National: Voting Rights Act Section 5 challenges reach Supreme Court | SCOTUSblog

Attorneys for challengers to the constitutionality of the 1965 voting rights law’s key provision for federal regulation of state and local election laws urged the Supreme Court on Friday to settle the issue in the next Term, starting October 1.  One new case arrived from the town of Kinston in North Carolina and a second came from Shelby County in Alabama.  The D.C. Circuit Court has upheld the provision at issue — Section 5 — although the Supreme Court itself three years ago raised significant questions about its validity. The Kinston case reached the Court this morning.  The petition is here, and the appendix (a large file) is here.  The Shelby County case was filed in early afternoon; the petition ishere, and the D.C. Circuit Court ruling in that case is here.   Not only has the time come to examine the constitutional questions the Court has raised, the Kinston petition argued, but the Justice Department’s “overzealous manner” of enforcement of Section 5 has put heavy new burdens on state and local governments covered by that provision.   The Shelby County petition argued that the renewed law puts states into “federal receivership,” raising “fundamental questions of state sovereignty,” while denying equality only to designated states – predominantly in the South.  Shelby County also assailed the Justice Department’s “needlessly aggressive exercise” of its veto powers over state and local election laws.

National: Voting Rights Act petitions reach Supreme Court |

Two legal challenges to the Voting Rights Act, a landmark law adopted in 1965 that barred racial discrimination in voting practices, reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. The appeals target a part of the law, known as pre-clearance, that says that states with a history of discrimination must get permission from the federal government before changing election procedures. The first challenge was filed by supporters of a 2008 Kinston, North Carolina, measure that would omit candidates’ party affiliations from ballots.

Alabama: Shelby County files Voting Rights Act appeal with U.S. Supreme Court |

Shelby County took its challenge of the Voting Rights Act to the U.S. Supreme Court today, asking the justices to declare part of the 1965 law an unfair burden on states such as Alabama where the federal government still oversees elections for evidence of racial discrimination. Shelby County is appealing two lower court decisions that upheld the constitutionality of the landmark civil rights-era law. If the Supreme Court justices agree to accept the case, they’ll schedule it for oral arguments sometime after they return in October, and it would be one of the highest-profile cases of the court’s 2012-13 term.

National: States praised, others faulted, for policies toward military voters |

With both a tradition of helping service members get their votes counted as well as a tight turnaround between its primary and general elections this year, Washington state officials decided to move up its primary date a few weeks, from late August to early August. The Military Voters Protection Project, a nonpartisan advocacy group, cited that schedule adjustment as an impressive effort to help ensure that the ballots of those serving in war zones are counted, and on Tuesday named Washington among 15 states that make extraordinary efforts to enfranchise military voters. The group noted state efforts to register service members to vote, to meet obligations to get absentee ballots out at least 45 days before elections, and legislative efforts to make good practices into law. The project says that less than 20 percent of 2.5 million military voters were able to request and return their absentee ballots in 2008 elections, and that in 2010 only 5 percent of military voters were able to successfully vote by absentee ballot. Those states making the list of 15 “all-stars” include Alaska, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Eric Eversole, executive director of the military voter project, identified the states doing the worst job at helping military voters as Alabama, California, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin.

Colorado: Campaigns and super PACs halt political ads in Colorado after shooting | Yahoo! News

As a highly contested swing state, Colorado is typically overrun by political ads from campaigns and outside groups supporting them. But the tragic shooting Friday at a movie theater in Aurora is temporarily silencing much of the spending on ads in the state. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney announced Friday they will suspend their ad efforts in Colorado, and super PACs are planning to join them. Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting Obama’s re-election campaign, announced it will not run ads in Colorado for the time being. “Priorities is suspending advertising in Colorado,” said Priorities USA strategist Bill Burton. “Our prayers are with the victims of this horrible tragedy.”

National: Senate Republicans block Democratic bill to require disclosure of large political donors | The Washington Post

Senate Republicans blocked Democratic-backed legislation requiring organizations pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaign ads to disclose their top donors and the amounts they spend. GOP opposition prevented Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to bring what is known as the Disclose Act to the Senate floor. The vote was 51-44. Democrats revived the act during a presidential election campaign in which political action committees and nonprofit organizations, funded by deep-pocketed and largely anonymous contributors, are dominating the airwaves with largely negative political ads. Another version of the Disclose Act passed the then-Democratic-controlled House in 2010 but was similarly blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Republicans cite First Amendment rights and say the bill favors unions in opposing the legislation.

