The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will on July 24 conduct a confirmation hearing on President Barack Obama’s two new nominees to the Federal Election Commission, three government officials familiar with the proceedings tell the Center for Public Integrity. The hearing, if conducted as planned, means the nominations could move forward to the full Senate before the body recesses on August 2 for a five-week summer break. Committee members may vote to approve or reject the nominees — Lee E. Goodman, an attorney at law firm LeClairRyan, and Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission — or forward the nominations to the full Senate without recommendation. Obama nominated Ravel and Goodman on June 21, as the Center previously reported.
Jefferson County election officials are concerned about the impact of Alabama’s new voter photo ID law. Outgoing Sec. of State Beth Chapman announced the new requirement last week. It will start in January of 2014 where all voters will be required to present a voter photo ID before they vote. If a voter does not have an ID card, the state will provide a free one for them. “They mentioned they would provide the equipment and the paper but…I haven’t seen anything about actually covering the cost that we will incur,” Barry Stevenson, Chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars said.
The work of Democrats in the legislature and Republicans collecting signatures in Colorado Springs and Pueblo has put a figurative ticking clock on the desk of Secretary of State Scott Gessler, the state’s chief election official. Nobody, however, is calling the tick-tock a time bomb just yet. Here’s the dilemma: Democrats passed House Bill 1303 in May, which requires that a ballot is mailed to every registered voter in each election, even the ones who haven’t voted in awhile. The law also allows residents to register all the way to Election Day. The law took effect July 1, and most assumed it would first apply to the primaries and the general election in 2014. Recall elections against state Senate President John Morse in El Paso County and Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo mean Gessler’s staff has weeks, not months, to figure out how to make the system work without chaos for county clerks and fraud in the elections’ outcomes, a concern Gessler and his staff voiced before the bill was passed. Voters have had the option of choosing mail ballots for years — and most voters choose it — but now everyone will get a mail ballot, or choose to show up in-person at vote centers, if they wish.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday handed a legal setback to the state Legislature, ruling that a legal challenge to the remapping of Senate districts can go forward in a lower court. The 5-2 decision is a victory for the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is seeking to prove that the GOP Senate majority drew districts in violation of the two “fair districts” amendments to the state Constitution that prohibit favoritism toward incumbents or political parties. The Legislature was seeking a “writ of prohibition” from the state’s highest court, based on the argument that the Supreme Court has “exclusive jurisdiction” over any redistricting challenge. Had the court adopted that view, it would have short-circuited the legal action by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the National Council of La Raza and seven individually-named voters. The 47-page opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente,rejected the Legislature’s arguments on at least six separate grounds. Justices said their initial 30-day review of the maps in 2012, as required by the Constitution, was a “facial” review based on limited evidence before the court. “Our facial review left open the possibility of future fact-intensive claims and did not preclude the future discovery or development of evidence,” Pariente wrote.
Percy L. Bland III said he knew he would become the first black mayor of Meridian, Mississippi (STOMS1), when he saw the crowd at Velma Young Community Center at 5 p.m. on election day. These were his voters. In 2009, Bland had lost to white Republican Cheri Barry in a city that is 62 percent black. While he needed white support for the rematch last month, his 990-vote margin came from predominantly black wards where his campaign registered voters, called them and even offered rides to the polls. “All that work was paying off,” Bland said. The federal Voting Rights Act enabled Bland’s election by guaranteeing blacks proportionate power, yet it didn’t foster a coalition that bridged the races or prevent accusations of bias and intimidation. The campaign illustrates the unfinished legacy of the 1965 law, which enfranchised millions of African-Americans — and whose core element the U.S. Supreme Court threw out three weeks after Bland won.
