While President Obama was delivering his victory speech in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 7, people were still standing in line in Florida to vote. Thousands had waited hours to vote in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, some in the cold, some giving up wages to do so. In a spontaneous aside — “by the way, we have to fix that” — the president acknowledged the unnecessary hardship of casting a vote in the United States and established a goal that he now has an obligation to address. The long lines can be shortened with commitments from Washington, as well as state and local governments, but they are just the most glaring symptom of a deeply broken democratic process. In too many states, it’s also needlessly difficult to register to vote. States controlled by Republicans continue to erect partisan impediments to participation. And the process for choosing a candidate remains bound to unlimited and often secret campaign donations that are bound to lead to corruption.
The nation’s enforcer of election laws was largely paralyzed during the 2012 election, despite a Supreme Court ruling that left several key money-in-politics issues open to interpretation. With five of six Federal Election Commission members working on expired terms (one since 2007), President Barack Obama had an opportunity to remake the agency with members more inclined to enforce campaign finance rules, say reformers. But that hasn’t happened. The situation hasn’t done much for the agency’s reputation.
Of course: Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is reacting to Democratic electoral victories by trying to make it harder for people to vote. He wants to end same-day voter registration. Same-day voter registration is, in fact, a bad policy — because registration should be automatic. But in the current situation it’s the least-bad of bad policies. That’s because everything about voter registration in this country is awful. We should have universal, automatic voter registration. Period. End of story. Just as most democracies do.
Florida’s new legislative leaders on Tuesday pledged to fix the state’s troubled elections system, and promised a new era of cooperation in the wake of a string of Election Day defeats that surprised many top Republicans. The GOP still firmly controls the Florida Legislature, but the tone struck by new Senate President Don Gaetz and new House Speaker Will Weatherford was a stark turnaround from the past two years. Weatherford stressed the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together, while Gaetz said that voters don’t want finger-pointing over why things can’t get done.
How much has the South changed? That’s the question at the heart of one of the most important cases the Supreme Court will take up this year. The case weighs the fate of one of the most important laws in American history: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A century after the Civil War, Congress created that law to give African Americans the right to vote, not just on paper, but in fact. The key provision was Section 5, which decreed that jurisdictions with histories of discrimination, mostly in the South, had to get Justice Department approval before they changed any aspect of their voting rules, right down to the location of polling places. There is little doubt that, in the years immediately after 1965, the Voting Rights Act achieved a revolution in voting rights for African-Americans in the South. In subsequent years, Congress has reauthorized the law several times, most recently in 2006.
Florida Republican Rep. Allen B. West, one of the highest-profile and most-controversial members of the 2010 freshman class, conceded to Democrat Patrick Murphy after a nasty, brutish and long campaign. “While many questions remain unanswered, today I am announcing that I will take no further action to contest the outcome of this election,” West said in a statement Tuesday. “While a contest of the election results might have changed the vote totals, we do not have evidence that the outcome would change.” He added: “I want to congratulate my opponent, Patrick Murphy, as the new Congressman from the 18th Congressional District. I pray he will serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and put the interests of our nation before his own.”
An official report of the two-day recount results might not be released to the public after the county Canvassing Board missed a state deadline to have the report certified. Annie Clark, administrative assistant for Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker, said Monday she never indicated the latest recount results would be available Monday. Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers previously reported that Clark said Sunday that the results “would not be printed for distribution until Monday at the earliest,” and that, “We met the noon deadline.” Clark, who has been filling in for Walker and oversaw the weekend recount, was unavailable for an interview and did not answer emails about those conflicting statements.
After 33 years, the Ames Straw Poll should be scrapped, says the state’s Republican governor. “I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Gov. Terry Branstad told the Wall Street Journal of the Iowa Republican tradition. “It has been a great fundraiser for the party but I think its days are over.” Two years ago, Branstad warned prospective candidates that they shouldn’t skip the event. The straw poll is both a fundraiser and a test of candidates’ strength among Iowa Republican activists. Candidates pay for prime real estate near where the voting takes place; they also often buy tickets for supporters.
