The Supreme Court this week will take up a potentially landmark case that could end almost five decades of Justice Department intervention that gives the federal government control over voting decisions in states and localities with a history of discrimination. Shelby County, Ala., is challenging a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires all or parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making any changes in the way they hold elections. If successful, the challenge, which the high court will hear Wednesday, would strike down a major legislative tenant of President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legacy — though it’s one many argue is outdated and unnecessary.
When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday on the Voting Rights Act, opponents will argue that a centerpiece of the law aimed at letting the federal government proactively thwart attempts at voter discrimination has outlived its validity. “The only reason Section 5 was originally justified and upheld by the courts was because of Jim Crow — the unusual circumstances at the time in terms of voter disenfranchisement,” Ilya Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review who filed an amicus brief in the case, told TPM. “I don’t think there’s a way to justify Section 5 anymore.” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires state and local governments across 16 states — mostly in the South — to seek preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to their laws which affect voting. Shapiro said the point of the lawsuit is that residents in each of the covered jurisdictions are being treated unfairly.
Alabama businessman and conservative activist Shaun McCutcheon donated $33,088 to 16 candidates during the 2012 election cycle, but he wanted to give much more. Had he not hit Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign contribution limits, McCutcheon said he would have given money to a dozen more candidates and an additional $25,000 to three Republican Party political committees. Did the FEC’s rules violate his First Amendment rights? McCutcheon thought so, and took his case to a lawyer, who in turn, reached out to prominent conservative lawyer James Bopp, Jr. “As it turned out, I already represented the Republican National Committee, and it was their plan to challenge this limit,” said Bopp, who is the intellectual architect behind the landmark 2010 Citizens United case. “So we joined up together.” Last week, both McCutcheon and the RNC got some good news when the when the Supreme Court announced it would hear their case next term.
What happens when a Supreme Court ostensibly committed to judicial restraint confronts a long-standing civil rights statute that offends its conservative majority’s sense that law should be colorblind, even if the world is not? That question will be front and center when the Court hears arguments Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The provision, known as Section 5, requires nine states, mostly in the South, and select jurisdictions in seven other states, to obtain federal approval for any change in their voting laws. Congress concluded that this was necessary to ensure equal opportunity in voting. But conservatives in some of the southern states have long complained that the law gives the federal government too much power, and now, Shelby County—a largely white suburb of Birmingham, Alabama found guilty of racial discrimination in voting as recently as 2008—has sued the US government to get it annulled. If the Supreme Court majority exercises restraint, it will acknowledge that Section 5 falls within Congress’s constitutionally assigned authority to enforce rights of equal protection and voting. But if the Court chooses to impose its own view of racial justice—according to which laws should be drafted without regard to race, even if race-conscious efforts are needed to forestall discrimination—it will invalidate a core part of one of the country’s signal civil rights laws. The Court has frequently reviewed the Voting Rights Act since its initial enactment, and has until now always upheld it. But this time around, the result could well be different. It shouldn’t be.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder,challenging the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act. But in the wide public debate about this case, we are getting to the point where — as election law scholar Pam Karlanhas noted — everything has been said, but not necessarily by everybody. In addition to this Reuters symposium on “If the Court Strikes Down Section 5,” other symposia, commentaries and op-edshave considered whether the act still serves a vital purpose; whether the court should strike it down; and what should replace it if the court rules that Congress went too far in requiring certain states to continue to get federal permission when making changes in any voting rules until 2031. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in, urging the court to keep the act in place. He said the best way to protect voting rights is by having the federal government review voting changes before they can be implemented, to ensure that changes don’t make protected minority groups worse off. So it is worth taking a step back to look at the larger question of why this is a decision for the Supreme Court to make and not the political branches. After all, even back in 1965, Section 5 was “strong medicine.”
Editorials: Judging the Voting Rights Act – The Supreme Court should not substitute its judgment for Congress’ on voting rights | Los Angeles Times
Rightly regarded as one of the most lustrous legacies of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws discrimination in voting nationwide, but it also requires that states with a history of denying minorities the right to vote obtain the approval of a federal court or the U.S. Justice Department before changing election procedures. This “preclearance” provision, contained in Section 5 of the act, has been repeatedly reauthorized by Congress — most recently in 2006, when it was extended for another 25 years by margins of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department used the preclearance process to block the enforcement of more than 2,400 voting changes on the grounds that they would undermine minority voting rights. Yet this proven protection may be on constitutional life support. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case from Alabama that challenges Section 5 and the formula by which nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others (including California) are required to obtain preclearance when they redraw district lines, modify registration procedures or change any other practice that might disadvantage minority voters. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act fear that conservative members of the court — and perhaps not only conservatives — are poised to rule that the law violates the prerogatives of states that no longer practice the sort of blatant discrimination that inspired the original legislation.
