U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has declared that, at least when it comes to voting rights, the U.S. Supreme Court is guilty of wishful thinking. He is also showing both how difficult and how important it is to overcome that kind of thinking. It was just last month that a closely divided court, reasoning that voter discrimination in the South wasn’t the problem it used to be, neutered the requirement that certain states and counties with a history of such discrimination submit proposed voting changes to the federal government for approval. Last week, Holder said the Justice Department would use “every tool at our disposal to stand against discrimination.” Meanwhile, in Texas, officials said they will proceed with a redistricting plan that dilutes Hispanic voting power, and an aggressive voter-identification law besides. And in North Carolina, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill of such brazenness that it can be more aptly described as an attempt to restrict voting procedures rather than reform them. In 2013 alone, more than 80 bills restricting voting rights have been introduced in 31 states. Meanwhile, the incidence of actual voter fraud hovers near zero. (Kansas, site of one of the first coordinated crackdowns on voting rights, has had more documented cases of UFO sightings than of voter fraud.)
National: GOP lawmaker chides FEC for two-year delay in creating enforcement manual | Washington Post
The House Administration committee’s top Republican last week scolded the Federal Election Commission for failing to approve an enforcement manual two years after lawmakers asked the panel to complete the task. “When a federal agency keeps its enforcement policies and procedures secret or makes them difficult to understand, it increases the opportunity for abuse by its employees — abuse that has very real consequences for the Americans subject to its power,” Committee Chairman Candice Miller (Mich.) said in a statement on Friday. In a letter to Miller on Thursday, FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about dealing with enforcement guidelines while the Senate is considering two new nominees for the commission.
Editorials: In Going After Texas Voting Policies, Holder Takes John Roberts at His Word | Garrett Epps/The Atlantic
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in 2007, “is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” We will now find out whether Roberts’s anti-racist rhetoric is serious, or is a code phrase meaning that the era of civil rights is now over by judicial fiat. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would ask a federal District Court to require the state of Texas to obtain prior permission before implementing its voter ID and other new voting laws. As is widely known, the Supreme Court in June gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act–the “preclearance” requirement that obliged states and local governments with long racist histories to obtain advance permission for changes in their voting systems. Roberts himself wrote the 5-4 opinion. Most news accounts focused on his blithe statement that (in the era of Trayvon Martin and Paula Deen) “our Nation has made great strides,” and thus need not suspect Southern state governments of racism.
Ever since the Supreme Court gutted a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act and threw it back in Congress’s lap, lawmakers in both parties have engaged in happy talk about the prospects of patching the provision used to proactively snuff out voter discrimination against minorities in the state and local governments where it’s most prevalent. But it’s looking less and less likely that a fix will be agreed to because Republicans have little to gain and a lot to lose politically if they cooperate. “Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) said late last week, according to Roll Call. A recent House Judiciary Committee hearing made clear that Republicans have little to no interest in reconstituting the Voting Rights Act. Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-TX) opened by emphasizing that even after the Supreme Court’s decision, “other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place.”
Maryland: Fourth Circuit dismisses political consultant’s challenge of illegal Election Day robocall | Baltimore Sun
A federal court on Monday rejected political consultant Julius Henson’s appeal of a $1 million civil judgment against him for an illegal Election Day robocall. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision that Henson, his company, Universal Elections Inc., and an employee violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act with a November 2010 automated campaign message to more than 112,000 Democratic voters in Maryland. In the case brought by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the state argued that the call was designed to suppress black votes. The message failed to include information on the call’s sponsor. Henson was employed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Martin O’Malley for re-election.
About 1,500 people with misdemeanor convictions were mistakenly dropped from Maryland’s voter rolls over the past five years, state judiciary officials confirmed Friday. A computer system incorrectly lumped those voters in with felons, who are stripped of their right to vote until their sentence is completed, said Terri Bolling, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary. People convicted of misdemeanors retain their right to vote in Maryland. Officials said they are fixing the error, discovered in part by former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold. Leopold was convicted in January of two counts of misconduct in office — a common-law misdemeanor — for directing his staff and police officers to carry out personal and political tasks, including emptying his catheter bag. He resigned from office and has appealed the convictions.
Michigan consistently leads the country in the number of elected officials facing recall, but major changes to its recall rules could change that. Citizens hoping to remove public officials from office must adhere to new requirements under a law signed seven months ago. Though experts are cautious in predicting a drop in recalls at this point — in part because drives targeting new officeholders couldn’t start until earlier this month — they won’t be surprised if a decline occurs. Michigan has “taken a lot of bite out of the recall,” said Joshua Spivak, a national expert on recalls and a senior fellow at Wagner College in New York. Key changes include shortening the time to collect recall signatures from 90 to 60 days and giving voters a choice between the officeholder and a challenger, not an up-or-down vote followed by a replacement election later on.
