Editorials: The partisan politics of election laws | Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis Fuentes-Rohwer/The Great Debate (Reuters)

Many commentators assume that the conservative Supreme Court justices will strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Like Abigail Thernstrom, however, we are not so sure. Congress clearly has the authority to continue to maintain Section 5. If the court does strike it down, though, it will give Congress an opportunity to update the act for the 21st century. In 2012, state legislatures passed many partisan initiatives designed to constrain the right to vote ‑ ranging from efforts to end same-day registration to adding voter identification laws. In Virginia, state senators used one colleague’s absence to pass a new, arguably discriminatory redistricting plan. In Indiana and North Carolina, new proposals would make it harder for some students to vote. Some states are considering tinkering with the way they choose electors to the Electoral College. Some of these initiatives may have a disparate racial impact — and might be actionable under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Some may even have been motivated by an intent to discriminate. But many of the actions that affect racial minorities seem to do so for partisan political purposes, not racial reasons. Unless Congress can stop these partisan initiatives, the parties will increasingly target the other side’s voters for political gain.  The American public, meanwhile, ends up as collateral damage.

Editorials: Kenya’s Election Campaign Is Being Run On Amnesia | NYTimes.com

I was negotiating one of Nairobi’s terrifying traffic circles — a maneuver that requires jumping over a lattice of open sewers while playing chicken with a line of trucks snorting their way toward Uganda and Congo — when I was confronted with a vision to chill the heart and drop the jaw. Twenty young Kenyan volunteers in T-shirts and caps printed with the candidate’s face were jiving and chanting on the back of a campaign truck as it trundled toward the Sarit Center shopping mall in Westlands: “Vote for Brother Paul!” It was my first day back in the city that was once my home, and I’d just caught a glimpse of what must surely be the overriding characteristic of this East African country’s forthcoming general elections: shamelessness. For Brother Paul, as he is known since he found God, was once plain Kamlesh Pattni, the smirking, mustachioed brains behind Goldenberg, the biggest financial scandal in Kenyan history. The scam, in which top officials looted public coffers by claiming compensation for phantom gold exports, sent the economy into a nose dive that cost Kenya at least 10 percent of G.D.P. in the 1990s. Yet Pattni clearly sees no reason why that awkward fact should bar him from office.

National: Voting Rights Act In The Supreme Court’s Crosshairs | TPM

When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments next week about the constitutionality of a key element of the Voting Rights Act, the Obama administration and other proponents of the law will be facing five very skeptical justices. Shelby County v. Holder is the latest in a string of landmark cases that will shape the legacy of the Roberts Court. Proponents of the law are extremely nervous, and privately acknowledge that they face a steep uphill climb in winning over a majority of the justices. At issue is the validity of Section 5 of the landmark 1965 law designed to quash voter disenfranchisement efforts such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Section 5 requires states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination (read: mostly in the south) to seek preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes to their voting laws. The law was upheld in 1966 by a Supreme Court that deemed it valid to correct the “insidious and pervasive evil” of racism. The law was most recently reauthorized in 2006 by a nearly unanimous Congress, with Section 5 intact.

National: Will Supreme Court End Federal Limits on Campaign Donations? | The Daily Beast

It’s said that villagers in remote parts of China take stones from dilapidated sections of the Great Wall to build their homes. From the villagers’ perspective, at least the stones are being put to good use, given that the wall long ago ceased being effective at keeping out invaders. Not much more useful, these days, is the edifice Congress built after the Watergate scandal to limit the influence of money in elections. Our current campaign finance regime, after years of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, which freed up corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums and gave rise to super PACs, is remarkable mainly for how little spending it stops. In January, the Federal Election Commission estimated that $7 billion was spent by candidates, parties, and outside groups in the 2012 elections. That’s an order of magnitude more than what was believed to be spent in the 1972 elections, which originally inspired Congress to enact systemic campaign finance laws. And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that offers the justices another chance to haul off with a few more stones. The case has the official name of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission but some people are already referring to it as “Citizens United II.” The issue is the constitutionality of federal law that caps the total amount of money individuals may contribute to candidates, parties, and certain political committees over a two-year period. Shaun McCutcheon, an active political contributor to the GOP and its candidates, challenged the caps, which are currently set at $117,000, as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

