The Obama administration on Thursday escalated its efforts to restore a stronger federal role in protecting minority voters in Texas, announcing that the Justice Department would become a plaintiff in two lawsuits against the state. The Justice Department said it would file paperwork to become a co-plaintiff in an existing lawsuit brought by civil rights groups and Texas lawmakers against a Texas redistricting plan. Separately, the department said, it filed a new lawsuit over a state law requiring voters to show photo identification. In both cases, the administration is asking federal judges to rule that Texas has discriminated against voters who are members of a minority group, and to reimpose on Texas a requirement that it seek “pre-clearance” from the federal government before making any changes to election rules. In June, the Supreme Court removed the requirement by striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. “Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement, adding, “This represents the department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”
The Justice Department on Thursday redoubled its efforts to challenge state voting laws, suing Texas over its new voter ID measure as part of a growing political showdown over electoral rights. The move marked the latest bid by the Obama administration to counter a Supreme Court ruling that officials have said threatens the voting rights of minorities. It also signaled that the administration will probably take legal action in voting rights cases in other states, including North Carolina, where the governor signed a voter ID law this month. The Supreme Court in June invalidated a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had forced certain jurisdictions to receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing their voting laws. The ruling, however, did not preclude the Obama administration from using other sections of the law.
It used to be broken by ideological divisions. But today it is broken by simple party politics. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) – the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal campaign finance laws – is being swept under the bus of partisan one-up-manship. Republicans have gained a temporary one-seat majority on the Commission and they may take advantage of it for partisan purposes – namely, to associate the Obama Administration and Democrats generally with a conspiracy of using federal agencies to attack conservative nonprofit political organizations. In an unexpected twist, congressional Republicans Darrel Issa (R-Cal.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) have teamed up with at least one Republican colleague at the FEC in an effort to tie the agency to the ongoing story of whether high-level IRS staff inappropriately targeted the tax-exempt applications of groups based on partisanship. An email exchange from FEC staff to IRS staff requesting public information about the tax status of a conservative political organization prompted accusations of collusion between the two agencies for conspiring to persecute conservatives.
The Justice Department went to court again on Thursday to challenge the legality of Texas’s voter ID law — a law that Texas says it has put back into effect since the Supreme Court freed the state from federal court supervision. In that new lawsuit and in a new maneuver in a pending case over new election districting maps for Texas, the Department will be asking that the state be placed back under court oversight over all of its election laws, for at least a decade. Both new moves were announced ina press release. The legal filings are not yet available. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs.” Holder said the Texas filings were “the latest action to protect voting rights, but will not be the last.” That statement may have been a signal that the Obama administration will also mount a legal challenge to the sweeping new North Carolina law limiting voting rights in that state.
This past election day, a 50-year-old African-American voter in Mississippi, whose name has not been released, showed up to her local polling station to cast her vote in the general election. She had voted in the same county since she was 18 but was told her name was not on the rolls and that she would have to vote via a provisional ballot. As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, civil rights activists say one of the most powerful barometers of progress for African-Americans—easy access to the ballot box—is under attack. The 2012 election cycle represented “the largest legislative effort to rollback voting rights since the post-reconstruction era,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that released a report along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Thursday arguing that voting changes in 2012 disproportionately affected African-American voters. The last two years have been a particularly tumultuous time for voting rights. According to the Advancement Project’s report, 180 bills they dubbed “restrictive” were introduced in 41 states between January 2011 and October 2012. Laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls—perhaps the most controversial piece of new voting legislation—were proposed in 38 states. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that it plans to sue Texas on its new voter ID law.
Arkansas’ top elections panel on Wednesday approved guidelines for how poll workers should enforce the state’s new voter ID law when it takes effect next year, after it removed a proposal that one member warned could lead to political favoritism. The state Board of Election Commissioners unanimously approved the rules, which closely mirror those outlined in the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in April despite Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto. Before approving the new guidelines, the panel voted to remove a provision that would have allowed poll supervisors to settle disputes when voters don’t resemble their ID photos. Board member Stu Soffer, who called for the provision’s removal, said the voter ID law didn’t give them the authority to include that step in the rules. He said the voter could cast a provisional ballot even if their identity is challenged, and the final decision could be made by t! he county election commission.
Florida: Prosecutors charge 2 campaign aides for Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez in absentee-ballot probe | Miami Herald
Miami-Dade prosecutors on Thursday charged two political operatives for Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez — including his campaign manager — with unlawfully submitting absentee-ballot requests online on behalf of voters. Campaign manager Esteban “Steve” Suarez, 34, who is also the candidate’s cousin, and campaign aide Juan Pablo Baggini, 37, were charged with attempting to request absentee ballots for 20 voters in May. Francis Suarez, a sitting city commissioner and lawyer, was cleared of any wrongdoing during the investigation, according to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. His only involvement was advising his campaign to seek legal advice to make sure any online requests did not run afoul of the law. The campaign did so — but failed to heed a recommendation that the requests be submitted differently to avoid potential problems, sources close to the investigation said.
