In a ruling that raises more questions that it resolves, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement for federal voter registration forms. In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., a 7-2 majority determined that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 preempts the state requirement. In the short term, this means that those who register to vote through a federal form only need to sign the form, swearing to be U.S. citizens. Georgia, Kansas and Alabama have proof-of-citizenship requirements identical to Arizona’s, which also seem to be negated now. But in reacting to the court’s decision, detractors of the nullified state requirement said they were still concerned about a back-door option created by the ruling. “What the Supreme Court gave the federal government with one hand, it suggested could soon be taken away with the other,” wrote Richard Hasen, a political science professor from the University of California, Irvine School of Law, in a Daily Beast column.* That’s because the ruling allows Arizona to ask the federal Election Assistance Commission to add proof-of-citizenship as part of the federal registration form; if the commission — which currently has no appointed commissioners — rejected the request, then the state could take that request to court.
In January, the Supreme Court heard the case of an Alabama county that wanted to change the venerable 1965 Voting Rights Act. On behalf of the government, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that the act has worked well and meets constitutional muster. But swing-voting Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed skeptical about the Voting Rights Act. “Well, the Marshall Plan was very good, too,” quipped Kennedy. “But times change.” Congress may be about to find out how much times have changed. The Supreme Court is poised to turn over a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, likely kicking it back to Congress, adding another burden for the log-jammed legislature. It’s particularly heavy baggage for Republicans. While Democrats and civil rights groups stand largely united behind the broadest interpretations of the Voting Rights Act, for Republicans it’s a trickier matter. On one hand, they are eager to reach out to minority voters. They eagerly tout their charismatic, high-profile minority officeholders like Sens. Tim Scott or South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. If Congressional Republicans seem unwilling to rebuild the Voting Rights Act should the court curtail it, they risk being seen as indifferent or even hostile to minorities. On the other hand, the party’s Tea Party wing is likely to revolt if the Republican House they elected tries to re-establish what many see as a federal overreach. Already, Cruz has offered an amendment to address the Supreme Court’s decision in an Arizona voting rights case earlier this week that struck down a proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Gov. Jan Brewer penned her approval Wednesday to a series of changes in voting laws that Democrats and others say are designed to give her Republican Party an edge in future elections. The legislation, which will take effect later this year, sets up a procedure to stop sending early ballots to voters who have not used them in two election cycles. Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said the people this is most likely to affect are voters who are newly signed up through registration drives, voters who, at least initially, may be less in the habit of voting. And those voters, he said, are most likely Democrats. That contention is disputed by Sen. Michele Regan, R-Scottsdale. She said the highest number of people who have ignored their early ballots — and would be subject to no longer getting them in the mail — are in her Scottsdale legislative district. But Reagan conceded the reason for this could be the high number of home foreclosures in the district, with ballots mailed to people who are no longer there.
The new state budget is here, and once again it leaves the state’s election system holding an increasingly empty bag. For years counties have relied on the state to help fund state laws that change the voting process and in turn, make extra work and cost extra money for counties. The last time election mandates were funded was 2009, when they accounted for about $30 million paid to all 58 counties. The largest in terms of dollars and impact is the permanent absentee voter program, which allows Californians to sign up to vote by mail in every election rather than reapplying each time. Since then, the money has been withheld by the state and counties have had to make do with less. At the same time, counties no longer get reimbursed for the cost of special legislative elections, despite their growing frequency. In Sacramento County, the amount of election funding withheld by the state amounts to approximately $1 million annually. The last time it was paid, in 2008-09, it amounted to 9 percent of the county’s total elections budget.
Vice President Biden did right by Frederick Douglass. The abolitionist taught that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Accordingly, when the vice president marked the unveiling of a statue honoring abolitionist Douglass at the US Capitol, he made a demand. And it was the appropriate one. In the last years of his life Douglass was active with a pioneering voting rights group, the District Suffrage Petition Association. He attended the group’s meetings and asked, “What have the people of the District done that they should be excluded from the privileges of the ballot box?” It was that question, and the advocacy associated with it, that Biden recalled at the dedication ceremony, declaring that he and President Obama “support home rule, budget autonomy and the vote for the people of the District of Columbia.”
