Frank “Butch” Ellis Jr. was sitting in his law office a half-hour’s drive from Birmingham, Ala., about three years ago when Edward Blum, an investment banker turned conservative legal activist, called him to discuss the Voting Rights Act. Although the two had never met, they quickly bonded over a common grievance. Blum specifically wanted to discuss a provision in the landmark civil rights law requiring localities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain U.S. Justice Department permission to make any changes to their election procedures. Ellis, during nearly a half-century practicing law in Shelby County, had watched municipal clients jump through procedural hoops to gain “preclearance” from Washington lawyers. Moving a polling place could take months, for example, and require a voluminous paper trail. When Blum suggested that Shelby County officials, with Blum’s financial support, someday might challenge the provision in court, Ellis agreed. “We knew the only way to attack it was in the courts, in Washington,” Ellis explained recently. “We had the desire to do it, we just couldn’t spend our taxpayers’ money on it.”
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, citing long lines and hours-long waits at polling places last November, want to change the narrative on voting rights. Democrats are urging mandatory early-voting periods and same-day registration, trying to shift the focus to making it easier to cast ballots from Republican efforts to curb alleged fraud, which studies show is virtually absent. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, is chief sponsor of legislation backed by more than 80 percent of House Democrats. “This is an attempt to change the debate away from so- called voter fraud, where little exists, to empowering people to actually get to the polls and vote,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now at the lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
Editorials: If the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 – Watch out in the covered jurisdictions | Michael J. Pitts/The Great Debate (Reuters)
If the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5, Congress is unlikely to pass any sort of “New Voting Rights Act.” So when thinking about what happens next, we need to focus on what voting changes the jurisdictions now subject to oversight might enact that would violate Section 5’s principal aim of preserving minority voting strength. In doing so, there are two dichotomies to consider: one between state legislatures and local governments, the other between voting changes related to ballot access, such as voter registration, and those related to vote dilution, such as redistricting. When it comes to state governments and vote dilution, states seem unlikely to dismantle districts that give minority voters clout — the “safe” districts that often have a majority of minority population. One reason it’s unlikely is that most of the states under Section 5 oversight are controlled by Republicans, and Republicans often perceive safe minority districts as politically favorable because they pack reliable Democratic voters together. That’s not to say all states will preserve all such districts—there will undoubtedly be outliers. But massive retrogression of minority voting strength on the statewide level seems unlikely.
In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another twenty-five years. The legislation passed 390–33 in the House and 98–0 in the Senate. Every top Republican supported the bill. “The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist,” said House Judiciary chair James Sensenbrenner, a conservative Republican, “and exist in its current form.” Civil rights leaders flanked George W. Bush at the signing ceremony. Seven years later, the bipartisan consensus that supported the VRA for nearly fifty years has collapsed, and conservatives are challenging the law as never before. Last November, three days after a presidential election in which voter suppression played a starring role, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Section 5 of the VRA, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related changes with the federal government. The case will be heard on February 27. The lawsuit, originating in Shelby County, Alabama, is backed by leading operatives and funders in the conservative movement, along with Republican attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. Shelby County’s brief claims that “Section 5’s federalism cost is too great” and that the statute has “accomplished [its] mission.”
Hoping to avoid another ouster of one of their own, Republican legislators on Thursday voted to change the rules for recall elections. The measure approved by the House Judiciary Committee would require there be both a primary as well as a general election once a public official is recalled. Now, there is a single winner-take-all election. That distinction is important. That would mean only Republicans get to vote in the first step of the process in a recall of a GOP lawmaker. Whoever survives that partisan primary would face off against the Democrat and any others in the general election — assuming there is anyone else running in what might be a largely one-party district. Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsor of HB 2282, made no secret of his interest: He was a supporter of Senate President Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who was ousted in a 2011 recall.
New documents are raising questions about whether Florida legislators ignored rules intended to prevent political parties and incumbents from influencing the once-a-decade process of redistricting. Emails show that top Republican Party of Florida officials met in late 2010 to “brainstorm” redistricting with political consultants and legislative employees involved in drawing new districts for Congress and the Legislature. That was just a few weeks after voters overwhelmingly adopted the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments that set new standards for redistricting and were intended to remove partisanship from the politically charged job of creating new maps. The Associated Press requested the documents after they were presented in a court hearing last week. Several groups have filed lawsuits seeking to have a court throw out the maps eventually adopted for both Congress and the Florida Senate.
What’s in a name? Apparently some advantage, according to a bill under consideration at the state Legislature. House Bill 32 would change state law dictating the way candidates’ names are placed on election ballots. They currently are listed alphabetically (with a rare exception; more on that later), but the bill would change that. The new method would have the state’s chief election officer select a letter of the alphabet by lot, and candidates with last names beginning with that letter would be listed first, followed by those with letters that follow alphabetically. The reason for the proposed change is “to ensure fairness in the election process,” according to a report from the House Committee on Judiciary which approved the measure last week. The theory is that some people might just pick the first name listed on the ballot in a race. That is the conventional wisdom, according to a study done by three California researchers on the “ballot-order effect.”
A special commission studying Maine’s election system has given a firm thumbs down to the suggestion that Maine adopt voter ID. The Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine, which was appointed last May, released its findings today. Tom Porter has more. “This is an excellent report,” says Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Dunlap gives high marks to the Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine, which was appointed last May, and came to its findings after holding eight public hearings, “They worked very, very hard on it,” Dunlap says. “And it’s a reflection of some very, very honest work, based on feedback they got at their hearings.” Dunlap told members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that the he agreed with commission’s 4 to 1 vote to reject voter ID, a measure that would require voters to present identification before they cast a ballot.
