National: Amid court challenges, early voting begins in U.S. election | Reuters The November 6 election is still seven weeks away, but early, in-person voting begins in two states on Friday, even as Democrats and Republicans battle in court over controversial plans to limit such voting before Election Day. Idaho and South Dakota are the first…
Imagine how easy voting would be if Americans could cast ballots the same way they buy songs from iTunes or punch in a PIN code to check out at the grocery store: You could click on a candidate from a home computer or use a touch screen device at the local polling place. It’s not entirely a fantasy. In many states, some voters can already do both. The process is seductively simple, but it’s also shockingly vulnerable to problems from software failure to malicious hacking. While state lawmakers burn enormous energy in a partisan fight over in-person vote fraud, which is virtually nonexistent, they’re largely ignoring far likelier ways votes can be lost, stolen or changed. How? Sometimes, technology or the humans running it simply fail.
The November 6 election is still seven weeks away, but early, in-person voting begins in two states on Friday, even as Democrats and Republicans battle in court over controversial plans to limit such voting before Election Day. Idaho and South Dakota are the first states to begin early voting on Friday, although North Carolina has been accepting absentee ballots by mail since September 6. By the end of September, 30 states will have begun either in-person or absentee voting, and eventually all the states will join in. Much of the focus of the early voting period will be on the politically divided states of Ohio and Florida, which could be crucial in deciding the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
The afternoon before early voting began in the 2010 midterm elections, a crowd of people gathered in the offices of a Houston Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots. They soon formed a line that snaked out the door of the Patriots’ crumbling storefront and down the block, past the neighboring tattoo parlor. The volunteers, all of whom had been trained by the Patriots to work as poll watchers, had come to collect their polling-place assignments. As they waited, the group’s chief trainer, Alan Vera—a mustachioed former Army ranger who likens poll observers to commandos who “jump out of airplanes” and “blow things up”—walked the line, shaking hands. As he would later recall, he then launched into a drill-sergeant routine. “Are you ready?” “We’re ready!” “Strength and honor! Remember your mission! Your mission is the vote!” The next day, King Street Patriots—many of them aging white suburbanites—poured into polling places in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods around Houston, looking for signs of voter fraud. Reports of problems at the polls soon began surfacing in the Harris County attorney’s office and on the local news. The focus of these reports was not fraud, however, but alleged voter intimidation. Among other things, poll observers were accused of hovering over voters, blocking lines of people who were trying to cast ballots, and, in the words of Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, “getting into election workers’ faces.”
Even as the two presidential candidates fly from one battleground state to another and as the cascade of campaign ads rolls over television viewers, some fast-approaching deadlines are going to determine who will in fact get to vote on Nov. 6. The National Association of Secretaries of State has declared September National Voter Registration Month and Sept. 25 as National Voter Registration Day. In 48 states voter registration deadlines fall in October. One imminent deadline is this Saturday, Sept. 22, the date – 45 days before the general election – which is set by two federal laws, the Uniformed Overseas Absentee Voting Act and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, for election officials to send ballots to voters in the military and to civilian voters living outside the United States.
With voter registration looming in most states in early to mid-October, advocacy groups, political campaigns and elections officials are putting on a full-court press to get as many Americans registered in time to cast a ballot on November 6. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) has deemed September as National Voter Registration Month, and for the first time this year, the country will celebrate National Voter Registration Day on September 25. National Voter Registration Day was created by a working group of organizations including Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Education Fund, Bus Federation Civic Fund, Fair Elections Legal Network, League of Women Voters, Nonprofit Vote, and Voto Latino.
Noncitizens aren’t allowed to vote in federal and state elections, but efforts to remove them from the nation’s voter registration rolls have produced more angst than results. Opponents say the scope of the problem has been overblown; those behind the efforts say they’ve just begun to look at the problem. Last year, Florida officials said they found 180,000 possible noncitizens on the voter registration rolls. Officials in Colorado said the number in their state was about 11,000. But it turns out many of these people were citizens. Now, after some names were checked against a federal immigration database, the number of suspected noncitizens is closer to a few hundred. Even those numbers are under review.
