National: How the IRS seeded the clouds in 2010 for a political deluge three years later | The Washington Post

In early 2010, an Internal Revenue Service team in Cincinnati began noticing a stream of applications from groups with ­political-sounding names, setting in motion a dragnet aimed at ­separating legitimate tax-exempt groups from those working to get candidates elected. The IRS officials decided to single out one type of political group for particular scrutiny. “These cases involve various local organizations in the Tea Party movement,” read one internal IRS e-mail sent at the time. A few hours north in Fremont, Ohio, the owners of a drainage supply shop, Tom and Marion Bower, were wondering why it was taking so long to get a tax exemption for their new tea party group. “I didn’t think any of us thought we’d be targeted,” said Marion Bower, of American Patriots Against Government Excess. “We started the group because we wanted to learn about our country and educate people. Now I’m becoming a little paranoid. If they can do this, what else can they do?”

National: Dan Pfeiffer: Legal questions in IRS scandal ‘irrelevant’ to ‘inexcusable’ actions | Washington Post

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday the question of whether any laws were broken in the Internal Revenue Scandal is “irrelevant” to the fact that the agency’s actions were wrong and unjustifiable. “I can’t speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant,” Pfefiffer said on ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed to ensure it never happens again.” Stephanopoulos replied: “You don’t really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?” Pfeiffer responded: “What I mean is, whether it’s legal or illegal is not important to the fact that the conduct doesn’t matter. The Department of Justice has said that they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it does not happen again, regardless of how that turns out.”

National: IRS Probe Sheds Light on Nonprofit Election-Year Surge | Bloomberg

Patriot Majority USA, a social welfare nonprofit, told the Internal Revenue Service that its mission is “to encourage a discussion of economic issues.” In exchange for keeping its donors private and paying fewer taxes, it must limit its involvement in politics. Yet last year Patriot Majority, run by Democratic operative Craig Varoga in Washington, spent at least $7.5 million on TV ads attacking Republican candidates on issues such as women’s health screenings and equal pay. With the Nov. 6 election over, the nonprofit shows signs of going dormant with e-mails bouncing back unopened and phone calls unanswered.

National: The IRS tea party scandal: The lesson is better campaign finance disclosure laws | Slate

Let’s not make excuses for the IRS. The agency shouldn’t have subjected conservative groups to special scrutiny. Campaign finance reform groups should have immediately called for hearings when this scandal broke: Imagine the hue and cry if the IRS during the Bush administration had singled out “progressive” groups for special tax scrutiny and sent themunprecedented questions about their contributors and activities. Given the danger going back to President Richard Nixon of using the IRS against political enemies, the agency has to be scrupulously nonpartisan and fair. Congressional investigations and the Department of Justicecriminal investigation announced Tuesday are inevitable and warranted. But the larger picture here shows why the IRS felt itself forced into the role of campaign finance regulator, and why people also are calling for the Securities and Exchange Commissionand state attorneys general to regulate campaign contributions. This is all about the failure of Congress to require the disclosure of donors who bankroll groups designed to influence elections.

National: Exiting IRS Chief Denies Targeting as Republicans Pounce | Bloomberg

Steven Miller, who is being forced out as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, told House lawmakers today that the IRS has learned from its mistakes while denying that it had targeted nonprofit groups for review because of their political views. Under persistent questioning from House Republicans at the first hearing on the agency’s scrutiny of small-government groups that applied for tax-exempt status, Miller insisted that IRS employees didn’t have partisan motivations. “What happened here is that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient,” Miller said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing that lasted almost four hours.

California: Debate Over California Online Voting Bill Weighs Accessibilty Against Security | IVN

Independent voters now account for approximately 40 percent of all voters in the United States. Following the national trend, California voters are increasingly leaving the two major parties, with almost 3.7 million voters now registered under “No Party Preference” in the state. Overall voter turnout, however, decreased in 2012 election, with one million fewer Californians casting a ballot in the general election than in previous presidential elections. With independent voters now accounting for 21 percent of the electorate in California, how can the state ensure their voices are heard in Sacramento? Assemblymember Philip Ting proposes exploring online voting with Assembly Bill 19, or the “Internet Voting Pilot Program.” Passed on April 23 by the California Assembly Elections Committee, AB 19 proposes to change the legal definition of “voting system” to include the use of systems connected to the Internet in future California elections. This would authorize the creation of an Internet Voting Pilot Program, under which counties could offer voters the choice to vote online.

