Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are seeking to strengthen the Voting Rights Act by making it easier for judges to expand voter protections across the country in response to individual discrimination lawsuits. The effort goes beyond crafting a broad definition of which voters should get extra protection based on regional records of racial discrimination. The move is an indication that some Democrats are hoping to use last month’s Supreme Court decision scrapping the law’s Section 4 coverage formula as an opportunity to bolster other provisions of the landmark civil rights legislation that were left intact by the ruling. Specifically, the lawmakers are taking a close look at revising Section 3, which empowers the court to apply Section 5’s federal “preclearance” requirements to jurisdictions with a history of discriminating against minority voters.
It’s old news that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — the agency charged with enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws — is moribund by ideological stalemate. But on July 25, the Commission is expected to vote on a measure that would neuter even the staff’s ability to get much done. The FEC is broken not because of its staff, a corps of professionals working hard in a futile effort to get the agency back on track. It is broken because of its management: the six commissioners (currently only five) who determine what the agency will and will not do. In an ideal world, the Commission is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans dedicated to enforcing the law who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. To ensure bipartisan fairness, official actions require a four-vote majority. In reality, the FEC is unable to do its job because a bloc of commissioners has been carefully selected to prevent four-vote decisions, thus effectively tying up the law. It is no secret that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has never met a campaign finance law he likes. While McConnell cannot convince Congress or the public to end limits and disclosure of money in politics, he has figured out that the campaign finance laws can be nullified by a hostile FEC. So McConnell selected three Republican commissioners — Don McGahn, Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen — who are marching in lockstep to prevent enforcement of the law.
The United States Supreme Court’s June 25, 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, eliminating a “preclearance” coverage formula that had subjected numerous jurisdictions with checkered voting rights histories to the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight. Although the decision allows Congress to create a new coverage formula, in today’s political climate that appears unlikely. While the preclearance system was often associated with deep Southern states like Alabama and Mississippi, in 1971 three New York City counties – Bronx, Kings and New York – were added as covered jurisdictions, and since then the DOJ has blocked New York voting laws on several occasions to protect the rights of minority voters. This article examines Shelby County v. Holder, its consequences for minority voting rights across the country, particularly in New York, and possible local remedies in the event of Congressional inaction.
Gov. Robert Bentley held a bill signing ceremony today for a new law aimed at allowing emergency workers to vote by absentee ballot if they are called away to work during an election. The governor said the legislation was inspired after many Alabama utility workers and first responders were called to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy during the November election season. “The right to vote is critical,” Bentley said.
Georgia: Federal judge ruling splits federal, state, local primary elections | Columbus Ledger Enquirer
A North Georgia federal judge has reset next year’s election calendar, and elections officials, state lawmakers and other politicians are pondering the impact the decision will have. As it stands now, there would be a federal primary in early June 2014 that includes the congressional races. In the middle of July, the state primary would be held for all General Assembly seats and other state and judicial offices on the ballot. In Muscogee County, it would also include the nonpartisan races, such as mayor, five Columbus council seats and five school board seats. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ ruling came after the federal government filed suit more than a year ago against the state, alleging Georgia wasn’t allowing enough time for members of the military and others living overseas to return absentee ballots in federal runoff elections.
New York: “Miscommunication” Led To NYC Board Of Elections Shredding 20 Pages Of GOP Petitions | New York Daily News
Mere weeks after the Daily News reported the Board’s Brooklyn outpost dug up nearly 1,600 uncounted votes from 2012, the agency confirms a Board worker in the same office mistakenly destroyed 20 pages of 2013 Republican petitions. It wasn’t immediately clear Monday exactly how the petitions — voter signature sheets that are gathered to get candidates on the ballot — ended up in the dustbin of electoral history. “A single petition volume of 20 pages was inadvertently destroyed” last Friday, Board spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said in a statement responding to a Daily News inquiry about the destroyed docs. “Fortunately, we have obtained copies of the petition volume in question from both the filer and a member of the public who had previously requested a copy of this volume,” Vazquez continued. “Board staff compared the two copies and found them to be identical.”
After close to two hours of debate and discussion, during which lawmakers were roundly criticized by members of the public, a Senate committee passed a raft of elections reforms Tuesday. House Bill 589 sat idle for three months since the House approved it before undergoing an extreme makeover in recent days to add changes to voter registration, early voting and campaign financing to the initial proposal requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill on a hasty voice vote before members rushed off to a floor session that was delayed because the committee meeting ran long. “This is voter suppression at its very worst,” Allison Riggs, a voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the committee. “It’s a cynical ploy to make it harder for certain people to vote.”
On the eve of a state Senate hearing on a proposed law requiring voters to present photo ID, hundreds of people gathered to protest the bill, saying it would make it harder for students, minorities and elderly voters to cast a ballot. And proposals to further limit voting, such as restrictions on early voting and Sunday voting, are still possible as the legislative session gets set to wrap up. “We are in a battle for the ballot,” North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber II told the crowd gathered behind the General Assembly building for the 12th “Moral Monday” protest. “If we ever needed the right to vote, we need it now.”
