President Obama on Tuesday announced the eight new members who will round out his presidential commission on voting, jointing Bob Bauer, the general counsel to the president’s reelection campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, the former general counsel to Mitt Romney’s presidential effort, on the bipartisan panel. The appointments include Trey Grayson, Larry Loma, Michele Coleman Mayes, Ann McGeehan, Tammy Patrick and Christopher Thomas — all former state-level elections officials — as well as Brian Britton, a Walt Disney World executive, and Joe Echevarria, the general counsel for the New York Public library. Obama announced the panel in his State of the Union address, saying that with long voting lines, the country was “betraying our ideals.”
In a bitter fight, Colorado Democrats recently muscled through the Statehouse a massive elections reform bill that allows voters to register up until Election Day and still cast their ballots. It’s the latest – and most substantial – development in a nationwide Democratic Party effort to strike back at two years of Republican success in passing measures to require identification at polling places and purge rolls of suspect voters. Democratic-controlled states like California, Connecticut and Maryland also all have sought to make it easier to cast a ballot as late as possible. They recently passed versions of same-day voter registration measures, which traditionally help younger and poorer voters – the sort who lean Democratic. Undaunted, the GOP is aggressively fighting the efforts. Maine Republicans tried to roll back same-day registration in 2011 but were unsuccessful. And Montana Republicans hope to rescind their state’s same-day registration through a ballot referendum next year.
National: Election Officials Biased Against Latinos, Says Harvard University Study | The Latin Times
A Latino-sounding name could be detrimental to voters seeking election information. Harvard University political science graduates Julie Faller, Noah Nathan and Ariel White found in a study that election officials are less likely to give accurate, friendly information to Latinos as opposed to those who sound white, the Huffington Post reported Wednesday. The students conducted the study by ” . . . [contacting] every local official or election commission responsible for overseeing elections for each county or municipality at which elections are administered in 48 states.” Minnesota, Alaska, Maine and Virginia were dropped from the study due to irregularities that prevented gathering accurate data.
The Internal Revenue Service official who first disclosed that the agency had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, and in doing so ignited a controversy that has ensnared the White House, denied on Wednesday that she had ever provided false information to Congress. She then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to testify at a House hearing on the agency’s actions. At the House oversight committee hearing, the chairman, Darrell Issa, seated second from right, talked with an aide. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, was at left. As the official, Lois Lerner, appeared under subpoena before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, she sternly told her questioners that accusations that she had misled Congress in previous testimony were false.
Editorials: Voting Rights Act needed even with increased African-American balloting | David Gans/Fort Worth Star Telegram
Sometime before the end of June, the Supreme Court will decide Shelby County v. Holder, a constitutional challenge to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the law’s most important guarantees against racial discrimination in voting. Shelby County has argued that the act is unnecessary and outdated and has urged the Supreme Court to hold it unconstitutional on that basis. With the court’s decision looming, a number of recent commentators have suggested that, in light of recent voter turnout data, the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed. They are wrong. For example, in The Wall Street Journal, examining what he calls the “good news about race and voting,” Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, argues that in recent presidential elections very few citizens, whatever their race, have reported difficulties with going to the polls to exercise their right to vote. Kohut notes that, in the last several presidential elections, African-American voter turnout has steadily increased.
An obvious danger of the IRS political targeting scandal is that congressional and federal investigations will produce much heat but little light. As House Ways and Means ranking Democrat Sander M. Levin of Michigan cautioned at that panel’s opening IRS hearing last week, members of Congress “must seek the truth, not political gain.” Even nonprofit sector leaders warn that recent IRS scrutiny, while long overdue, will exacerbate the agency’s many problems instead of fix them. “The thing that we don’t want to happen is for the appropriate anger of lawmakers to result in the wrong outcome,” said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits and philanthropic community leaders. While “there should be consequences for people who misused their position,” she added, the IRS should not “pull back” from curbing abuses by politically active tax-exempt groups.
Twenty years ago, I stood next to President Bill Clinton as he signed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) into law. This monumental legislation made it easier for millions of Americans to register to vote by offering registration at driver’s license facilities. Before 1993, registrants had to seek out, or be sought out by, an official deputy registrar. Rules varied by state and burdensome procedures prevented so many from voting. Today, 16 million voters get registered each year thanks to the so-called “Motor Voter” law. Working to pass the legislation is among my proudest achievements, especially since we faced an uphill battle in Illinois. Then-Gov. Jim Edgar refused to offer the new registration forms. Along with the League of Women Voters and the City of Chicago, we sued Edgar and state officials to force implementation. We won.
