National: Supreme Court considers South’s legacy and progress on voting rights | The Washington Post

At the top of the steps of Alabama’s elegant old Capitol, there’s a six-pointed bronze star marking the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy. At the foot of the steps is a historical marker dedicated to black citizens who in the 1960s dared to register to vote — “a constitutional right impeded by Gov. George Wallace” — and who were met “with state-sponsored terrorism.” And somewhere beyond those two frank reminders of the past is modern-day Alabama, which may or may not be just like the rest of America. That is a question the Supreme Court will consider Wednesday. At issue is whether the guarantee of equality in Alabama, and elsewhere in the South, is the same as in the rest of the nation. The court will review — for the sixth time since passage in 1965 — Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that federal authorities pre-approve any changes in voting laws here and in eight other states and numerous jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. It has survived each previous time.

National: High court to hear plea to gut Voting Rights Act | The Leaf Chronicle

Iron-fisted 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 Wednesday in a case that is sure to ignite a debate over how far the country has progressed on racial issues and whether minority voters still need extra protection. Shelby County, Ala., opposed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups, wants two key sections of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional. Section 5 bars election officials in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination from changing their voting procedures unless they first prove the changes won’t hurt minorities. Section 4b uses a formula to determine which states, counties and municipalities are subject to Section 5. Shelby County says the provisions are outmoded and unfair to parts of the country that have transcended their discriminatory pasts.

National: Supreme Court to weigh divisive voting rights case |

Shelby County is booming. The Birmingham suburb is lined with strip malls, subdivisions, and small factories, in what was once sleepy farmland. The population has grown fivefold since 1970 to about 200,000. Change in this bedroom community is afoot, at least on the surface. But the federal government thinks an underlying threat of discrimination remains throughout Alabama and other parts of the country in perhaps the most hard-fought franchise in the Constitution: The right to vote. Competing voices in this county, echoes of decades-long debates over equal access to the polls, now spill out in a 21st century fight, one that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

National: Voting Rights Act faces Supreme Court challenge | CBS News

When he signed the federal Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson did not rely on understatement to express the significance of the legislation. “Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that ever been won a on any battlefield,” Johnson told members of Congress and dignitaries assembled in the Capitol’s rotunda. Standing beneath a large painting of the British surrender to George Washington at the Revolutionary War battle of Yorktown, and flanked by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson harkened back 350 years to the arrival of the first African-Americans at colonial Jamestown, Virginia, “in darkness and chains” as slaves. “Today, we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds,” Johnson said. “Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.”

National: States Take Sides As Court Revisits Voting Rights Act | NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week in a case that tests the constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the law considered the most effective civil rights statute in American history. At issue is whether a key provision of the statute has outlived its usefulness. A staggering 49 friend of the court briefs have been filed, among them briefs from 11 states urging the court to either strike down or uphold the law. What is intriguing is that some of the states now arguing against the law were not troubled by its provisions just four years ago, the last time it was before the court. In 2009, a small Texas utility district challenged the so-called preclearance section of the law, which requires nine states, most of them in the South, and parts of other states like California and New York, to get advance approval from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before changing any voting laws or regulations. When the case got to the U.S. Supreme Court, only one state — Georgia — came out clearly against the law, claiming that the provision was unconstitutional. Alabama filed a brief echoing part but not all of Georgia’s arguments. Both emphasized that their respective states have changed dramatically since 1965, and asked the court to seriously consider the legality of the preclearance section, given its burden on covered states.

National: Voting Rights Act: A political twist for the South | USAToday

The Voting Rights Act that goes on trial at the Supreme Court on Wednesday has helped boost African Americans’ presence in Southern legislatures. But in a twist of irony, it also has contributed to their loss of political clout. Since its passage in 1965, the law’s Section 5 has forced states with a history of racial discrimination to clear changes in voting procedures with the federal government. The Justice Department, in turn, has insisted that drawing district lines is one of those procedures – one that should give blacks and other minorities ample opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. That has led to the creation of so-called majority-minority election districts dominated by blacks or Hispanics, nearly all of them Democrats. Achieving that goal, however, has required the simultaneous creation of more heavily white, Republican districts in surrounding areas.

National: Can escape clause save voting rights provision? | Washington Examiner

The Obama administration and civil rights groups are defending a key section of the landmark voting rights law at the Supreme Court by pointing reformed state, county and local governments to an escape hatch from the law’s strictest provision. The Voting Rights Act effectively attacked persistent discrimination at the polls by keeping close watch, when it comes to holding elections, on those places with a history of preventing minorities from voting. Any changes, from moving a polling place to redrawing electoral districts, can’t take effect without approval from the Justice Department or federal judges in Washington. But the Voting Rights Act allows governments that have changed their ways to get out from under this humbling need to get permission through a “bailout provision.” Nearly 250 counties and local jurisdictions have done so; thousands more could be eligible based on the absence of recent discriminatory efforts in voting. The viability of the bailout option could play an outsized role in the Supreme Court’s consideration of the voting rights law’s prior approval provision, although four years ago, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said the prospect of bailing out had been “no more than a mirage.”

