Virginia taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $309,000 in legal fees racked up by Republican lawmakers in lawsuits over the makeup of the state’s congressional and House of Delegates districts. Two lawsuits funded by a national Democratic group argue that the maps must be redrawn because they illegally concentrate African American voters into some districts to reduce their influence elsewhere. One lawsuit could go to trial this summer; the other is awaiting court action. House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) hired E. Mark Braden, a former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee who is now with the firm BakerHostetler, to represent the House of Delegates in both cases.
The Voting News
California: Runner introduces bill to allow governor to cancel some special elections | Santa Clara Valley Signal
A California state Senator who was elected earlier this year during a special election in which she was the only candidate on the ballot has sponsored a bill that would allow the governor to cancel such uncontested races. Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, announced the effort Thursday, saying it would help prevent counties from racking up high bills to put on special elections that may be unnecessary. “Expenses add up fast for counties across California when special elections are called,” Runner said in a statement. “Elections are a vital part of our democratic process, but it is not always necessary to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on an election when only one name appears on the ballot.” Runner’s legislation, Senate Bill 49, would give the governor the discretion to cancel a special election when only one candidate qualifies to appear on the ballot.
Voters in more than half the states will soon be able to register online, rather than filling out a paper form and sending it in. Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, almost all in the past few years. Seven other states and the District of Columbia are now in the process of doing so. That includes Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last Friday requiring the state to allow online voter registration by 2017. Online voter registration has become so popular because election officials say it’s more efficient than a paper-based system, and cheaper. Voters like it because they can register any time of day from home, said David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “What election officials are finding, is they’re saving a ton of money, because they’re having to process a lot fewer pieces of paper by hand, right before an election, and get that into the system,” he said.
As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Hillary Rodham Clinton will benefit from one rapid-response team working out of a war room in her Brooklyn headquarters — and another one working out of a “super PAC” in Washington. Jeb Bush has hired a campaign manager, press aides and fund-raisers — yet insists he is not running for president, just exploring the possibility of maybe running. And Senator Marco Rubio’s chance of winning his party’s nomination may hinge on the support of an “independent” group financed by a billionaire who has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s past campaigns, paid his salary teaching at a university and employed his wife. With striking speed, the 2016 contenders are exploiting loopholes and regulatory gray areas to transform the way presidential campaigns are organized and paid for. Their “campaigns” are in practice intricate constellations of political committees, super PACs and tax-exempt groups, engineered to avoid fund-raising restrictions imposed on candidates and their parties after the Watergate scandal.
With each election come innovations in ways that the very rich donate and the candidates collect and spend increasingly large amounts of money on campaigns. And with each decision on campaign financing the current Supreme Court’s conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts in the lead, removes some restrictions on money in politics. We are now at the point where, practically speaking, there are no limits on how much money an individual, a corporation, or a labor union can give to a candidate for federal office (though the unions can hardly compete). Today a presidential candidate has to have two things and maybe three before making a serious run: at least one billionaire willing to spend limitless amounts on his or her campaign and a “Super PAC”—a supposedly independent political action committee that accepts large donations that have to be disclosed. The third useful asset is an organization that under the tax code is supposedly “operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” The relevant section of the tax code, 501(c)(4), would appear to be intended for the Sierra Club and the like, not political money. But the IRS rules give the political groups the same protection.
California: US Probes Alleged Voting Rights Violations Involving Disabled Californians | International Business Times
U.S. Justice Department agents are looking into allegations that the state of California and its courts are denying voting rights to residents with intellectual disabilities, according to media reports Wednesday. The Justice Department disclosed a letter sent last week to California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, asking for detailed records on how and why certain residents with disabilities were disqualified from voting, according to the Los Angeles Times. The department is now investigating whether the state’s voting practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The probe was opened after a 2014 complaint by the Disability and Abuse Project, an advocacy group, which alleged widespread abuse of California’s limited conservatorship program, wherein developmentally disabled citizens have an appointed caretaker who has special rights over them.
Florida: Hillary Clinton wants to allow felons to vote. That could mean a lot in a state like Florida. | The Washington Post
While in Iowa on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton mentioned a policy reform that could affect the results of presidential races: Allowing ex-felons to vote. Clinton is not the first 2016 candidate to raise this issue, nor is it the first time that she’s done so. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has repeatedly advocated for restoring voting rights for felons convicted of certain crimes. At several points while she was in the Senate, including shortly after she announced her 2008 candidacy, Clinton introduced the Count Every Vote Act, which would have restored those rights to anyone not currently incarcerated or not on parole or probation for a felony. We’re still early in the 2016 campaign, so it’s hard to know if that’s still the boundary that Clinton sets. As it stands, people who are convicted of felonies but are on parole can or cannot vote depending on where they live, since rules on felon voting differ by state. The Sentencing Project has a handy primer on the differences. In 12 states, those convicted of a felony cannot vote even after having repaid their debt to society — sometimes for certain periods of time, sometimes only for certain felonies. (In two states, Maine and Vermont, there are no restrictions on the voting rights of felons, even if incarcerated.) In total, some 5.8 million people are barred from voting in the United States because of their criminal past, according to the Sentencing Project’s data.
Gov. Larry Hogan took out his veto pen Friday, rejecting a bill that would allow felons to vote as soon as they leave prison rather than waiting to finish parole or probation. The veto, one of several announced by the governor’s office, quickly drew a pledge from the legislation’s sponsor to find the votes to override. “I just think Maryland should be more progressive,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat. She said she needs to line up only a handful of additional votes in each chamber to override Hogan’s veto when the General Assembly returns in January. In a letter to legislative leaders, Hogan said current law that makes felons wait to vote until completing all aspects of their sentence “achieves the proper balance between repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights.” The Republican governor was not available for interviews Friday, aides said.
National: US Justice Department eyes voting rights changes for American Indians, Alaska Natives | Associated Press
The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking legislation that would require state and local election officials to work with American Indian tribes to locate at least one polling place on or near each tribe’s land. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the changes are needed because “significant and unnecessary barriers” exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to cast ballots. American Indians sometimes have to travel great distances to vote, face language barriers and, in places like Alaska, do not have the same amount of time to vote as others. The Justice Department outlined its proposal in letters Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, after a year of consultation with tribes on voting access.
Political tensions intensified on Thursday at the Federal Election Commission, as a Republican commissioner charged that conservative groups were the focus of agency reviews into possible impropriety far more than liberal ones. On a commission deeply divided already along party lines, Democrats quickly dismissed the charge as baseless. Lee E. Goodman, one of three Republican commissioners, said at a public meeting that he tallied up the political leanings of groups investigated by the agency for possible campaign violations and found what he said was a system tilted to inquiries of conservative groups.