National: Could Online Oscar Voting Lead to Online Public Elections? | Government Technology

If online voting is good enough for the Oscars, why isn’t it good enough for public elections? A panel of experts assembled on Feb. 14 to consider whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to capture votes online for this year’s Oscars means that technology has matured to the point where public elections can be held online. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, voting to determine who would receive a nomination for an Academy Award began Dec. 17 and ended Jan. 3. While a majority of Academy members registered to take advantage of the online voting option, the process was not without its snags. Many confessed to password trouble, while others worried about hackers jeopardizing voter intent. … David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chairman of the board for the nonprofit Verified Voting, outlined several major differences between private elections, like those conducted for the Academy Awards, and public elections. Public elections, Jefferson said, inherently have much higher standards for security, privacy and transparency. “Just because this works for private elections or is useful for private elections, we don’t want people thinking … it is appropriate for public elections.”

National: Voting Rights Act faces key test in Supreme Court | Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court will take up a case from Alabama next week to decide whether to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark measure that made voting a reality for blacks in the South and won extension by a near-unanimous vote from Congress in 2006. Critics on the right agree the law was a success, but they contend it is now outdated and unfair to the South. They also say it is used mostly as a way to force states to draw electoral districts that favor black or Latino candidates. But liberal legal scholars have urged the justices to step back and pay attention to the history of the Reconstruction era. They are pointedly addressing the conservatives, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, who say the court should follow the actual words and original understanding of the Constitution. The 15th Amendment, added in 1870, says the right to vote “shall not be abridged or denied … on account of race” and “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

National: How The Voting Rights Act, Now In Danger, Came To Pass And Shaped History | TPM

On March 15, 1965, a week after Alabama state troopers brutally attacked civil rights protesters in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress introducing a bill to end voter discrimination against blacks. The law that it gave birth to, the Voting Rights Act, now hangs in the balance, with oral arguments next week before the Supreme Court. Five conservative justices are skeptical that a centerpiece of the nearly-half-century-old law is constitutional. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” Johnson said that night, nearly half a century ago. “A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come.” Days later, he submitted legislation to Congress aimed at taking stringent, unprecedented steps to end voter discrimination and disenfranchisement. As Congress took it up, opponents rebelled. “I said it was worse than the Thaddeus Stevens legislation during Reconstruction, sir, and it is,” said Leander Perez, a pro-segregation Louisianan, at a subsequent Senate hearing. “It is the most nefarious — it is inconceivable that Americans would do that to Americans.”

National: Obama: Voting Rights Act Provision Should Be Kept | Huffington Post

President Barack Obama argued Friday for keeping a key provision of federal voting rights law in place, saying it will become harder but not impossible to help people who believe their rights at the polls have been violated if the Supreme Court decides to strike down that part of the law. The court has scheduled oral arguments for Wednesday on a challenge from Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham, to a section of the Voting Rights Act. The provision requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination, mostly in the South, to get approval from the Justice Department or federal court in Washington before making any changes in the way they hold elections, such as moving a polling place. The appeal argues that places covered by the law have made such progress that Washington oversight is unnecessary. Opponents of the provision also cite racial progress in the decades since the landmark law was enacted in 1965 that led to the election and recent re-election of Obama, the country’s first black president.

National: Obama calms fears over Supreme Court action on voting rights | The Hill

Speaking Thursday to “The Black Eagle” radio show on SiriusXM, Obama said listeners shouldn’t worry too much that discrimination against minority voters will increase. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act next week. “I know in the past some folks have worried that if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, they’re going to lose their right to vote. That’s not the case,” Obama said on the radio show. “People will still have the same rights not to be discriminated against when it comes to voting, you just won’t have this mechanism, this tool, that allows you to kind of stay ahead of certain practices,” Obama said. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires municipalities with a history of disenfranchisement efforts to pre-clear changes to voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court. The provision was designed to prevent states from instituting poll taxes, literary tests, or other efforts to keep minority voters from the polls that might later be ruled unconstitutional from doing so before an election.

