National: Biden critical of challenges to Voting Rights Act | USAToday

Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd gathered for the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in 1965 that Americans “can’t let their guard down” against attempts to restrict access to voting. Speaking before the Martin and Coretta King Unity Brunch on Sunday morning, Biden said states had passed 180 laws restricting voting, “some more pernicious than others.” “Here we are, 48 years after all you did, and we’re still fighting?” Biden asked a capacity crowd at Wallace State Community College in Selma. “In 2011, 12 and 13? We’re able to beat back most of those attempts in election of 2012, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.” Biden, who brought his daughter and sister with him, joined several speakers at the rally who were critical of voter ID attempts and a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Ala., to overturn Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a law whose passage was inspired by the events in Selma. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week. The vice president joked that he got the “credit or blame” when he was a senator for convincing Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., the presidential candidate of the States’ Rights Democrats in 1948, to vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

Editorials: Roberts, Scalia and the Voting Rights Act | Christian Century

There is a wicked irony that as the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, the country’s highest court is edging closer to gutting one of the movement’s greatest victories. As Americans everywhere celebrate the marches, martyrs, and nonviolent courage of Civil Rights activists in Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta and elsewhere, the Supreme Court seems poised to rollback the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or at least, eviscerate key provisions that make it functional legislation. The very thing for which men and women braved snapping dogs, fire hoses, lynch mobs and murder might not exist by the time this country finishes its yearlong national commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement. It is a racist country that can whitewash its civil rights heroes with celebrations while, at the same time, uprooting one of its most important legacies. Much attention has been given to Justice Antonin Scalia’s incendiary comment framing the Voting Rights Act as legislation that perpetuates “racial entitlement.” His comment drew gasps from those listening in and even a response by Justice Sonia Sotomayor from the bench. Her insight bears repeating: Voting is not a racial entitlement.

Editorials: Voting Rights Act not a ‘racial entitlement’ | Leonard Pitts Jr./The Herald-Sun

One day, many years ago, I was working in my college bookstore when this guy walks in wearing a T-shirt. “White Power,” it said. I was chatting with a friend, Cathy Duncan, and what happened next was as smooth as if we had rehearsed it. All at once, she’s sitting on my lap or I’m sitting on hers – I can’t remember which – and that white girl gives this black guy a peck on the lips. In a loud voice she asks, “So, what time should I expect you home for dinner, honey?” Mr. White Power glares malice and retreats. Cathy and I fall over laughing. Which tells you something about how those of us who came of age in the first post- civil rights generation tended to view racism. We saw it as something we could dissipate with a laugh, a tired old thing that had bedeviled our parents, yes, but which we were beyond. We thought racism was over.

Editorials: Voting Rights Act is still needed in Texas, other states | Standard-Times

It is the misfortune of Shelby County, Ala., to challenge a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, following an election when political partisans tried new, more subtle ways of suppressing minority voting participation. Voter surveys showed Republicans trailing badly among blacks and Hispanics, a gap that could potentially cost them the election, and ultimately, combined with disparate support for the Democrats among women and the young, did. Certain Republican-run jurisdictions tried a number of tactics to hold down minority voting: unnecessarily strict voter-ID laws, restrictions on early voting, bans on same-day voter registration, or understaffed or inconveniently located polling places that led to frustratingly long lines. Indeed, one Pennsylvania GOP official boasted — prematurely and mistakenly, as it turned out — that the state’s new voter-ID law had handed the election to Mitt Romney.

Editorials: Challenge to Voting Rights Act ignores reality | Donna Brazile/

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama was at the Capitol, joining leaders of Congress to dedicate a statue in honor of the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Alabama’s Rosa Parks. About the same time, across the street at the Supreme Court, an Alabama lawyer was arguing that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act — the consequence and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement — was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The irony lies not only in the timing or juxtaposition, but the institutions. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when a white bus driver ordered her to move. Twelve years earlier, the same driver had grabbed her coat sleeve and pushed her off his bus for trying to enter through the front rather than the back door. This time he said, “Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.” She replied, “You may do that.” Her arrest led to a 381-day boycott of Montgomery buses by the black community. The boycott propelled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence as a civil rights leader. And the arrest of Parks and the boycott she inspired led to a civil law suit, Browder v. Gayle, in which the Supreme Court declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional. It took Congress 10 years to catch up to the Supreme Court, when it passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Arkansas: Ozark grappling with second case of botched ballots | Springfield News-Leader

Voters won’t have the chance to decide if a 3/8-cent sales tax is the right way to improve the streets of Ozark. Due to a clerical error, the sales tax proposal that city officials have played up at public meetings and on the city’s official website won’t be part of the April election. “I didn’t get to approve the final ballots, and it was printed without (the tax proposal),” City Clerk Lana Wilson said. The mix-up marks the second botched ballot case in Ozark for this election. Last month, the city filed a lawsuit in circuit court to fix a mistake with a shortened term in Ward III. After a Friday evening board of aldermen vote and a quick fax from County Clerk Kay Brown, an uncontested race made it onto ballots in Ward III, but the sales tax for streets proposal is missing from ballots in all three wards. “When I got the sample ballot, it didn’t have the alderman for Ward III on it, plus it didn’t have the sales tax. I assumed that (Brown) would send me the original to approve,” Wilson said.

