Editorials: Voting rights cases: Made simple | SCOTUSblog

Nearly a half-century ago, Congress decided that the government could not end racial discrimination in voting simply by suing one state, county, or city at a time, because officials who were determined to keep minorities away from the polls were quickly shifting to new tactics.   The only way to keep ahead of those tactics, Congress decided, was to bar the worst offenders among state and local governments from adopting any new election laws until they had first proved they would not discriminate.   That was a massive shift in policy, and it worked: the law that Congress passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act, is now widely credited as the most effective civil rights law in American history; even the Supreme Court has said so. But the Supreme Court has grown to be one of the skeptics about the constitutionality of the law, partly because of the very fact that the law has been so successful.    ”Things have changed in the South,” the Court commented three years ago.   And, at that time, it pondered striking down the key part of the 1965 law — Section 5 — on the theory that “the evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated” in the states, counties, and cities that must obey that section.  There are nine of those states, plus local governments in seven other states, that must get permission in Washington before they may change any law dealing with voting — no matter how trivial the change.   The Court chose in 2009 to leave the law as is, but hinted that Congress should update it.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s next corporate campaign finance quandary | Thomsen Reuters

If you hate the current state of campaign finance, in which corporations and non-profits exert influence through trade associations, political action committees and so-called “Super PACs,” you can’t lay all of the blame at the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and labor unions have the same First Amendment rights to free speech as individuals. Nor can you say that the root of the problem was the court’s 2007 ruling in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life that corporations and labor unions are permitted to spend money on election ads as long those ads do not contain “express advocacy” for or against a candidate. Instead, you have to look back to 1976, when the Supreme Court decided in Buckley v. Valeo that the constitution permits limits on direct campaign contributions to candidates by corporations. Such restrictions, the Buckley court held, do not violate the First Amendment. That bar on direct contributions to candidates, reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in FEC v. Beaumont, has remained in place despite repeated assaults in recent years. As Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law wrote Wednesday at his Election Law Blog, the current justices may well overturn Beaumont’s holding on direct corporate contributions to candidates if they decide to take up the issue, but so far they haven’t.

Editorials: Do Democrats have a Plan B on ‘Citizens United’? | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post

Pushing constitutional amendments tends to be the province of Republican presidents: to mandate balanced budgets, for instance, or to make abortion illegal. But President Obama has been both speaking privately and flirting openly with the notion of amending the Constitution. His goal would be to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and get the biggest-money checks out of politics. Obama advisers have been edging up to this for months. In February, urging donors to open their checkbooks to Obama-supporting super PACs, campaign manager Jim Messina said that “the president favors action — by constitutional amendment, if necessary — to place reasonable limits on all such spending.”

Arkansas: State Legislator guilty of election fraud | City Wire

State Rep. Hudson Hallum (D-Marion) today resigned his House seat and withdrew as a candidate in the 2012 election after entering a guilty plea on a federal charge related to his 2011 special election. Hudson, 29, was mired in some controversy after winning a high number of absentee ballots in his 2011 special election race. In February 2012, Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert reported that the FBI had subpoenaed election officials from Crittenden County to appear before a grand jury. At the time, Hallum said he had no knowledge of the investigation. Hallum’s resignation from the House District 54 seat coincided with an appearance today in U.S. District Court where he entered a plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit election fraud. His father, Kent Hallum, West Memphis City Council member Phillip Carter, and Crittenden County quorum court member Sam Malone also plead guilty to charges.

Colorado: Voter Purges Net Few Noncitizens, So Far | Minnesota Public Radio News

States using a federal immigration database to purge noncitizens from voter lists are starting to get results, which so far include few illegal voters. In Florida, which was first to gain access to the database after fighting the federal government in court, an initial run of roughly 2,600 names has turned up “several” violators, according to a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “We are seeing that there are definitely noncitizens on the voter rolls, but we’re still very early in this review process,” says Chris Cate. A much larger list of suspected noncitizens soon will be fed through the database, Cate says. The list will be an updated version culled from cross-checking voter rolls and driver’s license data, a method that produced about 180,000 names last year. Colorado, which along with Florida was initially denied access to the database, says that an automated check of more than 1,400 names has flagged 177 people as possible noncitizens. Colorado has asked the Department of Homeland Security, which maintains the database, to assign a person to verify their status. “For the moment, we have no confirmed noncitizens, but I would expect that most of those people would come back as noncitizens,” says Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

Florida: Justice Department OKs Florida early voting plan for 5 counties | www.wdbo.com

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed Wednesday to accept Florida’s revised early-voting plan for five counties covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. Holder filed his response with a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. Last month, the panel ruled that a new Florida election law that reduced early voting to 8 days from as many as 14 violated the federal law in the designated counties because they could discourage minority voting. The judges, though, indicated they’d approve a plan that still provided 96 hours of early voting – the same as under Florida’s previous law. The state plan submitted by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration meets that criteria with eight 12-hour days including 12 on a Sunday that weren’t previously offered.

