National: The Supreme Court could strike down part of the Voting Rights Act – Here’s what that would mean | Washington Post

In heated oral arguments Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices gave the impression that they’re ready to get rid of a key section of the Voting Rights Act. At issue is section 5, which requires the Department of Justice to issue a “preclearance” of any changes to districting or other voting laws in a number of set jurisdictions, covering most of the South but also Manhattan, Brooklyn, some counties in California and South Dakota, and towns in Michigan and New Hampshire. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the laws had the effect of requiring racially motivated gerrymandering, amounting to the “perpetuation of a racial entitlement” on the part of black legislators and constituents benefiting from the districting. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed, asking Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?”

National: Court decision on Voting Rights Act could spur election changes, but not turn back the clock | NBC

If Wednesday’s argument before the Supreme Court is any indication, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to strike down or curtail key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Even if the court does move in that direction, election officials in some states will have more leeway to change some procedures, but voters in 2014 won’t suddenly wake up in 1964. Hearing a challenge brought by Shelby County, Ala., several justices voiced skepticism about the formula the law uses to decide which states and other jurisdictions are required to get permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington for any change in voting procedures that they seek to make. In 2006 Congress reauthorized Section 5 of the law for another 25 years. The current formula uses election data from 1972 and earlier to determine which places section 5 applies to. Critics of the law say the formula is archaic and ought to be scrapped.

Editorials: The threat from within — the ironic challenge to the Voting Rights Act | Rep. Terri A. Sewell/

After almost 50 years of expanding and protecting voting rights, a new threat comes from an unlikely place – the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the justices heard oral arguments in Shelby County, AL v. Holder, a case that will decide the survival of preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require federal oversight of voting practices in 16 covered states including Alabama. The Voting Rights Act, which was passed as result of the Selma to Montgomery march, provides legal protections for individuals, primarily minorities, in states with histories of discriminatory voting practices. Since its passage in 1965, the act has been critical in ensuring that millions of our nation’s minority citizens are guaranteed the right to vote. I feel compelled to write this essay because I am deeply concerned about the erosion of voting rights that sadly still exist in our state and in this nation. Perhaps the biggest irony is that the current threat to this legislation comes from the very state (Alabama) that was the impetus for its passage almost 50 years ago.

Voting Blogs: Not Yet Section 5’s Time To Die | Andrew Cohen/Brennan Center for Justice

The need for the Voting Rights Act will die, and it should die, on the day when Americans can say to one another with a straight face that racial discrimination in voting no longer exists there. Sadly, that day has not come. Before the United States Supreme Court’s oral argument this week in Shelby County v. Holder,Professor Garrett Epps cut to the core of the conflict over Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. “On the one hand,” he wrote Sunday in The Atlantic, “there is the right to vote… the cornerstone of a democratic system.” On the other hand, he added, there is the “sovereign dignity” of the states, words and a principle that “are mentioned nowhere in the Constitution.” As we begin to contemplate a world without this vital provision of this venerable law, a world in which federal officials are deprived of one of the most successful tools they have ever had to root out racial discrimination in voting practices, it is worth noting today the relative values of these conflicting interests as they impact the everyday lives of the American people. There is simply no comparison– despite the tone and tenor of some of the questions posed Wednesday by some of the justices.

Voting Blogs: Why the Predictions Could be Wrong in Shelby County | Myrna Pérez/Brennan Center for Justice

If you listen to the court watchers reacting to Wednesday’s oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, you might be bracing yourself for a roll back of voting rights. They are largely predicting the formula used to determine which states and localities are subject to or “covered” by the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) will be struck down by the Supreme Court. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these prognostications. In 2009, similar predictions abounded in a similar case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder (NAMUDNO), involving this key provision, called Section 5, of the VRA. They were wrong in NAMUDNO, and while only time will tell, I think they will be wrong in Shelby County.

Florida: Lawmakers may restore two weeks of early voting | ABC

Florida’s election troubles last November are prompting state lawmakers to consider changing the state’s election laws this spring, but critics say the current proposals don’t go far enough. On Thursday, a group of African-American leaders accused Republican state leaders of enacting election changes in 2011 that deliberately tried to keep certain voters from casting ballots. They said the reforms caused long lines at polling places and made it harder for people to vote. Now the Legislature is moving to undo some of those changes. The main election reform bills currently under consideration would restore 14 days of early voting, limit ballot summaries from the Legislature and allow counties to open more early voting sites.

