The Voting News Daily: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states, Mississippi voting machines under scrutiny

National: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states | The Washington Post In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English. That number is down from…

National: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states | The Washington Post

In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English. That number is down from a decade ago following the 2000 census, which covered 296 counties in 30 states. In all, more than 1 in 18 jurisdictions must now provide foreign-language assistance in pre-election publicity, voter registration, early voting and absentee applications as well as Election Day balloting.

The latest requirements, mandated under the Voting Rights Act, partly reflect second and third generations of racial and ethnic minorities who are now reporting higher levels of proficiency in English than their parents. Still, analysts cite a greater potential for resistance from localities that face tighter budgets, new laws requiring voter IDs at polls and increased anti-immigration sentiment.

Effective this week, Hispanics who don’t speak English proficiently will be entitled to Spanish-language election material in urban areas of political battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Utah, as well as the entire states of California, Florida and Texas. For the first time, people from India will get election material in their native language, in voting precincts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, due to their fast population growth.

Georgia: State Challenges Voting Rights Act | GPB

Georgia is challenging the constitutionality of a clause in the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. The challenge is part of a lawsuit filed last week that seeks approval for Georgia’s new redistricting maps. Under the Act, the state can’t eliminate districts where minorities comprise more than 50 percent of the population. Georgia is one of nine states that also must receive so-called “pre-clearance” from the federal government for any election map changes.

State Attorney General Sam Olens calls this requirement a scarlet letter for Georgia that’s unfair because it’s based on a racial climate that no longer exists. He says he supports other provisions in the law.

“Whenever a government attempts to reduce the rights of minority voters, that’s clearly wrong, and clearly unconstitutional,” he said in an interview. “The only issue that we’re discussing is pre-clearance, and whether those nine states should be treated differently than other states.”

Indiana: Bayh Denounces ‘Baseless’ Voter Fraud Accusations | WRTV

Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh is denouncing what he calls baseless allegations of voter fraud brought by embattled Secretary of State Charlie White. In a five-page, single-spaced complaint filed Tuesday, White accused the former Democratic senator and his wife, Susan Bayh of casting ballots in May’s primary in Indiana while living in Washington, D.C., and of improperly claiming a property tax homestead exemption on a condo they own in Marion County.

White faces trial in January on seven felony charges, including voter fraud, after prosecutors allege he illegally registered to vote at his ex-wife’s address when he declared his candidacy for the office.

“Mr.White’s assertions are baseless. His situation is factually and legally different than mine,” Bayh said in a statement Thursday. White claims the Bayhs actually reside in a $2.3 million home in Washington, D.C., not their $58,000 condo on Indianapolis’ northwest side. But Indiana Democrats stressed that the Bayhs have always had a home in Indianapolis and called White’s complaint “laughable and regrettable.”

Mississippi: Voting machines under scrutiny | The Clarion-Ledger

Since Mississippi required electronic voting machines in 2006 to meet a federal mandate, all the state’s precincts have used approved equipment. For most of Mississippi’s 82 counties that meant the touch-screen machines the secretary of state’s office got at a bulk discount to comply with the Help America Vote Act. Counties wanting federal money to buy electronic machines had no options.

Now the financial costs assessed with operating touch-screen machines and concerns over contested elections have led officials in one county to ditch those machines and those in another to consider doing the same – both in favor of electronic paper ballot scanning machines . Even before the state mandate, Rankin County had opted for touch-screen machines. It has used them since the November 2003 general election. But District 5 Supervisor Jay Bishop said the system should be re-examined.

Supervisors last month cut the annual maintenance contract for the county’s touch-screen machines from roughly $57,000 to $47,000. But Bishop says, “If we were to go and put (paper ballot) scanners in, that would knock costs down to around $10,000 a year.

New Hampshire: Secretary of State Threatens to Move Primary to 2011 – WNYC

Political campaigners might get a break around the New Year, after all. In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State Bill Gardner threatened to hold the state’s key early primary in December.

New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary of every election year since 1920. In 1975, it became New Hampshire state law that the primary take place seven days or more before similar elections that would challenge this position, Gardener stated.

