There is little agreement on anything, even when it all started, but sometime in the last decade the Beaumont Independent School District became a battle zone. Tempers have flared at school board meetings and lawsuits have been filed, as a mostly white group of critics have charged the black-majority school board with enabling corruption, wasteful spending and academic cheating. The school board’s majority denies the charges and says the whites simply cannot tolerate black control. Determined to change the board but aware that the incumbents could not be beaten in the current districts, the critics pursued alternatives. Last December, they pushed for a new election method that was approved, along narrow racial lines, in a citywide referendum. The Justice Department, citing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, objected to the new method and it was dropped.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week stepped into the national fight over voter identification requirements, and the result won’t please those pushing such requirements in at least 30 states. The justices ruled 7-2 Arizona’s requirement of proof of citizenship before voter registration is pre-empted by federal law. The Dallas Morning News, which praised the ruling editorially, said after the decision the high court was bucking a national trend. The newspaper said a number of states have restricted early voting and voter registration drives, while in Florida, “the League of Women Voters was forced to suspend its voter registration efforts after 72 years because a new law greatly impedes its efforts.” The newspaper noted more than 30 states introduced such legislation in 2011 and the ID cards permitted vary widely.
A presidential commission set up to address long lines and other problems at the polls will turn to voters, local officials and researchers in crafting a plan to improve election systems. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created by President Barack Obama early this year, will hold a public hearing Friday in Miami followed by hearings in Denver on Aug. 8, Philadelphia on Sept. 4 and an unspecified city in Ohio on Sept. 20. The commission held its first public meeting Friday in Washington. “Our goal … is to keep attention very active on this issue,” said Robert Bauer, co-chairman of the commission and general counsel to Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Please help us ferret out the information that we need.” The hearings come as public attention turns to major voting issues.
A commission named by President Barack Obama to address the problem of long lines on Election Day had its first meeting last week — but few observers held out hope for major reform. Its first session Friday lasted less than an hour and drew fewer than 50 people. And even its co-chair downplayed expectations. “We will not be providing legislative recommendations,” said Ben Ginsberg, an attorney for the Mitt Romney campaign tapped by Obama to co-chair the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Instead, Ginsberg said the 10-member panel would be devising “best practices” to help states improve the efficiency of elections and registration while reducing wait times at the ballot box.
Pennsylvania: Constitutional issues at the center of approaching trial on voter ID law | Associated Press
Pennsylvania’s long-sidelined voter identification law is about to go on trial. Civil libertarians who contend that the statute violates voters’ rights persuaded a state judge to bar enforcement of the photo ID requirement during the 2012 presidential election and the May primary. But those were temporary orders based on a narrower context; the trial set to begin July 15 in Commonwealth Court will explore the more complicated constitutional questions. It could be the beginning of a long process. Lawyers in the case say a panel of Commonwealth Court judges may weigh in following the trial, before what both sides expect will be an appeal by the loser to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday striking down an Arizona voter identification law will likely have little consequence in another legal case — that of the Pennsylvania voter identification law, legal experts said. By a 7-2 ruling, the nation’s high court on Monday ruled that in the case of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, Arizona had violated constitutional law and could not demand proof of citizenship as a voter registration requisite. Under the National Voter Registration Act, voters are required to swear they are citizens on the application form. The Arizona law would have demanded documentary proof at time of registration. By contrast, the Pennsylvania legislation would require all voters to show a valid photo ID at the polls. The law is scheduled for a July trial in Commonwealth Court.
On the heels of the 2012 election, a team of Republican state senators joined former Attorney General Henry McMaster at Gov. Nikki Haley’s signing of the Equal Access to the Ballot Act. The Senate bill aimed to correct issues that prevented more than 200 candidates from being booted off ballots across the state. Last year, elections officials said the candidates did not properly file paperwork to join the races. “When you run for office, it’s a true sacrifice, it’s an individual sacrifice, it’s a family sacrifice, and you have to fight,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “What we saw last election was one of the most painful things you can ever see in an election – you had 200 people wanting to fight, wanting to serve and they were denied access to the ballot. With this bill we are saying that no party or individual will ever get in the way of someone running for office. We are fighters in South Carolina and we want more fighters.”
