It’s one of the oldest traditions in Washington: Take an oversight post or a staff job on a government panel for a few years — then cash in at one of the city’s top law firms, lobbying shops or consulting outfits. But at the Federal Election Commission, the revolving door has virtually stopped moving. That’s mostly because for many qualified nominees, the post is just not worth the hassle. Unlike top regulatory or policy jobs at the Commerce Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Communications Commission and others, there’s not necessarily a lucrative job waiting at the end of their terms. Former commissioners, attorneys and outside observers say that lack of a potential career boost — or worse, losing business and clients with no guarantee of being confirmed — is one reason that’s kept potential new members on the sidelines.
The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—as the agency admitted Friday—to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe. The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted—nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups. Tax-exempt groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are allowed to engage in some political activity, but the primary focus of their efforts must remain promoting social welfare.
The Internal Revenue Service apologized to Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations on Friday for what it now says were overzealous audits of their applications for tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, the director of the I.R.S. division that oversees tax-exempt groups, acknowledged that the agency had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles in an effort to respond to a surge in applications for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. She insisted that the move was not driven by politics, but she added, “We made some mistakes; some people didn’t use good judgment. For that we’re apologetic,” she told reporters on a conference call.
The Internal Revenue Service dropped a bombshell on the political world Friday morning, acknowledging that it inappropriately targeted conservative political groups in the 2012 campaign, subjecting them to additional screening in their applications for tax-exempt status. An IRS official told the Associated Press that low-level staff unjustly focused on groups with words like “tea party” and “patriot” in their name, and the groups were asked for donor information, likely in violation of IRS policy. The news was met with a healthy dose of I-told-you-so from the conservative and tea party communities, which have long been pitted against the IRS and have in the past accused it of just such politically inappropriate behavior.
President Obama should apologize for the admission by the IRS that it singled out conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny as they applied for non-profit status, Republican members of Congress said Sunday. They also called for an investigation of the agency. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the IRS actions were “truly outrageous” and “chilling” on CNN’s State of the Union. A public apology was “absolutely” needed, Collins said. “I think that it’s very disappointing the president hasn’t personally condemned this and spoken out. … (T)he president needs to make it crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America.”
When tax agents started singling out non-profit groups for extra scrutiny in 2010, they looked at first only for key words such as ‘Tea Party,’ but later they focused on criticisms by groups of “how the country is being run,” according to investigative findings reviewed by Reuters on Sunday. Over two years, IRS field office agents repeatedly changed their criteria while sifting through thousands of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status to select ones for possible closer examination, the findings showed. At one point, the agents chose to screen applications from groups focused on making “America a better place to live.” Exactly who at the IRS made the decisions to start applying extra scrutiny was not clear from the findings, which were contained in portions of an investigative report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
On Wednesday, the Census Bureau released its biannual study of voting patterns in federal elections, which included a remarkable finding: African-American voter turnout surpassed that of white, non-Hispanic voters in 2012 for the first time in recent memory, perhaps ever. USA Today ran this news on the front page, and the report received write-ups in every other major national newspaper. There’s only one problem: That landmark may have been passed four years ago. Or maybe not at all. The uncertainty stems from the fact that the data the census used to create this report has what several experts consider a major hole in it: Data on whether people voted is collected every other November in a supplement to the Current Population Survey, a regular government survey of about 60,000 households. If respondents decline to say whether or not they voted, or if the interviewer does not ask, it is assumed that they did not vote.
If you’re between the ages of 18 and 24, chances are you registered to vote when you visited the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you’re over the age of 65, you probably registered to vote at some other government office. Those are the findings of a new Census Bureau survey that asked Americans how they registered to vote. As it turns out, younger voters are much more likely to register when they get a driver’s license, at their school or university campus, or online.
National: After Wins for Voter ID and Other Restrictive Measures, Democrats Fight Back on Elections | Stateline
Republicans several years ago seized the upper hand in the so-called “voting wars” by pushing voter ID and other measures that created new voting restrictions. But now Democrats across the country are fighting back. This week, Colorado lawmakers sent Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, a bill that allows voters in that state to register at the polls on Election Day; creates an all-mail ballot system; and ensures that voters who move within Colorado don’t have to re-register at their new address. The Colorado law is especially broad, but it is only the latest in a series of victories for those who want to streamline registration and reduce long lines at the polls. The governor is expected to sign the measure, which has overwhelming support among Democrats. During the last legislative session, Maryland expanded early voting, eased absentee voting and approved same-day registration during early voting periods. West Virginia implemented a new system to register residents using state records already on file. Delaware removed the waiting period for nonviolent felons to regain their voting rights, and made re-establishing them automatic. And this week, the Minnesota House approved a measure making absentee balloting easier.
Among the most dramatic findings reported in the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) is a large decline in turnout rates among young people, particularly those who were first eligible to vote in the 2012 election. In contrast, older persons’ turnout rates remained steady, or even increased. Given the large disparities in support for Obama among younger and older voters, Obama’s smaller margin of victory in 2012 was thus partially a turnout story, as the electorate’s composition was older, and more favorable to Republicans in 2012 compared to 2008.
Prosecutors are investigating allegations of voter fraud in Little Armenia, part of a Los Angeles City Council district where two candidates are waging a bitter battle for an open seat. According to a spokeswoman for L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, prosecutors are trying to determine whether backers of one candidate illegally filled out mail-in ballots for dozens of voters in the Armenian enclave in East Hollywood. The May 21 election will decide who succeeds Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor. In a complaint sent to Lacey’s office, an attorney for candidate John Choi accused backers of Choi’s opponent, Mitch O’Farrell, of “widespread voter fraud and illegal electioneering activities.”