National: Are some civil rights era protections still relevant? Supreme Court will decide | McClatchy

The Justice Department stayed silent when Indiana and Washington state strengthened their voter identification rules. But when Georgia and Texas lawmakers wanted to do the same, they needed federal approval. Now, this different treatment for different states will face a make-or-break test at the Supreme Court. In a potentially landmark case, justices on Wednesday will consider whether it’s time to dismantle a key plank of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. “This case presents questions that cut to the very core of our democracy,” said Caroline Frederickson, president of the liberal-leaning American Constitution Society. Passed when state-sanctioned racism was at its most insidious, the Voting Rights Act contains multiple elements designed to root out discriminatory practices. The entire law, originally spanning 19 sections, is not at risk of repeal in the case being heard Wednesday. Instead, the case arising out of Shelby County, Ala., centers primarily on two muscular sections that happen to have the biggest reach, and that the county is challenging.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Threat to the Voting Rights Act: A History | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic

At 10 a.m. next Wednesday, the justices of the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case styled Shelby County v. Holder, one of the most anticipated of the current Term. Agreeing to review an argument made by an Alabama county that it ought finally to be free from one of the key requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the justices will have an opportunity both to lead and to follow the nation as it roils anew in political and legal battle over the rights of the poor, the ill, the young, the car-less, the black, the Hispanic, and the Native American to vote. Nearing its 50th birthday, the act has become a part of our national lore. One of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement (and of the Johnson Administration), it was designed by its creators to finally give meaningful legal remedies to minority citizens — blacks, mostly, but not exclusively — who for generations had been precluded from voting (or from having their votes fairly counted) by a dizzying flurry of discriminatory state practices. The act didn’t just expand the scope of existing federal civil rights laws. It completely changed the dynamic between voters and state and local governments. And the results are indisputable: There is far less discrimination in voting today than there was half a century ago — and many millions more minority voters.

Alaska: Lawmakers begin debate on voter ID | Peninsula Clarion

Lawmakers have begun deliberations on a bill that would require voters to present photo identification when casting their ballots, but one critic said the geography and ethnic makeup of the state would likely make the law unconstitutional if passed. The House State Affairs Committee began discussing HB3, by Reps. Bob Lynn and Wes Keller, on Thursday. Lynn and Keller serve as the chair and vice-chair of the committee, respectively. “Voting is the very foundation of our Democratic republic,” Lynn said to the committee. “To protect that foundation, voters must be who they say they are.” The bill, as currently drafted, could pose unique practical and constitutional problems for Alaska due to its geography and large native population, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alaska said.

Editorials: McCutcheon case could give Citizens United a run for its money in Supreme Court | The Washington Post

McCutcheon could be the new Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to hear a campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, in its next term gives the justices a chance to continue their dismantling of restrictions on money in politics, most notably with the landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision of early 2010. With the new case, the court could strike a blow against fundraising limits for federal candidates and political parties. The case does not challenge the $2,600 cap on donations to a single candidate’s campaign but rather the overall limit — $123,000 — that one person can give over a two-year election cycle. Removing that ceiling would allow a single donor to give the maximum amount to more candidates and, crucially, to political parties such as the Republican National Committee, which brought the lawsuit along with Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and conservative activist. The court decided decades ago that the government is constitutionally permitted to limit donations to candidates with the goal of fighting corruption. But the RNC argues that there’s no constitutional rationale for limiting how much one donor can give to many candidates. The thinking goes that because each candidate receives only $2,600, none of them ends up corrupted.

Editorials: Oscars put online voting problems back in the spotlight | Rep. Rush Holt/

The announcement of this year’s Best Picture winner on Sunday will culminate an experiment unprecedented in the 85-year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the first time, Oscar winners will be determined largely by votes cast online. At a time when New Jersey and other states are considering holding more consequential elections over the internet, we should ask: How did the Oscar experiment go? Unfortunately, it went poorly, for reasons that shed light on the inherent difficulty of conducting secure, accessible, credible elections online. Problems for Oscar voters began at the beginning: logging in. Voters were required to create special, complex passwords, but when they tried to log in to the Oscar website, many found their passwords rejected. After re-entering passwords several times, voters were locked out of the site entirely and forced to call a help line. Many then had to wait for new passwords, delivered by snail-mail. Even relatively young and tech-savvy voters weren’t immune. As 42-year-old documentarian Morgan Spurloch told the Hollywood Reporter, “There’s even some young farts like myself that are having problems.”

Florida: Miami-Dade has authority to enact absentee ballot law, judge rules | Miami Herald

In its effort to crack down on voter fraud, Miami-Dade County has the authority to limit how many absentee ballots a voter can possess, a judge ruled Friday. The ruling came in the case of Sergio “El Tio” Robaina, whose lawyers had challenged a county ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to collect multiple absentee ballots. Prosecutors say Robaina, 74, illegally collected absentee ballots and filled out two against the wishes of two voters, one of them a woman with dementia. He faces two felony counts of voter fraud and two misdemeanor counts of illegally possessing absentee ballots. The Miami-Dade County Commission, worried about the perception of election fraud, passed the ordinance two years ago. A person may turn in only two absentee ballots in addition to their own: one belonging to an immediate family member and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible.

