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.
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.
New York, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — NBC, Fox News Channel and Facebook all said Monday they will stop airing President Donald Trump's campaign advertisement that featured an immigrant convicted of killing two police officers.
CNN had rejected the same ad, declaring it racist.
Asked before leaving for campaign rallies if he thought the advertisement was offensive, Trump said, "a lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive a lot of times."
The ad has already likely been seen by more people than it would if it kept running. NBC aired it on the "Sunday Night Football" game between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, which drew the highest overnight ratings of the franchise's history. During football season, it's usually the most-watched show on television, often with around 20 million viewers.
MSNBC also aired it on "Morning Joe" Monday.
Released last week, the advertisement includes footage of Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported immigrant from Mexico sentenced to death in California for killing two police officers. He's seen smiling in a court appearance and saying, "I will break out soon and I will kill more."
An earlier version of the ad said, without evidence, that "Democrats let him into our country." That claim was deleted from the current version.
The new edit still shows masses of people shaking at a fence, apparently trying to break it down, and ends with the tagline, "Trump and Republicans are making America safe again."
NBC was the first of the three companies to say it was stopping the advertisement Monday, apparently after a fierce online response.
"After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible," NBC Universal said in a statement.
Marianne Gambelli, Fox News' president of advertising sales, said the commercial was pulled on Sunday "upon further review." Fox did not immediately say how many times it had aired on either Fox News Channel or the Fox Business Network.
Facebook initially ran the ad but that was an error, company spokesman Andy Stone said, because it violates the company's policy against sensation content.
Facebook is still allowing its members to post the ad in their news feeds, however.
Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted that NBC News, CNN and Facebook had chosen "to stand with those ILLEGALLY IN THIS COUNTRY." He said the media was trying to control what you see and think.
Parscale made no mention of Fox's decision.
The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., had tweeted over the weekend, noting CNN's refusal to air the advertisement, that "I guess they only run fake news and won't talk about real threats that don't suit their agenda."
CNN said through Twitter that it was made "abundantly clear" through its coverage that the ad was racist and declined to air it when the campaign sought to buy airtime.
Tehran, Nov 5 (AP/UNB) — Iran greeted the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Monday with air defense drills and an acknowledgement from President Hassan Rouhani the nation faces a "war situation," raising Mideast tensions as America's maximalist approach to the Islamic Republic takes hold.
The sanctions end all the economic benefits America granted Tehran for its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, though Iran for now continues to abide by the accord that saw it limit its enrichment of uranium. While for now not threatening to resume higher enrichment, Iranian officials in recent months have made a point to threaten that could resume at any time faster than before.
The new American sanctions particularly hurt Iran's vital oil industry, a crucial source of hard currency for its anemic economy. Its national currency has plummeted over the last year, sending prices for everything from mobile phones to medicine skyrocketing.
"Today, Iran is able to sell its oil and it will sell," Rouhani vowed Monday as the sanctions kicked in.
Iranian state television aired footage of air defense systems and anti-aircraft batteries in two-day military maneuvers underway across a vast stretch of the country's north.
The drill was to continue through Tuesday. Iranian army Gen. Habibillah Sayyari said both the national army and the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were taking part in the exercise.
Rouhani, meanwhile, pledged to government officials in comments aired on state TV that Iran would overcome the sanctions.
"We are in the war situation, " Rouhani said. "We are in the economic war situation. We are confronting a bullying enemy. We have to stand to win."
Iran is already in the grip of an economic crisis. Its national currency, the rial, now trades at 145,000 to one U.S. dollar, down from when it traded 40,500 to $1 a year ago. The economic chaos sparked mass anti-government protests at the end of last year which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Sporadic demonstrations still continue.
The United States says the sanctions are not aimed at toppling the government, but at persuading it to radically change its policies, including its support for regional militant groups and its development of long-range ballistic missiles.
However, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, both have made public statements supporting overthrowing Iran's theocratic government.