National: Supreme Court to Hear Alabama County’s Challenge to Voting Rights Act |

Jerome Gray, a 74-year-old black man, has voted in every election since 1974 in this verdant little outpost of some 4,000 people halfway between Mobile and Montgomery. Casting a ballot, he said, is a way to honor the legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a civil rights landmark born from a bloody confrontation 70 miles north of here, in Selma. The franchise remains fragile in Evergreen, Mr. Gray said. Last summer, he was kicked off the voting rolls by a clerk who had improperly culled the list based on utility records. A three-judge federal court in Mobile barred the city from using the new voting list, invoking Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or from a federal court in Washington before making changes that affect voting. That provision is also at the heart of one of the marquee cases of the Supreme Court’s term, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, which will be argued on Feb. 27. It was brought by Shelby County, near Birmingham, and it contends that the provision has outlived its purpose of protecting minority voters in an era when a black man has been re-elected to the presidency.

National: Online voting: Safe for Oscars, but not yet for elections? | TechHive

For the first time ever, this year’s Oscar winners were selected online. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to let its members vote online, but cybersecurity and elections experts say that casting Internet ballots in public elections is still a long way off. Even picking Best Picture winners led to serious snafus. The voting deadline for the Oscars was extended in early January after some members had issues with account registration (password requests were answered by snail mail rather than email). But in public elections, deadlines can’t be extended. A group of cybersecurity and elections experts last week reiterated the dangers of modeling public elections after private ones. Companies who design online voting systems for award shows or corporate shareholder meetings may suggest these systems can also be used in congressional or presidential races. Those claims should be met with skepticism, said computer scientist David Jefferson, chairman of the nonprofit Verified Voting Foundation. “There are major differences between private and public elections: the degree of security required, the degree of privacy required, the degree of transparency required,” Jefferson said in a telephone press conference Thursday. “In a public election we’re talking about a national security situation.”

National: Online Voting For Academy Awards Must Not Become Model For Public Elections, Cyber Security & Voting Rights Experts Warn | Paramus Post

A group of concerned cyber security experts and voting rights advocates released a statement today warning that Internet voting for this year’s Academy Awards must not become a model for public elections. The group includes advocacy organizations Common Cause and Verified Voting and some of the most renowned figures in computer science including Ron Rivest, co-founder of RSA and Verisign and recipient of the Turing Award;[1] and Dr. Barbara Simons, former President of ACM and author of Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? “When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would be using an online voting system to help its members choose this year’s Oscar nominees and finalists, thereby adding to the “credibility” of online voting, we found ourselves compelled to remind the general public that it is dangerous to deploy voting by email, efax, or through internet portals in public governmental elections at this time,” the experts said. “Public elections run by municipal, local and state governments should not be compared to elections like the one run by the Academy.”

National: Opposing Election Lawyers to Lead Obama Voting Panel |

Robert Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, two of the nation’s pre-eminent election lawyers, have long been on opposing sides of legal arguments. Last fall they were quarreling over voter registration, early voting laws and how the debates should be staged between their respective clients, President Obama and Mitt Romney. But for the next six months they will be working side by side on a new presidential commission, surveying election officials and customer service specialists — possibly from theme parks and other crowded places — to find ways to streamline how Americans cast their ballots and reduce the long lines that kept hundreds of thousands of people from voting in November. The president, in announcing the commission during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, noted that the presence of Mr. Ginsberg, a longtime Republican, would lend credibility and move beyond party politics to ensure its bipartisan nature.

National: President’s New Voting Commission Greeted With Skepticism | NPR

One of the more memorable moments in President Obama’s State of the Union address this week was his introduction of an elderly woman sitting in the House gallery. The president said that Desiline Victor had to wait three hours last year to vote in North Miami. “Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line to support her,” Obama said. “[Because] Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ‘I Voted.’ But Obama’s plan to fix the problem — setting up a presidential commission — hasn’t gotten many cheers. Voting-rights advocates are lukewarm at best, while Republicans are dismissive. So far, there are few details about the new commission. Obama said it will be headed by two longtime election lawyers, “who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Gov. [Mitt] Romney’s campaign.”

