Nearly four months before the 2012 national elections, a study on U.S. voting preparedness has found that some states are far more ready than others. Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin were all labeled as the “best prepared” states for voting problems and disenfranchisement protection. While on the other hand, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are the six “least-prepared” states. The Rutgers Law School released the study that evaluates each state’s preparedness for the 2012 election. According to the study, computerized voting systems have failed in every national election in the past decade in some way: they haven’t started, they failed in the middle of voting, the memory cards couldn’t be read, or the votes were lost as a whole. The study used five categories of proven failures and successes as its basis for judgment in each state. They also protect against machine failures that can change election outcomes and disenfranchised voters.
In the hunt for campaign money, no distance is too far to travel, especially when the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is tight and likely to stay that way into the fall. The Democratic president and his Republican challenger have been aggressively courting Americans living abroad at fundraisers held far beyond U.S. shores. Such efforts serve the dual purpose of raising money to pay for what may be the most expensive election in U.S. history, and galvanizing a largely untapped group of eligible voters. The practice is legal and has been used for decades, said former Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason. Obama has raised nearly $600,000 from Americans abroad while Romney has brought in about $325,000, according to campaign finance records analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. Those figures don’t include sums raised overseas by both party committees or Romney’s take from a pair of fundraisers in London during his visit there last week. The sums are just a fraction of the more than $300 million Obama has raised overall and the $155 million raised by Romney, but every penny counts in a race that is neck and neck, as recent polls have shown.
With less than 100 days to go in the presidential race, nine single-candidate “super” PACs — political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited sums on political expression – have spent $125 million advocating and advertising for their preferred candidate, a CBS News analysis of Federal Election Commission reports shows. Through the first half of 2012, the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future, was the most active super PAC, raising $81 million and spending $60 million through June 30. Two-thirds of its spending, or $40 million, went to negative ads attacking Republican primary opponents Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Super PACs established for six also-ran Republicans — Gingrich, Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain — spent a combined $36 million dollars on advertising and advocacy during the primaries, which effectively ended when Santorum dropped out in April.
Editorials: Thanks, Citizens United, for This Campaign Finance Mess We're In | Adam Skaggs/The Atlantic
Before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro became the latest to come out swinging against critics of Citizens United, testifying that the case is one of the most misunderstood high court decisions ever and claiming that “it doesn’t stand for half of what many people say it does.” Shapiro joins a chorus of Citizens United defenders, including First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and his son Dan — the latter of whom has railed against what he calls the media’s “shameful, inexcusable distortion” of the case — as well as the New York Times Magazine‘s chief political correspondent, Matt Bai, who recently wrote that liberal criticism of the decision is “just plain wrong.” To be sure, it would be an oversimplification to suggest the decision is the only cause of our current Wild West campaign finance environment. But those criticizing the critics of Citizens United miss the forest for the trees. Their myopic focus on debunking overstatements about the case downplays the major roleCitizens United played in ushering in current conditions — and how it fits with the Roberts Court’s ongoing project to put our democracy up for auction. The defense of Citizens United rests on two primary claims about the case, one factual and one legal. Its defenders contend, first, that while Citizens United only concerned corporate election spending, the facts show that it is spending by individuals — not corporations — that counts this year. Next, they argue that, as a legal matter, individual spenders have been free to make unlimited political donations since long beforeCitizens United. They’re wrong on both counts.
When it comes to campaign donations, corporations that suddenly find themselves crosswise with Congress know the playbook. First, immediately cut off political action committee contributions. Second, refuse to talk about your campaign contributions. Then, after perhaps taking some lumps at congressional hearings and spending a few months in the political wilderness, quietly begin cutting checks again as if nothing happened. Such appears to be the case for JPMorgan Chase, which is under fire for losing $2 billion on trades tied to credit derivatives — financial tools that helped damage the U.S. financial system late last decade. Its PAC typically contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal candidates and committees each election cycle but it hasn’t donated a reportable dime to candidates since May 7, according to federal campaign filing.
A top official involved in Florida’s contentious push to identify and remove potentially ineligible voters is stepping down just two weeks before the Aug. 14 primary. Division of Elections Director Gisela Salas is leaving her job this week to take a position closer to her home in Ocala, Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Monday in an email to county election supervisors. Salas, who earns $90,000 a year, was hired in May 2011 to oversee the office that does everything from approve certain types of election machines to issuing opinions on how to interpret election law. But Salas was also deeply involved in the effort by the state to identify non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls.
