National: Senate Republicans Open To Gutting Voting Rights Act, Despite Scalia’s Analysis | Huffington Post

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued last week that the court may need to reject the key element of the Voting Rights Act because political pressures would prevent Congress itself from doing so. “I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act,” Scalia said during a Supreme Court hearing. “And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. That’s the concern that those of us who have some questions about this statute have. It’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.” Whatever Scalia’s talents as a jurist, those skills do not include vote-counting in the United States Senate. The Huffington Post asked a sampling of Senate Republicans and found that, contrary to Scalia’s presumption, some of his legislative branch colleagues across the street are just as ready as he is to toss out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, its Section 5, which prevents states with a history of racial discrimination from altering their voting laws without federal approval. It is, to be fair, a horribly difficult question for a Southern senator. Agreeing that Section 5 needs to remain in place, as the overwhelming majority of them did when the law was reauthorized in 2006, is an implicit admission that the state apparatus is still tilted against African Americans. But rejecting Section 5 is an insult to that same community, suggesting, in the face of everyday evidence, that the legacy of slavery and discrimination is ancient history.

National: Secretaries of State announce national task force on emergency preparations for elections | FoxReno

To support state efforts aimed at establishing sound administrative election practices in emergency conditions, Nevada Secretary of State and National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) President Ross Miller and NASS members today announce the formation of a Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Elections. The task force is a national initiative, formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the East Coast just days before the presidential election on November 6, 2012. The effort will focus on identifying laws and practices that enhance the ability of state election officials to prepare for, and respond to, emergency situations.

National: Constitution Check: Is the right to vote an “entitlement”? | Yahoo! News

Lyle Denniston looks at a provocative comment from Associate Justice Antonin Scalia about racial entitlements, and what it means in the broader scope of constitutional and congressional history. The statements at issue:

There is “a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. … Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes. … I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act.”  – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, comment from the bench on February 27, discussing the history of Congress’ repeated renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Entitlement: the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).”  – Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary, in the second-listed definition of “entitlement.”

“We are talking about the enforcement power that the Constitution gives to Congress to make these judgments to ensure protection of fundamental rights. This is a situation in which Congress is given a power which is expressly given to it to act upon the states in their sovereign capacity.”  – U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., responding to Justice Scalia at that hearing before the court last week.

“All men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”  – The opening line of the Declaration of Independence.

Editorials: Voting Rights: Scalia v. minority protection | David Dante Troutt/The Great Debate (Reuters)

It’s rare to reach a point in our national sense of humor that a sitting Supreme Court justice emerges as the butt of popular jokes for comments he made during an oral argument. That’s what happened last week, however, after Justice Antonin Scalia asked lawyers defending Congress’s extension of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act whether maintaining the pre-clearance formula for nine “covered” states, which are subject to federal oversight, was really just a “racial entitlement” program and not a constitutional necessity. The media filled with guffaws about the justice’s audacity. Cartoonists ridiculed his racial insensitivity. MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow, dismissing Scalia’s words as mere willful provocation, called him a “troll.” We’d be wise to watch the name-calling. Insulting as Scalia’s words sound, there’s more to the justice’s comments than political incorrectness. For those who care about more than full and fair voting rights for minorities, responding to the perceived slight with more name-calling misses the point. Scalia was talking about far more than the Voting Rights Act. He was talking about whether the Constitution affords minorities any real protection for a range of discrimination anymore.

Editorials: Barbour is right: Apply Voting Rights Act to all | The Sun Herald

Here we go again. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is on stage once more. This time a case emanating from Shelby County, Alabama, serves as the vehicle for challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the act. This section requires any change in any aspect of voting procedures of a jurisdiction must be approved by the United States Justice Department before such a change can go into effect. The catch is that Section 5 applies only to certain states or parts of states with significant minority population and a history of racial discrimination. These include most states of the “old Confederate south” and certain counties in a few other states such as California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota. With each passing year the resentment of many in those states known as the Voting Rights Act States seems to increase. Being singled out and ridiculed for conditions they believe have sufficiently changed is wearing thin with many in the affected states. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said as much recently when he was quoted in USA Today as stating that in “over 50 years, we’ve gotten that behind us.” Barbour went on to make a case for equal treatment of all states when he said, “The same rules ought to apply to Massachusetts, Minnesota and Montana that apply to Mississippi.”

