Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently said that she has second thoughts about Bush v. Gore. Whatever feelings she now expresses, the U.S. Supreme Court’s involvement at that time obviously had implications for election law, and, of course, the direction of our nation. Since then, the court has ruled on a variety of important voting rights cases, and in a matter of weeks the court is expected to hand down decisions in two additional ones, also having far-reaching consequences. One involves an Alabama county that opposes federal oversight of its election procedures, and the other concerns the scope of Arizona’s law requiring voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Both cases, Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder and Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, consider the authority of Congress to protect voters against state and local ordinances that impinge upon fundamental voting rights.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. He was right about that. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us: “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.” Mark Pocan wants to do something about that. With Minnesota Congressmen Keith Ellison — who like Pocan is a former state legislator with a long history of engagement with voting rights issues — the Wisconsin Democrat on Monday unveiled an amendment to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to hold accountable those at the Internal Revenue Service involved in the targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status, beginning with the resignation of the agency’s acting commissioner who was aware of the practice. In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the East Room of the White House, the president announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had requested — and accepted — the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller. The president said the “misconduct” detailed in the IRS Inspector General’s report released Tuesday over the singling out of conservative groups is “inexcusable.”
“Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it,” Obama said.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday warned top officials at the Internal Revenue Service that criminal laws on false statements could come into play in a Justice Department investigation on the agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Appearing at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder said the investigation would examine whether groups of individuals had their civil rights criminally violated and whether statutes governing I.R.S. conduct were violated. After repeated accusations from senior lawmakers that top I.R.S. officials had lied to them, Mr. Holder also issued a warning: “False-statement violations might have been made, given at least what I know at this point.” Three Congressional committees already have hearings planned to investigate the agency’s activities, and an early focus appears to be on whether I.R.S. officials lied to members of Congress.
President Obama announced Wednesday night that the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service had been ousted after disclosures that the agency gave special scrutiny to conservative groups. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., meanwhile, warned top I.R.S. officials that a Justice Department inquiry would examine any false statements to see if they constituted a crime. Speaking in the White House’s formal East Room, Mr. Obama said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew had asked for and accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner, Steven Miller, who as deputy commissioner was aware of the agency’s efforts to demand more information from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in early 2012. “Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it,” Mr. Obama said. “It should not matter what political stripe you’re from. The fact of the matter is the I.R.S. has to operate with absolute integrity.”
A senate panel voted Wednesday to throw some additional hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to write their own laws.
Existing law already has a set of requirements for putting a measure on the ballot to propose a new statute or constitutional amendment. These include for who can circulate petitions, what has to be on each page and how many names can be on each sheet. SB 1493 adds some new ones, including a mandate to organize petition sheets by county of residence of signers, by the circulator on that signature sheet, and by the name of the person who notarized each. But the real change is that the legislation says that both election officials and courts, in reviewing the validity of petitions, must void those that are not in “strict compliance” with all legal requirements. That change is significant.
California: Misplaced ballots were likely due to human error, elections official says | San Francisco Examiner
An ongoing investigation into 65 ballots that were not found or counted for months after the November election points to human error as the cause, Chief Elections Officer Mark Church has indicated. On April 12, San Mateo County election officials discovered a vault containing uncounted provisional ballots and announced the discovery the next week. Of the 65 ballot envelopes, only 35 were eligible votes, and they did not affect the election results. The investigation launched by Church uncovered that employees placed the ballots inside a covered container within the security vault. As a result, Church said in a statement, the election staff did not see the ballots, which should have been sent to the main elections office for processing, Church said. Although the uncounted votes did not alter the results, they remain a source of concern, according to officials and election observers.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Tuesday praised the Connecticut State House of Representatives passage of House Bill No. 5599 “An Act Concerning Provisional Ballots for State and Municipal Offices” that would allow voters to use provisional ballots for state and municipal elections instead of only federal elections, as current statutes provide. The House vote today was 105-37 in favor of sending the bill to the State Senate. Provisional ballots are cast by voters who appear at their polling place on Election Day and claim they are indeed registered to vote, but their names do not appear on the voter list. Provisional ballots are counted in the election only if the voter is later verified as being legitimately registered in that town by the local Registrar of Voters. Currently, provisional ballots can only be used to vote for federal candidates for office. Those voters whose registration status is uncertain at their polling place on Election Day are currently permitted to vote by challenge ballot for candidates for municipal and state candidates.