A lawsuit challenging ballot rules in Ohio goes to trial on Monday — the latest in a series of voting rights cases brought in courts around the country. A group of labor and civil rights organizations are suing Ohio over a 2006 change to the state’s election code that requires all provisional ballots cast at the wrong voting precinct to be discarded. In Ohio, provisional ballots are used instead of traditional ballots when there are doubts about a voter’s eligibility because of missing registration or identification information. In most cases, a board of elections then reviews the ballots to determine if they should be counted. If the ballots are cast from the wrong precinct, they are discarded. In the 2008 election, 14,000 of Ohioan’s provisional ballots were discarded under the state’s election code.
Ohio: Overhaul of Ohio election laws still stalled – parties agree on need for reform, but not much else | Cincinnati.com
In the 2008 election, Ohio had its typical problems, among them a high number of provisional ballots and long lines at some polling locations. So the then-secretary of state set up a series of bipartisan “election summits” on how to fix the problems. Nearly four years later, most of the recommendations haven’t been voted on by the General Assembly, much less put into action. This even though the state’s Association of Election Officials, made up of Democratic and Republican appointees to boards of election across the state, endorsed the recommendations in April 2009, calling them “ripe for review and reform prior to the 2010 election year.” The summit process in 2008 and 2009 was unusual, said Lawrence Norden, a national expert on elections who chaired the summits for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. He doesn’t know of “another state where there’s been a bipartisan review open to the public” to recommend improvement in election law and administration, he said. “But I don’t know that it ultimately, at least for now, produced the results I had hoped for,” conceded Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and an adjunct professor of law at NYU.
Day four of the court hearing on the state’s new photo identification requirement at the polls brought more testimony on the implementation of the new law, and a rare question for a witness from the judge presiding over the case. Jonathan Marks, a Department of State employee who oversees elections programs, testified that his office has worked out how to deal with exceptional cases for those people who have difficulty even obtaining the yet-to-be-released Department of State voting ID. “We’re ready to go,” said Marks on the stand. “It’s just a matter of training help desk staff [on] how to deal with these oddball exceptions.” Within the past month, the state revised its estimate of the number of people who may lack PennDOT-issued ID (driver’s or non-) to roughly 759,000. Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele has said her office is confident many of those people actually do have PennDOT ID but were flagged because of discrepancies between the state’s voter registration database and PennDOT database.
Pennsylvania: Air Force veteran testifies Pennsylvania voter ID law could prevent him from casting ballot | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A 63-year-old Air Force veteran testified today that Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law could prevent him from voting in upcoming elections because he has been unable to get a state-issued photo ID card. Taking the stand in Commonwealth Court in a hearing over the law’s validity, Danny Rosa of West Chester said poor health and eyesight have prevented him from getting a Pennsylvania driver’s license. And when a friend gave him an hour-long ride to the PennDOT center nearest his house, the clerk refused to issue the photo ID because the name on his New York birth certificate is Daniel Guerra — changed later to Daniel Rosa after his mother married his stepfather. Rosa is the name on his discharge papers and his Veterans Administration ID card. “I banged on the desk real hard and stomped out” of the PennDOT office when the clerk refused to give him a photo ID, he said. He said he is proud of his military service in the 1970s and his honorable discharge and thinks he should be allowed to vote.
Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission hopes for smoother vote on Thursday | The Commercial Appeal
With a troubled early-voting period now behind it, the Shelby County Election Commission is working to insure voters receive correct ballots on Thursday’s Election Day. But the commission and its staff continue to ask voters to be sure when they go to the polls that they know which state and federal districts they should be voting in, and to ask poll workers for clarification if there is any question of whether they are voting in the correct districts. “We continue to work to try to make sure we will be as successful as possible on Election Day,” said commission chairman Robert Meyers. “We’re doing all we can to make it through this election, and then post election we’ll be taking some serious looks at what happened and why it happened.” The state said last week it will conduct a performance audit after the election, and Meyers said Monday he hopes that will help identify core problems that have affected previous elections as well.
Nepal’s Election Commission said Monday it lacked a legal framework to hold elections promised for November — threatening a long delay that could push the country deeper into political turmoil. “In a situation of constitutional and legal ambiguity, it will be difficult for us to proceed,” commission spokesman Sharada Prasad Trital said in a statement. “Therefore, we have decided to inform the government that it is not possible to hold elections… on November 22,” Trital said.
The National Commission on Electoral Reforms requested the judges of the Tribunal Electoral (TE) to request the National Assembly withdraw the draft of electoral reforms, since it believes there is enough time to implement them before the 2014 elections. TE Judge Gerardo Solis said that the commission also decided that the reforms should be considered one of the first priorities of the next government.