Editorials: Voting Rights Act still needed; court should let it stand | Evansville Courier & Press

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 ways of suppressing minority voting participation. Voter surveys showed Republicans trailing badly among blacks and Hispanics. Certain Republican-run jurisdictions tried a number of tactics to hold down minority voting: restrictions on early voting, bans on same-day voter registration, or understaffed or inconveniently located polling places that led to frustratingly long lines. Shelby County was seeking to get out from under the 1965 law’s requirement that nine states and parts of seven others with egregious histories of denying or hindering the minority right to vote get pre-approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

Editorials: How a Supreme Court Defeat Could Save Voting Rights | Kiran Moodley/The Atlantic

George W. Bush said the first decision the president of the free world makes is which carpet to get in the Oval Office. When Barack Obama moved into Bush’s vacated space, the carpet he chose had five quotes running around its border. They came from Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. The latter’s chosen phrase was: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Although wrongly attributed to King (the quote was actually the work of Boston preacher Theodore Parker), the message was clear. The U.S. had been through a long struggle — from Civil War to Civil Rights, through Reconstruction and Segregation — and America had ended up with an African American in the Oval Office. What is appealing about the story of the Civil Rights movement is its simplicity: its arc, while long, bends into a neat narrative. It can be plotted through major events that are etched into our consciousness: Brown v. Board, 1954; the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955; Little Rock, 1957; the Sit-Ins, 1960; the Freedom Rides, 1961; Birmingham and the March on Washington, 1963; the Civil Rights Act, 1964; and finally, Selma and the Voting Rights Act, 1965. Remember those events, remember those dates, and you’re sure to pass your exam. Yet if, as widely predicted (by veteran reporter Lyle Denniston and Atlantic correspondent Andrew Cohen), the present Supreme Court strikes down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, what does that mean for the civil rights narrative? Does 1965 lose its significance? Does the arc bend away from justice?

Arizona: Bill Targets Early Ballots Key to Latino Turnout | Bloomberg

Arizona lawmakers may make it a felony for community groups or political committees to gather and submit mail ballots before elections, a strategy used by Latino activists and others to boost voter participation. The measure moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature is among several bills that backers say will help prevent fraud and reduce the burden on election officials. Opponents say they are intended to curb Latino voting, which tends to be Democratic, as Hispanics become a larger percentage of the population while white baby-boomers age. “These bills are targeted at groups that are turning out the Latino vote,” said Roopali Desai, a Phoenix lawyer representing Promise Arizona, which said it helped register more than 34,000 new voters and turned in thousands of ballots last year. “They are trying to take away the tools in these groups’ toolkits, like mobilizing and getting people to return their ballots — tools that we have learned are successful.”

Arizona: Minority senators raise alarm on elections-linked bills | AZCentral

A trio of racially diverse state senators on Monday condemned elections-related bills that they say discriminate against minorities and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor the legislation. Of particular concern to the senators are Senate Bill 1003, which would limit who can return a voter’s ballot, and SB 1261, which would drop people from the early voting list if they failed to mail in their ballots and instead voted at the polls. Both passed the Senate last week. “It would truly throw up obstacles to the early-vote process,” Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor said of SB 1261. She is African-American. She was joined by Sens. Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo, and Steve Gallardo, who is Latino. All three are Democrats, and all three said the bills would have a “devastating” impact on minority voting.

