Long-standing dysfunction at the Federal Election Commission reached a new level of personal acrimony in recent weeks, fueled by a power struggle between Republican commissioners and the agency’s top lawyer, who abruptly resigned. The battle threatens to further obstruct the work of the beleaguered commission, which is charged with policing candidates’ and political groups’ compliance with disclosure rules and other requirements of the vast campaign finance system. The fight is centered on a push by the Republican commissioners to bar FEC staff members from sharing information with federal prosecutors unless the panel — currently dominated by GOP members — gives its approval. The commission’s lone Democrat and many campaign-finance experts say the move could politicize such decisions and hamper the ability of the FEC and the Justice Department to prosecute election violations.
Editorials: The Federal Election Commission’s wrong-headed proposal to change rules | The Washington Post
Immobilized by political gridlock, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has allowed its enforcement actions to nosedive in recent years. Now outgoing commission Vice Chairman Donald F. McGahn II, a former general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, could be seeking to take advantage of a temporary 3-to-2 Republican majority on the FEC to write Republican stall tactics into agency rules. Mr. McGahn and other Republican commissioners have proposed a version of the FEC enforcement manual that would prevent the agency’s general counsel from consulting, without commission approval, publicly available information when considering an enforcement matter. It would also severely restrict information-sharing between the FEC and the Justice Department.
After being sent back to the drawing board by the Alaska Supreme Court last winter, the Alaska Redistricting Board released a new plan this week that did away with some creative groupings, especially for southeast Alaska. The board plans to vote on the plan on Sunday. Under the past plan, new lines were created for House Districts 36 and 37 of Southwest Alaska. House District 36, represented by Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, stretched from the western coast of Cook Inlet, across the Illiamna Lake region to Bristol Bay, then north into the Yukon and Kuskokwim area. Edgmon no longer represented the Alaska Peninsula or the Aleutian, Shumagin, and Pribilof Islands communities — which were in House District 37.
Colorado: Gessler hires lawyer with ties to former firm to force Hickenlooper on recall elections | Denver Post
Republican Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has hired an attorney with ties to his old law firm to file a bold court order against Gov. John Hickenlooper in an effort to force the governor to set election dates in the recalls of two Democratic state lawmakers. In a writ of mandamus, filed in Denver District Court over the weekend by attorney Steven Klenda, Gessler asks for an “expedited/emergency hearing” because Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has “refused to perform his constitutional duty to set a date for an election to recall” of Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Colorado’s constitution says that an election date must come 60 days after the secretary of state’s office certifies recall petitions — which came on July 5. But Hickenlooper’s office is holding off until a Wednesday court hearing where a District Court judge will decide on a preliminary injuction that seeks to order Hickenlooper not be required to set an election date until the judicial process in the recall battle has ended.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act last month, it cleared the way for Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to resume its controversial effort to remove potential noncitizens from voter rolls. The high court June 25 invalidated a formula used for decades by federal officials to approve changes to voting laws in states and counties to protect minorities from discrimination, a review known as preclearance. The federal scrutiny no longer applies to Monroe and four other Florida counties: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry. A Hispanic advocacy group, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, sued last year on behalf of two Tampa voters, calling the state’s list of suspected non-U.S. citizen voters unreliable with a potential to disenfranchise voters, especially Hispanics and African-Americans such as Murat Limage, 45, of Tampa. He received a letter from the county elections office that questioned his citizenship, even though he was a naturalized U.S. citizen, the suit alleges. Some county election supervisors also questioned the accuracy of the state data. Removal efforts stalled a few weeks before the 2012 general election.
Voter advocates asked a federal judge Friday to extend a court order that they say ensures that broad definitions of voter identification requirements would remain in place in the perennial presidential battleground of Ohio. Attorneys for the state’s top election official said he’s committed to the more lenient voter ID definitions, unless the Legislature changes the law. At issue is whether a 2010 expiring court agreement that governs provisional ballots and forms of voter ID in Ohio should continue. An attorney representing homeless voters told the federal court in Columbus that without the decree, the state would return to a “Wild West” system in which county election boards could apply vague standards unequally and unfairly to legitimate voters.
Voter advocates asked a federal judge yesterday to extend a court order that they say ensures that broad definitions of voter-identification requirements would remain in place in Ohio. Attorneys for the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Jon Husted, said he’s committed to the more-lenient voter-ID definitions, unless the legislature changes the law so the decree isn’t needed. At issue is whether an expiring 2010 court agreement that governs provisional ballots and forms of voter ID in Ohio should continue.
A trial set to begin Monday on the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law represents a major step toward a judicial ruling on whether the photo requirement should be enforced at polling places statewide or thrown out as unconstitutional. Nine days are set aside for the trial in Harrisburg in Commonwealth Court. Civil libertarians challenging the law and state officials defending it say they expect the state Supreme Court will ultimately decide the case. At issue is a voter ID law that would be one of the strictest in the nation if it is upheld but has never been enforced.
