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”.