The Voting News Daily: Voting Rights Debate Promises Burgeoning Partisan Battle, Supporters seek ‘tweaks’ in ranked-choice voting

National: Missouri researchers to study online voting | Washington Examiner Civic-minded soldiers stationed across the world could one day obtain absentee ballots from their laptops or mobile phones as part of a new federal research effort to increase participation among overseas troops and other voters who are out of the country during elections. A team…

Voting Blogs: Real Solutions Needed on Voter Deception | Brennan Center for Justice

Last week, Paul Schurick, the campaign manager for former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws and two counts of election fraud for orchestrating a scheme of robo-calls intended to deter 100,000 Democratic African-American voters from voting in the City of Baltimore and Prince George’s County Maryland.

The robo-calls, delivered in a woman’s voice, assured Democratic voters that the Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley had already won the election as of 6:00 p.m. on Election Day 2010. “Our goals have been met. The polls are correct and we took it back. We’re OK. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight.”

At trial, Schurick argued his intention was to anger voters sympathetic to his candidate in order to motivate them to vote. A jury rejected his argument and found Schurick’s intent was to mislead and discourage Democratic African‑American voters from going to the polls. Schurick’s conviction comes in the midst of a robust national debate about the importance of ballot security and how to protect American elections.

Texas: Elections Paralyzed by Hearing Before Supreme Court |

Jacquelyn F. Callanen was neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the redistricting case that the Supreme Court decided to hear last week. But her life — and her office — went from calm to chaos because of it. Ms. Callanen is the elections administrator for Bexar County in south-central Texas, home to San Antonio and 1.7 million residents. The Supreme Court’s decision temporarily blocked a set of district maps that Ms. Callanen and other officials around the state were going to use in next year’s elections.

Less than 90 days before the scheduled March 6 primary, Ms. Callanen has no electoral map in place for Congressional and State House and Senate districts in Bexar County, and none are in effect in any other county either. Much of the political geography of the country’s second-biggest state, in other words, has essentially vanished.

National: Missouri researchers to study online voting | Washington Examiner

Civic-minded soldiers stationed across the world could one day obtain absentee ballots from their laptops or mobile phones as part of a new federal research effort to increase participation among overseas troops and other voters who are out of the country during elections.

A team of Missouri researchers trained in technology, cyber-security and elections management will use a $740,000 Department of Defense grant to explore Internet-based and mobile phone voting applications.

The project initially will focus on speeding the delivery of overseas ballots, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said at a Thursday press conference announcing the collaboration. Noren emphasized that voters won’t actually cast ballots online, but researchers will study ways to surmount the security obstacles to online voting. “The time it takes to deliver ballots and have ballots returned is unacceptable,” she said. “This has been a long, ongoing problem by military and overseas voters.”

Voting Blogs: Voting Rights Debate Promises Burgeoning Partisan Battle | Legally Easy

This year-end, new battles over the Voting Rights Act are emerging, but they are new battles inextricably embedded in the history of discrimination and civil rights. Signed by President Johnson in 1965, Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, requires 16 southern states with a history of discrimination to pre-clear any voting procedure changes with the Justice Department, or a panel of federal judges.

While the provision was reauthorized in 2006 with strong bipartisan support, it is being challenged today in five lawsuits claiming that the United States has reached a level of electoral equality that precludes the need for Section Five. But, as it stands, Section Five still places the sixteen states under the watchful eye of the federal government, and ensures that the burden of proof remains on each jurisdiction to establish that any proposed changes do not have the purpose or effect of discriminating based on race or color.

The situation currently threatening mayhem during the budding 2012 election season is the redistricting of  Texas. After the 2010 census, the significant population increase in Texas meant the bestowal of 4 new congressional seats — and an almighty battle for control of these new seats. And consider this: democrats are currently outnumbered 23 to nine in the state’s 32-member U.S. House delegation, and Republicans control both U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, the state Legislature and most statewide offices.

California: Supporters seek ‘tweaks’ in ranked-choice voting |

For all those San Franciscans outraged that they could only mark their three top choices in last month’s election for mayor, help is on the way. A proposed charter amendment by Supervisor David Campos clears the way for voters to rank five, 10, 20 or more candidates in upcoming ranked-choice elections.