Maine: Voting rights opposed for some Maine felons | Portland Press Herald

Tim Mills told lawmakers Monday that the “depraved animal” who murdered his 19-year-old daughter in 2007 should not be allowed to vote while serving his time in prison. “It is reprehensible, offensive and unjust these criminals are able to vote under Maine law,” said Mills during a hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Mills said he took his daughter Aleigh to the voting booth every year to teach her about citizenship. She voted only once before she was murdered, he said. John A. Okie, 22, was convicted in 2010 of murdering his father, John S. Okie, and Aleigh Mills. He will be in prison for at least 50 years. Tim Mills testified in support of L.D. 573, which would prohibit convicted murderers and other Class A felons from voting while incarcerated. In addition to murder, Class A crimes in Maine include manslaughter and gross sexual assault. Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while they’re in prison.

Missouri: Senate takes up voter ID bills | Springfield News-Leader

After a charged debate last month in the Missouri House of Representatives over voter photo identification, the topic is back, this time in the Senate. On Monday, the Senate Elections committee took up legislation passed by the House in February. The legislation — one bill that puts photo identification requirements to a vote of the people and another that implements the requirements if Missouri approves them — had a public hearing that was less tense than earlier discussion in the House. Both supporters and opponents acknowledged that arguments on all sides had already been aired, even as they reiterated them. “Fundamental in the whole concept of photo ID is that photo identification is sort of the basis of what we do in modern society,” Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, told the committee. Cox has been a champion in the House for a photo requirement.

New Hampshire: State to get a voter bailout from feds | NEWS06

New Hampshire deserves a “bailout” from federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in Washington D.C. has ruled. “Finally, we’re done with this,” Secretary of State William Gardner said Saturday night. The court approved the bailout on March 1, one day after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of that very section of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the VRA requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get all changes to their election laws “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in D.C. New Hampshire found itself under that requirement in the 1960s, in part because the state had a literacy test on the books back then. Ten communities were singled out because of supposedly low voter registration and turnout.

New Jersey: Rutgers–Newark Law Professor to Argue Case Against Flawed Electronic Voting Machines | Rutgers Today

On Tuesday March 5, 2013, Professor Penny Venetis of the Rutgers School of Law–Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic will argue before the New Jersey Appellate Division and ask the court to decertify New Jersey’s insecure computerized voting machines. The case, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Stephanie Harris, Coalition for Peace Action, etc. vs. Gov. Chris Christie, will be heard in Trenton beginning at 11:30 am. The clinic filed a lawsuit in 2004 charging that the voting machines violated the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, as well as voting rights statutes. New Jersey passed “gold standard” legislation in 2005 and 2008 to require computerized voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper ballot. However, the State has yet to implement these statutes, leaving more than 5.5 million voters unprotected each Election Day. New Jersey is one of only six states that use computerized voting machines which cannot be audited.

Tennessee: Nashville election commission could rescind vote seeking foreign-born voter review | The Tennessean

The Davidson County Election Commission is expected to reconsider a controversial vote that one member said would call for “profiling” foreign-born voters. The commission voted 3-2 on Feb. 21 to ask the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to review the citizenship status of recently registered voters who were born outside the United States. But Metro attorneys later said doing so would violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act — also known as the “motor voter law” — by creating two different classes of voters and scrutinizing one class more than the other. Steve Abernathy, the Republican election commissioner who proposed the move, said he wanted to see whether non-citizens, while living here legally, have been improperly registering to vote during the process of applying for driver’s licenses. “The process at the Department of Safety is not set up to prevent them from completing a voter registration card,” Abernathy said. “And then (state officials) send that information to the election commission, but all we get is the completed card. We don’t get the backup information. There’s no way to verify a person’s citizenship at the Davidson County Election Commission.”

