Voters in Burma go to the polls shortly for by-elections that promise to be the most open contests in decades, with Aung San Suu Kyi among those standing. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) is contesting all 45 seats, vacated when politicians joined the new, military-backed civilian government. It is the first time Ms Suu Kyi is standing in an election herself. It is also the first time international observers have been allowed to monitor elections in modern Burma. The European Union looks set to ease some sanctions on the country if Sunday’s elections go smoothly.
Warnings about the dangers of Internet voting have been growing as the 2012 election nears, and an especially noteworthy one came Thursday from a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., that he believes, “it’s premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time.” McConnell said voting systems are vulnerable and, “when you connect them to the Internet that vulnerability increases.” He called security around Internet voting “immature and under-resourced.” McConnell’s comments echo those of a number of computer scientists who say there’s no way to protect votes cast over the Internet from outside manipulation. But right now a growing number of states are allowing overseas and military voters to return their marked ballots by digital fax or email, which experts say raises the same threat. It’s part of a recent push to make voting easier for millions of Americans overseas, who often are prevented from voting because of slow ballot delivery and missed deadlines.
National: Federal judge rules Federal Election Commission overstepped authority in shielding ad donors | The Washington Post
The Federal Election Commission overstepped its bounds in allowing groups that fund certain election ads to keep their financiers anonymous, a federal judge ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s ruling could pave the way to requiring groups that spend money on electioneering communications — ads that don’t expressly advocate for or against a candidate running for federal office — to disclose their donors. The FEC ruled in 2007 that corporations and nonprofits did not have to reveal the identities of those who financed such ads. That regulation came in response to a Supreme Court ruling that gave more latitude to nonprofit groups — like the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and the President Barack Obama-leaning Priorities USA — on pre-election ads. Campaign-finance regulations have received new scrutiny this election cycle, following a handful of federal court rulings that stripped away long-established limits on how much individuals and organizations may contribute to groups favoring certain candidates.
The grip of the super PAC on the Republican primary season has been well-documented. They are wrecking balls operating outside the candidates’ direct control, fueled by massive influxes of cash from a handful of wealthy patrons. The millions spent by the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund and the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, have prolonged their respective candidates’ rivalry with the front-runner, Mitt Romney, whose own Restore Our Future has bludgeoned the competition from Iowa to Florida to Michigan. And that’s just the start. In the general election, super PACs will evolve into full-blown shadow campaigns. This transition is already underway, with the super PACs supporting Republican candidates beginning to take on voter persuasion operations — like sending direct mail and making phone calls — that have traditionally been reserved for a campaign operation or party committee.
National: Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling | Huffington Post
On Friday evening, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could begin the process of revealing the identities of secret donors to groups connected to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. The court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission that the FEC rules that restricted campaign donor disclosureare not valid and must be changed to provide for disclosure. “We are very happy to see the judge got it right,” says Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog that was a part of the team challenging the FEC rules. Those rules state that donors to groups spending money on “electioneering communications,” or advertisements that do not specifically call to elect or defeat a candidate, must only be disclosed if they specifically earmarked their donation to that particular expenditure. Since few, if any, donors to these groups ever earmark their donation for a specific election expense there was no disclosure.
Editorials: Crankocracy In America – Who Really Benefitted From Citizens United? | Timothy Noah/The New Republic
In 2009, Ralph Nader published a fantasia titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, in which he imagined a group of maverick billionaires banding together to defeat corporate power in America. Declaring themselves “the Meliorists,” these enlightened oligarchs force Walmart to unionize, elect Warren Beatty governor of California, establish single-payer health insurance, raise the minimum wage to a livable salary, and in general breathe life back into liberalism. In 2012, something like Nader’s utopian scenario has begun to take shape, but with a radically different ideology. Super-rich, hard-right tycoons like Foster Friess (mutual funds), Harold Simmons (chemicals and metals), Bob Perry (home-building), and Sheldon Adelson (casinos) are, through the new vehicle called the super PAC, leveraging their fortunes to seize hold of the political process. Super PACs have made it so easy for millionaires and billionaires to spend unlimited sums on behalf of a particular candidate that these groups are now routinely outspending Republican presidential primary campaigns. Indeed, to a remarkable extent, these oligarch-controlled super PACs are the primary campaign. And, while both parties can create super PACs, so far GOP super PACs are burying their Democratic counterparts. Of the top ten individuals funding super PACs, only one—Jeffrey Katzenberg—is a Democrat.
Colorado: Bar codes allow ballots to be traced back to voters in dozens of Colorado counties | The Colorado Independent
The challenges mounting on Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s desk go beyond whether to mail ballots to residents who haven’t voted in a while. He has another predicament: bar codes. Unique identifying numbers, or bar codes, that can trace citizens to how they voted appear on ballots in dozens of counties in Colorado — a revelation that is not only troublesome but possibly illegal. Ballots are not allowed to have “distinguishing marks,” according to state law. A coalition of Colorado voters is suing Gessler (pdf) and a half dozen county clerks in a Denver federal court, contending the officials are presiding over unconstitutional elections. The litigation stems from a separate dispute over whether cast ballots should be made public so that elections can be verified by someone outside of government. When clerks argued ballots could not be seen by members of the public because it was theoretically possible to figure out how specific people voted in certain elections, the bar code problem became apparent. “We didn’t think the clerks were serious. We thought they were pulling our leg, putting up a smokescreen,” said Aspen-based election activist Marilyn Marks. “We didn’t think it was true, but it is.”
House Republicans on Wednesday killed a bill on voter registration from one of their own members, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. The bill was a reaction to Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s effort to prevent county clerks from mailing ballots to people unless they voted in the last major election. After the vote, Democratic leaders were so angry they called for Gessler’s removal as the state’s top elections official. The House Local Government Committee killed Coram’s bill on a party-line, 6-5 vote. It had passed the Senate 24-10.
Florida: Wellington election: Judge approves request for hand recount for disputed election | OrlandoSentinel.com
Several dozen pairs of eyeballs will examine ballots from Wellington’s disputed election when a hand count begins at 8 a.m. Saturday in the county elections office, the finale — or so many hope — to a string of lawsuits and weeks of confusion over the voters’ choices for three village council seats. “Just get it done,” candidate Al Paglia said. “The sooner, the better.” On Wednesday, within a half-day of the village’s canvassing board deciding that a manual recount was the only way to swear in winners indisputably, seven Wellington residents filed a complaint in Palm Beach County Circuit Court asking for just that. Judge Robin Rosenberg on Thursday ordered a manual recount of the March 13 races, which yielded incorrect winners because of an apparent software error.
Just before sunset on a recent evening, scores of lawyers in dark suits and polished loafers streamed into the swanky 18th-floor ballroom of a downtown high-rise here. They sipped chardonnay and nursed Heinekens, munched on cheese cubes and made small talk. The invitation to the event had asked for a “suggested contribution” of $500 to each of three candidates, who were now mingling sheepishly among the crowd. They were no ordinary politicians. In fact, they weren’t politicians at all, but rather Florida Supreme Court justices. Each has been in office since the 1990s, each retained by voters overwhelmingly in previous elections, and each now reluctantly campaigning — for the first time. While deep-pocketed super PACs and ultra-wealthy donors have attracted plenty of attention in the presidential contest this year, they are also making waves further down the political food chain. The mere possibility that a rich benefactor or interest group with endless amounts of money could swoop in, write massive checks and remake an entire court for ideological reasons has prompted judges here in Florida and elsewhere to prepare for battles they never expected to fight.