The murders of three young civil rights workers bent on registering black voters during 1964’s “Freedom Summer” still haunts this tiny town in central Mississippi. Jewel Rush McDonald shudders at the thought of the beatings her mother and brother endured at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan five days before the murders. Stanley Dearman bemoans the four decades it took to get even one manslaughter conviction, and only after he badgered state officials in his weekly newspaper. James Young recalls the tension of being the only black pupil in his elementary school class at the time of the murders, when poll taxes and literacy tests helped keep 95% of eligible blacks in Mississippi from voting. After dark in those days, he says, “we were told to be in the house.” But “things have changed in the South,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said June 22, 2009, almost 45 years to the day since the murders. It was one line in the court’s most recent decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and though it kept the law largely intact, Roberts warned the act’s days might be numbered.
Three years after the landmark Citizens United decision that dramatically changed campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will take up another campaign finance case challenging how much donors can give to campaigns and committees. The court will hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which deals with the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits, in October. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama resident, contributed a total of $33,088 to 16 different candidates during the 2012 election cycle and thousands more to party committees. He wanted his contributions for the cycle to total $75,000 to party committees and $54,400 to candidates but was barred from giving at that level by federal aggregate limits. The Republican National Committee and McCutcheon challenged the FEC’s contribution limits under the First Amendment, saying the $46,200 aggregate limit for candidates and $70,800 limit for committees was “unsupported by any cognizable government interest … at any level of review.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the limits.
National: Supreme Court Takes Campaign Finance Case, Will Rule On Contribution Limits | Huffington Post
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will hear a case challenging the per-biennial cycle limit on campaign contributions from individuals. The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, argues that the limit on what individuals are allowed to give candidates ($46,200 per two-year cycle) and parties and PACs ($70,800 per two-year cycle) is an unconstitutional violation of the individual donor’s free speech rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals already ruled in favor of keeping the biennial limits, which have been in place since 1971 and were upheld in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case. By accepting the case, the Supreme Court is stepping into the thick of another controversial campaign finance case just three years after ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and unions can spend freely on elections. If the court rules against the two-year limits, it would mark the first time a court has overturned a part of the landmark Buckley ruling that deals with campaign contribution limits. This is not terribly surprising as the court has been hostile to campaign finance laws ever since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a supporter of campaign finance regulation, was replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s conservative bloc who is opposed to campaign regulation.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama returned to a point he’d made on election night: The need to do something about long voting lines. Obama announced his plan for a commission to “improve the voting experience in America.” But often missing from discussions about how to make voting easier is the rapid expansion of absentee balloting. Letting people vote from home means fewer people queuing up at overburdened polling places. So why hasn’t vote-by-mail been heralded as the solution? When it comes to absentee and mail-in voting, researchers and voting rights advocates aren’t sure the convenience is worth the potential for hundreds of thousands of rejected ballots. Although Oregon and Washington are the only two states to conduct elections entirely by mail, absentee voting has expanded rapidly nationwide. Since 1980, the number of voters using absentee ballots has more than tripled. Roughly one in five votes is now absentee.
This month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments that could end key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County vs. Holder will challenge the provision requiring designated jurisdictions to receive “pre-clearance” before changing election laws. If there was any doubt that the Voting Rights Act needs to be retained, those doubts should have been erased by what happened in 2012. The greatest justification was the concerted effort by right-wingers to suppress the vote. Republican state houses throughout the country constructed an elaborate and calculated effort to suppress voter turnout. The widespread effort targeted specific demographics and were designed to make it more difficult for voters to exercise their franchise. It was the type of activity expressly forbidden by the Voting Rights Act. The 2012 elections were a case study in support of retaining the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The right to vote is not articulated in the Constitution; however, constitutional amendments state that you cannot prevent an eligible citizen from voting. The Voting Rights Act outlaws practices that prevent eligible citizens from reaching the polls, and yet, in 2012 elected officials were still trying to find ways to deny the vote.
