Voters could one day print ballots at home like airline boarding passes, or skip traditional precincts for weekend voting at vote centers. But first, elections administrators nationwide must stop trying to fix problems of the past and focus on innovations, a panel of Western elections officials said Thursday before a presidential commission touring the nation looking for ways to improve voting. Elections officers from California, Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico laid out ideas to slash wait times and bring vote procedures into the Internet age. They said advances are possible without alienating older voters and people who don’t want to give up in-person Election Day voting. Los Angeles County is developing new voting machines that can “read” ballots printed at home, similar to checking in for a flight at airports. Oregon’s elections chief talked up the possibility of voters receiving bar-coded ballots on email and returning them in person, like returning a rented movie to Redbox.
From the earliest days of the Internet, robotic programs, or bots, have been trying to pass themselves off as human. Chatbots greet users when they enter an online chat room, for example, or kick them out when they get obnoxious. More insidiously, spambots indiscriminately churn out e-mails advertising miracle stocks and unattended bank accounts in Nigeria. Bimbots deploy photos of gorgeous women to hawk work-from-home job ploys and illegal pharmaceuticals. Now come socialbots. These automated charlatans are programmed to tweet and retweet. They have quirks, life histories and the gift of gab. Many of them have built-in databases of current events, so they can piece together phrases that seem relevant to their target audience. They have sleep-wake cycles so their fakery is more convincing, making them less prone to repetitive patterns that flag them as mere programs. Some have even been souped up by so-called persona management software, which makes them seem more real by adding matching Facebook, Reddit or Foursquare accounts, giving them an online footprint over time as they amass friends and like-minded followers. Researchers say this new breed of bots is being designed not just with greater sophistication but also with grander goals: to sway elections, to influence the stock market, to attack governments, even to flirt with people and one another.
When the Supreme Court dismantled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last June, there were two small silver linings in this decision. The first was the possibility that Congress could revive the regime killed by the Court, where states with particularly poor records of racialized voter suppression must “preclear” their voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court before those practices can take effect. The second potential silver lining is Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows a state to be brought back under the preclearance requirement if a court finds that it engaged in “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief.” Now, however, Texas wants to destroy these two silver linings as well. And there is a fair chance that the conservative Supreme Court will allow them to do so.
California: Auditor: California has inefficiently spent millions earmarked for voting systems | The Sacramento Bee
Confusing and inconsistent direction from the California Secretary of State’s Office has led the state to inefficiently spend millions of federal dollars earmarked to improve voting systems, according to a state audit released Thursday. Widespread allegations of uneven vote-counting practices accompanied the 2000 presidential election, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively decided. The Help America Vote Act, enacted two years later, allocated money for states to train poll workers and update their voting systems – in some cases, counties continued to rely on punch-card systems. California received more than $380 million, according to the auditor’s report. But the state’s methods for distributing that money were plagued by murky standards and a lack of clarity about whether counties could use new voting systems, State Auditor Elaine Howle’s office found. At least $22 million went to new voting machinery, like touch screens, that counties ended up mothballing.
Massachusetts: Jack Villamaino, Former GOP Candidate, Gets 4 Months In Jail For Felony Voter Fraud | Huffington Post
In the midst of his 2012 GOP primary campaign for a Massachusetts state House seat, Jack Villamaino changed the party affiliation of nearly 300 people in his town of East Longmeadow. Days later, the same number of absentee ballot requests were dropped off at the town clerk’s office, a list that was almost a “name-for-name match” for those whose registration information Villamaino had altered. Earlier this week, Villamaino pleaded guilty to felony charges of stealing ballots and changing the party affiliation of 280 Democrats during his campaign for state representative. A judge sentenced him to a year in jail, only four months of which he’ll be forced to serve behind bars. The remainder of that sentence will be suspended, and Villamaino will also be required to serve a year of probation. Villamaino’s defense attorney had hoped the judge would throw out the felony conviction, while Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni had sought additional felony charges for forgery and perjury.
There’s a new push to veto North Carolina’s controversial voter ID bill. Attorney General Roy Cooper is stepping into the fight. He’s making one last effort to convince Gov. Pat McCrory not to sign it. McCrory has yet to sign that bill, but has said that he will. He could be doing that very soon. However, until that pen hits the paper, Cooper, who is a Democrat, hopes signatures on an online petition will change the governor’s mind. The bill would, among many things, require a photo ID at the polls, would make early voting days longer, but shorten the number of early voting days, and stop same-day registration. “I sent the governor a letter telling him this was a bad idea,” said Cooper.
