Long lines. New voting machines that don’t work right. Poll workers wrongfully asking for photo ID. Democratic election officials keeping Republican poll watchers out of Philadelphia polling places. We have come to expect such stories on Election Day. As much drama is generated by the obstacles voters must overcome as by their choice of candidate. A nonpartisan board, with a chief selected by a Congressional supermajority, could set standards and choose procedures. There is a better way. We can do things as they are done in most mature democracies, like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Nationalize our elections and impose professional nonpartisan administrators. A neutral election board with its allegiance to the integrity of the voting process rather than to a political party should take on the basic tasks of voting. The goal would be to make sure that all eligible voters, but only eligible voters, could cast a vote that would be accurately counted.
Does the re-election of the first black president mean the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unnecessary and perhaps unconstitutional? The Supreme Court’s decision last week to consider a constitutional challenge to a key section of the act suggests that a perverse outcome of the 2012 campaign may be that President Obama’s victory spells doom for the civil rights law most responsible for African-American enfranchisement. The central question in the constitutional debate is whether times have changed enough in the nearly five decades since the act’s passage to suggest that the law has outlived its usefulness. The unprecedented flexing of racial minorities’ political muscle on Nov. 6 does make it clear how much times have changed. But a campaign marred by charges of voter suppression and Election Day mishaps also makes the need for federal protection of voting rights clearer than ever.
While the United States was grappling with whether or not to re-elect its first African-American president, Louisiana was wrestling over whether to appoint its first African-American Chief Justice for its State Supreme Court. Bernette Johnson’s destiny was temporarily deferred when some of her fellow Supreme Court Justices and Gov. Bobby Jindal challenged her right to succeed retiring Chief Justice Catherine Kimball. Louisiana law dictates that the justice who’s served the longest on the bench takes over as chief when the sitting one leaves. Johnson, the court’s only black judge, took the bench in October of 1994, while Justice Jeffrey Victory came on in January 1995. But Victory declared he had seniority, arguing Johnson’s first few years on the bench didn’t count because it was a special appointment made by a federal consent decree. Indeed, Johnson’s Supreme Court seat was made available because the electoral districts at the time were drawn so that no black Louisianians would ever have the kind of plurality needed to elect a candidate who represented their interests. When you’re black and live in a Southern state that venerates its Confederate heritage while leading the world in locking people up, voting for a judge kinda matters to you.
President Obama was re-elected Tuesday. Mitt Romney’s campaign conceded defeat in Florida on Thursday. And a few indefatigable politicians are already planning on making pit stops in Iowa. But in Florida, time stood still — until Saturday. After days of counting absentee ballots, the official results are in, at last: To the surprise of no one, Mr. Obama narrowly beat out his Republican rival 50 percent to 49.1 percent, a difference of about 74,000 votes. The state is consumed by finger-pointing and finger-wagging as election officials, lawmakers and voters try to make sense of what went wrong on Election Day and during early voting. A record number of Florida voters — 8.4 million, or 70 percent of those registered — cast ballots. Of those, 2.1 million people voted early, and 2.4 million sent absentee ballots.
In post-election statements, both Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep.-elect Rick Nolan called for campaign finance reform. They singled out the role of big money and negative ads in campaigns, demanding among other things, an overturning of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Campaign-finance reform is needed, but the American election system is broken, demanding even broader changes beyond reversing Citizens United. These changes extend to the role of money in politics, voting, and the quality of political debate and information. Citizens United is one of many Supreme Court decisions that try to define the role of money and speech in American elections. Concern that money corrupts the political process goes back to the 19th century. Beginning in 1907 with the Tillman Act, federal law made it illegal for corporations to make direct political contributions to candidates for federal office. In 1947 the Taft-Hartley Act did the same for labor unions.
When people talked during the presidential campaign about the potential impact of the election on the Supreme Court, most meant the impact on the court’s membership: whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would get to fill any vacancies during the next four years. The vote on Nov. 6 settled that question, obviously, but it also raised another tantalizing one: what impact will other developments during this election season, beyond the presidential vote itself, have on the nine justices? I have two developments in mind: the vote in four states in support of same-sex marriage, and the run-up to Election Day that saw both Democrats and federal judges pushing back against Republican strategies devised to selectively minimize voter turnout. Both are directly relevant to cases on the Supreme Court’s current docket, and it’s worth at least considering whether either or both are potential game changers. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time in Supreme Court history that timing turned out to be everything.