According to Solis, the withdrawal of the reforms will be the best way to ensure peace and tranquility during the election.
With just over 10 weeks before the realization of the country’s presidential elections, Venezuela’s National Electoral Commission (CNE) is tightening its preparations for October 7 through heightened security measures and high-tech anti-fraud initiatives. On Sunday, the CNE closed enrollment for the initiative known as “Make Your Mark” which obliges enlisted voters to register their thumbprint with the electoral authority in order to ensure the integrity and veracity of the electronic ballots cast at polling stations around the country. The measure began on June 22 and has successfully updated the prints of more than 3 million people through the deployment of over 3,000 registration machines made available to residents in 1,600 enrollment points throughout the country.
Virginia Democrats are criticizing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision to hold a special election for the House of Delegates in September rather than November. For more than three weeks, Democrats and Republicans in Northern Virginia had been waiting for McDonnell to determine when to hold a special election to fill the seat vacated by Del. David Englin. He resigned in June after acknowledging being unfaithful in his marriage. Last week, the governor has called a special election in September, dashing the hopes of many Democrats who were expecting to merge that contest with the November general election. “What we now have is an election on the day after Labor Day on the first day of school that is going to cost the combined jurisdictions of Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria around $50,000 to run a separate election,” says Dak Hardwick, chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “That just boggles the mind.”
The Voting News Daily: Voting Tech Errors Could Be a Deal Breaker in Swing States, Killing a Fly With a Bazooka – Voting Rights, Voter Suppression and 2012
National: Voting Tech Errors Could Be a Deal Breaker in Swing States, Report Says | GovTech As with any technology, electronic voting machines run the risk of malfunctioning. However, with the upcoming November presidential election, states may want a plan B if a worst-case scenario occurs on Election Day, like if a machine fails to…
As with any technology, electronic voting machines run the risk of malfunctioning. However, with the upcoming November presidential election, states may want a plan B if a worst-case scenario occurs on Election Day, like if a machine fails to process votes — an issue that could be even more troubling in swing states. History shows that technology doesn’t always cooperate on Election Day. In a 2010 nonpresidential election, North Carolina voters faced problems with electronic voting machines when Republican voters claimed they couldn’t select the Republican candidate while voting because the machines selected the Democratic candidate without the voters’ consent. New York City faced trouble with voting machines that same year due to operational failures and a lack of proper equipment arriving on time at polling sites. To find out how prepared states will be for possible voting system failures in the upcoming election, the Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization; Common Cause, another nonpartisan organization; and Rutgers Law School’s Constitutional Litigation Clinic surveyed each of the 50 states on series of criteria and released a report Wednesday, July 25, that outlines the findings. The report, Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness, ranked the states based on five evaluation topics. States were asked questions including: Has the state instituted a post-election audit that can determine whether the electronically reported outcomes are correct? Does the state have adequate contingency plans at each polling place in the event of machine failure? According to the report, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin were ranked as best prepared to handle potential voting system malfunctions. Ranked least prepared were Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Overall, the states’ rankings placed them into one of four categories: good, generally good, needs improvement and inadequate.
Curious whether new restrictive state voting laws requiring photo ID will damage the credibility of this year’s election outcome, I sent email queries over the past week to several conservative analysts. I found their responses illuminating. Amy Kaufman, director of congressional relations at the Hudson Institute, wrote that “while there are changes to many states’ registration programs, these will not be an impediment to the victor.” She argued that Florida is “attempting to reduce voter fraud by purging possible noncitizens. Those people have the right to be readmitted by proving citizenship. It appears that over 500 of the roughly 2500 on that list have come forward to show documentation.” A colleague of Kaufman’s at the Hudson Institute, Michael Horowitz, was more outspoken, declaring that “requiring some form of identification of voters seems to me not merely reasonable but long overdue.” In Horowitz’s view, the “accusatory rhetoric” of Attorney General Eric Holder “about the alleged racism of those who support the I.D. reforms — unspeakable because he’s the Attorney General of the United States, not someone running for mayor of the District of Columbia — merits condemnation from progressives, not a threat that Republicans will lack political legitimacy.”
The U.S. District Court is soon to rule on Texas’s new voter ID law. Ostensibly to combat voter fraud — the existence of which has yet to be demonstrated — the law would require every voter to present a government-issued photo ID at the poll. After a week of arguments this month, the question before the panel of federal judges is whether this law — one of many to emerge in the wake of 2010’s Republican legislative resurgence — places an undue burden on minorities. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions such as Texas with a history of suppressing minority voting must prove that any new requirements don’t “have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.” In March, the Justice Department denied the Lone Star State the necessary clearance for this new law, arguing that it would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters. Texas officials appealed. To preserve the access of all citizens to the right to vote — certainly among the most sacrosanct in our democracy — the District Court should follow the Justice Department’s lead and strike down this highly suspect and unnecessary law.
