Editorials: Another Citizens United, but Worse, Goes to the Supreme Court | Jeffrey Toobin/ The New Yorker

Think the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was bad? A worse one may be on the horizon. To recognize the problem, it’s necessary to review some of the Court’s gnarled history on the subject of campaign finance. In Citizens United, which was decided in 2010, the Court rejected any limits on what a person or corporation (or labor union) could spend on an independent effort to help a candidate win an election. Thus the rise of Super PACs; that’s why Sheldon Adelson could spend sixty million dollars to help Mitt Romney in 2012. But, though Citizens United deregulated independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, the case said nothing about direct contributions to the candidates themselves. That’s where the new case comes in. Current federal law allows individual donors to give up to two thousand six hundred dollars to any one candidate during a single election. In addition, they can give only an aggregate hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars to candidates, political action committees, and parties over a two-year period. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican, wants to give more money to the candidates he supports, so he has sued to invalidate the rules limiting the over-all amounts he can give. (Indeed, the patriotically minded McCutcheon wanted to give “$1,776” to enough candidates to exceed the current limits on direct contributions.) The Supreme Court will hear his case in the fall, and he has a good chance of winning.

Editorials: Unbending commitment to voting rights | James Sensenbrenner/USAToday

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed. It began a healing process that ameliorated decades of discrimination and is vital to our commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in our electoral process. At a time of social upheaval and political inequality, the VRA helped distinguish America as the world’s premier example of democracy. Free, fair and accessible elections are sacrosanct, and the right of every legal voter to cast their ballot must be unassailable. In contrast to past attempts to end discrimination, the VRA required federal preclearance of changes to voting laws in areas with histories of discrimination. Section 5 of the VRA was the only federal remedy that could stop discriminatory practices before they impacted elections. Prior to the 2006 reauthorization, the Judiciary Committees held multiple hearings examining the VRA. Congress amassed a legislative record of over 15,000 pages, documenting invidious discrimination and demonstrating “the continued need for federal oversight.”

Editorials: Another Citizens United—But This Time We’ll Win | Liz Kennedy/Demos

Jeffrey Toobin is up with a piece today, “Another Citizens United – But Worse,” about the Supreme Court’s next money in politics case.  In McCutcheon v. FEC, slated for oral argument in October, appellants challenge contribution limits on the total amount of money one individual can transfer in direct contributions. If the Supreme Court strikes these aggregate contribution limits, a person now limited to making $123,200 in direct contributions could make—and be solicited for—as much as $3.5 million in contributions directly to candidates, parties, and committees. Contribution limits are one of the last bastions of campaign finance law regularly upheld by courts, along with disclosure requirements, even after the floodgates on independent expenditures were opened in Citizens United. So it is no wonder they are under assault from those who advocate a Wild West of campaign spending, lacking common sense rules to prevent the capture of democratic government by concentrated economic power. Toobin paints a dreary picture of the prospects for the case, encapsulated in a quote from the lower court that upheld the contribution limits but raised the “possibility that Citizens United undermined the entire contribution limits scheme.” But he is wrong that Citizens United itself “said nothing about direct contributions to the candidates themselves.” In fact, Kennedy’s opinion reiterates the legitimate need for contribution limits to fight the reality and appearance of corruption.

Editorials: A Critical Look at Holder’s Texas ‘Gambit’ | Wall Street Journal

Dusting off a little-used section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric Holder made headlines last week when he asked a federal court in San Antonio to take back control of Texas’s voting rules. The move is thought to be a prelude to a broader battle with Republican states following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that gave GOP regions more autonomy over their election laws. But Mr.  Holder’s fight with Texas may not be worth it, at least according to University of California-Irvine law professor Richard Hasen, an electoral law expert who supports tougher voting-rights protections. The best thing that can be said about the Justice Department’s legal strategy is that it’s better than nothing, he said. While the Supreme Court freed nine states and several counties from having to get permission before making changes to voter rules, it left intact Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Under that provision, a court can impose special oversight of a jurisdiction. It’s a process known as “bailing in.”

Voting Blogs: The Futilities of the Contribution and Expenditure Distinction | More Soft Money Hard Law

Replying to a posting hereDavid Gans has responded with a confident defense of the brief he co-authored on behalf of Larry Lessig in the McCutcheon case. On the question of whether the aggregate limit is a contribution or expenditure limit, he has no doubt: it is an “easy” one, he writes. But how easy is it? The application has been uncertain from the beginning. A prime example is the limit on a candidate’s personal spending, struck down by the Buckley Court, which shows how a limit, like the aggregate limit, can straddle the contribution-expenditure line. The Court in Buckley described the candidate spending limit as an “expenditure limit,” after the Court of Appeals had reached a different conclusion. Buckley v. Valeo, 519 F.2d 821, 854 (1975). One could say that the Supreme Court then cleared things up.Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 53 (1976) (“The Court of Appeals evidently considered the personal funds expenditure … as a contribution rather than expenditure.”) But it didn’t.

