Court rules North Carolina must allow former felons to vote

By Paulina VillegasYesterday at 12:20 a.m. EDT299

North Carolina judges ordered the restoration of voting rights for thousands of people with a felony conviction in what advocates call the largest expansion of voting rights in decades in the state.

Under state law, individuals are prohibited from voting until they are fully discharged from probation, parole or a suspended sentence — often years after they are released from prison. Monday’s ruling by a panel of the state Superior Court in Raleigh could make North Carolina the only state in the South to automatically restore voting rights to people after they leave prison.

Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice, a civil rights group in Durham, N.C., described the decision during a news conference Monday as “the largest expansion of voting rights in this state since the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”

Atkinson and other lawyers filed a lawsuit more than a year ago challenging the law, which was revised in 1973 and outlines when people stripped of their voting rights can regain those rights.

Last year, the same judges had ruled that the law’s requirement that felons must first pay monetary obligation such as fines was unenforceable because voting would be bound to financial ability, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, the three-judge panel said it had voted 2-to-1 on the decision. The ruling has not yet been written.

“This lawsuit was about us making sure that we include the 56,000 North Carolinians living in our community, paying taxes, dropping kids at school are included in ‘We, the people,’ ” said Atkinson, who is a lawyer for the challengers in the case.

GOP state lawmakers who defended the existing law in court have said they plan to appeal Monday’s decision to a higher court.

Lawyers representing plaintiffs who oppose the law argued in court last week that such policies were weaponized to prevent Black people from voting after the Civil War in an effort to stifle their political power, according to the Carolina Public Press.

Challengers of the law also claimed that in many cases, disenfranchisement persists because of an inability to pay court fees. In other instances, North Carolinians convicted of felonies are placed under community supervision sentences, without imprisonment, while paying taxes, and are still barred from voting during the entire probation period.

Other challengers include several people on probation or parole, and civil rights groups such as the North Carolina NAACP and the Community Success Initiative, a Raleigh group that helps former felons reenter society.

“Starting today, if a person can just say, ‘I am not in jail or prison for a felony conviction,’ then that person can register and they can vote freely,” said Stanton Jones, an attorney representing the challengers.

That change will lead to 56,000 people being empowered, Jones added.

Plaintiffs argued in court that felon disenfranchisement “overwhelmingly” affects Black Americans, who represent about 20 percent of the state’s voting population, and 40 percent of those prevented from voting while on probation or parole, according to the complaint.

Lawyers for the defense did not contest these numbers but argued that these rates are caused by disparities in the criminal justice system, not by the law that determines when people can vote again.

Orlando Rodriguez, a lawyer for the Republican lawmakers, said they won’t defend the law’s “shameful” history, but that it has been significantly improved since then. He argued that previously, the law imposed a heavy burden on people who requested their rights be restored after completing their parole or probation process, while the process is now automatic, according to the News & Observer.

Rodriguez did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

State Sen. Warren Daniel (R), co-chair of the Senate’s committee on election law issues, criticized the judges’ ruling as overstepping their authority.

“These judges may think they’re doing the right thing by rewriting laws as they see fit (without bothering to even explain their ruling), but each one of these power grabs chips away at the notion that the people, through their legislature, make laws,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.

Daniel said that an appeal should be filed “immediately,” before a deadline for the State Board of Elections to finalize materials for the 2021 election.

Considering that timeline, GOP leaders asked North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) to appeal the decision, Daniel said. Because Stein responded that he cannot file an appeal until the written opinion is released, Daniel indicated that the GOP legislative leaders could file their own appeal using an attorney.

In a statement, the State Board of Elections said it is “reviewing the decision and will consider the written ruling upon its release.” It added that county boards across North Carolina must immediately begin to permit such individuals to register to vote.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a liberal nonprofit law and public policy institute, 28 states bar community members from voting simply on the basis of convictions in their past. These criminal disenfranchisement laws exclude millions of Americans from the democratic voting process and vary widely among states.

Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of voting rights and elections for the Brennan Center, said significant steps have been made since 2018, with almost a dozen states — including Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, California, Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana and Washington — moving toward the restoration of voting rights, though they widely vary by state.

Some states, such as Florida and Maryland, still prevent people from voting depending on the type of crimes they committed. Others automatically restore their right to vote upon release from prison.