At least 5 million voters, predominantly young and from minority groups sympathetic to President Barack Obama, could be affected by an unprecedented flurry of new legislation by Republican governors and GOP-led legislatures to change or restrict voting rights by Election Day 2012. Supporters of these new laws — spearheaded in six swing states, as well as other less competitive ones — argue they are just trying to stop voter fraud and protect the integrity of the vote. But opponents, mainly Democrats and Obama’s campaign, which is closely monitoring the daily warfare over the new laws, believe they are trying to change the face of the electorate in a way that benefits the Republican candidate for president. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin, all viewed as important states this fall, each have enacted stricter ID laws. Florida and Ohio have cut back on early voting. And a whole host of other states have passed new ID laws as well. As a result, millions of voters will find it much more difficult to vote on Election Day in November — some estimates, such as one from the Brennan Center of Justice last fall, put the number of those affected nationwide at more than 5 million. In Pennsylvania alone, the state’s Transportation Department released figures showing that more than 750,000 registered voters in the state — 9.2 percent of voters there — do not have the required forms of ID to vote in November.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has opened yet another front in the legal battle to scale back the 1965 Voting Rights Act. With a lawsuit filed this week in Washington, D.C., add Alabama to the growing list of governments complaining to judges that they’re chafing under the burdens of the 47-year-old law that doesn’t let them run their elections without strict supervision. All or part of 16 states — those with a blatant history of discrimination against minority voters — have to get permission from the federal government before they change any election-related procedures. Alabama is one of those states. “The fact that so many covered states are now willing to come out against the Voting Rights Act is a sea change since the act’s amendments passed 98-0 in the Senate in 2006,” said Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law and election law expert. Congress approved a 25-year extension of the law in 2006 and, as with previous renewals, sparked a new round of legal action. Shelby County has a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, as does a jurisdiction in North Carolina. And other states from around the South have challenges at various stages in the legal process.
The FBI has gotten involved in an investigation into allegations of voter fraud on the Big Island, sources told Hawaii News Now Friday. The elections office in Hilo run by Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi shut down Monday for what she called an “audit” less than three weeks before the primary election, without further explanation. That raised concern among politicians and other elections officials in the state, especially since for the last five days, Kawauchi has not returned State Elections Officer Scott Nago’s calls to brief him on problems in her office. About one week ago, state officials received reports about possible voter fraud on the Big Island, allegations that someone was doctoring absentee ballots, sources said. State officials then notified FBI agents, members of the public corruption team based at the FBI’s Honolulu office, sources said. It’s unclear whether the FBI will launch its own voter fraud investigation.
Indiana: Big campaign donors can remain a big secret – Super PACs make it possible for corporations to bypass Indiana’s limit on contributions | Indianapolis Star
A $1 million check given to U.S. Rep. Mike Pence’s campaign for governor this spring is fueling questions about influence over Indiana elections. And not just because of the check’s size — although the donation was the first single contribution to an Indiana gubernatorial candidate to reach seven figures in nearly a decade. The issue: a loophole between federal and state election laws makes it impossible to pinpoint exactly who supplied the money. That shroud of secrecy raises the possibility that corporations could skirt a $5,000 contribution limit set by Indiana law, campaign finance experts say. In fact, one Indiana gambling company — barred by state law from giving directly to a candidate at all — is staying involved in politics by instead donating to federal political organizations, including the Republican Governors Association. That is the group behind the super PAC — now called RGA Right Direction — that sent the check to Pence.
The summer of Minnesota’s discontent over voting rules has spun off a related fight: whether disabled people who cannot handle their own affairs should retain the right to vote. The debate has set off alarms among disabled people and their advocates, adding another layer of controversy to the legal and political battle over whether Minnesota needs a photo ID requirement for voters, changes in Election Day registration and a new provisional balloting system. “I want to vote,” said Dave McMahan, a 61-year-old military veteran with mental illness who lives in a Minneapolis group home and has his affairs controlled by a legal guardian. “I’ve been through sweat and blood to vote. I don’t want my rights taken away, because I fought for my rights here in the United States and expect to keep them that way.” Equally passionate is Ron Kaus of Duluth, an activist and plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that has raised the issue. Citing allegations in Crow Wing County in 2010, Kaus worries that disabled people have been hauled to the polls and told whom to vote for, which would be a crime. “It’s one of the sickest form of exploitation, political abuse,” he said.
