Shelby County is booming. The Birmingham suburb is lined with strip malls, subdivisions, and small factories, in what was once sleepy farmland. The population has grown fivefold since 1970 to about 200,000. Change is afoot in this bedroom community, at least on the surface. But the federal government thinks an underlying threat of discrimination remains throughout Alabama and other parts of the country in perhaps the most hard-fought franchise in the Constitution: the right to vote. Competing voices in this county, echoes of decades-long debates over equal access to the polls, now spill out in a 21st century fight, one that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joyce Ladner was a senior at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s when she failed the voter registration literacy test for the third time. But she said she already knew the registrar would not pass her because she was black. And aside from questions like, “How many grains of salt are in a quart jar,” one stood out to her and she knew her answer would not sit well with the registrar. “What are the characteristics of a good citizen?” she read. Her response: “One who follows just laws and disobeys unjust laws.” Ladner later registered under a court order and helped others exercise that same right by working as a field organizer with her sister Dorrie Ladner and South Carolina native Cleveland Sellers in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). On Aug. 6, 1965, after years of tumultuous violence and lives lost, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including ‘‘Israel,’’ ‘’Progressive’’ and ‘‘Occupy’’ were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press. The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday’s revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency’s new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.
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, Pa., 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.
Editorials: Turning the political map into a partisan weapon – The GOP’s national effort to control redistricting has cemented its grip on the House | Boston Globe
In the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains, protests and rallies erupt in this city’s downtown square on any given night. Aging hippies and veterans gather at the foot of a granite obelisk known as the monument to tolerance and wave cardboard signs asking motorists to honk against drone warfare and in support of universal health care. Several Asheville preachers openly advocate for gay marriage, a rarity in the South; it is enough to move one GOP state lawmaker to label the entire community a “cesspool of sin.” Asheville has long carried the distinction of being an island of Democratic blue in a sea of Republican red. For six years, the largest city in western North Carolina was represented in the US House by a moderate Democrat who embodied the party’s playbook for the conservative region: a former NFL quarterback named Heath Shuler. But Shuler decided against seeking reelection last year after the playing field shifted beneath him. A state Legislature controlled by Republicans redrew his district — splitting liberal Asheville in two and diluting the city’s voting power. Shuler stood little chance of winning another term under the redrawn map.
Voting Blogs: Reflections of a Prodigal Election Administrator | Election Administration Theories and Praxis
After nearly two months back in California and back in the society of Election Officials, I have made many observations about the art and profession of administering elections. Most of these observations are not new but I am seeing them anew and from a slightly different perspective of a scholar and a returning “prodigal”. I know that after a few more months, I will probably re-assimilate and will lose the perspectives I presently enjoy. I am always struck and am somewhat in awe of the dedication and hard work of election staffs which are repeatedly demonstrated and which have become central features of a powerful professional culture. The ability, and even the willingness, to do more of the impossible with even less is the hallmark of dedicated election officials. Hard work, long hours and working weekends never discourage election officials; in fact, they are a badge of honor of sorts. As a result of the enormity of the work, the intense public scrutiny and the under-appreciation of their efforts, election officials celebrate their underdog status. It is understandable if, during this celebration of their resilience and ability to perform the impossible, a sense of fatalism, victimhood and martyrdom creep into the way the business of elections is conceived, planned and conducted.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration convened for the first time last Friday in preparation for its first public hearing this week in Miami. Much of the coverage of the Commission has focused on the unlikelihood that its deliberations will yield any kind of federal legislative activity, leading some to wonder what the body will be able to accomplish. But in many ways, that lack of legislative urgency should be an asset to the Commission, especially since the topics the group has been tasked with covering lie outside the “hot button” issues that have consumed the debate over the last several years.
Libertarian Barry Hess said he’s determined to run for governor next year, even though he’ll face a 4,380 percent increase in the number of signatures he’ll need to qualify for the ballot. For Democrats, it’s a 9.8 percent increase. Meanwhile, any Republican seeking the seat will have a 5.8 percent decrease in the signature requirement. The shifting numbers are due to a late addition to a wide-ranging election bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week. The measure was favored by Republicans, who flexed some local and national muscle to revive House Bill 2305 in the waning hours of the recently completed legislative session.