In the District of Columbia, Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.

Paulina Villegas is a General Assignment reporter covering breaking news and national enterprise stories for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked at the New York Times’ Mexico bureau, where her work focused on drug crime, government corruption and human rights issues.  Twitter

Image : People line up at a voting rights demonstration on Election Day on Nov. 3 in Graham, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

The Cybersecurity 202: Election officials are pushing back against partisan audits launched by Trump allies

By: Joseph Marks

Anchor of The Cybersecurity 202 newsletter Today at 7:28 a.m. EDT44 with Aaron Schaffer

The battle lines are hardening between the vast majority of election officials who’ve spent months validating and defending the results of the 2020 election and former president Donald Trump’s supporters, who are still challenging those results without evidence and demanding new reviews.

One such partisan and poorly run review started months ago in Maricopa County, Ariz., but it has not yet produced any results. Partisans are pushing other audits in Wisconsin and elsewhere. 

The coalition of top state election officials is pushing back by endorsing a how-to guide for post-election audits that criticizes reviews like Arizona’s that are run on a partisan basis and by private companies without ample experience in the field. 

Election officials fear the drumbeat of baseless allegations about election hacking and fraud from Trump allies will dampen faith in future election results and maybe in the democratic process itself. Ironically, the assault comes after a four-year election security surge that made 2020 by far the most secure against hacking in decades. 

“I’m terribly distressed about what this has done to the public’s perception of elections,” Ann S. Jacobs (D), chair of the state Elections Commission in Wisconsin, told me. “It erodes the faith of the electorate in their elected leaders. It justifies violence and threats of violence against election workers. America has always prided itself on its orderly transition of power and these fake accusations are undermining that.”

Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R), leader of the state Assembly’s elections committee, issued subpoenas to two of the state’s largest counties, Milwaukee and Brown, demanding they turn over their voting machines to the legislature for review. 

It’s not clear how much force those subpoenas have because they lack support so far from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R). Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson (D) told me in a statement that he’s “reviewing the subpoena we received with regard to its validity,” but he declined to comment further. Brandtjen didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Gov. Tony Evers (D) has called the Maricopa audit a “clown show” and said Wisconsin county officials’ response to the audits should be “hell no.”

But the effort is nevertheless fueling partisan rancor and doubts about the Wisconsin results. 

Trump sent a note to reporters praising the audit and poking at Vos. “Hopefully Republican Speaker Robin Vos has the integrity and strength Wisconsin needs to support Rep. Brandtjen’s efforts. Our Country is counting on it!” he wrote. 

Wisconsin Election Commissioner Robert F. Spindell Jr. (R), a supporter of the audit, told me public concerns about the election’s legitimacy mean more reviews are necessary. He pointed to a Marquette Law School poll that found 71 percent of Wisconsin Republicans aren’t confident the state’s election results were accurate. 

The question is more than is this concern legitimate or not. The issue is a huge number of people think there’s a problem with the election,” he said. “It seems to me we should try to do something to solve that rather than say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re all idiots. Believe us, everything was great.’ ”

Wisconsin’s results, however, have already been validated by a machine review and hand recounts in Milwaukee County and Dane County, home to Madison. They’re also in the midst of two other reviews – one led by the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau and another by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Spindell recently attended the cyber symposium hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has spun a broad and baseless conspiracy theory that China changed votes to steal the election from Trump. Spindell said he wasn’t necessarily convinced by Lindell’s full theory but came back convinced that “anything can be hacked.”

There’s lying, cheating and stealing in every aspect of life and now all of a sudden in voting there’s not? It’s hard for me to believe,” he told me. 

Election security experts generally argue that election hacking isn’t impossible but that it’s extremely difficult – and almost always requires hands-on access to every voting machines that’s successfully hacked. 

That means it’s exceedingly unlikely that anyone could alter enough votes to flip even a small election. If that happened it would almost certainly be caught by auditors, who could determine the true result by counting paper records of votes, which are available for about 95 percent of voting districts.  

State election officials are banding together to push back against the partisan reviews. 

The National Association of Secretaries of State voted to approve a slate of recommendations for post-election audits during its meeting this week. The recommendations were first reported by Politico.

