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Second woman accuses Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault

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By Geoff Bennett and Jonathan Allen

RICHMOND, Va. — A second woman accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, an allegation he quickly denied Friday but that nonetheless prompted a spate of calls from prominent political figures for him to resign.

In a statement from her lawyer Friday, Meredith Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her when they were both students at Duke University in 2000. She called on Fairfax, a Democrat, to resign.

The “attack was premeditated and aggressive,” said the lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith of the firm of Smith Mullin in Montclair, New Jersey. She described Fairfax and Watson as friends who never dated.

“Ms. Watson shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages that are now in our possession,” Smith said in the statement. “Additionally, we have statements from former classmates corroborating that Ms. Watson immediately told friends that Mr. Fairfax had raped her.”

Earlier this week, Fairfax denied an accusation from Vanessa Tyson that he forced her to perform oral sex on him during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. On Friday, he issued a statement pushing back on the latest allegation as well.

“I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever,” Fairfax said. “I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth.”

“I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide. I have passed two full, field background checks by the FBI and run for office in two highly contested elections with nothing like this being raised before,” he added. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me. I will not resign.”

Smith said the details of Watson’s experience with Fairfax were “similar to those” described by Tyson, who recounted kissing Fairfax willingly but being physically forced, while gagging and crying, into more intimate contact. Fairfax has said his liaison with Tyson was entirely consensual.

“On behalf of our client, we have notified Justin Fairfax through his attorneys that Ms. Watson hopes he will resign from public office,” Smith said.

Later Friday, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, called on Fairfax to resign, as did New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is already in that race, and Virginia Democratic Reps. Don Beyer, Donald McEachin, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton and Gerry Connolly.

McAuliffe said in a statement that the claims were “serious and credible” and that they warranted Fairfax’s “immediate resignation.”

Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Va., said on Twitter that he planned to introduce articles of impeachment for Fairfax on Monday “if he has not resigned before then.” Later Friday, Democratic lawmakers in the Virginia House and state senate issued a joint statement calling for Fairfax to tender his resignation.

“Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth,” it read. “He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down.”

Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine also added their voices to the growing chorus.

“Lieutenant Governor Fairfax should resign. The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth. We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault,” Kaine said in a statement.

Warner called on Fairfax to resign if the allegations “are accurate.”

“In the past week, the people of the Commonwealth have been subjected to what seems like an unending barrage of revelations about the past actions, both admitted and alleged, of their elected leaders. Resolving this crisis will require a government with the confidence of the people, justice for those who have been harmed, and a path forward that promotes healing and reconciliation,” he said in a statement.

Geoff Bennett reported from Richmond, and Jon Allen from Washington.



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Election officials grapple with realities of election security

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SILVER SPRINGS, Md. — The nation’s highest agency dedicated to election administration convened a security summit on Thursday to figure out how to confront a problem: The majority of the country’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions still run outdated software.

In July, Associated Press reported that many counties still use Windows 7, initially released in 2009, or even older software in their election systems. The software is so old that Microsoft announced last year it will soon stop supporting it — shipping free updates to bugs or fixing security issues. After 2020, updates will require a fee.

But inside a 21-seat conference room in Silver Springs, the discussion of the Election Assistance Commission — which included state election directors, secretaries of state and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, election system manufacturers and testing laboratories — the hastily organized meeting also touched on broader frustrations over challenges local election officials face in trying to secure their voting systems as well as inaction from politicians in Washington.

“We are talking about local communities having trouble funding roads and water bills, and now we want them to take part in defense against foreign and state actors,” said Kentucky State Election Director Jared Dearing.

Also on Thursday, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute run by New York University Law School, released a report estimating that states could spend more than $1 billion in the next five years to replace old machines and upgrade software.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he did not believe Washington fully grasped the challenges that states face.

“There’s a huge air gap by federal officials regarding the reality of processes and procedures, as opposed to magnitude of speculation,” he said. “Elections are not a partisan issue. What is partisan is using security to create fear among the electorate for partisan policies that have nothing to do with election security.”

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and have repeatedly warned about attacks on the 2020 election.

