Atlanta, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — Federal and state officials have been working for nearly two years to shore up the nation's election infrastructure from cyberattacks by Russians or others seeking to disrupt the voting process.
It turns out that many of the problems are closer to home.
Early voting leading up to Tuesday's midterm election revealed a wide variety of concerns with voting and registration systems around the country — from machines that changed voter selections to registration forms tossed out because of clerical errors.
Election officials and voting rights groups fear that voter confidence in the results could be undermined if such problems become even more widespread on Election Day, as millions of Americans head to the polls to decide pivotal races for Congress and governor.
Already there is concern that last-minute court rulings on voter ID requirements, the handling of absentee ballots and other issues in a handful of states will sow confusion among voters and poll workers.
"We expect poll workers will be overwhelmed, just as voters are overwhelmed, and there will be lots of provisional ballots," said Sara Henderson, head of Common Cause in Georgia, where voting-rights groups have been raising numerous concerns about election security and voter access.
The problems come amid a surge of interest, with registrations and early-voting turnout running well ahead of what is typically seen during a midterm election.
The election marks the first nationwide voting since Russia targeted state election systems in the 2016 presidential race. Federal, state and local officials have been working to make the nation's myriad election systems more secure. They have beefed up their cybersecurity protections and improved communications and intelligence-sharing.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FBI and other federal agencies have opened a command center to help state and local election offices with any major problems that arise.
"We want them to be as informed as possible," said Matt Masterson, senior cybersecurity adviser with the Department of Homeland Security.
There have been no signs so far that Russia or any other foreign actor has tried to launch cyberattacks against voting systems in any state, according to federal authorities.
But early voting and voter registration has been problematic in a number of states. Problems include faulty machines in Texas and North Carolina, inaccurate mailers in Missouri and Montana, and voter registration problems in Georgia and Tennessee.
In other states, including Kansas, Election Day polling places have been closed or consolidated, leading to worries that voters will be disenfranchised if they can't find a way to get there and cast a ballot.
Questions about election integrity erupted in recent days in Georgia, where the governor's race is among the most closely watched elections in the country.
Over the weekend, reports of security vulnerabilities within the state's online voter registration portal prompted a flurry of accusations from the Secretary of State's office, which is overseen by Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. His office claimed without providing evidence that Democrats had tried to hack into the system. Democrats dismissed that as an effort to distract voters from a problem in a system Kemp oversees.
DHS officials have boasted that the 2018 midterms will be the most secure election in U.S. history, pointing to federal intrusion-detection sensors that will protect "90 percent of election infrastructure," as DHS Undersecretary Christopher Krebs tweeted in mid-October. Those sensors sniff for malicious traffic, and are installed on election systems in 45 states.
But similar sensors used at the federal level have performed quite badly. According to a Sept. 14 letter from the Office of Management and Budget, those sensors had a 99 percent failure rate from April 2017 onward, when they detected only 379 out of almost 40,000 "incidents" across federal civilian networks.
Nationally, some 6,500 poll watchers are being deployed by a coalition of civil rights and voting advocacy groups to assist people who encounter problems at the polls. That is more than double the number sent to polling places in 2016, while the number of federal election monitors has declined.
Yangon, Nov 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Singapore, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is seeking ways for the country as well as ASEAN to assist Myanmar in its repatriation process of displaced people from Bangladesh, Myanmar News Agency reported Tuesday.
Views were exchanged over the repatriation process between Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Nay Pyi Taw Monday who was on a one-day working visit to Myanmar.
Suu Kyi briefed Balakrishnan on the recent development in Rakhine state including the measures taken by the government for the repatriation of verified displaced persons in mid-November as agreed at a recent meeting of joint working group between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Myanmar said it will receive back the first batch of 2,260 displaced people from Bangladesh starting on Nov. 15.
Homes, health clinics, water supply, reception counters and staff quarters as well as power lines and renovated roads are ready with the Ngakhuya and Po Khaung reception centers for accepting the returnees.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in August for early repatriation of displaced persons from Myanmar's western state who fled to Bangladesh because of violence.
