The glee in Republican-controlled states after the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling in June may give way to a different feeling for state officials: The crushing weight of a full legal offensive from the U.S. Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder is moving aggressively to renew federal control over Texas elections, even without the crucial legal lever the court eliminated. And Texas might be just the beginning. The court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required places with a history of discrimination to get any elections changes — everything from the location of polling places to voter ID laws — preapproved by a federal court or the Justice Department. All or parts of 16 states, mainly in the South, were bound by the so-called “preclearance” requirement.
The dead can’t vote, but they can give money to politicians. Thirty-two people listed on federal campaign records as deceased have contributed more than $586,000 to political parties and congressional and presidential candidates since Jan. 1, 2009, a USA TODAY review of Federal Election Commission filings found. Last week, news emerged of a possible donation by a deceased contributor in a high-profile Senate race. A Super PAC aiding Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election reported Wednesday that it had received a $100,000 contribution from Houston home builder and GOP mega-donor Bob Perry on June 3 — nearly two months after his April 13 death. Officials with the Super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership said a computer-software glitch inserted the wrong contribution date. The group quickly submitted a new report to the Election Commission showing that the donation had been received the day before Perry died.
It has been less than six weeks since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that for five decades has protected this country’s most basic democratic right. But it is already clear that the decision was a disaster. Freed of the obligation to seek federal approval before making changes in their election practices, some states have moved to introduce or restore policies that will make it harder for racial minorities to vote or will dilute their political influence. Meanwhile, as any student of contemporary politics could have predicted, a divided Congress shows no sign of moving quickly to adopt a new formula for federal “pre-clearance” of state election changes that would meet the Supreme Court’s requirements. Although the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting nationwide, only some states, mostly in the South, had been required to obtain advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal judge before they changed their election practices. The problem with that, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, was that the formula for deciding which states had to “pre-clear” changes was rooted in data from the 1960s and ’70s and didn’t reflect “current conditions,” notably dramatic increases in minority turnout in Southern states.
Within 20 minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning a portion of the Voting Rights Act, the attorney general of Texas tweeted a message signaling that strict voter-ID laws would go into effect there immediately. “I’ll fight Obama’s effort to control our elections,” Greg Abbott, who just announced he’s running for governor of Texas, tweeted June 25, the day the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder was released. Unless the law can be successfully challenged in court, Texas residents will now have to show a state- or federal-issued form of photo identification to vote. The list of acceptable forms includes a concealed-handgun license but not a state university student ID. The omission suggests it is not voter fraud but voters unfriendly to the GOP that Abbott and other Texas Republicans are trying to thwart. Other states — like Mississippi and Arkansas – that have GOP-controlled legislatures and a history of racial discrimination, and whose election laws have been supervised by the Department of Justice since the VRA’s passage in 1965, have also wasted no time moving forward with new voting restrictions in the wake of the Shelby County decision.
Sen. Jon Tester recently introduced a proposed federal constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood rights, overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The utility of such an amendment may be debated, since Citizens United was based on First Amendment free speech law, not referring to corporate personhood as a basis for the decision. Citizens United ushered in the unprecedented use of dark, institutional mega-money to influence elections and, effectively, silence voices of individual small contributors and ordinary voters. The Supreme Court’s approach and subsequent court cases have chipped away at contribution limits by individuals, corporations, unions, special interests groups, “non profits” and trade associations. This has resulted in millions of dollars pouring into elections with little or no disclosure of the source of funding and with little, if any, accountability for truth and accuracy of their messages. Candidates are being “marketed” to voters in the same fashion that fast food and frozen vegetables are hawked to consumers.
Dysfunction and conflict continue to roil the Federal Election Commission (FEC), where Republican commissioners hope to exploit their short-term majority and pass wrongheaded changes to the agency’s rules. This summer, Vice Chairman Donald F. McGhan and two other Republican commissioners proposed barring the FEC’s general counsel, when judging whether to pursue an enforcement matter, from consulting publicly available information without commission approval. This would prohibit the FEC staff from using Google, Facebook or a newspaper to look into a possible violation of campaign finance laws without prior approval. The proposal would also limit the FEC’s ability to share information with the Justice Department.
Arizona is renewing its bid to let election officials here demand proof of citizenship from everyone registering to vote, paving the way for yet another lawsuit. In a letter to the acting executive director of the Election Assistance Commission, state Attorney General Tom Horne demanded that she allow Arizona to require that those registering to vote using a commission-designed form first show they are citizens. Horne told Alice Miller he expects action by Aug. 19 or he will sue. But Nina Perales, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Horne should not expect approval. She said the commission staff rejected an identical request in 2005, a decision left intact by a 2-2 vote of the panel itself. And Perales insisted nothing has changed since then. Horne said if that happens he will seek court review. The fight concerns a 2004 voter-approved measure which requires both proof of citizenship to register and identification to cast a ballot at the polls. Foes challenged both.
Gov. Rick Scott will soon launch a new hunt for noncitizens on Florida’s voter rolls, a move that’s sure to provoke new cries of a voter “purge” as Scott ramps up his own re-election effort. Similar searches a year ago were rife with errors, found few ineligible voters and led to lawsuits by advocacy groups that said it disproportionately targeted Hispanics, Haitians and other minority groups. Those searches were handled clumsily and angered county election supervisors, who lost confidence in the state’s list of names. “It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards. “They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting.”
