National: Online voter signup gains favor | Washington Times

If Capitol Hill Democrats have their way, every American soon will have the option to grab their laptop, plop down on the couch and register to vote. Yet unlike other hot-button voting rights issues, such as early voting and same-day registration, the idea is gaining momentum among some state-level Republicans. Online voter registration is a central provision of a voting rights bill jointly filed last week by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats. The measure, called the Voter Empowerment Act, collectively so far has 168 cosponsors in both chambers — all Democrats. But at the state level, the issue is largely nonpartisan, as half of all states with online voter-registration programs already in place have Republican-led state legislatures. And of the eight state legislatures with bills this year proposing the idea, five are GOP-controlled, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

National: Republicans In Key States Drop Plans To Alter How Electoral College Votes Are Awarded | TPM

Four states down, and just two remain. Key Republican officials in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan are coming out against a RNC-backed scheme to rig the electoral vote in Democratic-leaning states in order to boost Republican presidential candidates. That leaves just Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as the remaining blue states with Republican statehouses actively considering the idea. Virginia was the first state to move on the idea in 2013, advancing a bill out of a state Senate subcommittee that would apportion its electoral votes by Congressional district rather than the winner-take-all method used in 48 of the 50 states. Had it been in place the year before, Mitt Romney would have won 9 of the state’s electoral votes to President Obama’s 4 despite losing the state’s popular vote. But after Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and key Republican lawmakers came out against it, the bill was defeated in committee Tuesday on an 11-4 vote.

Editorials: The Next Voting Rights Act | Spencer Overton/The Great Debate (Reuters)

Richard Hasen introduces this symposium by asserting the “smart money is on the [U.S. Supreme] court striking down” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But I disagree with his framing. The next Voting Rights Act needs both Section 5 and additional voting rights protections. Unfortunately, Hasen is helping opponents of Section 5. He gives justices allowance to ignore facts and law supporting Section 5, and instead perhaps think: Scholars anticipate our court will invalidate Section 5, so we can invalidate it without seeming too extreme or too political. Section 5, however remains a significant tool in preventing voting discrimination. During the 2012 election, it blocked new hurdles that would have made it harder to vote in Florida, South Carolina and Texas. Hasen himself anticipates more problems if the court invalidates Section 5 – “more brazen partisan gerrymanders, cutbacks in early voting and imposition of tougher voting and registration rules.” Arguments that Section 5 unfairly targets states subject to its jurisdiction are overblown. Areas without a record of recent discrimination can “bail out” of this oversight. Since 1982, no area seeking a bailout has been turned down.

Editorials: Opting into the Voting Rights Act | Heather Gerken/The Great Debate (Reuters)

If the Supreme Court strikes down the Voting Rights Act, many will argue that we should abandon the civil rights model of elections and opt for a national law setting uniform election standards that would protect every voter. I’m all for protecting every voter. But I would hate to lose what Section 5 provides – protections for racial minorities, in particular. The other protections against racial discrimination in voting – most notably, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – are too costly and cumbersome to protect racial minorities from the practices that Section 5 now deters. Section 2 works well for high-stakes redistricting battles, where the game is worth the candle. But for the myriad low-level discriminatory practices, no civil rights group has the resources to bring suit every time. We still need what Section 5 provides: a simple, quick and low-cost strategy for protecting minority voters.

Editorials: Making Voting Constitutional: Our governing document creates no right to vote. It’s time it did. | American Prospect

Early last year, when Attorney General Eric Holder took a strong stand against voter-identification laws, he emphasized how much they violate core American ideals. “What we are talking here is a constitutional right,” he said. “This is not a privilege. The right to vote is something that is fundamental to who we are as Americans. We have people who have given their lives—people have sacrificed a great deal in order for people to have the right to vote. It’s what distinguishes the United States from most other countries.” The problem is: Eric Holder is wrong. Unlike citizens in every other advanced democracy—and many other developing ones—Americans don’t have a right to vote. Popular perception notwithstanding, the Constitution provides no explicit guarantee of voting rights. Instead, it outlines a few broad parameters. Article 1, Section 2, stipulates that the House of Representatives “shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States,” while Article 1, Section 4, reserves the conduct of elections to the states. The Constitution does, however, detail the ways in which groups of people cannot be denied the vote. The 15th Amendment says you can’t prevent African American men from voting. The 19th Amendment says you can’t keep women from voting. Nor can you keep citizens of Washington, D.C., (23rd Amendment) or 18-year-olds (26th Amendment) from exercising the franchise. If you can vote for the most “numerous” branch of your state legislature, then you can also vote for U.S. Senate (17th Amendment).

