With studies suggesting that long lines at the polls cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes in November, party leaders are beginning a push to make voting and voter registration easier, setting up a likely new conflict with Republicans over a deeply polarizing issue. White House officials have told Congressional leaders that the president plans to press for action on Capitol Hill, and Democrats say they expect him to highlight the issue in his State of the Union address next week. Democrats in the House and Senate have already introduced bills that would require states to provide online voter registration and allow at least 15 days of early voting, among other things. Fourteen states are also considering whether to expand early voting, including the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Virginia, according to FairVote, a nonprofit group that advocates electoral change. Florida, New York, Texas and Washington are looking at whether to ease registration and establish preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
If the Supreme Court strikes Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, what next? It’s a depressing question, with a depressing answer. That’s because no practical substitute solves the problem that Section 5 solves. Section 5 is special medicine for broken democracies. It demands that the federal government sign off on election changes, in areas where less than half the eligible population was able to vote in 1964, 1968 or 1972. Majority rule is grade-school civics. But in these jurisdictions, a majority of the electors could not cast a valid ballot. That is broken democracy. In these areas, democracy was often broken by design ‑ crafty tactics to lock out the most vulnerable and shifting representational schemes to dilute the influence of the few who were able to sneak through. As a result, Congress enacted Section 5 as a backstop. It does not demand utopia. It asks only that new laws not make things worse. Thankfully, the worst of Jim Crow is gone. But four decades have not wholly healed democracies broken for more than a century.
Edmonton city council would be wise to exercise real caution before introducing Internet voting into the municipal election system. As tempting as it might be to blaze an electronic trail into the local democratic process, the notion of a vote that’s only a click away triggers some genuine concerns. Edmonton and several other Alberta municipalities are looking at becoming the first centres in Western Canada to allow Internet votes. City staff have recommended council approve online ballots in advance polls for next fall’s municipal election, following what was regarded as a successful mock vote last September that tested such a system with no discernible security breaches. That all-systems-go enthusiasm took a hit last week when a local computer programmer informed council’s executive committee that he was able to cast two ballots in the mock election without being detected.
We have just begun a new year, a new session of Congress and a new term for President Barack Obama. But as we look forward to 2013 and beyond, we cannot forget the lessons learned from the past few years. The 2012 election season saw an abrupt reversal of America’s long tradition of expanding voting access. Voters were alarmed by the fact that more than 41 states had introduced, and in many instances passed, legislation that would make it harder for them to vote. These changes are now well-known — voter ID restrictions, cuts in early voting hours, reduced registration opportunities and executive actions making it harder to restore voting rights. Advocates and experts sounded the alarm — in the media, the courts and elsewhere — to ensure no voter would lose their rights. The result: Far fewer voters were affected by these changes than originally predicted. The voters won. But what now that the 2012 elections are over? Does that mean that the work is done and that problems that were so feared just a few months ago are behind us? On the contrary.
There were many images typical of Election Day last November 6, including the usual confetti and tears that accompanied the victory and concession speeches at the end of the night. Unfortunately, there was another image that is increasingly common on Election Day, especially during presidential contests: long lines. While it was inspiring to see so many Americans endure hours of standing to exercise their most fundamental right, it was also troubling. We admire the voters in Miami who waited for hours and “refused to leave the line despite fainting.” But should this kind of fortitude be needed to vote? By modernizing voter registration, providing more early voting opportunities, and setting minimum national standards for polling place access, America can fix the long lines that plague elections and bring our voting system into the 21st century.
The long lines at Florida polling stations on November 6 have led the state’s top election official to recommend expanded early voting and shorter ballots. The suggestions, issued Monday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, come after harsh criticism of Florida’s voting system, which was the subject of national attention even before long lines and reporting delays came to light after Election Day. While Detzner’s report indicated the 2012 general election “was a fair election as a whole,” the process “should be improved upon. The area for improvement most commonly mentioned was the length of lines at polling places, which were believed to have been caused by the record number of voters, a shortened early voting schedule, inadequate voting locations and a long ballot,” the report read.
When Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley first accepted chairmanship of a committee tasked with reviewing state voting laws, he “thought it would be a fairly low-key” assignment. Then the 2012 general election garnered media coverage over long delays in the Florida vote count, Corley said. The Pasco vote tally went smoothly, but a handful of larger counties experienced snags. “I’ve been a busy boy,” Corley said. He has been leading the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections committee that came up with suggestions for changing state elections laws. Corley is the association’s secretary.
It hasn’t gotten a lot of buzz yet, but a proposal in the Iowa House could change how a large chunk of Iowa voters cast their ballots. Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, has proposed doing away with most straight-ticket voting, the practice of voting once for all the people of a particular party on the ballot. The bill cleared a subcommittee last week, and it’s scheduled to come up this week in the House State Government Committee.