Editorials: The strong case for keeping Section 5 | Morgan Kousser/The Great Debate (Reuters)

There are deep ironies in the current case against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Before a 5-4 Republican majority of the Supreme Court opens the door to stronger voter suppression laws by overturning it in Shelby County v. Holder, the justices ‑ and the informed public ‑ should consider how effective Section 5 has been. Highly unusual political conditions made the act’s passage and renewals possible, and there would be almost insuperable difficulty in replacing it now that those conditions have changed. Since 2009, I have been compiling a comprehensive list of voting rights incidents. (I have also served as an expert witness in such voting rights cases as those challenging the 2011 Texas redistricting laws.) The list now has 4,141 incidents: legal cases brought under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; legal cases brought under Section 5 of the act; objections by the Justice Department under Section 5 and “more information requests” issued by the department as part of the Section 5 process, if they resulted in pro-minority changes in election laws; and 14th Amendment cases.

Editorials: Shelby County v. Holder: Why Section 2 matters | Ellen D. Katz/SCOTUSblog

Four years ago, when the Supreme Court last considered the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Justice Kennedy questioned why “[t]he sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan,” and why the government of one is “to be trusted less” than the government of the other. Should the Justices now strike down the statute, as many think they are poised to do, the reason why will likely be their belief that places like Alabama are no longer any different from places like Michigan –  or, better yet, Ohio, where Section 5 is wholly inapplicable. Voters may confront difficulties in Alabama, the Justices would posit, but these difficulties appear no worse than those faced by voters in those states left unregulated by Section 5. Therefore, Section 5 must be invalid.  Q.E.D. Sounds plausible perhaps, but take a closer look. As an initial matter, it is not at all clear that the Court needs to compare covered and non-covered jurisdictions in order to assess the constitutionality of the VRA. The issue presented in Shelby County v. Holder is not whether the Justices think Alabama is worse than Ohio, or even whether Congress might permissibly conclude that it is. Instead, Shelby County presents a different question: whether Congress has the power to extend a remedial regime that everyone agrees it lawfully adopted based on its conclusion that the regime continues to do critical work in the places where it operates. That conclusion should not be suspect, much less invalid, simply because problems have since developed in other jurisdictions that Congress might also appropriately regulate.

Voting Blogs: Redistricting didn’t win Republicans the House | Washington Post

There have been a lot of claims recently about the impact of redistricting on the 2012 congressional elections. Progressives are alarmed that Democrats won a majority of the House vote—roughly 51%—while falling a full 17 seats short of a majority. Such a discrepancy between the winner by votes and the winner by seats is rare, so it’s natural to assume that Republican gerrymandering—the process of drawing districts to advantage one interest over others—might be the culprit. Neuroscientist and election forecaster Sam Wang recently added fuel to the fire, calling the 2012 outcome “The Great Gerrymander.” He identified 10 states, most of them controlled by Republicans, as notable and egregious deviations from a fair outcome, suggesting that gerrymandering cost the Democrats 15 seats in the current House of Representatives and calling for redistricting reform to fix the problem. Wang’s conclusion resembles that of political scientist Nicholas Goedert, who suggests that the 2012 maps cost the Democrats 14 seats. Is this right? Has gerrymandering allowed Republicans to defy the will of the people? The crucial question to ask when deciding whether redistricting “mattered” is: compared to what? What is the alternative set of districts—the “counterfactual”—to which you’re comparing the current districts? Once we consider some other alternatives, these claims about gerrymandering aren’t as strong as they first appear.

California: Hundreds Of Uncounted Vote-By-Mail Ballots Discovered Months After November Election | CBS Sacramento

Hundreds of uncounted ballots were discovered from November’s election last week. CBS13 learned that more than 400 vote-by-mail ballots were found three months after the election because they were misplaced and forgotten until last week. “Some of the ballots from one of the precincts came back in a supply bag,” said Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill Lavine. Uncounted votes are supposed to be in a pink carrier; however, the 407 ballots wound up in a red supply bag which was tossed onto a storage rack. “As we were going through and cleaning up from the election, we found this bag full of ballots,” said LaVine.

