We transmit money, legal documents, medical reports and other sensitive information via the Internet. Shouldn’t we be able to vote over the Internet, too? “No,” say some observers. “Right now, there is no way to meaningfully secure an election by Internet voting, and we’d be inviting serious potential for fraud on a scale that’s never been experienced in election administration before,” says Doug Kelleher, co-chair of New York’s State Board of Elections. “Until methods can be designed to secure the election so that you know that every vote is being counted the way the voter cast it, I am opposed to Internet voting.” “Yes,” say others—including a group of seventeen computer scientists who signed on to a National Defense Committee statement in January, supporting more research on Internet voting specifically for military voters. “The only foreseeable option to allow military members to achieve first class voter status is through remote electronic voting that provides for electronic delivery of military members’ voted ballots,” says the statement. Still others might say “it depends on what you mean by ‘Internet voting.’” That term can be shorthand for at least three options, and we’ll look at each of them separately—and whether experts give them a green, yellow or red light (at least for now).
Supporters of the Voting Rights Act are painting a bleak picture of what it would mean for the rights of minority voters if the Supreme Court were to strike down the landmark 1965 law’s Section 5, which requires state and local governments with a history of disenfranchising minority voters (i.e. mostly in the south) to receive preclearance from the Justice Department or federal court before changing laws that affect voting. “Broadly speaking, if we didn’t have Section 5 we would find that minority voters are in many places around the covered jurisdictions will have their ability to equally participate in the political process severely compromised,” Julie Fernandes, a civil rights activist and former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said this week. “We’ll see a lot more of the diluting tactics that we used to have.” The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, the most serious challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Right Acts in the nearly 50 years since its enactment. The liberal-leaning Center For America Progress held a briefing with reporters in advance of the Supreme Court hearing where experts, including Fernandes, made the case for the validity and necessity of Section 5. Nervous that their side will face five very skeptical justices at oral arguments, they described the part of the law as critical to protecting minority voters’ rights.
There are enormous stakes for the country in the campaign finance case the Supreme Court agreed to review this week. If the Supreme Court strikes down the existing limits on the aggregate amount an individual can give to all federal candidates and all party committees in a two-year election cycle, the Justices will create a system of legalized bribery in Washington. Such a decision by the Court would be a gold mine for big donors interested in buying government decisions and would wreak havoc on the interests of ordinary Americans. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the case to be considered by the Supreme Court, involves a challenge by Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to the constitutionality of the federal aggregate contribution limits, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo.
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.
There are no two words that get elections officials, scholars, vendors and geeks more riled up than Internet voting. The emotions on both sides often run so high that at times it can seem almost impossible to even have a conversation about the concept of casting a ballot online. But with concerns about long lines on Election Day, with the U.S. Postal Service cutting services, and elections officials concerned about getting ballots to voters overseas or in times of emergency, is it possible to discuss the possibilities? “Is there anything not controversial related to voting? If voting machines had to go through acceptance that Internet voting is facing, they wouldn’t have been rolled out,” said Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kan. election commissioner. “The movement has pretty successfully been slowed by emotion and in particular, emotion masquerading as fact.” According to Newby, beyond the technological issues, there are some who are very impassioned because it takes away the spirit of community that comes with voting. “I respect that opposition because at least they are saying they don’t like Internet voting because of the way they feel. That’s an emotional argument that’s fair because it’s called out from the beginning as being emotional. Newby acknowledged that it is a difficult conversation, in part, because the country is no closer to Internet voting in the United States, really, than it was five or 10 years ago. “Discussion has been successfully stonewalled, so why fight with success?” Newby said. ”The best argument that could be made would be that there is a growing use of Internet voting options for military and overseas voters, but even those options have been much more evolutionary than revolutionary.”