Colorado: Ballot images from 2009 election online for public inspection | Aspen Daily News

Images of the ballots cast in the 2009 municipal election are available for public inspection now that a four-year legal battle between City Hall and an Aspen resident has come to a close. The city of Aspen made 2,415 ballot images available Thursday on its website, and released them to the attorney for Marilyn Marks, who sued the city for access to the ballots. There were a total of 2,544 ballots cast in the 2009 election; 129 of them have been withheld due to identifying markers that could be traced back to a voter. Marks, who on Thursday said she has not spent much time examining the images posted online, wondered why the city withheld 129 ballots and if officials plan to attempt to make contact with voters who cast them since it’s illegal to make distinguishing marks on a ballot.

Maryland: Takoma Park might not be last city to grant teens right to vote | Gazette.Net

When Takoma Park’s next election day arrives in November, the lines of voters ready to cast their ballots for the City Council will include a new set of voters making history. During its Monday meeting, the Takoma Park City Council passed a series of city charter amendments regarding its voting and election laws, including one allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in city elections. With Monday’s vote, Takoma Park became the first city in the United States to lower its voting age — which was previously 18 — to 16. Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director for the political advocacy organization Common Cause Maryland, said the city’s decision marks “a really important step forward” and “a perfect way to get the youth vote mobilized.”

Ohio: Republicans Push Law To Penalize Colleges For Helping Students Vote | TPM

Republicans in the Ohio Legislature are pushing a plan that could cost the state’s public universities millions of dollars if they provide students with documents to help them register to vote. Backers of the bill describe it as intended to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for tuition and voter registration, while Democrats and other opponents argue it is a blatant attempt at voter suppression in a crucial swing state. “What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote,” Daniel Tokaji, a professor and election law expert at Ohio State University told TPM. “It’s a transparent effort at vote suppression — about the most blatant and shameful we’ve seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot.” The legislation is a provision in the state budget that was backed by the Republican majority in the Ohio House of Representatives. It is now headed to the Ohio Senate, which also has a GOP majority.

Ohio: In-state tuition for students registering to vote in Ohio? |

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 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.

Oregon: County officials across Oregon say automatic voter registration bill is too complicated, heavy-handed | OregonLive

Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski is among a slew of statewide county officials opposing a bill that would automatically register an estimated 500,000 potential Oregon voters. Secretary of State Kate Brown’s proposal to use DMV data to put people on the voter registration rolls is heavy-handed and convoluted, Malinowski and other officials at an Association of Oregon Counties meeting this week said. For the most part, commissioners took issue not with the sentiment of the bill but the execution. “Don’t use a two-by-four if you can use a matchstick to fix a problem,” Malinowski said at a Washington County work session in Hillsboro the next day. Brown came before the AOC’s legislative committee seeking the group’s neutrality, if not support, and instead faced a growing tide of frustration. Aside from three abstentions, the remaining 31 officials voted to oppose the current version of the bill.

Iran: Green Movement activists live in fear as Iran’s presidential election nears |

Nearly four years have passed since the birth of Iran’s green movement. Arising from the massive street protests against the official results of the 2009 presidential election, it endured brutal repression and finally receded in the face of arrests, beatings, and torture. Three of its most prominent figures – Mir-Hossein Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi – have been under house arrest for more than two years. Other movement leaders are in prison or exile. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iranian authorities are holding at least 40 journalists in prison as the June presidential election approaches, the second-highest total in the world. But what has become of others in the movement’s middle ranks inside the country, the political activists and journalists who stayed back?

Iran: Internet in ‘coma’ as Iran election looms | AFP

Iran is tightening control of the Internet ahead of next month’s presidential election, mindful of violent street protests that social networkers inspired last time around over claims of fraud, users and experts say. The authorities deny such claims, but have not explained exactly why service has become slower. Businesses, banks and even state organisations are not spared by the widespread disruption in the Internet, local media say. “The Internet is in a coma,” said the Ghanoon daily in a report in early this month. “It only happens in Iran: the election comes, the Internet goes,” it said, quoting a tweet in Farsi. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and numerous other sites, including thousands of Western ones, have been censored in Iran since massive street demonstrations that followed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. Those protests — stifled by a heavy-handed crackdown that led to numerous arrests and even deaths — were instigated online and observers say the authorities are choking the Internet to prevent a recurrence.

Philippines: Comelec ‘shortcuts’ made votes vulnerable to manipulation – election watchdogs | Bulatlat

Dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving) became notorious during the manual counting of votes, especially during the 2004 presidential elections. But again, suspicions of dagdag-bawas are resurfacing because of what poll watchdogs described as numerous violations of the poll automation law. Given the preparation and decisions made by the Comelec — from avoiding real review of the source code of the programs being used to read votes and transmit the same, to disabling security features of poll automation at nearly every step – there are numerous potentials for automated cheating. Or in the language of IT experts of election watchdog AES Watch, instances when votes are ‘vulnerable to manipulation.’ As the canvassing of votes got stalled repeatedly by transmission problems and glitches, by Saturday May 1, or five days after elections, some 20-percent of election returns are still to be canvassed.