President Obama signed an executive order Thursday creating the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a panel tasked with formulating suggestions on how to cut down on long lines to vote and other problems that plagued voters in 2012. Obama announced plans to launch the effort — co-chaired by lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg who represented the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively, during the 2012 election — during his State of the Union address. But the White House hadn’t offered details on how the commission would work until Thursday. The order directs the nine-member panel to produce a report for Obama within six months of its first public meeting that will “identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay, and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.”
In what is being touted as the first known cyberattack on a U.S. election, many mainstream news outlets are reporting on the approximately 2,500 bogus absentee ballot requests that were flagged as suspicious by Miami-Dade County’s absentee ballot processing software in last year’s primary elections. A Miami-Dade County grand jury investigated the incident and described it as: a scheme where someone created a computer program that automatically, systematically and rapidly submitted to the County’s Department of Elections numerous bogus on-line requests for absentee ballots.
Fortunately, the software had safeguards that verified IP addresses on the absentee ballot requests. That was instrumental in detecting this cyberattack, but the incident still leaves questions unanswered regarding the inherent insecurity of the Internet and why it should be used at all in the balloting phase of elections. There’s also the question of how many cyberattacks might have been carried out elsewhere or at other times that were not detected.
President Obama created a special commission Thursday designed to find ways to make voting easier. The bipartisan commission will report to the president later this year with proposals on how state and local officials can “shorten lines and promote the efficient conduct of elections,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “That report is intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voter’s experience at the polls under their existing election laws,” Earnest said. Obama authorized the commission by signing an executive order Thursday. The order said members will examine such challenges as processing overseas and military ballots, and voters who have disabilities or “limited English proficiency.”
Editorials: New Voter Suppression Efforts Prove the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed | Ari Berman/The Nation
In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states. Ultimately, twenty-five laws and two executive actions were passed in nineteen states following the 2010 election to make it harder to vote. In many cases, these laws backfired on their Republican sponsors. The courts blocked ten of them, and young and minority voters—the prime target of the restrictions—formed a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008. Despite the GOP’s avowal to reach out to new constituencies following the 2012 election, Republican state legislators have continued to support new voting restrictions in 2013. According to a report by Project Vote, fifty-five new voting restrictions have been introduced in thirty states so far this year. “The 2013 legislative season has once again brought an onslaught of bills to restrict access to the ballot, including proposals to undercut important election laws that have recently opened the electorate to more voters,” writes Erin Ferns Lee. These measures include “strict photo ID policies … voter registration restrictions; voter purges; [felon] disenfranchisement; and policies to cut back or revoke voting laws that have made voting more convenient.”
President Obama and leaders in both parties, in calling for improving American elections, point to long lines at the polls last year as a significant problem that needs to be solved. And with good reason: Longer wait times can discourage people from voting and fuel the perception that their right to vote is in jeopardy. A post-election poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 55 percent of voters who waited 30 minutes or more to cast a ballot thought that the election was managed “very well,” compared with 79 percent for voters who waited less than a half-hour and 83 percent for voters who had no wait. Long lines, however, are just the tip of iceberg; much more needs to be done. To achieve an election system that is convenient, accurate and fair, state and local leaders need data to review and track their voting processes–from registration to ballot-counting. This kind of analysis is not easy. Our nation’s locally run elections lack a common set of performance measures and a baseline from which reliable comparisons–between election cycles and across jurisdictions-can be made. Accurate data on what leads to better or worse results in any particular area are often scarce.
Anecdotes are illustrative, evocative and memorable—and a staple of election policy debates. Just think back to February’s State of the Union Address, when President Obama introduced Desiline Victor, the Floridian who waited six hours to vote. The President was illustrating why he created a bipartisan election commission. But anecdotes make a weak foundation for public policy. Instead, “evidence-based management” is underpinning all kinds of government services these days, whether the topic is health care, transportation, criminal justice, education or election administration. For election administration, finding “evidence” is tricky. Every state, and frequently every jurisdiction, conducts elections differently, making comparisons difficult. Data is not gathered uniformly nationwide as it is in many other government arenas. Election costs are hard to track because they’re borne by several levels of government. You get the idea—it is hard to get facts and figures to support election evaluation.