Pennsylvania: Greens, independents, plan new push for Pennsylvania ballot access | Philadelphia Weekly
Another legislative season will soon begin in Pennsylvania, and the state Green Party is still attempting to pressure a vote on a bill that would allow third-party candidates for state office easier access to the ballot. Their latest tactic: an online petition to pressure Harrisburg into a vote. Then, say supporters, there’s more to come. The petition asks supporters to sign in support of Senate Bill 195, introduced by Senator Mike Folmer (R-Berks) as mirror legislation to SB 21, which he introduced last session. Folmer’s bill would lower the standard as to what constitutes a third party and therefore does not require independent candidates to jump through hoops to get on the ballot, as is currently the case. The petition “demands” the bill move out of committee—it’s currently sitting in the State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster)—to a hearing and then a vote in the full Senate. As we’ve documented before, these days, that basic legislative process is a lot to ask for any bill that doesn’t have the blessing of establishment Republicans.
The State of Texas this week filed a rather impolite response to the voting-rights concerns recently expressed by Attorney General Eric Holder. Last month, Holder announced that the Justice Department would deploy a little-used section of the Voting Rights Act to impose federal oversight on some jurisdictions that had been freed, courtesy of a 5-4 conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, from having to “preclear” changes to voting rights (and redistricted election maps) with either a federal court or the Justice Department. Texas is precisely the kind of jurisdiction the Justice Department had in mind. In 2011, Republicans in the state legislature produced redistricting maps that, according to the federal court, had been designed with “discriminatory purpose.” The result was a significant dilution of Hispanic voting power. In a response filed with a three-judge panel in San Antonio, State Attorney General (and Republican gubernatorial candidate) Greg Abbott more or less told the Justice Department what it could do with a Texas longhorn.
Texas didn’t discriminate against minority voters. It was only because they were Democrats. And even if it did, the racial discrimination Texas engaged in is nowhere near as bad as the stuff that happened in the 1960s. These are some of the arguments the state of Texas is making in an attempt to stave off federal supervision of its election laws. In late July, citing the state’s recent history of discrimination, the Justice Department asked a federal court to place the entire state back under “preclearance.” That means the state would have to submit its election law changes in advance to the Justice Department, which would ensure Texas wasn’t disenfranchising voters on the basis of race. This week, Texas submitted a brief arguing that placing the state back under preclearance would be an “extreme” encroachment on state sovereignty and denying that they ever discriminated against minority voters in the state. “I don’t think it’s going to work, frankly. The mere desire to achieve partisan advantage does not give Texas a free hand to engage in racial discrimination,” says Brenda Wright, a voting law expert with the liberal think tank Demos. “If the only way you can protect white incumbents is by diluting the voting strength of Hispanic citizens, you are engaging in intentional racial discrimination, and the courts will see that.”
Politicians across the state are announcing their candidacies and hiring campaign workers, but the battle over redistricting again could delay the March primaries and make life difficult for incumbents. Lawyers working for Attorney General Greg Abbott and minority groups filed briefs with a San Antonio federal court that hint at a knockdown, drag-out fight over the state’s political maps and election laws. The fight has intensified since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said he wants Texas to submit all proposed election law changes for federal approval before implementing them. Minority groups first filed their lawsuit against Texas’ new political maps May 9, 2011, when the Legislature created them following the 2010 census. Because the case was underway, three federal judges in San Antonio drew temporary legislative and congressional maps for the state to use for the 2012 elections. Abbott didn’t like those maps, so he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed with him that the maps went too far, absent a verdict in the case. The protracted legal wrangling delayed the 2012 primary from March 6 to May 29.