Myanmar has also been inviting cooperation from home and the international community to help the country rebuild and resettle the conflict-torn Rakhine state.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) extremists launched repeated attacks on police outposts in Rakhine state on Aug. 25 last year, displacing a vast number of residents to areas bordering Bangladesh.
Mexico City, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan arrived in the Mexican capital Monday and began to fill up a sports stadium, still hundreds of miles from their goal of reaching the U.S. a day before midterm elections in which President Donald Trump has made their journey a central campaign issue.
By afternoon 2,000 or more had arrived at the Jesus Martinez stadium, which has a capacity of about three times that, and eagerly began sifting through donations of clothes, gave themselves sponge baths, lunched on chicken and rice under the shade of tents and picked up thin mattresses to hunker down for the night.
The inflow of migrants continued into the night, and four large tents set up for sleeping had filled. Much in demand were blankets to ward of the chill, a big change after trudging for three weeks in tropical heat.
Many people went to medical tents to get treatment for blistered and aching feet, illness and other maladies. "Since we got here, we have not stopped," said Tania Escobar, a nurse with Mexico City's public health department.
Melvin Figueroa, a 32-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was traveling with his pregnant wife and two children, 6 and 8. He brought the 6-year-old girl to the tent because her eyes were irritated and "she throws up everything she eats."
Several thousand more migrants were trudging along the highway between the city of Puebla and the capital, catching a lift from passing vehicles when possible.
Nashieli Ramirez, ombudsman for the city's human rights commission, said the city was preparing to accommodate as many as 5,000 migrants from the lead caravan and several smaller ones hundreds of miles behind it, for as long as necessary.
"We have the space in terms of humanitarian help," Ramirez said.
As U.S. election day neared, Trump has seized on the caravan and portrayed it as a major threat, even though such caravans have happened regularly over the years and largely passed unnoticed.
He ordered thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border when the migrants were still hundreds of miles to the south, threatened to detain asylum seekers in tents cities and has insinuated without proof that there are criminals or even terrorists in the group.
In dozens of interviews since the caravan set out from Honduras more than three weeks ago, migrants have said they are fleeing rampant poverty and violence. Many are families traveling with small children. Some say they left because they were threatened by gang members or had lost relatives to gang violence; others say they hope to work, secure a good education for their children and send money to support loved ones back home.
Alba Zoleida Gonzalez, 48, from Valle, Honduras, said she had walked for five hours and hitched a ride on a tractor-trailer with about 150 people. Her calf muscles were aching, but that was a small price to pay for the chance at a life better than the one back home.
"I looked for work, and nothing," Gonzalez said, adding that her husband had been robbed and had to hand over everything he made selling crabs so his assailants wouldn't do worse. "And when one does find a little job they kill you for the money," she said.
Arriving in Mexico City, some migrants stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major pilgrimage site, to thank the Virgin Mary for watching over them during the journey.
Many had struck out ahead of the larger caravan but intended to regroup in the capital. Oscar Ulloa, 20, an accountant from Honduras, said he arrived by bus from Puebla thanks to handouts from Mexicans. He expected the group would assemble and vote in the coming days on their next moves.
The 178-mile trek (286 kilometers) Monday from the Gulf state of Veracruz to Mexico City was the longest single-day journey for the group of about 4,000 migrants.
But there were obstacles on this latest stretch.
Truck after truck denied the migrants rides as they trudged along the highway into the relatively colder November temperatures of central highland Mexico.
At a toll booth near Fortin, Veracruz, Rafael Leyva, an unemployed cobbler from Honduras, stood with a few hundred others for more than 45 minutes without finding a ride.
"People help more in Chiapas and Oaxaca," Leyva said, referring to the southern Mexican states the group had already traversed and where pickup trucks frequently stopped to offer rides.
Migrants converged on tractor trailers, forcing the big rigs to stop so they could climb aboard. Such impromptu hitchhiking is precarious with dozens scrambling onto vehicles at a time.
Cesar Rodas, 24, had pushed a friend's wheelchair for 24 days across three countries. But he couldn't lift his friend and the chair onto a truck bed crammed with 150 people. Rodas was trying to get Sergio Cazares, a 40-year-old paraplegic from Honduras, to the U.S. for an operation that Cazares hopes will allow him to walk again.