New Jersey voters could cast their ballots starting 15 days before an election under legislation introduced today by Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex. The bill creates an early voting system, which some legislators and election experts say could have reduced the confusion caused when superstorm Sandy hit a week before this year’s election. Polling places would be open for eight hours a day, seven days a week starting 15 days before Election Day. Early voting would end two days before the election. People who want to vote early would go to a polling place and cast their ballots just like they would on Election Day itself. The legislation would apply to primary and general elections.
Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the state and 10 days after the election, county election officials are still counting ballots, hoping to make their election certification deadline next Wednesday. Thanks to high voter turnout and an unprecedented set of voting opportunities, election officials in New Jersey’s 21 counties are trying to certify thousands of ballots cast by email and fax. “We followed the requirement that was set forth by the Lieutenant Governor,” said Robert Pantina, the Bergen County Clerk Chief of Staff. “The only reason for a rejection would be if the signatures did not match or if we couldn’t find the voter in the state registration system.”
The book on “Election Fortnight 2012” will be closed Wednesday as the Sussex County Board of Elections finishes counting paper ballots and the county clerk submits the certified vote to the secretary of state. Normally a quick and relatively easy process, even in a presidential election year, the 2012 vote was complicated and extended by Hurricane Sandy and the state’s efforts to ensure anyone who was eligible to vote, got a chance to vote.
Republican state Sen. David Rouzer, who trails North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre by 655 votes, is requesting a recount in the last House race yet to be decided after the Nov. 6 elections. “Considering this is the closest Congressional race in the country and in light of the irregularity previously found in Bladen County, which significantly reduced the vote margin at that time, I have decided to request a mandatory recount of the votes cast in the 7th Congressional District as allowed by law,” Rouzer said in a statement. “In a race this close, accidental human error could easily change the outcome. It is important to ensure that every legal vote cast is properly and accurately counted.”
Let’s talk turkey. In San Antonio, Texas, I’m thankful for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. I know. If it comes up at my Thanksgiving table, my answer to the traditional question — what are you thankful for — will surely get me some puzzled looks. There is a good chance, however, I’ll be unable to give the same answer next year. Section 5 requires certain jurisdictions with histories of discrimination — Texas among them — to get preclearance for any changes to voting or election laws. The burden is on those jurisdictions to prove they did not act with the intent to discriminate. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to look at claims that this section is anachronistic, though Texas has just demonstrated that attempted discrimination against minority voters is as trendy as breakfast tacos.
Gov. Scott Walker has joined one of the Legislature’s most powerful Republicans in saying he’s considering ending the state’s same-day voter registration law, drawing quick criticism from leading Democrats, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The idea was part of the agenda that Walker put forward Friday in an appearance before a sold-out crowd at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum near Los Angeles, a traditional venue for Republicans looking to run for president.
Just imagine: It’s April 2013 and the Liberal Party has gathered in Ottawa to hear that their new leader is… Chuck Norris. While that outcome may seem far-fetched, if the Liberals follow through with their plan to combine a new category of party membership with online voting, they may end up with an outcome just as ridiculous. The new “supporter” category was created at the Liberal Convention in January and is aimed at widening the base of participants for the leadership vote, making it more like a U.S.-style primary. Anyone interested in the party can sign up online and 30,000 people have already done so. If everything goes as planned, these supporters will vote for a new leader in exactly the same way as a full party member: in person or by mail, phone or internet. It’s the internet bit that’s interesting because, judging from the history of web, online votes have a tendency to go hilariously wrong.
More than 1,000 flashpoints throughout the country, where there are likely to be some disturbances during the December 7 elections, have been identified by the Ghana Police Service. However, the police have given an assurance that security in those areas will be beefed up to ensure peaceful elections. Effective patrolling by both police and military personnel will also be carried out in the polling stations in those areas to ensure that voters exercise their franchise in a peaceful environment.