History will repeat itself in the chambers of the Supreme Court this week. The very state where the fight for voting rights reached its critical peak nearly 50 years ago is once again at the center of the dispute over democracy in America. But oddly, the political and legal odds may now be tilting away from civil rights and back toward an era in which the federal government had limited power to protect voters of color in the South from the machinations of local leaders. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday from an Alabama county that is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That section protects voters of color in sixteen states (some fully covered, some partially), many of which have long brutal histories of denying black Americans their voting rights. It does this by making covered jurisdictions “preclear” election law changes with the federal government before implementation.
Editorials: Alaska state leaders prefer cooked map to protecting Native voters | Shannyn Moore/Anchorage Daily News
The federal Voting Rights Act goes on trial this week. It was enacted in 1965, because some people were working really hard so some other people couldn’t vote (that’s a nice way to say they were “racists”). The federal government finally agreed to make sure that everyone with a constitutional right to vote would be allowed to vote, despite the bigots running state and local governments. In 1975, Alaska’s congressional delegation ensured that we were added to the list of states protected — because Alaska Native voters who didn’t speak or read English were being disenfranchised. Again, in 2006 under Republican rule, the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized by Congress to cover Alaska. Twenty languages spoken by First Alaskans were excluded from the ballot or voting information. Now Shelby County, Ala., is suing to get out from under federal oversight of voting rights. It beat Alaska to the punch. There’s also an Alaska vs. Holder suit pending, filed in August. Our state’s case, which has been stayed, will rise or fall with the decision of the Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder.
This past November, Maricopa County, Arizona, issued the most provisional ballots in its history. In an in-depth report, the county elections department provides detailed information including not just why these ballots were issued and rejected, but also estimates of how much they cost. More than 120,000 provisional ballots were issued in the county during this past presidential election, of which nearly 100,000 were counted. The report identifies 18 different reasons for issuing provisional ballots, with half used because the voter requested an early ballot but did not return it and then showed up at the polls to vote in person.
While we can do just about everything on the Internet these days, like buy groceries, pay bills, and most importantly, waste hours watching cat videos, we can’t yet cast a ballot online. But the idea of e-Voting, as it’s called, isn’t so far-fetched. Eight years ago the small Baltic country of Estonia became the first country in the world to allow voters to cast ballots over the Internet, and it has actually worked rather well. After the successful launch of online voter registration last year, which allowed roughly 600,000 Californians to register online in the final 45 days before the 2012 election, electronic voting would seem like the logical next step. Furthermore, it’s reasonable to believe that California, home to Silicon Valley and birthplace of the Internet revolution, would lead the charge toward cyberspace voting. Don’t rush out and buy an iPad just yet; it’s unlikely that you’ll be voting for president, governor, or mayor on one anytime soon. In fact, voting security experts like Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to safeguarding elections in the digital age, hope to slow any expansion to Internet voting, for now anyway. Smith warns that online voting is a “dangerous idea” as there is currently no way to guarantee the security, integrity, and privacy of ballots cast over the Internet.
On Feb. 25, California Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) announced a new bill that would let counties in the state develop, own and operate their own public voting systems. SB 360, which would subject such systems to approval and certification by the California Secretary of State, would allow California counties, most of which purchase their voting systems from one of five private vendors, take control of public voting technology, according to a press release. Because the vendors offer a variety of systems and upgrades, the result is a complex system of various technologies throughout the state. The private vendors also consider their technology proprietary; they limit public access to both the operating software and hardware. This means that state election officials and the public are dependent upon these companies, which are not required to notify federal election officials or the public when their voting systems malfunction, or have vulnerabilities or defects.