Mexico City is more than 600 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas, and a previous caravan in the spring opted for a much longer route to Tijuana in the far northwest, across from San Diego. That caravan steadily dwindled to only about 200 people by the time it reached the border.
Many said they remain convinced that traveling together is their best hope for reaching the U.S.
Yuri Juarez, 42, said he thinks there's a "very low" chance he will get asylum in the United States. But he said he had no way to work back home in Villanueva, Guatemala, where he closed his internet cafe after gang members extorted him, robbed his customers and finally stole his computers.
Mexico faces the unprecedented situation of having at least three migrant caravans stretched over 300 miles (500 kilometers) of highway in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz. The largest group has been followed by about 1,000 who crossed over from Guatemala last week and a second group of about the same size that waded over the Suchiate River on Friday.
Mexico's Interior Ministry estimated over the weekend that there are more than 5,000 migrants in total currently moving through Mexico. The ministry said 2,793 migrants have applied for refugee status in Mexico in recent weeks and around 500 have asked for assistance to return to their home countries.
The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, which have been under intense pressure from the Trump administration, called Monday for an investigation to identify the organizers of the caravan.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that "thousands" of his countrymen have returned to Honduras. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales went further, calling for an investigation of people who "promote or participate" in the caravan, saying they "should be judged based on international laws."
Most of the migrants interviewed say they joined the caravan spontaneously to stay safe, and many were already on the road when it caught up to them. Activist groups that have been trying to help organize things appear to have emerged only after it formed and began moving north.
Uvalde, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — A newlywed couple died when the helicopter they were flying in hours after their wedding crashed into a hill in the rugged terrain of southwest Texas.
William Troy Byler and Bailee Raye Ackerman Byler, both 24, were killed in the crash shortly after midnight Sunday about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Uvalde and about 80 miles (129 kilometers) west of San Antonio, said Steven Kennedy, justice of the peace for Uvalde County Precinct 1. The 76-year-old pilot, Gerald Douglas Lawrence, also was killed, according to Kennedy on Monday.
The newlyweds were seniors at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, according to The Houstonian , the university's student newspaper. They married Saturday night at a large Byler family ranch near Uvalde and left aboard a Byler family helicopter after the reception, Kennedy said.
The crash happened about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from where the helicopter took off. The flight was to carry the newlyweds to San Antonio International Airport, where they were to board a plane for their honeymoon destination. It's not clear where they planned to go for their honeymoon.
"It's very rocky, rough terrain and this particular hill has a 400- or 500-foot rise," Kennedy said.
Lawrence had been a pilot for the family for years and had flown helicopters in Vietnam during his combat service, Kennedy said. An autopsy has been ordered on the pilot to determine if a physical condition might have been a factor in the crash, he said.
The helicopter crashed about 5 to 10 minutes after takeoff, strewing wreckage across the rugged hillside about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the nearest road and leaving the main body of the aircraft "hanging perilously," Craig Hatch, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Monday.
Investigators plan to retrieve the wreckage before performing their close inspection, but "getting back there with a trailer and truck and with people to lift the helicopter is going to be difficult," Hatch said.
The cause of the crash hasn't been determined, but Hatch said a preliminary NTSB report will be issued in about two weeks.
Colombo, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans marched Monday in support of a new government led by the country's former strongman, highlighting the political polarization in the Indian Ocean island nation.
The rally near Parliament came amid a constitutional crisis sparked by President Maithripala Sirisena's move to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replace him with ex-leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and suspend Parliament.
Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate his official residence, insisting he is the lawful prime minister and that the president had no constitutional right to replace him. Thousands of his supporters have been keeping vigil.
Supporters of Rajapaksa at the rally chanted "Whose power is this? Mahinda's power!"
As patriotic songs blared over loudspeakers, thousands shuffled through heavy rain toward a makeshift stage. Police and Sri Lankan special forces with semi-automatic rifles stood guard.
Police estimated 120,000 people attended the rally. State television reported there were at least 200,000.
Pradeep Kariyawasam, the head of Rajapaksa's party in Colombo, said that although Wickremesinghe continues to maintain he is the country's legitimate leader, "the people are with us."