College-issued identification may be rendered useless at the polls if an N.C. Senate bill goes through. The Senate has proposed a version of voter identification laws that is stricter than the House’s. It only allows seven types of ID to be shown at the polls, half of what the House version allows. The seven types would include a driver’s license, special state-issued identification card, U.S. passport, military identification card and veterans’ identification card. If passed, the bill would take full effect for the 2016 elections. The House version would allow students on University of North Carolina campuses and state-supported community colleges to use college ID at the polls. The Senate version takes that option away. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the Senate bill would make it harder for college students to vote.
Editorials: North Carolina Republicans Push Extreme Voter Suppression Measures | Ari Berman/The Nation
This week, the North Carolina legislature will almost certainly pass a strict new voter ID law that could disenfranchise 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of accepted state-issued ID. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bill has since been amended by Republicans to include a slew of appalling voter suppression measures. They include cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during the early voting period and making it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters. The bill is being debated this afternoon in the Senate Rules Committee.
As a trial over the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law stretched into a second week in Commonwealth Court, attorneys for the challengers introduced evidence Monday showing that state officials had raised concerns about the potential disenfranchisement of senior citizens in the months leading up to the bill’s final passage. Michael Rubin, an Arnold & Porter LLP attorney representing the challengers, pointed to a memo penned by officials in the Department of State and the Department of Aging in November 2011 raising concerns that voters residing in assisted living facilities that double as polling places might be robbed of their votes if they don’t qualify for absentee ballots and are unable to obtain qualifying IDs due to their age or medical condition. The memo recommended that absentee ballot requirements — which currently mandate that a voter submit an affidavit swearing their inability to make it to the polls on account of illness or disability — be expanded for individuals whose long-term care facilities also serve as polling places. While these individuals might be able to get to their polling places on Election Day, the memo suggested, there was a chance they might be unable to obtain proper IDs from one of 71 driver’s license centers throughout the state.
A former policy director for Pennsylvania’s Department of State defended the state’s tough voter identification law yesterday as a reasonable compromise that followed intense negotiations, even though it omits changes that the department proposed to ease some of the requirements. Lawyers for plaintiffs seeking to overturn the mandatory photo ID requirement yesterday questioned the official, Rebecca Oyler, about memos and emails describing negotiations over the legislation in late 2011. Oyler cited examples of her department’s suggestions that were rejected. One called for excusing residents of long-term care facilities from the photo requirement and allowing them to vote through the simpler process of absentee voting. Instead, the law allows the facilities to issue photo IDs.
Like the coming of the messiah, depressed southern Europe nations await Angela Merkel’s likely victory in Germany’s September election with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Four years into the euro zone debt crisis, people in debt-laden Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus are deeply worried that a third term in power for the conservative chancellor may only bring them more austerity and pain. The five countries that implemented Merkel’s anti-crisis recipes and cut spending massively in areas such as health and education, have been in or close to recession since 2008. Unemployment tops 27 percent in Spain and Greece. Their leaders, however, disagree. Confident that Merkel will tone down her budget cutting mantra and accept more burden-sharing within the euro zone, they are positioning themselves as close allies of Europe’s main paymaster.
Kuwait: Crisis-weary Kuwait limps toward parliamentary elections with implications for nation, region | The Washington Post
From boycotting ballots to storming parliament, each time Kuwait heads into parliamentary elections the backstory seems to overshadow the vote. Yet the revolving-door series of elections could have an impact not only on this tiny, oil-rich state, but also on fellow nations in the Gulf and the rest of the region. For the election Saturday to pick a new 50-seat parliament — the most empowered elected political body in the Gulf — there might be another boycott, but the real question is whether the vote will ease the internal pressures on Kuwait’s Western-backed ruling dynasty. The challenges come from an emboldened opposition that includes groups ideologically linked to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and on the other, liberals angered by crackdowns such as prison sentences over social media posts.
Voters in Togo will cast ballots in a parliamentary election tomorrow that’s been delayed for eight months amid concerns by opposition parties that the poll won’t be transparent and fair. President Faure Gnassingbe’s ruling Rally of the Togolese People will seek to protect its majority against the main opposition Union of Forces for Change, which threatened protests if it believes the results are rigged. The group challenged the outcome of a presidential vote in 2010 and say the West African nation’s electoral commission is dominated by supporters of Gnassingbe. The RPT denies the claim, saying the ballot will be transparent and fair. “Things can degenerate when the results are announced if anyone tries to falsify the results that come from the ballots,” Kuam Kouakouvi, a politics professor at Lome University in the capital, said in an interview on July 23. “Considering the enormous needs of the population, this would be hugely damaging.”
Despite chaotic early voting last week, Zimbabwe’s Election Commission is reassuring the public that next week’s general election will run smoothly. Voting material and staff for the July 31 voting are already being moved into place, according to Joyce Kazembe, deputy chairwoman of the Zimbabwe Election Commission. “We are raring to go,” she said. “We have been on this for a number of months now. The ballot paper, which was one of our challenges during the special vote, was provided, the commission has procured the inedible ink, which is sufficient for the conduct of the harmonized election.” Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party will lock horns in a contest to end the country’s power-sharing government, which was formed following a disputed election in 2009.