Colorado: Cash-strapped Pueblo County asks for election help, gets law lecture instead | Denver Post

Pueblo County reached out to the state to pay for a Sept. 10 recall election this week. But all County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz got was a law lecture. Monday Ortiz sent a letter to Secretary of State Scott Gessler asking for the state to pay for an election on recalling state Sen. Angela Giron, a Democrat who riled up opponents earlier this year when she supported gun-control legislation. “Because of the last minute nature of the Recall Election, our Office does not have the money in our budget for these unexpected expenditures, nor does Pueblo County as a whole,” Ortiz stated in the one-paragraph letter. “Pueblo County has experienced recent emergency expenditures that have caused an unexpected financial burden to the County adding to our budgetary challenges and making additional funding from Pueblo County unlikely.” Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz told Secretary of State Scott Gessler that Pueblo County doesn’t have enough money in its budget to fund a Sept. 10 recall election.

Colorado: State won’t reimburse county for recall election expenses | The Pueblo Chieftain |

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Tuesday that his office doesn’t have legal authority to reimburse or fund Pueblo County’s recall election in September. Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz sent a letter Monday to the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices, and to state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, asking for advance payment for the election. State Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, is being recalled by gun-rights supporters who say she overreached in supporting gun legislation. If voters decide to recall her, George Rivera, a former Pueblo police deputy chief and Republican, will take her place in the Legislature. In his response, Gessler said: “This office does not have the legal authority to reimburse your office for the recall election in Senate District 3. Your office should, however, be able to reduce your costs by 25-40 percent based on El Paso County’s experience.”

Kansas: Democrats want to take stab at amending proof-of-citizenship voter registration law | Wichita Eagle

As the state Legislature prepares for a special session to rewrite an unconstitutional criminal-sentencing law, Wichita Democrats are planning to reopen the debate over a voter proof-of-citizenship law they maintain is equally unconstitutional. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wrote the law requiring new voters to provide citizenship documents, said he thinks it would withstand court scrutiny, unlike an Arizona law that recently was overturned by the Supreme Court. And even if it didn’t, Kansas could create two classes of voters: those who provide the proof required by state law and could vote in all elections and those who don’t and who would be limited to voting only in congressional and presidential elections, Kobach said.

New York: New York City Vows to Provide Bengali Ballots after Lawsuit Filed | India West

The New York City Board of Elections said it would translate ballots in Queens, New York, into Bengali for the Sept. 10 primary election. It is the first new language added in more than a decade, election officials said. The addition of Bengali-language ballots at 60 polling sites in Queens comes nearly two years after the federal government ordered the city to provide language assistance to South Asian minorities under a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The federal government had ordered the city’s English ballots to be translated into Spanish, and more recently Chinese, in 1993 and Korean in 2001, The New York Times reported.  The move by election officials comes after the New York-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a lawsuit July 2 against the board for failing to comply with the language assistance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Pennsylvania: Lawyers Spar Over Voter ID Law In Court | Associated Press

The judge in Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law trial cleared the courtroom Tuesday so lawyers could spar in private over how many voters may have been unable to obtain an acceptable photo IDs before last year’s election. Lawyers planned to make closing arguments before Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley on Wednesday, the 11th day of the trial on the constitutionality of the yet-to-be-enforced law. The closed hearing involved 144 voters who were on a Pennsylvania Department of State spreadsheet of about 600 who applied for an ID at PennDOT licensing centers but did not obtain a free, voting-only license designed by the Department of State. Those IDs, under rules streamlined in late September, are supposed to be readily available to registered voters.

Pennsylvania: Closing arguments postponed in voter ID trial | Associated Press

A judge extended the trial over Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law Wednesday into a 12th day after lawyers called a truce in a behind-the-scenes battle and the state filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley scheduled closing arguments, which lawyers on both sides had expected as early as Wednesday, for Thursday. The March 2012 law was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature without any Democratic votes and signed by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, but court orders have prevented it from being enforced. Democrats charged that it was a cynical attempt in a presidential election year to discourage voting by minorities, young adults and other groups that tend to vote Democratic. Republicans said it bolsters the security of Pennsylvania’s elections, though state officials have conceded that they are not aware of any cases of voter impersonation.

Pennsylvania: State ends testimony in voter ID case | Philadelphia Inquirer

The battle over Pennsylvania’s voter identification law touched on familiar themes Tuesday as the state concluded its case after almost three weeks of testimony. Witnesses for the Department of State testified for several hours detailing the extent to which they worked to make information about the law widely known – including reaching out to the elderly, veterans groups, the homeless, and immigrant communities – to ensure residents without ID would understand the steps needed to get it. Attorneys for the plaintiffs questioned the same officials about the wide range of difficulties voters encountered and the disparity in estimates on how many remain without proper ID. Closing arguments are expected Wednesday.