The 2020 election remains more than a year away, but since U.S. elections are run in a decentralized system, a right that states fiercely guard, local officials face an uphill challenge in securing their voting systems. Before the 2018 midterms, NBC News spoke to a range of experts who said that many of the country’s voting machines are woefully unreliable and in many cases around 15 year old.

Since 2016 there has been a renewed focus on election security from the public and private sectors, including the introduction of a variety of tools for local officials to use, and a huge push to replace all-electronic devices with ones that produce some kind of paper record.

But other elements in the voting ecosystem themselves have changed little.

The issues with the Windows 7 software aren’t necessarily difficult to fix, but at present they would require officials already on a tight budget to pay Microsoft. Louisiana’s Ardoin said at the meeting that the cost could be $300 per machine.

“Can you convince Microsoft to not charge us for updates past January?” he asked the commissioners.

Ginny Badanes, Microsoft’s director of strategic projects, cybersecurity and democracy, told NBC News it was working on a solution.

“We are dedicated to do whatever it takes so this is not an issue,” she said. “We are dedicated to making sure Windows 7 is not a barrier to a secure election.”

Several state and vendor representatives stressed the importance of the Election Assistance Commission adopting a more streamlined process for certifying systems updates.

“Hustle up with those certification standards,” Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said.

Dearing concurred.

“Certification needs to be a stamp of approval telling us our technology is secured, not the obstacle to more secure systems,” he said.

Dearing also tried to impress on the comissioners the challenges facing cash-strapped and technologically less advanced rural jurisdictions in his state, Kentucky.

“At 6 o’clock, McDonald’s is often the busiest place in town,” Dearing said of some towns. “And not because people are eating there. It’s because they’re using the free Wi-Fi.”

Dearing said some state elections departments have only one or two people on staff, and often “they’re not digitally native.”

“And we’re asking them to take part in what is national security.”



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Brexit reversal: Remainers could block Brexit even after October 31 – ‘Will of the people’

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REMAINERS could reverse Brexit even AFTER Boris Johnson’s hard October 31 deadline, by which time he has vowed to take the UK out of the EU, a political analyst has suggested.

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Religious black voters weigh Buttigieg’s bid

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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Joe Darby, a South Carolina pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, pondered a sensitive question that he knew was on the mind of his congregation. Would black voters be able to reconcile their conservative religious doctrine with voting for a gay candidate for president?

“It’s a heavy lift in the black church,” says Darby, who is also a Charleston-area NAACP leader. “Just as nobody who is racist likes to say, ‘I’m a racist,’ nobody who is homophobic in the black community likes to say, ‘I’m homophobic.’”

In South Carolina, the first state with a predominantly African American electorate, part of the dialogue focuses on a conflict between a cultural openness for same-sex marriage and the deeply held religious convictions that could impede support for the 2020 race’s only gay candidate — Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The historically diverse field of Democratic presidential hopefuls is overflowing with options. But it is also forcing conversations about the roles — if any — that gender, race and, for the first time, sexuality should play in voters’ decisions.

Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall in North Charleston, South Carolina, on May 5, 2019.Meg Kinnard / AP file

Black voters comprise more than 60 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate. But an overwhelming majority of African Americans — 79 percent, according to a recent Pew study — also identify as Christians, which some church leaders note can contribute to internal strife between their religious convictions and how they feel about a gay candidate, if they think doctrine says it’s wrong.

“I’m interested to see how Buttigieg is going to play,” said Darby, saying that the mayor “does the best job of articulating his faith of any of the candidates” but is inherently running up against barriers with those to whom he’s still an unknown. “The most damning comment was at a clergy breakfast, and when his name was brought up another guy said, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy who kissed his husband on TV.’”

Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, has not traveled to South Carolina to campaign. Chris Meagher, Buttigieg’s spokesman, said voters are still getting acquainted with the mayor, who this month became the first 2020 Democratic candidate to hire a faith outreach director.

“Pete is focused on meeting folks where they are,” Meagher said. “It just means quantity of time and spending time with folks and making sure that he’s listening to their concerns and that they’re hearing his plans and his policies and his values.”

Besides his overt expressions of his faith, Buttigieg also has offered a broad policy agenda for African Americans and has been outspoken on the issue of race. But he consistently polls in the low single digits among black voters.



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