President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have little need for public funding for their campaigns, given that, together, they have about $1 billion behind them. But Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, could use a little help: She had raised only $283,000 as of the end of July. Her campaign officials, however, say they are having trouble getting the public funding fast enough to pay the campaign debts. They have been quick to find a culprit and allege a minor conspiracy by Democrats on the Federal Election Commission, hinting that the commissioners are seeking to limit Stein’s ability to peel off liberals who would otherwise support Obama. In a letter to the panel, the campaign’s general counsel wrote, “It is our understanding that one reason for the delays . . . was due to that fact that the Democratic Commissioners were already in Charlotte, NC, for the Democratic National Convention, and were thus unavailable to sign off.”
Colorado: Scott Gessler, Colorado’s ‘honey badger,’ may be most closely watched election official | The Washington Post
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has a deeply partisan past, a dedicated cadre of supporters, a long list of enemies, a colorful nickname bestowed by liberal detractors and a Web site dedicated to “watching” him. The scrutiny will only get more intense between now and November as the “honey badger of Colorado politics” — a reference to the ferocious, fearless animal — presides over voting in a battleground state that could help decide the presidency. Gessler may be the most closely watched election official in the country, heightened by Colorado’s prominence, his ready-to-rumble personality and a series of loud disputes with what he has termed the “angry left.”
Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson on Wednesday sued Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, challenging a rule from his office to block ballots from being mailed to inactive voters in city and school board elections. “The election rules adopted in August by the Colorado secretary of state prohibiting the mailing of ballots to inactive-failed-to-vote voters in nonpartisan and coordinated elections infringes on Denver’s status as a home rule city and county,” Johnson said in a statement. “We believe that the secretary of state is overstepping his authority by trying to control who gets ballots in local municipal elections.
Two recounts and a mystery absentee ballot have failed to produce a winner in a deadlocked Democratic primary race in Connecticut’s 5th General Assembly District. The race between challenger Brandon McGee and party-endorsed candidate Leo Canty remained tied 774-774 after a second recount in Hartford on Tuesday resulted in no changes to the vote totals, The Hartford Courant reported. Election officials then thought an absentee ballot in an envelope labeled “deceased” would put an end to the race. That ballot had not been counted during the original election or during the two recounts, the Courant reported. Officials discovered Tuesday that the ballot was legitimate because it was cast by an elderly – but very much alive — woman who lives in a nursing home.
A federal judge on Wednesday questioned the decision by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature to limit the number of early voting days heading into this year’s crucial presidential election. Judge Timothy Corrigan, an appointee of President George W. Bush, held a three-hour hearing in a Jacksonville courtroom on whether he should block the 2011 law that cut the number of days from 14 to eight. The court battle comes just weeks before voting is scheduled to start in the key swing state and is one among a series of legal battles dealing with Florida voting procedures. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., as well as the Duval County Democratic Party and a civil rights group, filed a lawsuit this summer that challenges the law. Their lawsuit contends that the move was discriminatory because blacks voted early in higher percentages, especially during the 2008 election in which President Barack Obama carried Florida.
The Idaho Supreme Court heard arguments today in a challenge to the outcome of a Coeur d’Alene City Council election from November 2009. Jim Brannon, who narrowly lost a council seat to Mike Kennedy, pressed his lawsuit against the city to the state’s high court after losing in district court nearly two years ago. Coeur d’Alene lawyer Starr Kelso, arguing Brannon’s appeal, raised nearly two dozen issues in the case in filings with the Supreme Court.
