National: Chris Coons Plotting Legislative Response If Voting Rights Act Is Gutted | Huffington Post

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is hoping the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, but he’ll be prepared if they do. Coons told Attorney General Eric Holder during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Wednesday that he’d like to work with the Justice Department “should there be a change in the status of the Voting Rights Act.” The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether to strike down Section 5 of the 1965 law, which forces certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get the federal government’s permission to make changes to their voting laws and procedures.

National: Bipartisan House Bill Plans Overhaul Of Election Process: Will Straight Ticket Voting Be A Thing Of The Past? | Latin Times

In over a third of the states in our nation, “straight ticket” voting literally means just that: The voter presses one button and has instantly cast their vote for multiple different individuals. Formerly a commonplace practice nationwide, only 15 states still allow single-button straight ticket voting. A bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives seeks to get rid of this practice, replacing it with the default voting option: choosing candidates individually.

Editorials: ‘A Big New Power’ | Linda Greenhouse/

Years from now, when the Supreme Court has come to its senses, justices then sitting will look back on the spring of 2013 in bewilderment. On what basis, they will wonder, did five conservative justices, professed believers in judicial restraint, reach out to grab the authority that the framers of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments had vested in Congress nearly a century and a half earlier “to enforce, by appropriate legislation” the right to equal protection and the right to vote. How on earth did it come to pass that the Supreme Court ruled a major provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional? You will have noticed that I’m making a premature assumption here about the outcome of a case, Shelby County v. Holder, that was argued just last week. Although I’m willing to bet that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has already drafted his 5-to-4 majority opinion, I’d be nothing but relieved if the court proves me wrong when it issues the decision sometime before the end of June. But except for a few wishful thinkers, everyone who witnessed the argument, read the transcript, or listened to the audio now expects the court to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act – and seriously harm itself in the process. As I made clear in my most recent column, I wasn’t expecting anything good to come out of this argument. But neither did I anticipate the ugliness that erupted from the bench. While Justice Antonin Scalia’s depiction of the Voting Rights Act as the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” quickly went viral (40 screens of Google hits, by the time I checked earlier this week), that was not even the half of it.

Arizona: Improved election data would mean a better informed electorate | Arizona Capitol Times

For the past two months, the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting have sifted through the more than 2.3 million votes cast in the 2012 election, with the goal of offering readers a deeper understanding of how Arizona voted. From close races, like the fight over Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, to strange voting patterns in Colorado City, our “Mapping the Vote” project showed why some races turned out as they did, what factors led to victories or defeats and how some of the details in the election results can say a lot more about groups of voters than simply who they elected. But something else became clear during the project. While this type of analysis takes a lot of time and resources, it shouldn’t be made more difficult because of inconsistencies in the way the data is organized and structured — or because of how state and county election officials make data available.

Florida: House passes election overhaul bill |

The Florida House on Tuesday voted – once again – to overhaul the state’s elections law, this time by partly undoing changes from 2011 that were blamed for confusion and long lines at the polls in the last election. On the first day of the annual legislative session, House members approved 118-1 a bill (HB 7013) that increases the permitted days of early voting from eight to 14. It allows early-voting polling places at more kinds of sites, like fairgrounds, civic centers and convention centers. And it sets a 75-word limit on proposed initial ballot summaries to constitutional amendments. The bill also restores the possibility of early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when blacks often vote after church in a tradition known as “souls to the polls.”

Florida: The real GOP voter fraud: Employees admit forging voter registration forms | MSNBC

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement revealed Tuesday that two employees of a company hired by the Republican Party of Florida to register voters admitted they committed fraud during the 2012 election season. The two former employees of Strategic Allied Consulting are facing third degree felony charges after admitting that they submitted dozens of forged voter registration applications last fall ahead of the 2012 election. The employees, Rebekah Joy Paul and Christian Davis Price, told investigators they forged forms in order to meet the required number of applications and receive payment. Paul also said that her bosses at Strategic Allied instructed her to not register Democrats, although a lawyer for the company denies that allegation.

Kentucky: Push to Restore Voting Rights in Kentucky | Public News Service

Convicted felons in Kentucky are not guaranteed to get their voting rights back once they’ve come off parole or probation. A bill (HB70) proposing a constitutional amendment to restore that right to most ex-felons is now before the state Senate. It’s an idea the House has approved six straight years, but the bill has always died in the Senate. According to former felon Damon Horton, that’s keeping more than a quarter-million Kentuckians from having the chance to vote.

Maryland: Outdated voting machines will not be replaced before 2014 election |

When the gubernatorial election rolls around next year, most of Maryland’s touch-screen voting machines will be past their prime. The state is already facing a shortage of voting machines, with only four jurisdictions in the last presidential election providing enough to meet state regulations. In 2014, voting machines in 23 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions will be at least 10 years old, reaching the limit of the manufacturer’s guarantee. Roughly a third of these machines will have exceeded their useful life as determined by the manufacturer. State voters will have to wait three years before they can use upgraded voting machines with a verifiable paper trail, a delay which is angering election reformers. “If we had the money put into the 2013 budget, we’d have had a shot,” said Linda Lamone, administrator of the State Board of Elections, during her testimony Friday before the Senate Health and Human Services Subcommittee.

