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. Scalia was right. 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 and Keith Ellison want to do something about that. The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
News that employees at the Internal Revenue Service targeted groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their name for special scrutiny has raised pious alarms among some lawmakers and editorial writers. Yes, the I.R.S. may have been worse than clumsy in considering an avalanche of applications for nonprofit status under the tax code, and that deserves scrutiny whether or not the agency’s employees were spurred by partisan motives. After all, some of these “tea party” groups are most likely not innocent nonprofit organizations devoted to the cultural significance of hot beverages — or to other, more civic, virtues. Rather, they and others are groups that may be illegally spending a majority of their resources on political activity while manipulating the tax code to hide their donors and evade taxes (the unwritten rule being that no more than 49 percent of a group’s resources can be used for political purposes).
Deisy Pentón de Cabrera kept meticulous notes on hundreds of voters, several political campaigns between 2008 and 2012 and what appear to be payments of $50 to $1,300 that are not on any candidate’s financial reports. Detectives confiscated three notebooks in which she wrote this and other information last summer. Finally, nine months after her arrest for alleged ballot fraud in Hialeah, the notebooks have been presented as evidence in the case. Cabrera, 57, wrote in a shaky hand and used abbreviations that are difficult to decipher. But her notes shed some light on the busy workload of this accused ballot broker, or boletera:
In spring 2010, agents in the Cincinnati office of the Internal Revenue Service, which handles applications for tax-exempt status, faced a surge of filings by new advocacy groups, with little guidance on how to treat them. Their decision to deal with the problem by singling out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny has now triggered a criminal inquiry, congressional investigations, the departure of two top IRS officials and the naming of a new acting commissioner Thursday. For former IRS staff and tax experts, the case confirms what they view as one of the agency’s long-standing weaknesses: its inability to cope with the growing number of tax-exempt advocacy groups that appear to stretch the law to engage in politics.
Let’s stipulate that the scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative nonprofit groups portrays government as if drawn in caricature — an almost Keystone Kops-style comedy of errors on the part of low-level staffers, with a vein of possible political bias. Of course, the matter needs to be fully investigated, those responsible need to be held accountable and procedures need to be put in place to ensure that nothing like this can happen again. But let’s also remember what the I.R.S. brouhaha is not. Unlike the abuse of the I.R.S. by President Richard M. Nixon, in this case there’s no evidence that anyone in the White House had any involvement in — nor even any knowledge of — what was going on within the agency’s Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division.
Editorials: Colorado Passed Broad Election Reform, Other States Should Follow | Myrna Pérez/Huffington Post
State legislatures across the country are hard at work expanding the right to vote. Already, more than 200 bills to improve voting access have been introduced in 45 states in 2013. Friday in Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper made Colorado the latest to expand rights, joining Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. More legislation is awaiting signature in Florida. To be sure, some states continue to push needless restrictions on the ability of citizens to participate in elections, and voters and their advocates must remain vigilant against any such efforts. Still, the trend is unmistakable: After years of backsliding, states are embracing free, fair, and accessible elections. In many cases, the bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, another encouraging trend. Legislators are expanding access to the ballot in a variety of ways, from reducing the burden of voter identification requirements, to modernizing voter registration, to expanding early voting.
Since the beginning of 2013, at least 30 states have proposed laws that would curtail voting rights or make voting more difficult. Just one troubling example: In North Carolina, the General Assembly is attempting to cut early voting hours, same-day voter registration, and introduce laws that would shrink the electorate. This is a state that the famous journalist John Gunther once referred to as “the most progressive southern state.” This is a trend that Connecticut cannot afford to follow. Connecticut has always been a leader when it comes to improving and expanding access to democracy. The state’s recently enacted online voter registration and same-day voter registration rules make it easier for more citizens to cast their votes. In addition, the government-backed Citizens Election Program reduces the impact of money on politics and helps ensure elections reflect the will of the voters. All these moves should be applauded.
