Republicans moved a step forward Tuesday in their continuing effort to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which was created to help states run elections. A House committee approved legislation Tuesday to shut down the federal commission set up more than 10 years ago to help states improve their election systems. “This agency needs to go,” said Mississippi Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, who introduced the bill to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. “This agency has outlived its usefulness and to continue to fund it is the definition of irresponsibility.” The House Administration Committee approved the legislation by voice vote. This marks Harper’s third attempt in four years to close the bipartisan independent commission, which he called a “bloated bureaucracy.” It is not clear when the full House will vote on the measure. Harper said he’s working to persuade a senator to introduce a companion measure in that chamber.
The conservative groups testifying about overzealous IRS scrutiny during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday can’t get around a simple fact: All have been involved in the kinds of political activity that’s ripe for red flags. Simple searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter and other news engines point to plenty of political activities that are the essence of what the IRS looks for when deciding who gets an exemption from Uncle Sam. The group leaders attended rallies to stop Obama administration priorities and ripped into the president’s work on health care and missile defense. They spoke openly about defeating President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. They pushed for winners in state and local election races. Their activities might not have run afoul of the rules. But for the murky world of charitable exemptions now under heightened political scrutiny, their backgrounds underscore the gray area the IRS was in as it posed questions to the groups.
National: Substantial Minority of Scrutinized Exempt Organizations Were Not Conservative | Tax Analysts
We know now that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” — names and policy views associated with conservative and Tea Party causes — for selecting applications for tax-exempt status for extra review. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration laid out the charges in a May 14 report, and the IRS has admitted it made errors. But TIGTA’s report doesn’t shed much light on whether other organizations were subject to similar review. As the early furor gives way to more careful investigations, it will be important to get a more complete picture of IRS processing of applications for tax exemption. The IRS has helped somewhat by releasing a list of all the “centralized” groups (that is, organizations whose applications were referred to specialists for closer review) that were granted tax-exempt status as of May 9, 2013. Though the overlap between the subset and the full set of centralized groups isn’t perfect, the list suggests that the majority of groups selected for extra scrutiny probably matched the political criteria the IRS used and backed conservative causes, the Tea Party, or limited government generally. But a substantial minority — almost one-third of the subset — did not fit that description.
The community of federal campaign oversight will undergo significant downsizing following announcements from the Federal Election Commission and the House Administration Committee, Wednesday. Tony Herman, General Legal Counsel to the Federal Election Commission, will leave the agency this July and the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) moved one inch closer to being scrapped. In a statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub said, “I want to thank Tony for his outstanding service to this agency and to the American public.” He will return to Covington & Burling, LLP where he was a partner before joining the FEC in 2011. The FEC has been understaffed since February when former commissioner, Cynthia Bauerly, left after serving nearly a 5-year term. Now with five out of six commissioners, each serving expired terms, the agency will need to locate a new General Counsel before July 7.
National: Shelby County’s Voting Rights Act case should get Supreme Court decision this month | al.com
Many are expecting the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a ruling this month on Shelby County’s challenge of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Section 5 “preclearance” provisions. In the case known as Shelby County V. Holder, lawyers representing Shelby County government are attempting to declare parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional as they pertain to 16 states including Alabama that need federal permission for changes in elections. Lawyers representing Shelby County, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27 in the case.
We are getting close to a decision in the Supreme Court on Shelby County, Alabama’s challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is the part of the VRA which requires jurisdictions (mostly, but not only in the South) with a history of discrimination in voting on the basis of race to get permission from the federal government (either the Department of Justice or a three-judge court in DC) before making any changes in voting rules and procedures. The changes can be as large as a redistricting plan for 10 years, and as small as moving a polling place across the street. Shelby County claims that the law now exceeds congressional power over the states, because there is not enough evidence of intentional state discrimination on the basis of race to justify this interference with state’s rights. This federalism argument notes how the South has changed—the question is whether it has changed enough for the Supreme Court to hold that an Act, which was once constitutional is no longer constitutional thanks to changed circumstances.
Voting Blogs: Arizona Election Law Bill Amended to Vastly Increase Primary Ballot Access Petitions for Smaller Qualified Parties | Ballot Access News
On June 6, a conference committee in the Arizona legislature amended HB 2305 to make it vastly more difficult for members of small qualified parties to get themselves on a primary ballot. Current law sets the number of signatures needed for a candidate to get on his or her own party’s primary ballot as a percentage of the number of members of that party. But the bill changes that, so that the number of signatures needed is a percentage of all the registered voters from all parties.
Taxpayers will have to spend an additional $11.9 million for an Oct. 16 special election to replace Sen. Frank Lautenberg, now that Gov. Chris Christie decided against consolidating the vote with the Nov. 5 general election. Democrats charged that the move was all about politics, noting that Christie is on the November ballot seeking his second four-year term as governor. Democrats said the Republican governor wanted to avoid sharing that ballot with a strong Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker or Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., despite the extra expense to the taxpayers. Christie insisted politics was not a consideration in laying out the separate election dates. “The costs associated with having the special election and primary, in my mind, cannot be measured against the value of having an elected member of the U.S. Senate. I don’t know what the costs are and, quite frankly, I don’t care,” Christie said.
