National: Can We Have a Democratic Election? | Elizabeth Drew/The New York Review of Books

Beneath the turbulent political spectacle that has captured so much of the nation’s attention lies a more important question than who will get the Republican nomination, or even who will win in November: Will we have a democratic election this year? Will the presidential election reflect the will of the people? Will it be seen as doing so—and if not, what happens? The combination of broadscale, coordinated efforts underway to manipulate the election and the previously banned unlimited amounts of unaccountable money from private or corporate interests involved in those efforts threatens the democratic process for picking a president. The assumptions underlying that process—that there is a right to vote, that the system for nominating and electing a president is essentially fair—are at serious risk.

National: Civil rights law on Supreme Court’s mind | Thomson Reuters

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with a narrow issue in a redistricting case from Texas suggests that the nation’s top court is ready to reconsider a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation. In the Jan. 20 decision, which tossed a Texas electoral map back to a lower court, the Supreme Court made a reference to “serious constitutional questions” raised by the act, which was passed in 1965. Legal experts have identified an Alabama case working its way through the courts as a vehicle through which the Supreme Court could eventually take another look at the act

National: European anti-corruption body warns US on political financing | The Washington Post

A top European anti-corruption body wants the U.S. to increase transparency of political funding through outside groups that donate millions to support candidates, warning that they could be used to skirt long-established disclosure rules. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption — known as Greco and which counts the U.S. as a member — warns “soft money” political financing vehicles appear to be increasing in America. The highly technical, 39-page report was approved by the Council of Europe’s plenary session last month, but was not previously made public. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report on Thursday. Greco officials then posted it online. (Links to the report: Theme I / Theme II)

Voting Blogs: New Pew Report Details Progress on Military, Overseas Voting | Doug Chapin/PEEA

Today at the 2012 Overseas Vote Summit in Washington, DC the Pew Center on the States will release Democracy from Afar: States Show Progress on Military and Overseas Voting, a new report updating progress on the issue of military and overseas voting first high lighted by Pew’s 2009 report No Time To Vote.Democracy from Afar finds that “47 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to protect the voting rights of military and overseas citizens”. More specifically, Pew found that “many states have implemented changes to their laws or administrative codes.”

Alabama: Voting and Racial History – Shelby County v. Holder and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act |

Instead of ensuring that voting rights are extended to all Americans, many state legislatures are engaged in efforts to shut out voters in this election year, taking aim at young people, immigrants and minorities. Last week, a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard a case that could eviscerate the ability of the federal government to prevent racial discrimination in voting. The issue in Shelby County v. Holder involves Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires that jurisdictions with flagrant histories of racial discrimination in voting must get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes in their voting rules or laws.

Arizona: Special election set for June 12 to fill Giffords’ seat |

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday ordered a special general election to be held on June 12 to fill a congressional seat vacated by Tucson Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned to focus on recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. The Republican governor also set an April 17 primary to choose the candidates who will vie to replace Giffords in what has proved to be a highly competitive district in southern Arizona. Giffords left office on Wednesday, cutting short her third term representing Arizona’s 8th congressional district as she continues to recover from a gunshot wound that left her with faltering speech and physical impairments.

Iowa: Support thin for Iowa voter ID bill | The Des Moines Register

Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced a new plan Thursday for requiring Iowa voters to show a photo ID at the ballot box, but it received a tepid response from legislative leaders. The new legislation is crafted to ensure security at the polls as well as access for voters at risk of being disenfranchised, said Schultz, a Republican. “The real point of this law is to make sure you are who you say you are when you come to vote,” he said, adding, “We’re not trying to disenfranchise or keep people from voting. We want security and integrity in our elections.” As a secretary of state-sponsored bill, the measure will be introduced in both the House and Senate, but lawmakers from both parties and both chambers offered something less than enthusiasm for it.

Minnesota: Minnesota GOP wants voter ID on the ballot in November |

Republican legislators plan to take their case for a photo ID requirement for voters directly to the voters themselves. Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who oversaw Minnesota’s voting system as secretary of state from 1999 to 2007, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, have introduced the photo ID concept as a proposed constitutional amendment. It would require all voters to produce an “approved form of photographic identification prior to voting.” If it passes the Republican-controlled House and Senate, the proposal would go directly onto the November ballot for voters to decide. Unlike bills and budgets, where the governor can use his veto pen, Gov. Mark Dayton has no way of blocking or changing a proposed constitutional amendment approved by the Legislature.

Ohio: GOP falling out of over Ohio elections law overhaul | WKSU

Ohioans are set to vote on a referendum on  a controversial election overhaul that majority Republicans pushed through the Legislature last year. Minority Democrats succeeded in getting enough petition signatures to put that issue on the ballot so voters have a chance to kill it. But now, Ohio’s top elections official  — Republican Jon Husted — is suggesting lawmakers repeal that law. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says he wants legislators to repeal the law so the referendum won’t be needed.  But legislative leaders are not happy because they say Husted didn’t talk about that suggestion with them first…before taking the matter public Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus.