A dispute over emailing completed ballots has fractured the bipartisan support behind a bill designed to simplify voting for Kentucky military personnel overseas. Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers joined forces to push Senate Bill 1 — designed to make it easier for Kentuckians serving abroad to vote. Grimes got the idea after visiting Kentucky soldiers serving in the Middle East last year. But their alliance has splintered because of concerns over the security of emailed votes. The bill, which Stivers filed Friday, includes a phrase that says such votes can be cast “by facsimile” or by “electronic transmission.” But Lourdes Baez-Schrader, a spokeswoman for Stivers’ office, said the phrase was included by mistake, adding that it conflicts with other parts of the bill that do not authorize electronic transmission of ballots.
A proposal, backed by Montana’s top election official and local election administrators, to give counties the option of switching to all-mail voting for elections ran into a buzz saw of opposition Friday. Lining up against House Bill 428 were representatives of groups representing Native Americans, disabled people, the elderly, environmentalists, plus some conservatives, including Tea Party advocate Mark French of Paradise. The bill by Rep. Doug Kary, R-Billings, would make it a local option for county commissioners in to decide whether to switch to vote-by-mail elections for their county in all federal and state elections. Nearly 59 percent of Montana voters last year cast their votes by mail, and the percentage rises every year, Kary told the House State Administration Committee. The bill would save money and reduce the possibility of fraud, he said. Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said the percentage of people voting absentee has risen by four times from 15 percent in 2000 to the near 60 percent last year.
Nebraska: Secretary of State Gale testifies in support of reducing in-person early voting days | Nebraska City News-Press
Secretary of State John Gale testified today in support of LB271 which would reduce the number of in-person early voting days in Nebraska from 35 to 25. The bill, sponsored by Senator Scott Lautenbaugh, arose from a complaint filed under the Help America Vote Act against the Lancaster County Election Commissioner’s office by a visually impaired voter. She was unable to vote in early October, due to the unavailability of the AutoMARK machine, which allows disabled voters to cast an unassisted ballot at their precinct. Following a hearing on that complaint, the hearing officer recommended that in-person early voting days be reduced to 25. Speaking to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee, Gale said that the recommendation made by the hearing officer and supported by the proposed legislation, was the simplest and most accommodating way to address the problem.
Despite confusion last November about whether Pennsylvania voters needed to present photo identification to vote, the state does not plan to roll out an ad campaign about the new law before the May 21 primary election. Pennsylvania voters will not be required to show photo identification in the primary election, but some worry that voters may still be confused. “At the moment, we have no funding for a paid ad campaign,” said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Under an agreement signed Thursday in a pending lawsuit over the voter ID law, both sides agreed that voters will not be required to show photo identification in the primary. Lawyers representing the Corbett administration and plaintiffs who are challenging the constitutionality of the voter ID law in state Commonwealth Court agreed that the law won’t be enforced as voters choose nominees for judicial and municipal offices.
Lawmakers says a tug-of-war between bills in the Senate is standing in the way of early voting. Senators on of both sides of the aisle have called for changes to make true early voting a reality in South Carolina, but the senate bill could face some setbacks if nothing happens soon. If early voting does not pass Tuesday, another piece of legislation will take the front seat, pushing the bill back on the calendar. “I thought we had it very close to being resolved, every close, but it just fell apart,” said Senate President John Courson. The last few days in session senators have struggled to advance the bill that would allow South Carolinians to head to the polls and cast their ballots early, but failed deals have stalled that process.
US Virgin Islands: Federal funds to buy voting machines depend on compliance with Disablilities Act | Virgin Islands Daily News
The V.I. Elections System must overcome at least two distinct hurdles before it can purchase new electronic voting machines. Board of Elections attorney Kimberly Salisbury told the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections at its meeting Thursday that the Elections System must become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act – and all other federal laws – before the federal government will release the funds to purchase the machines. That means getting the U.S. Justice Department to certify that the new St. Thomas elections office is ADA compliant, according to board members Claudette Georges and Alecia Wells. It also means the board must adopt a new facilities plan – a process that, according to Georges and Wells, requires a public comment period and may take several months. The ADA certification could happen by the end of the month following a planned Feb. 21 visit by Justice Department officials, according to St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Elections Supervisor Mabel Maduro. It is less clear how long it might take to adopt a new facilities plan. No one at the meeting Thursday knew specifically where the last form of such a plan might exist.