Campos’ measure, which is designed to counter a proposed June ballot measure by supervisors Mark Farrell and Sean Elsbernd that would end ranked-choice voting in the city, calls for any new voting equipment to allow ranking of more than the current three choices, up to the total number of candidates.

If that happens, the city might want to add chairs to the voting booths, since the mayor’s race featured 16 candidates and ranking them all might take awhile. Then there was last year’s District 10 race out in the Bayview, where 21 hopefuls appeared on the ballot. Try ranking that crew in order of preference.

Florida: Election law changes draw scrutiny by U.S. Attorney General Holder | Tampa Bay Times

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has injected himself into a partisan controversy over Florida’s new election laws that include changes in early voting and registering of new voters. The changes, passed by the Republican Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, antagonized voter advocacy groups and Democrats. They accuse the GOP of seeking to suppress voter turnout in 2012, especially among African-Americans and college students. Republicans say their goal is to bolster faith in the voting process and limit voter fraud.

Holder expressed concern about new voting laws passed in state capitals this year, including in Florida, during a speech Tuesday at the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential library in Texas. “The answers are clear,” Holder said. “We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination and partisan influence, and that are more — not less — accessible to the citizens of this country.” In Florida’s case, a pending court review will force the state to hold a presidential primary next month under two separate sets of election laws.

Oklahoma: Officials upgrade machines for February votes |

The next big change in Oklahoma elections since the state stopped counting ballots by hand in 1992 is rolling out in February, promising faster election results and more data. Each of the state’s 1,958 voting locations is getting new ballot scanning machines that cost $2,800 each. The new machines and data system will be used for the first time in the Feb. 14 election.

Elections were canceled by lawmakers for December and January to allow the new system to be installed. “We’re very thankful to have that,” said Paul Ziriax, state Election Board secretary. “If we could have an extra month, we’d take it, but we’ll be ready.”

The new scanners will still take paper ballots, only now more of the data from those ballots will be available to the public online and faster than ever before. County election boards will be able to report local results online, something they weren’t equipped to do before. “We’re going to have far more detail than we’ve ever been able to show before,” Ziriax said. “We’ll be able to drill down and see which precincts haven’t reported.”

South Carolina: Atlantic Beach, Horry County officials will return to court over voting machine dispute |

Town of Atlantic Beach and Horry County officials will return to a Conway magistrate courtroom next week to settle a dispute about town leaders refusing to return the voting machines used in the November election. Magistrate Bradley Mayers took a motion to return the machines to town officials from the town attorney, Kenneth Davis, under advisement, and continued the hearing until 10 a.m. Wednesday so Davis would have time to prepare.

Horry County sheriff’s deputies took the voting machines Tuesday after town officials refused to return them after the voting. Magistrate Bradley Mayers issued a court order for deputies to seize the machines and Atlantic Beach officials plan to dispute that seizure and want the machines returned to them during Wednesday’s hearing.

Davis, who is representing Atlantic Beach, declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing because it is an ongoing issue. But during the hearing, Davis said the seizure of the machines interferes with an “ongoing election protest in Atlantic Beach.” “By seizing these machines the ongoing judicial process . . . has been interrupted,” Davis said and noted there was no evidence town officials planned to tamper with the machines.

Texas: Confusion reigns as political deadline is delayed |

For Hidalgo County political candidates, there may be a deadline, but there still is no clarity. A panel of three federal judges extended a filing deadline for political office set to expire Thursday until Monday, giving candidates four extra days to sweat out whether they’ll draw additional competition. But the court hasn’t yet ruled on whether it will delay any elections, and candidates for state and congressional seats embroiled in the redistricting lawsuit still don’t have a clear picture of how their districts will eventually look.

Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairwoman Dolly Elizondo-Garcia summed up the state’s electoral process with one word: confusion. “It’s been very chaotic, and we’re trying to handle it as best we can,” said Elizondo-Garcia, who is accepting applications for places on the ballot from state candidates who still don’t know for sure in which district they’ll run. “There are more twists and turns here than the Texas Cyclone (theme park ride). We’re going to be in for a lot of surprises.”

