In a little more than three weeks, the justices of the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case about the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, the venerated federal law that for the past 48 years has helped eased the sting of official discrimination in the exercise of the most important of all civil rights — the right to vote. It’s the Voting Rights Act that has stopped bigoted state and local officials from ginning up new literacy tests or poll taxes. It’s the Voting Rights Act that has forced cynical legislators to limit (somewhat, anyway limit the scope of their racial gerrymandering. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court has been asked by an aggrieved Alabama county to strike down Section 5 of the statute, the provision which requires certain jurisdictions (like those in Alabama) with long patterns and practices of discrimination in voting to “pre-clear” with the Justice Department their proposed changes to voting laws. It’s a vitally important case for many reasons — not least of which that the court’s conservatives appear poised to strike down the statute just months after it was invoked, successfully and often, in the 2012 election cycle to protect the vote for millions of Americans.
National: Scholars urge Supreme Court to keep Voting Rights Act provisions ensuring equal access | UW Today
Racial discrimination and prejudice remain prevalent in the United States, so the U.S. Supreme Court should fully uphold the Voting Rights Act, complete with rules requiring certain areas, mostly southern states, to get federal approval before changing voting laws. That’s the opinion of a consortium of political science and law scholars from the University of Washington and several other institutions who have filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in the Supreme Court case about voting rights out of Shelby County, Ala. The UW faculty are political science professors Matt Barreto and Luis Fraga. The Supreme Court is expected to review the case on Feb. 27. At issue is Section 5 of the act, which forbids any change in voting law in the selected areas unless the federal government agrees the change “does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” The rule pertains to the states Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and certain jurisdictions in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and New Hampshire.
They were five simple words in a 2,000-word speech–”We have to fix that.” But for millions of voting rights supporters across the country, they were a sign that President Obama recognized one of the major struggles of the modern civil rights movement, as activists and some Democrats push back against an onslaught of voter suppression tactics that dampen turnout among Democratic constituencies. Another sign of the president’s support for voting reforms came on Inauguration Day, when he said, “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.” The third, and perhaps most vociferous call, may be only a week away, according a New York Times report that says the president will call for voting reforms in next Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The same report included an MIT analysis of voting wait times in 2012 that is likely to bolster his push for voter equality. Democrats and Independents, on average, waited about 20% longer than Republicans. Black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long as white voters. Urban voters waited more than twice as long as rural voters. The poor waited longer than the rich.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the most important civil rights statutes in American history. The constitutionality of a crucial provision of the act—Section 5—is in doubt, and the case that challenges it, Shelby County v. Holder, will be argued before the Supreme Court on Feb. 27. Section 5 is important because of another provision, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or against certain language minority groups. Under the 1982 amendments to Section 2, the act is violated by state or local laws that have the effect of disadvantaging minority voters. Lawsuits may be brought to challenge state or local actions that are alleged to violate Section 2. But Congress, in adopting the Voting Rights Act, concluded that allowing lawsuits to challenge election procedures was not adequate to stop discrimination in voting. Congress was aware that Southern states especially often invented new ways of disenfranchising minority voters. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was adopted to prevent such actions. It applies to jurisdictions with a history of race discrimination in voting and requires that there be preapproval—termed “preclearance”—of any attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting” in any “covered jurisdiction.” The preapproval must come either from the U.S. Attorney General, through an administrative procedure in the Department of Justice, or from a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia through a request for a declaratory judgment.
Partisanship within Congress has raised the stakes for Supreme Court statutory law rulings, since bipartisan legislative overrides of Supreme Court interpretations have greatly diminished and partisan overriding is much rarer, argues a paper from University of California-Irvine law professor Richard Hasen. In a paper to be published in the Southern California Law Review, Hasen also warns that a similarly politically polarized Supreme Court in combination with a highly partisan Senate could make a future court nomination a major political crisis and ultimately diminish the public legitimacy of the court. Hasen’s analysis of congressional overrides of Supreme Court interpretation of federal statues–something that requires a new federal law, as opposed to a constitutional override, which requires a new constitutional amendment–shows they fell to 2.8 overrides every 2 years on average from 2001 through 2012 from a recent peak of 12 overrides every 2 years on average from 1975 through 1990.