Indiana: Charlie White must file court documents in voter fraud trial by March 15 | Indianapolis Star

Former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White has until March 15 to file court documents explaining why he thinks he should get a new trial on voter fraud and theft charges. During a telephone conference with attorneys on the case Wednesday afternoon, Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation asked White’s attorney, Andrea Ciobanu, to file White’s post-conviction relief petition by March 15. He also scheduled a June 4 hearing on the petition. However, Nation did not rule on special prosecutors’ motion for White to begin serving his one-year home-detention sentence, special prosecutor Dan Sigler said today.

Iowa: House panel OKs requiring voter ID at polling sites |

House Republicans moved forward Thursday with a proposal that would require Iowa voters to show photo identification at polling places. Lawmakers in the House State Government Committee approved the legislation in a 12-8 vote split along party lines. The measure is backed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who has filed identical bills in the House and Senate. Schultz, a Republican, has made voter ID one of his key issues. GOP lawmakers largely support him, saying identification is needed to prevent fraud. Democrats say there is little fraud and say Republicans want to discourage voting by minorities and the elderly, who may not have the required documents.

Kansas: Senate passes bill giving secretary of state extra power but barring him from having PAC | The Republic

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would get the power he’s sought for his office to prosecute election fraud cases, but he’d also have to shut down his political action committee under legislation approved Thursday by the state Senate. The Senate approved the bill on a 31-9 vote, sending it to the House, where its future is less certain. Kobach, a former constitutional law professor, said he doubts a law prohibiting the secretary of state from having a PAC would be constitutional. But he also said he’s optimistic legislators ultimately will junk the anti-PAC proposal while expanding his office’s authority. “I’m pleased that the Senate intends to get serious about the prosecution of election crimes,” Kobach said during an interview.

Massachusetts: Secretary of State Galvin challenges Chief Justice Roberts’ claim about voting |

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. certainly sounded authoritative when he made a striking, though unflattering, declaration about Massachusetts as the high court heard arguments over the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is ­designed to assure equal access across ­races to polling booths. “Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?” Roberts asked Donald Verrilli Jr., solicitor general for the Department of Justice, during Wednesday’s arguments. “I do not know that,” Verrilli answered. “Massachusetts,” Roberts responded, adding that even Mississippi has a narrower gap. Roberts later asked if Verrilli knew which state has the greatest disparity in registration. Again, Roberts said it was Massachusetts. The problem is, Roberts is woefully wrong on those points, according to Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who on Thursday branded Roberts’s assertion a slur and made a declaration of his own. “I’m calling him out,” Galvin said.

Missouri: Panel says Missouri should adopt early voting |

A special panel created by Secretary of State Jason Kander is recommending that Missouri allow early voting and expand absentee voting by mail. The bipartisan commission on Thursday released its recommendations for overhauling Missouri’s voting laws. Missouri now allows people to vote by mail only if they meet certain conditions, such as a disability or absence from their district on Election Day. The commission says voters should be allowed to mail their ballots without such restrictions.

Mississippi: A Divide on Voting Rights Where Blood Spilled |

In the refined air of the United States Supreme Court, the questions posed by justices on Wednesday seemed so big as to be unanswerable: Are parts of the Voting Rights Act an unfair infringement on state sovereignty? How different is the South these days from other regions, and from itself in bloody years past? Here in southwest Mississippi, those questions are as real and solid as the longleaf pines. A run-down brick house on this street was bombed by segregationists in the summer of 1964; a few blocks away is a boarded-up supermarket that was bombed the same summer. Down the road is the town where a Mississippi state representative shot a black voting-rights activist. A black man who was witness to that shooting was killed soon after, and the men sitting in the back of the local drugstore still debate what the witness, whom they knew, was planning to say. The McComb project, as it was called by civil rights workers in 1961, was one of the early battles in a long and bloody war for voting rights in the South, a crucible for future leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who drilled black residents to pass the constitutional literacy tests and in return for their civic engagement were shot at, jailed and beaten.

Montana: With 2014 Elections Looming, Ninth Circuit Agrees to Hear Native American Voting-Rights Appeal |

On February 20, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes the nine westernmost states, said it would hear the appeal of a Montana voting-rights lawsuit. The appeal arose when a Montana federal judge, Richard Cebull, denied a 2012 request from Native voters for a preliminary injunction ordering early-voting/late-registration satellite offices on the Northern Cheyenne, Crow and Fort Belknap reservations. The judge made his decision on October 30, 2012, and filed his order on Election Day, November 6. “This lawsuit, filed after months of requests for the satellite offices, could not be more timely,” said Blackfeet tribal member Tom Rodgers, who is working with Four Directions, a voting-rights group. “We see similar issues for tribes nationwide—efforts to impede Native registration, to limit the time for voting and to make it more difficult. All rights in a democracy flow from the right to vote.” For several election cycles, Four Directions has pressed for Native access to early voting, a convenient form of balloting that has increased election participation nationwide.

