Editorials: How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game? | Matt Bai/ NYTimes.com

“A hundred million dollars is nothing,” the venture capitalist Andy Rappaport told me back in the summer of 2004. This was at a moment when wealthy liberals like George Soros and Peter Lewis were looking to influence national politics by financing their own voter-turnout machine and TV ads and by creating an investment fund for start-ups. Rappaport’s statement struck me as an expression of supreme hubris. In American politics at that time, $100 million really meant something. Eight years later, of course, his pronouncement seems quaint. Conservative groups alone, including a super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the brothers Charles and David Koch, will likely spend more than a billion dollars trying to take down Barack Obama by the time November rolls around. The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words: Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics.

Editorials: For Political Closure, We Need Disclosure | Warren Rudman & Chuck Hegel/ NYTimes.com

Since the beginning of the current election cycle, extremely wealthy individuals, corporations and trade unions — all of them determined to influence who is in the White House next year — have spent more than $160 million (excluding party expenditures). That’s an incredible amount of money. To put it in perspective, at this point in 2008, about $36 million had been spent on independent expenditures (independent meaning independent of a candidate’s campaign). In all of 2008, in fact, only $156 million was spent this way. In other words, we’ve already surpassed 2008, and it’s July. In the near term, there’s nothing we can do to reverse this dramatic increase in independent expenditures. Yet what really alarms us about this situation is that we can’t find out who is behind these blatant attempts to control the outcome of our elections. We are inundated with extraordinarily negative advertising on television every evening and have no way to know who is paying for it and what their agenda might be. In fact, it’s conceivable that we have created such a glaring loophole in our election process that foreign interests could directly influence the outcome of our elections. And we might not even know it had happened until after the election, if at all.

Alaska: 141 More Ballots Found in Closet at Anchorage City Hall | alaskapublic.org

Just when everyone thought the messiest chapter in recent Anchorage voting history was closed, Municipal Leaders confirm that they have found more than 100 uncounted ballots leftover from the flawed April 3 Municipal election. Officials say Clerk’s Office staff discovered the uncounted ballots in a storage closet in the Assembly Conference room on the first floor of City Hall last Wednesday. And where could so many ballots disappear? A staff member who city officials didn’t want to name showed me. “Staff: This is the door to the room inside the Assembly Conference Room. Daysha: And this is basically just a corner room about the size of a large walk-in closet, right? Staff: Correct, with windows. Daysha: Where exactly were the ballots? Staff: On the tables in black bags.”

Florida: Elections supervisors in wait and see mode over new lists | The News-Press

After winning access to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database of non-citizens living in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said he sees no reason why the state’s 67 elections supervisors shouldn’t return to removing ineligible voters from the rolls. But the supervisors, many of whom have resisted the purge, say they’re not ready to trust the new lists without reviewing them first – especially with less than four months remaining until the November election. “My worst nightmare is we get close to a presidential election, and someone challenges maybe 100,000 possible non-citizens at the polls on Election Day,” said Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall. “If that happens, we won’t get our results for weeks.”

Editorials: Clarify rules for Idaho recalls | Coeur d’Alene Press

Sorry, but the recall debate isn’t over. In fact, prior to the next session, legislators should put their heads together and talk a great deal about it, then adopt stronger, clearer laws in 2013. Both sides of the recent attempt to recall four Coeur d’Alene City Council members are still sorting out the significance of lessons learned, but they can largely agree on the need for clarity in state recall election statutes. One concern is the nebulous nature of the 75-day window from the start of the petition drive to the last moment the petition signatures can be verified. Between the offices of the Secretary of State, the Kootenai County Clerk and the Coeur d’Alene City Clerk, nobody seemed to clearly understand how that 75 days should be divided between collecting signatures, turning them in to city officials and then having the county verify those signatures. The timeline seemed to twist and turn like an unruly river, leaving too much room for arbitrary interpretation. The fact that the Secretary of State’s office changed its mind in the midst of the Coeur d’Alene petition drive offers ample proof that more specificity is needed for all parties involved.

Kansas: Elderly have issues with Kansas voter ID law ahead of primaries | kwch.com

No valid ID?  No vote as of January this year. With the primary deadline so close, staff at some nursing homes was concerned the voter ID law would deprive their elderly residents from registering to vote in the primaries.  “I know that it’s a law in Kansas to have a valid Kansas ID even if you don’t have a valid driver’s license,  but the reality is many people in hospitals, or in this case they haven’t driven for years because they’re in a retirement community,” said Kansas Masonic Home marketing director Jill Laffoon. Some nursing homes across Kansas have had difficulty getting the registration paperwork needed for their residents to vote, but at the Kansas Masonic Home they’ve found some leniency in the law. “Over 95% of our residents that vote are going to be voting advanced because most of them don’t drive,” said Laffoon.

