The commission President Barack Obama is setting up to address problems with election administration plans to hold one of its first meetings in the city that appeared to be ground zero for excessive delays in the 2012 vote: Miami. The panel will convene at the federal courthouse in Miami on Friday, June 28 to hear testimony from “local, county and state election officials,” as well as “comments by interested members of the public,” according to a notice set to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register. In November, some Miami voters spent more than five hours waiting to case their ballots, according to the Miami Herald. Obama promised action on the subject in his election night victory speech.
A group of Democratic senators is urging President Obama’s election commission to take “strong steps” to ensure that voters are no longer forced to wait hours to cast their ballots, as occurred last November in some areas of the country. “The existence of long lines…defective voting machines, and the lack of staff and adequate resources at polling locations created inexcusable conditions for voters,” Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida said in a letter to the commission’s chairmen sent Tuesday. “Lines created by these conditions are forcing citizens to decide between casting their ballot or caring for a sick child, or earning a paycheck to feed their families. This is a choice that no citizen should have to face.”
Voting-rights advocates hope the Supreme Court won’t rule against Section 5, a key piece of the Voting Rights Act. But while they wait for the decision to be handed down, they’re already strategizing for a post-Section 5 world. “If the Court struck down or weakened Section 5, it would lead to the largest rollback of American democracy since the end of Reconstruction,” Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told reporters Wednesday. Shelby County, Ala., is challenging the constitutionality of Section 5, which allows the U.S. Justice Department to block any proposed election changes made by certain areas with a history of racial discrimination—mostly in the south—if those changes might reduce the voting power of minorities. Many Court observers expect that the ruling, which could come as soon as Thursday, will strike down or significantly water down Section 5.
Editorials: Are States Delaying Voter ID Enactment to Duck Federal Racial Review? | Brentin Mock/Colorlines
In March, Virginia passed a strict photo voter ID law that won’t go into effect until 2014. It’s the second voter ID law they’ve passed in as many years — the first one enacted last year only after a review by the federal government made sure that it would not disenfranchise voters of color, even by mistake. The U.S. Department of Justice reviewed and cleared it just in time for the November elections last year. The much stricter version of Virginia’s voter ID law passed this year may not enjoy the same federal scrutiny given its 2014 start date. Reason being, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Section 5 is invalid — and a ruling is expected within weeks — then the voter ID law would go into effect regardless of its impact on people. Over 870,000 Virginians, mostly people of color, may lack the appropriate ID to vote, according to a letter sent from the ACLU to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell asking him to veto the new voter ID law. So, it has to be asked: Is Virginia holding the new law to escape racial discrimination review? It’s tough to think of Virginia in that context given its governor just went through the trouble of lifting voting bans on citizens formerly incarcerated for nonviolent felon charges. But if those who’ve left prison are unable to get government ID or a driver’s license — not uncommon for many formerly incarcerated, as pointed out by the Legal Action Center, due to missing vital documents like birth certificates — then they may suffer disenfranchisement under the new law next year anyway.
The percentage of voters who cast their ballot before Election Day modestly increased from 29.7 percent to 31.6 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to a Census Bureau survey. The Current Population Survey, November Voting and Registration Supplement asks respondents if they voted on Election Day or before Election Day. Thus, the Census Bureau counts persons who voted by any means of “early voting” as voting prior to Election Day, be it by a mail ballot or in-person at an election office or special early voting polling place. The increase of 1.9 percentage points in early voting rates in the past two presidential elections is in stark contrast to the sharp rise of 9.7 percentage points from 2004 to 2008, from 20.0% to 29.7%. The rate of increase in early voting over the past two presidential elections may have slowed since some states have nearly maxed out the pool of people who may wish to vote early. Also, fewer new states came online to offer an early voting option to their voters, beyond the traditional excuse-required absentee ballot.
As the Supreme Court prepares to release its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, this report analyzes new implications — that have so far gone largely unnoted — if the Court takes the extraordinary step of striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This key provision has been crucial to challenging restrictive voting laws proposed by states in recent years. Without the protections of Section 5, states might seek to reinstate or push a wave of discriminatory voting measures that were previously blocked or deterred by the law. This would seriously threaten the rights of minority voters across the country to cast a ballot and generate additional confusion and litigation over voting rules.
The bipartisan election-reform commission established by President Obama will meet for a day in Miami — the focal point for the state’s most-recent election meltdown. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is scheduled to meet all day Friday, June 28 at the University of Miami to take testimony and public comments from local, county and state election officials and citizens, a notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register said. “The [commission] was established to identify best practices and make recommendations to the President on the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay,” the notice said, “and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots.”
Gov. Chris Christie’s administration fought back Tuesday against Democrats who are trying to get a court to move the special U.S. Senate election from the October date he chose to the same day as the November general election. The state filed papers asserting that Christie was within his legal rights to schedule the election when he did, and that changing course now would be damaging. “The harms that will flow from the stay that they seek significantly outweigh any purported harms resulting from its denial,” the state government’s lawyers said in the filing with an appeals court Tuesday. The next step in the case will likely be oral arguments, which have not been scheduled.