Voting Blogs: Redistricting does not explain why House Democrats got a majority of the vote and a minority of the seats | The Monkey Cage
In the wake of the 2012 House elections, it looks like Democrats won a slight majority of the major-party votes (roughly 50.5%) but only about 46% of the seats. A story has gradually developed that pins this gap on redistricting (for example, see here, here, and here), since Republicans controlled the line-drawing process more often than not this time around. Matthew Green pushes back a little on this narrative, arguing that, if anything, House seat share and vote share correspond more closely today than they once did. But he doesn’t necessarily deny that redistricting is to blame for the gap this year.
When Republicans claim that this was a status quo election, they point to their continued hold on the House. The 2012 congressional vote, some have said, didn’t undo the party’s 2010 successes. True enough, but that’s not because Americans didn’t vote to undo them. It’s because Republicans have so gerrymandered congressional districts in states where they controlled redistricting the past two years that they were able to elude a popular vote that went the Democrats’ way last week. As The Post’s Aaron Blake reported, Democrats narrowly outpolled Republicans in the total number of votes cast for congressional candidates. The margin varies depending on whether you count the races in which candidates ran unopposed and those in which members of the same party faced off (as happened in several California districts). But any way you count it, the Democrats came out ahead — in everything but the number of House seats they won.
Americans woke up on November 7 having elected a Democratic president, expanded the Democratic majority in the Senate, and preserved the Republican majority in the House. That’s not what they voted for, though. Most Americans voted for Democratic representation in the House. The votes are still being counted, but as of now it looks as if Democrats have a slight edge in the popular vote for House seats, 49 percent-48.2 percent, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Still, as the Post’s Aaron Blake notes, the 233-195 seat majority the GOP will likely end up with represents the GOP’s “second-biggest House majority in 60 years and their third-biggest since the Great Depression.”
The ballot counting continued in some legislative races Tuesday, one week after results from most House and Senate districts put Republicans in charge of both houses. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, emerged with a two-vote lead over political newcomer Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins in his bid for re-election — 4,054 votes to 4,052. Coming into the day, Kreiss-Tomkins, a Democrat from Sitka, held a 43-vote lead. “It makes Six Flags look like a walk in the park,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “It’s been up and down, a rollercoaster.”
Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots throughout California sit in county registrar offices right now and will never get counted. Some signatures on ballot envelopes don’t match the one on the voter registration cards, other ballots are from previous elections, but the most common reason ballots don’t get counted is that they were not in the county’s hands by 8 p.m. election night. An Election Day postmark is not good enough and many counties don’t notify voters their ballot won’t be counted.
The registrars of voters spoke to the board of directors Tuesday night about the many and unprecedented problems on Election Day, including long lines, voter confusion and a shortage of electronic ballots. In preparing for the election, the registrars said they looked at previous voter turnout in presidential elections and listened to political commentators who said President Barack Obama’s supporters were not as keen to cast ballots as they were in 2008. So considering that turnout in Manchester going back to 1996 had been 76 percent to 78 percent, Democratic Registrar Francis Maffe Jr. and Republican Registrar Tim Becker ordered enough ballots for an 82 percent turnout.
Florida: Rick Scott asks Secretary of State to talk reform with county election officials | jacksonville.com
Gov. Rick Scott has asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to begin meeting with county election officials to discuss potential election reforms. The meeting comes on the heels of last week’s election, which saw up to six hour lines in some areas, and Florida not finishing its statewide vote count for days after the Nov. 6 election day. “We need to make improvements in our election process,” Scott said in a release. “If even one Floridian has lost confidence in our voting process, we need to do whatever we can to make sure that confidence is restored.”
The state-mandated recount of the Fort Pierce mayoral race began at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday with about 20 members of the media, the campaigns and the public at the elections office. The recount is required because the vote difference between Vince Gaskin and Linda Hudson a half-percent or less. Results had Gaskin ahead by five votes after Election Day and then ahead by 21 votes after provisional ballots were counted Thursday and Friday. Hudson then took the lead by 61 votes after early votes from Nov. 1-3 were recounted Sunday.