An effort to set up an early voting system in Maine died in the Maine House on Wednesday afternoon. The measure failed to garner the two-thirds support it needed in the House to send a question to voters asking them to amend the state constitution to allow towns and cities to set up early voting. The Senate approved the measure last month, meeting the two-thirds threshold needed to send a constitutional amendment resolution to voters. Maine residents who wish to vote early now do so by completing absentee ballots, which are sealed in envelopes that the voter signs. Those envelopes are held at a municipal clerk’s office until Election Day, when poll workers place them in ballot boxes or voting machines.
Two lawmakers want to increase turnout by extending early voting through the Sunday before Election Day, a move election officials say would wipe out safeguards that keep people from voting twice. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, and Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, wrote a letter to state elections administrator Linda Lamone June 6 asking for the change. Cardin serves as the Ways and Means subcommittee chairman for election law and is a probable candidate for attorney General in 2014. The delegates argued an extra weekend could increase voter turnout. “Maryland’s early voting period remains one of the most limited in the nation,” Hixson and Cardin wrote. “The Brennan Center for Justice recommends allowing early voting on the weekend before Election Day, because early voting turnout increases as public excitement and media coverage of the election build as Election Day approaches.”
The Anoka County Board has awarded a contract for new election equipment that will be in place in time for the 2013 election Nov. 5. The new equipment plus election services from Election Systems & Software will cost up to $1,530,251.30 and replace the existing equipment, which is obsolete. A 10-year joint powers agreement was approved last year by the county, school districts and cities in the county that spells out a cost-sharing formula to pay for the new equipment, its maintenance and operations. According to Cindy Reichert, Anoka County elections manager, the software associated with the new equipment will begin arriving the week of June 24. But delivery of the 140 ballot counters that the county is purchasing under the contract won’t be delivered until August, Reichert said.
Senate and House negotiators struck a last-minute deal yesterday to reform New Hampshire’s voter ID law, ensuring student ID cards will continue to be accepted as a valid form of identification at the polls. “I think it’s a good compromise,” said Rep. Gary Richardson of Hopkinton, the Democratic floor leader in the House. Negotiations between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House on a bill making changes to last year’s voter ID law broke down early in the week. But the two sides continue to talk informally, and yesterday morning the committee of conference chaired by Richardson finalized a new version of the bill. It will go before the House and Senate on Wednesday for a final vote. If it passes, it will go to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.
Gov. Chris Christie is ready to hire more state workers and rent extra voting machines to avoid any last-minute chaos between New Jersey’s two major elections this year, his administration told the state Supreme Court this week. After U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death earlier this month, Christie called a special Senate election for Oct. 16 at an estimated cost of $12 million — a price tag that would rise if the Republican governor goes through with any of the backup plans his staff described to the court. The date for the Senate election — 20 days before the Nov. 5 vote for governor and for all the seats in the Legislature — has rankled Democrats who said Christie could have combined the two elections but chose to spend millions to split them and boost his re-election chances. In a worst-case scenario, the 20-day window between the special election and the regularly scheduled one in November could dwindle to just 48 hours, state election officials said in a filing to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule soon whether Christie must combine the two elections.
New Jersey’s special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg will go ahead this year as scheduled, after the state Supreme Court declined on Thursday to hear a legal challenge. Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, ordered a special primary election on August 13 and a special general election to be held October 16 – three weeks before the regularly scheduled November election, when Christie himself is up for re-election. Democrats accused Christie of making a political calculation, ensuring he would not appear on the same ballot as a race that might energize Democratic voters by authorizing a special election that will leave taxpayers with a $24 million tab.
