National: US election: How can it cost $6bn? | BBC

The estimated price tag for the US elections in November is almost $6bn (£3.8bn). Why so much? “The sky is the limit here,” says Michael Toner, former chair of the US Federal Election Commission. “I don’t think you can spend too much.” In a time of general belt-tightening, it may sound like a surprising argument, but Toner believes there should be more – not less – spending on US elections. Anything that engages voters, and makes them more likely to turn out is, he says, a good thing. “It’s very healthy in terms of American politics… it’s a symptom of a very vigorous election season, there’s a lot at stake here.” … New figures just released by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group which tracks money in politics, estimate the total cost of November’s elections (for the presidency, House of Representatives and Senate) will come in at $5.8bn (£3.7bn) – more than the entire annual GDP of Malawi, and up 7% on 2008. It makes UK election spending look microscopic by comparison. A total of £31m ($49m) was spent by all parties in the last general election in the UK two years ago – making US spending 120 times as much, and 23 times as much per person.

National: Dark Money Groups Gone Wild | Mother Jones

You couldn’t devise a better political hit-and-run. In the summer of 2010, an unknown group called the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity asked (PDF) the Internal Revenue Service to grant it 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. The organization told the IRS it didn’t plan to spend a penny on politics. Once the IRS gave CHGO the green light, however, the group plunged into the 2010 political season. It would ultimately raise $4.8 million—$4 million of that from a single anonymous donor—and spend $2.3 million on TV ads attacking 11 House Democrats running for reelection. (Ten of them lost.) Later, on its 2010 and 2011 tax returns, CHGO claimed it hadn’t spent money on politics. Watchdogs filed complaints against CHGO alleging it had flouted tax and election laws. But sometime in 2011, after the Republicans’ 2010 “shellacking,” CHGO quietly disappeared. The group, and the anonymous individuals behind it, has yet to face any punishment.

Editorials: The I.R.S. Finally Takes On Secret Campaign Donations |

The ploy of disguising secretly financed political machines as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations has become one of the alarming trademarks of modern, big-money politics. Under cover of the tax code, the identities of donors are kept secret while they pay for attack ads against candidates, all the while claiming their main purpose is civic and nonpartisan. Operatives from both parties have gotten deep into this shell game. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service is, at last, promising to review and consider changing 50-year-old rules governing the limits of political activity for social welfare nonprofits that enjoy exemptions under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. This is encouraging news for voters in the dark as ads thunder away and for taxpayers who underwrite the abuse. It follows a court finding that the Federal Election Commission had arbitrarily weakened disclosure requirements.

Alaska: Anchorage Still Cleaning Up Election Mess |

The Election Commission will hold the final public canvass session to count ballots from the troubled municipal election in Anchorage Thursday. The ballots were found uncounted in a closet in city hall in July. The room where the 141 missing ballots were stored after they were found in July.  After nearly four months, Anchorage officials say they hope the canvass will begin to shut the door on a messy chapter in the city’s election history. The canvass will be followed by final certification of the election, later this month. Anchorage Assembly Chair Ernie Hall says it’s important to make sure voters have access to the canvass. “What happens at the canvass is if you voted in the election and for some reason your vote was disqualified, you’re notified in writing that your ballot is not going to be counted, you have the opportunity to come to come to that canvass and protest your ballot not being counted,” Hall said. “Maybe it’s misunderstanding, you were not in the wrong district, for whatever reason but it gives you a chance to come in personally and say, no you’re wrong. I am an eligible voter and my ballot should count.”

Florida: DoJ seeks Florida voter-purge records |

The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that Hillsborough turn over voter-purge records, pulling the county into a growing legal fracas over Gov. Rick Scott’s push to clean out the state’s voter registry. The county received a subpoena Wednesday for documents dating to Jan. 1 relating to any efforts at identifying voters as potential noncitizens. The subpoena stems from a lawsuit filed June 12 in Tallahassee by the federal government against Florida and Secretary of State Ken Detzner over state efforts to scrub voter rolls. Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard said he would comply with the subpoena. Like supervisors across the state, Lennard halted efforts to purge voters when the tools to cross-reference citizenship and voter registration — a Department of Homeland Security database and motor vehicle records — proved unreliable, he said.

