National: The Election Disaster That Wasn’t: America’s poorly designed ballots could have bungled the 2012 election | Slate Magazine

Inauguration weekend is as good a moment as any for Americans to celebrate the political differences between say, Ohio and Syria. But let’s not forget how narrowly, back in November, we avoided another Florida 2000-style election debacle. The shambolic state of ballot design in America remains a potent threat to our democracy. Richard L. Hasen, a leading election expert says it best in his recent book: “If you think that a dozen years later the country would have fixed its [election] problems … you’d be dead wrong.” In the 2008 and 2010 elections, by one estimate [PDF], a combined total of more than half a million votes were not counted due to voter errors that imply poor ballot design. (For numerical context, Obama’s 2012 Ohio margin was around 166,000; had around 446,000 votes been different in 2008, President McCain would have won.) But 2012’s relative dearth of cliffhanger recounts, lawsuits, and Onion-caliber open warfare doesn’t mean we’ve fixed our ballots. We just got lucky.

National: GOP eyes new election laws | Washington Times

After back-to-back presidential losses, Republicans in key states want to change the rules to make it easier for them to win. From Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, GOP officials who control legislatures in states that supported President Barack Obama are considering changing state laws that give the winner of a state’s popular vote all of its Electoral College votes, too. Instead, these officials want Electoral College votes to be divided proportionally, a move that could transform the way the country elects its president. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus endorsed the idea this week, and other Republican leaders support it, too, suggesting that the effort may be gaining momentum. There are other signs that Republican state legislators, governors and veteran political strategists are seriously considering making the shift as the GOP looks to rebound from presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Electoral College shellacking and the demographic changes that threaten the party’s long-term political prospects.

Editorials: 48 years after MLK march, voting rights still vulnerable | Nicolaus Mills/

I carry in my mind a picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the beginning of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march on March 21, 1965. What makes that picture so vivid to me 48 years later, as we prepare to celebrate his 84th birthday this month, is that voting rights issues I once imagined were over have resurfaced on a national scale. The biggest difference between then and now is that today’s voter suppression operations are highly sophisticated, compared with the crude, racist ones conducted by Southern sheriffs and voter registrars through the middle 1960s. Before the 2012 elections, well-funded efforts in state after state tried to curtail the participation of poor and minority voters by introducing burdensome voter ID requirements, despite a record showing individual voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the United States.
A five-year, nationwide investigation into voter fraud by the George W. Bush administration resulted in just 86 convictions.

Editorials: On Voting Rights, MLK’s Work Continues | Hartford Courant

One would think that the inauguration Monday of Barack Obama for a second term as president of the United States would forever stamp as successful the heroic, historic voting rights work nearly a half-century ago of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is also being celebrated Monday as a national holiday. Yes, Mr. Obama, the first African American president, was not only elected but re-elected. That should prove that Dr. King’s legacy is secure, that the impediments to minority voting swept away by the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 exist only in the dark recesses of history, right? Wrong. It would appear that for some Americans, especially minorities, the right to vote — consecrated in the blood of the Selma to Montgomery march — can never be taken for granted, that it must always be contested.

Colorado: Bill would boost voting rights for those in youth correctional facilities | Westword

If they are eligible to vote, individuals in youth correctional facilities should be able to cast ballots. That’s the thinking of Representative Paul Rosenthal, who is pushing a bill that would make clear the voting rights of those in Division of Youth Corrections custody.
The proposal is personal: As a teacher at one of these facilities, Rosenthal has seen firsthand how frustrating it is when eligible students can’t vote. “This is pretty commonsense,” Rosenthal says. “I’m only putting into statute what is currently practiced.” Rosenthal, a Democrat and first-time lawmaker who now represents parts of Denver, explains that the standard practice in Colorado is that individuals in youth correctional facilities who meet all the legal requirements to vote are allowed to vote. But, he says, confusion around their rights and what documentation they need makes it even harder for them to obtain what the paperwork they need in time to vote.