Iowa: Court hearing held on new voter rules | WCF Courier

A Polk County judge heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit filed by two civil rights organizations challenging new rules enacted by Iowa’s Republican secretary of state that would purge certain voters from Iowa’s voter registration list and make it easier to report fraud. The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit last month to block Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz from enacting the rules he quietly issued on July 20. Schultz bypassed the normal state rulemaking process claiming he didn’t have enough time before November’s general election to allow for a public hearing and comment period. Assistant Attorney General Jeff Thompson argued that the new rules are intended to provide protection to all voters by ensuring that people who are not citizens are not voting. But lawyers for the civil rights groups allege Schultz intentionally waited to pass the rules knowing it would limit time for challenges. “This is a very critical public issue affecting potentially thousands of Iowans’ right to vote in this election,” attorney Joseph Glazebrook said in asking Judge Mary Pat Gunderson to declare the rules invalid and block Schultz from enforcing them.

Iowa: Groups ask judge to halt Iowa voter fraud investigation | The Des Moines Register

A judge heard arguments Thursday over whether Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz exceeded his authority in a search for thousands of possible ineligible voters before November’s election. Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and a Latino advocacy group, League of United Latin American Citizens, argued for an injunction to halt an effort to check identities against a federal immigration database to determine citizenship. The move is unnecessary and improper because no evidence of voter fraud exists and the rule creates fear and confusion for eligible voters, an attorney for the advocacy groups said. State attorneys, however, said the rule would expand due process because it creates an appeals process and the federal database reduces the risk of mistakes. Schultz’s plans to investigate 3,582 possible non-U.S. citizens registered to vote in Iowa has thrust the state into a contentious national debate. Critics say a state-by-state voter suppression effort by Republicans disproportionately affects poor and minority voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

Nevada: ‘None of the above’ voting option not dead yet | The Associated Press

Nevada’s “none of the above” voting option will be on the November ballot following an emergency stay sought by the secretary of state’s office and granted by a federal appeals court. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco blocked the injunction Tuesday and had strong words for U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who last month declared the voting option unconstitutional and struck it from the ballot. One appellate judge accused Jones, chief judge in Nevada, of deliberate foot-dragging by delaying hearings in the case and not issuing a written order in time for state lawyers to appeal before ballots must be printed. “His dilatory tactics appear to serve no purpose other than to seek to prevent the state from taking an appeal of his decision before it must print the ballots,” 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote. He concluded, “Such arrogance and assumption of power by one individual is not acceptable in our judicial system.”

Minnesota: Local election officials see added duties, costs in proposed Voter ID amendment | St. Cloud Times

Local election officials are bracing for an expected increase in work load if Minnesota voters approve a constitutional amendment requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. There are still many unknowns about how the new requirements would be carried out. But county auditors say it’s clear there would be added duties, changes in the ballot-counting process and possibly the need to purchase electronic equipment for all polling places to verify voters’ eligibility. Most county officials have steered clear of the political debate over whether the proposed amendment is good public policy. But they are vocal about the costs and complications they expect if it passes. “There’s going to be a lot of political denial that this thing is expensive,” said Jeff Spartz, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Ohio: Secretary of State rescinds order blocking early voting hours on three days leading to election day | cleveland.com

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday rescinded a directive that blocked boards of election from setting in-person early voting hours over the final three days leading up to Election Day. The Republican secretary’s decision was in response to a federal judge who this week ordered Husted to appear in his court on Sept. 13 because the directive appears to not adhere to a recent U.S. District Court ruling. On Aug. 30, Judge Peter C. Economus, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, ruled that a new state law – which would have shut down early voting after 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, until the polls opened on Tuesday, Nov. 6 – is unconstitutional. His written opinion added: “This court anticipates that defendant Secretary of State will direct all Ohio elections boards to maintain a specific, consistent schedule on those three days.”

Nevada: Judge Slammed for Delaying Nevada “None of the Above” Appeal | Courthouse News Service

Nevadans can pick “none of the above” on Election Day, the 9th Circuit ruled while blasting a federal judge who tried to delay the appeal. The ruling marks a setback for Republicans who hoped to remove the unique option so that dissatisfied voters would pick Mitt Romney if forced to make a choice. Eleven voters from all parties, including former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury and the state’s Republican Party Secretary James DeGraffenreid, sued Nevada and its secretary of state in June. The Republican National Committee sought to remove the option that has been on all Nevada ballots since 1976. Nevada is the only state to offer such an option. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones ruled in August that the state’s “none of these candidates” ballot option is unconstitutional and must be removed. But a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit entered an immediate stay late Tuesday. On Wednesday, the court amended the three-page order and the lengthy concurring opinion from Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

Ohio: Federal judge restores early voting in Ohio | Los Angeles Times

A federal judge ordered the battleground state of Ohio to open its polling places three days before the Nov. 6 election, giving a victory to the Obama campaign and marking the sixth ruling in recent weeks to block or void new voting rules set by Republican-dominated state legislatures. Friday’s decision restores early voting on the final weekend and Monday before election day, a time when more than 93,000 Ohio voters cast ballots in 2008. Last week, a three-judge court restored weekend early voting in parts of Florida that are subject to the Voting Rights Act. And on Wednesday, another Florida judge voided part of a state law that would have prevented groups such as the League of Women Voters from registering new voters. A Texas law was dealt two setbacks earlier this week when federal judges in Washington struck down a strict new photo identification requirement and threw out election districts that undercut the voting power of Latinos and blacks. Voting-rights advocates hailed what they saw as a rebuke to those who would curb an essential right.