The city’s runoff elections would be scrapped in favor of instant runoff voting under a bill being introduced Wednesday in the City Council. Backers say the new automatic system could avoid the trouble that’s been sparked by the difficulty of holding a primary and runoff two weeks apart with electronic voting machines – and save $20 million every election cycle the city spends on runoffs. They also say it would be more democratic because turnout is typically tiny for runoff elections, much smaller than for primaries. “This whole debate would all be unnecessary if we simply had instant runoff voting. We would save money, we would save time, we would save headaches,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who is sponsoring the bill along with Councilwoman Gale Brewer. “This would enable more people to participate in the runoff.”
There are several history-making decisions expected to be handed down from the United States Supreme Court in June. One could effectively wipe out the Voting Rights Act. In Texas, minority voters fear a possible loss of legal protection, while states’ rights activists are eager for a change. At a recent San Antonio field hearing on redistricting Texas lawmakers once again got an earful about Congressional District maps that the courts have ruled discriminate against minorities. Jose Garza testified for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. And he kept bringing up Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. “The Supreme Court has ruled over and over and over again that the exclusive jurisdiction for making determinations under section five lies at the department of justice and with the district court in the district of Columbia and not with the local Texas court,” Garza said.
Wisconsin: GOP leader vows to reinstate voter ID as Assembly passes elections bill | Wisconsin State Journal
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos vowed Wednesday that he will do everything possible to quickly reinstate the requirement that Wisconsin voters present a photo identification in time for the 2014 general election. “It’s my intention to get that bill through the Legislature … and be signed by the governor sometime this fall,” said Vos, R-Rochester. Vos made that promise just before the GOP-led Assembly approved a bipartisan elections-law bill that stripped a provision to resurrect voter ID. After that and other controversial elements were taken out of Assembly Bill 225 in committee Monday, Democrats signed on, and the measure passed the full Assembly on a voice vote Wednesday with a smattering of “no” votes.
The Wisconsin State Assembly has passed a bill that calls for allowing Wisconsin electors to register to vote online. Assembly Bill 225 passed the lower chamber on a voice vote Wednesday. It now heads to the State Senate. Online registrants would need to input their name, date of birth and state identification card or driver’s license number into a secure web site run by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. The GAB would then work with the Department of Transportation to obtain the “e-signature” from that license or state ID to use in place of an elector signing the necessary registration form. Under current law, voters can register by mail or in person but not online.
Canada: Toronto Councillors vote to seek end of ‘first past the post’ system in city elections | National Post
Toronto city council took a significant step on Tuesday towards dramatically changing how the city elects its leaders — and who gets to cast a ballot. By a vote of 26 to 15, the governing body asked the provincial government to allow it to use the ranked choice voting system, which demands that the winning candidate accumulate at least 50% of votes cast. It also asked, by a margin of 21 to 20, the minister of municipal affairs and housing to grant permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections. Both initiatives require Queen’s Park to amend legislation. Yanni Dagonas, a spokesperson for Minister Linda Jeffrey, said the government will give Toronto’s requests “careful consideration” and said it appreciated the city’s efforts to “increase voter engagement.” City staff have already indicated it would be impossible to implement such reforms by the 2014 election. Ranked choice voting would also have to come back to city council for further approvals.
Tens of thousands of Gmail accounts belonging to Iranian users have been targeted in an extensive hacking campaign in the weeks leading up to the country’s closely watched presidential elections on Friday, Google Inc said on Wednesday. The U.S. Internet company, which described the attacks as broad “email-based phishing” attempts seeking to trick unsuspecting Gmail users into giving up their user names and passwords, said they originated in Iran and appeared to be “politically motivated in connection with the Iranian presidential election on Friday.”
A U.S. Internal Revenue Service manager, who described himself as a conservative Republican, told congressional investigators that he and a local colleague decided to give conservative groups the extra scrutiny that has prompted weeks of political controversy. In an official interview transcript released on Sunday by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, the manager said he and an underling set aside “Tea Party” and “patriot” groups that had applied for tax-exempt status because the organizations appeared to pose a new precedent that could affect future IRS filings. Cummings, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducting the probe, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the manager’s comments provided evidence that politics was not behind IRS actions that have fueled a month-long furor in Washington.
It is about 2,300 miles from Phoenix, the capital of the state of Arizona, to Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. That’s a long way. But beyond physical distance, the philosophical divide between Phoenix and D.C. may be even bigger. The Supreme Court is poised to decide the case known as Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., which could have implications much broader than the matter of whether extra identification must be presented if a person without a driver’s license is trying to register to vote in Arizona. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), sometimes called the “Motor Voter” law, was passed in Washington, D.C., by the federal government back in 1993. It established uniform procedures for all states to follow in federal elections. Under the NVRA, someone who is registering to vote has to check a box affirming under penalty of perjury that he or she is a U.S. citizen.