Some panicked Republicans are fretting that they may not even get a candidate on the ballot for the special Senate election as the deadline for 10,000 signatures approaches, with the weekend’s blizzard threatening to cut into vital collection time. “The Mass. GOP can’t afford to play Princeton basketball and let the clock run out here. With only 20 days left, candidates need to announce and pull their papers now to ensure they’ll make the ballot,” said Michael Hartigan, a Republican consultant who worked on former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s 2010 campaign. Massachusetts officials require candidates to have 10,000 valid signatures to get on the election ballot by Feb. 28, but most campaign officials agree that campaigns need at least 20,000 to account for ineligible signatures.
Montana could make it more convenient, improve accuracy and save money by allowing people to register to vote online, a senator told a committee Wednesday. “This is simply another mechanism to make sure more people have access,” Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, told the Senate State Administration Committee. His Senate Bill 206 would let people register to vote online, provided they have a valid Montana driver’s license or a Montana identification card. People registering online would have to attest the information they are entering is true, agree to use the signature on their Montana driver’s licenses or ID card on file with the state and submit it electronically.
Oregon voters might not have as much time to peruse their ballots if the Postal Service succeeds in eliminating Saturday mail delivery.
Currently, many Oregon voters receive their ballot on Saturday, 17 days before an election. That could be pushed two days later, to Monday, under the Postal Service’s plans. Ending Saturday mail delivery can also affect ballot returns. Elections officials might reconsider their recommendation that voters mail back their ballots no later than the Friday before an election, said Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout. “We’ve been talking about ways we can change our business model to work best with their new business model,” said Trout.
Pennsylvania: Plaintiffs In Pennsylvania Voter ID Case Ask Judge To Extend Block On The Law | CBS Philly
The plaintiffs in the voter ID case are set to file papers today asking the Commonwealth Court to extend the block on the voter ID law. It was stopped only for the November election. “Even though there is not a big presidential election, the right to vote is important.” ACLU Legal Director, Vic Walczak says plaintiffs want to extend Judge Robert Simpson’s order halting implementation of voter ID until a final decision in the case, possibly even a decision by the state Supreme Court, is reached.
Editorials: Texas overreaches again on voting rights in Shelby County case | Linda Campbell/Fort Worth Star-Telegram
To hear state Attorney General Greg Abbott tell it, the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down part of the federal Voting Rights Act in an Alabama case because the Justice Department bullied Texas over its voter ID law. Never underestimate Abbott’s capacity to make a dispute all about his fight for truth, justice and the Texas way. The case of Shelby County v. Holder, on which the justices will hear arguments Feb. 27, challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That part of the landmark federal law, last reauthorized in 2006, requires Texas and a small number of other states to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court for any changes that would affect voting, an effort to prevent illegal discrimination. Included would be steps like redrawing electoral districts, switching from at-large to single-member representation, adding seats to an elected body and new rules for casting a ballot.
The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday that it will end Saturday home mail service for first-class mail, a move that is expected to save the financially strapped agency $2 billion. The decision to cut Saturday service is set to take effect Aug. 5. No first-class mail means letters, magazines, advertising mail, catalogs, newspapers and Netflix DVDs will not be delivered on Saturdays, regional Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said. Parcels will be delivered on Saturdays, and those who have a post office box will still get their mail, he said. “We are simply not in a financial position where we can maintain six days of mail delivery,” Postmaster General and Chief Executive Patrick Donahoe said. “The ease of online bill payments has led to the decline of first-class mail volume since 2008, a major blow to the institution.” In the past fiscal year, the Postal Service has seen a financial loss of $15.9 billion.
The proposed Washington Voting Rights Act is about true representation in local elections. Lawmakers should pass House Bill 1413and send it to the governor’s desk. Washington is known for progressive ideas, but it also faces another stark reality: Minorities in some parts of the state have little influence on important decisions that affect their schools, public safety, water use and land resources. HB 1413 would allow individuals and groups to seek redress by challenging communities to switch to district-based elections. This is how congressional races are run. Why not municipal elections?
Armenia: Wounded presidential candidate has health setback, still mulling election delay | ArmeniaNow.com
An opposition presidential candidate recovering after suffering a gunshot wound in what was apparently an attempted assassination last week says he has been on painkillers since yesterday after his health condition deteriorated – a factor that potentially puts the February 18 election at risk again. Paruyr Hayrikyan, a Soviet-era dissident who currently heads a moderate opposition party, National Self-Determination Union, was hospitalized shortly after being attacked by a yet unidentified gunman on January 31. He subsequently refused to use the opportunity granted by the Armenian Constitution to ask the highest court for a two-week postponement of the ballot due to an “insurmountable obstacle” to his campaign, saying that while it would be a legitimate demand, he did not want to undermine the democratic electoral process.
Voters in two not-so-politically insignificant nations of the Caribbean trade bloc will go to the polls this month to elect a new government two days apart in much the same way they did in 1999, with pollsters predicting an uphill task for two prime ministers who are widely regarded as the dullest and most uncharismatic of regional leaders in recent times. Grenada’s Tillman Thomas, whose New National Democratic Congress (NDC) had won 11 of the 15 constituency seats when Grenadians last voted in 2008, is facing an electorate that is well aware that his NDC has split down the middle. Some of its best-known names, including former Foreign Minister Peter David, walked out on him for various reasons—his dour leadership style being one of them.
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.
Edmontonians will not be able to cast their ballots online in the fall election. City councillors rejected the notion of allowing 12 days of online voting in advanced polls for the October election, worried that the proposed system would not be secure. Coun. Linda Sloan said she was simply not convinced that online voting would be safe and that the consequences are too high. “The morning after an election, if there are irregularities, it is almost too late,” she said. Sloan also argued that online voting in some ways ran against the spirit of elections.