Lake County commissioners and county election officials are concerned a provision in state law might force the county to purchase 54 additional voting machines this year. Commissioner Daniel P. Troy and Elections Board Director Scott E. Daisher discussed the matter during public comment at a recent commissioners meeting. Troy recently received correspondence from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to make sure the commissioners were aware of a state law enacted in 2006 that would require each county to have a minimum ratio starting in 2013 to have one voting machine per 175 registered voters.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio is “deeply disturbed” by the possible prosecution of 39 Hamilton County voters. In an open letter sent to election officials, LWVO President Nancy Brown said the citizens involved in 39 cases of possible voter fraud acted in line with Ohio’s election law. The cases addressed in the letter involve voters who voted via provisional ballot after voting early. After reviewing the cases, the Hamilton County Board of Elections voted 2-2 along party lines last month to send the cases to the prosecutor’s office for further review. Later in May Ohio Secretary of State John Husted a Republican, made the tie-breaking decision, siding with the two Republican on the board to send the cases to the prosecutor’s office for further review. “The only ‘wrong’ committed by these voters was requesting an absentee ballot and then casting a provisional ballot at the polls on Election Day,” Brown wrote. “This activity is perfectly legal, and referring these cases to the prosecutor sends a dangerous and chilling message not only to Ohio voters but also to poll workers.”
Election Day, Cleveland, Ohio 2004. I participated in an election observation trip for the newly established U.S. Election Assistance Commission, travelling around Cuyahoga County, Ohio, from dawn until dusk. The goal was to observe as many different kinds of polling places as possible—more than a dozen locations that spanned Cleveland’s diverse neighborhoods. One polling place in particular sticks out in my mind as emblematic of the difficulties that we faced, then and now, in improving election administration. It was in a location in the east side of Cleveland—one with a higher percentage of African-American voters. Rain had started to fall, and while the line was long when we arrived—just before the lunchtime rush—it grew, snaking around the block so that the entrance to the polling place was no longer visible at the end of the line. What was the problem? After observing the polling place and talking to some of the frustrated poll workers, the answer soon became clear. More than half of the voting stations—where voters were allowed to complete their ballots—were not set up and sat abandoned at the corner of the room. The chief poll worker saw that there was a greater number of voting system plugs compared to the electrical outlets in the polling place, and believed they only had power to assemble half of the machines. Sadly, no-one recognized that: (a) the voting machines could be plugged, one into the other, ‘daisy chain’ style and (b) that because the system of voting was the last of the ‘punch card’ system—the purpose of the electricity was not to ‘power’ the machine, but to operate the light on the top of a movable, privacy-enhanced portable table.
Although we are a nation built on westward expansion, when it comes to vote-by-mail it’s a movement built more on eastern expansion. Washington and Oregon are completely vote-by-mail, in the most recent presidential election more people voted by mail in California than cast ballots at the polls and the Colorado legislature recently approved a bill that will send a ballot to every registered voter. Recently, several towns and counties throughout Utah have been considering making the switch from polling-place based elections to vote-by-mail elections. “Over the past few years several state legislators have been excited by the idea of vote-by-mail,” said Mark Thomas chief deputy/director of elections Lieutenant Governor’s office. “They have passed several laws to make it easier to conduct election by-mail.”
One of the he-said, she-said conflicts in the Reform Party’s vote rigging scandal is whether Lääne-Viru County Governor Einar Vallbaum had any involvement. Regional development director Taimi Samblik had accused both MEP Kristiina Ojuland and Vallbaum of persuading her to rig the votes and later of trying to bribe her into taking full responsibility. Yesterday, Samblik left the party and Ojuland was kicked out. But Vallbaum, who had threatened to sue the party if he were expelled, was kept in, as the party said it did not find evidence that he was implicated, ERR reported. Moreover, Vallbaum said he believed Ojuland and claimed that Samblik had made the whole story up. “It’s too bad about Taimi. She did her work well, excluding the two incidents that she made up,” Vallbaum said.
The last time Iran had a presidential vote, millions took to the streets calling foul when the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner. Four years on, the Islamic Republic has not yet fully recovered from the ensuing political heart-attack. After a year of demonstrations and repression, the battle for Iran’s future was won by Iran’s conservative hardliners loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Their reformist rivals were sidelined: Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the thwarted reformists’ favourite who claimed to have won the 2009 election, remains under house arrest, along with a fellow candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. Politics, even within the confines of the Islamic state, is as polarised as ever. Now the reformists are pondering how to pick themselves up for another fight: the first round of the coming presidential poll, on June 14th. Eight candidates are running, following a purge of hundreds of other aspirants by the Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and lawyers, half of them appointed by Mr Khamenei. The council controversially barred a former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom reformers would probably have backed, from running. Two reform-minded candidates remain: Hassan Rohani and Muhammad Reza Aref, both of whom stayed silent during the tumult after the 2009 poll. The reformists are mulling over whether to throw in their lot with one of them.
A bid by two MSPs to give prisoners the chance to vote in next year’s Scottish independence referendum has been thrown out by a committee of MSPs. The Lib Dems’ Alison McInnes and Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie argued it was wrong for all prisoners to be automatically disenfranchised. But their amendments to the Referendum Franchise Bill were defeated in the Referendum Bill Committee. Scots will take part in the referendum on 18 September 2014. The committee also agreed that 16 and 17-year-olds, who will receive the right to vote for the first time, would have until 10 March next year to sign up to the electoral register. The Scottish government has consistently opposed giving prisoners a say in the vote.