Delaware: NAACP president pushes for felon voting rights in Delaware | The News Journal

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pushed today for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow some convicted felons to register to vote after completing all terms of their sentences. Flanked by Mayor Dennis P. Williams and several state and local elected officials, Jealous called re-instituting voting rights for ex-felons a “bipartisan movement of common sense” and a counter to what he described as recent “voter-suppression” movements. “We are a country that believes in second chances. We are a country that believes that when it comes to justice … it’s good to be tough, but it’s better to be smart,” he said. “If somebody gets out of prison and they want to vote, that’s exactly the type of behavior we should be encouraging, not obstructing.”

Florida: State finds evidence of voter registration fraud | Daytona Beach News-Journal

Two employees of a company once aligned with the Republican Party of Florida admitted to law-enforcement authorities that they forged voter registration forms. It’s the first result in a far-reaching voter fraud investigation that was launched last fall – and initiated at the urging of the party after election supervisors started flagging questionable applications. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported Tuesday that the two ex-employees were charged with a third degree felony. But prosecutors back in January decided to place both of them on probation because neither has a criminal history. Strategic Allied Consulting was hired by Republicans to do voter registration drives in Florida and other states. But last fall, the state party fired the company and took the additional step of filing an election fraud complaint against the company with state officials.

Florida: Democrats Push for (at Least) 14-Day, One-Size-Fits-All Early Voting | Sunshine State News

It doesn’t matter how many supervisors of elections complain that their small Florida counties don’t need 14 days of early voting and can’t pay for them, 14 days should be the law say Senate Democrats. “What’s the price of democracy?” asks Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Senate Dems met with the capital press Monday to lobby for seven steps they want to see in the final elections bill. Never mind that the Republican-controlled Legislature is moving to change the state’s election law to prevent the long lines of last November, Democrats say the GOP proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Maine: Bill would strip right to vote from Maine prisoners convicted of Class A crimes | Bangor Daily News

The family members of two murder victims called on state lawmakers Monday to allow an amendment to the state constitution that would take away the voting rights of those serving prison sentences for some of the most severe crimes under Maine law. But civil liberties advocates and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap warned lawmakers that removing voting rights from prisoners convicted of Class A crimes under Maine law could undermine prisoner rehabilitation and create an administrative burden for election officials. Maine is one of two states — Vermont is the other — that allow convicted felons to vote while incarcerated. Some states also bar felons from voting after they’ve served their prison sentences. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, proposes a constitutional amendment that would take those rights away from inmates serving sentences for Class A crimes, which include murder, gross sexual assault and aggravated drug trafficking. Maine law allows up to 30 years in prison and $50,000 in fines for such offenses.

Minnesota: Democrats poised to suggest big changes in election system | Minnesota Public Radio News

On the heels of a failed Republican-backed constitutional amendment that would have required Minnesotans to present photo identification at the polls, Democrats in the Minnesota Senate have introduced legislation designed to make voting easier through early voting. Under the proposed Senate omnibus elections bill, eligible Minnesota voters could begin casting their ballots 15 days before Election Day. The new early voting window would close on the Friday before the election. The sweeping bill also would allow more people to vote by absentee ballot without having to state a reason why they can’t vote in person at their neighborhood polling place on Election Day. So far, however, the proposed election chances have yet to receive any Republican support, which could be the key to their becoming law. Even though Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has said he will sign election bills only if they have bipartisan support.

North Carolina: Legislature to decide on voter ID law again | The Daily Tar Heel

The Republican leadership at the N.C. General Assembly pledged Tuesday to make a second attempt at passing a controversial measure requiring photo identification at polling places. A bill requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote was vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in 2011, but Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has signaled that he would not veto a new proposal. Supporters of a voter ID law cite preventing voter fraud and protecting the sanctity of voting as reasons for filing a bill this session. “We want to make sure people who show up to vote are who they say they are,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House elections committee, after Tuesday’s press conference. Lewis said legislators would file a bill this month and hold a vote in April.

