused Election Day glitches and slowdowns in North Carolina. Maryland officials learned last year that its election data host, ByteGrid LLC, was majority-owned by a private equity firm in which a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin had an investment.

Alina Polyakova & Daniel Fried: Europe is tackling disinfo, but US is lagging


“State-sponsored disinformation campaigns are upping their game, and they won’t be limited to election cycles. Democracies are still playing catch-up — the United States barely so. It’s time for the United States to step up, work with Europe and together pull together like-minded governments, social media companies and civil society groups to learn from each other. With resources, time, attention and especially political will, we can develop a democratic defense against disinformation.”

The rise (and threat) of the deepfake


Lifelike renderings of presidents, along with thousands of similar deepfakes posted on the internet in the past two years, have alarmed many observers, who believe the technology could be used to disgrace politicians and even swing elections. Democracies are gravely threatened by the speed at which disinfo can be created and shared, before the tiresome work of verification is performed. Before it was debunked, a digitally altered video showing Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur drunkenly through a speech was widely shared on Facebook and YouTube last month—and retweeted by President Trump, who has not deleted it. The director of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, Eileen Donahoe, wants political leaders and candidates of all stripes to pledge not to use deepfakes against their opponents and to disavow any deepfakes put out on their behalf.

Trump says he’s not ready for a 2020 election loss


“It would be much better if I said, ‘Yeah.’ It would be much easier for me to say, ‘Oh, yes.’ No, I’m probably not too prepared to lose. I don’t like losing. I haven’t lost very much in my life,” Trump told “Meet the Press.” Trump also subsequently reasserted that he doesn’t “believe” in the validity of “a lot” of votes cast which show he lost the popular vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton.

Ranked-choice voting to expand in ME


There’s great news in the world of election reform, as a new bill would allow voters in Maine to choose the next president through ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank candidates from first choice to last. Supporters say RCV allows people to vote without party bias and could prevent a president from being elected without the popular vote.

Same old story from Donald Trump


True to form, Trump broke out the 2016 playbook for his reelection campaign rally in Florida last night. Trump’s speech was littered with anti-immigrant and anti-Democrat rhetoric, including some irrelevant shots at his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton. He repeated many of the same false or misleading claims about trade, immigration, and the Mueller Investigation that he has made as president, and threw in some dubious economic stats and wild exaggerations about his accomplishments in office.

Cummings requests interview with census bureau official over personal emails with GOP gerrymanderer


House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings is requesting that a Census Bureau official interview with his committee after it was revealed that she was in touch with a GOP redistricting strategist about a possible citizenship question. Cummings, in a letter Tuesday to Census Bureau chief of staff Christa Jones, requested that she hand over documents on any communications she had about a potential census citizenship question with a number of Trump officials and advisers, as well as the late Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller.

Peter Wehner: Trump is betting that anger can still be power


“Donald Trump has been the most persistently unpopular first-term president in the postwar era. Much of the nation is exhausted and embarrassed by his presidency, pining for normalcy, eager to change the channel. The president’s own internal polls show Mr. Trump trailing the former vice president, Joe Biden, not only in many battleground states Mr. Trump won in 2016, but in traditional Republican strongholds like Georgia. But as we saw Tuesday night, during a huge, raucous rally in Orlando, Fla., Trump is viewed by his supporters almost as a demigod.”

How the US is trying to improve election security


Election security legislation has been facing roadblocks for over a year in Congress, thanks (or no thanks) to Sen. Mitch McConnell, and little activity on the issue is expected in the coming months. But other branches of government have made more progress. Here are some of the steps the federal government has taken to help secure elections in the U.S., as well as some of the possible disinformation threats that could reappear in 2020.

Inside Trump Florida obsession


Donald Trump kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla., an event that comes 17 months after his first campaign-style rally as president — in nearby Melbourne. Between those two events, Trump has spent more than 100 days in Florida as president, more than any state outside the Beltway, according to two independent reports.

Orlando Sentinel endorsement for president in 2020: Not Donald Trump


“Donald Trump is in Orlando to announce the kickoff of his re-election campaign. We’re here to announce our endorsement for president in 2020, or, at least, who we’re not endorsing: Donald Trump. Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent. Because there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump. After 2½ years we’ve seen enough.”

George Will: How Dems can beat Trump


“Democrats must make amends with the 402 other counties that voted for Trump after voting for Obama at least once. This will require the Democrats’ progressive lions to lay down with the Democrats’ moderate lambs, a spectacle as biblical as it is inimical to progressives’ pride about their wokeness. They might, however, be encouraged to be more politically ecumenical by remembering this: In 2016, Clinton won cumulatively a million more votes than Obama did in 2012 in New York, Massachusetts and California, but won one million fewer than he received everywhere else.”

‘Brexit Boris’ gets a boost


British politician Boris Johnson, already well ahead in the race to become leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, just won the endorsement of a former rival in his campaign to replace Prime Minister Theresa May. Johnson, the face of Brexit throughout the 2016 referendum process, has promised to lead the UK out of the European Union with or without a deal. If Johnson wins and goes for a no-deal Brexit, a constitutional crisis could be on the horizon, as Parliament may try to block such a departure.

New report analyzes state of US democracy


A Unite America report grades all 50 states on their efforts in adopting reforms that increase election participation, accountability, and competition: ranked-choice voting, automatic voter registration, vote by mail, open primaries, and independent commissions. Since 2010, 20 ballot measures appeared on voters’ ballots, and 16 were approved. With 9 states receiving an “F” rating, there remains significant work to be done to advance structural reforms.

