Voting Blogs: The 2012 Election Protection Report: Our Broken Voting System and How to Repair It | Election Protection Coalition

Every year, countless Americans across the country are blocked from voting—many having done everything they were supposed to do to exercise their civic right. The 2012 elections was a clarion call for change, and it is urgent that lawmakers answer this call and finally tackle these issues in a meaningful way.

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This Election Protection report provides a snapshot of the endemic problems that continue to plague American elections and sets the stage for federal and state legislators, state executives, and election officials to finally address the enduring difficulties that infect the voting process of this country. Though long lines were the story of the day, the problems run deeper than what appeared in the news media; the lines were a visible symptom of institutional problems afflicting our system of elections. Every year, countless Americans across the country are blocked from voting—many having done everything they were supposed to do to exercise their civic right. For these eligible and qualified voters—who show up at the polls on Election Day to make their voices heard only to be turned away because they inexplicably do not appear on the voter rolls or encounter a poorly trained poll worker not following voting rules—our democracy is broken.

Editorials: Voting Should Be Easy – Modernize Registration |

President Obama has a long agenda for his State of the Union address, but it is important that he not forget the most fundamental democratic reform of all: repairing a broken election system that caused hundreds of thousands of people to stand in line for hours to vote last year. It is time to make good on his election-night promise. Those seeking political power by making voting more inconvenient will resist reforms, but a better system would actually be good for both parties and, more important, the country.Long lines are not the inevitable result of big turnouts in elections. They are the result of neglect, often deliberate, of an antiquated patchwork of registration systems that make it far too hard to get on the rolls. They are the result of states that won’t spend enough money for an adequate supply of voting machines, particularly in crowded cities and minority precincts. And they are the result of refusals to expand early voting programs, one of the best and easiest ways to increase participation.

Florida: Federal election commission may take back seat to Florida reforms |

Voting problems are nothing new. But as President Barack Obama showed Tuesday night, so are proposed solutions. In announcing his plan to create a new commission to “fix” long voting lines, Obama was mirroring similar efforts that followed the razor-thin — and infamously controversial — 2000 election. But unlike that response – Congress created the Election Assistance Commission that over the next decade doled out more than $3.2 billion to help states buy voting equipment, recruit poll workers and improve record keeping – the Obama White House has yet to say much about who’ll be named to the new commission or what they’ll be asked to do. Meanwhile, the 2002 commission is foundering, virtually inactive and unfunded. “There is nothing they are doing that is sufficient enough to justify their existence,” said U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a longtime critic. “It’s the perfect example of what [former president] Ronald Reagan said — that the closest thing to eternal life on this Earth was a government program.” That may leave Florida voters, tens of thousands of whom waited up to seven hours to vote on Nov. 6, waiting to see if the lines they faced will become a serious federal issue or just more political fodder. At this point, it seems far more likely that the first response will come from the Florida Legislature.

Pennsylvania: Voting machine questions explored – Unused ballot design software has cost county up to $45,500 | Times-Leader

Luzerne County has been paying $6,500 a year for ballot design software that was not used, the new election director said, a decision that might have cost the county as much as $45,500. Marisa Crispell-Barber informed the county election board of the expenditure at Wednesday’s board meeting. She believes the software was purchased annually since the county started using the electronic voting machines in the 2006 primary. The board gave her permission to seek county funding to obtain training to fully implement the software and prepare ballots in-house. The training would cost $15,000 but would pay for itself because the county would no longer have to pay the voting-machine vendor to prepare ballots, she said. The county paid the vendor, Election Systems & Software, $33,563 to prepare the ballot in the 2012 primary alone, she said. She wants to secure training to design the ballot for the May 21 primary. Another employee also would be trained, and in-house preparation would gradually build a ballot database that can be used by her successors, she said.

National: Obama proposes commission to address long lines at polls | USAToday

Upset by the long lines encountered by thousands of voters in November, President Obama is creating a bipartisan panel to look into the problem and propose solutions. “When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama planned to say in his State of the Union address. “We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.” Obama’s response represents less than some voting rights groups had sought. But they noted it could give his eventual recommendations bipartisan cover rather than cast them as proposals designed to help Democrats at the polls.