New York: Dollars and Sense: Election commissioners suits cost taxpayers thousands | The Poughkeepsie Journal
Court documents have shed light on the thousands of dollars several lawsuits between Dutchess County’s top election officials have cost taxpayers in legal fees. Three attorneys’ invoices could total $14,688 for expenses incurred while they filed and defended Dutchess County Democratic Election Commissioner Fran Knapp in lawsuits alleging violations of the state election law that requires the Democratic and Republican commissioners to act together on election-related matters. Taxpayers may be on the hook for thousands of dollars more. An appeal is being filed to overturn a May decision to dismiss a contempt-of-court charge against Republican Commissioner Erik Haight. Meanwhile, Haight’s attorney fees are pending court approval. Payments come out of the county Board of Elections’ budget, Knapp previously told the Journal. Knapp wasn’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.
North Carolina: General Assembly bill would require the use of paper ballots in all North Carolina elections | BlueRidgeNow.com
Board of Elections members expressed their opposition Wednesday to a bill in the General Assembly that would require the use of paper ballots in all North Carolina elections, a move that could cost Henderson County half a million dollars to implement. “I’m just amazed by this,” said board member Bob Heltman. “I’m perplexed. (It) sounds foolish as hell to me.” “I don’t think we need to be stepping back in time,” agreed Chairman Tom Wilson, referring to the days when illegibly marked paper ballots had to be hand-examined by elections officials, slowing returns. House Bill 607, sponsored by Reps. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham) and Justin Barr (R-Albemarle), would require that all state boards of elections tally paper ballots using optical scanners and would prohibit the use of touch screen voting systems currently used by Henderson and 35 other counties.
Ohio: Judge to hear arguments on federal court agreement governing provisional ballot rules | Associated Press
A federal judge in Ohio is scheduled to hear arguments Friday in a dispute over the state’s voter identification and provisional ballot rules. At issue is an expiring court order from 2010 that governs provisional ballots and forms of voter ID in the perennial presidential battleground. Voter advocates want to see the order extended indefinitely.
Pennsylvania: Protesters clamor in Harrisburg on eve of trial for voter ID law | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Calling the state’s yet-to-be implemented voter ID law a thinly veiled attempt at voter suppression, more than 100 people rallied in the state Capitol Thursday, just days before a trial on the controversial law is set to begin. “Harrisburg is ground zero in the fight for voting rights in the North,” said Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, speaking to the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda. Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill in March 2012 requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The law was quickly challenged; a lawsuit was filed later that month by seven voters and the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics of the law have said it would leave many people disenfranchised, and particularly targets low-income people, seniors, minorities and those in urban areas.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board has no plans to discipline tardy election clerks | Wisconsin Reporter
Linda Terry probably won’t get her wish. The Raymond clerk has overseen Wisconsin elections for the past 20 years, first in Kenosha County and now in Racine County. She wants the Legislature to stop futzing with election laws. “I think the clerks know what they’re doing, it’s everybody else that doesn’t,” Terry said with a laugh. County and municipal clerks have taken a lot of heat the past couple years, as Wisconsin’s seemingly unending election cycles have highlighted the downside of the most decentralized election system in the country. Military ballots have gone out late. Lawsuits have been threatened and filed. Voter registration rolls haven’t been properly updated. Some of the problems have been attributed to the series of recalls, recounts, special and regular elections, turning part-time municipal clerk jobs into full-time gigs. The election schedule has returned to normal, and watchdogs have had time to assess how well or how poorly Wisconsin elections are run. So, what’s changing? Not much.
Campaigning is well underway in Cambodia with prospective MPs seeking to impress the voting public, and convoys of party faithful parading through the streets in near carnival fashion. Elections in Cambodia are noisy, colourful affairs but critics complain the elections are tilted sharply towards Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The CPP has 90 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. John Sifton from Human Rights Watch addressed the US Congress this week and said Cambodia is on a precipice. “Over 30 years since the mass crimes against humanity and genocide that occurred, the country’s civil and political situation remains highly problematic,” he said.
A senior United Nations envoy says major reforms are necessary in Guinea-Bissau for elections due in November to be seen as free and fair. Among the reforms are steps toward providing justice for recent high-profile political killings. Guinea-Bissau has suffered from chronic instability since obtaining independence from Portugal in 1974. Its most recent coup occurred last year, when the army took control of the country in the middle of an election cycle. Transitional authorities announced in June that presidential and legislative elections would be held on November 24. This week, the country received representatives from a host of international organizations, including the African Union, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the European Union. El-Ghassim Wane, the director of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, says the international community is committed to seeing a successful vote.