Early voting in Maryland was meant to make the ballot box more accessible by giving voters additional chances to cast their ballots, but instead, the perceived shortcomings of the program have spawned a debate over costs, benefits and partisan bias. Early voting turnout has been low since its introduction in 2010. Only 2.4 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballots ahead of the April 3 primary election — roughly the same as in 2010. Compared to the 2006 election, total turnout in 2010 stayed flat, with one in two Marylanders voting, though about 6 percent of those voters cast their ballots before Election Day, according to data from the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The devil is in the details of a controversial voter identification law being appealed in the lower courts of Pennsylvania this month, and registered voters need to educate themselves on those details before voting in November, panelists said at a forum Wednesday night. “It’s one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country,” said Sara Mullen, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. The commentary came during a voter identification forum at the University of Scranton on Wednesday night in front of a crowd of about 30 people. Panelists discussed the law as it stands now and what it meant for voters, who will be required to present government issued photo identification that also has an expiration date.
A court battle over the state of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter identification law is being seen as a proxy in the battle between Republicans and Democrats. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has asked a lower court to reconsider its earlier ruling in favor of the law. Republican legislatures across the country have pushed voter ID laws – ostensibly to prevent voter fraud. Democrats argue the laws are an attempt to suppress minority voter turnout. Democratic volunteers are canvassing Philadelphia neighborhoods with information on the state’s new voter ID law. The Republican-sponsored law requires voters to have state-approved photo ID to vote. But more than 700,000 voters may not have one.
The running dispute over presumed-dead voters on Harris County rolls was substantially resolved Wednesday between the Texas Secretary of State’s office and Harris County’s tax registrar just hours before a Travis County judge issued an order that temporarily prevents the removal of names from registration lists statewide. About 9,000 Harris County voters got letters this month from the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners, who also serves as the voter registrar, stating that records suggested that they are deceased and that they must act within 30 days to stay on the rolls. The local names are among more than 70,000 on a statewide list generated by the secretary of state using the Social Security Administration’s master death file as required by state law. The federal agency’s compilation has been determined as sometimes incorrect.
Belarus has denied visas to two observers who planned to monitor Sunday’s parliamentary polls in the isolated country for the OSCE mission, Europe’s security and rights body said Wednesday. “Two parliament members from Germany and Lithuania who planned to observe the elections were told they would be denied visas” by the Belarussian foreign ministry, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly said. Visa denials to European lawmakers from international observer missions are extremely rare, and the last time Minsk barred foreign observers was in 2006, said spokesman for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Neil Simon. Simon named the two banned observers as Marieluise Beck from Germany and Emanuelis Zingeris from Lithuania.
As the famous Beatles song goes, money can’t buy love. But it may buy votes. At least that’s what candidates in the upcoming Oct. 28 parliamentary election seem to be banking on. With the election just a little more than five weeks away, the parties and candidates have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars officially. But many think the actual spending is much higher, just off the books, like much of Ukraine’s economy. Where the money is coming from is a tightly kept secret by political parties and leaders. “We are a poor country with very expensive elections,” joked political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. Four out of the top parties leading in opinion polls, including the pro-presidential Party of Regions, United Opposition, Communists and Natalia Korolevska’s Ukraine-Forward refused to provide any official information about their campaign budget and financing sources. “Go to a bank and try asking about their money. Would they tell you any numbers?” asked Communist Party Spokesman Petro Shelest, oblivious to the notion that the people who will elect or not elect communists have a legitimate interest in knowing who is backing them. His boss, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, promised to reveal the financial information in a formal report filed with the Central Election Commission (CEC) after the vote, an election law requirement that experts say offers little real oversight and controls. Other top parties are making the same promise, saying that the info will be released within 15 days after election.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has been investigating voter fraud for over a year even though concern over ballots being cast by thousands of voters who aren’t U.S. citizens has been founded on myth, not math. “It’s created an atmosphere where voters, even ones who are entitled to vote, fear their registration may not be valid or that they’ll be challenged at the polls,” said Elena Nunez, executive director of Common Cause, a liberal group that has tangled with Gessler over election issues. More than a year ago Gessler said there could be in excess of 11,000 noncitizens registered to vote in Colorado. Earlier this month, the Republican Secretary of State announced that his office had found only 141 people who were noncitizens registered to vote out of 1,416 names run through a federal database, and of those 141, only 35 who had cast ballots. That number represents 0.001 percent of Colorado’s 3.5 million registered voters.