Voting Blogs: First Person Singular: Data is a useful tool for elections officials | Steve Weir/electionlineWeekly
There are two major observations that I have had during my 24 years as County Clerk-Recorder. First, the people who work in elections are extremely dedicated and ethical. Second, we have in our hands access to a wealth of data that we should use to tell our story. However, many of us miss the opportunity to review and to “own” our data. I slowly found out in my early days as Clerk, that our elections information management system had TONS of reports on virtually every aspect of our operations. From simple over-under reports (that can identify individual precinct problems) to rejected vote-by-mail ballots, patterns of problems could be easily identified and tracked. In 1996, we had a close contest for a California State Senate seat. Out of about 300,000 votes cast, the spread was about 700 votes, not close. However, the losing party asked for a recount. After 25,000 ballots were hand counted, the spread had hardly changed and the recount was called off. As part of this process, I noticed that 3,200 vote-by-mail ballots had been rejected, almost 4 percent of the total vote-by-mail ballots cast. Most of these arrived after election day. No one seemed bothered by this statistic. No one except me. These were voters who did not have their ballots counted.
Editorials: Groups study future of voting in Indianapolis | Elizabeth L. White/Indianapolis Recorder
Marion County political leaders, elected officials, poll workers and community groups met this week in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building to begin the discussion about the future of voting in Indianapolis. Launched in February, the Voter Experience Project is the Marion County Election Board’s effort to listen, deliberate and ultimately decide how and where we will vote in the future. Why are we having this conversation now? Our current fleet of voting equipment is more than 10 years old. Purchased in 2002, the first generation machines are starting to show signs of wear despite a vigorous maintenance schedule. Replacement parts are also becoming more difficult to find. In addition, our software license and maintenance contract expires in 2014, and we don’t know if the software vendor will continue to support their product after next year.
Legislation ensuring every resident in the state the right to vote 15 days before certain elections awaits Governor Christie’s signature, and municipal officials in northwest Bergen County are holding their collective breath. “This is going to cause pure havoc,” said Waldwick Borough Clerk Paula Jaegge, who was initially concerned that every municipality would be required to provide polling locations. “We would have to reschedule meetings and juggle a lot of things around to make this work for that long a time period.” An amendment to the bill, which cleared its last legislative hurdle last week, instead would require seven polling locations in Bergen, a figure based on its population. The county Board of Elections would be responsible for determining where the polling locations would be. Even so, many are questioning the need for it at all. “We already have it,” said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, who represents District 39, which includes Ramsey, Mahwah and Oakland. “We have early voting through vote by mail. This just creates a whole series of expenses, more government layers.”
Two bills filed by Republican lawmakers seek to cut back early voting and eliminate same-day registration in North Carolina. Senate Bill 428, filed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one and would eliminate same-day voter registration. House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, goes even further. In addition to cutting early voting and same-day registration, it would also outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting. “I just think that we will put some balance into the election process,” Starnes said. Democrats say such bills are intended to make it harder to vote and will disproportionately affect low-income, working and minority voters – groups that traditionally favor Democrats.
Gov. Bob McDonnell used this year’s State of the Commonwealth address to throw his support behind legislative efforts to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons who have paid their debt to society. Those measures to put a constitutional amendment before voters were stopped in a House of Delegates subcommittee during the General Assembly session. Two voting rights groups are now calling on McDonnell to issue an executive order restoring voting rights to all felons who have served their full sentences. McDonnell has streamlined the current process, where felons must petition the governor directly, and restored the rights of more than 4,400 felons – more than any of his predecessors.