Editorials: Voting Rights in Massachusetts and Mississippi | Cato @ Liberty

During last week’s oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder – the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – Chief Justice Roberts questioned the Solicitor General concerning the rationality of the VRA’s coverage formula (Section 4(b)) by comparing non-covered Massachusetts with Mississippi, which remains subject to federal preclearance based on registration and voting data from 1964.  As the Chief Justice pointed out (page 32 of the transcript), Massachusetts has the “worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout” while Mississippi “has the best.”  Massachusetts likewise “has the greatest disparity in registration between white and African American” while Mississippi is third best in the nation, “where again the African American registration rate is higher than the white registration rate.” The Chief Justice’s remarks apparently angered the Massachusetts Secretary of State.  According to a Politico story, Secretary William Galvin found it “just disturbing that the chief justice of the United States would spew this kind of misinformation” and that the “2010 numbers don’t support what Roberts is saying.”  Galvin continued: “He’s wrong, and in fact what’s truly disturbing is not just the doctrinaire way he presented by the assertion, but when we went searching for an data that could substantiate what he was saying, the only thing we could find was a census survey pulled from 2010 … which speaks of noncitizen blacks … .  We reached out to academics at many institutions … and they could find no record either, they were puzzled by [Roberts’s] reference.” But it’s Secretary Galvin who has his facts wrong—a mistake he could have avoided simply by reviewing the lower court decision that the Supreme Court is considering.

New Jersey: Voting machines vulnerable, groups tell judges |

The state’s voting machines are so vulnerable to tampering and error that it’s impossible to tell whether ballots are counted properly, a coalition of civil rights groups told an appellate panel Tuesday in a long-running case that has drawn national attention from computer security experts and voting officials. The three judges must decide whether to order the state to replace tens of thousands of electronic voting machines with newer technology designed to be more secure. The problem, advocates say, isn’t just theoretical: Voting machine irregularities caused a Superior Court judge to throw out a South Jersey election in 2011. Critics say it’s impossible to determine whether that was an isolated incident.

New Jersey: Lawyers: Voting machines could be hacked, should be replaced |

Voting rights lawyers said today some of New Jersey’s digital voting machines must be replaced because they are vulnerable to hackers who could change the outcome of elections. “We are in a state that values and prizes the right to vote,” Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University-Newark, told a three-judge appeals court panel in Trenton. “We believe that this court should review the record anew and look at the science very carefully.” Continuing a fight that has lasted nearly a decade, Venetis wants the appeals court to overrule a lower court judge who allowed counties across New Jersey to continue using the computerized voting systems. Venetis said the systems leave no paper trail, complicating recounts in any instance where fraud or mistakes happen. She said it would not be difficult for a computer hacker to gain access to a machine and change its software to register votes for one candidate over another. “You can press what you think is candidate A’s button and it registers a vote for candidate B,” she said. But the state argued that there is no perfect system, paperless machines do not present “a severe restriction on the right to vote” and replacing the equipment will simply cost too much.

Voting Blogs: New York City Considers Move Back to Lever Voting Machines For September Elections | BradBlog

We have yet another potential mess concerning elections in New York City on the new optical-scan computer tabulation systems which recently replaced the mechanical lever machines used by the city for decades. This time, the problem relates to the upcoming citywide elections in September which, if no candidate wins more than 40% in any of the primary races, a runoff will be required by state law, just two weeks later. This is now a huge problem for the city, since there is concern that it could be all but impossible to re-prepare and fully re-test the computer optical-scan systems in the short time after the primary and before the runoff elections. It has led some, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as the NYC Board of Elections, seemingly regretting the move away from lever machines, and considering bringing them out of mothballs for this year’s runoffs.

Editorials: Another attempt to rig presidential elections | Philadelphia Inquirer

The latest attempt to manipulate Pennsylvania’s presidential vote provided another opportunity for Democrats to howl about cheating Republicans. And they had a point. But if state legislators from both parties want to do something more useful – and, yes, that’s a big if – they should back a politically neutral proposal to end all such attempts to rig presidential elections. State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Chester) recently introduced a long-threatened bill to award most of Pennsylvania’s presidential electors in proportion to the state’s popular vote. Sounds reasonable enough. But because Pennsylvania and most other states currently award all their electoral votes to the statewide popular-vote winner, and because the Keystone State has gone Democratic for half a dozen elections, the effect would likely be to steal a chunk of the commonwealth’s electoral votes for the GOP.

