Fresh from the November elections in which both parties complained that voters’ rights had been curtailed, House Democrats are pushing election reforms as a central tenet of their legislative agenda for the new Congress. The move, spurred in part by the efforts of Republican-led state governments to scale back early voting, likely will fall on deaf ears in the GOP-controlled House. And the push has gained even less traction in the Senate, although Democrats hold a majority there. But Democratic leaders in the lower chamber say they’re undeterred in their quest to make it easier for Americans to vote — an effort they say goes to the heart of democracy.
A group of prominent black conservatives is trying to help scrap a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights-era legislation that enshrined the right of black Americans to have equal treatment at the ballot box. The law was signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson in the presence of civil rights leaders like Dr Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and it represented one of the milestone victories in ending the Jim Crow segregation of the deep south. Now, however, a black conservative group called Project 21 has filed a legal brief before the US supreme court in support of a case aimed at overturning key provisions of the act. The bid, on which the supreme court is set to rule this summer, has been brought by the authorities in Shelby County in the southern state of Alabama.
The large number of provisional ballots cast in November has two lawmakers so far proposing ways to address the issue. Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the House minority leader, said he is drafting legislation to form a committee to study election problems and recommend legislation. Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, chairwoman of a new Senate Elections Committee, said she is aiming to cut down on problems with permanent early voting lists that led to many provisional ballots being cast. Provisional ballots are given to voters at a polling places when there are questions about their identity or eligibility to vote. About 172,000 were cast in the general election, up from the 107,000 in 2008.
California: Lawmaker proposes letting California teens ‘pre-register’ to vote at age 15 | SanLuisObispo.com
California teens could submit paperwork to get on the state’s voter rolls three years before they are allowed to cast a ballot under legislation introduced this week. Senate Bill 113, by Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, would let Californians “preregister” to vote at age 15, giving the state the nation’s youngest minimum age for submitting an affidavit of registration. While the teens would not be able to vote until turning 18, the Santa Barbara Democrat said she hopes the change would increase the number of active voters by linking the “positive experience” of getting a learner’s permit at the Department of Motor Vehicles with registering to vote. Teens could also use the state’s new online registration system under the measure, which is sponsored by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith, “Florida’s 2012 General Election under HB 1355: Early Voting, Provisional Ballots, and Absentee Ballots“
The 2012 General Election was the first major election in Florida held after the passage of House Bill 1355, a controversial election law that among other things reduced the early voting period in Florida and altered the requirements for casting provisional ballots. By cutting early voting from 14 to eight days and eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the 2012 election, HB 1355 likely contributed to longer early voting lines at the polls, causing in‐person early voting turnout to drop by more than 225,000 voters compared to 2008. The reduction in opportunities to vote early under HB 1355 disproportionately affected African American voters, insofar as nearly half of all blacks who voted in 2012 cast in‐person early ballots. Although blacks made up less than 14 percent of the Florida electorate as of November/December 2012, they cast 22 percent of all the early votes in 2012, roughly the same percentage as in 2008.
Two months after Florida was denounced for its chaotic election process, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday endorsed three major changes proposed by the state’s election supervisors. Governor Scott said he would support increasing the number of early voting days, including adding back the Sunday before Election Day, widening the range of polling places and reducing the length of ballots. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature changed Florida’s election law by shortening the number of early voting days and hours and tightening other election rules, including voter registration. Mr. Scott, a Republican, signed the bill, despite criticism from Democrats and voter and civil rights groups who said Republicans simply wanted to reduce the number of Democrats voting. Election supervisors warned at the time that truncated early voting would lead to long lines and pose other hurdles. They were proved right. Voters in some counties and precincts waited in maddening lines, both during early voting and on Election Day. Some voters in Miami-Dade County cast their ballots after the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, had conceded the race. Recently the governor has distanced himself from the 2011 election law. He told the state’s legislative black caucus this week that the election law was not his and that he had nothing to do with passing the bill.
Proposed legislation to guard against identity fraud in the voter registration process may need some further tightening, members of a state House panel said Wednesday. The legislation would make it a felony to copy or otherwise reproduce a completed voter registration application. The change would protect the confidentiality of such information as the individual’s full date of birth and Social Security number, which could be used for fraudulent purposes. Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $2,000 or up to two years in jail or both on a first offense. Penalties would increase on subsequent violations.
A bill requiring a Montana issued identification card in order to register to vote prompted a long line of opponents during its Wednesday hearing. One person did line up to speak in favor of the bill but was dismissed for not approaching during the time designated for bill proponents. Representative Ted Washburn (R-Bozeman) is sponsoring several bills this session to modify the state’s voter registration process, including one which would eliminate Montana’s same-day voter registration system. He says he believes the current system is open to potential fraud, but that his voter ID bill (HB 108) does not confront those issues.