Pretty much anything we do is taxed. Whether it’s flipping on our cable, making a call on our cell phone or biting into a Snickers bar. Taxes are inescapable. The one tax-free haven, at least in theory, is voting. A free and fair vote is the bedrock of our political system. Voting is the one instance where all of us, no matter how rich or poor, influential or humble, are completely equal because there is no cost involved. Voting is the great equalizer, of course, assuming it is free. However, this week the state of Virginia joined a growing number of states that have implemented or are pending implementation of a voting system that taxes voters. In other words, Virginia has implemented a poll tax. Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law a bill that requires voters to present a valid photo identification in order to vote. At first read, the new voting requirement seems innocuous. Most people tend to have a photo identification either in the form of a driver’s license or school ID. And if they don’t have one, then the state will provide one free of charge. But what the bill does not address is the cost it takes to secure the documents needed to get that free ID.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wants Parliament to overhaul Canada’s elections law to prevent deceptive telephone calls by adding stiffer penalties and giving new powers to investigators. In a recommendation aimed directly at the calls received in Guelph, Ont., on the 2011 election day, Mayrand says Parliament should close a loophole in the Criminal Code and make it illegal to impersonate an Elections Canada official. He advises maximum penalties on conviction of violators of $250,000 in fines and five years in jail. In a report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, Mayrand suggests that political parties develop “codes of conduct” aimed at preventing the kind of misleading phone calls reported by more than 1,400 Canadians in 247 ridings in the last election. The report, entitled “Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors,” also recommends that Elections Canada investigators be given a new power to apply to a judge for an order compelling witnesses to provide information during an investigation.
The father of a woman with Down syndrome who filed suit to regain her right to vote slammed the government Thursday for appealing a Tokyo District Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a provision in the election law that denies voting rights to adults under guardianship. “I don’t know what reasons the ministries have, but is it right to leave the state of unconstitutionality as is?” Seikichi Nagoya, the father and guardian of the lawsuit’s plaintiff, Takumi Nagoya, said at a news conference in lashing out at the appeal the government filed Wednesday. “I’m enraged.” Nagoya demanded that the government withdraw its appeal and revise the law so that his daughter, who was unable to attend the news conference due to work, can vote.
A lawyer for Kenya’s election commission cited the U.S. Supreme Court case Bush vs. Gore on Thursday during arguments before a Kenya Supreme Court that must now rule on the outcome of this East African country’s presidential election. Ahmednasir Abdullahi told Kenya’s highest court Thursday it should adhere to judicial restraint and uphold the March 4 result from Kenya’s election commission showing that Uhuru Kenyatta won with 50.07 percent of the March 4 vote. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the runner-up with 43 percent, and civil society groups are asking the court to order a new election because it wasn’t free and fair. The court is expected to rule by Saturday. Abdullahi quoted U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote after hearing the 2000 case that decided that U.S. presidential election, that the appearance of a split court on a highly politicized case risks undermining public confidence in the court.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has come under increased criticism for the manner in which it handled the March 4 poll. Counsel George Oraro acting for the Cord coalition and presidential candidate Raila Odinga said that the IEBC failed in three areas: the voter registration process, the actual voting process with regards to form 34 and form 36, and the failure by the IEBC to transmit the votes electronically. Oraro said that the process of voter registration was improperly done and that it is still not clear how many people were registered last October. He alleged that with the lack of a principal register, the number of number of registered voters was as yet unknown. Oraro further argued that the unsigned form 34 meant that the actual number of voters could not be verified.
Manila officials in the UAE have echoed their call for their 104,295 countrymen registered as voters to participate in the polls, which would be conducted electronically, ahead of April 13 to May 13 fourth overseas absentee voting (OAV) for Philippines’s 2013 mid-term elections. There are 21,645 overseas voters (OVs) in the capital and 82,650 from Dubai and the Northern Emirates, according to the Commission on Elections’ Certified List of Overseas Absentee Voters (Comelec-CLOAV) released to the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) in Dubai three weeks back. There are 950,000 OVs all over the world. Officers and staff from the two Philippine diplomatic missions in the UAE are scheduled to attend the Comelec seminar on the use of the precinct count optical scan machines (PCOSMs) along with their counterparts from Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait in Abu Dhabi from April 7 to 9.
In an opportunistic move set to trigger a political storm ahead of crucial general elections, President Robert Mugabe is making back-door manoeuvres through the High Court to secure an order declaring polls be held by or on June 29, as Zanu PF increasingly sweats over its uncertain political fate. During this past week Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials have been strenuously lobbying for elections to be held by June 29, citing constitutional and legal grounds — dismissed by their political rivals and lawyers as expedient intrigues. Zanu PF insiders say Mugabe and his loyalists now desperately want polls by June as fears mount the 89-year old leader, who recently made a veiled admission to growing senility and frailty, might struggle to sustain rigorous election campaigns. In terms of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and elections roadmap, Mugabe is required to proclaim election dates in consultation with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.