North Carolina: Voter ID Law Could Lead To Increased Voter Intimidation, Harassment, Election Officials Fear | Huffington Post
In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, reports of harassment and intimidation at the polls were so rampant in North Carolina that the state’s top election official was obliged to send a memo to his employees reminding them that they could call police if necessary. Now, as North Carolina’s governor prepares to sign one of the most restrictive election bills in the nation, civil-rights advocates and election officials in the state expect to see a rise in what they call voter intimidation. The law, which North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to sign any day, would allow political parties to send 10 roving “observers” from precinct to precinct on voting days, and it would authorize citizens to challenge the legality of votes cast in the county where the challenger lives. (Under the current law, you can only challenge a vote cast by someone living in your precinct.) Supporters contend that the law will help observers catch people in the act of fraud, but critics point out that evidence of this type of fraud is scarce. They insist that the real goal is to intimidate Democratic-leaning black voters, some of whom may remember the threats and assaults that swept the South in the late 1960s, after the 1965 Voting Rights Act toppled the official barriers blacks had faced at the polls.
The 12-day trial over Pennsylvania’s tough voter-identification law ended Thursday with the state contending that officials have provided safeguards to ensure any registered voter can easily get the mandatory photo ID and plaintiffs urging the judge to overturn the law because it violates voters’ constitutional rights. “It is time to put an end to this and enjoin the law,” Jennifer Clarke, director of Philadelphia’s Public Interest Law Center and a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, told Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley. Philadelphia lawyer Alicia Hickok, arguing for the state, said the plaintiffs failed to show that the law is unconstitutional. State officials have done “whatever is possible, whatever is necessary and whatever is legal” to ensure that voters know about the new law and how to apply for a free, voting-only card if they lack any other acceptable forms of ID, Hickok said.
Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd has called an election for September 7, kicking off a five-week campaign as polls show his ruling Labor party has dramatically closed the gap on the Liberal opposition. The election will centre on the management of the A$1.4tn economy, which faces an increasingly uncertain outlook. “This election will be about who the Australian people trust to best lead them through the difficult new economic challenges which now lie ahead — new challenges brought about by the end of the China resources boom,” Mr Rudd said in Canberra on Sunday, shortly after visiting Australia’s governor general to seek permission to hold an election. Mr Rudd was reinstalled as leader six weeks ago after ousting his predecessor Julia Gillard in a bruising leadership contest, Labor has closed the gap on the opposition led by Tony Abbott, a Rhodes scholar who trained for the priesthood.
A Bangladesh court has disqualified the country’s largest Islamic party from taking part in the next general election, saying it opposes secularism. The High Court panel ruled Thursday that the opposition Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party’s regulations violate the constitutional provision of secularism. The ruling comes four years after a group of citizens filed a petition seeking to cancel Jamaat’s registration with the Election Commission, saying the party wants to introduce Islamic Shariah law in the Muslim-majority country. Jamaat’s lawyer said it will appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. The ruling came amid calls to ban the party for opposing the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday he would push to form a new government even if the opposition tries to block the process, suggesting that his party could force an end to a standoff over disputed election results. His Cambodian People’s Party and the country’s main opposition group are currently deadlocked with competing claims to victory in Sunday’s vote—an impasse that some political observers fear could last for months and delay the formation of a new parliament and government. But Mr. Hun Sen, already prime minister for 28 years, insisted that his party had enough lawmakers—after preliminary results show it won 68 out of 123 parliamentary seats—to form a new government. His comments contradict claims by some legal experts who say the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which won 55 seats in the initial count, could block a new parliament by declining to take its seats. “We only need 63 seats to form a government,” said Mr. Hun Sen, 60 years old, while visiting farmers in Kandal province, which surrounds the capital, Phnom Penh.
Russia: United Russia doubts legality of Navalny election campaign funding scheme | The Voice of Russia
The funding scheme that a Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalny has been using extensively is in direct violation of the election legislation, the deputy head of the United Russia Party’s Central Executive Committee, Konstantin Mazurevsky said. According to the official, the election legislation contains a clear-cut definition of a voter’s free-will contribution, which means a gratuitous donation by a Russian citizen of their own money resources. The money is transferred to the candidate’s election campaign account. The law thus prohibits the so-called two-stage donations to election campaign accounts, whereby the money first comes from unidentified third persons to the donors that the candidate is familiar with, and then these individuals transfer the contributions in question on their behalf to the candidate’s special-purpose election campaign account as their own money, although this is not their money, Mazurevsky said.The United Russia official added that court practice bears out the unlawfulness of this kind of donation.
A Zimbabwean election commissioner has resigned, citing doubts about the integrity of results showing a big win for President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party but dismissed as a fraud-riddled farce by his main challenger. Mkhululi Nyathi said he quit the nine-member Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) over the way it managed the presidential and parliamentary vote held on Wednesday. His resignation is likely to add to the dispute over the election both inside and outside Zimbabwe. The vote, which looks certain to extend 89-year-old Mugabe’s 33-year rule in the southern African nation, passed off peacefully and received broad approval from African observers. Africa’s oldest leader, Mugabe has governed the former British colony, then known as Rhodesia, since independence in 1980. Mugabe’s main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has denounced the July 31 election as a “huge farce”, alleging massive rigging by ZANU-PF. Zimbabwe’s largest domestic observer group has also called the elections “seriously compromised”