GOP efforts to rig the Electoral College in favor of GOP presidential candidates may be close to dead, but a group of Republicans are hard at work at another plot to blow up the system: switch to the popular vote. Although more closely associated with progressive circles in recent years, the idea has a number of conservative activists behind it as well. And there are signs it’s gaining momentum. “I think there’s a growing consensus that the winner-take-all system we’re currently under is a problem, that it’s not representative, that only a small number of states benefit, and that it needs to be changed,” Saul Anuzis, a Republican national committeeman from Michigan who advocates on behalf of the nonpartisan National Popular Vote group, told TPM. The plan, as espoused by groups like NPV, is to lobby states to pass binding legislation pledging their entire slate of electors to whichever candidate wins the most votes nationwide. The bills would only take effect once enough states join in to provide a guaranteed majority in the Electoral College — 270 votes — in order to prevent individual legislatures from trying to game the system unilaterally.
Having the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II. Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you. Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued aprogress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.
Justice Anthony Kennedy regards himself as a teacher. The main role of the Supreme Court, he has said, is to instruct Americans about the Constitution’s fundamental values so they know what it takes to preserve American democracy. In Shelby County v. Holder, which the Supreme Court will hear this month, he is likely to cast the deciding vote between the conservatives and moderate liberals in a critical choice about the essence of democracy — the right to vote. The case presents a clash between America’s national commitment to racial equality and Alabama’s contention that states have“the constitutional prerogative to regulate their own elections.” In other landmark cases, like a 2003 decision recognizing privacy rights and a 2005 case striking down the death penalty for juveniles, Justice Kennedy voted for fairness. In these instances, he was a moralist, concerned about constitutional values yet willing to balance the importance of court precedents against the weight of the most salient facts. That approach should lead him to the fair result in this case, too.
Republicans aren’t alone in manipulating election rules or drawing districts to favor their candidates, but lately they’ve been in the vanguard. Their latest proposals, to fiddle with presidential vote-tallying, are particularly egregious. Following through on them not only would damage the GOP’s reputation but also could drain all legitimacy from the electoral college system. Virginia Republicans, thankfully, killed such a reform plan Tuesday. Republicans elsewhere should stay away, too. State-level GOP leaders around the country have been considering ways to split up their states’ electoral college votes, and one idea is to do it according to congressional district maps. A presidential candidate who wins a congressional district, say, would win one electoral college vote.
Now that the Election Commission has sent a reference to the Law Ministry with new proposals including compulsory voting, following Supreme Court’s order that steps be taken to legally bind all eligible voters in the country to exercise their right of franchise as early as possible and ensure that the winning candidate bags a true majority vote, time is certainly ripe to have a glance at the 31 countries with compulsory voting systems in place. Countries that have compulsory voting systems are Austria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, France (senate only), Gabon, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nauru, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland (province of Schaffhausen), Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay. A study of the World Fact Book of the American Central Investigation Agency (CIA) and the July 4, 2005 edition of the prestigious British daily “The Guardian” reveals that of the 31 countries with compulsory voting system, around a dozen nations (and Schaffhausen, a province/canton of Switzerland) actually enforce it.
Members of the Independent Redistricting Commission do not need to answer certain questions from those who are suing them, a federal court has ruled. The judges accepted the argument by commission attorneys that its members are entitled to the same immunity from having to explain their decisions as state legislators. That allows them to rebuff inquiries from those who are suing them. But the judges hearing the case set for trial next month cautioned the commissioners they may want to think twice before asserting that privilege. They ruled any claim of privilege is an all-or-nothing prospect. The ruling — and the warning — could ultimately affect the outcome of the case.
State lawmakers grudgingly approved $500,000 Thursday to keep the Independent Redistricting Commission in business – and help it fight the Legislature. The funding, given final approval by both the House and Senate, falls short of the $2.2 million the commission sought in supplemental funding for the balance of this budget year, which runs through June 30. But Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the amount will provide enough to pay the commission’s lawyers to be ready for a trial set to begin in March in federal court challenging the maps the panel drew for legislative districts. He said the rest of the funds the commission wanted are unnecessary – at least for the time being.
Florida: Panel of Both Major Parties Propose Voting Fixes For Upcoming Legislative Session | TheLedger.com
Leaders in both major political parties agree changes must be made to Florida’s election laws, but they are far apart on how to fix the problems and who’s to blame for issues that arose in the 2012 election. A panel of Republicans and Democrats from the Legislature and from county supervisor of elections offices agreed this week that there must be longer periods for early voting and shorter amendments on ballots. They also said proposed fixes will be offered in the upcoming 2013 session of the Florida Legislature, which starts March 5. The panel was part of a pre-legislative seminar sponsored by The Associated Press, and while there was agreement that more days and more locations are needed for early voting, there was no agreement on who necessitated those changes.
House Republicans pushed through a bill Thursday to end same-day voter registration and instead cut it off at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. House Bill 30 by Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, passed an initial 61-39 vote, with all Republicans voting for it and all Democrats against it. The bill faces a final vote before heading to the Senate. Republicans cited long waiting lines and confusion on Election Day resulting from what’s known as “same-day voter registration” as a reason to change the 2005 state law. Democrats countered that it would deprive people of their right to vote if they learned on Election Day they weren’t registered when they thought they were. “All we’re doing is moving the registration back so that the clerk and recorder’s staff can work on the election on Election Day, and the voters, if they’re going to run through the voting process, can be moved along speedily, rather than a four- to six-hour wait,” Washburn said.