Opponents of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law are asking a judge to overturn the Republican-backed legislation, which requires voters to show photo ID to cast a ballot. Judge Bernard McGinley of Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg will hear opening statements from attorneys for organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union on whether the law is unconstitutional and disenfranchises groups of voters including the poor and elderly. State officials were temporarily barred from enforcing the law in the November and May elections. This lawsuit is really about a bad law that is badly written,” Michael Rubin, an attorney for the plaintiffs with the firm Arnold & Porter LLP, told reporters July 11 on a media call. As many as 410,000 people, or 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible electorate, might be barred from voting under the statute, according to the ACLU.
The fierce battle over Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes to trial on Monday in a state courtroom in Harrisburg. The legal fight began with a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other groups in May 2012. A state judge temporarily blocked the voter ID law from affecting Election Day 2012, but only after the state Supreme Court intervened. The Pennsylvania ACLU argues the voter ID law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the right to vote and could disenfranchise voters.
In a trial set to start next week, lawyers from a coalition of liberal-leaning and civil rights groups will attempt to strike down a statute that requires all voters in Pennsylvania to present particular forms of photo identification before casting their ballots. The law has been the subject of controversy since the state’s Republican legislature and governor passed it in the spring of 2012. In September, a Pennsylvania judge stopped the law from going into effect, and lawyers for the plaintiffs are now hoping to wipe it from the books entirely. If they fail, Pennsylvania could become the latest state to require voters to show some form of ID at the polls, a recent trend viewed by critics as an attack on the voting rights of poor people and members of minority groups, who are less likely to possess drivers’ licenses or other forms of identification.
When the U.S. Supreme Court used Shelby County v. Holder to kick Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) back to Congress for a new look at who is still struggling to get to the ballot box, certain things did not change for South Dakota Indians. If they want equal access to voting in any given election cycle, they must request it, pay for it and/or go to court to litigate for it. The Supreme Court decision immediately cut loose two South Dakota counties, Shannon and Todd, which overlap the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, respectively. Officials there no longer have to “preclear” changes in voting laws and procedures with the Department of Justice and prove they’re not discriminatory.
Bhutan’s opposition People’s Democratic Party appears to have won an upset victory in parliamentary elections Saturday. The country’s Election Commission says on its website that the party has won at least 31 of the 47 seats being contested in the vote for parliament, while the incumbent Peace and Prosperity Party won at least 14 seats. Election Commission officials will announce the official results on Sunday. The PDP needed 24 of the 47 seats to form the next government.
The Electronic Voting Committee yesterday revealed the source code of its server software, opening up technical analysis of the e-elections system to the public. “This is the next step toward a transparent system. The idea, which was the result of joint discussion between numerous Estonian IT experts and the Electronic Voting Committee, was implemented today. We welcome the fact that experts representing civil society want to contribute to the development and security of the e-elections,” said committee chairman Tarvi Martens. Although the source code was accessible before, it required the requester to sign a confidentiality contract. Estonia’s e-voting system has been used for five elections – including general, local and European Parliament elections – since it was introduced in 2005. In the 2011 general elections, 24.3 percent of the votes cast were done so by e-vote, according to the National Electoral Committee. A new feature at the coming October local government elections is an Android-based electronic receipt of sorts that allows a voter to verify if their e-ballot went through properly.
For six years, Estonians haven’t had to set foot in a polling place or wait in line to cast their votes for President — instead, they can do it online. And on Thursday, the country’s Electronic Voting Committee released the entire source code of its voting server software on open-source platform GitHub — a move that not only gives Estonians a glimpse into the workings of their e-voting system, but that also gives them a chance to help toughen it up from a security perspective. The Estonian e-voting process is based on the country’s identity card, which is mandatory and issued when a citizen is 15 years old. The card has a built-in electronic authentication system that allows secure voting online from any computer, and each citizen is allowed to submit and change their vote until Election Day. At the last Parliamentary Election in 2011, one in four people chose to cast their ballot via e-vote. While there isn’t enough data to conclude whether e-voting has raised voter turnout overall in the country, the country’s electoral committee views the process as successful.
A Kuwaiti administrative court threw out on Sunday legal challenges to a parliamentary election set for July 27, a judicial source and an elections candidate said, effectively paving the way for the vote to proceed on time. Almost constant factional infighting over the past seven years has prompted repeated elections, stalled infrastructure development and held up economic reforms in Kuwait, an important Gulf Arab oil producer and U.S. ally. A legal source said the Kuwait Administrative Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to look into three legal challenges by Kuwaiti citizens to the vote. One case related to a request to incorporate a residential area into one of the five electoral districts, while another pertained to whether the government had lost its legitimacy and thus its eligibility to call for new elections after a court ordered the dissolution of the previous parliament.
Mexico’s conservative opposition retained the governor’s seat in Baja California after the ruling party candidate conceded defeat Saturday following a recount in the politically crucial state. The state bordering the United States was the biggest prize in the July 7 regional elections in 14 Mexican states, with analysts saying its result could sink or save a multi-party reform pact. The candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Fernando Castro Trenti, threw in the towel as the recount gave an edge to National Action Party (PAN) rival Francisco “Kiko” Vega.