As the orange van cruises central Tokyo, Kan Suzuki, a politician from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), scours the street for voters. Leaning from the window, he blares out his name through the van’s loudspeakers, and a team of white-gloved ladies known as uguisu-jo, or warbler girls, echoes him, waving starchily at a lone pensioner. Then Mr Suzuki retreats inside, to his iPad. For the first time in Japan, the law now allows him to update his home page during an election campaign. For years the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in office until 2009 and again from late last year, resisted changing outdated laws banning digital campaigning. Its older politicians had not a clue about social media. Others feared negative smear campaigns or worried that a Barack Obama-inspired internet machine could hand victories to the more technically minded DPJ. Until this election campaign—for the upper house of the Diet, where half of the seats are up for grabs on July 21st—all online activity had to freeze just when candidates most wanted to reach voters.
For a dead man, Lenin Carballido apparently ran a pretty good campaign. Last Sunday, nearly three years after he was officially declared dead, Carballido was narrowly elected mayor of San Agustin Amatengo, a small town in Mexico’s Oaxaca state. Carballido faked his own demise in 2010, according to Mexico’s Reforma newspaper, in order to evade charges stemming from a 2004 sexual assault. With police on his trail, Carballido “died” and obtained a coroner’s certificate in September 2010, affirming he had succumbed to “natural causes” after slipping into a diabetic coma. The charges were dropped. Carballido’s resurrection occurred this year when he ran as a local candidate for Mexico’s leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), beating his opponent Sunday by a margin of 11 votes, 515 to 504.
The free charter flight for Mitt Romney campaign volunteers seemed like an open-and-shut case for the six members of the Federal Election Commission. A wealthy friend of Romney spent $150,000 to fly as many as 200 campaign volunteers from Utah to a fund-raising phone-a-thon in Boston. The three Democrats on the FEC agreed with the agency’s staff that the charter appeared to violate rules limiting such “in-kind’’ gifts to $2,600 per election. But the three Republican commissioners disagreed, saying Romney’s friend merely acted “in behalf of’’ Romney’s 2008 campaign — not the illegal “on behalf of” — and thus the flight was allowed. With that twist of legal semantics, the case died — effectively dismissed. The 3-3 deadlock was part of a pattern of paralysis that has over the past five years gripped the commission, the nation’s principal referee for federal elections. The FEC has often been the subject of criticism since its founding four decades ago. But the impression of weakness has escalated dramatically, as Republicans named to the panel in 2008, united in the belief that the commission had been guilty of regulatory overreach, have moved to soften enforcement, block new rules, and limit oversight. In essence, according to critics, the FEC has been rendered toothless, and at the worst possible time, when powerful special interests are freer than they have been in decades to exert financial influence on Washington politicians.
State officials across the South are aggressively moving ahead with new laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls after the Supreme Court decision striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. The Republicans who control state legislatures throughout the region say such laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. But such fraud is extremely rare, and Democrats are concerned that the proposed changes will make it harder for many poor voters and members of minorities — who tend to vote Democratic — to cast their ballots in states that once discriminated against black voters with poll taxes and literacy tests. The Supreme Court ruling last month freed a number of states with a history of discrimination, mostly in the South, of the requirement to get advance federal permission in order to make changes to their election laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin holding hearings next week on the future of the Voting Rights Act after the heart of the landmark legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court last month, Chairman Patrick Leahy said Wednesday. During the hearing, titled “From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act,” senators will hear testimony on the way forward in the wake of the recent Court ruling that functionally weakened the Justice Department in its ability to block discriminatory laws before they went into effect in certain states and jurisdictions. Civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis will testify at the hearing, Leahy said, along with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who has already signaled his willingness to move forward on new legislation designed to restore the gap left in the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s recent decision.