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 President Barack Obama plans to press for action on Capitol Hill. House and Senate Democrats have 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 considering whether to expand early voting, including the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Virginia, according to FairVote, a nonprofit 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.
Yesterday, the U.S. Postal Service announced that beginning in August, it will stop home collection and delivery of mail on Saturdays in an effort to keep itself afloat despite mounting financial losses. The story is notable in itself – as I’ve already seen in numerous pieces, the USPS has the potential to touch every home in America six days a week – but the impact is especially keen in the elections field, where growing reliance on vote-by-mail and absentee ballots has made election officials and the Post Office partners in the delivery and receipt of ballots. In the Pacific Northwest, where voters in Oregon and Washington now vote completely by mail, state officials are already making plans to cope if the USPS goes through with the plan to end Saturday service.
Over objections from voting rights groups, a Senate committee endorsed a bill Tuesday aimed at helping counties manage permanent early voter lists to reduce the number of provisional ballots cast. SB 1261, authored by Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, would allow counties to purge from the lists people who don’t vote in both the primary and general elections in a given year. Election officials would have to notify those voters by mail that their names will be removed if they don’t return a postcard saying that they wish to remain on the list. Reagan said that after last year’s elections officials in all 15 counties asked the Legislature to help them decrease the number of provisional ballots cast.
Florida: GOP proposal: Give Gov. Scott power to remove county election supervisors if problems arise | Palm Beach Post
Targeting five counties that saw the worst problems during the 2012 elections, Florida legislators are considering giving Gov. Rick Scott and his administration broader power to remove elections supervisors or put them on probation. Some critics say the move is an attempt to scapegoat supervisors for long lines caused mainly by legislators, who shortened early voting and lengthened the ballot with 11 proposed constitutional amendments. The proposal came from Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who sponsored the 2011 election bill (HB 1355), signed into law by Scott, that critics say made voting more arduous last year. Diaz de la Portilla’s latest measure would require supervisors to issue reports to the Florida secretary of state three months before an election, attesting to their readiness.
Fulton County’s interim elections director denies her staff tampered with polling records by adding dozens of voters’ names to tally sheets last year. It wasn’t fraud, Sharon Mitchell says, but correcting mistakes. But Secretary of State Brian Kemp maintains the county’s actions were likely illegal. Not only did the department’s missteps cause more people to use paper ballots than the entire rest of the state combined, Kemp says the county also mishandled those ballots in the aftermath and may have counted some votes twice. Documents unveiled by a state investigator last week showed someone used a red pen to add more than 50 names to the list of people using paper ballots at one precinct and five names to the list from another precinct.
Austin Mayor Doug Campbell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor electioneering in Scott Superior Court Tuesday morning under a plea deal stemming from allegations of voter fraud.The deal allows Campbell — who had originally been charged with three felonies — to avoid jail and stay in office. Under Indiana law, an elected official can be forced from office if convicted of a felony. Campbell was arrested last spring after an Indiana State Police investigation alleged he and city sanitation supervisor Terry Danner had tampered with absentee ballots before the May 2011 Democratic mayoral primary. Danner received pre-trial diversion Tuesday, allowing his prosecution on three felony voter fraud charges to be withheld if he completes 100 hours of community service in six months. Four voters said Campbell and Danner drove to their homes and picked up their ballots for mailing, according to court records. One woman said in a sworn affidavit that the mayor had filled in her incomplete ballot before taking it for her.
Paying out-of-state tuition could cost students something more under legislation that will be debated today: their vote. Under House Bill 1311, students who pay out-of-state tuition would not be able to vote in Indiana. Rep. Peggy Mayfield, the Martinsville Republican who filed the bill, said she’s trying to resolve who is an Indiana resident. “We’re having people who are not necessarily residents voting in our elections,” she said. But legal experts, as well as lawmakers in both parties whose districts include some of Indiana’s public universities, say there’s a big problem with the bill before the House Elections and Apportionment Committee: It’s unconstitutional. “I hope that’s a quick hearing,” said Lee Rowland, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which monitors voting rights issues. “Because, frankly, conditioning voting rights on a 12-month residency is so clearly unconstitutional that it would be an utter waste of the legislature’s time to consider such a bill.”