Barring something unexpected, it looks like the two-year Texas redistricting fight is heading for another round in a federal court. After five hours of contentious debate, the Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives on Thursday tentatively approved the interim maps used in the 2012 election for its 150 districts. The final vote, along party lines, was 92-47.
Escaping mostly unscathed from some intraparty sparring, Utah Democrats elected to keep their caucus/convention system intact Saturday, arguing that a switch to an open primary would be too costly and, therefore, prohibitive to common-folk candidates. Following two hours of sharp debate during their state party organizing convention in downtown Ogden, Democratic delegates voted 53.3 percent to 46.6 percent to keep the status quo. But party insiders pledged to spend the next year exploring improvements — including a possible hybrid system that could set a lower vote threshold at convention to allow candidates onto a primary ballot. “There is nothing built in and I anticipate tremendous dialogue now,” Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis said after the vote. “My sense is people want more primaries. This preserves that option.”
One man was killed and three people were wounded in an apparently politically motivated shooting in Albania on Sunday during a crucial vote that could determine whether one of Europe’s poorest countries has a chance of joining the EU. The shootout in the northern town of Lac “might be related to the vote,” police spokeswoman Alma Katragjini told AFP without elaborating. The dead man was a 53-year old leftist opposition activist, said a source close to the Socialist-led coalition of former Tirana mayor Edi Rama, but this could not be independently confirmed. The source also said that one of the wounded was a candidate from the ruling Democratic party of conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who is seeking his third mandate to lead Albania after eight years in power.
In a plenary session Sunday, the Islamist-led upper house of Egypt’s parliament, the Shura Council, currently endowed with legislative powers, approved that the House of Representatives — Egypt’s lower house parliament and formerly named the People’s Assembly — be increased by 42 seats, from 546 to 588. According to Hatem Bagato, the newly-appointed minister for parliamentary affairs, the increase was necessary to align to the orders of the High Constitutional Court (HCC) that stated there must be fair representation of citizens in the upcoming parliament. “The [HCC], in a report to Shura Council on 25 May, said the distribution of seats in the upcoming parliament was not made fair for seven governorates by the House law,” said Bagato, adding that “as a result, each of these seven governorates will be increased by six seats, [adding] a total of 42 seats.”
About 20,000 Malaysian opposition supporters gathered in the capital on Saturday demanding the resignation of the country’s Election Commission in the wake of contentious polls. The opposition claims bias by the commission cost them a historic win against Malaysia’s 56-year-old ruling coalition and has filed petitions challenging results in some areas, claiming fraud. The rally in central Kuala Lumpur was the 15th since the May 5 elections, in which the Barisan Nasional (National Front) clung to power despite losing the popular vote in its worst showing ever. “We have won the elections,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd. “So we will continue our protests in parliament and outside.”
About 20,000 Malaysian opposition supporters gathered in the capital Saturday demanding the resignation of the country’s Election Commission in the wake of contentious polls. The opposition claims bias by the commission cost them a historic win against Malaysia’s 56-year-old ruling coalition and has filed petitions challenging results in some areas, claiming fraud. The rally in central Kuala Lumpur was the 15th since the May 5 elections, in which the Barisan Nasional (National Front) clung to power despite losing the popular vote in its worst showing ever. “We have won the elections,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd. “So we will continue our protests in parliament and outside.”
Election monitoring group Golos must register as a “foreign agent” even though it says it does not get any foreign funds, Russian officials said Friday. The independent organization says it has not received money from outside Russia since November 2012, when a new law went into effect governing non-governmental organizations such as Golos, RIA Novosti reported.
The cantonal council in Geneva is offering its residents abroad the possibility of voting electronically 6 October and 10 November, only the second time they’ve been given the option to vote electronically. The previous voting sessions in October 2012 were majority votes, but the 6 October will be the first proportional vote done this way. Cantonal councilors underscored their decision by saluting the 14 June decision by the Federal Council to adopt a report on electronic voting that lays out clear guidelines for the cantons. Electronic voting during its first six year test phase was financed by the federal government, but starting this year the cantons are responsible for covering the costs, with some help from Bern until 2014.