To become better citizens “we must know and understand our heritage and our history, its triumphs and its mistakes,” Justice Anthony Kennedy told an audience last Monday at the Chautauqua Institution in Upstate New York in a speech that, sadly, was neither recorded nor transcribed for posterity. Four days later, as if on cue, the governor of the relentlessly regressive state of North Carolina showed the justice who last month helped scuttle the heart of the Voting Rights Act exactly how some intend to interpret his lecture. Pat McCrory, the Republican presiding over the dismantling of the state’s relatively reasoned approach to race and the law, declared Friday that he was eager to sign the state’srestrictive new voting law, the most suppressive of its era, even though he had not read a key part of it. “I don’t know enough, I’m sorry,” the governor told a reporter who asked about a provision in the pending measure that will preclude pre-registration for those under 18 (because, after all, if there is anything this nation needs to do when it comes to encouraging civic participation it is to make it harder for eager young people to vote).
Molly McDonough was among the hundreds of North Carolinians jailed this year for demonstrating inside the statehouse against legislation she fears may prevent her from voting. “Voting is a right, and these laws are encroaching on that right,” said McDonough in an interview on the N.C. State campus where she’ll begin her sophomore year this fall. McDonough, 18, doesn’t have a driver’s license or a passport, and her college ID won’t be accepted under the voting reform bill passed Thursday along party lines by both houses of the Republican-majority state legislature. McDonough says obtaining documents required to get a state-issued photo ID — birth certificate, Social Security card, university transcript — and missing hours at her bookstore job to wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles is unfairly expensive, she figures, about $120 in all.
Cambodia faces a volatile and possibly prolonged political standoff after leaders of the opposition said on Monday that they rejected the preliminary results of Sunday’s election and accused the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of large-scale cheating to achieve a relatively narrow victory. With a number of monitoring organizations describing widespread voting irregularities, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the newly energized opposition, said at a news conference that the party would seek help from foreign and Cambodian election experts to decide whether to call for a recount or new elections. “We will not accept the result — we cannot accept the result,” he said. “The party in power cannot ignore us anymore.” Mr. Sam Rainsy had initially announced a victory after the polls closed on Sunday but retracted his claim.
Cambodia’s opposition leader on Monday rejected the results of a weekend election showing a win for the long-time ruling party, raising fears of post-poll instability and setting the stage for a new showdown with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The challenge by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who returned from exile last week to campaign for his Cambodia National Rescue Party, comes despite his party’s relative success in Sunday’s polling, in which the opposition made its biggest gains in years. Provisional results from Sunday’s voting showed the opposition capturing 55 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won 68 seats, or a majority of 55 percent.
The centre-left Republican Turkish Party-United Forces (CTP), the leading opposition party for most of the past four years, has won snap elections in the Turkish Cypriot community, preliminary figures suggest. It won a clear, 11 percentage point victory, but fell four seats short of winning a majority in the 50-member parliament of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The CTP had been in opposition until mid-June, when the National Unity Party (UBP) four-year rule was ended by an internal split. The CTP then formed a caretaker government under Sibel Siber, the first female head of government in the Turkish-occupied northern half of Cyprus.
The polls are closed and counting has begun in the presidential election in the West African state of Mali. Observers said they have had no reports of any major incidents in a ballot which is seen as crucial in uniting the country following a coup in March last year. Early reports indicate the turnout was high at the country’s 21,000 polling stations. Government official, Madame Coumare highlighted the importance of the ballot.
Malians took part in the country’s presidential election on Sunday, but many experts say the rushed vote is not legitimate because many citizens were prevented from taking part due to security concerns. Many are also questioning France’s role in the poll. The voting took place at around 21,000 polling stations across the country, with news agencies reporting a good turnout despite Islamist militants’ promises to attack polling stations. The threats came although France has labelled its military campaign – which began in January against al-Qaeda-linked fighters occupying the north of the country – “a success.” The campaign was launched shortly after an army coup ousted Malian president Amadou Toumani Tourea. While there were queues outside polling stations in the Malian capital of Bamako, there were organizational problems in the north, with many people unable to determine the correct voting location.
Togo’s main opposition on Monday rejected provisional electoral results showing the ruling party winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats, allowing the president’s family to maintain its decades-long grip on power. The main opposition coalition, Let’s Save Togo, had alleged irregularities even before full results in Togo’s parliamentary elections were announced by the electoral commission on Sunday night. Agbeyome Kodjo, a key figure in Let’s Save Togo, on Monday called the vote and results a “sham”. “It’s an electoral sham amid massive corruption and proven electoral fraud,” Kodjo, a former prime minister whose OBUTS party joined with Let’s Save Togo for the elections, told AFP. The West African nation’s constitutional court must still approve the results from Thursday’s election before they become final.
There is, perhaps, only one question that really matters in Zimbabwe this week, as the country finally tries to move beyond the violent, disrupted elections of 2008, and the five years’ worth of tortuous negotiations and snarling political stalemate that followed. Will the loser accept the result? The answer – despite years of international mediation, an economy no longer in free-fall, a new constitution and an overwhelming public appetite for political change – appears to be veering dangerously towards a resounding “no”. In one corner, the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has already publically condemned this Wednesday’s vote as “a sham”, citing numerous irregularities, from an alarmingly flawed electoral roll to the enduring political bias in the security services and state media. In the other corner, President Robert Mugabe, who calls this a “do-or-die” election and has recently threatened to have his main challenger arrested, is surrounded by hardliners who have publically stated that they would “not accept” a victory by the “Western puppet” Mr Tsvangirai under any circumstances.