Colorado: Election watchers see officials chipping away at public oversight | The Colorado Independent

Marty Neilson, Republican Party election watcher, walked out of the Boulder County Clerk’s building in disgust as workers there tabulated primary voting results the last week of June. Neilson said she couldn’t see anything of substance and felt like she was participating in a sham exercise in oversight. “[Clerk Hillary Hall] kept us behind [solid] walls and behind glass walls,” Neilson told the Colorado Independent. “We are there to view the whole process, which is what the statutes say we’re supposed to do, from the time the [election workers] get the ballots to the time they verify the signatures and then count the votes. But it was a charade. I left because why stay? There was no reason to be there.” Neilson said she phoned Secretary of State Scott Gessler to complain and that he later called back to say he was sympathetic to her concerns. His office didn’t return messages left by the Independent seeking comment, but the update to election law Rule 8.6 (pdf) he has proposed with the aim of bringing clarity to the regulations governing election watchers may well exacerbate the kind of problems watchers complained about in Boulder. The new version of the rule would give greater discretion to county clerks to direct watcher activities. The secretary of state’s office is holding a public hearing on the rule June 23.

Editorials: The voter ID mess subverts an American birthright | Charlie Crist/The Washington Post

For better or worse, the central principle behind the unlimited contributions to super PACs that will dominate this election cycle is simple: Money is speech, and we cannot limit speech. Yet many who hold this freedom as an article of faith are all too willing to limit an equally precious form of speech: voting. If we don’t speak out against these abuses, we may soon learn the hard way the danger of that double standard. And a dozen years after the 2000 recount that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, my state of Florida threatens to be ground zero one more time. As Florida’s attorney general from 2003 to 2007, I strongly enforced the laws against illegal voting. When swift action was necessary, I took it without hesitation. I did so out of respect for our democracy — voting is a precious right reserved only for U.S. citizens — but I’m concerned that zealots overreacting to contrived threats of voter fraud by significantly narrowing the voting pool are doing so with brazen disrespect and disregard for our greatest traditions.

Iowa: Voter fraud isn’t a problem, county auditor says | TheGazette

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller feels as strongly about preventing voter fraud as Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has made it his top priority. Where they part company, however, is that Miller believes current registration and election laws have prevented voter fraud problems, while Schultz is convinced that if he keeps “turning over every stone” he’ll find fraud. So far Schultz, a first-term Republican, hasn’t found any cases of voter fraud. Miller’s not surprised. “Where’s your poster child, Matt?” the Democrat asked. If Schultz can find a person who is committing fraud by voting as someone else, Miller added, “I’ll be right there with him.” Through 30 Linn County elections since he took office, Miller has never received a report of someone voting at the polls as anyone other than himself or herself. “I’ve asked my peers and they can’t come up with an example of an impostor either,” he said. “I think he’s trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Michigan: Audit finds State spent $50M on computer system plagued with problems | The Detroit News

The state Department of Technology, Management and Budget has spent $50 million so far on a new computer system for the Secretary of State’s office that still isn’t finished after more than a decade, according to a report released Thursday. The Business Application Modernization project was launched by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and meant to modernize how the state delivers services like vehicle titles, drivers’ licenses and voter registration. Just one part — ExpressSOS for online renewal of driver’s licenses and vehicle registration — has been delivered, and even that lacks some promised features. Officials from Technology, Management, and Budget and the Secretary of State’s office said they agree with the assessment by Michigan Auditor General Thomas McTavish and have taken steps to fix problems identified in the report. “The BAM project is not an example of how major IT projects should work,” said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for Technology, Management and Budget. “The issues raised in the audit have been addressed.” The auditor identified 12 problems starting when Electronic Data Systems first won the contract in 2004 though an unfair bidding process. Hewlett-Packard Co. took over when HP bought EDS in 2008, but the project continued to be plagued by mismanagement, delays and cost overruns.

Minnesota: GOP legislators take Ritchie to task over voter ID |

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who has long campaigned against the Republican-backed election changes under the GOP’s photo ID proposal, was accused by GOP senators on Friday of crossing the line between running elections and trying to influence them. A Senate committee hearing, led by Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, who is also a candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District, focused on Ritchie’s criticism of a photo ID constitutional amendment and his decision to rewrite the title voters will see on the November ballot. Parry,  Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Baxter; and Sen.John Carlson, R-Bemidji, led the charge at the State Government Innovation Veterans Committee in criticizing the DFL Secretary of State. Neither Ritchie nor Attorney General Lori Swanson appeared before the hearing. The Republican-controlled Legislature voted this year to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would require in-person voters to show a photo ID, would set up a new system of two-step provisional voting for those without “government-issued” IDs, and would change eligibility and identity verification standards. No DFLers voted for the bill, and the two sides have bitterly contested the effect of the amendment, should it pass.