Voting Blogs: A back-of-the-envelope calculation of Florida’s capacity to handle Election Day turnout without lines | Election Updates
Did Florida have enough capacity to deal with the crush of voters who showed up on Election Day? In the following posting, I take on this question by performing a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the ratio of turnout on Election Day to the number of voting booths reportedly deployed in the various counties. The short answer is that it looks like the number of voting booths was sufficient for keeping the lines short in Florida. The cause of the lines must lie elsewhere. One very interesting paper helps us to think about this. Presented at the 2010 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop/Workshop on Trustworthy Elections (EVT/WOTE), a paper by Edelstein and Edelstein proposed a rule about the minimum number of voting booths (or electronic machines) that would keep long lines from forming.
For all the uncertainty surrounding the election-result delays that plagued the Bullitt County Board of Elections last week, two certainties did emerge: 2013 is guaranteed to go smoothly because there are no county elections, and 2014 is sufficient time to address the various memory-card calculation problems that plagued not only last week’s vote-counting, but also both the primary and general elections of 2010.
More than $370,000 worth of electronic equipment won’t be used in local city and school elections early next year if the vendor doesn’t correct problems with the software, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said. There have been ongoing problems with the county’s 130 electronic poll books that were first used earlier this year, she said. “The vendor will have to fix that before we use them again,” she said. “The books have made it far more cumbersome for us. For the election administrators, they’re just a nightmare.”
At the end of April, the interfaith coalition ISAIAH held a daylong gathering for religious leaders to discuss the proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. The event was organized in conjunction with Jewish Community Action and the StairStep Foundation, which works closely with predominantly African-American churches, and attracted 250 individuals. Out of that gathering the group selected anchor congregations — including St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis and Progressive Baptist Church on the East Side of St. Paul — to help create a campaign opposing the proposed amendment. The group also identified 100 “voter restriction team leaders” from congregations across the state. Eventually ISAIAH, which works primarily on racial and economic justice issues, set a goal of speaking with 25,000 voters about why the photo ID requirement was a misguided idea.
Ohio: Federal judge rips Jon Husted for unconstitutional change to Ohio election rules | cleveland.com
A federal judge blasted Ohio’s elections chief on Tuesday, questioning his motives for setting new vote-counting rules that violated state law just days before the presidential election. In a scathing 17-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley said a directive on counting provisional ballots that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued on Nov. 2 was “a flagrant violation of a state elections law” that could disenfranchise voters. “The surreptitious manner in which the secretary went about implementing this last minute change to the election rules casts serious doubt on his protestations of good faith,” Marbley wrote.
Pennsylvania: Number of provisional ballots, voter ID issues spur call for Pennsylvania probe of voting irregularities | NewsWorks
Reports of voter registration glitches and misinformation at the polls during last week’s election are leading some Pennsylvania House Democrats to call for an investigation. Outgoing Rep. Babette Josephs is leading the pack of lawmakers dismayed by reports of the high number of provisional ballots cast in Philadelphia and incorrect signage or information packets about voting laws. Individual polling places deserve closer scrutiny for their handling of the voter ID law, said Josephs, D-Philadelphia.
In the world of partisan politics, one person’s New Black Panther is another’s misinformed poll worker. Reports of voter intimidation, missing names, and other mishaps at the polls on Nov. 6 have sparked a duel in the Capitol over which unresolved Election Day issues should be investigated, and for what. A Democratic Philadelphia legislator wants state and federal prosecutors to investigate what she calls “voting irregularities” reported at polling places around the state.
The Richland County Election Commission formally signed and certified the results of the 2012 election Friday afternoon. The commission finished the polling process just after 4 p.m. Friday. The county was supposed to have certified its results at 12 p.m., but requested two two-hour extensions. The Supreme Court granted those requests Friday afternoon, giving the county until noon Monday to certify results, but county officials said they wouldn’t need the entire extension. “I want to get this done, the state election commission wants to get this done and the public is ready for this chapter to be ended,” county election commission attorney Steve Hamm said.