Editorials: Why we still need the Voting Rights Act | Rep. John Lewis/The Washington Post

On “Bloody Sunday,” nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams and I led 600 peaceful, nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in Alabama. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were attacked by state troopers who tear-gassed, clubbed and whipped us and trampled us with horses. I was hit in the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized that day. In response, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act and later signed it into law. We have come a great distance since then, in large part thanks to the act, but efforts to undermine the voting power of minorities did not end after 1965. They still persist today. This week the Supreme Court will hear one of the most important cases in our generation, Shelby County v. Holder. At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires all or parts of 16 “covered” states with long histories and contemporary records of voting discrimination to seek approval from the federal government for voting changes. The court is questioning whether Section 5 remains a necessary remedy for ongoing discrimination.

Editorials: Section 5 of Voting Rights Act must be preserved | Arizona Daily Star

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case from Shelby County, Ala., challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, our nation’s most effective tool in combating racial discrimination in voting. The importance of this case can’t be overstated. At stake is the future of our democracy. The protections in the Voting Rights Act affect millions of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and American Indian citizens, who depend on it to ensure they can participate in our elections and have a voice in our democracy. Section 5 requires those states and local jurisdictions proved to have the most egregious history of racial and ethnic voting discrimination to receive preapproval – or “preclearance” – from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making any election-related change, such as passing restrictive voter ID laws, limiting hours for early voting, moving a polling place or redrawing city council districts.

Editorials: Some, Albeit Little, Hope for Voting Reform | John Dean/Justia

The 2012 presidential election was about as bad as it gets for voting, in too many states.  It is unfathomable, not to mention deeply embarrassing, that the world’s most modern democracy would have voters standing in line for hours on end to exercise this fundamental franchise.  Television images of the lines in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among other states) were shown around the world. While the problems causing the long voting lines were not uniform, more often than not the situation was traceable to calculated efforts by Republican officials who deliberately changed (or administered) the law to make it difficult for predominately Democratic voters, hoping to discourage their voting.  The good news is that it did not work.  Because the problem was well-publicized, inconvenienced Democrats defied the efforts to disenfranchise them, and waited for however long was required to cast their ballot. President Obama commented on the lines and problems on Election Night; he mentioned them again in his Inaugural Address; and most recently, they also played a role in his State of the Union speech, poignantly highlighting the plight of Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Florida woman seated in the Galley of the House of Representatives’ chamber during the speech, as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. The President explained that Ms. Victor had been forced to stand in line for three hours at her local library in North Miami to cast her ballot.  Most everyone in the Chamber literally gasped at the awful situation, but that doesn’t mean Republicans will do anything to solve it.

Editorials: Obama’s unneeded election commission | South Florida Sun Sentinel

Of all the things that deserve the federal government’s focus right now, the last is the reform of election laws. Yes, it’s shameful that 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami faced a six-hour-long line when she showed up to vote last November. Indeed, as many as 201,000 frustrated Floridians left the polls before voting that day, according to an analysis by an Ohio State researcher for the Orlando Sentinel. So on election night, President Obama was right to say “we have to fix that.” But during his State of the Union address, at which Victor was an invited guest, the president was wrong to suggest a federal fix for standardizing how elections are held across the country. A one-size-fits-all formula is not the most effective and efficient way to manage elections from Miami, which experienced long lines, to Milton in Florida’s Panhandle, which did not.

Editorials: Voting Rights Act Deserves More Judicial Deference than Indiana ID | Spencer Overton/ACS

Many who assert the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder should uphold the preclearance and coverage provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act disagree with the Court’s 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Bd. of Elections that upheld Indiana’s photo identification requirement.  On the other hand, those who oppose Section 5 cite Crawford as a reason Section 5 is allegedly unconstitutional.  An honest reading of Crawford, however, provides five reasons the Court should now defer to Congress’s determinations regarding the coverage and preclearance provisions of Section 5. In Crawford, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Indiana ID requirement did not unconstitutionally burden the right to vote (the Court did not address whether ID discriminated on the basis of race).  The plaintiff in Shelby County seeks to undermine Congress’s authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments by making the novel claim that the coverage provision violates a “principle of state equality” — but the U.S. Constitution contains no such requirement.