Montana: Judge upholds Montana law forbidding political endorsement of judicial candidates | The Missoulian

A federal judge Tuesday refused to block Montana’s law forbidding political parties from endorsing a nonpartisan judicial candidate, saying their involvement could transform judicial contests into partisan races. U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena said Montana clearly has an interest in maintaining a fair, impartial judiciary – and that keeping political parties out of judicial elections might be allowed to achieve that goal. “If … political parties were permitted to endorse nonpartisan judicial candidates, then the elections might be nonpartisan only in form,” he wrote. “Nonpartisan elections, perhaps, can truly be nonpartisan only if political parties are prohibited from endorsing candidates.” The Sanders County Republican Central Committee has asked to strike down the endorsement ban, saying it’s an infringement on the committee’s free speech. The GOP group wants to endorse candidates in judicial races, saying it would like to promote judges who “share its ideological views.” In Montana, judges run for their positions, but are nonpartisan, meaning they run with no party affiliation.

Editorials: Husted buys into GOP’s latest phantom vote fraud threat |

Secretary of State Jon Husted says it’s just part of guarding the integrity of Ohio elections, and not partisanship, that is causing him to try to access a federal immigration database to rid Ohio’s voter rolls of noncitizens, who aren’t eligible to vote. Not that Husted is sitting on proof that a flood of foreigners has registered to vote in Ohio. The Republican admits the number, if it exists, will be small. “There are a lot of agendas,” he said in an interview. “I don’t have that agenda,” saying he was one of the most “pro-immigration” politicians around. He said he would proceed carefully on citizenship challenges, case-by-case. But The Denver Post reported last week that Husted is one of at least 11 top Republican state election officials around the country who have joined in an effort to get access to the federal list, known as SAVE, for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement, created to check noncitizens’ eligibility for certain benefits. Its reliability in checking for citizenship status is unclear.

Pennsylvania: State Creates ‘Safety Net’ for Voter ID Law | NBC 10 Philadelphia

Pennsylvania’s Department of State said Friday it will offer a special photo ID card for voters who are unable to obtain birth certificates or other documents for a non-driver ID issued by the Department of Transportation. Secretary of State Carole Aichele said the new card is designed to provide “a safety net” for voters who are unable to get the documents they need for a PennDOT ID. It will be available through PennDOT starting the last week of August. “The creation of these voter cards is an important step in the implementation of the voter ID law,” Aichele said. “Everyone who needs ID to vote will be able to get it months before the election.” The new card, which will be free and valid for 10 years, will be added to an already long and often complicated list of government and other IDs that have been deemed acceptable under the tough new law that takes effect on Nov. 6, Election Day.

Congo: Ruling party ahead in largely shunned Congo Republic vote | Reuters

The party of President Denis Sassou Nguesso dominated as expected a first-round parliamentary election in the oil-exporting Central African state of Congo Republic, results showed on Friday, although the vote was widely shunned. Opposition parties complained ahead of the elections that Nguesso’s Congolese Workers’ Party (PCT) had privileged access to state media in a country where past votes have been tainted with accusations of fraud. Interior Minister Zephirin Mboulou acknowledged turnout had been weak but gave no official figure. The Congolese Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) estimated that only 15 percent of the some two million eligible voters turned out.

Libya: European Union Hails Orderly Conduct Of Libyan Elections | RTT

The European Union on Thursday lauded the Libyan authorities for conducting the recent parliamentary elections in a transparent as well as orderly manner, and congratulated the Libyan people on their “peaceful and dignified” march towards democracy. In a statement released after the announcement of the preliminary results for the election of the Libyan National Congress, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton hailed Libya’s election commission for conducting the electoral process in a professional manner. She said the EU Electoral Assessment Team (EU EAT) had assessed that processing of results at the tally center in Tripoli had been transparent and fully open to observation.

Mexico: Left urges mobilization to annul presidential vote | Fox News

Leaders of the Mexican left called Friday for a peaceful popular mobilization to annul the July 1 presidential election amid allegations of vote-buying and other machinations by the victorious Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. “We are asking that the presidential election be invalidated because there are very serious violations of the constitution,” the leftist standard-bearer in the contest, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said at a press conference in Mexico City. “We will always act peacefully,” he said at the presentation of the National Plan for Defense of Democracy and the Dignity of Mexico.