A Colorado elections overhaul that includes same-day voter registration and mailing ballots to all voters has been signed into law. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill Friday afternoon. Republicans raised concerns about voter fraud and no GOP lawmakers voted for the bill. But Democrats who sponsored the legislation say the goal is to enfranchise more voters and make it easier to vote. They argue the fraud concerns are unfounded.
A group of concerned citizens has a question for Sarasota County voters: How would you like your local elections — partisan or nonpartisan? The group, Open Our Elections, is launching a petition drive aimed at amending the Sarasota County Charter to provide for nonpartisan elections for all elected county offices, including the County Commission. Open Our Elections’ goal is to gather nearly 14,000 signatures of registered county voters, enough to have the question put to voters in a special election and, if approved, have a nonpartisan provision in place for the November 2014 general election.
Maureen O’Connor, chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, is following in the big footsteps of her predecessor, the late Thomas Moyer. While she is not proposing election reforms in the two areas that Moyer felt strongest about, she shares his concern about maintaining the integrity of courts across Ohio and his interest in educating Ohioans about how the courts work and how judges are elected. This leadership is welcome. The eight changes O’Connor proposed last week should start an important conversation across the state.
Lyutvi Mestan, Chair of the Bulgarian ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), has vowed to appeal the fine he was imposed by the local election administration in Sliven for addressing his constituents in Turkish. The fine was imposed Friday by the Regional Electoral Commission in the southeastern city of Sliven on a tip-off from center-right party GERB reporting that Mestan had addressed voters in Turkish during an election campaign rally in the village of Yablanovo on May 5. Yablanovo Mayor Dzhemal Choban was also penalized by the Regional Electoral Commission in Sliven for addressing voters in Turkish during the same rally. Bulgaria’s Election Code does not allow election campaigns to be conducted in other languages than Bulgarian.
Canada’s Liberal party elected a new leader last week. And for the first time in the party’s history, the voting took place online. Justin Trudeau, the telegenic son of the late Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s most famous prime minister, won in a landslide with over 80 per cent of the vote. But online voting critics say that despite the decisive results, the Internet remains an unsafe place to cast your vote. “If the Conservative party want to select the next Liberal party leader, this provides them with the perfect opportunity,” says Dr. Barbara Simons, an online voting expert, and co-author (with Douglas Jones) of Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count? “I am not saying the Conservatives would do this — I’m just saying this is a very foolish and irresponsible thing for Liberals to be doing, because they open themselves up to vote-rigging that would be almost untraceable, and impossible to prove.”
Iran’s constitutional watchdog said on Sunday it would seek possible charges against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for allegedly violating rules by accompanying his chief adviser to the election registry office the previous day. The dispute appears to stem from an ongoing confrontation between Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics in Iran following years of power struggles. It could also herald potential difficulties for Ahmadinejad’s protege, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to be cleared for the presidential election on 14 June to choose Ahmadinejad’s successor. The president himself is not running since Iran’s constitution bars him from seeking a third term in office.
Pakistan’s Election Commission on Sunday endorsed the country’s landmark elections that will see the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power via the ballot box in the country’s history. It declared the country’s elections for a new national assembly and government leadership as “largely free and fair.” But Pakistani non-governmental observers noted voting irregularities and terror attacks in parts of the country meant that not everyone’s voice was heard. Free and Fair Election Network CEO Muddassir Rizvi says there were serious incidents of voting irregularities, fraud and intimidation in areas such as in the southern city of Karachi. “In general, we are not questioning the legitimacy of the process in most parts of Pakistan except for certain constituencies in Karachi, and perhaps some constituencies in Baluchistan where the anti-election campaign was so active that in many instances the election commission could not even set up polling stations,” said Rizvi. The Election Commission said due to threats, the vote in 43 polling stations in the city would have to be re-held.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz alleged widespread rigging across Sindh and parts of the Punjab on Saturday. PTI’s liaison cell head Asad Umar said over 800 complaints had been registered with the election commission, the majority of which were about rigging by rival parties. Sheikh Muhammed Imran, a volunteer at the liaison cell, said, there had been “massive rigging”. The majority of the complaints came from Karachi but there were also complaints from the Punjab, later in the day. “The ECP assured us that they would take immediate action against this, but we are still waiting,” said Imran, “I expect the number of complaints will exceed 2,000 by the end of the day.”
I traveled through Pakistan for two weeks in late February and early March—a time of particular violence in a country that has suffered much of it in the recent past, in which a common thread in conversations was fear about the forthcoming national vote. “It is going to be a violent election,” a magazine editor told me. And many others echoed him, citing Taliban threats to attack a process they deemed un-Islamic and political parties using violence as a campaign tactic, especially in the edgy city of Karachi, with its ethnically and politically fractured populace. Then, on Saturday, May 11th, Pakistan came out to vote. It was the first time in the country’s turbulent history that a civilian government completed a five-year term in power without being overthrown in a military coup or deposed by a President working in tandem with the military. The past five years have seen a democratically run government, but have also been an era of inflation, low economic growth and intense violence, building up a sense of frustration and certain desperation to change things for better.
The review of the “source code” that will be used for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines began at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Manila on Thursday. The source code refers to the readable computer program that will be used on the 82,000 PCOS machines for scanning ballots on Election Day. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the review would ensure the credibility of next Monday’s midterm elections. But senatorial candidate Richard Gordon, who has asked the Supreme Court to stop the elections on a question of the “honesty” of the source code, said that with only four days before the balloting, political parties do not have enough time to examine the source code.