While voting rights advocates have zeroed in on North Carolina where the governor is getting ready to sign a controversial voting law, Republicans in Wisconsin are readying their own voting overhaul. The latest legislation comes from state Sen. Glenn Grothman who is pushing two bills to restrict early voting and a third that would reduce requirements on donor disclosures. These latest attempts to change election law could be called the aftershocks of the state’s Republican takeover of 2011. After winning full control of the state house and governor’s mansion for the first time in more than a decade in 2010, Republicans began pushing a hard right agenda that included a ban on collective bargaining and new strict voter ID requirements. The state did continue its tradition of voting for Democrats in the presidential race last year in choosing to re-elect President Obama over Mitt Romney last year.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June gutted key components of the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Before the ink was dry on the high court’s ruling, several states announced they will implement restrictive laws that have been on hold or introduce new voting restrictions. Wisconsin was not covered by the voting act’s “preclearance” requirements, which now cannot be enforced until Congress acts to update the law. However, we have had our share of unneeded and unfair voting laws proposed and, in some cases, enacted in the past couple of years. For example, a new proposal from Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, would severely limit the hours when municipal clerks may offer in-person absentee voting for their constituents to no more than 24 hours a week, during business hours, for a two-week period prior to an election. This would reduce the opportunities for voters across the state who have daytime jobs or family commitments.
Voters in Mali headed to the ballot boxes Sunday for a presidential runoff, in another step toward re-establishing democracy and rule of law in the West African country. Voting unfolded without major incident, although a second day of rain continued to lash much of the country, flooding parts of the low-slung capital Bamako. The nation’s Interior Ministry is expected to announce results by Friday. At stake is whether the election will mend the country’s many divides—or further open them. Meanwhile, foreign partners—chiefly, France and the U.S.—are counting on an emerging Mali to play a role in their campaign against Islamic militants, which spreads from neighboring Algeria into Nigeria.
At least somebody has profited from the State’s €55 million waste of public money on the e-voting machine project. KMK Metals managing director Kurk Kyck confirmed yesterday that the company’s work on shredding the State’s 7,600 e-voting machines produced a profit for the firm, contributing to earnings of more than €1 million for the company last year. Mr Kyck said: “The e-voting machine work was very much profitable for us, but I would prefer not to say how much.” In June of last year KMK Metals Recycling Ltd won the tender for the machines when it signed a contract with the Department of the Environment to dismantle and recycle the State’s 7,600 e-voting machines after agreeing to pay the State €70,267. In the tendering for the works, four of the six unsuccessful tenders demanded money from the State to dispose of the machines, with one unidentified firm demanding €351,648 in fees to take the machines, while a second sought €181,701.
With the Election Commission’s mid-August deadline — to settle political negotiations to hold the elections for a second Constituent Assembly (CA) on November 19 — on time, parties in Nepal intensified negotiations this week to bring the dissenting parties on board. “The roulette wheel is turning, we’ll find out by Sunday where the ball lands,” said Upendra Yadav, whose party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) has been asking for the Chairman of the Council of Ministers to resign as Chief Justice; to raise the number for proportional representation in the proposed Assembly to be 58 per cent; to reopen the voter registration drive to include approximately four million eligible voters currently missing from the voter roll; and to delineate the constituencies based on population. Similar demands have been raised by another dissenting party, the Federal Socialist Party (FSP), which wants the government to make provision for Nepalis residing abroad to vote; and has called for an “all party conference” to guide the country’s political future until the elections are held. “If polls are held under the status quo, the country will return to conflict,” warned Mr. Yadav, echoed by FSP. Both parties are vying for concessions to improve their electoral arithmetic.
Norway’s prime minister worked secretly as a taxi driver in central Oslo for a day in June, leaving his passengers wondering whether their elected leader had quit the day job. Wearing a taxi driver’s uniform and sunglasses, Jens Stoltenberg drove passengers around the streets of the Norwegian capital for several hours, confirming his identity only after his passengers realized who he was. The stunt, dreamed up by an ad agency as part of Stoltenberg’s campaign for re-election, was filmed on hidden cameras. A video of the event was published on Sunday by daily newspaper VG and on the PM’s Facebook page. Stoltenberg told the newspaper he had wanted to hear people’s honest views on politics. “If there is one place where people say what they really mean about most things, it is in a taxi. Right from the gut,” he told VG.
Lawyers for Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s party filed a legal challenge Friday against the outcome of a crunch election which gave veteran President Robert Mugabe another five-year term. Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) charge in a court appeal that the July 31 vote was a “farce” that was riddled with fraud and should be declared invalid. “The prayer that we seek is that this election be declared null and void and also that a fresh election be held within 60 days,” MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told journalists outside the constitutional court where the party’s petition was lodged. The election ended a shaky power-sharing government formed four years ago by Mugabe and Tsvangirai following a bloody election in 2008.