Florida: House gives Democrats minimum number of early voting hours | Tampa Bay Times

A House committee gave Democrats a victory in the hard-fought effort to find a fix to the long lines at the polls that embarrassed the state during the last election. The House Approriations Committee unanimously passed a bill to extend early voting hours, provide voters with more polling places for early voting and give elections officials more flexibility in setting the early voting sites. The measure, which restores 14 days of early voting and imposes a maximum of 168 hours, restores many of the changes made in 2011. Republican lawmakers pushed legislation that year that limited elections supervisors to eight days of early voting and a maximum of 96 hours, sparking the waiting lines and delayed results that gave Florida another Election Day black eye. But the Republican-controlled committee agreed with Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and passed his amendment that to set a floor of 64 hours of early voting, rather than the 48 hours the original proposal would have allowed. Other Democrats were not as successful.

Kentucky: Plan to let deployed soldiers email ballots stalls |

Kentucky soldiers deployed overseas won’t be able to send election ballots back to the state via email, fax machine or any other form of electronic transmissions, at least for now, under legislation that has been revamped by Senate Republicans. The Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection removed that provision from a bill on Thursday before sending it to the full Senate for consideration. Senate President Robert Stivers, the Manchester Republican who sponsored the measure, proposed the amendment striking electronic transmission of ballots in an effort to protect the integrity of elections and the anonymity of voters. He said he did so after concerns were raised about the potential for hackers gaining access to the ballots.

South Carolina: State Officials Divided on Challenge to Voting Rights Act |

Aggressive enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act transformed American politics, especially in the South, by making sure minorities had a clear path to the ballot box and an equal shot at public service. Forty-eight years later, after the re-election of an African-American president, the heart of that law is on trial. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Feb. 27 in a case that is sure to ignite a national debate over how far the country has progressed on racial issues and whether minority voters still need extra protection. State officials in South Carolina, where one of the first challenges to the Voting Right Act originated in the 1960s, are split in how they see the most recent case. The case began when Shelby County, Ala., opposed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups, asked courts to declare two key sections of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Virginia: Legislators Approve Voter ID Law, May Kill Chances for Federal Bailout | The Nation

Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a photo voter ID law that narrows the list of identification voters are required to show on Election Day to vote. The bill, which now sits before Gov. Bob McDonnell to sign or veto, would allow only a driver’s license or U.S. passport to vote. Without either of those, a voter would have to file a provisional ballot, and then bring the required photo ID to the election board by the Friday after Election Day. If McDonnell signs it, it wouldn’t go into effect until 2014 — when the mid-term congressional elections are held — but it would have to be approved by the federal government first. Since Virginia is a covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5, any election law they make has to be pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Barbados: DLP retains government in Barbados general election | Caribbean360

Barbadian voters kept with tradition and provided the incumbent party with a second consecutive term in power following a nerve jangling general elections here on Thursday. According to the preliminary results, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won 16 of the 30 seats in the elections with the remainder going to the main opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP). In the 2008 general election, the DLP won 20 seats. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in thanking supporters for the narrow victory, said “we are not here tonight celebrating the victory because of any sponsorship or support from the …fortune tellers of Barbados, the dividers or even the obeah men of Barbados. “We celebrating tonight because of the confidence which ordinary men and women….who have not arrogated to themselves the right to what the future holds,” he told supporters, adding “we are celebrating because this organisation during the last five years touched actual lives by its policies and programmes, not to any sample, but to the population itself”.

Italy: Europe waits for Italy elections | BBC

There was a time when Italian elections were frequent and forgettable. Prime ministers were discarded like last season’s clothes. All of that has changed. What happens in Italy affects the rest of Europe. Campaigning ends on Friday. The result could rattle the eurozone and remind the markets of how little has been settled in the continent’s real economies. The favourite to win is an ex-Communist from the centre left, Pier Luigi Bersani. He is decidedly Mr Normal. There is nothing extravagant or flamboyant about him. There are no sharp suits. He likes the occasional cigar but he is almost an anti-candidate conducting a low-key conversation with Italy.

Pakistan: No legislation required for overseas Pakistanis’ voting rights |

A three-member Supreme Court bench on Friday observed that without the participation of eligible overseas Pakistani voters, elections could not be called fair and transparent. The bench, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, was hearing a petition filed by PTI chief Imran Khan seeking voting rights for Pakistanis living abroad. The bench noted that participation of overseas Pakistanis in the upcoming general elections was possible given right steps are taken by concerned authorities.