Voting Blogs: Non-Retrogression, Equal Protection, and Ohio’s Early Voting Case | Election Law @ Moritz

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has set an expedited briefingschedule in the Obama campaign’s case over early voting in Ohio. The state’s brief is due this coming Monday (9/10), with Obama’s response a week later (9/17), and the state’s reply (if any) the Friday of that same week (9/21). As this appellate process gets underway, I wish to make one observation about an innovative and intriguing aspect of the federal district court’s unexpected order, issued last Friday. (In separate development, the district court has ordered Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to appear at a hearing next Thursday (9/20) to explain his response to the court’s Friday order.) The district court ruled that the state must restore for Ohio’s entire electorate the three days of early voting immediately preceding the traditional Election Day. These three days existed in 2008 and more recently, until taken away in 2011 by a convoluted series of legislative enactments (combined with some implementing directives from the Secretary of State). The district court did not base its ruling on the ground that these three days of early voting are constitutionally compelled. Rather, the court relied on the ground that the state had left open the possibility that these three days of early voting would be available only to military voters this year, and that the state did not have an adequate justification for differentiating among military and non-military voters in this way. (For further details on the court’s ruling, see my colleague Steve Huefner’s insightful analysis from the day of the district court decision.)

Texas: Abbott wins round in battle over tougher voter signup rules | San Antonio Express

Texas won a stay Thursday of a federal court decision that had barred enforcement of the state’s toughened voter registration law. Attorney General Greg Abbott described the development as a victory for voter integrity. The state had asked the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans to stay an order barring enforcement of several provisions of a 2011 law regulating third-party voter registration activities. The plaintiff was a nonprofit that Abbott said was linked to “notorious for voter registration fraud.” U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Texas previously ruled the law probably conflicted with federal rules and the Constitution, but the appeals court issued the stay pending appeal in a one-page order. “The majority will assign reasons as soon as possible,” the judges said, with one dissent.

US Virgin Islands: Department of Justice and Virgin Islands sign consent decree to fix absentee ballot procedures | Virgin Islands Daily News

The U.S. Department of Justice and the V.I. government have signed a consent decree aimed at ensuring the territory allows its absent military members and voters living overseas to fully participate in the upcoming primary and general elections. The consent decree, filed in federal court on St. Thomas on Friday, settles a lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed the same day, alleging that the territory has violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, by failing to transmit absentee ballots to overseas and military voters in a timely manner. The territory already has signed the consent decree, thereby agreeing to its mandates. However, a judge must sign off on the agreement for it to be valid. A hearing on the matter is scheduled in U.S. District Court before Judge Curtis Gomez this morning.

Netherlands: The Netherlands votes: Cycling against windmills | The Economist

Few nations beat the Dutch for practicality. Befuddled voters, who have 20 or so parties to choose from in the general election on September 12th, can save hours of poring over manifestos by submitting to the StemWijzer. This government-backed website presents 30 pithy statements (“All [drug-selling] ‘coffee-shops’ in the Netherlands should be closed down”; “European supervision of banks should be implemented”), and matches voters to the party that best fits their views. Separately, the Central Planning Bureau also runs the main parties’ programmes through an economic model, to compare how each will affect things like jobs, output and, miraculously, queues on motorways. Despite these aids, the Dutch are disenchanted with politics. At J.H. Van Dijk’s cheese stall in Amsterdam’s main street market customers are fed up with all those politicians and their confusing parties. Further into town, at the Independent Outlet music store (where “corporate rock still sucks”), a young man behind the counter complains how “politicians always let you down”. A hairdresser in The Hague, who in her time has shorn plenty of MPs, cannot make up her mind. The StemWijzer is all very well, she says, but politicians “don’t do what the people vote for.”

Ukraine: Vitali Klitschko, the boxer who would be president, faces his toughest fight yet | guardian.co.uk

In one of the world’s most combustible parliaments, MPs had better watch out. A putative new member is coming who can do more than look after himself. They call him Dr Ironfist and for good reason: Vitali Klitschko is a heavyweight boxing champion, the first ever to hold a PhD – and not a man to pick a fight with. After two decades in the ring, the 41-year-old is on his way to perhaps the most bruising challenge of his life – taking on President Viktor Yanukovych and the dominant elite of Ukraine’s corrupt political system. With elections next month and some expecting Klitschko to hang up his gloves after a fight against Manuel Charr this weekend, the boxer appears poised for that most enigmatic of transformations: sports star to politician. “We are trying to make politics more open,” Klitschko said in an interview with the Guardian. “It became a Ukrainian tradition to make decisions behind closed doors [but] … we are trying to apply European standards in politics.”