Iowa: Democrats question Secretary of State on election results, voter fraud | TheGazette

Secretary of State Matt Schultz weathered a storm of questions from Democratic legislators, but his answers did little to satisfy his critics. Schultz sought to convince the Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee Feb. 14 that his office has learned from an election night computer crash that delayed results, creating what one lawmaker called a “national embarrassment.” “We did run into a blip with election night reporting. That won’t happen again,” Schultz said. Not everyone shared his confidence. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, questioned the technology fixes Schultz talked about as well as the first-term Republican’s ability to manage the office. “I left today with more questions than I got answers,” Danielson said.

Maryland: Virginia looks to toughen voter laws as Maryland does the opposite | Washington Examiner

Virginia is heading toward tough new restrictions on voting following last November’s election, while across the Potomac, Maryland is doing just the opposite. It’s the latest evidence that the two states are following the diverging national trends of the parties that control their respective statehouses. The Virginia Senate approved a Republican-backed measure Friday that requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot starting in 2014. If it’s signed into law, it would make Virginia the 10th state to pass such a mandate. Republicans said it’s a necessary step to prevent election fraud. But Democrats said the GOP is moving the goal posts after changing voting laws last year to require that Virginians bring any ID, with or without a photo, to the polls. “A year later, we still have no evidence of voter fraud. None at all,” said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico. Gov. Bob McDonnell has not indicated whether he would sign the bill, but a spokesman said “the governor believes Virginia’s current system generally has proven successful.”

Minnesota: Minneapolis ranked-choice voting could give independent candidates a new way to attract voters | MinnPost

Few would bet against a DFLer winning the Minneapolis mayor’s race in November. But with ranked-choice voting, the odds have improved some for independent candidate Cam Winton, who has referred to himself as a moderate Republican and whose platform pushes such conservative policies as improving the business climate and the efficiency of city services. The city’s ranked-choice voting uses a nonpartisan ballot ranking that allows a voter to choose a first, second, and third preference for mayor. As Community Voices contributor Jeffrey Peterson explained on MinnPost last month: “In a single-seat election, if no candidate receives a majority (50 percent plus one) of first choices, the least popular candidate is eliminated and his or her ballots get reallocated to remaining candidates based on their voters’ next choices. This process continues until one candidate earns a majority of support.”

Montana: Gov. Bullock and GOP senator roll out fix to stamp out campaign ‘dark money’ | Henleair

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and a Republican state senator joined forces Thursday behind a bill they said will force backers of anonymous political attacks in Montana to disclose their donors. “It is one thing to lie and distort the records of positions of those seeking office,” Bullock said at a Capitol news conference. “It takes it to a whole different level when those trying to corrupt our elections aren’t even courageous enough to stand behind their statements by disclosing who is writing the check.” Bullock said he is supporting a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, that, among other things, will require groups funding such attacks to report their donors.

Ohio: Voters testify in fraud hearings – explanations for errors range from bad postage to bad advice |

A Hamilton County Board of Elections hearing on Friday into possible vote fraud last November produced no Perry Mason moments but plenty of evidence of voter confusion – not over for whom to vote, but how to vote. In the first of two hearings intended to give subpoenaed individuals who voted twice a final chance to explain their actions and avoid possible prosecution, the explanations ranged from poll workers’ advice to worries over inadequate postage on absentee ballots to whether the ballots had even been mailed at all. One of the most popular responses: “I don’t remember.” At least in the handful of cases reviewed in full Friday, no sinister motives or actions emerged. The board plans to hold another hearing next week, then decide which of the roughly 20 cases still being investigated – from among about four times that number initially examined – should be forwarded to county prosecutors.

Pennsylvania: Both sides ask judge to postpone Pennsylvania voter ID law until after primary | Philadelphia Inquirer

Lawyers on all sides of Pennsylvania’s voter ID controversy want to postpone strict enforcement of the law until after the May 21 primary election, allowing time for the proposed photo-ID requirements to be considered again by the state’s appellate courts. The attorneys, representing both the Corbett administration and various civil-rights groups opposed to the law, filed a stipulation Thursday asking Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. to extend a preliminary injunction he first issued in October. If the judge agrees, that would limit enforcement of the voter ID requirement to the same rules that prevailed in the November election: Voters will be asked to show a qualified photo ID when they show up at the polls, but will be allowed to use voting machines whether they have photo ID or not.