Voting Blogs: New Mexico Secretary of State Revives 21-Year Old Discredited Attorney General Opinion to Remove Green and Constitution Parties from Ballot | Ballot Access News
New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna J. Duran, a Republican, recently removed the Green Party and the Constitution Party from the ballot, even though both parties successfully petitioned in 2012 and even though, for the last seventeen years, New Mexico law has been interpreted to mean that when a party successfully petitions for party status, it gets the next two elections, not just one election. The Secretary of State found a discredited 1992 Attorney General’s Opinion that says a party should be removed, after just one election, if it runs for either Governor or President and fails to get one-half of 1%. Yet, the Opinion says if a party qualifies by petition and then doesn’t run for either Governor or President, it remains on the ballot for the next election.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday new changes in North Carolina voting law punish minority voters and will hurt Republicans. Powell, in a speech at the North Carolina CEO Forum in Raleigh — an annual gathering of private and public sector executives and managers — Powell said the state’s new voter ID law is not even necessary because there is no evidence of the kind of voter fraud its backers said it was designed to address. “You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud,” he said. “How can it be widespread and undetected?”
In one week last August, federal courts found that Texas’ voter ID law and redistricting maps were discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s recent decision invalidating Section 4 of the VRA, which previously covered Texas, tragically wiped away those rulings. Now the Department of Justice is once again stepping in to fight for voting rights in the Lone Star State. The DOJ announced today that it is objecting to Texas’ voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA and will also seek to join a similar lawsuit against the state’s redistricting maps. Last month, DOJ asked a court in Texas to force the state to approve its voting changes with the federal government for a period of time under another provision of the VRA, Section 3, based on a finding of intentional discrimination in the restricting case. The federal courts found last year that Texas’ new maps for Congress and the state house were “enacted with discriminatory purpose.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s plans to capture a seat at Australia’s September 7 elections were in disarray on Thursday after his top local candidate quit due to an internal fight over party organization. Assange, who remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, accepted responsibility for the divisions, saying he had been too busy helping fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. “I made a decision two months ago to spend a lot of my time on dealing with the Edward Snowden asylum situation, and trying to save the life of a young man. The result is over delegation,” Assange told Australian television on Thursday. “I admit and I accept full responsibility for over delegating functions to the Australian party while I try to take care of that situation.” Assange has been given political asylum by Ecuador, but faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden to face accusations of rape and sexual assault if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy.
Editorials: Party season: In a tight German election, differences blur and hints of deals abound | The Economist
What a sorry state Germany’s two big political blocs are in, a month before the election on September 22nd. In the 1970s more than 90% of West Germans voted for the two “people’s parties”: the “red” Social Democrats (SPD) and the “black” Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. The difference was clear: red stood for unions and fairness, black for conservatives, business and the church. But the people have deserted the people’s parties. In the 2009 election, almost half the voters chose smaller competitors: chiefly the Greens, the Left and the Free Democrats (FDP). The blacks and reds have also lost members: the CDU 40% since unification in 1990, the SPD almost 50%. In a recent poll 69% of voters said they could not even tell the difference. It was an SPD-led government that pushed through labour-market reforms in 2003. The government of the CDU chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been inching leftward, ogling everything from rent controls to a minimum wage.
Many in India still have not come to grips the serious consequences of the status quo that the Election Commis-sion (EC) is maintaining by buying hundreds of thousands of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that are easily manipulatable. Most constituencies in India are won by thin margins. In current election scenarios where no party has absolute majority, this can have a very drastic effect. Just take this scenario: Let us say without any EVM manipulation (say paper ballots), Party-1 would have secured 175 seats and Party-2 secured 145 seats. Now, how can this election results be manipulated. Let us identify 15 constituencies where seats are known to have been won by thin margins. Now all it takes is to manipulate as small as 5 percent of EVMs (or even much less) in these 15 constituencies to tilt the favor from Party-1 to Party-2. Each party now have 160 seats and neither has majority! So, we changed the whole power scenario by manipulating just a tiny portion of the EVMs in a handful of constituencies.
Madagascar’s electoral commission has said the country will hold a long-delayed presidential poll aimed at ending a political crisis. Three of the frontrunners for the post have been disqualified by an electoral court. Poll organizers said on Thursday that the presidential election would be held on October 25, in a vote aimed at ending the constitutional crisis brought about by a coup four years ago. Elections for Madagascar’s national parliament have been slated for December 20, when a second round of presidential voting is also to take place if there is no clear winner in the first poll. Two previous dates have been postponed because of disagreements over who should be allowed to run for the presidency, and a lack of funding. Last week, a court removed the names of three serious contenders for the presidency. They include current president and former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina, who came to power in a coup that ousted and exiled former President Marc Ravalomanana. Rajoelina was said to have not submitted his candidacy ahead of the deadline.
It seemed a perfectly-timed stunt from Jens Stoltenberg. The Norwegian prime minister, lagging behind opposition parties ahead of parliamentary elections next month, pretended to be a taxi driver around Oslo, demonstrating his charm to ordinary voters. But then things started to go wrong. It transpired some of his passengers had been paid to make the journey while the whole thing had been dreamt up by Try Advertising, the governing Labour party’s ad agency. Worst of all, one of his passengers complained his bad driving had worsened her back problems. As Mr Stoltenberg said: “I think the country and Norwegian taxi passengers are best served if I am the prime minister and not a taxi driver.”
The Moscow election commission is to consider whether to disqualify protest leader Alexei Navalny from taking part in elections for city mayor on September 8, the Russian capital’s election chief said Thursday. The commission would meet “soon” to discuss violations in Navalny’s campaign, Moscow election commission chief Valentin Gorbunov said. “If the violations exceed the norms established by the law than the question will be raised of cancelling the registration of the candidate,” Gorbunov said, according to comments confirmed by a spokesman to AFP. The spokesman, declining to be identified, refused further details.