South Carolina: South Carolina elections officials find money to pay for GOP presidential primary | Anderson Independent Mail

The South Carolina State Election Commission has found a way to fully pay for last week’s Republican presidential preference primary, a spokesman said Thursday. The commission was facing a $500,000 shortfall for the primary, which cost an estimated $1.5 million to hold. The Joint Other Funds Committee, a panel made up of South Carolina House and Senate members, has authorized the election commission to use money set aside for the June state primary to cover expenses from last week’s voting, commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said. “This should solve the issue,” Whitmire said. “Even if we had to spend $500,000 of June primary funds, we expect to be able to fund the June primary.”

Editorials: Messin’ with Texas (Redistricting) | Samuel Issacharoff/Boston Review

For the past 30 years, redistricting in Texas has provided great theater. As the state has gone from one-party Democratic to a Republican stronghold to renewed stirrings of bipartisan competition, the controlling party has exploited the decennial line drawing to lock in gains. And just as certainly, the courts have provided refuge for those on the outs. The Supreme Court has recognized the problem on a national scale but has been unable to see a solution. The justices have failed to find an easy definition of what is fair, what level of manipulation is permissible, how much greed is tolerable, how many districts should be assigned to this group or that group.

Texas: Testimony in Texas redistricting trial wraps up | San Antonio Express-News

Testimony wrapped up Thursday in a trial before a three-judge panel to determine if redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature violate the Voting Rights Act and discriminate against minorities. The final witness, a redistricting expert, told the court that a congressional map drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature removed 479,000 Latinos from districts that elect minority-preferred candidates.

Congo: Congo’s presidential coalition leading parliament race; call to annul votes in 7 districts | The Washington Post

Two months after voters went to polls in a chaotic election, the electoral commission announced Friday that parties supporting Congo’s president won two-thirds of legislative seats. The commission also indefinitely postponed provincial elections that were scheduled for March. Electoral officials said they also want to annul results of the legislative elections in seven of Congo’s 169 voting districts and prosecute a dozen candidates accused of introducing irregularities and violence. Local and international observers have already said the Nov. 28 elections for the president and 500 national assembly seats were too flawed to be legitimate. It was only the second democratic election Congo has ever held, with the stability of the mineral-rich African nation at stake. Critics say any election results are unreliable because millions of voters were unable to cast ballots, hundreds of thousands of ballots have been tampered with and 1.3 million completed ballots went missing.

Georgia (Sakartvelo): PACE Monitors on Georgia’s Electoral System | Civil.Ge

Because of a failure to address wide disparity between single-mandate, majoritarian constituencies resulting in unequal weight of each vote, Georgia’s “new election system is not fully in line with European standards,” two co-rapporteurs from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in their report to the PACE’s monitoring committee. The information note, which has been drawn up mainly based on co-rapporteurs’ fact-finding visit to Georgia in October, was released on January 26 and focuses on administration of justice and election-related issues. Kastriot Islami and Michael Jensen, co-rapporteurs on honouring obligations by Georgia, welcome in the report the Georgian authorities’ decision to adopt new election code, as well as addressing in the new code a number of recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs Venice Commission. The report, however, notes it was “regrettable that no consensus could be reached on the new election code and especially on the election system by which the new parliament is to be elected.”

India: Election Commission monitoring situation in poll bound Manipur after blast | India Today

The Election Commission has said it was keeping a watch on “violent” and “extremist activities” in Manipur, where militants triggered another bomb blast on Friday, and asked the authorities to take stringent measure to ensure a peaceful Assembly poll on Saturday. “Commission has noticed some violent and extremist activities taking place in certain areas of the state of Manipur in the run up to the polling in that state. This has included attacks on personnel on polling duty,” a statement issued in New Delhi said. The commission said it has taken “all measures for free, fair and peaceful election in Manipur with full and fearless participation of voters”.

Russia: Council of Europe blasts Russia over disputed ballot | Deutsche Welle

Council of Europe election observers have said that Russia needs real political change following the country’s disputed general election. Thousands gathered on Saturday for an anti-Putin protest outside the Kremlin. Speaking ahead of a presentation of its final report in Strasbourg on Monday, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegation said Russia needs real political change, not a “survival mechanism” for the current regime. The group, which observed last month’s controversial parliamentary elections, was speaking in Moscow as thousands gathered near the Kremlin to demand fair presidential elections on March 4.

Russia: Election Commission Head Urged to Cut Beard over Vote Fraud | RIA Novosti

The Russian Communist Party presented a pair of scissors to Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov on Friday, calling on him to live up to his promise and get rid of his beard following reports of mass fraud in December parliamentary elections, Communist lawmaker Anatoly Lokot said.
Back in 2007, ahead of parliamentary elections in December that year, Churov vowed to shave his long, bushy beard if the vote was unfair. However, as the CEC disagreed with Western monitors’ assessment of the polls as “unfair” and “undemocratic,” Churov has kept his beard.