Editorials: Legislature should restore Kentucky felons’ voting rights | Evansville Courier & Press

State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has prefiled a bill for consideration by the 2013 General Assembly that would automatically restore the voting rights of most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences and probation. It is a sensible idea that already exists in 46 states, but has been repeatedly rejected by the Republican majority in the state Senate. Here’s hoping the pattern of broad bipartisan approval by the House of Representatives and no action by the Senate will end in 2013 and Kentucky will finally join 46 other states in assuring individuals are not denied the right to vote for the rest of their lives for relatively minor felonies they may have committed as teenagers.

Maryland: Martin O’Malley to propose expanding early voting in Maryland | The Washington Post

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans on Friday to propose expanding early voting days in Maryland and, for the first time, allowing residents to register on the same day that they cast ballots — moves certain to rankle Republicans. The legislation seeks to build upon an early voting plan in place in Maryland since 2010 that was vigorously fought for years by the state’s minority party, including O’Malley’s Republican predecessor, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Nebraska: Voter ID Legislation Introduced; NCR and the Nebraska Voting Rights Coalition Will Work to Defeat it Once Again | Nebraska City News-Press

State Senator Charlie Janssen introduced LB381 today, a bill that would require citizens to present government-issued photo-identification to vote. The only type of fraud this bill protects against is voter impersonation— the rarest form of voter fraud in the nation. The Nebraska Deputy Secretary of State testified on Senator Janssen’s Voter ID bill last session and admitted that voter impersonation is not an issue for Nebraska. The bill, if passed, would affect the voting rights or primarily students, seniors, low-income, and rural Nebraskans.

Pennsylvania: Court blocks Voter ID Law opponent from getting Pennsylvanians’ driver’s license info |

Commonwealth Court has blocked a bid by a group that is challenging the state’s controversial Voter ID Law to get the driver’s license information of every Pennsylvanian. The Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project has no legal right to that data, which includes birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers, the court ruled. Marian K. Schneider, a consulting attorney with the Advancement Project, said the group, which calls itself a “multi-racial civil rights organization,” is considering whether to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case. Schneider said she sought the information so the Advancement Project could determine how many registered voters don’t have photo identification they would need to cast ballots under the Voter ID Law.

South Carolina: Early voting bills face major hurdle in South Carolina |

Democrats and Republicans both say they want early voting in South Carolina, but the idea – advocated in seven bills before the Legislature – could be doomed. Lawmakers so far can’t agree how long before an election voters should be allowed to vote. South Carolina does not now have early voting. Instead, it has absentee voting, which allows people to vote for up to 30 days before an election if they meet one of 18 qualifications laid out in state law to vote absentee, such as being 65 or older. However, 31 other states have early voting, where voters can vote for days before election day for any reason.

South Dakota: House gets chance to talk about election changes | Aberdeen News

A wide assortment of changes in South Dakota’s election laws received a unanimous recommendation Thursday by a legislative panel and, in normal circumstances, would have been placed on the consent calendar for routine approval today by the House of Representatives. But one piece of the package deals directly with the same topic as a lawsuit that targeted Secretary of State Jason Gant last year over the eligibility of House Speaker Brian Gosch to be a candidate for re-election. So Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, said House members should have the opportunity to talk about the measure, HB 1018. Rounds is chairman of the House Local Government Committee.

Texas: Rep. Johnson files bills to protect voting rights in Texas | North Dallas Gazette

Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) last week filed legislation to increase access to the ballot box and facilitate greater voter participation.
“The ability to cast a ballot is a fundamental right that has come under attack in the last few years,” said Representative Johnson. “I have filed legislation that seeks to reverse this trend in order to protect the rights of all voters, while at the same time making the process more welcoming in hopes of increasing participation,” he continued. These voting rights measures are the first five bills filed by Rep. Johnson in the 83rd session of the Texas Legislature.

Virginia: Ex-Felon voting rights restoration bill loses steam |

A bill to begin the process of amending Virginia’s constitution to allow non-violent felons to have their voting rights restored was killed in the General Assembly last week. The bill’s sound defeat — passed by in a House of Delegates subcommittee Monday by a 6-to-1 vote — came even after it had the backing of two law-and-order conservatives, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. A constitutional amendment requires approval by two separate legislative sessions before it can be put before voters in a statewide referendum. Unless other lawmakers step in to overturn the subcommittee’s decision, Virginia will continue to lead the nation in stripping people of the right to vote.