Voting Blogs: Italy’s ‘Perfect storm’ | openDemocracy

Some foreign publications, in commenting on the situation in Italy after the recent electoral results, have reverted to the offensively superficial and trite image of “bring on the clowns”. The term could be used both in a derogatory and a purely descriptive sense, as the only real winner of the election, Mr. Beppe Grillo, a professional comedian, could be called a “clown” without causing offence. Politically speaking, however, the epithet would not apply. Grillo has shown remarkable ability, and has created a powerful political movement, the party which has received the greatest number of votes (around 25 percent), from scratch, with no public financial backing, and in the teeth of first ridicule and then very violent criticism on the part of almost all the media. Whether this structure will show itself to be stable and lasting is another question, but it certainly wields decisive weight at this time. The same publications apply the epithet also to Mr. Berlusconi, mainly because, in their very superficial view of the situation, they consider him one of the “winners”, even though his Party has had the poorest electoral result in its history. The Italian press, in this case perhaps more imaginative and aiming at a higher cultural level, has preferred to describe the present political situation with the term “Perfect Storm” – much more suitable.

Canada: Airdrie to forge ahead with Internet voting | Airdrie Echo

After much debate yet again, Airdrie city council decided to forge ahead with Internet voting as an option in the upcoming municipal election, pending ministerial approval. The hot topic was brought forth to council once more on Monday night in wake of news that both Edmonton and St. Albert city councils had chosen to no longer pursue this alternative voting method at meetings in early February. A representative from Scytl, the company providing the service, was on hand to answer questions from councillors, which helped clarify questions that have been continually raised. Most of those regarded the safety of Internet voting, voter fraud and multiple votes, in addition to questions about why the other two municipalities had decided to not move forward with the process.

Italy: Napolitano Girds for Battle to Resolve Italy Election Impasse | Bloomberg

President Giorgio Napolitano, a former communist resistance fighter who negotiated Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation, is preparing his final political battle as he seeks to steer Italy out of its latest government crisis before his term expires in May. Napolitano, 87, is charged with resolving the political logjam caused by elections last month that produced a hung parliament. To avoid a new vote, he can try to forge a national- unity government, accept an administration without a majority or appoint a non-politician to head a so-called technical government, similar to that of Prime Minister Mario Monti. Markets are pricing in two scenarios, “another technical government or the possibility, which is less and less likely, of a bipartisan government,” Mario Spreafico, who manages 1.5 billion euros ($1.95 billion) as chief investment officer at Schroders Private Banking for Italy, said in a phone interview. “Both would be temporary solutions” before new elections.” The Feb. 24-25 ballot, which left front-runner Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani short of a majority in the Senate, has forced him to court the support of former comedian Beppe Grillo and his anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which won a quarter of the vote. Grillo responded by describing Bersani as a “dead man walking,” stressing his party would not give backing to any government. Italy’s 10-year bond yield has risen 21 basis points since the vote to 4.66 percent.

Italy: Bersani seeks way out of vote impasse | Reuters

Italian center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani rallied his party on Wednesday behind a plan to form a minority government backed by populist Beppe Grillo after failing to secure victory in last week’s election. Bersani, whose coalition threw away a 10-point lead in the opinion polls before the February 24-25 vote, won control of the lower house but let slip a workable parliamentary majority by failing to win the Senate. The result has left no group able to form a government on its own and Italy facing weeks of uncertainty. A new election could be called within months if no accord can be reached between the divided parties. Underlining pressure on politicians to agree on a government to tackle the problems of one of the world’s biggest sovereign debtors, credit rating agency DBRS cut Italy’s debt grade to A (low) from A on Wednesday, citing political uncertainty and a prolonged recession.

Kenya: Anxiety mounts in Kenya as vote results delayed after electronic voting system breaks down | The Globe and Mail

Election officials in Kenya began counting ballots by hand on Wednesday after the electronic voting system broke down, while a top presidential candidate levied charges that Britain is meddling in the vote. The party of Deputy Prime Minster Uhuru Kenyatta – the candidate who faces charges at the International Criminal Court and is the son of Kenya’s founding president – accused the British high commissioner of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement” in efforts to get the election commission to make a decision on how rejected ballots should be counted in the overall vote total. Mr. Kenyatta’s party also asked the high commissioner, Christian Turner, to explain what it called “the sudden upsurge of British military personnel” in Kenya. British troops attend a six-week training course near Mount Kenya before deploying to Afghanistan. A new battle group arrived the week before Kenyans voted.

Malawi: Electoral Commission adopts electronic voter registration system | Nyasa Times

The Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has adopted the use of Electronic Biometric Voter Registration System in the country in order to address the enormous challenges the commission has been experiencing in maintaining a credible voters roll. A Biometric Voter Registration involves the use of biometric technologies with the use of computers, fingerprint scanners and digital cameras to capture the bio data of applicants. A MEC statement signed by the Chief Elections Officer, Willie Kalonga, says the adoption has been made following wide and extensive consultations with various stakeholders on voter registration solution.