Two nominees to the Federal Election Commission testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Wednesday in a short hearing that featured legalistic euphemisms and the invocation of “balls and strikes,” but little partisan rancor. Ann Ravel, a Democrat and chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and Lee Goodman, a Republican election lawyer, both assured the committee that, if confirmed, they would enforce election and campaign finance laws on the books and seek to improve transparency by updating the FEC’s website. “I’m committed to enforcement of the act,” Goodman said. “I will not call balls and strikes differently for each party.” Ravel, noting the democratic principles her parents had instilled in her, said, “An important aspect of this job is to ensure that people participate in politics.”
Not content to be merely ineffectual while they’re in office, the three Republicans on the Federal Election Commission are now trying to inhibit the agency from enforcing campaign finance laws after they leave. Ordinarily, they wouldn’t have the power to impose their ideological agenda, but a vacancy on the Democratic side of the panel gives them a temporary majority. Using it to push through the changes they’ve proposed would be a cynical move giving candidates and special interests even more freedom to thumb their noses at campaign finance law. The 1974 statute that created the FEC takes pains to keep the commission from becoming partisan, mandating that the president appoint three commissioners from each party and requiring the support of at least four commissioners to launch an investigation, sue a suspected lawbreaker or issue an advisory opinion. The four-vote requirement doesn’t apply, however, to amending the commission’s enforcement manual, which outlines how the agency launches investigations and carries out other duties. With one of the Democratic seats vacant, the three GOP commissioners are pushing for changes in the manual that would hamstring the agency’s staff and shift much of the fact-finding burden onto the people who bring complaints.
As of July 15, 2013, felons convicted of non-violent offenses in Virginia will have their voting rights automatically restored after they’ve finished their sentences (including parole, probation, restitution and other court-ordered actions) and have no pending charges. The qualifying non-violent convictions currently range from bank or welfare fraud to breaking and entering without a weapon and DUI. Drug possession is also considered non-violent as long as there was no conviction of intent to distribute. In short, if money, property or an identity was stolen and no one was hurt or killed in the process, chances are the ex-felon can have his civil rights restored. This will make Virginia one of 20 states that restore voting rights after the term of their incarceration (including parole and probation) has been served. It’s estimated that 350,000 Virginians have been convicted of felonies, including non-violent offenses. Virginia is one of only four states that require ex-felons to file a petition to restore their voting rights. The new law only applies to non-violent felony convictions. All others must still use the petition process.
Florida: More fallout from voting rights act ruling: court dismisses challenge to Florida’s voter purge | Miami Herald
A federal court in Tampa dismissed the claim by civil rights activists Wednesday challenging the controversial 2012 voter purge enacted by Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s Division of Elections to rid the rolls of what they believed were scores of fraudulent voter registrations. The action was challenged by the the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of Mi Familia Vota and two U.S. citizens and alleged it unconstitutionally targeted minority voters.
North Carolina lawmakers are poised to approve one of the strictest voter ID requirements in the nation, curtail early voting, and limit voter registration efforts under a Republican-crafted bill that expanded Tuesday to include a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s election laws. The measure crystallizes a legislative term in which Republicans flexed their unprecedented political muscle to shift the state’s political compass, and ensures that the session ends with a bitter partisan fight that will draw more national scrutiny. The bill’s sponsors say the measures are needed to restore integrity to the state’s elections, despite statistics showing little verified voter fraud. Democrats say the legislation is a thinly veiled attempt by the state’s ruling party to cement its advantage for future elections, rammed through the legislature in the final days of the session. The full Senate is expected to approve the measure Wednesday and send it to the House, where Speaker Thom Tillis said it would pass.
North Carolina is proving itself to be the poster child for all that is wrong with modern American democracy and—with thanks to Moral Mondays—also highlighting all that may someday save it. Once a temperate and tolerant beacon of the South, the state is poised to enact a rash of inexpressibly awful legislation, rushed through a Republican legislature. Because the GOP has veto-proof super-majorities in the state House and Senate, and a Republican governor for the first time since Reconstruction, the party has been on a spree. Republican-controlled redistricting was fantastically effective. So much so that in the 2012 elections, nearly 51 percent of North Carolina voters picked a Democrat for the U.S. House, yet Republicans won nine of the state’s 13 House seats, as Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis recently pointed out. Some of the gems advanced recently in the legislature include an abortion bill tacked first onto an anti-Sharia law and then snuck in through a motorcycle safety law (new TRAP regulations may shutter all but one clinic in the state). Another bill forces all educators to teach seventh graders that abortion causes preterm birth (it doesn’t). Lawmakers also enacted legislation (described here and elsewhere as “the harshest unemployment insurance program cuts in our nation’s history”) that resulted in 70,000 North Carolina citizens losing their unemployment benefits.
Anyone wondering about the importance of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling hobbling a key part of the Voting Rights Act needs look no further than North Carolina, whose Republican legislature is poised to enact one of the strictest voting laws in the Nation, one which will make it harder to register and vote, likely hurting minority voters most. North Carolina is making it harder to vote now because it can, but recent experience in Florida and elsewhere shows it is a decision North Carolina Republicans may come to regret. Until last month, 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties were covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This meant that the state could not make any changes in its voting rules, however major or minor, without first getting permission from either the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington D.C. To get approval, it was up to North Carolina to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the feds that any proposed voting changes wouldn’t have the purpose or effect of making minority members worse off.