Georgia: Computer communication issue caused a delay in Muscogee County GA election results | WRBL

Candidates in this year’s Primary Election were left waiting for results from 1,500 mail-in absentee ballots, well in to the early morning hours on Wednesday. Election officials blame a computer communication error for the delay. Absentee by mail ballots come from all over the county from folks who knew ahead of time they could not vote in person in the 2012 primary. To count them, they must be imported in to a computer using an optimal scan unit.  That computer is supposed to “talk” to another computer that then totals the results. When it became clear the machines weren’t communicating with each other, officials were forced to re-scan all 1,500 ballots.

Hawaii: Hawaii County Clerk Kawauchi: Duplicate Registrations and Voters Found | Big Island Now

County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi told reporters today that a review of the Big Island’s voter registry turned up irregularities, but nothing that should have an impact on the upcoming primary election. Kawauchi said the review conducted from July 21-23, which included a weekend, found 50 to 60 people registered more than once, as well as five people who voted twice in the 2010 election. She said the irregularities did not appear to be “systemic” or concentrated in any particular area. She said the duplicates could be attributed to clerical errors, such as incorrect data being inputted. Some also involved slight differences in names, such as a missing “Jr.” or “Sr.” The duplicate registrations are being corrected and the voters who voted twice two years ago will be contacted to determine how that occurred, Kawauchi said. None of the duplicated votes occurred at the same precinct, she said.

Pennsylvania: Democratic leader says ID law could prevent him from voting | TribLIVE

State Rep. Frank Dermody leads the House Democratic Caucus, having been re-elected every two years since he first won a House seat in 1990. But he might not be able to vote in the Nov. 6 general election. The Oakmont lawmaker on Wednesday said he received a letter from Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele suggesting he might not have adequate voter identification to cast a ballot under the state’s new voter-identification law. The department recently compared voter lists with databases from PennDOT, which issues the primary form of acceptable photo ID — a driver’s license. On his driver’s license, the lawmaker is Frank J. Dermody. His given name, however, is Francis J. Dermody. He said he has been trying to shed “Francis” since he was 16.

Pennsylvania: Hostile Witness: Could poll worker resistance put brakes on voter-ID law? | Philadelphia City Paper

“To ask me to enforce something that violates civil rights is ludicrous and absolutely something I am not willing to do,” Colwyn’s Democratic inspector of elections, Christopher L. Broach, told the Inquirer last week. Broach was explaining his decision not to enforce the state’s controversial new law requiring voters to present one of a few forms of identification at the polls starting this November. The law could disenfranchise many voters in Colwyn, a small, 80-percent-black borough in Delaware County. (Statewide, 20 percent of voters may not have valid PennDOT-issued ID, according to data obtained by CP. In Philly, 43 percent of voters may not possess valid PennDOT ID.)  It would be a simple but vexing act of civil disobedience: When voters go to the polls this November, the neighborhood people who staff polling places throughout Pennsylvania could just plain not ask voters for the identification the law requires.

Pennsylvania: Closing arguments conclude in case over Pennsylvania’s voter ID law | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Closing arguments concluded this afternoon in the lawsuit seeking to halt the new voter ID requirement, setting the case up for a timeline the judge said should allow a final decision before the November elections. Much of the six days of testimony in the Commonwealth Court were occupied with questioning by the groups challenging the law, as they presented people who they said might be prevented from voting and experts who testified that many people lack acceptable identification and that voter fraud is extremely rare. In his closing argument, Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the state has shown no interest justifying a law that he said could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people.

Pennsylvania: Voter ID Law on Trial | Epoch Times

A trial over Pennsylvania’s voter ID law will either uphold or block a new requirement that state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery) called “purely about partisan politics.” A ruling is expected this week. In a phone press conference on July 31, Hughes said the law “reverts us back to the days of poll taxes.” He said that if the trial allows Pennsylvania voter ID requirements to stand, “we will do our best to make sure everyone who needs one gets an ID.”