Indiana’s bloated voter registration rolls, which officials say make elections more susceptible to fraud, will soon come under more scrutiny by the state. The Indiana Secretary of State’s office will spend more than $2 million to purge the voter registration rolls in each of Indiana’s 92 counties, removing the names of voters who are dead, in prison, or have moved away. County election officials are responsible for keeping the voter rolls current, but the lack of money has caused some of them to fall behind. The result: In some counties, the number of people listed on the active voter rolls is higher than the number of voting-age people who live there.
A national movement to grant more teens the right to vote scored its first victory this week with the passage of legislation in Takoma Park, to lower the voting age in municipal elections to 16. But momentum continued Wednesday as advocates in Massachusetts spoke at the State House in favor of allowing 17-year-olds to vote. Activists have made a number of attempts across the country in recent years to grant more teens access to the polls. They point to the change in Takoma Park as a potential springboard for movements elsewhere. “This is, in legislation terms, the first real big step,” said Jeffrey Nadel, president of the D.C.-based National Youth Rights Association, which lobbied for the legislation in Takoma Park. “We’re excited that this will be the spark that lights the fuse for change across the country.”
New York: ES&S says it can prevent disaster during city’s upcoming mayoral election — for a fee | NY Daily News
The company that made the city’s controversial new voting machines claims it has a solution to the city’s looming election crisis: Pay the company more money. The city Board of Elections has warned that the mayoral primary election this fall could turn disastrous if no candidate wins at least 40 percent of the vote. State law requires the city to hold a runoff election two weeks after the primary but the board says it needs more time to reset the new ballot scanners. The company that made the scanners, Elections Systems & Software, has now stepped up with an offer to save the day — and get a big check. It offered to send a team of its own consultants and technicians to help pull off the two-week turnaround.
New York City could soon be the first in the country to allow immigrants the right to vote in local elections. So far the proposal appears to have a veto-proof majority in the New York City Council and supporters are optimistic it will become law by the end of the year. The motion would enfranchise hundreds of thousands of NY immigrants provided they meet all the current requirements for voter registration in New York State. Specifically, this means they must “not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction” and “not be declared mentally incompetent by a court.”
Yamiah Davis was excited to vote in her first presidential election last fall. The 21-year-old Avondale woman mailed in her early ballot in October, but then realized she had forgotten to include a form. “I was excited to have my voice count,” Davis said. “When I realized what I did I thought, ‘Crap, my vote didn’t count.’ ” So, she said, she went to her polling location on Election Day and explained what happened. They told her to cast a provisional ballot, she said. Now, she could face prosecution and wonders: “Am I going to jail?” She and dozens of others – people who voted early by mail or in person at the Board of Elections, then cast a provisional ballot on Election Day – could face felony prosecution.
Voting Blogs: Election Administration Issues and New York City’s Non-Citizen Voting Proposal | Election Academy
New York City is currently considering, and could pass, a bill that would allow non-citizens to vote in local contests. While the bill is gathering steam in the City Council – and opposition, from Mayor Bloomberg and others – it does raise some fascinating issues with regard to implementation should it become law:
Domicile. Fights about student voting across the nation often turn on the issue of domicile, which in turn links voting eligibility to presence in a community as well as “intent to remain”. These disputes are already fierce when the voters involved are already citizens; I can only imagine how heated the arguments will be about non-citizens, who would be eligible to vote in City elections after six months under the proposed bill.
Oregon: Too nice for voter fraud? Some say Oregon’s election system vulnerable despite few cases | NWWatchdog.org
Two dead people tried to vote in Oregon. The researcher and a voter integrity advocate who found the problem told election officials, who told them this kind of thing is rare, and the chances of it happening again are slim, given the state’s good track record, kindly nature and all that. “This is a very Oregon moment,” researcher Robert McCullough of the energy consulting firm McCullough Research said. “The Pacific Northwest is a very honest area, and so we have little in the way of checks and balances. But, luckily, we also have very few villains.”