A U.S. District Court ruling handed down Wednesday in Kansas granted disclosure of the names of provisional ballot voters to candidates in a tightly contested state house race, thereby clarifying the scope of voter privacy protection under federal law. The ruling was issued in response to a federal lawsuit filed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to prevent disclosure of the names. Kobach argued that federal election law protects voters’ identities from disclosure, citing § 302(a) of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA): “Access to information about an individual provisional ballot shall be restricted to the individual who cast the ballot.” U.S. District Court Judge Marten rejected Kobach’s argument, reading the plain text of the statute to protect only disclosure of how someone voted, not the identit of the voter. The day following the election, when unofficial results showed incumbent Democratic Representative Ann Mah of Kansas’ 54th House district trailing her Republican challenger by 27 votes out of a total 10,633 cast, she issued a request for the names of the individuals who had cast provisional ballots in her district. That afternoon, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to prevent disclosure of the names.
Maine: Panel rejects voter IDs, backs early voting | The Portland Press Herald | Maine Sunday Telegram
A state commission has recommended that Maine reject any effort to require voters to show identification at the polls. By a 4-1 vote, The Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine said in a report that there is “little or no history in Maine of voter impersonation or identification fraud.” It also said such a law would slow down the voting process and could work to disenfranchise elderly, poor or rural voters, many of whom don’t have IDs or may not be able to travel far to get them. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine applauded the report, which also asks the state to establish an early voting system, in which residents would be able to cast ballots before Election Day. Early voting would require an amendment to the Maine Constitution, as is being proposed this session in a bill sponsored by state Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish. There is no pending legislation to require IDs.
After an inquiry prompted by complaints from Republican lawmakers, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles has concluded that Minnesota does not have a clear standard to assess the actions of two state officials accused of using public funds to oppose constitutional amendments on the ballot last November. Nobles released a letter today that he sent to Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, last month detailing the findings of a preliminary assessment. Newman, who was a chief sponsor of the voter ID constitutional amendment, accused DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie of wrongly using his official capacity and public funds to oppose that ballot question. Similar accusations were later leveled against Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, who publicly opposed voter ID and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In the letter, Nobles noted that state law only goes so far on prohibiting certain political activity by public officials and employees.
Republican lawmakers are taking another swing at insisting Missouri voters show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. And they’re meeting fierce resistance. Leaders of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said Tuesday the Republican push aims to “disenfranchise and suppress” certain voters — the disabled, the young and minorities. “This is nothing more than a modern-day poll tax,” said Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, referring to the tax implemented in some states in the late 19th century to shut out black voters. “Voting is a right. It’s not a privilege. They’re trying to turn it into a privilege.” Republicans reject the accusations, instead arguing a need to combat voter fraud.
A bill to repeal the new voter photo identification law drew support Tuesday at a public hearing. Lawmakers last year approved a photo ID bill just months before the primary election that required voters to show a variety of photo IDs in order to vote in last November’s election. However, beginning in September, the list of acceptable photo IDs narrows to state or federally issued IDs. As in the past two years, supporters of the law say it is needed to guarantee the integrity of elections, while opponents of photo ID say it addresses a problem that does not exist but does disenfranchise certain groups of voters, such as the elderly, college students and the poor. The prime sponsor of House Bill 287, Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, said under his bill voter fraud would continue to be a crime.
Reaction generally was positive Tuesday to legislation that would put Aiken County’s Elections Office under the day-to-day supervision of the County Council. However, many of the people who would be affected by the bill said they weren’t aware of it until recently, so they still were trying to learn about all its provisions and understand how they would work. “I didn’t know the details of the legislation until (Tuesday) morning,” said County Administrator Clay Killian. “I think it could be a good thing because you would have more direct daily supervision of the office. The delegation members are obviously going to be in Columbia three days a week during the legislative session, and that creates logistical issues for them. But if (elections office employees) do work for the County Council, the way the bill is written now, there is somebody here they can go to for assistance on a regular basis as opposed to having to wait until somebody is available.” The legislative delegation discussed the bill during its meeting Monday evening.
South Carolina: Early-voting bill advances in South Carolina Senate committee | Anderson Independent Mail
Legislation creating a one-week early-voting period in South Carolina sailed through a key state Senate committee Tuesday. “People are used to convenience in their lives,” said Sen. Bradley Hutto of Orangeburg, who is one of 18 Senate Democrats sponsoring the early-voting bill that was considered Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That is why banks have drive-through lanes.” The measure that members of the GOP-controlled panel approved by an 18-2 vote would allow South Carolina voters to start casting ballots 10 days before an election. The early-voting period would end three days before an election. According to the bill’s provisions, each county would open at least one and as many as five early-voting polling places.
Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, has ruled that the surprise Senate amendments to redistricting changes are not germane, throwing the future of the proposed Senate boundary moves in doubt. Senate Republicans pushed through the amendments on a 20-19 party-line vote on a day when Democrats were down one member because Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, attended inauguration ceremonies for President Barack Obama in Washington on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Because the Senate made changes to a House measure, it had to return to the House of Delegates for approval. Howell said the bill amended by the Senate was “modified to stray dramatically, in my opinion, from the legislation’s original purpose of addressing relatively technical, minor administrative adjustments to certain districts.” The rewrite of Senate districts “goes well beyond” the customary tweaks, he said. Howell told reporters after the floor session that “It wasn’t something I relished. It’s my job. I’m the only one who can make that decision. I talked to a lot of people about it, prayed about it,feel at peace about what I did. Think I did what was right.”
With last fall’s election fresh in their memories, many legislators are proposing changes to the election process. In-person voting, prepaid postage on ballots, and relaxing constituent outreach restrictions for incumbents could all become a reality if the measures pass. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, wants to loosen the rules about what information he and other state lawmakers could put on their official websites and in their official newsletters during campaign season. Benton said during a public hearing on his proposal, Senate Bill 5019, that although some restrictions are necessary to prevent campaign abuses, other restrictions are “completely ridiculous” and prevent his ability to communicate with the people in his district. State law prohibits legislators running for election to make any changes to their official Web pages during the months leading up to an election. (Most candidates maintain a campaign website, the content of which they can control.)
Armenia: Day 17 of Armenia’s presidential campaign brings concerns about hunger-striking candidate’s health | ArmeniaNow.com
With one of the candidates in the current presidential race in Armenia still recovering in hospital after surviving an assassination attempt, another one refuses to be hospitalized after doctors registered some deterioration of his health condition on Wednesday. Andrias Ghukasyan, a 42-year-old director of Radio Hay, has been camped outside the National Academy of Sciences building in central Yerevan since the start of the campaign on January 21, refusing to take food and demanding that incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan be disqualified from the race and international observers discontinue their mission and leave Armenia. Responding to an emergency call on Wednesday, ambulance service doctors examined Ghukasyan, registering a drop in his blood pressure. The candidate, however, refused to go to hospital and said he was determined to continue his hunger strike until February 18 – Election Day.
Ghana: Supreme Court Grants NPP Request – Orders EC to Provide Details…Directs Akufo-Addo to Furnish Respondents With ‘Better Particulars’ | allAfrica.com
The Supreme Court by a unanimous decision has granted the request of the petitioners; for the Electoral Commission (EC) to provide them with details of the names and addresses of persons who were registered overseas and the manner in which those persons were registered. The petitioners are also asking for the declaration forms of all polling stations in the 2012 presidential election, the minutes of all meetings held between the EC and political parties between 2010 and 2012, and the special voters list used in the 2012 presidential election. According to Peace FM’s Bernard Quanson, the Supreme Court by a ruling of 9-0, ordered the EC to provide the petitioners with those details within 7 days.
Security concerns sparked by anti-government rallies in mostly-Sunni areas of Iraq in recent weeks could hamper provincial polls due in April, a top election official said on Wednesday. Muqdad al-Sharifi, the chief electoral officer of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), also told reporters that 131 candidates had been barred from the April 20 vote due to their ties to the Baath Party of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein. “We have a problem in some provinces where there is a political crisis,” Sharifi said, referring to weeks of demonstrations in north and west Iraq against the alleged targeting of the Sunni community by the country’s Shiite-led authorities.
Communities across Alberta are deciding whether or not they will participate in the province’s online voting pilot project during this year’s municipal elections. The provincial government officially selected St. Albert, Grande Prairie and Strathcona County for the experiment, but other jurisdictions have the option of signing up. Fort Saskatchewan’s town council recently decided it’s not for them. After several weeks of debate, Airdrie’s leaders voted on February 6 to give electronic ballots a try. … Governments are attracted to Internet-based voting because of its convenience — people can vote whenever they want to over the election period, from their home. And that convenience may lead to a higher turnout. Yet many in government and the public worry about the security of online voting.