“The context of the trial is that nationally we are in the middle of the biggest national rollback of voting rights in decades,” according to Wendy Weiser, co-director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The law disproportionately affects minorities, the elderly, and poor people, according to Weiser.

Voting Blogs: Viviette Applewhite Voter ID Case: Bring on the Poll Taxes and Literacy Tests | Politics 365

The trial over Pistolvania’s voter identification law (a law someone brilliantly described as “a bad solution looking for a problem”) continues in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I would say that it’s not going to end up well for the state, but you never know with these Commonwealth Court Judges. This is what Judge Simpson said: “This is a high-profile case. There’s a lot of anxiety here,” he said. “There will be a lot of people very unhappy with my decision no matter what I do.” But, he said, “take heart,” because the case will likely go to higher courts before it is over. Oh ohh. Anyway, I don’t want to get into a lot of legalese, but the state has to show a compelling state interest if this law is to be upheld. This is the type of scrutiny that is applied to laws such as this that deals with voting rights.

Texas: Court enjoins enforcement of new Texas voter registration laws | Texas Redistricting

This afternoon, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa enjoined enforcement of Texas laws passed in the 2011 legislative session which require that deputy voter registrars be Texas residents and prohibited performance-based compensation for voter registration staff. The restrictions had been challenged by the non-profit group Voting for America and various other plaintiffs in a suit filed early this year in federal district court in Galveston. The court rejected claims of Texas that the new restrictions were required to prevent fraud, holding that “[i]f these practices did contribute to fraud, concrete examples of such fraud would likely exist from decades of experience … But no such evidence was introduced for the Court to weigh against the harm to Plaintiffs.”

Texas: Counties That Held No Runoffs Violated Election Code | The Texas Tribune

When runoffs were not held in two rural Texas counties that had held primaries in May, the state’s election code was violated, according to the secretary of state’s office. The Republican and Democratic parties in Sterling County did not hold primary runoffs on Tuesday even though both hosted primaries in May. In Oldham County, the Republican Party had a primary but no runoff. By initially holding the primary, the parties were required to follow through and host runoffs, said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State’s office became aware of the possible violation before the runoff and tried to address it, he said.

Canada: Quebec’s election: None of the above, please | The Economist

Politicians aren’t supposed to want summer elections. Voters are distracted and campaign workers are on holiday. Moreover, this year the Olympics are dominating the news. But for Jean Charest, the unpopular Liberal premier of Quebec (pictured in effigy above), an under-the-radar campaign represents his best chance of winning a fourth term. It was thus no surprise that on August 1st he called an election to be held on September 4th—long before it is required by December 2013. The rest of Canada will be watching closely. Although the Canadian economy has weathered the global recession well—it grew by 2.8% between 2008 and 2011, compared with just 1.1% in the United States—it owes its resilience mostly to the energy and commodity boom in the country’s four western provinces, where unemployment is only 5.5%. In contrast, it is 7.9% in the six eastern provinces, which rely on manufacturing and services, and 7.7% in Quebec. Home to nearly a quarter of Canada’s people, Quebec will test whether the country’s manufacturing base can recover, even as oil exports bolster the currency.

Ukraine: Ukraine prepares for general election | The Prague Post

As the world looks to London, a more important contest has kicked off in Kyiv with star quality of its own. Four years ago, under cover of the Beijing Games, Russia and Georgia engaged in a bloody bout of tit-for-tat violence, which damaged both countries’ international reputations and did little to improve the prospects of people in the region. Now, with the Five-Ring Circus under way in the United Kingdom, all seems thankfully quiet on the Eastern front. However, the campaigning for Ukraine’s October parliamentary election, which officially began July 30, shouldn’t be allowed to slip under the radar as the results will have far-reaching impact. The protagonists in this important contest have no intention of being overshadowed by events elsewhere, and many of them are used to strutting their stuff on the international stage, albeit not exclusively in relation to party politics.