North Carolina: House GOP begins to move on voter ID bill |

House Republicans announced plans Tuesday to begin moving the politically divisive voter photo ID bill through the legislature, saying they would slow walk it to give all parties the opportunity to comment. GOP lawmakers, who have enough votes to pass the measure, disclosed a schedule that will begin with a public hearing on March 12 followed by two House committee meetings in which expert testimony will be heard. The bill will likely be introduced in late March and voted on by the House in mid-April. “We are going to go through a very deliberative, response-full and interactive approach through public hearings so that we arrive at a policy that is fair and that takes into account legitimate reasons why voters may not have an ID and puts into effect a way in which those IDs can be issued,” Tillis said at a news conference attended by about 30 GOP House members.

Rhode Island: Early Voting Proposed for Rhode Island | ABC6

Last November, some providence polling places were packed for hours, with long lines…and frustrated voters. Now a state lawmakers is proposing early voting – letting people cast ballots up to three weeks before election day. State Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Rhode Island) said, “It was the perfect storm. You know we had polling places that were reduced. We closed the closing times at polls 8 o’clock versus 9 o’clock.  Some people were confused as to where they voted.” Republicans are worried, saying more voting days may lead to more mistakes.

Wisconsin: Bill would limit hours for early voting in Wisconsin | The Oshkosh Northwestern

A Republican lawmaker is proposing limits on the hours and days voters can cast in-person absentee ballots even as such voting increases in popularity in the state. The bill would have a heavy impact in Madison, one of several municipalities that have held extended hours on nights and weekends to accommodate in-person absentee voters. Critics said the bill, introduced in the state Assembly late last week, would force municipalities to spend more on mail-in absentee ballots while making it harder for people to vote. The measure proposed by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, would prohibit clerks from opening early, late or on weekends to accommodate voters wishing to cast their ballots before Election Day.

Italy: Bersani Set On Forming Government, Asks Grillo to Be Clear |

Pier Luigi Bersani, the notional winner of Italy’s general elections last month, told his party’s senior leaders that he would try to form a government even though his center-left coalition didn’t have a Senate majority. Any alliance with Silvio Berlusconi, longtime leader of the center-right, was “not practicable,” while some form of dialogue with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement might be, Mr. Bersani said as he opened a day-long meeting of his Democratic Party’s top officials Wednesday. Mr. Bersani, whose center-left coalition narrowly won the most votes in an election that unexpectedly showed a near tie between three rival groups, is under pressure to outline how he will try to form a coalition able to pass a confidence vote in both parliamentary chambers. Political instability in Italy has raised concerns that the euro area’s policy approach to its sovereign debt crisis is failing. Italy’s election was a “thermometer” of long-simmering tensions, Mr. Bersani said, noting that euro-skepticism is growing even in Germany.

Italy: Octogenarian president holds Italy’s fate | Reuters

As Italy faces a deep political crisis, the fate of the country is in the hands of an octogenarian former communist only weeks from retirement. Under Italy’s constitution, President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, is charged with trying to find the way out of an intractable impasse caused by a huge protest vote in the Feb 24-25 election, which saw no group emerge with enough support to govern. The task is exceedingly difficult, but if anybody can succeed it is probably Napolitano, who enjoys both huge respect and popularity, and has shown skill in navigating previous major storms in Italy. In fact after an election in which Italians vented their rage against the politicians, he may be the only traditional political figure left who commands much respect at all. Napolitano has stepped into the breach in a moment of emergency before, in November 2011, when Italy faced a perilous debt crisis. He engineered the replacement of scandal-plagued premier Silvio Berlusconi with technocrat Mario Monti.

Voting Blogs: 2013 Kenyan Elections: Post-Election Report | The Monkey Cage

Kenyan elections have been underway for slightly more than 24 hours, and the much-touted voting technology, or lack thereof, has been at the center of attention. Within hours of the opening of the polling centers, reports from around the country announced the failure of the biometric voter identification system. This technology, which recorded voters’ fingerprints and other biographical data during the voter registration process, was meant to then identify registered voters on Election Day, using Kenyans’ individual biometric identity information. Due to a number of problems, including power outages, low battery life of the devices and polling officials’ difficulty accessing the central system, however, many stations had to resort to using the manual register.

