In June, five Supreme Court Justices rolled back the Voting Rights Act, widely considered the most effective tool in preventing discrimination in our nation’s history. Section 5 of the act required that certain states and localities “preclear” proposed election changes with federal officials to ensure the changes were not discriminatory. The Court ruled that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions needed to get preclearance was outdated and unconstitutional. For those of us who care about voting rights, the question now is how do we respond? Some have argued that Congress should update the Voting Rights Act by passing ambitious election reforms. Such proposals include mandating shorter voting lines, making registration more convenient, and passing less restrictive identification requirements. For example, Sam Issacharoff and Richard Pildes—both New York University law professors who advised the Obama campaign—argue that we should look beyond the race-discrimination approach and adopt general election reforms that are race-neutral. The effort to update the Voting Rights Act, however, should focus on preventing voting discrimination—not general election reforms. Promoting broader access is a critical democratic goal, but it is distinct from the goal of preventing voting discrimination. By analogy, a tax deduction for mortgage interest promotes access to home ownership, but separate laws are still needed to prevent banks from engaging in predatory lending—different problems require different solutions. Voting discrimination is real, and broad election reform is not sufficient to address it.
Arizona and Kansas have taken Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s suggestion and sued the Obama administration in a continuing effort by both states to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, was announced by Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne and Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and joined by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a high-profile architect of restrictionist laws, including Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. The issue involves the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor voter” law, which requires states to let people register to vote simply by attesting they are citizens, when renewing their driver’s license or applying for social services. A 2004 law adopted by the voters in Arizona added the requirement that people registering to vote also provide proof of citizenship. The Supreme Court struck down that law earlier this year, concluding that it is trumped by the motor voter law. Arizona, the court ruled, could not add new requirements to the form prescribed by the federal law. But during oral arguments in March, Scalia expressed his bafflement that Arizona did not launch a broader assault on the constitutionality of the NVRA form, written by the Election Assistance Commission. The state simply contended in that case that its proof of citizenship law did not violate the federal law. Even Scalia disagreed with that, voting against Arizona in the ruling, but also giving them a valuable tip in his 7-2 majority opinion.
The Arkansas Board of Election Commission approved rules Wednesday related to the new photo voter ID law that takes effect in January. Beginning in 2014, the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office will issue photo identification to any voter that does not already have one. Supporters of the legislation say it will cut down on election fraud. Legislators opposed during the 2013 session argued the new law could have the effect of curbing the votes of the elderly and minorities.
For those with illness, disabilities or who can’t be present to vote at the polls in the September recall election, emergency ballots will be available. Absentee ballots will not be issued, Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz said Tuesday. Emergency ballots, in this special election, are similar to absentee in a general election, but Ortiz urged voters to cast their ballots at polling centers.
Voting Blogs: Another legal challenge? Colorado law mandates a vote on the recall question for a successor vote to count | Recall Elections Blog
The Citizen Center’s Marilyn Marks has pointed out that the Colorado Recall requires that voters must cast a ballot on the yes-or-no recall question if they want to vote for a successor candidate. Just to be clear: Colorado, like California, has what I call a two-step/same-day recall vote — voters cast one ballot which has two parts: step one is the question of “Should this official be recalled?” and step two is “Who should be named as a replacement?” Colorado’s Constitution very clearly states that if you don’t vote on the recall question, any second vote is tossed out and doesn’t count. This is a ripe avenue for litigation, as California had the same provision in 2003. A US District Court tossed it out as unconstitutional (the case was not appealed). San Diego is facing the same question (which may very well be tossed out there as well). This one could be another minefield for the Secretary of State and the local Clerks.
To paraphrase a line from HBO’s vote-debacle drama “Recount”: There’s a problem with the numbers in Detroit. A meeting of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers this week should have been as tedious as 10 pages of computer code. Instead, it became a highly publicized test of democracy — or competence — when the county clerk’s office tried to push through a near-50 percent change in the write-in vote total. The clerk’s office urged the canvassers to discard 18,000 write-in ballots: The reason given? Poll workers had used numerals rather than tally marks and hash tags on the official count. That discrepancy was not illegal, according to the state election director, Chris Thomas. But the county clerk urged the board of canvassers to toss the questionably counted ballots, turning them into non-votes. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, whose results were being challenged, demurred. “A citizen’s vote is the cornerstone of democracy, and people should be able to put their faith in their ballot,” she said. Those 18,000 ballots, all write-ins, were presumably cast for Mike Duggan. A turnabout in the total would eliminate his lead, making Benny Napoleon the primary winner.
The Guam Election Commission (GEC) does not know how much it will be getting in the upcoming fiscal year. Executive Director Maria Pangelinan says in the first substitute budget bill, over $900,000 was budgeted for GEC. However, in the current version of the recently passed Bill 38, GEC was lumped into the Executive Branch’s budget. She notes their appropriation was lumped together before in previous budgets. However, no line item has identified what GEC would receive this time around. Pangelinan says this is a problem as they prepare for the 2014 gubernatorial election. She also explains the money to fix two of their tabulators is not factored in yet because they just received the notice today [Wednesday] about the overall costs.
Kansas: Kris Kobach and the Arizona Secretary of State sue federal election board | Topeka Capital-Journal
Facing the possibility of legal action over 15,000-plus suspended voter registrations, Secretary of State Kris Kobach struck back by announcing Wednesday his own suit against a federal election commission. Kobach said at a news conference that he and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, both Republicans, have filed a complaint against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission asking that federal voter registration forms issued to residents of their states include state-specific proof of citizenship requirements like the ones on state forms largely responsible for putting thousands of Kansas registrations on hold. Kobach said the court case is “the first of its kind.” Kansas voters will be best served when the EAC amends the Kansas-specific instructions on the Federal Form to include submitting concrete evidence of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote,” Kobach said.