Florida has moved its primary up to January 31, 2012. South Carolina set their date for January 21st and Nevada moved their caucuses up to January 14th — five weeks earlier than originally planned. This would make Tuesday, January 3rd the earliest day that New Hampshire could have their primary, the same date that Iowa is considering for their caucus.

Ohio: Absentee ballots too heavy, require additional postage | 19 Action News

Lots of people are voting by absentee ballot this year, but you could create big a problem for yourself if you don’t take heed of something 19 Action News discovered on Wednesday. The ballots are too heavy to get back to the Board of Elections with a simple .44 cent first class stamp.

The envelopes say affix first class postage, but if you just slap a .44 cent stamp on the envelope you’ll be short postage, and your ballot will be returned by the post office. That could cause real problems if you mail it right before the election. There are two processes going on at the Board of Elections. First, absentee ballots are being sent out to people who request them, not to everyone. So if you want one, request one.

Second, 50,000 ballots have already poured into the board for the November 8th election. Board Director Jane Platten says there is still plenty of time to vote absentee. “If I get your ballot the day after Election Day, but its postmarked November 7th, I can still accept it,” Platten said.

Tennessee: Commissioner orders ‘common sense,’ speedy handling of voter ID cards | Knoxville News Sentinel

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said supervisors at driver’s license testing stations have been instructed to use “common sense discretion” in issuing free photo identification cards to Tennesseans who need them for voting, even if they are missing a document required “from a technical standpoint.”

Gibbons also said driver’s service centers in 15 counties, including Knox, will be open on the first Saturday of every month, starting Nov. 5, to exclusively handle only photo ID card issuance. Citizens appearing on other days to get a photo ID voter card will be placed in an “express category” as compared to people seeking a regular driver’s license, he said.

The commissioner, who oversees driver’s license operations, appeared with Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees the state election system, at a Nashville news conference Wednesday. Also in attendance were representatives of AARP, which has been working with state officials to educate voters about requirements of the new law taking effect Jan. 1.

Virginia: Ballots won’t need legible signatures, after all |

Fret not, absentee voters with sloppy signatures. You no longer need to worry that handwriting style could cost you your voice in a future election. The state’s top election official said Wednesday his agency will recommend changes to proposed mail-in ballot rules to make clear that an illegible signature isn’t a valid reason to disqualify a ballot.

Regulations adopted last year by the Democrat-appointed State Board of Elections had featured protections for illegible signatures as well as a catch-all provision that allowed improperly filled-out ballots to be counted if a voter’s identity could be confirmed by election officials. Earlier this year, after turnover on the Board of Elections gave control to Republican appointees, state officials withdrew those regulations and moved to replace them with what Democrats consider less flexible ballot rules.

After an article about the changes appeared in The Virginian-Pilot last week, about 500 people posted comments about them on a state website.

Wisconsin: Republican proposal would change how electoral college votes are awarded in Wisconsin | The Washington Post

A Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin wants to change how Wisconsin awards electoral votes — a proposal that spurred a swift, negative reaction Wednesday from Democrats who see the move as an attempt to help Republican presidential candidates.

Wisconsin joins at least two other states where changes to how Electoral College votes are being discussed heading into the 2012 presidential election. The 10 electoral votes in Wisconsin, which has a winner-take-all system, went to President Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

Wisconsin state Rep. Dan LeMahieu on Wednesday circulated a proposal for co-sponsors that make so a single electoral vote would go to the winner in each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts. The statewide winner would get two electoral votes.

Wisconsin: Madison gets serious about election administration – a once low-profile city service is now of intense interest to residents | The Daily Page

Nothing can rile a taxpayer quite like an unplowed street or missed garbage pickup. The delivery of basic services can make or break a mayoral career. But a funny thing happened in the last year or so: In two separate city surveys, Madison residents identified election administration as one of the priority services delivered by city employees. In one case, 94% of respondents who attended a community budget meeting on city administration said that election administration was of “high” importance to them, right after the provision of emergency medical service by the fire department but before bus, sewer, snow removal, recycling and refuse services.

A web survey of city residents conducted between July 26 and Sept. 1 had similar results: 72% of respondents rated election administration of high importance. That also ranked higher than such city services as park maintenance, street repair, the management of communicable diseases and traffic safety control.

