We know little about President Barack Obama’s new Commission on Election Administration except for its structure, as outlined in the executive order that explains its task is to improve voting in America, and the names of its two appointed co-chairs: Obama’s former counsel Bob Bauer and Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg, who worked for Mitt Romney. But while it has yet to explain its methodology or get together a full staff (the executive order directs that no more than nine members are to be appointed) the commission—an idea born on election night 2012 when Obama declared we “have to fix” long lines at the polls—is about to get to work. Steve Croley, deputy White House counsel, told Yahoo News the White House is gearing up to announce the committee’s full roster next month and set the group to work. The committee, he said, will be a mix of individuals including “several people who basically run elections for a living” at the state, county or local levels, in addition to those working on the private side. No other details were offered about commissioners.
President Obama’s once-broad ambitions to clamp down on the influence of special interests have been largely abandoned since his reelection, dismaying longtime allies in the campaign-finance reform movement. The predicament will be on full display Tuesday, when all five members of the Federal Election Commission will be serving past the formal expiration of their terms. The panel’s sixth seat remains vacant. The president has not made a nomination to the FEC, which enforces the nation’s campaign finance laws, in more than three years.
National: Wyden and Murkowski have a bill to fight super PACs. Does it go far enough? | Washington Post
As Ezra noted in his profile of Oregon’s senior Senator, Ron Wyden’s staff have a funny-cos-it’s-true joke about their boss. “You got a problem?” they say to one another. “Ron Wyden has a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to fix it.” Well, independent campaign spending by super-PACs is, arguably, a problem. And Wyden now has a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to fix it. It’s called the Follow the Money Act of 2013, and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) signed on as a co-sponsor, it’s the first bipartisan piece of Senate legislation to address the growth of super-PACs in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Almost all polling places had an accessible voting system during the 2008 elections, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). That’s the good news. The bad news: At nearly half of the polling places with an accessible voting system, voters with disabilities still faced barriers to voting independently and privately. For example, some accessible voting systems were set up at voting stations inaccessible to wheelchairs; others lacked headsets for blind and visually impaired voters to hear the audio; and some accessible voting systems were on site but not placed into use.
Now she tells us. More than 12 years after the fact, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said it was probably a mistake for the Supreme Court to hear Bush v. Gore and anoint George W. Bush as president of the United States. “It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” Justice O’Connor told the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Friday. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’” She continued: “Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision. It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”
As the 2012 election approached, Republican governors and legislators in battleground states across the country rushed to enact restrictive Voter ID laws, to eliminate election-day registration and to limit early voting. Those were just some of the initiatives that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People identified as “an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.” Why did so much energy go into the effort? John Payton, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, explained, “These block the vote efforts are a carefully targeted response to the remarkable growth of the minority electorate, and threaten to disproportionally diminish the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos.” Civil rights groups pushed back, working with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other organizations to mount legal and legislative challenges. But the most dramatic pushback may well have been the determined voter registration and mobilization drives organized on the ground in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other battleground states.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler has won the latest but perhaps not the last battle over whether ballots should be mailed to inactive voters. Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez sided with Gessler, who adopted a rule last year blocking clerks from automatically sending mail ballots to inactive voters in city and school board elections in a suit brought by Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson. Martinez said Denver’s status as a home-rule county did not exempt it from following state election rules. “I think it’s fundamentally an equal-treatment issue,” Gessler said. “The rules and provisions El Paso County uses needs to be the same ones that Denver uses. … You can’t have one county, for instance, that wants to leave the polls open for an hour and another that leaves them open for 20.”
Crunch time! Only one week left in the session and legislators must pass a budget, expand Medicaid or develop some kind of statewide alternative on the fly, and while they’re at it, fix the election law that caused a mess in 2012. And that’s just the top of the to-do list. The Senate passed an election reform bill Thursday and the House must vote on it next week or try again next year. The bill’s supporters say it would prevent a repeat of the last presidential election — the long lines, the long vote count and the long ballot.