Voting Blogs: Forget About Fresno: How One California County Clerk Stopped Prop 37’s Oversight ‘Recount’ | BradBlog
What happened last November in California’s Prop 37? Is it really possible that progressive California doesn’t want Genetically Engineered Foods to be labeled as such? According to the reported results of that election, that would seem to be the case. But did Californians really vote against such labeling? Unfortunately, thanks to a lack of overseeable public hand-counts on Election Night, and a gaping weakness in the state’s otherwise liberal “recount” law, we’re unlikely to ever know for certain. A weeks-long investigation by The BRAD BLOG into the months-long attempted effort to confirm the results of the Prop 37 ballot initiative last November, serves to highlight not just the weakness in California “recount” law, but also the notion that paper ballots, secretly tallied by optical-scan computers, are just fine, since, as the knee-jerk saying goes, “we can always count the paper ballots by hand afterwards if there are any questions about the results.”
Florida: Ken Detzner: Early Voting Flexibility will Help Restore Voter Confidence | Sunshine State News
Florida supervisors need more flexibility in the days and locations they can set up elections, highlights the message from Secretary of State Ken Detzner on a vast number of changes needed to improve voting in Florida. Certain unnamed supervisors failed — Detzner charged in his review of the 2012 contest — to “prepare effectively and it reflected poorly on the entire state.” ‘One county or precinct that does not properly serve its voters does a disservice for the entire state and has the potential to cloud the positive steps taken by the rest of the state to conduct an accessible and efficient election,” Detzner stated without making any recommendation on any officeholder. “Supervisors of elections and county commissions must take it upon themselves to oversee elections through responsible leadership and efficient administration.”
A possibly longer early voting period, more kinds of early voting sites and limiting the length of constitutional questions placed on the ballot by the Legislature are among Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s recommendations to lawmakers released today. Detzner’s suggestions, based on conversations with supervisors of elections in what he called “under-performing” counties including Palm Beach, dovetail with what the supervisors are requesting.
Virginia: Spike of Virginia redistricting plans shows House speaker’s pragmatic streak | The Washington Post
He’s been called “the accidental speaker.” But since taking the helm of the House of Delegates a decade ago after his predecessor stumbled, William J. Howell has been nothing but careful, plotting a strong rightward course for the legislature and occasionally pulling back when he thinks it’s gone too far. With one swift procedural move…
An independent panel formed by a Republican official and charged with examining Maine’s electoral system has concluded that the state should not a implement voter ID system. “The Commission, by a 4 to 1 vote, finds that the negative aspects of a Voter ID law outweigh its potential benefits and recommends that a Voter ID system not be pursued in Maine,” read the report from the five-member panel. Former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) — a backer of voter ID — put together the commission last year at the request of the Maine legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. The Huffington Post received an advance copy of the report, which Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) will present to the committee on Wednesday. In their report, the commissioners went through the pros and cons of implementing a voter ID law. Pros included the belief that voter ID would “provide an effective tool against voter impersonation” and the fact that such laws have already been implemented in dozens of other states. The panel ultimately concluded, however, that the potential drawbacks to Maine’s electoral system far outweighed any benefits.
New Hampshire: Advocates try to kill Voter ID bill before it’s fully implemented | NashuaTelegraph.com
Advocacy groups for voters, seniors and civil libertarians joined a legislative effort to strike down the law that starting this fall will require voters to show a state-approved, photo ID card at the polls. Joan Ashwell, with the League of Women Voters, conceded the difficulty of getting lawmakers to junk a law such as this one before it’s fully implemented. “We understand the reluctance of one Legislature to repeal a law just passed by a different Legislature,” Ashwell told the House Election Laws Committee. “In this case, we aren’t talking about a simple bill like naming a bridge or funding one amount of money in the budget or another. The voter ID threatens the most precious right of our citizens, the right to vote.”
This May’s primary election ballot likely will be somewhat confusing in most counties, due to large numbers of candidates seeking party nominations for school boards, municipal government seats, tax collector positions and judgeships. In Lackawanna County that likely will be compounded by at least one but, probably, two referendums on the structure of the county government. One, approved by the county commissioners, will ask voters if they approve consolidating the recorder of deeds, clerk of judicial records and register of wills offices into a single office, and converting the sheriff’s job from an elected to an appointed position. Since it is unknown how voters will respond, candidates will seek nominations for the deeds and wills offices and sheriff’s office, in case voters decide to retain the current system. (The clerk of courts position is not on the ballot until 2014.)
Counties across South Dakota are using a new system to access and update voter records. Total Vote allows county auditors instant access to changes that need to be made, from new voter registrations and pending applications to record deletions due to a death and notices of missing information with existing records. Lake County Auditor Bobbi Janke said she is just starting to use the new system, and it continues to improve every week. South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said the system was created using input from auditors across the state. The goal was to create one computer system that could be used by all counties and the state. The new program is designed to communicate directly with other state departments that provide alerts related to voter records — like alerts from the state Department of Health regarding a death, which requires the removal of that voter from the active voter registration list. “It’s incorporated all of the election systems into one new system,” Gant said.