Groups suing the state over redistricting have reached a settlement with the law firm hired by lawmakers to help draw legislative and congressional maps, according to documents filed in court Wednesday. Terms of the deal were not made public. Whether there will be any further action in the case remained unclear Wednesday. Every 10 years, states must redraw legislative and congressional maps to account for population changes. Republicans controlled all of state government in 2011 and were able to draw maps that helped their party.
Editorials: Does high voter turnout produce better politicians? No! | N V Krishnakumar/The Economic Times
Every election, Bangalore voters get lectured. Voting percentage in the city is a dismal 45% to 50% in most elections. Turnout is even lower in municipal elections. Accusations of voter apathy, disinterest in democracy, not doing one’s civic duty and indifference to government affairs are constantly hurled at Bangalore citizens. The Election Commission, advocacy groups, business and political leaders conduct blitzkrieg campaigns urging citizens to make their choice on Election Day. But this begs the question – does high voter turnout facilitate the entry of quality candidates and pave the way for a superior government? Evidence from countries across the globe suggests that high voter turnout has no correlation to quality of contestants nor does it necessarily lead to good governance.
A member of Iran’s constitutional watchdog group insists that women cannot be presidential candidates, a report said Thursday, effectively killing the largely symbolic bids by about 30 women seeking to run in the June 14 election. Even before the comments by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, chances for a woman candidate in Iran’s presidential election were considered nearly impossible. Women also have registered as potential candidates in past presidential elections, but the group that vets hopefuls appears to follow interpretations of the constitution that suggest only a man may hold Iran’s highest elected office. Women, however, are cleared to run for Iran’s parliament and have served as lawmakers.
The Islamic Republic of Iran will have a presidential election on June 14, 2013. As an observer of elections in different countries I find that Iranian election procedures are very similar to those of the most democratic elections held in European nations, such as France. Iranians vote on paper ballots that are counted openly in each polling place in the presence of observers. The tally from each polling station is then verified openly and published by the government after the election. These are the most fundamental and essential elements of a transparent and democratic election, and these are exactly the elements that are sadly missing from elections in the United States. It may come as a surprise but Iranian elections are much more transparent that elections in the United States. The voting process and the counting of the votes in Iran are transparent processes, while most votes in the United States are cast and counted on electronic voting systems run by private companies. The use of computer voting systems in the United States has actually allowed our elections to be stolen because the citizenry has lost its oversight of the crucial vote-counting process entirely. Today, there is virtually no open counting of the votes in polling stations in the United States because nearly all voting “data” is processed in computerized systems – not counted by citizens.
Tanzanian election officials reiterated intentions to use biometric voter registration for the 2015 elections and explained how the machines would be used, Tanzania’s Daily News reported Thursday (May 16th). The system will only be used for voter registration, not during the actual voting, National Electoral Commission (NEC) Vice-Chairman Hamid Mahmoud Hamid said. Politicians have raised concerns about the biometric system, which has encountered problems when used in other African elections, including during Kenya’s elections in March.
Mr Badru Kiggundu, chairman of Uganda’s Electoral Commission, recently unveiled the Commission’s Strategic Plan and Road Map for 2016 elections in which it estimates that Shs1.2 trillion is needed for the elections. According to Kiggundu, democracy is expensive and so we should be appreciative if we spend that money to get a democratically elected government. Money alone will, however, not give Uganda a credible democratic election. In the past three elections, a lot of money was spent, but with mixed or negative results. The presidential elections in 2001 and 2006 ended up in the Supreme Court when the loser, Dr Kiiza Besigye, challenged the results that gave President Museveni the victory. On both occasions, the Supreme Court ruled by a split vote in favour of the incumbent but did not deny that the elections were short of being free and fair, given the intimidation, irregularities and open stealing of votes.