Rhode Island: Voter ID law might not stand the test of time | 630WPRO

With a new Senate bill on the table and the House Oversight Committee looking to make changes to election procedures in Rhode Island, it may be possible that the state’s newly implemented voter ID law will soon be yesterday’s news. Rhode Island passed the voter identification law in 2011, and 2012 marked the first election year when non-photo ID’s were required of all voters. Come 2014, photo ID’s will be required for Rhode Islanders to cast their votes, an issue that’s been a point of contention for voters and legislators alike. Thirty states currently have some sort of voter ID law, though most do not require photo identification; though for some states, like Rhode Island, that could change in the next few years. But freshman Senator Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) is hopeful a bill she’s introduced will erase the voter ID law from the books altogether. Goldin takes over long-time representative Rhoda Perry’s seat in District 3 and represents a chunk of the East Side of Providence. Goldin said she many constituent complaints about the voter ID law during her campaign in the fall. “My district [is] people who really believe in creating an equitable society and making sure the decisions we make statewide continue to respect and create that equitable society,” said Goldin.

Ghana: Illiteracy rate in Ghana will not impede e-voting- PPP | GhanaWeb

The Progressive People’s Party (PPP) has called on the Electoral Commission not to use high illiteracy rate as an excuse not to implement the e-voting system, but immediately begin a nationwide education on possible use of the system. The party had written to the Electoral Commission after the last election requesting the nation uses the electronic voting system. The Electoral Commission (E.C) Chairman, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan yesterday announced that the nation is not ready to go electronic voting considering the high illiteracy rate which persists. But speaking to Citi News, PPP General Secretary, Kofi Asamoah said the EC’s excuse is a poor one.

Italy: President Napolitano rejects new polls | BBC

The prospect of an early repeat vote in Italy to break the February election gridlock has receded after the outgoing head of state rejected the idea. Giorgio Napolitano, who as president holds the power to dissolve parliament, said he doubted his successor in the post would favour the idea either. Mr Napolitano must stand down as president in mid-May. The three main political forces are sharply divided after none managed to win an outright majority. Uncertainty over the future management of the eurozone’s third-biggest economy has caused concern among Italy’s partners and investor confidence has been shaken. A protest movement led by a former comedian, Beppe Grillo, surged virtually from nowhere to take a quarter of the vote, handicapping the traditional alliances on the right and left. The centre-left bloc led by Pier Luigi Bersani won a majority in the lower house but not in the equally important upper chamber. It is expected to attempt to form a government after the new parliament meets, some time within the next fortnight.

Italy: Bersani dismisses Italy Senate coalition with Berlusconi | Deutsche Welle

Seeking a solution to stalemate in the Senate, Italy’s upper house of parliament, election-winner Pier Luigi Bersani has said his center-left alliance will not ally with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s bloc. Pier Luigi Bersani said in a newspaper interview published on Friday that his center-left bloc was not prepared to ally with the rival group led by Silvio Berlusconi, even with Berlusconi holding the upper hand in the Senate. “I want to spell it out clearly: the idea of a grand coalition does not exist and will never exist,” Bersani told La Repubblica. As the most popular party in the vote for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, Bersani’s bloc is guaranteed 54 percent of the seats under Italian electoral law. The Senate, however, has roughly equal legislative powers, meaning that this lower house majority might not suffice for Bersani to push policies through as premier. “Call it what you want,” Bersani said when asked whether he would seek a minority government in the Senate instead. “Minority government, government of purpose, that doesn’t interest me. For me it is a government of change.”

Russia: New election bill to restrict foreign influence | Russia Beyond The Headlines

A new bill on the State Duma elections is expected to impose further restrictions to the work of international observers during Russian parliamentary campaigns. The bill would also prohibit Russian parties from forming electoral blocs and, at the same time, reduce the threshold for parties running in the elections from 7 to 5 percent. Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted a new version of a bill on parliamentary elections to the State Duma on Friday, a spokesman for the chamber’s executive office told Interfax. The bill, drafted by the Central Elections Committee, was widely debated and discussed, including by parliamentarians and members of political parties not represented in the State Duma. The bill on the State Duma elections prohibits foreign citizens and international organizations from influencing the election outcome in Russia in any form. “Activities by foreign citizens, stateless persons, foreign organizations, international organizations and international public movements promoting or impeding the organization of State Duma elections, the nomination or registration of specific candidates, federal lists of candidates, and the election of candidates to the State Duma are prohibited,” the draft law submitted by the Russian president to the State Duma on Friday says.