Kenya: Uhuru Kenyatta takes early lead as Kenyan election results trickle in |

Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted for alleged crimes against humanity and the son of Kenya’s founding father, had an early lead Wednesday in the presidential election. With a little more than 40% of the vote counted, Kenyatta was ahead at 53% to 42% over his main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, according to the election commission website. If Kenyatta wins, he will find himself in an unusual quandary. He has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly inciting a local militia to conduct reprisal attacks in the last election. His running mate, William Ruto, also faces ICC charges at The Hague. Both have denied the charges.

Kenya: Electronic system slows count | BBC

Counting of Kenyan election results has slowed down because of problems with the electronic systems. Returning officers were ordered to physically deliver paper copies of their constituency’s tallies to the counting centre in the capital. Election officials have urged patience. Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces trial at the International Criminal Court, has been leading in early presidential results declared from Monday’s tightly contested election. He is due to stand trial at The Hague next month for allegedly fuelling violence after the disputed 2007 election. He denies the charge. His closest rival is outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga. With provisional results in from more than 40% of polling stations earlier on Wednesday, Mr Odinga had 42% of the vote compared with Mr Kenyatta’s 53%.

Kenya: President Obama’s Kenyan Brother Believes He’s Been a Victim of Possible Voter Fraud and ‘Racist’ Press Coverage | Politicker

Abong’o Malik Obama wants to have a career in politics like his half-brother, President Barack Obama. However, hours after the polls closed in Kenya’s elections last night, Mr. Obama said he wasn’t sure whether his bid to be governor of Siaya County was a success and he is concerned the election results may have been tampered with. He’s also extremely angry about tabloid coverage of his campaign. “It’s impossible to tell at this time, the whole system crashed,” Mr. Obama told Politicker when we called him Tuesday morning to inquire about the election. “We have no idea, it’s still hanging out there, and I myself am extremely disappointed and there is a high risk that the results may be manipulated.”  Yesterday’s elections are the first under the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, which was ratified after the 2007 election ended with widespread violence and a disputed result. Though the voting yesterday proceeded largely without violence, there were reports of technical problems at many polling places. Mr. Obama said he stayed up late into the night and was given no information about the election result from officials. “I was sitting out there at the tallying center for the county up until almost 1 o’clock last night and there’s a complete blackout,” he explained.

Kenya: IEBC Owns Up to Hitch in Election Results Transmission |

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of Kenya has owned up to a technical hitch in its electronic result transmission that has delayed transmission of results from polling stations countrywide. CEO James Oswago explained that the hitch had been occasioned by a low disk space in one of its servers. To resolve the problem, IEBC’s engineers have added the disk capacity of the affected server, said Mr Oswago. Addressing a press conference at Bomas of Kenya, Mr Oswago gave an assurance that the system has improved its performance since the repairs were done. He also added that agents of respective presidential candidates had been fully briefed about the hitch.

Zimbabwe: Credible elections a farce? | The Zimbabwean

There is already acrimony in the Government of National Unity with the MDC-T claiming there is a resurgence of politically motivated violence by Zanu (PF), with the most recent case being the death of 12-year-old, Christpower Maisiri, who was caught in a suspected arson in Headlands. MDC-T Secretary General, Tendai Biti, has laid the blame for Maisiri’s death on Zanu (PF) Secretary for Administration, Didymus Mutasa. Another disturbing trend is the alleged manipulation of the voter registration process by Zanu (PF). MDC-T has claimed that its supports wishing to register are being frustrated at various Registrar General’s offices across the country while Zanu (PF) supporters have no problem with registration. Recently, an MDC-T official revealed to The Zimbabwean that Zanu (PF) officials working in cahoots with officers form the Registrar General’s Department were registering rural voters to vote in urban constituencies in a bid to cover up for their 2008 loss.