What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.Below are nine more takeaways we’ve learned recently and that legislators might like to know too.
The Voting News
The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear a case that will answer a long-contested question about a bedrock principle of the American political system: the meaning of “one person one vote.” The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans. The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.
Editorials: Only Voters Count? Conservatives ask the Supreme Court to restrict states’ rights and overturn precedent. | Richard Hasen/Slate
For the second time in a year, the Supreme Court has agreed to wade into an election case at the urging of conservatives. In both cases it has done so despite the issue appearing to be settled by long-standing precedent. In a case expected to be decided next month, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, conservatives asked the court to bar states from using independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional lines. In a case the court agreed to hear Tuesday, Evenwel v. Abbott, conservatives asked the court to require states to draw their legislative district lines in a particular way: Rather than considering the total population in each district, conservatives argue, the lines should instead divide districts according to the number of people registered or eligible to vote. Most states use total population for drawing districts, which includes noncitizens, children, felons, and others ineligible to vote.
Editorials: Voter Turnout in U.S. Mayoral Elections Is Pathetic, But It Wasn’t Always This Way | CityLab
As far as recent history is concerned, voter turnout in most major U.S. city elections can accurately be described as anemic. On Tuesday in Philadelphia, just about 27 percent of registered voters went to the polls to give Jim Kenney a landslide victory in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary. In Los Angeles, 23 percent bothered to show up in 2013 for the sleepy election that Mayor Eric Garcetti won. Even New York’s high-profile 2013 election, which brought Mayor Bill de Blasio to power, attracted just 26 percent of registered voters to cast a ballot, the lowest turnout in that city since at least 1953. For many observers, that election signaled a historic repudiation of the aggressive police tactics and warm embrace of the super-rich that characterized the Michael Bloomberg era. But in a larger sense, it also proved that most New Yorkers didn’t care either way.
Voting Blogs: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing | More Soft Money Hard Law
A dispute over whether the FEC is tilting its investigations against conservatives or Republicans is mostly a waste of energy. Commissioner Goodman got this started at a Commission hearing and has been rebuked by Commissioner Ravel. The Republicans profess to be outraged; the Democrats announce that this outrage has rendered them speechless. Once again there is here, in the midst of this clamor, an important question– the uses and misuses of the agency’s enforcement process—that is being misdirected into another round of finger-pointing about bad faith and improper motive.
California: Supreme Court could deal California ‘a one-two punch’ on redistricting | Los Angeles Times
In recent years, California voters have backed a series of changes to the state’s elections system to reshape its political landscape. Now, potential upheaval is brewing again, this time from the U.S. Supreme Court. Next month, the nation’s highest court will rule on a case challenging the legality of independent commissions to draw congressional districts. On Tuesday, the court said it would consider whether state and local voting districts should be based on total population or eligible voters. Both cases could have enormous implications in California, where voters first approved citizen-led redistricting panels nearly seven years ago and where the state’s burgeoning immigrant population has contoured the political map, regardless of eligibility to vote. Should the Supreme Court issue rulings overhauling the redistricting process, it would be a “one-two punch to the gut to California,” said Bruce Cain, professor of political science at Stanford University.
Delaware: Same day voter registration bill expected to return to General Assembly | Delaware First Media
Efforts to revive a same-day voter registration bill are underway in Delaware. A new bill is expected to be introduced in the state Senate in June when lawmakers return from recess. House lawmakers barely approved a similar bill in 2014 over concerns related to potential voter fraud. It was released from a Senate committee, but was never taken up on the Senate floor.
Volusia County will switch to a new voting system next year for the first time in more than two decades. Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall said Tuesday she will start contract negotiations with Election Systems & Software, one of two companies to put in a bid to be the county’s provider. Dominion Voting Systems, which has been the county’s vendor since 1994, was the other company. But McFall said the package offered by ES&S surpassed anything Dominion could bring to the table. “They’re clearly the winner,” she said of ES&S.
Editorials: Veto of felon voting bill disenfranchised 40,000 Marylanders | Cory McCray/Baltimore Sun
After the death of Freddie Gray, leaders from Annapolis came into our neighborhoods, shot some hoops, attended church services and gave lip service about change. But those leaders have never endured the high levels of poverty, lack of access to fresh food, dilapidated housing or high levels of joblessness that plague those neighborhoods. That is why many community members were not convinced by their words. On Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan gave them more reason to be skeptical. At 2 p.m. on the Friday before a holiday weekend, when many people were already away on vacation, he vetoed House Bill 980, which restored voting rights to ex-felons upon their release from prison, rather than waiting until they’re off parole or probation.
States may cap political donors’ campaign contributions only if they can show that those limits are preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. The ruling by a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a Montana case could make it more difficult for states to defend their restrictions on the amount of money that individual donors give candidates in state elections. States can limit contributions if they have a legitimate interest in doing so. But proving that state interest has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case that said corporations can spend unlimited amounts in elections, a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.