Texas: Texas’ voter ID law and redistricting go ‘against the arc of history,’ AG Holder says | Houston Chronicle

The nation’s top law enforcement official drew attention to two of the state’s hot-button political issues — redistricting and voter ID — telling a Texas audience Tuesday night that making it harder to vote “goes against the arc of history.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder criticized recent efforts in Texas and other states that have passed restrictive election laws, saying voting rights instead should be expanded.

Holder was speaking at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, which houses the late president’s official records and memorabilia, including the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that he signed. Making frequent references to Johnson’s legacy on voting rights, Holder encouraged the audience to “speak out. Raise awareness of what’s at stake.”

He said strict voter ID laws can cut voter turnout. And he was critical of using the redistricting process to choose politicians instead of creating districts that allow voters to choose their voice in government. “All citizens should be automatically registered to vote,” Holder said, suggesting states should modernize out-of-date paper registration systems. “The single biggest barrier to vote in this country is our antiquated voting system,” he said.

Canada: City jumps into cyberspace with E-voting pilot initiative |

Edmonton could see a pilot pro-gram to test Internet voting in the next civic election, officials say. E-voting, which can include using phones, electronic ballots or the Internet, has occurred in more than 30 Ontario municipalities and four Nova Scotia jurisdictions.

Several Alberta centres, including Edmonton, Calgary, St. Albert and Strathcona County, are interested in trying the new technology, Laura Kennedy, Edmonton’s director of elections and corporate records, said Wednesday.

The group might work with Municipal Affairs on a small trial during the 2013 election, possibly focused on the special ballots sent to people who will be away or can’t get to the polling booth, she said. “We could all explore a different aspect of it,” said Kennedy, who estimated about 700 special ballots were mailed out in Edmonton for the 2010 election. “We could have different iterations and compare the results at the end.”

Congo: Supreme Court Hears Election Challenge |

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Supreme Court has begun hearing a lawsuit seeking to annul the presidential election that returned incumbent Joseph Kabila to power.

Opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the vote, filed the lawsuit, in which he claims the poll was rigged in favor of Kabila. Kamerhe, who was present for Thursday’s hearing, said some ballots were pre-marked for the president, and said the electoral commission reported false results.

The official tally from last month’s poll showed Kabila winning 49 percent of vote, well ahead of second-place finisher Etienne Tshisekedi, who had 32 percent. Tshisekedi has rejected the results and proclaimed himself president.

International election observers reported numerous irregularities during both the vote and the counting process. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said the election was “seriously flawed.” However, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was not clear whether the problems were enough to change the outcome of the election.

Indonesia: Election watchdogs call to revoke election bodies’ selection team | The Jakarta Post

A group of election watchdogs has called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to revoke the newly established election team designated to select general election bodies’ members for not representing the public. “The president should revise his decree No. 33/2011 on the establishment of the election bodies’ selection team and remove two ministers from the selection team,” Indonesian Civilized Circle director (LIMA) Ray Rangkuti said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The president inaugurates the selection team designated to select the General Elections Commission (KPU) and General Elections Monitoring body (Bawaslu) members earlier this month. Girindra Sandino, a research coordinator from the Independent Elections Monitoring Committee (KIPP) said that the two ministers who act as the team’s chairman and deputy would only represent the ruling party and current presidential regime.

Russia: Putin Hits Back at Opposition Protest in Vote-Fraud Standoff | Businessweek

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hit back at protests over alleged electoral fraud even as Russia’s biggest street demonstrations in a decade threaten to complicate his bid to return to the Kremlin next year.

While Putin pledged to bolster transparency during March’s presidential vote, he rejected accusations of fraud at Dec. 4 parliamentary elections and said foreign funding was helping fuel protests organized by his foes to “destabilize” Russia. He spoke in a 4 1/2-hour phone-in show on television yesterday.

Putin, 59, is facing the biggest unrest since he came to power. Opposition groups got permission this week to stage a demonstration in Moscow on Dec. 24 for as many as 50,000 people, twice the size of the crowd estimated by police at a similar rally Dec. 10. The protests may force Putin into a run-off for the Kremlin if he can’t win more than 50 percent support.