Minnesota: Top Minnesota court joins voter ID fray | TwinCities.com

The voter ID ballot question may be flawed, state Supreme Court justices told lawyers for both sides Tuesday, July 17, but they asked whether it is unconstitutionally misleading. And if so, what should they do about it? The justices peppered the lawyers with questions for an hour in a case that seeks to have the question thrown off the November ballot. They raised the possibility of amending the language or even using the entire proposed amendment as the question to voters rather than blocking it from appearing on the ballot. A decision is expected shortly. State elections officials have said they must know by Aug. 27 in order to have ballots prepared.

Nevada: In Nevada, ‘None’ a Fearsome Foe for the GOP | NationalJournal.com

President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney must face down a dubious and slippery opponent in Nevada this November. The mystery foe cannot be tamed with television ads and never breaks a campaign pledge. Its name is “none of these candidates.” Nevada is the only state in the nation to offer voters the quirky ballot choice, and for more than three decades, statewide candidates here have had to contend with it. But this year, nervous Republicans have filed a federal lawsuit to try to oust “none” from the ballot. They worry that “none” could siphon away a sufficient number of anti-Obama voters from Romney to throw the state to the president. And because the Silver State’s six electoral votes are some of the most hotly contested in the nation, Republicans don’t want to leave anything to chance.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin election reports reveal complainants’ violations, find no fraud | Journal Times

The various claims of recall election fraud were found to be baseless, according to sheriff’s investigators’ reports, which revealed no criminal conduct but rather complainants’ own violations. Following the June 5 recalls in which state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, unseated Republican incumbent Van Wanggaard in the 21st Senate District race, multiple allegations of irregularities at area polls had surfaced, followed by prominent state Republicans calling the local efforts “an utter mockery.”

Ohio: Obama campaign sues Husted over early voting issue | Toledo Blade

President Obama’s campaign sued Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today to keep him from enforcing a law closing the doors to in-person early voting during the three days immediately preceding the Nov. 6 election. Lawmakers recently undid a far-reaching, Republican-backed election reform law when faced with a Democratic-led effort to repeal it at the polls, but they did not repeal a separate subsequently passed law that duplicated one provision of the repealed law. That provision prohibits county board of elections from keeping their doors open on the weekend and Monday before the election to accommodate early voters, a three-day period that has been heavily used in past elections. The campaign joined the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party in filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbus. The Republican secretary of state did enforce the three-day early vote prohibition for the March primary election.

Ohio: Some elected officials decry loss of extended voting hours, others say mail ballots better option | cleveland.com

Elected officials, ministers and labor leaders are railing against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision last week not to offer evening and weekend voting hours in Cuyahoga County leading up to the November election. Standing Monday on the steps of the county Board of Elections, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge said Husted and the two Republican board of election members should be ashamed for limiting voting access that has been offered to voters in four of the past five years. Joined by dozens of other Democrats, she said the move would disenfranchise elderly, disabled and working class voters — especially those in poor and minority neighborhoods — and “shave points” in a possibly tight election in a swing state. “This isn’t about finances,” Fudge, of Warrensville Heights said. “This is about politics.” “We are not going to allow them to take our rights sitting down.”

Pennsylvania: Debate rages over voter ID law as court challenge looms | The York Daily Record

Josephine Givnin is 99 and a regular voter, but to cast a ballot this year she needs a photo identification card – which she lacks because she never had a driver’s license. Cards are free at Pennsylvania driver’s license centers, but to get one, Givnin first needed copies of her birth certificate and Social Security card. So about a month ago, her daughter, Maureen Givnin-Haas, who lives with her in Mountain Top, took a day off from work. They drove to Scranton, one of six cities where the state Department of Health issues birth certificates, to obtain the document for her mother. Later, they went to a Social Security office to get a Social Security card. When they have another free day, they will go to a driver’s license center of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to receive a photo ID card.

Texas: Harris County school election in limbo after districting error | Houston Chronicle

Harris County officials are scrambling to resolve a mistake involving the May primary election for trustees of the Harris County Department of Education, less than a week before early voting begins for a runoff election. The county relied on outdated district boundaries when it distributed ballots for the school trustee primary elections in May, which means some voters could have cast ballots in the wrong district and others who should have had a chance to vote were excluded. The mistake only affected the school trustee elections, said Doug Ray, an assistant Harris County attorney. John Sawyer, the appointed superintendent of the department, said he expects that a judge ultimately will void the elections. He said his agency, which provides educational services to local school districts, would contest the election if no one else does. “I will tell you that ultimately we would contest them because I don’t think they (the boundaries) were legally drawn, and I’m not going to be responsible for swearing in candidates that may not be elected legally,” Sawyer said. “I just can’t do that.”