Maine: Measure proposes to restrict voting rights of felons | The Portland Press Herald

Rep. Gary Knight thinks convicted murderers should not be allowed to vote while they are in prison, so he’s sponsoring a measure to change the Maine Constitution. Knight, a Republican from Livermore Falls, knows other attempts to restrict felons’ voting rights have failed in Maine in recent years. But he said conversations with family members of murder victims convinced him it’s time to try again. This will be the sixth time since 1999 that the Legislature has considered a bill to restrict felons’ voting rights, according to the Law and Legislative Reference Library. All those attempts have failed. Maine is one of only two states that allow felons to vote while incarcerated, along with Vermont.

Michigan: GOP pushes on with electoral vote plan | The Detroit News

Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates. By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner. That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.

Virginia: Felons’ voting rights bill defeated |

The legislation had the support of lots of liberals and two top law and order conservatives — Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. It was a bill to move toward allowing non-violent felons who have served all their time to have their voting rights automatically restored. Being able to vote, McDonnell and Cuccinelli reasoned, helps those felons become full members of society. A Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, to move toward a constitutional amendment on the issue carried by a 30-10 vote on Jan. 28. But a subcommittee in the House of Delegates then soundly killed it off. That is, on a voice vote, the seven members of the Constitutional Amendment Subcommittee, part of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, recommended “no action.” The same subcommittee had previously defeated a separate House version of the bill by a 6-1 margin. That means Virginia will maintain its national leadership spot in stripping its citizens of the right to vote.

Cyprus: Pro-bailout candidate takes 45.4% of vote | The Guardian

Their country’s future as a eurozone member hanging in the balance, Cypriots voted on Sunday to elect a new president, with the pro-bailout conservative leader, Nicos Anastasiades, securing the biggest backing with 45.4% of the vote. Anastasiades is set to face a runoff next week after failing to gain enough support for an outright win. However, he is seen as the overwhelming favourite in that contest, against the communist-backed independent, Stavros Malas, who took 26.9% of the vote. The vote for Anastasiades and his DISY party is an endorsement of the pro-bailout policies advocated by a man who will face the arduous task of finalising a €17bn (£14.6bn) rescue package with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to keep the country’s economy afloat. Last year Cyprus became the fifth eurozone state to ask for a bailout.

Cyprus: Ahead of Cyprus Election, Gloom and Voter Apathy |

Evagoras Georgiou will go to the polling station at the Tsireio middle school in the St. John neighborhood here for Sunday’s presidential election. But he will leave his ballot blank, voting for neither of the two candidates in the runoff for Cyprus’s most powerful political office. Both candidates have promised to abide by a deal with international lenders that promises to help the country service its debts but that will bring harsh austerity and recession with it. Mr. Georgiou, 28, studied business management in Britain and returned almost a year ago to look for work. He has yet to find a job and says he believes that a deal with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — known collectively as the troika — will only make matters worse. “They both have the same policies but find a way to make the public believe they disagree,” Mr. Georgiou said of the two candidates. “We see that any country with a troika agreement is ridden with debt and has high unemployment of youth.”

Editorials: Why some Italians should vote both for Berlusconi and Bersani coalition | Al Jazeera

As you watch the Italian election results come in this weekend, ponder the following seemingly contradictory statement: for some Italians in some regions of the country, the vote that is most likely to lead to the policies they most prefer being enacted by the new government would involve voting for their preferred party in the elections to the lower house of the Italian Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) but for their preferred party’s worst enemy – the party of Silvio Berlusconi – in the upper house (Senate) elections.  How could this be?  The answer lies in what political scientists call “strategic voting”. To understand strategic voting, it is first necessary to understand “sincere voting”. A sincere voter ranks the parties or candidates, and then casts his vote for his top ranked party: the vote is a “sincere” reflection of the voter’s top preference. A strategic voter, however, asks some sort of additional question before deciding whether or not to cast his vote for his top choice.  Usually this question is “will my vote be wasted”? The easiest way to waste a vote is to cast it for a candidate who has no chance of winning: think a vote cast for Ralph Nader, for example, in the 2000 US Presidential elections. Occasionally, a vote can also be wasted by casting it for a party that has already won an election, but needs a coalition partner to get above a minimum threshold in order to govern. Strategic voting then might dictate voting not for your preferred party, but for its needed coalition partner; such behaviour is said to explain the unexpectedly strong performance of the Free Democrats in the recent German regional election in Lower Saxony.  But there is another type of strategic voting, trying to influence policy outcomes. Social scientists Howard Rosenthal and Alberto Alesina have demonstrated how it can be perfectly rational for Americans to vote for one party in a presidential election and another party in legislative elections if one’s policy preferences are located between the two parties. The current Italian elections, however, take this form of strategic voting to a whole new level, as they provide a set of incentives for voters to vote for and against the same party in one set of legislative elections to pick a single government. Here’s how.