They include:

  • Laying out strict timelines and procedures for how audits will be triggered and conducted before an election
  • Running audits through government bodies whenever possible rather than private companies
  • Being fully transparent about audit procedures

Another recommendation: Don’t let voting machines out of the custody of government officials where they could be infected with malicious software that could disrupt future elections. That’s the sort of hands-on access to voting machines that security experts genuinely worry about. 

The private firm conducting the Maricopa audit, Cyber Ninjas, violated that principle and the state is on the hook for $9 million to replace the machines the company inspected. 

Spindell told me he’d oppose any audit in Wisconsin that necessitated replacing voting machines. He said he’d urge a compromise such as having a county’s sheriff’s office supervise machines while they were reviewed by a private company.  

The keys

Israeli phone-cracking firm Cellebrite will set up an ethics committee and stop selling its technology to Bangladesh after human rights criticisms.

The decisions were probably caused by Cellebrite’s plans to sell its stock publicly in the United States, Haaretz’s Omer Benjakob and Oded Yaron report. The firm sells devices that extract data from locked phones to law enforcement. In Bangladesh, Cellebrite hardware was reportedly used by a paramilitary unit accused of torture.

Digital rights groups in July asked regulators and investors to pause Cellebrite’s plans to go public until it made progress on human rights. The company stopped selling its technology to Hong Kong and China last year and ended its sales to Russia and Belarus this year, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

BlackBerry held off for months announcing vulnerabilities in industrial software used in 200 million cars and other critical equipment.

BlackBerry first argued to government officials that the vulnerability didn’t infect its products. Later, the company said it could notify customers privately rather than making a public announcement, Politico’s Betsy Woodruff Swan and Eric Geller report

The story highlights the often-lengthy process before companies go public with detailed information about bugs in their products — delays that sometimes make customers more vulnerable. 

Part of the difficulty is that BlackBerry didn’t know who many of its end-users were. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency argued that privately notifying just the company’s known customers would leave many others in the dark, according to a CISA presentation reviewed by Politico. Blackberry ultimately made the announcement publicly. 

A Russia-linked influence operation targeted far-right 4chan users.

The long-running campaign called Secondary Infektion tried to stir outrage about the coronavirus on the unmoderated platform, CyberScoop’s Tonya Riley reports. The campaign also tried to increase anti-Muslim sentiments, according to Recorded Future.

The campaign is concerning because it utilized 4chan, a hotbed of domestic extremism, and calls for violence, according to Recorded Future’s Brian Liston. “Whether or not they help motivate or drive that behavior in other cases that we have not identified … remains to be seen,” he said.

The Big Money Behind the Big Lie

Bill Gates, a Republican official in Arizona, is appalled by his party’s “national effort to delegitimize the election system.”Photograph by Stephen Ross Goldstein for The New Yorker

Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs.

By Jane Mayer August 2, 2021

It was tempting to dismiss the show unfolding inside the Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, as an unintended comedy. One night in June, a few hundred people gathered for the première of “The Deep Rig,” a film financed by the multimillionaire founder of, Patrick Byrne, who is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. Styled as a documentary, the movie asserts that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen by supporters of Joe Biden, including by Antifa members who chatted about their sinister plot on a conference call. The evening’s program featured live appearances by Byrne and a local QAnon conspiracist, BabyQ, who claimed to be receiving messages from his future self. They were joined by the film’s director, who had previously made an exposé contending that the real perpetrators of 9/11 were space aliens.

But the event, for all its absurdities, had a dark surprise: “The Deep Rig” repeatedly quotes Doug Logan, the C.E.O. of Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company that consults with clients on software security. In a voice-over, Logan warns, “If we don’t fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy.” He also suggests, without evidence, that members of the “deep state,” such as C.I.A. agents, have intentionally spread disinformation about the election. Although it wasn’t the first time that Logan had promoted what has come to be known as the Big Lie about the 2020 election—he had tweeted unsubstantiated claims that Trump had been victimized by voter fraud—the film offered stark confirmation of Logan’s entanglement in fringe conspiracies. Nevertheless, the president of the Arizona State Senate, Karen Fann, has put Logan’s company in charge of a “forensic audit”—an ongoing review of the state’s 2020 Presidential vote. It’s an unprecedented undertaking, with potentially explosive consequences for American democracy.

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