A statewide early voting system as proposed by Democrats in the state Assembly would be far too unwieldy and expensive to implement, Warren County leaders said this week. Friday Jan. 25, county supervisors serving on the Legislative & Rules Committee endorsed a resolution opposing the measure — which would entail setting up five polling sites in the county and keeping them open and staffed with election inspectors for 11 hours per day for two full weeks before each general election, even through the weekends. The proposal also mandates that such provisions be made for a week prior to both primary and special elections.
The Rhode Island House will examine the reasons for long lines and ballot mix-ups seen in last fall’s election in the hopes of preventing similar problems the next time voters head to the polls. The House Oversight Committee agreed Thursday to focus on the election mishaps. It will be the first task the oversight panel has taken up in the two years since it last met. Large crowds of voters overwhelmed one Providence polling place in the November election, leading to hours-long lines and voter frustration.
Old age and associated complications such as loss of mobility will affect almost all of us. But they shouldn’t block our most basic democratic right – the right to vote — said Lindi Kirkbride of AARP Wyoming. Kirkbride is especially concerned for senior citizens, but all Wyomingites in general, if Senate File 134 become law and residents are forced to show picture identification at polling places. “The scenario is it’s a terribly nasty day,” Kirkbride said. “Someone in a walker wants to go vote. The poll checkers are there and they’re trying to determine, ‘Oh, yours is expired. You can’t vote because your license is expired, sorry.’ It’s going to cause these big lines.” The bill won’t become law this year. But next year could be different.
An unidentified assailant shot at politician and Armenian presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan and wounded him on Thursday just before midnight on a street in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. Hayrikyan was transported to hospital and his state is stable. The presidential elections are scheduled for February 18, although Armenian constitution allows to postpone elections for up to 40 days if any candidate is unable to participate in the race for reasons he is not responsible for. The deputy chairman of the parliament Eduard Sharmazanov also said the act was a “provocation against democratic, free and transparent elections”. A parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamyan admitted the election can be postponed.
An academic and former advisor to Julian Assange’s legal team has claimed the WikiLeaks founder will face significant eligibility and constitutional hurdles in his bid for an upper-house seat. WikiLeaks last week (30 January) confirmed that Assange would “run on a WikiLeaks party ticket” after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called an election for 14 September. Graeme Orr (pictured), a professor who specialises in the law of politics at the University of Queensland, told Lawyers Weekly that he was approached by Assange’s lawyers last year to provide advice on a potential Senate bid by the controversial activist. Orr claimed Assange’s first hurdle is being eligible to stand, which, under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, requires candidates to be registered to vote. “It is public knowledge that [Assange] is not on the electoral roll,” said Orr.
Following the lapse of the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) deadline for expression of interest to hold public office yesterday, the party remains tight-lipped on the list of candidates for the primaries. BDP executive secretary Thabo Masalila confirmed yesterday that a huge number of members have shown interest in contesting in the party primaries, but would not reveal the candidates. “At the moment we can’t confirm who is who. It’s confidential. There are many files and many more letters are pouring in,” he said. He stated that the list would be passed on to the central committee, which will assess it and release the names to the public, as the date for primaries approaches. He added that the outcome of the delimitation commission would have an impact on the primaries.
Canada: B.C. high court to hear voter ID laws could prevent homeless, seniors from say | Global News
The contention that federal voting laws requiring all people to present identification at the ballot box could deny society’s most vulnerable people from ticking their preferred candidate will be put to the test for a second time, Monday in British Columbia’s highest court. Two anti-poverty activists and a visually impaired woman who couldn’t find the proper ID to vote in the last federal election are appealing a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found the current law only presents a “minor inconvenience” for most. The plaintiffs plan to argue against the 2010 judgment, which failed to agree the law is unconstitutional.
Canada: Are voter ID laws too onerous? British Columbia court readies to hear arguments | Montreal Gazette
A B.C. court will be asked this coming week to decide whether the right to vote trumps all concerns about voter fraud, or whether protecting the system means turning some people away from the polls. The government has taken note of the case that resurfaced in 2012 following a two-year-hiatus during which the three applicants had to find themselves a new legal team. A summary of the case was contained in a briefing note to Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal with departmental officials adding they would keep Uppal apprised of further developments. When the case is finally heard in the first week of February, the onus will be on the three applicants from British Columbia — Rose Henry, Clyde Wright and Helen Eddlestone — to prove that the trial judge erred in his evaluation of the evidence. The three unsuccessfully argued in 2010 that Bill C-31, passed in 2007, places barriers between some Canadians and their constitutional right to vote. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is also asking the court to side with the three applicants.
Cuba: Cubans vote on new legislature; president, parliament chief to be picked later this month | The Washington Post
Millions of Cubans voted Sunday for parliamentary candidates in elections critics say are closed and offer no real competition, but that the government defends as grass-roots democracy. The elected unicameral legislature will convene Feb. 24 and pick a new parliament chief for the first time in two decades, with the body’s longtime leader, Ricardo Alarcon, not on the ballot. Voting began last October with municipal elections. Term limits do not exist in Cuba, but on various occasions Castro has proposed limiting public officials including the president to two consecutive periods in office. Government critics call Cuban elections perfunctory, noting that only the Communist Party is permitted on the island and only one approved candidate is on the ballot for each seat in parliament. Castro and his older brother Fidel, now retired, have headed up the government for five decades.
For the second General Assembly session in a row, the fight over voter identification is creating tension in Richmond. Though Democrats say ID’s caused few problems in the 2012 elections, Republicans say changes must still be made to protect voter integrity in the commonwealth. Two bills, on their way to the floors of the House and Senate, take last year’s approved list of ID and whittle it down. House Bill 1337 and Senate Bill 719 would remove “a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter” from the list of acceptable polling place identification.