A GOP-sponsored bill to tighten voter identification rules cleared the Senate on Friday with help from Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who also supported a Democrat’s amendment to delay the change. But the bill, which originated in the House, now returns to the lower chamber because the Senate amended it. Also Friday, a House committee approved a separate Senate voter ID bill, which now heads to the full House. Both pieces of legislation — House Bill 1337 and Senate Bill 1256 — would remove several forms of identification, including utility bills and paychecks, that the General Assembly added last year to the list of IDs accepted at the polls. SB1256, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), would go further, requiring that voters present photo identification. Bolling, who presides over the Senate and is exploring an independent bid for governor, broke two tie votes related to HB1337, which is sponsored by Dels. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) and Rob R. Bell III (R-Albemarle). The lieutenant governor first sided with Democrats to delay implementation until July 2014 and further specify that it not take effect until money is appropriated to educate voters about the change. But he then voted with his party to pass the underlying bill.
Djibouti is undergoing a major change. For the first time since the independence of this small east African nation in 1977, the opposition party might be elected to parliament in the legislative elections taking place on February 22. To date, the electoral campaign, which started on February 8, has been unfolding calmly. But the political discourse between supporters of the different parties has already soured. A historic image: thousands of people gathering beneath the banners of the Union for National Salvation (USN), the coalition that brings together the Djiboutian opposition. After ten years of boycotting elections, these political parties are now participating in the legislative elections and running against the UMP, the Union for the Presidential Majority. After having been shut out from political life for the last 36 years, the opposition will now finally be able to sit in parliament.
Egypt: Draft electoral laws contradict Egypt’s national charter: Constitutional Court | Ahram Online
Hopes for holding Egypt’s parliamentary elections this summer have become dim in recent days. On Monday, the High Constitutional Court (HCC) took the Islamist-led Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) aback by deciding that as many as ten articles of two draft laws regulating parliamentary polls run counter to the newly-approved constitution. The HCC decision has thrown a wrench into the legal ratification process and could complicate the process of conducting parliamentary elections this summer. The Shura Council must meet again to debate the HCC ruling, amend the laws and then refer them back to the HCC. “This must be completed in one week or before 23 February,” said Mohamed Mohieddin, an appointed Shura Council member representing the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party.
On February 24th and 25th Italian parliamentary elections will be held. The electoral system in place is referred to in Italy as the “Calderoli law”, approved in 2005 and already used in the 2006 and 2008. Both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate are elected with a proportional system with a majority premium. The two systems however are not identical. For the Chamber of Deputies it is a majority-assuring system. The party or coalition of parties that gets a plurality of the votes at the national level is guaranteed 54% of the seats (340) regardless of its percentage of votes [JT: Unless it gets more than 54% of the vote – which won’t happen in this election – but in that case it would get the correct proportion. It is only a bonus, never a penalty.] In the case of coalitions the votes of all its parties are counted for determining who gets the majority bonus. The remaining seats are allocated proportionally among the losers which meet the conditions for gaining representation. For parties running alone the threshold for getting seats is 4%. For parties running in coalition the threshold is 2%, provided their coalition gets at least 10% of the votes. For each coalition with more than 10% the largest party below the 2% threshold is entitled to receive seats. Party lists are closed.
Zimbabwe: Crackdown On Civic Groups Continues As Police Raid Zimbabwe Election Support Network Offices | allAfrica.com
Police have been criticized for intensifying their crackdown on civil society organizations, after the latest raid on the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) offices in Harare. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras, who is also vice chairperson of ZESN, said officers raided the offices on Tuesday looking for subversive material, documents, gadgets or recordings and illegal immigrants. Petras told SW Radio Africa that the police search warrant was the same as the one used to raid the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project recently. “The raids are carried out by the Law and Order unit of the police but we don’t know where the instructions are coming from. It’s quite confusing. One minute we hear from politicians that they have been discussing this, and that attacks on civil society organizations are going to cease, and the next minute there is a raid of another organization. So it seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Petras said.