Editorials: A commission on voting issues is a good start | The Washington Post

Since November, President Obama has been promising to do something about extremely long voting lines and other shameful Election Day lapses. Last week, he began to make good on his pledge, unveiling “a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America,” headed by Bob Bauer and Benjamin Ginsburg, the lawyers for Mr. Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaigns, respectively. The Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and Felicia Sonmez report that critics are already attacking the idea. Conservatives question why the federal government needs to get more involved with voting. Voting-rights activists wonder why the president needs a commission when he could champion any of the sensible reform proposals already sitting in Congress. But the commission is a good idea, for at least two reasons.

Editorials: The More Things Change … | Linda Greenhouse/NYTimes.com

Despite spending a lot of time reading and thinking about the Voting Rights Act case the Supreme Court will hear next week, there’s a puzzle I’m still trying to crack: How can it be that one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement, a provision upheld on four previous occasions by the Supreme Court and re-enacted in 2006 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress (98-0 in the Senate, 390-33 in the House), a law that President George W. Bush urged the justices to uphold again four years ago in one of his final acts in office, a law that has demonstrably defeated myriad efforts both flagrant and subtle to suppress or dilute the African-American vote, is now hanging by a thread? Of the hanging-by-a-thread part, there’s little doubt. Four years ago, in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder, a case commonly referred to as Namudno, the Supreme Court came within a hair’s breadth of declaring the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 unconstitutional. “Things have changed in the South,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. declared in the court’s opinion, an oft-quoted line of pithy constitutional analysis that took its place with the chief justice’s other profound musings on race in America. (The others, so far, are “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race,” dissenting in 2006 from a decision awarding a rare victory to Latino plaintiffs who had sued to invalidate a Texas congressional district; and “The way to end racial discrimination is to stop discriminating by race,” in a 2007 plurality opinion striking down integration-preserving efforts by public school districts in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle.)

Arkansas: Senate approves voter ID legislation | SFGate

The Arkansas Senate voted Wednesday to require voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot, a requirement that one Democratic lawmaker compared to poll taxes and other past efforts to disenfranchise voters. The Republican-led Senate approved the requirement on a mostly partly-line 23-12 vote, with two Democrats joining the chamber’s 21 Republicans. Past efforts at voter ID legislation have failed in the Legislature under Democratic control, but the idea is expected to have an easier path to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s desk now that Republicans control both chambers. Beebe has questioned the need for such a requirement, but has not said whether he opposes the bill. Arkansas law currently requires poll workers to ask for identification, but voters are not required to show it.

Connecticut: His Vote Didn’t Count Last Year | CT News Junkie

In 2012, Sgt. Kevin Townley’s vote didn’t count. He mailed it from the United Arab Emirates, but it never got to hometown of Trumbull to be counted. Townley said that while some people would rather get medals, “I’d just like my vote to be counted.” Townley, who serves in the Connecticut National Guard, is not alone. The Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office found that 40 percent of the absentee ballots transmitted to members of the military overseas were never received and never counted. That’s why Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, and Rep Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, are proposing legislation that would allow overseas military men and women return their ballots by fax or email. Currently, military men and women serving overseas can receive their ballot by fax or email, but they have to return it through the postal service. … However, there is opposition to the measure. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill last year which included the same provision.

New Jersey: Battered by Sandy, New Jersey Tries Email Voting with Mixed Results | Governing.com

When Superstorm Sandy wiped out a good chunk of the New Jersey shore just prior to the presidential elections last November, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration issued a directive allowing displaced citizens and first responders to vote electronically. Casting an email or fax vote may seem easy enough, but for some citizens and county election offices, the process wasn’t a walk in the park. Technology wasn’t a problem — procedures for voting electronically were already established so that military members and other overseas personnel could receive their ballots and vote by email. But preparing to receive votes from the general populace took around-the-clock efforts from county election staff already battered by the effects of Sandy. While the top of the ballots that contained federal election choices was already completed because of overseas voters, New Jersey counties had to extend those ballots to include the local races for each voter, which took time. But once that was done, sending out ballots and then qualifying people to vote electronically was a big challenge.