Florida: Florida foils web-based voter fraud plot, but next attempt could be more elusive | Fox News
A Florida case could signal the wave of the future in voter fraud. South Florida election officials have reportedly foiled a plot to fraudulently apply online for thousands of absentee ballots in three 2012 primaries, but the masterminds remain at large amid concern that they could be successful the next time around by making minor adjustments. Officials in the state’s Miami-Dade region said they blocked the effort to get 2,552 absentee ballots in three August primaries because the requests rolled in just minutes apart on July 7, 2012, according to The Miami Herald, which conducted its own investigation. A six-month grand jury probe found the requests were made under the cover of international Internet provider addresses and were limited to three races — a congressional race in which the hackers tried to request absentee ballots for Democratic voters and two state legislative races in which they tried to get ballots for Republican voters.
The first phantom absentee ballot request hit the Miami-Dade elections website at 9:11 p.m. Saturday, July 7. The next one came at 9:14. Then 9:17. 9:22. 9:24. 9:25. Within 2½ weeks, 2,552 online requests arrived from voters who had not applied for absentee ballots. They streamed in much too quickly for real people to be filling them out. They originated from only a handful of Internet Protocol addresses. And they were not random. It had all the appearances of a political dirty trick, a high-tech effort by an unknown hacker to sway three key Aug. 14 primary elections, a Miami Herald investigation has found. The plot failed. The elections department’s software flagged the requests as suspicious. The ballots weren’t sent out. But who was behind it? And next time, would a more skilled hacker be able to rig an election?
The state Senate has passed a bill that allows Kentucky military personnel to register to vote and receive ballots electronically—but they’ll have to use snail mail to send the ballots back. Senate President Robert Stivers would allow deployed citizens to register to vote and receive their ballots electronically. Initially, a floor amendment to the bill would have allowed the military members to return the ballots electronically, but the amendment was withdrawn by sponsor Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat.
A bill to make voting easier for members of the military passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday with many Democrats saying they hope a provision allowing voting by email is restored to the bill. Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, sponsored the bill as a show of bipartisanship with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who first proposed the idea. But last week Stivers stripped from the bill a provision that Grimes considers important — wording that would let overseas voters transmit their votes electronically by email or over the Internet. During floor debate Tuesday, Stivers said he deleted the provision because several county clerks had told him “they did not feel they could maintain the integrity of the ballot nor the anonymity of the voters.” He also said Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, had expressed strong concerns about electronic voting.
New Mexico: GOP attempt to institute voter ID fails in Chaparral vote chaos fix | New Mexico Telegram
The members of the Republican Party in the House attempted a backdoor maneuver at adding voter ID language to state law. The effort was to add an amendment to a loosely-related bill — one that would increase voter access in Chaparral, where long lines plagued the area. The amendment was tabled 38-31. The final bill, sponsored by Rep. Nate Cote, D-Las Cruces, would require an early voting site for a population center of more than 1,500 residents that is more than 50 miles from the nearest early voting site. The bill passed on a 38-31 vote. The Secretary of State’s office was not on board with the legislation.
Money for new vote-counting machines around New Mexico has been folded into a $122.6 million package of statewide public works projects that members of a House committee were considering late Monday. The $6 million for vote-counting machines, or tabulators, was requested by Secretary of State Dianna Duran and would be the first infusion of cash needed to replace outdated machines used by county clerks statewide. “We would not be able to replace all the machines with that money,” Duran’s chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, said Monday. A revised version of a $122.6 million capital outlay package, House Bill 337, includes 121 public works projects around the state. Here are the five biggest projects by dollar amount: Money for the new vote-counting machines is one of the biggest revisions in the public works – or capital outlay – package that is larger than a previous Democratic-backed package. That $97 million version was held back this month amid concerns from Republican lawmakers that it was being rushed.
Deaths of young soldiers in Vietnam helped give 18-year-olds the right to vote in America. Now, more than 40 years later, state Rep. Jeff Steinborn has momentum for his bill that would reduce the minimum age to vote in New Mexico primary elections. The state House of Representatives on Monday approved his bill allowing 17-year-olds to cast primary ballots if they will turn 18 by the general election. Steinborn, right, D-Las Cruces, has the bill a third of the way toward becoming law. It still has to get through the state Senate in the final three weeks of the legislative session, and then it would have to receive the signature of Gov. Susana Martinez. The House approved the measure 44-24, but one member who opposed it said the bill was on a path toward a veto by Martinez.