One would think that if you’re a U.S. Congressman who insulted your state’s largest minority population and threatened bodily injury to their Tribally-elected leaders while in the process of verbally assaulting a Native American woman at a very public state coalition meeting for Abused Women’s Services that you would apologize. That would be the smart, decent thing to do, right? Apparently North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer doesn’t think so. On March 26, 2013, he spent nearly half an hour laying into Melissa Merrick, the Director of the Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Program. She’s also a tribal member who happens to be a survivor of child sexual abuse. During that time, Cramer reportedly stated in front of a roomful of domestic violence advocates that he wanted to “wring the Spirit Lake tribal council’s necks and slam them against the wall.” He also called tribal governments dysfunctional, and went on a tirade against provisions in the Violence Against Women Act that are meant to protect Native American women. His tantrum was so disturbing that attendees at the meeting got up and left. By the time the dust settled, another Native American woman present was in tears.
A Republican budget amendment could cost Ohio University up to $12 million in lost out-of-state tuition, or otherwise make it more difficult for some college students to vote in Athens. The proposal pits these two interests against each other in the Ohio House’s substitute budget bill that has passed the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives chamber and is now under consideration by the state Senate. The provision mandates that an institution of higher learning must charge in-state tuition to any student to whom it provides a letter or utility bill that can be shown to prove residency and vote in Ohio.
State transportation and election officials were ordered Monday to provide data on licensed drivers and registered voters to plaintiffs in the ongoing voter-ID dispute, hoping to answer a question that has baffled state officials for the last year: how many Pennsylvania voters do not already have photo identification cards from PennDot? Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. agreed to a motion from opponents of the state’s new voter ID law, saying their data request was relevant.
The General Election Commission of Bantaeng Regency in Indonesia conducted simulations of e-voting in the elections held on 17 April. Out of the 361 polling stations set up in the regency, 42 participated in the e-voting simulation. The votes cast under this project were not counted or publicised, but used for research purposes to test the viability of electronic voting in Indonesia, and make a recommendation to the House of Representatives about the election bill currently being drafted.
Iran: Ahmadinejad To Expose 2009 Voter Fraud If Protégé Barred From June 14 Election | Eurasia Review
As Iran gears up for its presidential election in June, the question of fraud in the 2009 election continues to haunt the country’s leadership. Baztab, a widely read news site close to former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaei, stirred up controversy on Saturday after it claimed that Ahmadinejad, Iran’s beleaguered head of government, was in possession of a tape that would prove that authorities had inflated his number of votes in the 2009 race by 8 million and thus brought his total tally to 24 million instead of his original 16 million. … Baztab claimed that Ahmadinejad had threatened to release the alleged tape should the Guardian Council, a body charged with overseeing elections, decide to bar his top aide and protégé Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei from running in the upcoming presidential election on 14 June.
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who says recent presidential elections won by the ruling Socialist Party were marred by fraud and voter intimidation, demanded Monday that new elections be called, and said he would take his case to the Supreme Court. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Capriles acknowledged that arguing before the Supreme Court will be an uphill battle given its justices support the ruling party, but said it’s a necessary, final “local” step before he presents his case to international tribunals. “I have no doubt this will have to end up in international courts,” he said.
Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) Monday began a partial recount of votes cast in the contested April 14 presidential elections, which saw Nicolas Maduro win by a razor-thin margin, local media reported. The auditing process, which is being boycotted by the opposition, calls for a technical board to inspect 12,000 ballot boxes in 30 days, as approved last Friday by Venezuela’s electoral authorities. In the next few days, auditors are to be selected and trained for the review of a random selection of 46 percent of ballot boxes that were not already audited on election day.
America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home. Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press. Census data and exit polling show that whites and blacks will remain the two largest racial groups of eligible voters for the next decade. Last year’s heavy black turnout came despite concerns about the effect of new voter-identification laws on minority voting, outweighed by the desire to re-elect the first black president.