If you’re old enough to drive, are you old enough to vote? You soon will be if you live in Takoma Park, Md. The famously progressive suburb of Washington has just extended voting rights in municipal elections to 16- and 17-year-olds. Takoma Park was the first city in the country to take such a step, but its action is part of a larger trend toward letting people vote earlier. “We’re not the first community to talk about the idea and I doubt we’ll be the last to adopt it,” says city council member Tim Male, a cosponsor of the measure, which passed on Monday. The Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday held a hearing on the question of allowing municipalities to extend the franchise to citizens younger than 18, as the Lowell city council has twice attempted to do.
New Jersey: Losing challenger in Passaic mayoral race says machines rigged, wants recount | NorthJersey.com
A day after Mayor Alex D. Blanco and his ticket of four City Council incumbents cruised to victory, challenger Jose Sandoval contends the electronic voting machines were rigged against him and he’s demanding a recount. Sandoval said he had 500 get-out-the-vote volunteers Tuesday and had expected to get at least 3,000 votes. But he polled just 1,880 and was crushed by Blanco, who received 4,377 votes and carried all 30 polling districts. “I had 3,000 votes in the bank,” Sandoval said Wednesday. “They stole this election from me. The machines must have been tampered with.” Sandoval wants to hire his own expert to check the electronic Sequoia brand voting machines used on Tuesday. And he plans to go to Superior Court this week to ask for a recount.
A bill to extend Nevada’s voter registration period ran into trouble on Tuesday when Democrats on a Senate panel questioned why it was needed. Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, pleaded with her Democratic colleagues to pass AB440 and send the debate to the Senate floor. When that seemed futile, she delayed a vote until Thursday — a day before the deadline for committee passage — to let supporters try to sway Democratic skeptics Sens. Mark Manendo of Las Vegas and Kelvin Atkinson of North Las Vegas. The bill passed the Assembly in April with a 25-16 vote. The bill would extend voter registration to the Friday before a primary or general election. People who register in person during the early voting period would be allowed to cast a ballot immediately.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted will decide whether 39 Hamilton County residents who cast more than one vote in the 2012 election should be reviewed by the the prosecutor’s office. Voter fraud is a felony crime in Ohio. So far six people have been charged in Hamilton County on voting-fraud related charges. Husted, a Republican, will be needed to break a tie after the county’s Elections’ Board split 2-2 along party lines Wednesday over whether the cases needed prosecutor review. The Democratic board members said more review isn’t needed and Republicans said the board didn’t have enough information to know if a crime had been committed.
Tech-savvy candidates prompted Elections BC to issue a warning that the province’s 17-year-old election law forbids Twitter and Facebook postings on voting day. Elections BC spokesman Don Main said the agency was alerted that Liberal candidate Richard Lee in Burnaby North had been tweeting, despite the Election Act prohibition on broadcasting or transmitting ads on election day.
Some 100 legislators are demanding a ban on two top independent candidates including ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from Iran’s June presidential election in what may be a further move to thwart any brewing challenge to the clerical supreme leader. The petition by parliamentarians to Iran’s Guardian Council emerged three days after the electoral watchdog said outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may face charges for accompanying former aide Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the other high-profile independent, to register on Saturday for the vote. That warning raised speculation that the council would bar Mashaie. The parliamentarians – conservative hardliners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – appeared to follow up by urging the watchdog to disqualify both independents.
President Vladimir Putin has spoken against initiatives aimed at limiting the participation of new, small, political parties in Russia’s federal elections. “I don’t want to introduce any regulations that would restrict citizens’ access to ruling the country,” Putin stated at the meeting with the leaders of Russian parliamentary factions on Wednesday. During the gathering, the leaders of the Communist and Liberal-Democrat parties suggested that additional requirements should be met by political parties taking part in State Duma and presidential elections.
Ohio Republicans want to force universities to grant in-state tuition to students from other states if the schools provide documents that allow the students to register to vote in Ohio, a move that could cost universities millions. Republicans in the state House, who included the provision in the state budget now under consideration in the Senate, say they’re trying to streamline the system. Critics say the amendment really is designed to prevent universities from making voting easy for out-of-state students — who traditionally disproportionately vote Democratic.