Pennsylvania: Counties cope with Voter ID confusion | Times Leader

Some county officials said Tuesday they will try to refresh voters’ understanding of Pennsylvania’s fractured election laws before the upcoming primary elections. Although they do not anticipate major problems in the May 21 balloting – especially given the typically small turnout for municipal and judicial elections – officials from counties across the state said it is important voters clearly understand the status of the new voter-identification law amid a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality set for trial in July. Voter-education efforts will focus on “what will be expected and what will not be expected,” said Frank X. Custer, communications director for Montgomery County.

Virginia: Photo ID voting mandate passes in Virginia, heads to governor | WJLA.com

General Assembly Republicans muscled the most far-reaching of their polling place identification and voter vetting bills to final passage Wednesday with almost party-line House votes on Wednesday over the outcries of Democrats who likened the measures to Jim Crow-era poll taxes. On a 65-34 vote, the House completed legislative action on a strict photo identification bill that would require all voters to present identification such as a drivers license or passport bearing a photo of the holder to cast a regular ballot. Those without it would have to vote a provisional ballot that would count only if the voter could provide local election officials with the required identification by noon on the Friday after the election. Only one Democrat supported the measure. If Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signs it into law, it would take effect in 2014 unless the U.S. Justice Department determines it violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Virginia: Republican voter identification restrictions on way to governor; photo ID mandate next on deck | The Washington Post

Some of the Republican-authored bills that tighten voting identification and registration requirements muscled their way through the General Assembly on Tuesday, bound for the desk of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. Del. Mark Cole’s bill would eliminate several forms of acceptable voter ID approved just one year ago — utility bills, bank statements, a government check. It won final passage on a largely party-line 64-36 House vote. The measure would not take effect until 2014, however, because of a Senate amendment that the House accepted. The measure to which Democrats most object, a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, awaits House passage as early as Wednesday. So does a Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain’s bill requiring voter registration lists to be checked against federal immigration lists to identify non-citizens. House Republicans have unabashedly advanced several measures tightening voting requirements this year while simultaneously rejecting legislation that would have lowered some barriers to voting and reduced waiting lines up to four hours at some precincts last fall.

Virginia: Key vote on photo ID bill looms in Virginia legislature | HamptonRoads.com

On an overcast Tuesday, voting rights advocates gathered for an afternoon State Capitol rally to protest policy proposals they view as voter suppression efforts. Hours earlier, the General Assembly had already rained on them by approving bills applying new rules to broad voter registration efforts and limiting the forms of identification voters can bring to the polls. They’re hoping that doesn’t turn into a downpour when photo ID legislation and a bill to check the citizenship status of voters could come up for decisive votes in the House of Delegates Wednesday.

Washington: Moscoso voting rights bill goes to state House | HeraldNet.com

Democratic State Rep. Luis Moscoso’s Washington Voting Rights Act goes to the full House of Representatives after a committee approved it along with four other elections bills. Members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved five pieces of legislation Monday, including the Voting Rights Act, a bill aimed at ending voter exclusion and promoting diversity in elected office. The Washington Voting Rights Act would encourage cities, towns and other local jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to smaller districted elections. The bill, Moscoso said Tuesday, would empower local communities that have difficulties getting community members elected in at-large elections. The bill would exempt municipalities with populations under 1,000 and school districts with less than 250 students but would give people in qualifying communities the ability to sue in state courts if they feel their rights are being violated.

Armenia: Thousands in Armenia protest Sarksyan’s re-election | World Bulletin

About 5,000 flag-waving protesters rallied on Wednesday against Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan’s re-election, saying his victory was tainted by fraud.
Supporters of Sarksyan’s second-placed rival Raffi Hovannisian filled Freedom Square in the centre of the capital Yerevan to condemn what they said were uncounted ballots and other violations. “Are you ready to stay here long?” Hovannisian asked the crowd. “Are you ready to stay here until victory? I’m ready. The constitution should win over fraud,” he said, raising a first above his head after kneeling to kiss the national flag.