Saying he wants to better secure the right to vote in the Ohio Constitution, Rep. Michael Stinziano is proposing a ballot issue that he says would establish that the right should be paramount above other administrative issues. The Columbus Democrat said he wanted to throw the idea out there as lawmakers begin preparations for the new General Assembly, which is likely to feature another debate over election law changes. Stinziano said 21 states have different right-to-vote issues in their constitutions. “It struck me as a little peculiar that Ohio isn’t one of those states,” he said.
A state senator has abandoned his previously announced plans to impeach South Dakota’s secretary of state. Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, has clashed publicly with Secretary of State Jason Gant for much of the past year, even requesting a criminal investigation of Gant, a Sioux Falls Republican. When that investigation by Attorney General Marty Jackley cleared Gant of any criminal wrongdoing, Adelstein said he was considering impeaching Gant instead. But now Adelstein says he’s given up on that plan. “I’m not going to fool with it any more,” Adelstein said. “If no one else cares, then why should I?”
More than two-thirds of the states now allow voters to cast ballots before Election Day and to vote absentee for any reason, including convenience. But Virginia Republicans are refusing to follow suit, despite the scandal of four-hour waits to vote at overwhelmed polling places last November. Perhaps GOP lawmakers in Richmond equate easier voting with unpalatable election results. If so, that’s a flimsy foundation on which to build a political future — and it may not even be true. This week, bills sponsored by Democrats to expand absentee voting, and allow early voting, failed in the face of almost uniform Republican opposition. GOP lawmakers rejected no-fault absentee voting, which would dispense with the need for an explanation. They also refused to add parents of young children to the list of those allowed to vote absentee, which includes people traveling for business or pleasure, military service members and those suffering from illness or disability.
A Senate subcommittee has blessed bills that would make it easier for presidential candidates to qualify for elections, but harder for some voters to cast ballots by eliminating some currently accepted forms of identification. Those measures, both sponsored by Republican Sen. Dick Black of Loudoun County, received favorable recommendations from a subset of the Committee on Privileges and Elections Wednesday morning. Black’s SB690 would cut in half the number of Virginia voter signatures that candidates must submit to qualify for primary or general election ballots – the current standard is 10,000 signatures, with 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. The proposal would reduce the threshold to 5,000 signatures, including 200 from each congressional district.
Edmonton should allow Internet voting for advance and special ballots in next October’s civic election, a report released Thursday recommends. The proposal, following more than a year of study that included a test “jelly bean election” and the verdict of a citizen jury, would make Edmonton the first western Canadian city where candidates can be chosen online. “If people are able-bodied (and) they just can’t get out to vote on election day, they don’t qualify for the special ballot. How do they vote?” asked city clerk Alayne Sinclair. “We might open the doors for more people.”
The Organization of American States will be sending observers to the coming presidential and legislative elections in Ecuador next month and to that effect OAS and Ecuador signed the agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of Observers which provides the conditions for the work of the Electoral Observation Mission. The agreement was signed by OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the hemispheric body, María Isabel Salvador. Insulza expressed satisfaction at the signing of the document and said that “it is an honour to accompany, once again, Ecuador, its authorities, its political actors and its citizens in the exercise of a fundamental right for democracy.”
About 10 years ago, when Einat Wilf was Shimon Peres’s foreign policy adviser, she witnessed countless conversations he had with world leaders. They all had enormous respect for Israel’s elder statesman, who at the time was vice prime minister, and enjoyed his analysis of international and Middle East affairs. But for one particular issue he routinely failed to arouse his guests’ sympathies: when he complained about Israel’s flawed electoral system. “Imagine having to try to get anything done with 12 parties in parliament; it’s impossible!” Peres once told Francois Hollande, who today is president of France, Wilf recalls in her new book. The situation in Paris wasn’t much better, Hollande retorted. “Nothing ever gets done in France without a revolution! The only way we are ever able to accomplish anything is by placing guillotines in our town squares,” the French socialist leader said.
The period of Arab uprisings that began in winter 2010 to 2011 has brought myriad changes to the region. However, one perennial constant is the willingness of official and semi-official elements in Jordan to manipulate identity issues in order to stymie meaningful reform. Indeed, given the past history of the Jordanian government, the most recent developments could be viewed as simply boring, were they not so deeply cynical and destructive. The newest chapter in this ongoing saga of who is a Jordanian — native East Bankers, certainly; Jordanians of Palestinian origin, not so much or perhaps not at all — has come in response to the upcoming parliamentary elections. With only a few exceptions, most notably in 1956 and 1989, elections in Jordan have been highly controlled affairs, in which the outcomes have been largely cooked beforehand, either through changes in the electoral law (as in 1993), or through outright fraud (most notably, but certainly not exclusively, in 1997 and 2007). On occasion, when it is argued that “regional conditions” are problematic, elections have been postponed, as in the early 2000s, and in many cases some of the most significant opposition forces, most recently the Muslim Brotherhood, have decided to boycott rather than play the palace’s or security forces’ game.