Editorials: A Judge Turns on the Light on Campaign Finance | NYTimes.com

A federal judge took an important step toward ending secret donations to big-spending political groups, striking down regulations that permitted some groups to hide their donors. Unfortunately, the ruling probably came too late to flush this corrupting practice from this year’s elections — though there is still time for Congress to do so. The secret-donor problem began in 2007 when the Supreme Court, in the Wisconsin Right to Life case, ended restrictions on corporate and union political spending by advocacy groups in the weeks prior to an election. A few weeks later, the Federal Election Commission, naïvely suggesting that some corporate donors to those groups might not have intended to give for political purposes, said that only those donations explicitly earmarked for political purposes had to be disclosed. The loophole was obvious: Just don’t declare any donation to be political, and they can all be secret.

Editorials: Voting in America: When is Democracy not a Democracy? | Al Jazeera

Democracy. That buzzword we hear over and over again coming from powerful quarters in the US to help explain interventions across the globe, from Iraq to Central America. But while many in the world are familiar with the buzzword, few may realise that a fight over democracy is being waged on American soil as we speak, and it comes in the form of challenging brand new voting laws. Here’s a little background: In 2010 the Republican Party swept to power at the state level across the US. Today they control the senate and the House of Representatives in 25 states, and have a significant presence in a number of other state level legislatures. They’ve been using that newly acquired power to pass laws that clamp down on what they say is rampant voter fraud. To date, at least 30 new laws and bills have been introduced to change the rules of the voting game, like for example requiring voters to have a government-issued photo ID to cast their ballot. Since embarking on this story, I have had a number of people ask me “what’s the big deal with wanting people to present a photo ID when they vote?” On the surface, nothing.

Editorials: Can Someone Put A Stop To The Insanity Of Political Redistricting? | Nicholas Stephanopoulos/The New Republic

To put it mildly, the latest round of redistricting has not been the most edifying experience. Over the past year, politicians have assembled throughout the country to carve districts that are equal in population, but that otherwise serve their own interests rather than the public’s. Protracted litigation has determined, on a case-by-case basis, which districts will be represented by minority groups. And the courts have been intimately involved not just with minority representation but also with every other aspect of the process. Already, in the current cycle, more than 150 lawsuits have been filed. Americans have gotten used to this baroque struggle, but it’s worth remembering that most foreign observers consider it bizarre, even pathological. Compared to other countries with similar electoral systems, the American model of redistricting is an extreme outlier. And not only is the U.S. model different from its peers, it is also inferior. When it comes to elections, it’s clear that American exceptionalism is a vice, not a virtue.

Voting Blogs: State Constitutions: A New Battleground in Voting Rights | JURIST

An emerging storyline in this year’s election season is the increased implementation of voter ID laws around the country. From Wisconsin to Texas to Virginia, state legislatures are enacting new laws requiring voters to show some form of photo identification at the polls. Just as quickly, opponents are filing suit in both state and federal courts to challenge the laws on various grounds. While none of this is particularly novel, the added twist is the prominence of state constitutions in these disputes. In fact, given the current US Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of voting protections, state constitutional recognition of the right to vote may have a tremendous impact in limiting some states from requiring voters to show identification this Election Day. Proponents of voter ID laws posit that they are necessary to protect the integrity of the election process. Those who oppose the laws, by contrast, explain that they do not root out any documented fraud and that they actually disenfranchise certain groups of voters, particularly minorities, the indigent and students. There is also a partisan bent to the disputes: Republicans tend to favor voter ID laws and Democrats oppose them because groups that more often vote Democratic are, as a general matter, less likely to possess the required form of identification and therefore will be unable to vote.

Florida: E-voting system awards election to wrong candidates in Florida village | Computerworld

An optical scan vote tallying system, now used by some 300 U.S. municipalities, misreported the results of a Palm Beach County, Florida, municipal election last month. Dominion Voting Inc.’s Sequoia Voting Systems device mistakenly awarded two Wellington Village Council seats to candidates who were found in a post-election audit to have lost their races. The results were officially changed last weekend after a court-sanctioned public hand count of the votes. According to a story in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel , the Sequoia vote counting software was set up in a way that didn’t correspond to the Wellington County ballot distributed to voters. As a result, votes meant for one candidate were credited to a different candidate.  In a product advisory notice issued last Friday, Dominion warned customers that problems could arise if the contest order on a paper ballot does not match the ballot order programmed into Sequoia machine. “The contest order on the ballots in the database can become out of sync with the contest order shown on the corresponding paper ballots,” the company noted. If the issue is not identified during pre-election tests, “election results will show the correct number of votes, but assigns them to the wrong candidate” the company said in the advisory.

