In the six weeks since the Nov. 4 election, much has been said about its extraordinarily low, record-shattering voter turnout. Scarcely 42 percent of California’s 17.8 million registered voters, and just 31 percent of its 24.3 million potentially eligible voters, actually cast ballots. It resulted, one could say, from the perfect calm – no hot statewide candidate races or blood-boiling ballot measures to spur voters into doing their civic duties. Nevertheless, it also continued a decades-long slide in California’s voter turnout, which is one of the nation’s lowest, and generated some political palaver about what might be done to raise it to more respectable levels. … Herb Wesson, a former speaker of the state Assembly who now is president of the Los Angeles City Council, has made raising local voter turnout a personal cause, saying it’s a civil rights matter.
Arkansas: Pulaski County election panel, county clerk sue state election board over absentee ballots | Associated Press
The Pulaski County Election Commission and County Clerk Larry Crane have filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners over rules on how county election commissioners should handle absentee ballots under the state’s new voter-identification law, alleging the board overstepped its authority. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, asks that the rules passed Feb. 28 be declared invalid. The rules allow an absentee voter who does not provide a proper ID when voting until noon on the Monday after the election to provide an approved form of ID — such as a copy of a driver’s license. The rules also say those absentee voters should be notified via first class mail that they must submit approved forms of identification before their votes can be counted.
Editorials: Could Supreme Court’s Arizona Ruling Lead to Voting Messes Down the Road? | Garrett Epps/The Atlantic
On Monday, I wrote that the Court’s 7-2 decision in Arizona v. Arizona Inter Tribal Council “gave a strong affirmation to Congress’s power to regulate state voter-registration processes” and “refused to narrow the scope of Congress’s power to supervise federal election procedures in the states.” That remains the general view. (See coverage here, here, and here.) Some commentators I respect find the decision more mixed as an affirmation of federal power over state voting procedures. At SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denistonconcluded that the opinion “assured states that they retain the ultimate power to decide who gets to vote. The apparent bottom line: states cannot now require voters to show proof that they are U.S. citizens, but the Court has given them a plan that could gain them that power.” Also in SCOTUSblog, Georgetown Law Professor Martin Lederman argues that “what appears at first to be a significant victory for the federal government might in fact be something much less than that — indeed, might establish important restrictions on Congress’s authority to determine eligibility for voting in federal elections, in a way that implicates current and potential future federal legislation.” And at the Daily Beast, election-law guru Richard Hasen warns that the decision “may give states new powers to resist federal government control over elections.” It’s hard to think of three smarter people. I continue to think that the decision is a big win for Congress’s power. The storm clouds these commentators discern may be threatening, but also may pass over easily.
The Islamic Republic of Iran will have a presidential election on June 14, 2013. As an observer of elections in different countries I find that Iranian election procedures are very similar to those of the most democratic elections held in European nations, such as France. Iranians vote on paper ballots that are counted openly in each polling place in the presence of observers. The tally from each polling station is then verified openly and published by the government after the election. These are the most fundamental and essential elements of a transparent and democratic election, and these are exactly the elements that are sadly missing from elections in the United States. It may come as a surprise but Iranian elections are much more transparent that elections in the United States. The voting process and the counting of the votes in Iran are transparent processes, while most votes in the United States are cast and counted on electronic voting systems run by private companies. The use of computer voting systems in the United States has actually allowed our elections to be stolen because the citizenry has lost its oversight of the crucial vote-counting process entirely. Today, there is virtually no open counting of the votes in polling stations in the United States because nearly all voting “data” is processed in computerized systems – not counted by citizens.