Washington: County dumps controversial ballot-tracker system | Journal of the San Juan Islands

The ballot bar code lawsuit, White v. Reed, is now eight years old and does not appear to be ending any time soon. The lawsuit claims that bar codes on the ballot envelope and on the ballot itself violate the Washington law that states, “No paper ballot or ballot card may be marked in any way that would permit the identification of the person who voted that ballot.” Multiple motions have been filed, briefed and argued, but the only clear result is that San Juan County is likely to save money by abandoning the Mail-in Ballot Tracking system previously used here. County Auditor Milene Henley said that after Superior Court Judge Don Eaton decided that the tracking system violated a state law that requires any voting system to obtain federal certification, she decided not to appeal that decision, but instead to abandon the MIBT system, even though Henley insists that the MIBT system did not in any way compromise ballot secrecy.

Cambodia: Prime Minister offers talks with opposition over election complaints, would support probe | The Washington Post

Cambodia’s long-serving prime minister said Wednesday that his party was willing to talk with the opposition to resolve complaints that last weekend’s general election was unfair. The gesture, from a leader not usually given to compromise, represents an acknowledgement that his opponents’ strong showing in the polls could threaten his grip on power. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party has claimed that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55 in Sunday’s election according to provisional official results. However, the opposition, which increased its number of seats from 29 in the last National Assembly, could boycott the opening of parliament, leaving the lawmaking body short of a quorum and stymieing the formation of a new government.

Norway: Election campaign cranks into gear | NewsinEnglish.no

Norway’s national parliamentary election is less than six weeks away, but only now are politicians returning from their summer holidays and getting into campaign mode. Many voters seem to assume that Norway’s non-socialist parties will win this time, leading to worries that voter turnout may be low. Public opinion polls have for months showed the non-socialist (borgerlig) parties in the lead, with the Conservatives (Høyre) keen to head a coalition government that’s likely, for the first time, to include the even more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). A recent study by three researchers at statistics firm Norsk Regnesentral indicated there’s a 91.5 percent probability for a Høyre-Frp majority, and less than a 5 percent chance that Norway’s current left-center government coalition led by Labour will win a third term. Despite the polls and prognoses that Høyre and Frp look set to win a majority in Parliament (Storting) alone, Høyre leader Erna Solberg wants to include the much smaller Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) and the Liberals (Venstre) in the government. That will make it tougher to agree on a common platform, but may make it easier for Solberg to temper some of Frp’s more hard-line stands on, for example, use of oil revenues and limits on immigration.

Zimbabwe: Voters’ roll ‘in shambles’, thousands fail to cast ballots | Mail & Guardian

The chaos in the voting process has strengthened allegations that Zanu-PF, with the help of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), wants to steal the polls by disenfranchising people in urban areas which are perceived to be MDC strongholds. Several police officers who failed to cast their ballots during the special vote also failed to vote on Wednesday after finding their names crossed off the roll, an indication that they had voted. ZEC chairperson Justice Rita Makarau told journalists the commission did not have an idea of how to deal with the police officers who were turned away other than investigating. “We are investigating cases in which such officers didn’t vote because the register indicated they voted as their names were crossed out,” she said. Only names of those who had successfully cast their ballots were supposed to be crossed off the voters’ roll. Makarau confirmed some voters had been turned away despite producing registration slips as evidence. She said the registration slips of those who failed to vote did not indicate the wards in which they were supposed to cast their ballots.

Editorials: North Carolina: First in Voter Suppression | New York Times

Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina didn’t like our recent editorial that criticized the state for abandoning its traditions of racial equality, strong public schools, and economic fairness. He wrote a letter to the editor saying he was leading the state to a “powerful comeback.” That’s demonstrably untrue when it comes to the economy and the schools. But as yesterday’s events in the state capital showed, one thing is making a comeback: an old habit of suppressing the votes of minorities, young people and the poor, all in the hopes of preserving Republican power. Freed of federal election supervision by the Supreme Court, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that combines every idea for suppressing voter turnout that Republicans have advanced in other states. Rick Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called it “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.”

Pennsylvania: Voter ID’s fate now in judge’s hands | Philadelphia Inquirer

The fate of Pennsylvania’s 16-month-old voter identification law is in the hands of a Commonwealth Court judge after closing arguments in the landmark voting-rights case Thursday. The state argued that it had done its part to ensure that all registered voters had access to mandatory ID, while petitioners countered that those efforts were not enough. Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said the law placed a “fundamental burden” on a right “enshrined in the Constitution.” “It is time to put an end to this and enjoin this law,” Clarke told Judge Bernard McGinley. Attorneys for the state offered no evidence of voter fraud in the commonwealth but defended the law as needed to protect the integrity of the vote. Alicia Hickok, an attorney with Drinker Biddle representing the state, said officials had done “whatever is possible, whatever is necessary, and whatever is legal” to ensure that voters know about the new law and how to go about applying for a free, voting-only card if they lack any other acceptable forms of ID.