A bill attempting to make the requirements for a candidate to seek a recount consistent throughout the state passed the House Tuesday and now goes to the Senate. Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley, the sponsor of HB85, said the current law allowing recounts only if a candidate loses by no more than one vote per precinct is “bad policy.” He said that the number of precincts in legislative districts, for example, varies from 16 to 56.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling broke with his party again Monday by supporting a Democratic effort to delay tightening voter identification rules. Bolling broke a 20-20 tie, on a preliminary vote, to amend a bill that would remove several forms of identification the state added last year to the list of IDs accepted at the polls. The measure returns to the floor Tuesday. Bolling said in an interview afterward that he does not actually oppose the substance of the measure. He said he voted for a Democratic floor amendment that delays implementation until July 2014 simply to give voters more time to adjust to changes in the rules.
House Speaker William J. Howell intends to use a procedural move to kill the GOP’s surprise Senate redistricting plan Wednesday, according to several people familiar with his plans. Howell (R-Stafford) is expected to rule that the new Senate map radically altered the legislation to which it was attached, according to three legislators and a Capitol staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about private discussions involving the speaker. “There are no guarantees in this business, but the expectation is” that Howell will rule the measure not germane Wednesday, a lawmaker said.
Armenia: No Change in Election Date, but Plenty of Speculation about the Reason Why | EurasiaNet.org
In 1998, Armenian presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian ran for office with the slogan “Let’s not lose an historic moment.” Fifteen years later, he has a similar one: “The historic moment has come.” But many Armenian observers believe that, by not requesting an election delay after suffering from gunshot wounds, 63-year-old Hayrikian has lost his chance for “an historic moment.” Hayrikian, who was shot twice and wounded on January 31 by an unknown gunman in Yerevan, earlier had indicated that he would probably apply to the Constitutional Court for a two-week postponement in the vote; his right under Armenia’s constitution. But, when push came to shove, it was not to be. “[N]o act of terrorism should hold the power of disrupting the natural flow of political realities,” he commented, in a surprise appearance at a February 5 press-conference in Yerevan. “I have come simply to show my presence,” he said to explain his hospital exit.
Ghana: Election challenge: Court orders petitioners to provide better particulars | Ghana Business News
The Supreme Court by unanimous decision on Tuesday ordered the petitioners in the December election petition to furnish the Electoral Commission (EC) and President Mahama with better particulars of claims with respect to the alleged electoral irregularities. Two of the three respondents, President Mahama and the EC had filed separate applications praying the Supreme Court to order the petitioners to supply them with further and better particulars of the petition. The respondents were seeking for “further and better particulars” with respect to the names and codes of the 4,709 polling stations, constituencies and regions where alleged electoral irregularities took place.
Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, on Saturday said Iran’s clerical regime is facing an “insoluble crisis” and the ruling theocracy has entered its final phase. “The upcoming presidential election has aggravated a power struggle and this internal crisis is accelerating its downfall,” Mrs. Rajavi said in a speech in an international conference in Paris. Mrs. Rajavi said the upcoming election is a sham since it only will allow candidates to run who support the regime’s violent theocracy. These individuals have no legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and will be boycotted nationwide.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) looks set for the 4th March 2013 general election, having cleared the hurdle of accreditations for candidates and also released hotline numbers to be used during the voting and tallying day. The electoral commission has released two hotlines: 0711 035 606 and 0711 035 616 which was activated on Saturday night on a trial basis and also citizens are requested and encouraged to follow the IEBC twitter handle twitter.com/IEBC and post their questions on matters regarding the election.
On Wednesday morning, Edmonton’s city council voted against allowing internet voting in this year’s civic election.The main concern for those councillors who voted against internet voting is security and coercion. “Let’s say I have 20 friends. They don’t ever vote. I get a copy of their ID. I send them into you in some way or form from different outlets, from computers, have their passwords,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “So now I have the power of 25 votes, 20 votes, 15 votes, 12 votes, 3 votes. Not the ones in my house, but the ones outside my house. And that’s where I have concern with this,” added Mandel. “I don’t have a problem with internet voting. I like the idea of going in that direction. I’m worried that we may have needed more time to get this totally right so that we can say emphatically, yes, we’ve done every type of testing, and I’m not convinced yet that that’s been the case,” stated Ward 2 Councillor, Kim Krushell. Ben Henderson and Don Iveson were the only members of council who voted in favour of allowing online voting.