A federal court gave groups suing the state broad access Monday to three computers used by the Legislature to develop Republican-friendly voting maps. The Legislature “must make these three computers available in their entirety immediately” to the groups suing the state, the three judges wrote. “The computers are extremely likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed during pretrial discovery. Moreover, Plaintiffs have established that substantial numbers of documents were not disclosed, which satisfies the court that some form of ‘fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct’ likely occurred,” the unanimous opinion said, quoting from a procedural rule. The ruling provided the latest setback for Republican lawmakers, who have consistently resisted releasing documents in the case. It will give the plaintiffs a chance to determine whether legislators and their attorneys improperly withheld additional documents before the case went to trial.
In recent years, recession and financial turmoil have felled governments throughout Europe as voters looked for change in an era of economic distress. Now, experts are asking whether politicians are capable of promoting plans that offer a way out of the malaise — or whether they could be elected if they did. After its voters this week denied any party enough backing to form a credible government, Italy joined Greece in preventing establishment parties from achieving the mandate required to push through painful reforms, inviting new financial instability. That dynamic is quite familiar to Americans, who have watched President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives lock horns over the debt ceiling, the so-called fiscal cliff and now sequestration in what many experts consider the biggest threat to the economy. “The governing parties tilt ever more toward populism instead of making decisions that are important but unpopular,” said Eckhard Jesse, professor of political systems and institutions at the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. “The room to maneuver has gotten tighter, but the expectations have risen.”
One doesn’t need to be fluent in Italian to understand the post-election headlines across Italy: ingovernabilita, nervosismo, miracolo Berlusconi. Italians woke up on Tuesday morning to see their worst fears realized: the country’s first-ever hung parliament. Essentially, no one has enough support to lead the country out of its dire troubles. After a bitter campaign, Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left coalition narrowly won in the lower house of parliament and will benefit by an automatic winner’s bonus of 54 percent of the house seats, but he barely eked out a win in the Italian senate, where it counts. There, the divisions are based on regions, and his win does not translate to a majority. His chief nemesis, Silvio Berlusconi, who rose from the ashes of a scandalous resignation in November 2011, was able to steer his center-right coalition to within a hair of the majority, but with no willing partners to help him reach the threshold. The big winner of these elections was Beppe Grillo, a comedian who captured the essence of Italy’s disgruntled set and has effectively become the kingmaker in both houses. His platform, which includes holding a referendum on Italy’s continuation in the euro and rethinking its involvement in military operations abroad, including logistical support in Mali, is seen as welcome change by many disgruntled Italian voters, especially the young and newly unemployed. Grillo refused to do any campaigning on Italian television and focused instead on new media, utilizing his popular blog, Facebook, and Twitter to rabble rouse.
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani says Italy is in a “dramatic situation” after election results that leave the country in political stalemate. Stock markets and the euro have fallen amid concerns the deadlock could re-ignite the eurozone debt crisis. But Mr Bersani, whose coalition won most seats in parliament, did not identify a preferred partner in government. He said all political parties should take responsibility for the country. Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi said earlier fresh elections should be avoided, and called for a period of reflection, which correspondents suggest could mean he is considering a very awkward alliance with his opponents on the centre-left. Other European countries have urged Italian politicians to create a stable government as soon as possible – with France and Germany urging continued reform, and Spain describing the result as a “jump to nowhere”.
The phrase, ‘politics of consensus’ (PoC) may sound extremely positive. But it is rarely practiced in current competitive democratic systems throughout the world. In Nepal, it is regarded as a mantra relied upon to resolve the current political crisis. The ‘politics of consensus’ has therefore become both a panacea and a practise riven with contradictions, especially in those localities where consensus is undermined by one of the core values of democracy: ‘majority rule’. This is all the more problematic because of the constitutional vacuum, due to the dissolution of Constituent Assembly (CA) in June 2012, and subsequent problems in power sharing between the political parties. The idea of a PoC was initiated in 2006 in the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between former rebel-Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M, hereafter Maoists) – and the government of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), to end a decade long civil war. The preamble of Nepal’s Interim Constitution 2007 clearly stated that PoC is one of the core values binding political parties to work together to reconstruct a new Nepal. This is an attempt to circumvent confrontation between parties when it came to re-building a new peaceful and prosperous Nepal, irrespective of divided political ideologies.