Roughly one-third of all voter registration applications submitted in Kansas since Jan. 1 are in “suspense” because applicants could not provide proof of citizenship, but some say a flawed computer upgrade is responsible for most of the problem. Six months after the state started requiring new voters to prove their citizenship, 11,101 people who attempted to register were considered unqualified to vote because of lack of proof of citizenship, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. During that period, 20,780 have been added to the voter rolls, according to figures provided by the Kansas secretary of state’s office. When people show proof of U.S. citizenship to get a driver’s license in Kansas, the documentation is not making it to election officials for voter registration purposes, said Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew. “There are quite a few in suspense across the state, and we (in Douglas County) are no different than that,” Shew said.
Democrats continued their fight today against the October special election Governor Christie ordered to fill the late Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat. One bill that passed a Senate committee and the full Assembly would combine the general and special elections, moving the general from Nov. 5 to Oct. 16. Another, somewhat contradictory bill, would allow New Jerseyans to cast their general election ballot when they vote in the special election. That legislation also passed the full Assembly and the Senate Budget Committee. The two bills passed mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republican against. Democrats said the legislation would make it easier for voters to participate in both elections, while Republicans argued the proposals were unnecessary.
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.
Gov. Bob McDonnell isn’t ready to say Virginia should be free of federal oversight on proposed election policy changes under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark law that applies to states and communities across the nation with a history of voter discrimination. “I can’t say that,” the governor responded Monday when asked if Virginia has outgrown the act almost 50 years after it was adopted. The fate of that civil rights era policy now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. In the coming days, the nine justices are expected to rule on an Alabama locality’s challenge to a key provision in the law, known as Section 5, that requires federal sign-off before new voting policies are put in place. Virginia is among nine states, many of them southern, covered by that provision. Select communities in six other states also fall under the act.
Albanian authorities have started counting votes for the country’s general election, marred by gunfire at a polling station on Sunday which left one dead and two others wounded, APA reports quoting Xinhua. According to the latest data from the Central Election Commission, 226 ballot boxes out 1,422 in total in the region of Tirana have been counted, while similar progress was underway across the country. Preliminary results were expected later on Monday, whereas the official results are not expected to be announced until Tuesday. The Democratic Party has called on all political parties to proceed with calm and not to block the counting process.
The province should test online voting with a pilot project during a byelection down the road, Elections Ontario recommends.
In a two-part, 271-page report to the legislature tabled Monday, Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa said it’s time to embrace technological changes in order to encourage more people to vote. … But there are security and technological challenges to online or telephone voting, he concluded after looking at experiences in Australia, Estonia, the U.S., the United Kingdom and various Canadian municipalities. These include “identifying the need to overcome capacity challenges by building and supporting the infrastructure required to manage a system for the entire province” and understanding that there will be “significant costs associated with pilots and integrating network voting into a general election (more than $2 million per use of the system).”
While many Italians were delighted that Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for paying for sex with an underage woman, many more did not really care. They have seen this film dozens of times before. Mr. Berlusconi, who was Italian prime minister three times before he was effectively ousted in 2011 at the height of the debt crisis, has always been one step ahead of the law. He has been endlessly prosecuted and, only last month, an appeals court upheld his four-year prison sentence for a tax-fraud scheme. In all of these cases, he pleads innocence, blames his woes on left-wing conspiracies and overzealous prosecutors, and unleashes his armies of lawyers to set the appeals machine in motion. So far, it has worked. Mr. Berlusconi has never seen the inside of a prison cell and probably never will. Appeals can take years and, in Italy, old men tend not to spend their last years behind bars. He is 76 and looks his age. Still, Monday’s verdict could have serious political repercussions at a time when Italy, which is in deep recession amid soaring unemployment, is desperate for a stable government that can keep economic reforms alive. He remains the head of the People of Freedom party (PdL), which supports the coalition government of Enrico Letta, who became prime minister in April after February’s inconclusive election. If Mr. Berlusconi withdraws his support for the government, it would come crashing down.