National: Long Florida election lines prompt federal voter bill | Orlando Sentinel

Long lines on Election Day in Florida and elsewhere spurred a call from President Barack Obama Tuesday for a bipartisan commission “to improve the voting experience” and drew new support for federal legislation aimed at cutting wait times. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama said that five-, six- and seven-hour voting lines – seen in Florida during the Nov. 6 election and detailed in an Orlando Sentinel analysis – “are betraying our ideals.” He said he has asked experts from his and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns to jointly lead the voting commission. Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida declared that he is joining fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer of California as lead sponsors of a bill that would establish a goal that “no American voter has to wait longer than an hour to cast a ballot” in a federal election.

National: On State Of The Union Voting Commission Proposal, State Lawmakers Divide Along Party Lines | Huffington Post

State lawmakers’ reactions to President Barack Obama’s announcement Tuesday night of a new bipartisan voting commission split along party lines. The announcement of the election commission during the State of the Union address was greeted positively by Democratic state lawmakers, who see the panel as a way to generate ideas to improve state and local election administration. However, Republicans said the panel violates the 10th Amendment, noting that elections are a function of state government and not a place for federal officials. Obama announced that the commission, to be co-chaired by top attorneys from his and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaigns, would develop “common-sense, non-partisan solutions” to reduce wait times and improve voting experiences.

National: Rep. Miller opposes voting reforms | The Detroit News

President Barack Obama called Tuesday for a national commission to study ways to make it easier for Americans to vote, but one former Michigan secretary of state didn’t like the idea. Voting issues have been debated in Michigan with confusion over a citizenship checkoff on ballot applications and Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson calling for changes to make it easier to register and cast absentee votes. “We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote,” Obama said in the State of the Union. Obama said he’s appointing top members of his re-election campaign and the campaign of GOP nominee Mitt Romney to head up the commission.

Editorials: Election Law and Compromise: Reactions to President Obama’s Election Commission | PrawfsBlawg

Last night’s State of the Union address included some big news for us election law folk:  the creation of a Presidential Commission on Election Administration, to be chaired by Obama’s top election lawyer, Bob Bauer and Mitt Romney’s top election lawyer, Ben Ginsberg.  Here is what Obama said last night in his speech:

“We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental rights of a democracy, the right to vote.  When any American — no matter where they live or what their party — are denied that right because they can’t wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  So, tonight, I’m announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And it definitely needs improvement. I’m asking two long-time experts in the field — who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign — to lead it. We can fix this. And we will. The American people demand it, and so does our democracy.”

This is, in my view, a significant step in the right direction.  President Obama has doubled-down on his Election Night statement that “we have to fix that” (referring to long lines at the polls) and his follow-up in his Inaugural address that “[o]ur journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

Editorials: Shelby County v. Holder: Latino voters need Section 5 today more than ever | Nina Perales/SCOTUSblog

In the 2012 general election, an estimated ten percent of votes were cast by Latinos. The record high number was accompanied by media commentary expressing surprise at the strength of the Latino vote.   Of course Latino voters did not “awaken” last year.  In the slow and steady march towards increased political participation, Latinos have fought to overcome laws aimed at preventing them from voting and reducing the strength of their vote. Throughout this process, Section 5 has played a central role in protecting Latino voters from the backsliding and gamesmanship that characterize the voting laws of many jurisdictions in which Latinos live.   The decision this Term in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder will be critical to the ability of the growing Latino electorate to participate on an “equal basis in the government under which they live.”

Editorials: Shelby County v. Holder: Forget the coverage formula, what about the effects test? | Joshua Thompson/SCOTUSblog

The upcoming oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder is not likely to produce any surprises – we had a sneak preview four years ago in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder.  While Northwest Austin ultimately turned on the tiny district’s eligibility to bail out from Section 5’s provisions, the oral argument centered on the broader question of Section 5’s constitutionality. The arguments in Shelby County will likely rehash those same arguments fromNorthwest Austin. In defense of Section 5, the United States will argue that most of the targeted jurisdictions have a lengthy history of intentional discrimination. Shelby County will counter that “current burdens … must be justified by current needs.”  The United States will argue that but, for Section 5, covered states would revert to the blatant intentionally discriminatory practices that once justified Section 5.  Shelby County will respond that such an argument assumes the culture of the South hasn’t changed in the past fifty years. The United States will also argue that the Court should defer to Congress’s 16,000-page record. Shelby County will respond that deference is uncalled for, and that the congressional record – no matter how large – fails to contain contemporary evidence that justifies singling out the covered jurisdictions.