Each election year, Ohio residents cast thousands of ballots that are not counted. Despite efforts to simplify the state’s voting to avoid widespread discarding of ballots, it could happen again in November’s presidential race. The Enquirer, during a weeks-long examination of the state’s electoral procedures, found that voting – America’s most precious right and the foundation for all others – is a fragile civic exercise for many Ohioans. A confusing maze of state laws, administrative directives and court rulings on voting procedures, errors – by voters and poll workers alike – and other factors cause large numbers of ballots to end up in the electoral trash can every year, particularly in urban counties.
Concerns were raised Friday in Commonwealth Court that voters, poll workers, and state Department of Transportation employees remain in the dark about Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law. During the third day of hearings in a court challenge to the law, a Department of State official said letters sent in the last few weeks to the 758,000 registered voters who are believed to not have the correct PennDot ID did not contain details about the department’s new voting-only ID card. “It wasn’t finalized at the time the letters were sent,” said Shannon Royer, deputy secretary for external affairs and elections. The letters also do not tell voters where to go to obtain ID, but direct them to a website and phone number they can use to obtain more information.
Tennessee: Voter ID law an issue for some – rural areas in particular affected | The Daily News Journal
Three trips. More than 120 miles. Three hours with her daughter in the car. That is what it took for Olean Blount to get the right identification card to cast her ballot. “I don’t know why I needed it,” she said. “Everybody around here knows me.” The 92-year-old woman from Westport, a crossroads 11 miles southeast of Huntingdon in Carroll County, says she spent the better part of two days trying to get a picture ID in time for the March presidential primary. In the end, she could be counted among the more than 21,000 people who have received picture IDs from the state of Tennessee over the past year, a card that will allow her to vote. But as her experience illustrates, even when the cards are issued for free, they are anything but costless.
Romanian President Traian Basescu appears to have survived a referendum on his impeachment. As polls closed, preliminary figures indicated turnout was less than the 50% required to make the result invalid. Basescu, who has been suspended by parliament, had asked his supporters to boycott the vote.The center-left government had accused the center-right president of exceeding his authority and of meddling in government affairs. Polling stations closed at 23:00 local time (20:00GMT). First results are expected on Monday. Three hours before the polls were due to close, the election bureau said turnout so far had been 37.7%, the BBC reported. Initial polls put the turnout at about 44%. As voting ended, Basescu said that Romanians had “rejected a coup” by staying away from polling stations.
At its extraordinary meeting on Monday, the Ukrainian Parliament refused to cancel the law granting the Russian language official status in a number of the countrys regions. The opposition earlier submitted four draft resolutions to the Verkhovna Rada on cancelling the results of the vote for the draft law, claiming that the regulations and the Ukrainian Constitution were violated during the consideration of the law. None of the oppositions four draft resolutions received over 50 votes, while the minimum necessary is 226 votes. The Ukrainian opposition is against the law, claiming that it will only aggravate tension between Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking citizens. The oppositionists believe that the government is trying to expand the use of the Russian language as a pre-election tactic – the next parliamentary elections are set for the autumn of 2012.
A report released this week by Common Cause, Verified Voting and Rutgers University concluded that “voters in jurisdictions without paper ballots or records for every vote cast, including military and overseas votes, do not have the same protections as states that use paper ballot systems.” The report is also critical of State’s that allow the transmission of voted ballots through fax and email. The US Postal Service’s fiscal crisis could effect States that rely largely or entirely on mail ballots. Changes in election rules proposed by Colorado Secretary of State have raised objections from voters and advocacy groups. Florida is once again in the spotlight heading into this November’s election, while Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law faced a legal challenge in the State Supreme Court. Ars Technica considered risk limiting election audits and tens of thousands protested the election results in Mexico.
- National: Is your vote secure? Many digital systems lack paper backups, study says | CSMonitor.com
- National: State systems for overseas voters vulnerable | USAToday.com
- National: Embattled postal service faces challenge on Election Day | NBC
- Colorado: Gessler’s proposed changes to election rules draw heated objections | The Colorado Independent
- Florida: Florida at the forefront as states plan fresh assault on voting rights | guardian.co.uk
- Pennsylvania: Tough, new voter ID law tackles first legal challenge amid debate over voting rights | The Washington Post
- Blogs: Saving throw: securing democracy with stats, spreadsheets, and 10-sided dice | Ars Technica
- Mexico: Tens Of Thousands Protest Against New President | Eurasia Review