Editorials: Philadelphia voter fraud: Is it possible that Barack Obama won 100 percent of so many precincts? | Slate Magazine
The New Black Panther Party was there, on cue. Standing outside of the 4th precinct in Philadelphia’s 14th ward, there was Jerry Jackson, a member of the leather-loving fringe group who’d signed up to be a poll watcher for the Nov. 6 election. Fox News was there, too. In 2008, the network spent hours playing and replaying a video of two Panthers glaring at a conservative poll-watcher as he filmed them. This year the network sent its own reporter, who tried to interview Jackson. “Have you been around a lot today? What’s your purpose of being here?” He said nothing. The network switched to video of the 35th ward, where people waiting in a school to vote were walking past a mural of the president, even after Republicans sued to get it covered up. “This remained untouched for hours as people voted!” said reporter Eric Shawn.
Richland County Council will resume counting votes after the South Carolina Supreme Court cleared the way. The Richland County Election Commission planned to resume the count of last week’s results Wednesday afternoon. The justices gave county officials until noon Friday to certify the results to the State Election Commission. The justices said any disputes must be filed by Nov. 21.
South Carolina: Richland County vote: Finlay, Dixon, Penny Tax appear winners in count | TheState.com
In a count delayed a week, Kirkman Finlay appeared to prevail over Joe McCulloch, 7,207 to 6,891 in House District 75, in one of tightest and most closely watched races in Richland County’s botched Nov. 6 election, according to preliminary results from Wednesday’s tally. Finlay, a Republican, had 6,771 votes, and McCulloch, a Democrat, had 6,506 in the original count. Totals came just after 11 p.m. Wednesday – eight days after the election marked by huge outcries from voters and candidates alike and a tumultuous legal back-and-forth that led courts to interrupt Richland County’s vote before the count was complete last week.
Some experts say the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement Friday that it will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 means this pivotal part of the 47-year-old law is dead and the court is finally ready to bury it. Some members of the court have complained about Section 5 in more than one case since Congress last renewed the VRA in 2006. Section 5 requires some states — the key is some, not all — to get permission, or “pre-clearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing their election laws. The affected states, including Texas, are those determined under the act to have a history of discriminating against minority voters. Most are in the South.
Voter registrar Donna Patterson blamed technical difficulties and an unprecedented number of curbside voters for long lines at polling places and the delay in reporting election results on Nov. 6. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Patterson said she will evaluate each precinct to see what can be improved. “Having people wait three hours isn’t anything I’d like to see with an election,” she said.
There’s just 25 days to go before Ghana holds its hotly anticipated presidential and legislative elections, the nation’s sixth round of multi-party elections. The political environment could not be more polarised. Billboards are adorned with party colours of the main contenders and television and radio programmes are not only dominated by political debates, but campaign adverts air every few minutes. Street corners, taxis, bus stations, food stalls, places of work and worship have all become platforms for debate, especially in the midst of the series of IEA presidential debates, aired live on all the major television and radio stations. As a mark of Ghana’s maturing democracy, the 8 year-old daughter of a taxi driver has become an iconic figure in the election period, being dubbed a “peace ambassador” for her probing questions at the recent IEA debate, forcing accountability on the polity.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suggested Wednesday that he will dissolve the lower house of parliament Friday, triggering an election that is likely to oust Noda and his unpopular party from power. The government said the election will be held Dec. 16. In a testy debate with opposition leader Shinzo Abe, Noda said he would go ahead with the move in exchange for cooperation on a bill to shrink the size of parliament. Officials from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) quickly said they would agree to the deal.
What started as a dispute over voting rules in Kuwait has mushroomed into a debate about the balance of power between the emir and parliament, with implications for other Gulf dynasties facing reform pressure since the Arab Spring. Thousands of Kuwaitis have regularly taken to the streets since late October to protest at Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s decision to amend the electoral law before a parliamentary election on December 1. While public demonstrations about local issues are common in a state that allows the most dissent in the Gulf, Kuwait – a major oil producer and U.S. ally in a precarious region facing U.S. arch-foe Iran – has avoided Arab Spring-style mass unrest that toppled three veteran Arab dictators last year.