Congress is broken, and everyone knows it. Its approval ratings hover around 10 percent, and a recent poll from Public Policy Polling found that Congress is currently less popular than cockroaches, lice and traffic jams. It has difficulty getting any sort of business done, let alone address our nation’s major challenges, like climate change, immigration, poverty and fiscal policy. But amidst the partisan fingerpointing and bickering, one core aspect of the way our government works gets a free pass. We hear a lot about campaign finance and gerrymandering, but single-member district elections – that is, having each House member represent one congressional district – are without doubt the single greatest cause of what is broken about Congress. They are the key reason why Republicans easily kept control of the House despite losing the popular vote to Democrats, and why the political center has lost out to partisans on both sides of the aisle. They turn four out of five voters effectively into spectators who have absolutely no chance of affecting their representation in Congress. They help keep women’s representation in the House stalled at less than 18 percent, and grossly distort fair representation by party and race.
The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a request by the Republican National Committee to lift a 30-year-old consent decree that restricts the political party’s ability to enforce preelection ballot security programs that critics say would result in minority voter suppression. The high court, without comment, turned aside the Republican Party’s petition. At issue was a consent decree dating from 1982 involving allegations that Republicans had attempted to intimidate and suppress black and Hispanic voters in New Jersey in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Nearly half a century ago, Isaiah Berlin delivered an extraordinarily influential lecture called “Two Concepts of Liberty.” The negative concept consists in freedom from—“warding off interference” from external forces. By contrast, the positive concept consists in freedom to—to be “a doer—deciding, not being decided for.” Democracy requires both forms, but current constitutional doctrine adopts an unduly negative approach. This is especially the case when it comes to political voice. The Supreme Court has resisted attempts to constrain the political impact of money, most notoriously in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). But just as telling is Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (2011), where the Court hobbled the states’ ability to construct public financing systems. Adjusting the funds available to candidates who accept public financing somehow burdens privately financed candidates’ freedom, according to the justices.
One of my favorite election-geeky things about following the news from across the country is the occasional opportunity to see states heading in opposite directions on an issue. The latest example is on the question of straight-ticket voting: while policymakers in Rhode Island consider whether or not to eliminate the option, some legislators in New Hampshire are looking to reinstate it. Straight-ticket voting is currently authorized in 15 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures; however, in 2012 New Mexico’s Secretary of State decided not to offer the option, which is not required under state law.
The state’s independent ethics commission on Monday rejected requests by attorneys for Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler to drop an investigation into his alleged inappropriate use of public dollars. Liberal-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed a complaint against Gessler with the four-member bipartisan Independent Ethics Commission, has produced records showing that taxpayers funded the secretary’s trip to attend a Republican National Lawyers Association event in Sarasota, Fla. at the time the Republican National Convention was taking place in Tampa, Fla. State law prohibits expenditure of state funds for anything other than “official state business purposes only.” The same applies for discretionary spending, though it is at the prudence of elected officials.
Florida election supervisors taking heat for last fall’s elections woes pointed the finger Monday at two sources of confusion and angst that were outside of their control — the length of last fall’s ballot and limits on early voting days and locations. Last month, Secretary of State Ken Detzner blamed Florida’s long lines and delay in calling a presidential winner on five “underperforming” county elections offices in Broward, Lee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee took testimony under oath Monday from four of those five county supervisors. They argued that much of the blame fell on a historically long list of 11 constitutional amendments that slowed lines, and a bottleneck of voters brought about by reducing early voting days from 14 to 8.
No one showed up to oppose a bill Friday to tighten and make more specific some of Montana’s campaign finance laws after a federal judge struck down some of them as unconstitutionally vague last year. At issue before the House State Administration Committee was House Bill 129 by Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena. The bill came after U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena struck down some state laws last year in a lawsuit filed by American Tradition Partnership. They included the state’s political civil libel law, which made it illegal to misrepresent a candidate’s voting record.
Nebraska: Students Take on Legislation that Would Allow for 16-Year-Old Voter Registration | 1011Now
Students in Omaha South High School’s Character In Action (CIA) service learning class have been working with State Senator Amanda McGill to take on the organizing and drafting and introduction of LB 127 which would allow 16-year-olds to be able to register to vote. Over the past few months, these students have conducted research, worked to build a supportive community coalition, and met with legislative staff, community organizers, Senator McGill, and a bill drafter to discuss and begin the drafting process. Students will soon prepare to testify before the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee on the bill.