Idaho: Democrats Launch Push to Improve Voting Access | Times-News

Idaho Democrats want to make voting more accessible. But already, one of their ideas has hit a hurdle. Democrats unveiled a package of five bills Tuesday, Jan. 29, as part of the Voting Opportunity and Trustworthy Elections Initiative. But one of the bills was voted down during its print hearing just minutes before the press conference. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said voter feedback during the campaign season spurred the caucus to put together the legislation, aimed at increasing voter accessibility and participation. The five bills in the act address online voter registration, polling places and costs associated with closed primaries.

Minnesota: District 19A special election is costly | The Free Press

State Rep. Terry Morrow’s resignation from the House and the Democratic Party’s tardiness in scheduling its endorsing convention could result in well over  $70,000 in unexpected costs to local governments. The Feb. 12 special election to fill Morrow’s vacant House District 19A seat and Tuesday’s special Democratic primary election have to be conducted under the same rules as a presidential election. Despite generating a tiny fraction of the voters seen on Nov. 6, the special elections use the same polling places and staffing levels as a presidential election. Blue Earth County Elections Director Patty OÕConnor said she and other elections officials suggested to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie during a recent visit that low-turnout special elections should have different rules. “It was like, “‘Why can’t we do these by mail? This is crazy,'” O’Connor said.

Minnesota: How to Vote Down Voter ID | American Prospect

In late October, two weeks before the election, amid the glut of attack ads, a TV commercial appeared in Minnesota that grabbed everyone’s attention. It opens on former Governor Arne Carlson, a Republican, who is a familiar and beloved figure in the state, looking into the camera. “This voter-restriction amendment is way too costly,” he tells viewers. An image of $100 bills flashes to his right. Carlson’s jowls quiver as he solemnly shakes his head. An American flag hangs behind his shoulder. Fade and cut to Mark Dayton, the state’s current governor, a Democrat, on the right half of the screen. “And it would keep thousands of seniors from voting,” Dayton continues, his Minnesota accent especially thick. As he speaks, a black-and-white photo of a forlorn elderly woman appears. In a year when the two parties seemed to agree on little except their mutual distaste for each other, here was a split-screen commercial with a Democrat and a Republican, the only bipartisan TV spot Minnesotans would see. The two trade talking points, Carlson focusing on the financial burden, Dayton highlighting the various groups who would be disenfranchised, until the split screen vanishes, revealing the two governors side by side in front of a painting of the Minnesota Capitol. “If you’re a Democrat, Republican, or independent please vote no—this is not good for Minnesota,” Carlson closes.

Missouri: For another year, lawmakers mull voter ID requirement | PoliticMO

Lawmakers met Tuesday morning to discuss, for another year, legislation that would require voters to present a form of photo identification at their polling location. This year marked another time since 2006 that Republicans have brought up the bill for consideration. State Rep. Myron Neth, speaking in favor of the bill, said he felt voting might be too easy, opening the polls up to potential fraud.

Armenia: Armenia enjoys quiet amidst presidential campaign | NZweek

Almost 10 days after the official launch of the presidential campaign, the political scene in Armenia remains relatively calm. Unlike elections in 2008 and 2003, there have not been any powerful rallies or other street protests and demonstrations from the opposition. President Serzh Sargsyan will face seven challengers in the Feb. 18 poll, including Hrant Bagratyan, a former prime minister and leader of the Liberty Party, and Raffi Hovhannisyan, head of the Heritage Party.