Minnesota: DFLers contol Minnesota Capitol but election overhaul ideas need GOP support | StarTribune.com
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has given Republicans virtual veto power over changes to Minnesota’s election laws, which could doom Democratic proposals to advance early voting. Although Democrats control the Legislature and have offered support for early voting, the governor of their own party has pledged not to sign any election measure that lacks “broad bipartisan support.” So far, Republicans have been cool to the idea of letting voters go to polling places before Election Day. “Any changes in election laws need broad bipartisan support so, to be honest, I haven’t looked into the details of each of the proposals yet because I’m waiting to see if anything is going to move forward on that basis,” Dayton said this week. “If it has that bipartisan support, that’s a pretty good indicator that it is good for Minnesota, good for election participation and protects the integrity, both of which are laudable goals,” he said, explaining the standard he has held since he took office. That is an unusual dictum at a time when election procedures have become sharply partisan, bringing political parties repeatedly to courts around the country to fight out who, when and how people can vote.
Oregon: Ballot fraud allegations in Clackamas County could lead to changes in election procedures | OregonLive.com
Allegations of ballot fraud by a Clackamas County election worker may lead to some immediate steps to make Oregon’s voting system more secure — as well as pressure for additional legislative changes. But, so far at least, the allegations don’t appear to cast a shadow over Oregon’s pioneering system of voting by mail. Local and national experts say this kind of fraud could occur in any state. Doug Lewis, executive director of the National Association of Election Officials, said that a rogue election worker could attempt the same kind of fraud in any jurisdiction that uses paper ballots – which at a minimum are used by absentee voters everywhere.
Editorials: Voting Rights: This Is What a Strong Party Platform Would Look Like | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
In tone and tenor, the Democratic and Republican voting-rights planks could not be more different. But there’s clearly room for a third way. The most elemental civil right, the one from which all other rights ultimately flow, is the right to vote. Can we all at least agree on that? This election year, to a degree unimaginable even in the wake of the Florida recount and Bush v. Gore, the issue of voting rights and election procedures is a key part of the political debate leading up to the first Tuesday in November. It’s as if some great lock has been turned, some vast door has been opened, and all the primal grievances from those furious days in November and December 2000 have come pouring out again. Add to the mix strident white fear about America’s changing demographics over the interceding decade, and you have a combustible brew indeed.
Virginia: Federal appeals court affirms right to access voter registration applications | Daily Record
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting an Alabama county’s challenge to the landmark civil rights law. The provision requires state, county and local governments with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department, or from a federal court in Washington, for any changes to election procedures. It now applies to all or parts of 16 states. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that Congress developed extensive evidence of continuing racial discrimination just six years ago and reached a reasonable conclusion when it reauthorized section 5 of the law at that time. The appellate ruling could clear the way for the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Roberts suggested in a 2009 opinion that the court’s conservative majority might be receptive to a challenge to section 5. Judge David Tatel wrote for the Court of Appeals majority that the court owes deference to Congress’ judgment on the matter.
It was perhaps inevitable that Gov. John Hickenlooper would sign a controversial bill governing public access to voted ballots that we and many concerned observers had urged him to veto. After all, the bill was vocally supported by elected county clerks. Not only do they understand the business of conducting elections better than anyone, they claimed the sky might fall if he didn’t sign the bill. The governor obviously had reservations about House Bill 1036, which he outlined in his signing message, but they unfortunately weren’t strong enough for him to defy the opinion of the expert Chicken Littles. Too bad. Colorado now has an election system with a privileged class of people — not only candidates but also political parties and representatives of issue committees that gave money to ballot measures — who may inspect voted ballots when everyone else, including the media, is excluded. Those of us in the non-privileged majority will not have access to voted ballots until after elections are certified — too late, citizen activists persuasively argue, for effective public oversight. Many of those activists, it should be noted, have followed election issues closely for years and know a thing or two about them, too.
Voting Blogs: Montana and Vote-By-Mail: Change Coming Slowly – but Coming Nonetheless | Election Academy
Friday’s Great Falls (MT) Tribune had a great piece on Montana’s slow evolution toward vote-by-mail. There isn’t necessarily a whole lot of news in the piece for someone who follows elections across the nation, but I thought the article was terrific in how well it captured the nature – and pace – of change in elections. Recent headlines have all been about struggles in states where legislatures have made significant and rapid changes to election procedures. As I’ve discussed here in many different posts, such change is a natural offshoot of the different policy views of the parties combined with change in legislative control due to elections.