Michigan: Detroit mayor count in chaos as Wayne County refuses to certify primary results | Detroit Free Press
A state election panel will have to decide who really won the Detroit mayoral primary after Wayne County election officials on Tuesday refused to certify shocking new election results, which would have invalidated about 20,000 votes and handed the primary win to Benny Napoleon instead of Mike Duggan. The county board was debating whether to invalidate more than 20,000 write-in votes that were not recorded at polling locations using hash marks, which would cause the result of the Aug. 6 primary to be flipped — with Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, receiving more votes than write-in candidate Duggan. ■ PDF: Unofficial write-in summary for Detroit mayoral primary
When the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refused to certify the results of Detroit’s Aug. 6 mayoral primary Tuesday, citing irregularities in the tabulation of write-in votes, many reflexively laid the blame at City Clerk Janice Winfrey’s doorstep. Only in Detroit, Winfrey’s critics clucked, could election officials mishandle enough votes to turn what had been declared a landslide victory for write-in candidate Mike Duggan into a lopsided victory for his rival, Benny Napoleon. But by Wednesday, just 24 hours after county canvassers asked the state to conduct a recount, the evidence suggested that they and County Clerk Cathy Garrett may have grossly overreacted to minor variations in the way some Elections Department workers recorded write-in votes for Duggan.
Cary, N.C. County election board members must work as colleagues and not political rivals, the new Republican chairman of the State Board of Elections said Wednesday as recent local board dust-ups have led to allegations of partisanship and voter suppression. Josh Howard addressed nearly 500 local elections board members, directors and staff at a statewide training seminar, the first since all 100 county boards came under GOP control this year after 20 years in Democratic hands. Republicans now hold 2-1 majorities in counties because Gov. Pat McCrory was elected. But the division has gotten more attention in the past week as Democrats and civil rights groups are fuming over actions by Republican elections board members in Pasquotank and Watauga counties that could make it harder for college students to vote.
A fight against the state’s contentious voter ID laws escalated this week when Dallas County became the first Texas county to claim that the requirements would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters. In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to join U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in a lawsuit urging a federal district court to issue an injunction against the voter ID law. The law requires voters to present one of seven forms of state or federal identification or a so-called election identification certificate, which can be obtained from the state’s Department of Public Safety. On Wednesday in an appearance on MSNBC, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins applauded the commissioners’ decision. Jenkins said 220,000 of 1.1 million total registered voters in Dallas County indicated they did not have the required forms of ID to vote. “Dallas County just could not sit idly by while the state’s Republican leaders disenfranchised African-American and Latino voters,” Jenkins said, adding that Hispanics are 46 percent more likely to lack the required form of ID to vote, according to the U.S. attorney general.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) staff are trialling notebook computers to electronically check-off voters at polling booths around the country. It is the first time notebook computers have been used in a federal election to mark off names and addresses from the electoral roll. Similar devices were used during the ACT election last year and proved successful. AEC spokesman Phil Diak says staff will swap pencils and rulers for the notebooks, making it easier to look-up interstate voters. “We’ll also be able to print ballot papers from the notebooks and that will help us in terms of holding stocks of interstate ballot papers for the House of Representatives,” he said.
Australia: Statistics show 25 per cent of young people failed to enrol to vote in September election | ABC
Not enough Australians are voting and not enough young people have enrolled to vote, latest figures show. Statistics from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) revealed 20 per cent of eligible voters did not cast their ballot in the last federal election and 25 per cent of young voters failed to enrol for the next election. Of those aged 18-24, 400,000 people did not enrol in time meaning they cannot vote in September’s election, a trend that is of great concern to the AEC. “It is clear from the evidence that the trend is for increasing numbers of otherwise eligible electors to remain outside the electoral system,” Electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn said. The AEC studied the 2010 election and found more than 3 million Australians did not vote.
Maldives: PPM requested access to Elections Commission IT software: Elections Commissioner | Minivan News
Amid constant attacks on the Elections Commission’s (EC) internet server and concerns over voter database security, Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek has revealed that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had previously requested access to the commission’s IT section. Despite admitting their ongoing concerns in this matter, the PPM have denied asking for this kind of access. The EC’s internet server is currently facing continuous attacks from hackers both within the Maldives and abroad, although EC Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek has previously dismissed rumours that any such attempts had been successful. Earlier this month, PPM and Jumhooree Party (JP) lodged a complaint with the EC expressing fears that foreign nationals had access to the Maldives’ voter database for the upcoming presidential election. The EC has sought assistance from Indian IT professionals to set up software in order to oversee future council elections.
Zimbabwe’s highest court has dismissed a case challenging President Robert Mugabe’s re-election last month and upheld the re-election of longtime leader. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku told a packed courtroom Tuesday that Mugabe had been elected in accordance with Zimbabwe’s laws. He made the ruling while dismissing an application that had been filed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost the July 31 election. Terrence Hussein, the lawyer for Mugabe, said, “We are quite happy because it has brought stability and certainty. We can now all move on. I think we all now know who our president is for the next five years.” Mugabe will be sworn in no later than Thursday, thus extending his 33-year rule over Zimbabwe by another five years.