Australia: Gillard gambles on Australian election date | The Washington Post

In the marginal Labor seat of Reid, in western Sydney, Julia Gillard’s decision to trigger the start of the longest election campaign in Australian political history was greeted with surprise — and not a little cynicism. “She’s probably done it to head off another leadership challenge,” was the snap reaction of one customer in the Speedy Bean Espresso Bar as news broke Wednesday that Australia’s prime minister had wrong-footed the whole country by announcing the election date of Sept. 14. The poll had to take place by the end of the year, but the hugely unpopular Labor government did not have to give the opposition, which has led in almost every opinion poll for the best part of two years, such a head start on timing. Gillard explained it by saying that she was putting policy before election politics. “It is not right for Australians to be forced into a guessing game, and it’s not right for Australians to not face this year with certainty and stability,” Gillard said.

Cyprus: Reprinting of ballots begins | Cyprus Mail

Reprinting 575,000 ballot papers began yesterday after the original batch was scrapped as they depicted the alleged unauthorised use of the Guinness World Records logo by one of the candidates. The reprint will cost the state roughly €40,000, and the electoral services are looking into the issue of legal culpability on the part of presidential candidate Andreas Efstratiou.
Efstratiou used the Guinness World Records logo on four previous election ballot papers, and claims that as a world record holder, he has express permission to use it wherever he pleases. But Chief Returning Officer, Andreas Ashiotis, rejected the claims yesterday after an email he received from Guinness World Records Ltd on Tuesday informed him that Efstratiou had been contacted in 2011 and told he was not permitted to use the logo on any more electoral ballots.

Iran: Iranian politicians call for free elections | The Washington Post

A heated debate about who will be allowed to run in Iran’s presidential election has erupted five months before the vote, stoking concerns about a repeat of the protests that followed the contested 2009 poll. At the heart of the controversy is whether the vote will be what critics of Iran’s electoral system call “free” — that is, cast with a ballot that includes candidates from all of Iran’s various political factions and not just principlists, the conservatives who are loyal to the Shiite Muslim clerical establishment that rules Iran. The loudest calls for an open field of participants are coming from two former presidents and the outgoing one, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran: Changes To Iran’s Election Law Seen As Attempt To Prevent Ahmadinejad Influence | Radio Liberty

Iran’s Guardians Council has approved changes to the country’s election law that significantly diminish the government’s authority over elections. A Guardians Council spokesman said the new law stipulates that elections will be run by a new central election board made up of representatives from the three branches of power, as well as seven “national, political, social, and cultural” figures. Previously, the Interior Ministry was tasked with organizing and overseeing all elections. Now it will play a much smaller role.

United Kingdom: Scottish independence referendum question rejected by Electoral Commission | STV

The independence referendum question that Scotland will face at the polls in 2014 has been chosen. On Wednesday, the Electoral Commission published its advice on the referendum question proposed by the government, which is: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yes/No”. The electoral watchdog rejected the Scottish Government’s proposed independence referendum question recommending that “more neutral wording” is needed. The watchdog found that the clause “Do you agree” was not suitable for the referendum question as it “potentially encouraged people to vote ‘yes’ and should be replaced by more neutral wording”. It recommended that the question should be altered to: “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No”.

National: States, GOP Lawmakers Eye Tougher Voter ID Laws | Stateline

The run-up to the 2012 elections was one of court battles and legislative jockeying over Republican-backed voter ID and elections laws that critics called bald-faced attempts to suppress turnout and disenfranchise Democratic voters. Now with 2013 legislative sessions getting under way, those fights show no signs of slowing. Lawmakers in as many as a dozen states are considering new or tougher voter ID laws this year, many of which are expected to become law despite criticism similar moves received in 2012. Indeed, it already seems likely more states will have stricter elections administration schemes come 2014 than there were just last year.

Colorado: Audit of Gessler’s expenses won’t move forward | Colorado Springs Gazette

An investigation into how Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler uses his discretionary fund, prompted by travel to political events, won’t move forward because lawmakers deadlocked Tuesday on whether to proceed. Democrats have criticized Gessler for getting reimbursed $1,570 for travel to the Republican National Convention and a GOP election law training event in Florida, saying it was improper use of public funds. But they failed to get Republican support for a legislative investigation to advance, and their request failed on a 4-4 vote in the legislative audit committee. Democrats wanted state auditor to look at all expenses from Gessler’s discretionary fund since he took office in January 2011. It was a matter of maintaining the public trust, Democrats said. “It lowers the public trust of public elected officials when discretionary funds are used for political purposes,” said Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, one of the lawmakers requesting an audit.