The raft of DFL-backed elections changes expected this session started trickling in Thursday as Rep. Steve Simon moved forward with a bill that would allow voters to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Current state law requires people who vote by absentee to have an excuse for why they can’t show up at their polling place in person on Election Day. Simon’s bill would remove that provision and also permit voters to apply for ongoing or permanent absentee status, which would require the state to mail them an absentee ballot before each election. The measure marks a move toward some form of expanded early-voting procedures, which are currently employed by 32 states. Simon said Minnesota’s law is difficult to enforce right now.
The Black Box Theater at the Arts Center of the Capital Region was the setting for a symposium on campaign finance and election reform Saturday, where a space usually associated with drama and comedy was filled by earnest concerned citizens curious about an important issue. The space Saturday was the setting for a symposium on ideas about reforming and overhauling elections in the state hosted by the Rensselaer County chapter of the League of Women Voters. Saturday’s event revolved around a power point presentation entitled “Preserving Our Democracy: Campaign Finance Reform in New York State.”
It was about 48 hours after the polls closed on November 6, 2012 when Defiance County, Ohio Elections Director Pamela S. Schroder got the late-night text on her phone from another Ohio county elections official. It’s the type of message no elections official wants to get. There was talk on television of vote rigging in Defiance County. Schroder looked at the text on her phone and thought “Why us?” Fortunately for Schroder, while the text was real, the talk wasn’t. It is part of a story line on the ABC drama Scandal. Scandal is a primetime drama on ABC starring Kerry Washington as public relations “fixer” in Washington, D.C.
Poll monitors in Hazleton during the Nov. 6 election observed “significant problems” involving Spanish-speaking voters and provisional ballots, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. “There were communication problems, misunderstandings with poll workers and voters getting turned away,” Mr. Kauffman said. Poll workers in Hazleton also refused to provide provisional ballots to people prevented from voting, Mr. Kauffman said. A provisional ballot is issued when there’s a problem verifying the status of a registered voter and can be counted later if voter registration is verified.
Tinkering with the way Electoral College votes are allocated is not the only way that lawmakers are considering reforming the electoral process. While the state still has to navigate how it will implement controversial photo identification rules, there are two separate pieces of legislation that would make it easier for voters to register. One measure would allow voters to register online but retain requirement that they do so 30 days before the election. That idea has been supported by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and other Republican leaders. Sen. John Gordner, a Republican from Columbia County, was among the co-sponsors of the legislation in previous sessions. Another measure would allow voters to register on the day of the election.
Senate Democrats effectively delayed a Republican voter-identification bill for another year after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling sided with them on Monday to break a party-line 20-20 tie. In the first tie-breaking vote of the 2013 session since he withdrew his GOP gubernatorial bid last fall pledging a new independence from his party, Mr. Bolling voted for a Democratic amendment that delayed the voter-ID changes to July 2014. The bill by Sen. Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican, would have eliminated documents such as residential utility bills, current paycheck stubs or even Social Security cards as forms of identification accepted at polling places. Those were added to a GOP law enacted last year by Republicans in the name of preventing voter fraud. Democrats likened it to Jim Crow-era laws and called it a Republican effort to suppress black, elderly and poor voters before last year’s presidential election. Those groups turned out in huge numbers.
Yesterday there were general elections in Cuba. Even without knowing the outcome, I think there was something interesting in them that we should pay attention to and that indicates the erosion of Cuba’s totalitarian system. The Cuban political elite have always aspired to everything. “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing,” goes their old slogan, still parroted by some hardliners. They aspired to complete control over the economy, culture, ideology and politics. They hoped to make their population march to the orders always invoked by the Comandante, and where children modeled themselves not after their parents, but after Che. They aspired not only to have no opposition, but to achieve complete alignment. They wanted not only bodies, but also souls. This is why they were totalitarian. They were able to do this, with some Cubans emigrating and others pretending to tow the line. In this, they counted on three factors: a decisive segment of the population that accepted subordination, a strong leadership that interpreted itself as having the correctness of thunder, and an undisputed monopoly on the economy, social mobility and ideological production.
Ecuador: Committee to Protect Journalists: Ecuadoran journalists besieged as Correa nears re-election | Huffington Post
One result of President Rafael Correa’s high-profile campaign to demonize the country’s private media can be seen on the desk of José Velásquez, news manager at Teleamazonas, a private Quito television station often critical of the government. Among the documents piled high on his desk are lawsuits, which used to be a rare thing. Encouraged by Correa who has personally sued newspapers and journalists, Velásquez says, the subjects of Teleamazonas news reports are now filing between two and five lawsuits per month against the station. “Because the president is so aggressive with journalists, it empowers a lot of people,” Velásquez says. “Correa says we are incompetent and corrupt. So, now the average Joe in the street says: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you are corrupt so I am going to sue you too.’”
A well-known candidate for Paraguay’s presidency died in a helicopter crash while on the campaign trail, authorities said Sunday.
Retired Gen. Lino Cesar Oviedo died late Saturday night when the helicopter he was traveling in plunged to the ground in western Paraguay, officials said. He was 69. Investigators found the charred helicopter wreckage Sunday morning and discovered that Oviedo, his bodyguard and the chopper’s pilot had perished, Paraguay’s civil aviation authority said.