Florida: Legislature seeks federal redistricting review even without a final map | Miami Herald

The Florida Legislature’s legal team has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to begin the process of reviewing its legislative maps for compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, even before the Florida Supreme Court signs off on a final product. In a March 30 letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, lawyers for the House, Senate and attorney general asked the federal government to expedite its a pre-clearance of the maps so that candidates will know the district boundaries when they are required to qualify during the week the June 4. Under the Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, Florida must submit its legislative and congressional maps for approval, or pre-clearance, because five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – have a history of discrimination against racial or language minorities. Download Preclearance_Senate

Missouri: House panel backs do-over attempt on voter ID | necn.com

Dealt a setback in court, a Missouri House committee acted quickly Tuesday to embrace new wording for a 2012 ballot measure that would allow a photo identification mandate to be imposed upon voters in future elections. The measure approved by the House Elections Committee seeks to rewrite the ballot summary voters would see when deciding later this year whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow a state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls. As originally passed by lawmakers last year, the ballot summary referred to the measure as the “Voter Protection Act.”

Texas: Justice Department says Texas legislators should be forced to testify about Voter ID law | Chron.com

U.S. Justice Department lawyers told a federal three-judge panel today that Texas state legislators should not be shielded from testifying in a case centering on the legality of the state’s new Voter ID law. But lawyers for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said deposing statehouse Republicans to determine legislative intent of the new photo ID law amounted to a “fishing expedition” by Justice Department attorneys. The judges, Circuit Judge David Tatel, District Judge Robert Wilkins and District Judge Rosemary Collyer, are expected to rule soon on motions to expedite proceedings.

Texas: Filing Targets Texas Lawmakers’ Voter ID Communications | The Texas Tribune

In the latest development in Texas’ battle with the Obama administration over the state’s voter ID law, the U.S. Department of Justice is urging a federal court to deny the state’s request to keep certain communications between lawmakers, staff and constituents out of upcoming court proceedings. In a court filing dated Thursday, the department argued that it should be allowed to “depose those legislators believed to have had the most active role in drafting, introducing, and advocating for SB 14.” The law requires that voters furnish photo identification before casting a ballot. The filing was in response to the state’s request for a protective order, in which it argues that the communications in question should be excluded based on state privilege.

Wisconsin: Cold-Cut Case? Wisconsin Democrats Accuse Romney of ‘Subs for Votes’ | ABC News

When GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., gathered at a sandwich shop in Waukesha today to drum up support for Romney in the Badger State primary, they might have been engaging in “subs-for-votes” election bribery, according to the state’s Democratic Party. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin issued a complaint of bribery hours after the event, holding a news conference in downtown Milwaukee to air its grievances. “It is a clear violation of Wisconsin election law, cut and dry,” the Democrat Party’s representative in Wisconsin told ABC News. The group is filing its complaint with the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees the elections and will handle the complaint going forward.

Wisconsin: Tuesday’s Election Poses New Challenges For Municipalities, Voters | WISN Milwaukee

Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin will be the first time many voters will head to the polls with new rules in place. Right now, voters will not have to show a photo ID Tuesday because of a court-ordered hold on the law, but the Government Accountability Board is asking people to be ready and have a valid ID with then just in case the law changes at the last minute. On Monday, absentee ballots were being checked in, polling booths were being set up and ballot counting machines were rolled into place. Tuesday is Wisconsin’s presidential primary, and voters are facing new challenges. For the first time, they have to sign poll books, voter photo ID is on court-ordered hold, and in Milwaukee County, defective absentee ballots were mailed out.

East Timor: Brothers in electoral arms in East Timor | Asia Times

The second round run-off of Timor Leste’s presidential elections scheduled for mid-April will pit two heavyweights of the decade-old country’s past resistance struggle and signals a shift towards a new era of nationalist politics. Of the dozen candidates who contested the first round contest on March 17, Fretilin party president Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres and former defense chief Jose Maria Vasconcelos, more commonly known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak, respectively won 28% and 25% of the vote and are expected to fight a tight second round race. The electoral demise of incumbent President Jose Ramos Horta, placed third with 17%, has signaled a decisive shift away from the internationalist stance that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had come to represent in Timorese national politics.

Georgia (Sakartvelo): Georgia says Russian military exercise interferes with election | Democracy & Freedom Watch

Georgia once more expresses concern about a military exercise Russia plans to conduct on Georgia’s occupied territories. Russia regularly holds exercises in the North Caucasus, but this year’s Kavkaz 2012 will for the first time include Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway republics currently occupied by Russia. Georgia has informed international organizations about the plans, and considers it a source of concern that the exercise is planned for September, just one month before the parliamentary elections in Georgia. “It won’t be coincidental if our neighbor decides to start a large military exercise in the second part of September, a few days before the election. Aside from this, it will use all possible means to discredit these elections, frighten Georgians through the use of force on one hand, and on the other hand buy Georgian voters by the money flow from that country,” Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said while meeting with a delegation from the European People’s Party.

Malaysia: Lawmakers Recommend Changes to Malaysian Electoral System | NYTimes.com

A parliamentary committee recommended a series of changes to the Malaysian electoral system on Tuesday, but opposition groups and activists said they did not go far enough to ensure a level playing field for elections widely expected later this year. The committee, which consisted of five members of the governing coalition, three opposition members and one independent, was set up last year by Prime Minister Najib Razak following a rally that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets calling for greater transparency and fairness in elections. Its report contained 22 proposals, including steps to ensure that the electoral rolls list only legitimate voters, that political candidates have equal access to the news media and that the Election Commission function independently of partisan politics. The lower house adopted the report later in the day.