Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to announce today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list. The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly. In a series of changes to the state’s restoration of rights process, McAuliffe plans to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list. In Virginia, only the governor can restore civil rights to felons, and attempts over the years to change the Virginia Constitution to allow for automatic restoration have failed.
The Voting News
The last-minute flurry of action by the Senate Tuesday included filling three of four seats on the federal Election Assistance Commission, which had languished without commissioners since 2010 — or two election cycles, to put it in Washington terms. The Senate confirmed Thomas Hicks, a former election law counsel on Capitol Hill, Matthew Masterson of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, and Christy McCormick, a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, to the commission. A fourth nominee, Matthew Butler, former CEO of liberal media watchdog Media Matters, has yet to be confirmed. House Republicans have tried to shut down the EAC, and Senate Republicans resisted nominating commissioners. But reviving the commission was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan panel formed by Obama to look into long voting lines during the 2012 election. For one thing, the Election Assistance Commission is in charge of setting federal standards for voting systems, which haven’t been updated since 2005.
Whenever the Roman Catholic Church chooses a new Pope, one essential element of the drama is the watch over the chimney in the building where the voting takes place. As cardinals’ ballots are burned after each round (to preserve anonymity), chemicals are added to make the smoke either black (signifying an unsuccessful vote) or white (signalling selection of a new Pope). After the white smoke appears, church members and the media await the announcement “Habemus Papam” (“We have a pope”)! That announcement usually sets off celebration as well as seemingly endless speculation about what the new pontiff will mean for the Church and the world at large. I had a similar feeling earlier this week when I heard the news that the Senate had confirmed three members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. There, the white smoke came in the form of an announcement that the nominations had been approved by unanimous consent. Now, for the first time in years, the EAC has a quorum of three Commissioners (if not yet a full complement of four) and can get back to work on a wide range of issues.
The closest race of the 2014 midterm election cycle has finally been decided, with Republican Martha McSally defeating Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) after a protracted recount. In a statement, McSally thanked Barber for his service and said she’d seek his input on issues going forward. ”There’s no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race,” she said. “After what’s been a long campaign season, it’s time to come together and heal our community. That’s why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe.” The victory for McSally, a former combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, cements a dominant cycle for Republicans in which they picked up 13 seats in the House and gained a 247 to 188 advantage over Democrats. It’s their largest majority in the House since World War II. “Martha McSally has broken barriers her entire life, and I know she will continue to fight for the issues she is passionate about in Washington. From growing jobs to securing our border, Martha will be an effective and common-sense representative for Southern Arizona,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) said in a statement.
The absurdity that has marred the HD 64 contest since last summer continues, with GOP candidate Miriam Steinberg dropping out of the special election GOP primary scheduled for February. That means that Jamie Grant, the former incumbent, will now face (and likely destroy) write-in candidate Daniel Matthews in the special general election contest scheduled for April 21. The contest will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the outcome not in doubt, as no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida. Even if Steinberg had qualified by the noon deadline on Tuesday, she would remain a heavy underdog to Grant, who was first elected to the half-Pinellas/half-Hillsborough district back in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He defeated Steinberg last month by a 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent margin.
This month, the Illinois General Assembly passed a sweeping voting rights bill that brings our state’s antiquated election system into the 21st century. The landmark legislation means voting will now be a simple, high-integrity process, so all eligible Illinoisans have a voice in our democracy. Yet the bigger story is what the success of SB 172 portends for Illinois’ rising reform movement. The bill never would made it through the legislature without strong support from the diverse, nonpartisan Just Vote coalition, which mobilized people across the state to help move the common-sense election reform package forward. Just Vote represents a unique approach to political reform. In the past, good government groups often fell short because they failed to bring young people and communities of color to the table, or (worse) intentionally excluded them.
Iowa: Voter rights groups seek changes to proposed online voting registration rule | Associated Press
A proposed rule allowing Iowa residents to register to vote online would exclude anyone without a driver’s license or photo ID and must be fixed, voting rights advocates said Wednesday. The Iowa Voter Registration Commission began drafting a new rule in August that would allow prospective voters to register on the internet in addition to the paper registration process. ”This is a great step that benefits 94 percent of the population of Iowa with minimal cost or any strains on the current system,” Charlie Smithson, a commission member, said Wednesday. The deadline for public comment was set for the day before Election Day in early November, prompting voting rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to say the change was being pushed through too fast. They asked for a public hearing, which will be Dec. 30.
Six weeks after she lost her own bid for the U-S Senate, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (R-Kentucky) tells WHAS11 if U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) tries to appear on the same ballot for both Senate and President in 2016, she will challenge him in court. ”The law is clear,” Grimes said. “You can’t be on the ballot twice for two offices.” Kentucky Democrats are not cooperating as Paul considers mounting simultaneous campaigns for Senate and President. Democrats maintained control of the Kentucky House in last month’s election, a roadblock to legislation favored by the Republican Senate to remove the prohibition. House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) declined to consider a Senate bill to that effect earlier this year.
A total of $28 million is included in the state budget to provide new voting machines to precincts across Virginia, so all polling places will have uniform, state-of-the-art equipment for the 2015 November elections, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Monday. On Election Day 2014, 49 Virginia localities reported voting equipment issues, and currently Virginia precincts are using a wide variety of machines that are often outdated and lack paper trails. McAuliffe also will include in his budget $30,000 per fiscal year to update the Department of Elections’ website to ensure reliable reporting for future elections.
The state’s Government Accountability Board is being targeted by the top leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has said the board is “dysfunctional, unresponsive and totally undemocratic” and Executive Director Kevin Kennedy is an “embarrassment.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said of the board, “I just don’t think they’re an independent voice at all.” Both Vos and Fitzgerald said they want the Legislature to make changes to the GAB. And both said they’d consider returning to having the board members appointed by political parties. “If we can create a system that has partisan makeup where decisions can be made, of course I’m open to that,” Vos said. Fitzgerald said a partisan-appointed board “seems to strike more of a balance than what we’re up against now.”