New Jersey: Bergen County freeholders: State should pay for special election; would cost county $3.6 million | NJ.com
The Bergen County Freeholders on Wednesday voted to seek a court order directing the state to reimburse the county for the special election to replace the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. In a unanimous vote, the freeholders directed their attorney to file a “declaratory judgment action” in Hackensack Superior Court contesting the cost of the Oct. 16 election, as well as the Aug. 13 primary. It’s estimated that the two elections would set the county back $3.6 million. David Ganz, the board’s chairman, said the elections would tip the county over the state’s mandated 2 percent property tax cap to recoup costs, creating a “financial emergency” in Bergen County.
A Columbus-based federal judge has dismissed an early-voting lawsuit left over from the 2012 presidential election, saying the matter is now moot. U.S. District Court Judge George C. Smith affirmed Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision not to place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot that challenged a law prohibiting in-person voting on the weekend before the election.
A Virginia man has pleaded guilty to forging thousands of signatures in trying to get former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the ballot in the state’s 2012 presidential primary, an NBC affiliate in Charlottesville reported. In December 2011, Adam Ward, 28, collected more than 11,000 signatures, according to prosecutors, but investigators could not verify more than 4,000 of them, WVIR reported. Mr. Ward has pleaded guilty to 36 counts of voter fraud and perjury.
The Central Electoral Commission, CEC, has abandoned the planned use of new pilot technologies in the June 23 parliamentary elections, after tests revealed problems. The Electoral Code mandated the CEC to pilot two new election technologies for these elections: an electronic voter verification system, EVS, in the district of Tirana, and an electronic counting system in the region of Fier. But according to a CEC report 11 per cent of the identity cards tested could not be read from the machine. Tests with the EVS system in Tirana revealed that the system could not read deteriorated IDs or prevent attempts of multiple voting at different voting centres.
Deep in the Balkans, two of the West’s leading political operatives — John Podesta, architect of Bill Clinton’s two successful campaigns for the White House, and former British prime minister Tony Blair — are going head to head in one of the strangest and most deeply fraught election campaigns in years. At stake here for both sets of lobbyists is not only the promise of millions in consulting fees and ongoing, profitable lobbying contracts, but bragging rights as well — to having stage-managed a winning campaign involving 66 political parties bundled in at least three coalitions, and deep hatreds in all camps. So both sides — center-left Prime Minister Sali Berisha going for his third four-year term, challenged by the socialist Edi Rama — have managed to transform this electoral contest into a curious mélange of non-stop campaign rallies, caravans with blaring loudspeakers, a series of televised debates with both sides shouting at each other, and wall-to-wall television coverage that would not be out of place in Chicago or Houston. On Sunday, voters will decide.
A salient message from among numerous satirical dispatches from Iran resonated well with last week’s presidential elections. It said, “in other countries people go to the poll booths to elect their favourite candidate, in Iran we line up to vote in order to prevent a particular candidate from winning.” This indeed reflects Iranians’ attitude and reaction to an ‘engineered’ electoral process. Reflecting on the people’s past voting strategies where people have to elect from the list of hand-picked candidates of the establishment, I wrote earlier that, “The key questions on the minds of the Iranians who want to vote strategically are: which candidate will be in a better position to possibly weaken the Supreme Leader? Which will be less detrimental in terms of economic mismanagement? And more importantly, which candidate will be less dangerous than the others in terms of brazen violations of human rights and civil liberties?”
Thirteen-year old Mohammed Al-Badwi smiles as he poses in front of a camera at his school. He is part of a test-run for the soon-to-be implemented electronic registration system for future parliament and presidential elections. Proponents of the technology say that an electronic system, as opposed to the manual registration used now, will assist Yemen as it transitions to democracy. The computerized system is scheduled to be implemented in September, and proponents say it will make the process more efficient and eliminate the risk of fraud. A voter’s data is entered into a computer and a photo of the voter is taken, along with his or her ten fingerprints, electronically. The system utilizes scanners, digital cameras, finger recognition devices and computers, Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum head Mohammed Al-Hakimi said. The process, proponents say, allows those monitoring to recognize if someone has already registered or voted.