Evan McMullin: Take Trump literally and seriously


“America is likely to enter a lasting state in which a significant portion of Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike no longer trust the fairness of our elections. If this perception becomes the new normal, or if apathy and a feeling of helplessness become commonplace, it will be even harder to root out and prevent further corruption. Apathy allows leaders seeking to remain in power to more easily manipulate election outcomes, with or without foreign assistance.”

Deepfakes: ‘We are outgunned’


AI researchers are working tirelessly to defuse the most challenging political weapon to date—technologically falsified videos that could undermine candidates and mislead voters during the 2020 presidential campaign. House Intel Chair Adam Schiff says, “I don’t think we’re well prepared at all. And I don’t think the public is aware of what’s coming.” There also are fears that deepfakes could lead to people denying legitimate videos. “As a consequence of this, even truth will not be believed,” says Nasir Memon, a computer science professor at NYU.

Out of Africa: Hope for democracy


Good news for democracy in Africa, where peaceful transitions of power are increasingly replacing the coups of yesteryear. While only 11% of Africans live in countries that Freedom House considers free, progress is being made: since 2015, the region has experienced 26 transfers of power, and more than half with an opposition candidate defeating a member of the incumbent party. Gone are the decades when power regularly changed hands through coups—87 of them between 1950 and 2010.

Dems find religion again ahead of 2020


After years of playing down or even ceding the message of faith and values to Republicans, Democratic presidential candidates are trying to reclaim it in the 2020 election, sharing their own personal faith stories and reaching out to a slice of religious voters who they believe have been motivated and alienated by Donald Trump, who has bragged about sexual assault and paid hush money to an adult film actress. “Faith isn’t the property of one political party,” says candidate Pete Buttigieg.

Trumps looks to squash Amash


Donald Trump and his top allies are moving to make Justin Amash pay for standing up for the rule of law by becoming the sole Republican congressman to call for the president’s impeachment. Trump has raised the primary challenge idea with Vice President Mike Pence, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a close Trump ally who co-founded the conservative House Freedom Caucus with Amash.

Steve & Cokie Roberts: The gerrymandering threat


“In coming weeks, the Supreme Court is due to rule on cases from Maryland and North Carolina that could provide some answers. During oral arguments in April, Justice Brett Kavanaugh bluntly admitted: ‘Extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy. I’m not going to dispute that.’ It’s possible that the high court will do what it did in a case from Wisconsin last year and avoid a definitive ruling. But even if that happens, there is clearly a rising demand—among judges, voters, and even some politicians—to change a system that is doing enormous damage to the country’s political climate.”

Senators want answers from FBI


In a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray today, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden asked what steps the agency took after an incident of election hacking, revealed in the Mueller report. In August of 2016, Russia targeted employees of “a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network.” VR Systems has since been confirmed as the targeted company.

Trouble in the tea leaves for MAGA


As Donald Trump and his top Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden, exchange barbs in Iowa, a string of polls shows the president faces an uphill climb to reelection. Trump has hit 50% disapproval in seven key states that he won in 2016. Six Democratic candidates beat Trump in head-to-head matchups in the first 2020 Quinnipiac University National Poll—Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker.

When foreign meddlers talk in 2020, Trump will listen


It’s official: Donald Trump has welcomed foreign interference in his next run for president, telling George Stephanopoulos he may not alert the FBI if foreign governments offer dirt on his rivals. “Oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said, disputing the idea that it would be considered election interference. Nobody’s flabbergasted by it, but that’s the problem. Since he hasn’t really paid a price for Russia’s assistance in his 2016 win, he’s sticking with the playbook.

Independent Howard Schultz all but ends his campaign


While never officially announcing a run for the presidency, billionaire Howard Schultz is leaving the campaign trail for medical reasons. The outlook for the independent candidate was bleak even before this announcement. He told staffers that he would not make a final decision until at least after Labor Day.

The Trump campaign’s huge Facebook gamble


The Trump campaign has been pumping millions of dollars into Facebook ads, outspending every Democratic candidate. This sweeping ad campaign, starting long before any Democrat’s campaign began and targeted especially at battleground states, has some Democratic campaigns worried about Trump’s head start.

Stanford scholars release 2020 election security recommendations


A group of 14 Stanford University scholars has published its recommendations for increased election security, addressing problems of cybersecurity, ballot security, and election transparency. Nate Persily, director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, said. “We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction… But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”

Democracy crisis in Guatemala


Turmoil hangs over the upcoming election in Guatemala. The election process has been marred by lawsuits and violence, including the assassination of a left-wing mayoral candidate, and it’s occurring in the midst of a constitutional crisis generated by outgoing president Jimmy Morales, who is under investigation for corruption.

Kansas Dems choose ranked-choice voting


The Democratic Party of Kansas has submitted a plan to the Democratic National Committee to ditch Kansas’ traditional caucus system in favor of a primary election with ranked-choice voting. Voters will vote for their first, second, third, etc., choices down the ballot. If a candidate gets less than 15% of the first-choice votes cast, those votes will be redistributed to the candidates who were marked as second choice, and so on. Only candidates with 15% or more of the votes are left. The delegates are then awarded proportionally, based on the candidates’ percentage of the final tally.

So that’s why Mitch ignores election security


The two largest voting machine vendors in the U.S., which together supply more than 80% of the nation’s voting machines, have recently made contributions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign and joint fundraising committee. McConnell has steadfastly refused to bring any election security legislation to the Senate floor. Looks like for McConnell “money talks” in a dangerous way.

Legal foreign influence? Come again?


Yep, it’s a thing. Hacking and influence campaigns may get the headlines, but loopholes in federal law have allowed foreign entities with various agendas—economic, political, cultural—to inject cash into U.S. elections for years. More than a billion untraceable dollars have been spent in U.S. elections since 2006, and it’s unknowable how much of that came from foreign sources, legally or illegally.