Voting Blogs: “Fixing that”: States identify technological, personnel solutions to election delays | State of Elections
One of the biggest stories talked about in the wake of Election Day 2012 were the long lines at the polls. As Election Night played out in real time on television, people were able to see firsthand–or not see, as the case was–the votes come in from districts in states that had closed their polls hours ago. Jump over to any local station in these areas, and you could probably find a local reporter talking to prospective voters, many of whom said they had been waiting in line for hours. President Obama, speaking the day after, declared: “we have to fix that.” Some states have already started to address these problems. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed a report earlier this month with his findings as to the best ways to reduce long lines and streamline elections. Florida saw some of the worst lines last year. Chief among Detzner’s proposed solutions include requiring county commissioners to pay for technological upgrades, giving election administrators greater leeway to make decisions that will shorten lines, and requiring that legislators have a word limit for the constitutional amendments they place on the ballot. He also suggested that, besides unpreparedness among election officials, one of the greatest problems leading to Election Day lines was the cutback passed by the state legislature on the number of early voting days and locations. He says that, despite the budget concerns that led to these being cut back after the 2010 election, they remain a pivotal reason why lines were so long.
A bill before the Alaska Legislature requiring tough photo ID rules for voting is running into some bipartisan criticism. At a hearing Thursday, the bill sponsored by state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, came in for both for criticisms and questions that couldn’t be readily answered during a House State Affairs Committee hearing. Efforts to require identification before voting are described by supporters as a way to prevent voter fraud, but are seen by critics as a way to disenfranchise certain voters, especially among the elderly or poor who are less likely to have the necessary ID or documentation to get it, and to those Alaskans living far from the DMV offices where they can obtain photo IDs. “The proposal to require (ID), I think, will disenfranchise many of our people in the villages,” said Myron Nanchang, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel, representing 56 Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages in Southwest Alaska. Bill sponsor and committee chairman Lynn denied the bill is intended to suppress traditionally Democratic votes in the dozens of roadless villages dotting the Alaska hinterland. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Everybody’s vote is as good as anybody else’s vote, no matter how they vote, whatever their party.”
After five weeks of handcounting ballots from the 2010 general election, the Guam Election Commission presented its findings to commissioners that had some speculating a change in the results, not in the gubernatorial race, but for the Legislature. It took a little over one month to handcount five precincts from the 2010 general election and during its GEC meeting Wednesday night, executive director Maria Pangelinan reported the results. “The difference of the gubernatorial race was minimal,” she said. Of the hand count summary of the five precincts, results showed Gutierrez-Aguon receiving five less votes from the certified results, whereas Calvo-Tenorio received two additional votes. “Between a handcount and machine tabulation there are bound to be differences,” Pangelinan said.
Political candidates will shake hands, kiss keiki and sign-wave like crazy during election season — anything to get elected. Under proposed legislation, one thing they would not be allowed to do is touch a voter’s ballot. Senate Bill 827 would prohibit candidates from physically handling or possessing absentee ballots and voter registration forms. It seems to be another piece of legislation related to allegations of voter intimidation in the 2012 primary. SB 827 brings to mind House Bill 1027, which aims to ensure the integrity of absentee ballots. That measure would require that absentee ballots include information about election and voter fraud, and prohibit employers, unions and candidates “or their agents” from assisting voters in completing absentee ballots.
A Senate committee applied the brakes Thursday to a proposal by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to let overseas military members vote electronically, citing concerns about the potential for hackers to alter ballots. At the urging of Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, the committee voted along party lines to amend the bill to require ballots to be returned by mail, instead of fax or electronic transmission. The amendment also set up a study of electronic voting, to be completed by Nov. 27. After the committee unanimously approved the amended version of Senate Bill 1, Stivers acknowledged that he had consulted with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell about the measure. McConnell, a Republican, is seeking re-election next year. Many Democrats are urging Grimes to run against him. “We asked Sen. McConnell’s office to look at it because he has been involved in it,” said Stivers, adding that McConnell’s office is aware of voting procedures prescribed by the U.S. Department of Defense. Stivers said McConnell did not recommend changes to the bill. “No, these were from the county clerks association,” he told a reporter after the meeting.
It will take a state constitutional amendment to allow Mainers who vote early to place their ballots directly into a ballot box or voting machine rather than placing an absentee ballot into an envelope that’s sealed until Election Day. Advocates for that change gathered Wednesday at the State House to urge passage of LD 156, a bill that would trigger a statewide referendum to change language in the Maine Constitution to allow early voting. The bill would require two-thirds majority votes in both chambers of the Legislature. Early voting, which takes place in 32 other states, differs from in-person absentee ballot voting, which Maine now allows without proof of hardship by the end of a municipality’s business day on the Thursday before Election Day.