The eighth day of a trial on Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law ended in disarray Wednesday as plaintiffs’ attorneys contesting the law’s constitutionality refused to rest their case until they learn more about potential problems in issuing mandatory photo ID cards. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley expressed impatience at the slow pace of the trial and cleared the courtroom briefly to huddle with lawyers from both sides, but court recessed for the day with little sign of a compromise. The state did, however, present some testimony in defense of the law. At issue are about 500 registered voters who were rejected for a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation identification card last year and were referred to the Department of State for a free, voting-only ID card developed in August.
Plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law presented their final witnesses Tuesday in an effort to convince a state judge that it cannot be implemented without disenfranchising large numbers of voters. Three witnesses — all older women who no longer have driver’s licenses and rely mainly on relatives and friends for transportation — testified in video recordings played before Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the yet-to-be-enforced mandatory photo ID requirement, one of the strictest in the nation, would discourage many such people from exercising their right to vote. State officials say any registered voter who lacks an acceptable ID can get a special Pennsylvania Department of State voting-only ID for free through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
While the Pennsylvania voter ID law was being developed, officials within the Corbett administration noted concerns similar to those now raised in court by parties claiming the requirement is unconstitutional. An internal bill analysis presented in Commonwealth Court on Monday by challengers of the law shows the Department of State had learned that college students and residents of care facilities might not be reached by provisions of the law intended to ensure they would have access to acceptable identification. Most university identification lacked expiration dates, while most care facilities did not issue IDs, the December 2011 analysis said. Of particular concern was a scenario that could be encountered by residents of care facilities that house polling places. A resident too unwell to travel to a Department of Transportation licensing center to obtain an ID might still be able to get to the polls and thus be ineligible to vote absentee. “The individual may then claim that he or she has been deprived the right to vote,” the document says.
On Monday, the parties in the Texas redistricting case in San Antonio had their first opportunity to flesh out positions on the issues courts will have to confront in deciding whether to use the “pocket trigger” in section 3 of the Voting Rights Act to impose preclearance coverage on jurisdictions, like Texas, that are no longer subject to preclearance under section 5. A look at what they said in their briefs. The threshold question, of course, is what exactly does section 3 mean? The statutory text of section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act says a court can order bail-in in a “proceeding instituted by the [United States] Attorney General or an aggrieved person” if it finds “that violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief have occurred within the territory of such State or political subdivision.” (emphasis added) The statute, however, is silent as what standards courts should use to decide when such equitable circumstances might exist.
The Caroline County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night approved the purchase of 11 new voting machines that will likely be installed before the November election. Members of the electoral board and the county’s voter registrar asked the board for $50,763 to purchase optical scan voting machines. The county currently uses touchscreen voting machines. John Nunnally, vice-chair of the electoral board, told the supervisors that all localities are facing an unfunded mandate from the state that they replace their machines with optical scan machines by 2016. That means that instead of touchscreen machines, voters would use a paper ballot and feed it into the optical scan machine. Nunnally said the change could cut down the time it takes to vote and reduce lines. The machines the county has now are about 10 years old and have problems that require more immediate replacement, according to a staff memo. Additionally, the memo says that if the county purchases the machines now, the county will get a better deal than waiting until 2016, when there is more competition and more localities are in the market for the machines.
Campaigning in Cambodia’s general election is nearing its close as the eight parties contesting the ballot make their final bids for votes ahead of Sunday’s poll. The real contest, though, is between two parties: the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party whose leader Sam Rainsy recently returned from four years of self-imposed exile. The day after his triumphant arrival in Phnom Penh last Friday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy began a whirlwind nationwide tour with party deputy Kem Sokha. Sam Rainsy is the best known and most popular opposition figure, and in a nation that values personality over policy, the opposition CNRP is banking that his presence will translate into gains at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been playing up the animosity that characterized the relationship between Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha in recent years to portray an opposition divided.
Kuwait is set to hold parliamentary elections for the third time in 18 months, as a boycott by the opposition movement undermines public interest in the campaign. The vote on July 27 will go ahead after the country’s constitutional court this week rejected an attempt to postpone it. Kuwait’s opposition won the first of last year’s two elections in February, then refused to take part in the second in December, objecting to changes in voting rules that sparked the country’s most violent street protests. The movement, a mix of Sunni Islamists, liberals and youth groups inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, has called for Kuwait’s rulers to share more powers with elected politicians. It says changes to voting rules ordered last year by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah were aimed at reducing its chances of winning and making it easier for candidates to buy votes. The emir said they would bolster the democratic process and safeguard unity in Kuwait, OPEC’s third-biggest oil producer.
The small West African nation of Togo is holding legislative elections on Thursday amid signs voters are increasingly fed up with the ruling party. Analysts say in order to win, though, the opposition will have to overcome its own divisions, as well as an electoral system vulnerable to fraud. Negotiations over how the election would be run continued until just a few weeks ago, and major opposition parties refused to confirm until recently that they would participate. On Tuesday, the final day of campaigning, however, all the major parties staged rallies in Togo’s capital, Lome, expressing confidence about their chances.
Election officials overseeing Zimbabwe’s July 31 ballot insist the country is ready to hold general elections in less than a week. However, fears of vote rigging and a lack of funding are worrying Zimbabweans. “Elections will be credible, free and fair. We are ready for the elections,” Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission [ZEC] deputy chairperson, Joyce Kazeme, told international election observers stationed in the country on Tuesday (24.07.2013). Some 600 foreign observers have been endorsed to scrutinize the country’s July 31 election as well as pre-poll voting for security officials assigned to work on election day. Close to 6,000 Zimbabwean observers will also monitor voting. International observers include representatives of the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).