City Clerk Marybeth Witzel-Behl says she was surprised — and gratified — by the results. “We always thought elections were the most sacred thing we deal with,” says Witzel-Behl. But, she adds, “I didn’t realize the community echoed that value.”

Wisconsin: New student IDs for voting could cost UW-Madison $700,000 every two years |

Wisconsin’s voter ID law will present new hurdles to some students and cost UW-Madison as much as $700,000 if the university provides all students new identification cards to comply with the law. It’s not clear how many students would use university IDs to vote, and school officials are waiting further clarification from the state Government Accountability Board about what kind of university ID would be acceptable at the polls.

All Wisconsin voters must present a valid photo ID in order to vote starting with the Feb. 21 spring primary, including a Wisconsin driver’s license, U.S. passport, military ID or tribal ID. College students without those forms of identification can use a university ID that includes a date of issuance, the student’s signature and an expiration date within two years of issuance. They must also present additional proof of enrollment.

Currently, UW student IDs do not comply with the voter ID law because they have five-year expiration dates and do not include signatures. “Students are extremely confused,” said Hannah Somers, an out-of-state UW-Madison student and legislative affairs chairwoman for Associated Students of Madison, UW’s student government. “I’ve heard students say ‘I’m just going to vote absentee at home because that’s going to be easier.'”

Wisconsin: Legislature may not allow voters to receive ballots by email – JSOnline

A new, little-noticed state law guarantees voters can receive absentee ballots by email, but it may not be on the books for long. When legislators in May adopted a requirement that voters show photo ID at the polls, they also changed the law to ensure voters can receive absentee ballots by email if they ask for them. While voters can receive the ballots by email, they still have to return them by traditional mail or drop them off in person.

But in June, the state Senate included a provision in another bill that would repeal the requirement that municipal clerks email absentee ballots to all voters who request them. The clerks would still have to email absentee ballots to military and overseas voters, but not other voters.

Repealing the provision on emailed ballots was tucked into a bill that would move the partisan primary from September to August. Moving the primary is required to comply with a federal law meant to ensure military and overseas voters have enough time to return their ballots.

Belarus: Protesters in Belarus call for fresh and free elections | Deutsche Welle

Around 1,000 protesters took the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Saturday to demonstrate against the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko and his handling of the country’s worst economic crisis in years. The protesters rallied in the center of Minsk where they called on the government to halt price inflation, free political prisoners and hold free elections.

“Lukashenko has led the country into a political and economic catastrophe,” rally organizer Viktor Ivashkevich said. Minsk has sought to devalue its currency, the ruble, in order to make its exports cheaper and boost its struggling economy. The devaluation, however, has pushed up food prices. Last month, the government lifted restrictions on food prices altogether.

Liberia: Calls For Calm as Liberia Counts Presidential Votes | VoA News

Vote counting is underway in Liberia’s presidential election after a day of peaceful voting Tuesday. Nobel Peace Prize winner and incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is facing a tough fight for re-election, in the country’s second polls since the end of Liberia’s civil war.

Liberia’s National Election Commission says ballots from Tuesday’s vote are being sorted and counted, with the first provisional results expected Thursday afternoon. If none of the 16 candidates wins an outright majority, there will be a second-round run off between the top two finishers, who most election observes expect to be President Sirleaf and former justice minister Winston Tubman. As Liberians await those results, political leaders are calling on their supporters to stay calm.

Liberia: Ex-warlord becomes kingmaker in Liberia ballot | Times Union

A rebel leader who videotaped himself drinking Budweiser as his men cut off the ears of the nation’s former president has finished third in this week’s presidential election, according to partial results issued Thursday, thrusting the notorious ex-warlord into the role of kingmaker.

Incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace laureate who is the continent’s only female president, may have finished first with 41.7 percent of the vote, according to the partial tally issued by the electoral commission that represents ballots from around one-sixth of polling stations. But with 24.5 percent voting for her challenger, she needs No. 3 Prince Johnson’s endorsement to win the upcoming runoff.

Despite being named one of the main actors in Liberia’s horrific civil war, Johnson remains popular in his home county, which elected him senator and he is in third place with 12.5 percent of the vote. “I will be happy to be the kingmaker,” Johnson told The Associated Press on Thursday. “And where we will put our support will depend on what our supporters say. … We will not put our votes into someone’s hands blindly.”