Florida: Report on Long Lines, Other Election Problems May Miss Deadline | Sunshine State News

County elections supervisors may have to wait another week before they find out how the state’s top election official viewed their handling of the 2012 election. The anticipated findings and recommendations that will be the product of a review by officials from the Division of Elections, including a tour by Secretary of State Ken Detzner of the county supervisor offices deemed the most troubled, may not be ready until after Detzner’s Feb. 1 deadline, a spokesman for Detzner stated. “It is not completed yet, but I think it’s likely to be finished by sometime next week,” Detzner’s spokesman, Chris Cate, replied in an email on Monday. Detzner’s report, called for by Gov. Rick Scott, is also expected to focus on changes that need to be made, particularly at the Central and South Florida counties, where much of the media attention was focused on long, slow lines and delayed results.

Hawaii: Embattled Chief Election Officer Scott Nago keeps his job | Hawaii News Now

The state Elections Commission announced Friday that Chief Election Officer Scott Nago will keep his job and face no discipline after ballot shortages that affected 17 percent of Oahu’s polling places during the Nov. 6 election. Commissioners emerged from an hour and a half closed-door executive session at midday Friday and said would retain his job, in spite of calls by some people for him to be fired. “We felt there was a series of mistakes certainly, but none of them rose to the level where he would be dismissed because of those.  And there’s some things that have to be fixed.  And they will be,” said William Marston, chairman of the commission.

Minnesota: Legislature studies new forms of early voting |

Minnesota lawmakers are weighing election reforms that would make it easier for people to cast a ballot before Election Day arrives. Minnesota in 2012 once again topped the nation with the highest voter turnout percentage, but in some precincts long lines stretched throughout the day because poll workers and equipment were overwhelmed. “One certain way of dealing with the line issue is to have either early voting or no-excuse absentee voting,” Joe Mansky, the longtime Ramsey County elections director told KARE.

Indiana: Scrapping electronic voting machines proposed | Journal and Courier

Senate Bill 357 would get rid of electronic voting machines by the end of 2015, and its proposal caught Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey’s eye and her ire. All of those relatively new and expensive electronic voting machines Tippecanoe County taxpayers bought to avoid an incident similar to Florida’s 2000 presidential election would have to be scrapped under the bill, Coffey said. “I have concerns to the cost to change all our equipment to comply with that legislation,” Coffey said. … The bill’s author, state Sen. Mike Delph, said the bill isn’t going anywhere. Its sole purpose was to stir up a debate about electronic voting machines and election integrity. “I’m concerned that election outcomes could be manipulated,” Delph said Thursday afternoon during a telephone interview.

Mississippi: State submits proposed voter ID rules to Department of Justice | The Clarion-Ledger

Mississippi’s top elections official said Tuesday that he has given the federal government proposed rules for how the state intends to carry out a voter identification law that is in limbo. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s submission to the U.S. Justice Department is part of the state’s process of seeking federal approval of the law that would require every voter to show a driver’s license or other photo ID at the polls. The law can’t take effect without clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court. It’s unclear when, or how, the department will respond. Hosemann started seeking approval several months ago.

Missouri: Photo ID Bill in Missouri? Controversial Proposal Sparks Voter Suppression Criticism | Riverfront Times

Should Missouri residents be required to show photo identification if they want to vote in elections? Yes indeed, says Representative Tony Dugger, a Republican from Hartville, who is pushing not one, but two different measures to try and create stricter requirements for voters in Missouri. The effort requires two bills, because Dugger would need to change the state constitution. And next general election, voters might have that opportunity. The proposals, on full view below and set for a hearing tomorrow, are already sparking controversy with opponents slamming the bills as clear conservative tactics to suppress legitimate voters.