Texas: Redistricting appeal likely on hold at Supreme Court | San Antonio Express-News

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether to hear Texas’ appeal in a redistricting case is likely to be delayed until the justices rule on a different voting rights case, lawyers involved in the Texas battle said Friday. Supreme Court justices have held a series of screening conferences to select the cases to be argued during the spring term. So far, justices haven’t selected the Texas appeal of a federal court ruling that the state discriminated against minorities with new redistricting maps for Congress and the Legislature. Texas, in its appeal, also has challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires prior approval by the Justice Department of any changes to voting laws and procedures for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

Virginia: Senate, House panel advance voter ID measures |

Voter identification restrictions edged one step closer to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk Friday as the Senate approved a measure that would shorten the list of voter IDs acceptable on the polls that went into effect last year. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling broke a tie for Republicans in the evenly divided chamber on a House of Delegates measure that would take utility bills, bank statements, government issued checks or paychecks, student IDs and concealed carry permits off the list of identification voters can use to prove who they are. Like he did on the Senate version of the bill, Bolling also broke a tie in favor of Democrats on an amendment that would push back the effective date of the measure to July 1, 2014, and make enactment dependent on funding in next year’s budget plan for a voter education campaign. Because the measure was amended it must go back to the House for its approval before heading to the governor.

Armenia: Polls open in Armenian presidential election | Al Jazeera English

Armenians have begun voting in presidential elections already marred by the shooting of an opposition candidate and the lack of any prominent alternative to incumbent Serzh Sarksyan. The government is hoping for a peaceful election that will improve the country’s prospects of European integration, after the disputed presidential elections that brought Sarksyan to power in 2008 ended in clashes in which 10 people died. Sarksyan has called for the elections to be “exemplary” and stressed that Armenia has “no future” if its polls cannot correspond to European standards. Most opinion polls give Sarksyan a strong lead and the fractured opposition forces have failed to find a common challenger to the incumbent leader. … International observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will monitor voting, which was scheduled to end at 1600 GMT.

Cyprus: Runoff will be held in Cyprus’ presidential election between top 2 candidates | The Washington Post

Cyprus heads into a runoff presidential election next weekend, with voters called on to select who will lead the country through a severe financial crisis after no candidate won an outright majority in Sunday’s vote. Nicos Anastasiades, a right-winger who presented himself as the most capable to negotiate a bailout with Cyprus’ European partners and who went into the election a strong favorite, won the first round with just over 45 percent of the vote. But he fell short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed for an outright victory. In the Feb. 24 runoff, he will face Stavros Malas, a left-winger who has advocated being more assertive in negotiations for bailout loans to limit the severity of austerity measures they require. Final results Sunday night showed Anastasiades winning 45.46 percent, well ahead of Malas’ 26.91. Independent Giorgos Lallikas was a close third with 24.93 percent, and was eliminated from the running.

Ecuador: President Rafael Correa wins new term | BBC News

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has been re-elected for a third term with more than 50% of the vote. His main challenger has admitted defeat. Addressing his supporters in the capital, Quito, Mr Correa called for “another four years of revolution”. First elected in 2007, the socialist leader is widely credited with bringing political stability to a nation that suffered decades of protests and coups. But critics accuse Mr Correa of being a dictator in the making. The 49-year-old US-trained economist has been accused of implementing policies that have served to strengthen his hold on power and erode the influence of political opponents and private media. But his so-called “citizens’ revolution” has made him popular with many ordinary Ecuadoreans and has won him friends among other Latin American left-wing leaders.

Ecuador: Once a hacker Kevin Mitnick Now Helps Secure Ecuador Presidential Elections |

Kevin Mitnick, who was one of the most wanted computer hacker in the US at one time, is now heading a security consultancy firm – Mitnick Security Consulting, and is entrusted with the task of securing Sunday’s presidential elections in Ecuador. Sunday may very well see Rafael Correa win the presidential elections in Ecuador provided nothing goes wrong and Mitnick does the job perfectly which has been assigned to him. Mitnick tweeted, “18 years ago I was busted for hacking. I do the same thing today but with full authorization. How cool is that?” Mitnick has been assigned to protect the Net Lock computer system that has been assigned the task of tabulating Ecuador’s elections.