Secretary of State Ross Miller on Friday faced tough questions at a public hearing about his proposal to use photos to verify voters’ identities, with opponents worried the system could be costly or allow ineligible voters and non-citizens to cast ballots. In response, Miller said an electronic poll book using photos of registered voters instead of signatures would allow immediate ID checks with government databases, ensuring no fraud. He argued it would be more reliable and bring the election system into the Internet age of online records. “It would actually be more secure,” Miller said at a two-hour forum at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
North Carolina: GOP-led General Assembly plans to pass law requiring voters to show ID | FayObserver
The General Assembly will move gingerly but deliberately to pass a law this year requiring voters to show IDs at polls, said state Rep. David Lewis, chairman of the House election law committee. Republicans have sought a voter ID law for years, saying it’s needed to prevent election fraud. State Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville supports the idea and expects such a bill to be one of the first pieces of legislation he will sponsor when the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 30.
A highly controversial voter ID bill, vetoed by the governor last year, may not be dead but several media outlets are reporting that Gov. Pat McCrory may be taking a softer stance on the issue. The bill called for voters to show a photo identification prior to voting at the polls in person but The News and Observer has reported that McCrory is willing to look at alternative methods of identification. While many lawmakers remain focused on a strict voter ID law, others are considering approval of other documents that lack photos as sufficient identification. McCrory said last week he still prefers the photo requirement but would sign into a law with other alternative options, such as a voter registration card.
The men and women who run Ohio elections wrapped up a three-day conference in Columbus last week, just in time for state lawmakers to return to the capital, where they’re likely to take up changes in Ohio election law. As statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, county elections board members and workers have lots of ideas on how to make elections run smoother. Legislators have been changing election laws a lot over the last two years. So Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted opened the Ohio Association of Elections Officials conference with his list of what he wants lawmakers to take on now.
Less than a week after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell endorsed it, a proposal to allow automatic restoration of voting rights to nonviolent felons was shot down today by a Republican-dominated House of Delegates subcommittee. Neither McDonnell’s support nor that of Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was enough to salvage the measure, which has perennially gone down to defeat in the House. Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, the chief patron of McDonnell’s proposal, drew only one favorable vote from the subcommittee, from Del. Algie Howell, D-Norfolk.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell got his only standing ovation in last week’s State of the Commonwealth speech with an unexpected announcement: He would support automatically restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons who had paid their debts to society. But the Republican governor didn’t bring everyone in the audience to their feet. “Most of the people standing were Democrats,” said Del. Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Petersburg). A year after Republicans and Democrats fought bitterly over voter identification bills, Richmond seems ready to keep sparring over who casts a ballot and how.
Many voters who showed up to the polls last November did not think to bring along a photo ID, nor did they need to. That could change with West Virginia’s upcoming legislative session, during which voter ID laws are expected to be discussed. According to a recent report by the Associated Press, a GOP proposal would mandate voters present photo ID at polls and help those who don’t have such identification to obtain one.
The state Supreme Court for a third time on Monday rejected a request by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to take up a case that voided Wisconsin’s voter ID law. The terse opinion was unsigned, and no one dissented from it. The defeat for the Republican attorney general came just 2 1/2 months before Justice Patience Roggensack faces re-election. The decision means the case will remain before the Court of Appeals in Waukesha. A second case is before the Court of Appeals in Madison. One or both cases are expected to eventually be decided by the state Supreme Court.
The first round of the Czech presidential election, which took place over the weekend, can be seen as a reflection of the tolerant and slightly tongue-in-cheek Czech temperament. In few other countries would serious contestants for the presidency include a face-tattooed composer, a bow-tie-wearing prince, and a candidate who would become the first Jewish president in the European Union. This weekend’s polls brought an unexpected twist with the success of Karel Schwarzenberg, the current foreign minister and scion of an old Bohemian family. “The Prince,” as he is often called even though aristocratic titles have been officially banned since the inception of Czechoslovakia in 1918, spent a large part of his life outside of the Czech Republic and speaks a delightfully old-fashioned version of Czech. As chairman of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Mr. Schwarzenberg was active in helping the dissident movement in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. He joined Václav Havel as his chief of staff in 1990.
There are six women contesting the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election on January 21, the largest number ever, and it is hoped there will be a greater female presence in the THA in the coming years. The expectation is coming from Hazel Brown, head of the Network of NGOs of T&T for the Advancement of Women. Brown made the comment at Kariwak Village Hotel in Tobago on Thursday as she made financial presentations to each of the candidates. “We got some funding from the United Nations Women organisation in Barbados for women in leadership,” she said. Brown said along with the financial contributions, which are to assist the women in their campaigns, the Network of NGOs has also been training women in Tobago for leadership since December last year.