Following an election season marked by long lines and long ballots, Maryland lawmakers are confronting a flurry of bills aimed at tweaking the voting process. “Just after an election, everyone wants to make corrections,” said Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where 16 bills dealing with elections are scheduled to be heard Thursday. “We had a lot of long lines, so a lot of the bills are to fix logistical sort of stuff,” she said. “We also had five referendums on the ballot, more than ever before, so we want to make sure we clean it up, make sure those rules are fair.” One of the bills is from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration and would expand the days, hours and locations for early voting.
State senators balked Thursday at giving Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann $395,000 to spend on lawyers from former Gov. Haley Barbour’s law firm to defend Mississippi’s Voter ID law. Republicans were caught off guard when they didn’t have enough members in the Senate chamber to pass the $15.3 million budget that included $395,000 for private lawyers in the 2014 fiscal year that begins July 1. The bill failed on a vote of 23-17. The state Constitution requires a majority of elected members — the Senate has 52, but one seat is vacant — must vote for approval before a measure can pass. Supporters plan to try again next week. Hosemann, a Republican, and state Atty. Gen. Jim Hood, a Democrat, signed a contract with the Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada law firm in September that authorizes the outside lawyers to represent the state “on all issues related to pre-clearance of that legislation and any related legislation, rules or regulations and all litigation that may arise or be instituted in connection with pre-clearance.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the highly anticipated case Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder. At stake is the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision that requires jurisdictions with histories of voter suppression and disenfranchisement to “preclear” any proposed change in electoral procedures with federal authorities before implementation, in order to ensure that they have no discriminatory effects. Unsurprisingly, many of the jurisdictions covered by Section 5 have lined up with Shelby County, urging the court to strike down a provision they believe punishes them for the sins of their grandfathers. Pro-Shelby County amicus briefs, which allow interested third parties to weigh in on the constitutional issues at hand, have been filed by the Republican attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. But a handful of covered jurisdictions have weighed in on the other side. Most notable among them is New York City, which asserts that Congress is within its constitutional authority to subject the city to special procedures on account of discrimination dating back nearly a century. The reasons why Southern states like Alabama and Georgia are covered by Section 5 are well known. At the close of Reconstruction, the resurgent white elite in these states relied on dastardly legal strategies and violence, up to and including outright murder, to keep African-Americans from voting, especially in the majority-black counties that blanket the Deep South. In other historically majority-minority sections of the country, native-born whites used similar albeit generally less violent voter suppression schemes to keep Latinos from voting, in states like Arizona and Texas, and Native Americans from casting ballots, in places like Alaska and South Dakota.
A Greater Cincinnati nun is suspected of illegally casting a ballot for another nun who died before last November’s election, a new case of alleged vote fraud that emerged as local officials move to wrap up their investigation into election improprieties last fall. Sister Rose Marie Hewitt, 78, died Oct. 4 after a 59-year career as a Sister of Charity that included service in schools here and across the country, as well as in various other positions in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Although her death occurred before absentee ballots had been mailed to voters throughout Hamilton County, a completed ballot was returned to the elections board in Hewitt’s name.
The Senate wants to put a stop to Election Day requests for absentee ballots. South Dakota law requires counties to provide absentee ballots in person until 3 p.m. on Election Day. Senate Bill 130 would push the deadline back to 5 p.m. the day before an election; voters still could turn in absentee ballots the day of an election. The Senate on Wednesday voted 32-1 in favor of the proposal, sending it to the House.
At one point during the Wednesday, Feb. 20, meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission, chairman Robert Meyers interrupted a detailed and lengthy lecture by election commissioner George Monger by saying, “I object to the leading question.” It drew the only laughs during the three-hour session that marked the end of election administrator Richard Holden’s probationary period. Monger made public records requests to assemble a chain of emails between Holden and his staff as they tracked down the source of problems in the November elections. The particular problem Monger tracked involved voters in one split city-county precinct being given the wrong ballots because their addresses were listed incorrectly as in the county outside Memphis when they were in the city of Memphis. Monger’s specific point was that Holden instructed the staff to delete a report in its summary to election commissioners.