Editorials: Scalia’s understanding of the Voting Rights Act is shortsighted | Gary May/The Washington Post
In the debate over the future of the Voting Rights Act , it sometimes becomes apparent that certain members of the Supreme Court are either oblivious to our nation’s recent history or willfully ignore it. Justice Antonin Scalia made this abundantly clear in his comments during the Feb. 27 oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder , statements that he repeated in a speech on April 15. To Scalia, the Voting Rights Act — especially Section 5, which requires covered states to submit any changes in voting practices to the Justice Department or a Washington court for approval — is a “racial entitlement” and a violation of state sovereignty. In his view, it unfairly and unnecessarily treats seven Southern states, plus Alaska, Arizona and parts of six others, differently from states not covered by the act. This month, according to the Wall Street Journal, he called the act a form of “racial preferment” that affected only African Americans while ignoring the white population.
Voters have a right to expect good customer service when they go to vote. And that means full service—not just fast service. Therefore, speed isn’t the number one goal for election administrators. First and foremost, elections need to meet legal obligations, says Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, in Georgia. Boiled down, these obligations include running accurate elections in which all eligible voters can vote. Where does that leave customer service values such as convenience and speed? These are still important, judging by recent activity. For instance, President Obama has established a bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, with a goal of improvinig voters’ experiences, and several pieces of federal legislation have been introduced, although none appear to be moving. In addition, reports and recommendations on election management are pouring forth.
Strict limits on campaign contributions imposed by voters nearly three decades ago are crumbling in the Los Angeles mayor’s race, with big donors using loosely regulated “super PACs” to help candidates like never before in a citywide election, a Times analysis has found. Of the $17.5 million collected so far to support mayoral hopefuls Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, roughly one-third — a record $6.1 million — has gone into independent political action committees that can accept contributions of any size. The rise of the parallel campaign finance system, awash in five- and six-figure donations that dwarf the limits approved by voters, has watchdogs of political influence sounding alarms.
In a bipartisan vote of 114-1, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday which would exclude voter email addresses from state public records. Some say it’s to prevent people from being scammed, and all but one representative agreed. Lawmakers said they are concerned with protecting voters from being inundated by candidates and political committees that have access to their email addresses, according to the Miami Herald.
A special legislative election in central Kentucky could be the first test of the state’ new military voting law passed earlier this year to help ensure soldiers deployed to foreign countries get to cast ballots back home. Gov. Steve Beshear set the election for June 25 to replace former state Rep. Carl Rollins, who resigned earlier this week to become executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. The election date, some two months off as required now, will allow more time for county clerks to send absentee ballots to military personnel and others serving overseas.
Nebraska: Governor signs bill reducing in-person early voting in Nebraska | Nebraska City News-Press – Nebraska City, NE
Governor Dave Heineman has signed legislation that will reduce the period of in-person early voting in Nebraska from 35 days to 30 days, a bill that will help assure that Nebraska complies with the Help America Vote Act. State lawmakers passed an amended version of LB271, which reduced the voting period to 30 days. The bill does not impact the start date for absentee ballot requests.
Like so much other legislation this year, a contentious bill that would require voters to provide photo identification passed the state House last week along party lines. Republicans, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, argue that the voter ID bill will reduce fraud. Democrats counter that their real motivation is to restrict voter access to racial minorities and to the poor. Republican state Rep. David Lewis of Dunn, chairman of the state House Elections Committee, shepherded the bill through the House.
Gov. Pat McCrory announced late Friday that he was replacing all members of the State Board of Elections as of Wednesday, just as an investigation into political contributions made to McCrory and other top Republicans’ officeholders’ campaigns is getting underway. Three Republicans, including Winston-Salem lawyer Paul Foley, and two Democrats will replace the current three-Democrat, two-Republican board. The board’s majority represents the governor’s party. The move puts the progress of the board’s investigation into campaign contributions from an indicted sweepstakes software company owner in question. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, last week asked the board to investigate more than 60 campaign contributions totaling more than $230,000. Some of the contributions went to McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger.