One theme in the narrative about the IRS is that it faces a special challenge in enforcing the (c)(4) rules in the wake of Citizens United. A (c)(4) organization, which is typically a corporation, can make independent expenditures, so long as this campaign activity and others do not make up its primary purpose. Two basic reform models have been advanced to protect against the misuse of these nonprofits to make these and other campaign-related expenditures. One is that the Service should generally employ more rigor in rooting out organizations that have exceeded their limit for political activity. Another is that the IRS should change its rules, switching the test from a “primary” social welfare purpose to an “exclusive one” without any campaign activity mixed in, and rid itself of the problem altogether: effectively, the no-tolerance option. In both cases, however, the proposed solutions may have to scale steep walls erected by Supreme Court precedent. These issues have to be taken into account in judging the role that IRS enforcement can play in campaign finance regulation.
The races for mayor and other top city offices so underwhelmed Angelenos, fewer than one-fifth of registered voters bothered to cast ballots. So, why don’t we have another election in a couple of months? Say, July 23? I’m not kidding. Because no candidate for the 6th Council District seat earned more than 50% of the votes Tuesday, residents in the district will have to trudge back to the polls for the fourth time in nine months to choose a replacement for former Councilman Tony Cardenas. The office became vacant when Cardenas won a seat in Congress last November. The runoff will pit Cindy Montañez, who collected 43.5% of the votes, against Nury Martinez, who received 23.9%.
Gov. Rick Scott has finished the fix of the flawed election law that relegated Florida to a late-night joke in 2012 by signing an elections clean-up bill passed on the final day of the legislative session. The measure, signed by Scott late Monday before he left for a trade mission to Chile, reverses several provisions implemented in 2011 by GOP lawmakers in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election. Those changes, criticized by Democrats as an attempt to suppress votes for President Barack Obama, limited the early voting that the president’s campaign capitalized on in 2008. The 2011 law also prevented early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and prohibited voters, particularly students, from changing their voting address at the polls.
A federal court struck down Fayette County’s at-large method of electing members to certain county offices, saying in an opinion released Tuesday that the method was a violation of the Voting Rights Act. A U.S. District Court judge ruled on a lawsuit that was filed in 2011 and ordered the county to establish an alternative to the at-large election method. With Fayette County being about 70 percent white and 20 percent black, according to Census statistics from 2011, officials from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund officials said the at-large method virtually guaranteed that African-American candidates would never be elected to the County Board of Commissioners or the County Board of Education.
The Maine Senate on Tuesday gave its approval to a measure that would trigger a statewide referendum on whether to allow towns and cities to offer their residents the chance to cast ballots officially in advance of Election Day. The Senate voted 24-11 in favor of sending a ballot question to voters asking whether they favor amending the constitution to allow towns and cities to offer early voting. The vote came a day after the House voted 90-50 in support of the bill, LD 156. The measure will ultimately require two-thirds support in both chambers if the question is to reach Maine voters.
An election happened in Luzerne County on Tuesday, but for two hours after the polls closed the results could only be found on a projection screen at the county courthouse. An apparent traffic overload periodically crashed the county’s usually reliable website, www.luzernecounty.org, and prevented officials from posting results. The outage forced reporters, some candidates and other interested parties to the courthouse rotunda to watch a scroll of results. The top county races, for controller and the county council, shared equal time on the screen with school board races and the campaigns for municipal councils. Some reporters used their cellphones and compact camera to take pictures of the screen to freeze the fast-moving results.
Utah Republicans pushing reforms in their state caucus and convention system are weighing their next move after the GOP rejected efforts that would force more candidates into primaries. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt is among the prominent Republicans in the group Count My Vote, which wants to increase the number of votes required in a nominating convention before a candidate can forgo a primary. GOP delegates rejected proposals on Saturday to raise the current 60 percent threshold to either 66.6 percent or 70 percent.
Wisconsin: Elections board agrees to ask lawmakers for absentee voting rule changes | Associated Press
Wisconsin election officials on Tuesday agreed to ask the Legislature to revamp the state’s absentee voting regulations by streamlining request deadlines, expanding electronic ballot access for overseas voters and implementing other changes. The state Government Accountability Board agreed after only brief discussion to make the recommendations at the request of a municipal clerk task force. That panel contends the state’s absentee voting requirements have grown too complicated and confusing over the years.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denounced as unjust the disqualification of his top aide from next month’s presidential election and says he plans to appeal to Iran’s supreme ruler. Ahmadinejad spoke a day after the Guardian Council, which vets candidates, barred the out-going president’s confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, from the June 14 poll along with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the nation’s most illustrious political figures. Tuesday’s decisions enraged the pair’s many supporters and threatened to deflate turnout. Mashaei was “unjustly treated,” the president told reporters, according to the conservative Fars News Agency. “I have presented … Mashaei as a righteous and religious person who could be useful for the country.”