"Give people a chance to choose their government and not hide behind constitutional interpretations," he said.
Sirisena and Rajapaksa arrived at the rally amid loud cheers.
Sirisena told the crowd that the change he initiated was more than a personnel shift.
"I ousted a vision that is incompatible with our local culture and values, and that works according to foreign agendas," Sirisena said.
"For the past 3 ½ years, poor people were suppressed by Ranil Wickremesinghe's economic and political vision. Local thoughts were rejected and an extreme neo-liberal form of governance was carried out."
He was referring to Wickremesinghe's free-market economic policies and public-private partnerships with companies from China and India to operate strategic centers such as ports and airports.
Rajapaksa supporters have accused Wickremesinghe of selling Sri Lanka's assets, citing a 99-year lease agreement his government struck with Hong Kong conglomerate China Merchants Port Holdings Co. Ltd. last year to operate a failing port developed with Chinese debt during Rajapaksa's decadelong presidency.
"Foreign countries are trying to take our resources, take our land," said Mithra Kumara Jayasinghe, a wedding photographer at the rally who said he had voted for Rajapaksa the two times he was elected president, in 2005 and 2010, and when he lost a re-election bid in 2015.
Critics of Sirisena's actions say Parliament was suspended to give Rajapaksa time to gather enough support to survive a no-confidence vote when lawmakers reconvene Nov. 14.
Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said on Monday that he won't recognize the new appointments until either side is able to prove it has a majority. It means that the speaker still recognizes a Wickremesinghe-led Parliament.
"I wish to emphasize that I am compelled to accept the status that existed previously until such time that they (the pro-Wickremesinghe lawmakers) and the new political alliance prove their majority in Parliament," he said.
The statement was fuel at Rajapaksa's five-hour rally. Lawmaker Susil Premjayantha told the crowd that electing a new speaker could be the first order of business when Parliament reopens, suggesting the party will bring a no-confidence motion against Jayasuriya.
Wickremesinghe said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that there is credible evidence that Rajapaksa's party is attempting to buy support in Parliament. Palitha Range Bandara, a United National Party lawmaker, has said that he was offered millions of dollars and a minister portfolio if he crossed over.
Lawmakers from Rajapaksa's party have denied the allegations.
Seven members of Wickremesinghe's United National Front have defected to Rajapaksa's government.
On Saturday, the Tamil National Alliance — an ethnic minority Tamil party — said it will support a no-confidence motion to be brought against Rajapaksa, after one lawmaker from their party joined Rajapaksa's government.
The Tamil party's 15 votes could give Wickremesinghe's camp a decisive edge over Rajapaksa.
Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa attempted to woo Tamil lawmakers in their speeches at the rally.
Speaking in the Tamil language, Rajapaksa promised to fulfill the Tamil people's needs.
"What I ask from all Tamil and (Tamil-speaking) Muslim people and their political parties is to help to build up our country. I trust you and you can always trust me," Rajapaksa said.
Ethnic minority Tamils in the country's north and east are still reeling from the effects of a 26-year civil war between Tamil Tiger separatists and government troops.
Rajapaksa is seen as a hero by the ethnic Sinhalese majority for winning the conflict.
Tens of thousands of civilians were reportedly killed in the final months of the war in 2009, when government troops brutally crushed the rebels. Thousands more are still missing.
Sirisena came into power in 2015 promising to address the issues affecting the Tamils and investigate allegations of war crimes against both sides of the conflict, but has done little in either area. He was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during the civil war.
Among the crowd Monday was Basil Ros, 58, a fisherman from the village of Negombo.
Ros said a local lawmaker from Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance bused him and his wife in with many others, pledging to give them 1,000 rupees (about $5.80), food and alcohol.
He said he hadn't received any money yet.
"You can't trust politicians," he said. "They might pay; they might not."
After sacking Wickremesinghe, Sirisena announced that he made the replacement in part because Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague were behind an alleged assassination plot against him.
Details of the alleged plot have not been disclosed and Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied the accusation.
Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister.
Sirisena said at the rally that he would not be discouraged by resistance in Parliament, civil society and the international community to his actions.
"Even if there are threats, pressure and forces, I will only move forward and will not take a step back," he said.