Nevada: Voter ID photo costs less than expected |

Secretary of State Ross Miller said Tuesday the cost of his proposal to include photos of voters in election poll books used at polling places to prevent fraud is $787,200, far less than originally estimated. The original estimate was between $5 million and $10 million, but that was based only on a similar proposal discussed in Minnesota. “Less than $800,000 is a small price to pay to enhance and modernize our existing system,” Miller said. “When we have the opportunity to increase access to our polling locations and further strengthen the security of our system, without disenfranchising any voters, we should do so. With 1.3 million active registered voters in Nevada, upgrading the system would only cost 60 cents per voter.”

Ohio: Secretary of State Jon Husted and other Republicans say Electoral College changes not in store for Ohio |

Count Ohio’s Republican leaders out of a GOP-backed effort to end the Electoral College’s winner-take-all format in the Buckeye State and other presidential battlegrounds. Spokesmen for Gov. John Kasich, State Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker William G. Batchelder told The Plain Dealer this week that they are not pursuing plans to award electoral votes proportionally by congressional district. Batchelder went a step further, saying through his communications director that he “is not supportive of such a move.” And Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state’s chief elections administrator, emphasized that he does not favor the plan either, despite Democratic suspicions based on reported comments that he said were taken out of context. “Nobody in Ohio is advocating this,” Husted said in a telephone interview.

Virginia: Slew of election reforms clear Virginia Senate | Washington Examiner

The Virginia Senate moved Monday to ease restrictions for presidential candidates to get on the ballot after a handful of Republican hopefuls failed to qualify for the state’s GOP primary last year. Presidential candidates need 10,000 petition signatures, including 400 from each congressional district, to make Virginia’s presidential primary ballot, some of the toughest standards in the country. Under a bill now headed to the House, candidates would need only 5,000 signatures. The bill, which passed 23-17, was backed by Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who criticized the current system after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were the only two candidates to qualify for Virginia’s Republican primary last year. Texas Gov. Rick Perry handed in only about 6,000 signatures, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fell shy of 10,000. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann didn’t hand in any petitions.

Cyprus: Election ballots to be reprinted over Guinness World Record logo row | Cyprus Mail

Over half a million ballot papers for next month’s presidential elections will have to be reprinted after the existing ones were ruled invalid as they feature the unauthorised logo of Guinness World Records. Some 575,000 ballots will now have to be binned, with the cost of a printing new ones estimated at €40,000. According to sources at the ministry, an anonymous call was made asking whether candidate Andreas Efstratiou’s use of the Guinness logo on the presidential election ballot papers was legal. The ministry emailed the company early yesterday morning to ask for clearance to use the logo on ballot papers but was informed that Efstratiou had been told in 2011 not to use the logo again after using it in the 2008 presidential elections.  As a Guinness World Record holder, Efstratiou can use the logo in certain circumstances but not on ballot papers, according to the company.  However Efstratiou has refuted this.

Voting Blogs: Czech presidential vote: a society divided | openDemocracy

This Saturday’s election saw the victory of former PM Milos Zeman over current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. The duel between a decried populist and an old-school aristocrat revealed a division previously unseen in modern Czech society. A few days before the first round of the presidential election, Charles University sociologist Martin C. Putna described the vote as an historic event in which the Czechs are “subconsciously electing their king”. Putna claimed that this inadvertent royal tradition rests on two factors. The first is the presidential residence – Prague Castle located in the heart of the capital and situated on a minor hill overlooking the city – which has been the seat of Czech monarchs since the ninth century. The second factor is the Czech Crown Jewels, stored in the St. Vitus Cathedral inside the Prague Castle complex, the fourth oldest coronation vestments in Europe. Both the Prague Castle and the Crown Jewels are among the major symbols of contemporary Czech sovereignty, nationalism and statehood even though they are intrinsically linked to a regal tradition.

Djibouti: Opposition parties to contest parliamentary elections |

Three main opposition parties in Djibouti — the Republican Alliance for Development, the Djibouti Party for Development and the National Democratic Party — are preparing to take part in next month’s legislative elections under the banner of a new political bloc known as the Holy Union for Change (USC). “After intensive discussions, the opposition bloc, which has been joined by movements and independent figures, has formed a coalition to bring a 10-year political boycott to an end,” a USC statement said last month. The ruling coalition, Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP), which has been in power for a decade, included the People’s Rally for Progress, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, the Union of Reform Partisans and the Social Democratic Party.