South Carolina: Early-voting bill advances in House despite Democratic opposition | Anderson Independent Mail
The GOP-controlled South Carolina House of Representatives on Thursday approved an early-voting bill that Democrats say would give people less time to cast their ballots before an election. The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach, calls for opening early-voting centers in each South Carolina county during a nine-day window before elections. Democrats complained that the legislation would eliminate the existing one-month period before elections when voters can complete absentee ballots in person. “We should not do anything to deny free and ready access to the vote,” said Rep. Joe Neal, a Democrat from Hopkins. “Let me be clear: This is designed to suppress the vote in South Carolina.”
The Texas House erupted Thursday into a partisan showdown over voting rights when the chamber’s Republicans muscled through a measure they argue will help crack down on mail-in voter fraud. Tensions flared on House floor for more than three hours as Democrats fought Republicans over a measure to criminalize “ballot harvesting” of mail-in votes, a process in which a group or an individual collects and mails completed ballots for other people. House Bill 148 by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, takes aim at the practice by capping the number of ballots an individual can mail in any election to 10. Republicans argued that the mail-in voting system is rampant with fraud in part because of ballot harvesters.
Not content with serving as a catalyst for the global financial crisis, Iceland has elected three members of the Pirate Party to its national Parliament. Iceland’s Alþingi (“Althing” in English) is a single-chambered parliament that has met since the tenth century and says it is the world’s oldest such legislature. The nation is divided into six constituencies, each of which elects nine representatives. Constituencies with larger populations also have one or two “levelling seats” to ensure the value of a vote remains constant across the nation. Proportional representation is used to elect candidates.
Four years ago the re-election of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which millions considered fraudulent and led to months of violent protest, marked the elimination of the country’s reformists at the hands of their hard-line rivals. Now a new and equally bitter struggle is in full cry—between two different types of hardliner, fighting over an Islamic Republic that has been sapped by international sanctions. Less than two months before the presidential poll, the contest resembles nothing so much as a game of chicken. In the middle of the road stand Mr Ahmadinejad, the outgoing president, with his presumed dauphin: the suave, ambitious Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The two men are almost family; the president’s son is married to Mr Mashaei’s daughter. They also share apparently limitless reserves of self-confidence, disdain for the revolutionary old guard of crusty clerics, and a yen for millenarian Shiism (see article) that traditionalists see as almost heretical.
A local election was recently (April 17) held in Bantaeng regency, South Sulawesi. The election was important and interesting as in some parts of the regency an electronic voting (e-voting) system was implemented as part of a pilot project. A simulation of e-voting was put on trial at 42 of a total 361 polling stations. The simulation has apparently received positive responses from various quarters. Idrus Paturusi, rector of Hasanuddin University, said the implementation of e-voting was proven to be more effective and efficient if compared with the manual system, with a greater level of accuracy. Idrus, who is also chairman of the Rectors Forum, said he would put forward the results of the simulation to the House of Representatives’ Commission II as a reference for the 2014 election system. Chairman of the Election Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu), Muhammad Alhamid, shared Idrus’ opinion, saying that e-voting would reduce the budget spent on the organization of local elections and eliminate potential violations during ballot counting. The question now is whether e-voting will be equally effective, efficient and reliable if implemented nationwide and whether Indonesia is ready for the system.
More than 2,000 cases of arson, fighting and other election-related crimes have been recorded by police since Malaysia’s parliament was dissolved for polls that will determine whether Najib Razak’s government can extend its five-decade grip on power. “The violence is much more than previous elections,” Irene Fernandez, co-chairwoman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections’ code of conduct committee, said by phone. “The increased tension is being driven by the fear of racial riots” and broader implementation of Islamic law that’s being created by the media among non-Muslims, she said. Campaign booths and motorbikes were burned and flags and billboards torn down as police received reports of 315 incidents yesterday alone, Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf, assistant commissioner of police, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today. In southern Johor state, bordering Singapore, one political supporter was allegedly choked by five men, he said.