A court this morning decided that the Attorney General should be a party in a case instituted by the Nationalist Party where it demanded a recount of the votes cast in the eighth and thirteen districts in the general election. Justice Jacqueline Padovani said the Attorney General should be a party in the case to safeguard state interests. The PN had argued that the Attorney General should not be involved while the Electoral Commission requested that the AG be called into the proceedings.
Russian authorities have finally found a case of alleged voting fraud that they can get really incensed about. No, it’s not the 2011 Duma elections, which experts from across Russia’s political spectrum now agree were probably falsified on a huge scale. That has never been the subject of official outrage, or even investigation. This is something far more important: the continental song competition, Eurovision. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists yesterday that he was “outraged” to learn that the voting system in neighboring Azerbaijan had eliminated the votes cast for Russian Eurovision contestant Dina Garipova in that country. Voters registering their preferences by cellphone had given a second-place finish to Ms. Garipova – which should have given her 10 points in the overall contest – but they had somehow disappeared in the reporting process.
For the last month Gibson Severe and his wife, Merjury Severe, known opposition supporters from Hurungwe district in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province, have been hiding out in the country’s capital Harare. The Movement for Democratic Change – Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) supporters were forced to flee their rural home in Hurungwe district after Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) militias threatened them for encouraging people to participate in the recently-ended mobile voter registration. “It’s been a month since we left Hurungwe district after the Jochomondo militia, which has known links to Zanu-PF, besieged our rural home accusing us of encouraging people to register to vote for the MDC-T,” Gibson Severe told IPS. Since last year, the Jochomondo militia has allegedly terrorised residents in Zimbabwe’s northern Hurungwe district, a Zanu-PF-stronghold, making it almost impossible for opposition parties to campaign in the region.
0.002397 percent. That’s how much voter fraud there was in Ohio last year, according to a report released yesterday by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. Out of about 5.63 million votes cast in a presidential election in this key swing state, there were 135 possible voter-fraud cases referred to law enforcement for more investigation. “Voter fraud does exist, but it’s not an epidemic,” Husted said. The report summarized a comprehensive review of alleged voter fraud and suppression that Husted ordered all 88 county boards of elections to conduct in January. Rumors of fraud and suppression at the polls undermine voter confidence in elections, Husted said. Those same things also inspire legislation in Ohio — where in 2011 House Republicans passed a bill that would have, in the name of minimizing fraud, required a photo ID to vote on Election Day. Democrats fought that bill, and Husted played a roll in killing it. His report yesterday gives folks on all sides of the debate something to latch onto.
Iran: After being banned from election, Iran’s Rafsanjani blasts ruling clerics, report says | Associated Press
Banned from upcoming elections, Iran’s former president has leveled harsh criticism at the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers, saying they are doing a poor job running the country, an Iranian pro-reform website reported late on Wednesday. The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani come days after a constitutional watchdog disqualified him from running in the June 14 presidential election. The wording was particularly strong for Rafsanjani, considered a centrist who generally defers to the supremacy of the ruling clerics. He had previously lashed out at authorities after a crackdown on protests following the disputed 2009 elections. Because of his stance then, Rafsanjani’s 2013 candidacy had revitalized reformist hopes. Rafsanjani has not made any direct public statements since his Tuesday disqualification. The quote was not carried on his official website, and the report could not independently verified.
Before the start of last Wednesday’s sparsely attended Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration meeting, Frank Heindel turned around in his seat to ask a question of the woman sitting behind him: “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?” Heindel, a Mt. Pleasant resident, has almost single-handedly taken up the crusade of reforming South Carolina’s electronic voting system, and the idea he presented to the BEVR last week might sound crazy to the uninitiated: He wants the county to go back to using paper ballots. “I believe every citizen in Charleston County deserves an election process that is transparent, conforms to existing laws, and can produce an audit paper trail,” Heindel said. The board heard him out, and it voted to have its executive director look into new options for the November 2013 general elections — including new electronic machines and old-school paper ballots read by optical scanners. Heindel’s full proposal was that the county conduct some, if not all, local elections this November without using its iVotronic touchscreen voting machines, which the election-integrity hellraiser says are flawed due to problems like vulnerability to virus attacks and a lack of hard-copy verification. Heindel also asked the board to require a post-election audit be conducted.