Virginia: House votes down voting rights amendment | Fairfax Times

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) voiced his disappointment Jan. 14 when a House subcommittee killed proposals to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have paid their debt to society. “I am very disappointed in today’s vote against these constitutional amendments. Once individuals have served their time and paid their fines, restitution and other costs, they should have the opportunity to rejoin society as fully contributing members,” McDonnell said. True to his 2009 campaign promise to restore more voting rights to convicted felons than his Democratic predecessor Tim Kaine — who set a record at 4,402 —McDonnell has already surpassed that mark, with 10 months left to go in office.

Bhutan: Elections in the youngest democracy on earth | openDemocracy

Five years ago the remote Himalayan state of Bhutan turned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, making it the youngest democracy on earth. Looking back at the developments since the transition, the democratization of Bhutan was a success story despite a few shortcomings. Come March 2013, and Bhutan will be set fair for its second round of parliamentary elections. While the past five years have been an exploratory phase for Bhutan, in terms of experimenting with and internalizing democratic norms, they nevertheless bear witness to the fact that the formal structures of democracy have indeed taken root in Bhutan. The criteria for assessing the success of democratization towards the end of the fifth year should be gauging the spread of the ‘effective components’ of democracy. One still often comes across the description of “democracy as a gift” (kidu) from the King, but any kind of analysis reveals that the process of democratization has indeed given rise to various stakeholders in the internal politics of Bhutan. How far the internal democratic space impinges on Bhutan’s foreign policy orientations is yet to be seen in the years to come.

Editorials: Go slow on internet voting | therecord

One thing to be said for internet voting, it would thwart the kind of robocalls shenanigans that played out in Guelph during the May 2011 federal election. In that still mysterious episode, hundreds of voters were directed through recorded phone messages to the wrong polling station in what appears to have been a clear voter suppression strategy. Online voters, of course, don’t have to attend a physical polling station to exercise their franchise, and there’s no waiting in line. But a push to get more Ontario communities involved in online and telephone voting in the 2014 municipal elections should, for now at least, stay on a waiting list.

Czech Republic: Prague protest demands direct democracy, new government | Prague Monitor

Several hundred of people Saturday demanded that the Czech centre-right government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) resign and the political system be changed, demanding more direct democracy. The so-called Big Assembly protest meeting in Prague’s centre called for a direct election of lower house members, mayors and regional governors. Only members of the upper house (senators) are elected directly. The Czechs will also elect their president for the first time next week. Until now, the two houses of parliament chose the president. Some of the speakers said a presidential system should be introduced in the Czech Republic, replacing the parliamentary one, and that people should have the power to dismiss politicians in a referendum.

Israel: Cost to economy of Election Day put at 1.7 billion | Haaretz

The Election Day holiday will cost the economy about NIS 1.7 billion in lost output, the Manufacturers Association said on Sunday. “However important the business sector regards the democratic process, we must examine whether the goal of increasing voter turnout justifies the heavy cost to the economy,” said the association’s president, Zvi Oren. “We need to search for a mechanism whereby output isn’t hurt and voting is nonetheless encouraged, like placing ballot boxes in central areas of employment.” The nationwide vacation will cost the business sector about NIS 1.17 billion, of which NIS 280 million will be carried by the country’s manufacturers, said the association, which represents the country’s biggest companies. Lost output in the public sector accounts for the rest, it said.

Jordan: Islamists to sit out Jordanian election | The Washington Post

The candidates running in Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections have slogans and campaign promises that would sound familiar to voters in the historic recent polls of other Arab countries. But a quick glance at the Jordanian ballot reveals a list of hopefuls who stand apart from many of the competitors in other post-Arab Spring elections: Of the 1,400 candidates running on Wednesday for this monarchy’s 150-seat Parliament, only 22 are Islamists. After major gains in elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, Islamists are set to make little electoral impact in the first Jordanian polls since a pro-democracy movement broke out here in 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood — which is Jordan’s strongest opposition force and runs its most organized political party — is boycotting the vote, mainly in protest of an elections law it claims will prevent a fair vote.