Barbados: Voters to elect new leader after a close and brief campaign | chicagotribune.com

Voters in Barbados will cast ballots on Thursday in a close but low key race between the ruling Democratic Labour Party led by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the opposition Barbados Labour Party led by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur. Thirty seats in Parliament are at stake in the general election in the southeast Caribbean nation of 290,000 people, with the leader of the winning party becoming prime minister. Polling released on Monday by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc, or CADRES, gave a slight margin in favor of the opposition Barbados Labour Party, or BLP, both in terms of seats and in popular support.

Italy: Rivals battle it out on and off-air | BBC News

From a media baron’s on-air antics to a comedian who shuns television, the campaign strategies employed by contenders in Italy’s election have been poles apart, reports the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome. Silvio Berlusconi is in a live television studio, half out of his seat and bellowing furiously at the audience about the Communist past of his left wing opponents. It is just one moment in a typical media performance by Italy’s former Prime Minister. He had gone into what was for him a lion’s den; the Servizio Pubblico political talk show It airs on a channel beyond the control of Mr Berlusconi’s Mediaset television empire. Some of his sharpest critics were lying in wait for him.And over more than two hours they launched attacks aimed at exposing Mr Berlusconi’s many failings. It was a chance to almost put him on trial, and the bookmakers were suggesting he might storm off the set. But he stayed in his seat, and rose to the occasion. He twisted and turned, counter-attacked and blustered and ranted and joked and charmed.

Kenya: Landlocked neighbours worried by possible Kenya poll violence | Reuters

Kenya’s landlocked neighbours are stocking up on fuel and food to prevent the kind of disruption they suffered after being cut off from the port of Mombasa by angry rioters following a disputed election five years ago. About 200 million people in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and eastern Congo could be affected if Kenya goes through a fresh bout of fighting when it holds presidential and parliamentary elections on March 4. The port of Mombasa serves its wide hinterland with imports that include oil, clinker which is used to make cement, steel, bitumen for road construction and second-hand cars, while the main exports include tea, coffee, and horticultural products. Some 95 percent of all the cargo coming in through the port is trucked by road. Truck drivers at a weigh bridge in the small town of Athi River on the fringes of the capital Nairobi said there were already fears of violence.

Malta: Should prisoners in Malta be allowed election vote? | The Times of Malta

As the voting documents are being distributed, one part of Maltese society will not be expecting any deliveries. Based on the UK tradition, Malta bars people serving a prison term longer than one year from voting. Those given a suspended sentence retain the right. The matter was a controversial battlefield in the UK in 2001 when convicted killer John Hirst challenged the blanket ban on prisoners voting. He lost the case in the English High Court but subsequently won it in the European Court of Human Rights. None of the main political parties was happy about the ruling; the last British Labour government put off doing anything in response. In March 2011, the UK Government set up a Commission to look into the possibility of drafting a Bill of Rights and providing advice on reforming the European Court of Human Rights. In Malta, no such debate is taking place but according to criminal lawyer Joe Giglio, the fact that a person has committed an offence should not have much to do with his right to vote.

Vatican City: How secure is the papal election? | Bruce Schneier/CNN.com

As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope, security people like me wonder about the process. How does it work, and just how hard would it be to hack the vote? The rules for papal elections are steeped in tradition. John Paul II last codified them in 1996, and Benedict XVI left the rules largely untouched. The “Universi Dominici Gregis on the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff” is surprisingly detailed. Every cardinal younger than 80 is eligible to vote. We expect 117 to be voting. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, directed by the church chamberlain. The ballot is entirely paper-based, and all ballot counting is done by hand. Votes are secret, but everything else is open. First, there’s the “pre-scrutiny” phase. “At least two or three” paper ballots are given to each cardinal, presumably so that a cardinal has extras in case he makes a mistake. Then nine election officials are randomly selected from the cardinals: three “scrutineers,” who count the votes; three “revisers,” who verify the results of the scrutineers; and three “infirmarii,” who collect the votes from those too sick to be in the chapel. Different sets of officials are chosen randomly for each ballot. Each cardinal, including the nine officials, writes his selection for pope on a rectangular ballot paper “as far as possible in handwriting that cannot be identified as his.” He then folds the paper lengthwise and holds it aloft for everyone to see. When everyone has written his vote, the “scrutiny” phase of the election begins.