Wisconsin: Second judge rejects voter ID law | JSOnline

A second judge has declared Wisconsin’s voter ID law unconstitutional, further guaranteeing that the ID requirement will not be in place for elections this fall. Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan wrote Tuesday that the state’s requirement that all voters show photo ID at the polls creates a “substantial impairment of the right to vote” guaranteed by the state constitution. In March, Flanagan issued an injunction temporarily blocking the law because the plaintiffs – the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera – were likely to succeed in their arguments. Flanagan made that injunction permanent in the 20-page decision he issued Tuesday.

Wyoming: WyLiberty broadens Free Speech lawsuit | Casper Tribune

Attorneys for a Wyoming-based free market think tank broadened the scope of their lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission on Monday. Wyoming Liberty Group (WyLiberty) attorneys filed a motion for preliminary injunction in Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission, a case that began in Wyoming federal court last month. The motion calls for a nationwide injunction against campaign finance regulations that require grassroots groups to register and report with the federal government just to criticize it, according to a news release from the group. Last month’s lawsuit asked for a preliminary injunction on behalf of three Wyoming residents who formed a grassroots organization called “Free Speech.” Since the Free Speech case began, it has grown more significant, said Stephen Klein, staff attorney for Wyoming Liberty Group.

Editorials: Elections in Belarus: Five reasons to pay attention | New Eastern Europe

With parliamentary elections in Belarus due to take place in September, Belarusian journalist, Katerina Barushka, stresses the importance of the elections and the reasons why the international community shouldn’t become indifferent to them. Why should the international community be interested in Belarus and its upcoming parliamentary elections which are due to take place on September 23rd 2012? After all, Belarus is a country which hasn’t amused the international audience with too many surprises recently. There have been no scandals and the parliamentary system is not that different from the representative institutions of other Eastern European countries. There are some quirky peculiarities, however. There is not a single fracture or party majority in the Belarusian parliament, and not a single politician is opposed to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. By and large, the Belarusian parliament hasn’t been recognised by the international community since 1996, the year in which Lukashenko reorganised the post-Soviet parliamentary structure, the Supreme Council, into its current form. Instead of holding general elections, however, he simply appointed all the representatives of the lower chamber from amongst his most loyal associates in the Supreme Council. Simplicity and straightforwardness has always been the key to effective governing in Belarus.

Congo: Republic of Congo holds parliamentary polls | Al Jazeera

Voters in the oil-exporting Central African state of Congo Republic have turned out to elect a new parliament, with the ruling party of President Denis Sassou Nguesso and its allies seen holding the majority. Opposition parties have complained about a lack of access to state media during campaigning, and voter turnout was thin at a number of polling stations in the capital Brazzaville, some of which stayed open up to two hours late during the voting on Sunday. The ruling Congolese Workers’ Party (PCT) and a cluster of allied parties control all but a dozen of the nearly 140 seats in the lower house after the opposition boycotted the last poll in 2007, accusing the government of vote rigging.

Libya: Liberal alliance scores wins in Libya poll results | BBC

Results from Libya’s first elections after the overthrow of Col Gaddafi have shown gains for an alliance of parties seen as broadly liberal. The National Forces Alliance, led by ex-interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, has won 39 out of 80 seats reserved for political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood’s party has gained 17.The 200-member National Assembly will also include dozens of independent candidates. The overall orientation that the assembly will have is therefore unclear. What remains to be seen is who, if anyone, will lead the assembly by majority, the BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli reports. That will depend on the allegiances of 120 independent candidates, which are largely unknown, she adds. While congratulating other parties, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party said it had made gains in seats reserved for independent members.They may now be banking on a shift in their favour from the non-party lists, our correspondent adds.

Romania: New law gives suspended president chance of surviving impeachment vote | The Washington Post

Romania’s interim president on Tuesday signed a new law that requires a majority of registered voters to take part in a referendum for it to be valid, giving suspended President Traian Basescu a fighting chance of remaining in office when his impeachment comes up for a public vote. The former communist country appeared to be signaling to the European Union that it is addressing concern about the state of its democracy, a key issue as it tries to attain greater privileges within the regional bloc, including access to its passport-free zone. Basescu was impeached by Parliament on grounds he overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the judicial system. Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab, and the political turmoil has dented Romania’s credibility, with the U.S. and the EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government’s respect for the independence of the judiciary.