Virginia lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a strict photo identification requirement for voters, a contentious issue nationally in last year’s presidential election. The Republican-dominated House of Delegates approved a bill passed earlier by the State Senate to require voters to show a government-issued document like a driver’s license, passport or special voter-identification card with a photograph at the polls. If signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, Virginia would join four other states with equally strict voter-ID requirements. A similar law in Pennsylvania was temporarily suspended by a state court before the November election. Attempts by Texas and South Carolina to adopt such strict requirements have been turned back by the federal government as violations of the Voting Rights Act. Supporters of voter photo-ID requirements say they prevent fraud. Opponents argue that the laws are meant to suppress turnout by poor and minority voters.
Billionaire showman Silvio Berlusconi has again astonished Italy with a storming comeback that has frayed nerves in European capitals and among investors, but the signs are his final gamble has failed. The 76-year-old media magnate and four-times prime minister looked down and out for much of 2012 after a jeering crowd hounded him from office in November 2011 as Italy tottered towards a Greek-style debt crisis. His indecision over whether to stand in this weekend’s election brought his People of Freedom Party (PDL) to the brink of disintegration. But since precipitating the fall of his successor, technocrat Mario Monti, in December and diving into the campaign, the former cruise ship crooner has shown unrivalled mastery of communication and energy belying his age. “Berlusconi was a poor prime minister but is a very tough campaigner, he never gives up,” said analyst Massimo Franco.
In a room by the stairs, Shukrani Malingi, a Pokomo farmer, writhed on a metal cot, the skin on his back burned off. Down the hall, at a safe distance, Rahema Hageyo, an Orma girl, stared blankly out of a window, a long scar above her thimble-like neck. She was nearly decapitated by a machete chop — and she is only 9 months old. Ever since vicious ethnic clashes erupted between the Pokomo and Orma several months ago in a swampy, desolate part of Kenya, the Tawfiq Hospital has instituted a strict policy for the victims who are trundled in: Pokomos on one side, Ormas on the other. The longstanding rivalry, which both sides say has been inflamed by a governor’s race, has become so explosive that the two groups remain segregated even while receiving lifesaving care. When patients leave their rooms to use the restroom, they shuffle guardedly past one another in their bloodstained smocks, sometimes pushing creaky IV stands, not uttering a word. “There are three reasons for this war,” said Elisha Bwora, a Pokomo elder. “Tribe, land and politics.” Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors. The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way.
The prospects of a trouble-free election in Kenya look increasingly uncertain. Kenyans go to the polls on 4 March for the first time since widespread post-election violence killed more than 1,000 people and brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2007-8. While President Kibaki has affirmed that this time the country is on track for fair and peaceful elections, indications from the ground suggest otherwise. The international community must be ready to respond to what may be a very chaotic and destabilising election period. The harsh reality is that Kenya is a more violent place than it was before the 2007 election. There has been a significant rise in group violence over the last year. For example, clashes in Tana River Delta during the second half of 2012 left more than 140 dead, while street protests in Mombasa in August 2012 killed four. While these incidents may be sparked by local grievances, there is evidence that local politicians are stoking the violence. Moreover, violent disturbances are already affecting the election process. The local party primaries in January were almost derailed in some areas by organised violence, including large-scale street fighting.
The call for employment of technology in Zimbabwe for both voter registration and facilitation of the electoral process is not entirely new. Masvingo MP Tongai Matutu called for the introduction of biometrics, lodging a motion in parliament to this effect in 2010. The issue was raised again in March last year by Pishai Muchauraya who said though it had been discussed with Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, nothing concrete had materialised. In April last year, Information Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa also called for the adoption of a digital biometric voters’ roll. I also brought up this issue in July last year in which I explored the basics behind biometrics technology. Most recently, calls led by Regional Integration minister Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga to have online voters’ registration were rejected by the Registrar-General (RG) who contends that this does not provide adequate checks as required in Section 24 of the Electoral Act.