Cameroon: A Decisive Moment in Cameroon |

Public debates on the convening of the Electoral College for the 14 April 2013 election of senators in Cameroon are rife. Discussions have been on whether or not the time for such election is now, is the Electoral College legitimate and are all those who qualify to participate in the poll according to the Constitution of Cameroon going to take part? While hoping that legal minds clarify the population on what the best practice should be, the bottom line is that the decision to take part ought to be political since Cameroon has embarked on a democratic process and like in all democracies, the freedom of choice remains fundamental. Another crucial factor which cannot be overlooked is the fact that; Part III of Law N° 96-06 of 18 January 1996 to amend the Constitution of 2 June 1972 says in Article 14 (1) that; “Legislative power shall be exercised by the Parliament which shall comprise 2 (two) Houses: (a) The National Assembly; (b) The Senate.” Until now, only the National Assembly existed in the country, leaving a constitutional vacuum that many thought should be filled. Another Constitutional right is that of the Head of State who decides when to convene the Electoral College for any election in the country. Thus, any debate over the timeliness of the election must take into consideration all the legal arguments.

Iran: Reformists seek election discussion with Supreme Leader | Payvand

Iranian reformists have written to Iran’s Supreme Leader to discuss the possibility of their participation in the 2013 presidential election. ISNA reported on Sunday March 3 that Mohammad Javad Haghshenas, the deputy head of the Reformists Front, referred to the letter when he said: “In this letter, we have discussed the issues surrounding the 2013 election and the possibility of party participation.” He stressed that the head of two other reformists groups have joined with him to call for an opportunity to meet with the Supreme Leader in person to discuss the issue and find out his views on the matter.

Italy: Bersani ultimatum may bring new Italy election closer | Reuters

Italy could be inching closer towards another election within months after center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani issued an ultimatum to anti-establishment comic Beppe Grillo to support a new government or return to the polls. Last week’s election, in which Grillo’s 5-Star Movement won a huge protest vote, left no group with a working majority in parliament, making an alliance with a rival the only way out. On RAI state television late on Sunday, Bersani underlined his opposition to two of the options floated – another technocrat government like the outgoing one led by Mario Monti or a coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right. That would leave only one possibility to avoid elections – Grillo’s backing for the center-left, which won the lower house in the election but does not have enough support in the Senate. “Now (Grillo) must say what he wants, otherwise we all go home, including him,” Bersani said.

Voting Blogs: The Italian puzzle – austerity, corruption, and the man next door | openDemocracy

Most international press has identified the results of the Italian elections as a vote against austerity. We find this analysis inaccurate, and with this article we explain why and present some likely scenarios. The message of the electorate is that before any macroeconomic or financial change can be considered, Italy’s institutions and their representatives need to be reformed and the impoverishment of the country must be addressed. Homework first. Italy enjoys a bi-chamber system: the lower Chamber and the Senate have an equal say on all matters including the appointment of the government. The electoral law was changed in 2005 by Berlusconi and his allies to make it very difficult for whoever does not win Lombardy and Veneto, the most populous and traditionally right-leaning regions, to win both chambers. Italians under the age of 25 are still shockingly not allowed to vote for the upper house, making it traditionally more conservative.

Kenya: Elections marred by Mombasa violence |

Violence has flared on election day in Kenya, with at least 13 people killed in co-ordinated attacks on the coast. A group of 200 Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) secessionists armed with guns, machetes and bows and arrows set a trap for police before dawn, killing five officers, the Kenyan police inspector general, David Kimaiyo, said. One attacker also died. A second attack by secessionists in nearby Kilifi killed one police officer and five attackers, Kimaiyo said. A Kilifi police official, Clemence Wangai, said seven people had died in that assault, including an election official. The separatist group denied any responsibility for the attacks, however. “We are not responsible for any attacks anywhere in this region,” the MRC spokesman Mohammed Rashid Mraja told the Reuters news agency, adding that the group only sought change through peaceful means. Kenya is facing a huge test as it seeks to avoid a repeat of the ethnic violence left more than 1,100 people dead and 600,000 displaced following the 2007 election. Officials, candidates and media have made impassioned pleas for peace this time.

Kenya: Millions Vote in Crucial Kenyan Elections |

Millions of Kenyans poured into polling stations across the country on Monday in a crucial, anxiously awaited presidential election, and early reports said some violence erupted in the coastal region around Mombasa, recalling far greater bloodletting in the last national ballot five years ago. Across the land, the turnout appeared to be tremendous. Starting hours before dawn, lines of voters wrapped in blankets and heavy coats stretched for nearly a mile in some places. But in Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean, at least four police officers were killed with machetes in an overnight attack that authorities believe was carried out by the Mombasa Republican Council, a fringe separatist group that opposes the elections and believes Kenya’s coast should be a separate country. News reports put the death toll higher, with Reuters quoting senior police officials as saying nine security officers, two civilians and six attackers had died. Other reports put the tally at 12.