Editorials: Shelby County v. Holder: Bad behavior by DOJ contributes to the fall of Section 5 | Christian Adams/SCOTUSblog

There are three main reasons why I think Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act – which outlines the formula that is used to determine whether a jurisdiction is “covered” by the preclearance requirement created by Section 5 – will be struck down in Shelby County v. Holder, scheduled for argument at the Court on February 27. Remember, of course, that Section 4 triggers are at issue, not the substantive provisions of Section 5. Even if Section 4 triggers survive Shelby County, two new challenges will then follow.  First, depending on how the opinion is written, the states brought into Section 4 coverage through the 1975 amendments may still have a challenge.  The statutory triggers for Alabama are not precisely the same as the triggers for Arizona or Alaska, two states which must also seek Section 5 preclearance. Even if the plaintiffs in Shelby County lose, Arizona and Alaska wait in the wings.  These states were brought into Section 4 coverage based in large part on minority language issues, and nowhere in the Fifteenth Amendment is language discussed.  Race is.  Of course, the Court may wipe out this claim depending on how the opinion is written, or, it may invite the next wave even while upholding triggers for Alabama.

Georgia: House Approves Nonpartisan Elections |

Nonpartisan elections moved a step closer Tuesday when the Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved them for several local offices. The House lawmakers approved four bills that included nonpartisan elections for the new consolidated Macon-Bibb County governments, the Bibb County Board of Elections and the Macon Water Authority. They also included the coroner, Probate Judge, Civil Court Judge and State Court Solicitor. The legislation now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for consideration. If he signs them into law, they’ll head to the U.S. Department of Justice, which will determine if the law complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Two weeks ago, the Senate approved nonpartisan elections for those positions. In both chambers, Republicans largely supported the measures while Democrats opposed them.

Iowa: Panel hears criticism over voter ID proposal |

Speakers at a legislative hearing criticized a bill backed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz that would require voters to show photo identification at polling places. Schultz has filed identical bills in the House and Senate, and Tuesday’s House hearing was the first time this session lawmakers have taken testimony on the proposal. Members of the Iowa League of Women Voters told lawmakers that a photo ID requirement would disenfranchise voters who don’t have required documents. They also say the rules could slow vote-counting.

Minnesota: Minneapolis’ mayoral race puts test to ranked-choice voting system | Minnesota Public Radio News

Voters will have several choices to consider in this year’s mayoral election. So far, seven people have declared they are running for mayor in the most hotly contested race Minneapolis has seen in decades. Just as it did four years ago, Minneapolis will use ranked-choice voting to decide the winner. The November election is expected to draw far more voters and put the system to the test. Election judge Nasra Noor showed a voter how to use a ranked-choice ballot in 2009. It was the city’s first election using the new system, which is also called instant-runoff voting. It allows voters to choose up to three candidates for each office and rank them first, second and third. But not many people voted. Fewer than 46,000 ballots were cast that year. It was the lowest general election turnout the city had seen in decades — about half of what is normal for Minneapolis municipal elections.

Canada: Risks outweigh gains with online voting | Linda Sloan/Edmonton Examiner

Last Wednesday, council voted 11-2 that an online voting option will not be made available in the 2013 municipal election. Most of my fellow councillors shared the same general concern that I did: that the protection against manipulation was not sufficiently guaranteed to warrant implementation of Internet voting. One of the most interesting comments made during council’s discussion of the report was that adopting an Internet vote would allow people to vote in their pajamas. That comment really struck a chord with me; should we have a system that allows people to vote in pajamas? I don’t believe so. I see the electoral process as an act of civic engagement. Campaigning requires door knocking, telephone calls, flyer distribution, and more, all to get a conversation going with the people an elected official hopes to represent. That sense of community and responsibility unique to a geographical place cannot be replicated online.

Indonesia: Election Commission Questioned for Ignoring Elections Supervisory Board | The Jakarta Globe

The General Elections Commission is bracing for a possible backlash from the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party after the commission defended its earlier decision to disqualify the party, ignoring a ruling by the Elections Supervisory Board. The board, also known as Bawaslu, quashed an earlier decision made by the General Elections Commission (KPU) to disqualify the party, known as the PKPI, on the grounds that the party had failed to prove it had support in one of the 33 provinces. But the KPU decided not to carry out the Bawaslu decision, arguing that the Bawaslu does not have the authority to overrule the KPU’s qualification process.

Zimbabwe: Election chief resigns ahead of Zimbabwe Polls |

Zimbabwe elections chief has resigned ahead of crucial polls in 2013 citing ill health, local media reported on Wednesday. Retired Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe took up his post in March 2010, two years after President Robert Mugabe won elections marred by bloodshed and intimidation. The vote led to international outcry and pressure which forced Mugabe into a power sharing government.