As Iowa voters headed to their caucus sites Monday, 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sat in the first row of a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem, N.C., to witness the closing arguments of a trial challenging North Carolina’s new voter identification law. Eaton, who is African American and grew up in the Jim Crow South, had to recite the preamble to the Constitution from memory to register to vote. She had been participating in elections for 70 years when North Carolina passed its strict voter ID law in 2013. Lawyers for the North Carolina NAACP played a videotaped deposition during the trial of Eaton recounting how the names on her driver’s license and voter registration card did not match. To get her paperwork in order, Eaton had to make 11 trips to different state agencies in 2015, totaling more than 200 miles and 20 hours. “I’m disgusted,” Eaton told the Raleigh News & Observer as she left the courtroom. North Carolina is one of 16 states that have new voting restrictions in place since the last presidential contest, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, accounting for 178 electoral votes, including in crucial swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.
The Voting News
Republican lawmakers approved a measure Thursday that would make felons out of people who return the early ballots of others to the polls. The 34-23 House vote, with every Democrat present opposed, was propelled by arguments that the current system is ripe for fraud. Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, also voted against the measure. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, cited testimony from Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne who spoke during a prior attempt to enact this provision. She told lawmakers there have been situations where individuals claiming to be county election workers have gone door-to-door trying to pick up ballots. “This is a problem,” he said.
Facing a busy election year, Ada County said a year ago that it would ditch its antiquated voting equipment and get a new voting system in place for the 2016 presidential election. The county has been using outdated, hard-to-find Zip disks and Zip drives, dot-matrix printers and temperamental counting machines to tally and track vote tabulation. “The risks were becoming exceedingly high for a failure on election night,” said Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane. For the March 8 Republican presidential primary, Ada County will debut a state-of-art replacement, the first equipment of its kind to be used in Idaho. Voters will not notice much difference when they vote. They still will receive a paper ballot and use a pen or pencil to fill in a box indicating their selection. The biggest change will be how and where the county counts ballots. Ada County has been using a central counting system. When Election Day polls closed at 8 p.m., workers from nearly 140 polling places scurried to deliver ballots to the central election office for counting. Most ballots arrived about the same time, but then sat and waited to be fed into counting machines.
After a whisper-thin count left doubts about which Democratic candidate actually won the Iowa caucuses, there are fresh calls for the party to mirror the simple, secret-ballot method that Iowa Republicans use. “It’s worth discussing again, but it’s not as simple as it sounds,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a former Iowa Democratic Party executive director who, after five election cycles, is an expert on the nuts and bolts of the caucuses. Why are Democratic insiders so reluctant to update a voting system panned this week by national political observers as archaic and nonsensical? They blame New Hampshire, the state Iowa party leaders have worked with for decades to make sure Iowa retains the first-in-the-nation caucuses and New Hampshire the first primary.
Kansas Republicans and Democrats are preparing for March 5 presidential caucuses amid questions about voter registration rules and with several thousand potential voters who have tried to register unable to cast a ballot in the 2016 elections because they haven’t provided proof of citizenship. Participation rules for the party caucuses differ significantly from each other, and from voting at the polls later this year, because the parties themselves set the rules. The Kansas secretary of state’s office has no say in how the state parties set up the process for choosing their presidential nominee.
The General Assembly paused Thursday to honor former state senator and civil rights activist Georgia Davis Powers, whose body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. But the memorial service didn’t prevent the two chambers from passing a couple of bills that they’ve previously passed but failed to secure approval from the other chamber. The Democratic House passed House Bill 70 that would place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that, if approved, would automatically restore the voting rights of ex-felons convicted of non-violent, non-sexual crimes after completion of their sentences. It was an issue which two years ago brought Powers to the Capitol where she urged lawmakers to pass the measure, then sponsored by Lexington attorney and state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw who has since retired from the General Assembly.
Observant Jews and Seventh-day Adventists who want to caucus with Nevada Democrats on Feb. 20 are out of luck. The party’s noon caucus falls squarely in the middle of a Saturday, a sacred day of rest and worship for both faiths. Jewish clergy said the timing of the caucus disenfranchises those who want to participate and pointed out that other high-profile early-state caucuses and primaries don’t fall on a Saturday. A party spokesman said the big event is set for that day and time to maximize participation. “Saturday at 11 a.m. is the best time to increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada to participate in our First in the West caucuses,” said Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party. “Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar.”
North Carolina: Questions abound after judges invalidate 2 congressional districts | The Charlotte Observer
The day after a panel of federal judges invalidated two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts, state elections officials were working on a Saturday afternoon to encourage voters with absentee ballots to vote the full ballot anyway. Kim Strach, executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, and Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board, said Saturday that they did not want voters who received the 8,611 absentee ballots sent out for the March 15 primary elections to lose an opportunity to vote. “The number one message we want to get out is we want voters to continue voting,” Strach said Saturday afternoon. Late on Friday, a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s 1st and 12th congressional districts were racial gerrymanders and ordered them redrawn by Feb. 19. Though the ruling halts elections in those districts until new maps are approved, questions remained on Saturday about what that would mean for other congressional races on the primary ballots.
A recent directive to Ohio’s county boards of elections by Secretary of State Jon Husted, Ohio’s chief election officer, should reduce the possibility that mailed-in absentee ballots might not get counted because of confusion or questions over postmarks. During the 2015 general election, an unusually large number of absentee ballots were not counted in Summit County and other counties because they lacked a postmark. Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections must count absentee ballots returned by mail for up to ten days after Election Day. But such ballots must have been postmarked no later than the day before Election Day. Trouble is, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily postmark envelopes much larger than a No. 10, or “letter size,” envelope. And some elections boards use bigger courtesy-reply envelopes. Meanwhile, it’s been unclear whether barcodes the post office adds during mail-sorting or Postage Validated Imprint (PVI) postage — imprinted, label-like postage, sold at post office counters and kiosks — are postmarks. PVI postage and barcodes include dates (although a scanner is needed to read barcodes).
Utahns are going to get their turn next month to vote in the Republican and Democratic presidential nomination race, but not in a traditional primary election. This year, Utah is using the political party-run caucuses being held on March 22 to determine which candidates will get the state’s support at party nominating conventions this summer. Both Republicans and Democrats attending neighborhood caucus meetings that evening can cast their ballots in the presidential race. Republicans also have the option of voting online in the presidential race. The 2015 Legislature decided not to fund a $3 million presidential primary after the Utah GOP — amid the ongoing battle over changes lawmakers made to the overall candidate nomination process — announced it was holding a presidential caucus.