Emboldened by the Supreme Court decision that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, a growing number of Republican-led states are moving aggressively to tighten voting rules. Lawsuits by the Obama administration and voting rights activists say those efforts disproportionately affect minorities. At least five Southern states, no longer required to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures, are adopting strict voter identification laws or toughening existing requirements. Texas officials are battling the U.S. Justice Department to put in place a voter ID law that a federal court has ruled was discriminatory. In North Carolina, the GOP-controlled Legislature scaled back early voting and ended a pre-registration program for high school students nearing voting age. Nowhere is the debate more heated than in Florida, where the chaotic recount in the disputed 2000 presidential race took place.
Colorado and North Carolina share some commonalities, politically speaking. Both have had healthy two-party competition over the last dozen years or so; both became battleground states in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections; and, since the 2012 election, both now have unified governments. Democrats control the House, the Senate and the governor’s office in Colorado, and Republicans control the same in North Carolina. Another commonality: this year Colorado and North Carolina both enacted major election overhauls that address same day registration, early voting and pre-registration for teens (along with other issues). The two states took mirror opposite approaches to those issues.
The counting of paper ballots in the special mayoral election continued to move at a glacial pace, as Dave Ware clings to his 32-vote lead over Mayor Johnny DuPree. But Ware vs. DuPree took a backseat to Jones vs. Perry on Thursday, as the brewing battle between Election Commissioner Turner Jones and Ware election observer Pete Perry erupted into a heated verbal exchange at City Hall. “Either he goes or I go,” Jones said angrily as he stormed out of the council chambers during the early afternoon. Despite threats of quitting punctuated by a dramatic exit out the front door of City Hall, Jones stayed to continue the vote count.
The numbers are attention-getting: on Tuesday, New York City will spend about $13 million to hold a runoff in the Democratic primary for an office, public advocate, that is budgeted only $2.3 million a year. And the combination of a little-known post with a little-understood election process is expected to lead to startlingly low turnout — maybe 100,000 to 175,000 voters, in a city of 8 million people. Yet the election is likely to determine the occupant of one of the city’s top offices, because there is no Republican candidate. The high cost of an election for a low-cost office has inspired wags to muse. Some have suggested that the race be decided by a coin toss. Others, including the Republican nominee for mayor, Joseph J. Lhota, have joked that, because the public advocate has few concrete powers, the two candidates could be allowed to serve, at a saving to taxpayers. But some elected officials and government reform advocates have suggested a longer-term solution: instead of holding costly, low-turnout runoffs, New York City should switch to instant runoff voting, a system already used in other cities.
The Justice Department will announce Monday that it is suing the state of North Carolina for alleged racial discrimination over tough new voting rules. A person briefed on the department’s plans told Fox News that the suit would claim that the North Carolina statute violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and would seek to have the state subject to federal pre-clearance before making “future voting-related changes.” The person also said the suit would be filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tenn. In asking for pre-clearance, the Justice Department will ask a federal judge to place the four provisions in North Carolina’s new law under federal scrutiny for an indeterminate period. The suit is the latest effort by the Obama administration to fight back against a Supreme Court decision that struck down the most powerful part of the landmark Voting Rights Act and freed southern states from strict federal oversight of their elections.
The Justice Department is expected to sue North Carolina on Monday over its restrictive new voting law, further escalating the Obama administration’s efforts to restore a stronger federal role in protecting minority voters after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, according to a person familiar with the department’s plans. The lawsuit, which had been anticipated, will ask a federal court to block North Carolina from enforcing four disputed provisions of its voting law, including a strict photo identification requirement. The lawsuit will also seek to reimpose a requirement that North Carolina obtain “preclearance” from the federal government before making changes to its election rules. The court challenge will join similar efforts by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Texas over that state’s redistricting plan and voter photo ID law. Those lawsuits are seeking to return Texas to federal “preclearance” oversight.
Australia: Clive Palmer three votes ahead as Australian Electoral Commission recounts votes | ABC News
Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer leads the LNP’s Ted O’Brien by just three votes in the Sunshine Coast seat of Fairfax. A recount of preferences is underway after an initial count put Mr Palmer 36 votes ahead of Mr O’Brien. On Monday morning Mr Palmer was 42 votes ahead, but by the evening the mining magnate’s lead had narrowed to three votes. As the painstaking count continues, tensions are rising. Last week the Australian Electoral Commission flew in its chief legal officer to deal with an unusually high number of challenges on the validity of ballot papers. The Palmer United Party, which may also hold the balance of power in the Senate, has four lawyers and the LNP has one. Palmer’s scrutineers are being delivered gourmet lunches from the billionaire’s luxury Coolum resort, while Mr O’Brien’s team gets the rare sandwich or roll.
Just under 2,000 people took part in the e-voting test run last week, with officials saying that casting a vote should take less than a minute. Despite its reputation as an Estonian success story, e-voting has been a controversial issue that has been challenged by political opposition, claims of security vulnerabilities and an ensuing Supreme Court case. This year’s innovation is a verification system, albeit one that only works on Android operating systems.
Authorities in the German city of Essen have ordered a recount of the recently held parliamentary elections following revelation of irregularities. Mayor of Essen Reinhard Pass ordered on Friday the recount of 150,000 votes cast in the recent federal elections. According to the official results of the elections held on September 22, Christian Democrat (CDU) candidate Matthias Hauer won the Essen III seat by a margin of just three votes, beating Social Democrat (SPD) Petra Hinz. However, since the results were announced there has been a dispute over the validity of some ballots. The dispute caused the city officials to launch an assessment.
In a landmark judgement on Friday, the Supreme Court for the first time allowed voters to cast negative vote by pressing a button saying none of the candidates is worthy of his vote. The SC asked the Election Commission to provide None Of The Above (NOTA) button on EVMs and ballot papers. The apex court said the right to vote and the right to say NOTA are both part of basic right of voters. “When a large number of voters will press NOTA button, it will force political parties to choose better candidates. Negative voting would lead to systemic change in polls,” the apex bench observed. The bench also observed that implementation of NOTA option was akin to ‘abstain option’ given to MPs and MLAs during voting in respective houses. The SC directed the EC to start implementing NOTA button on EVMs forthwith in a phased manner and asked the Centre to render all assistance.
The Osaka High Court on Sept. 27 ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote violates the Constitution, an unprecedented decision hailed by human rights lawyers but blasted by the Justice Ministry. A senior ministry official said the ruling was “totally unexpected” and could create problems in the judicial system. “If the law is revised to give voting rights to prisoners, who make up the majority of people in justice institutions, it would have considerable ramifications,” the official said. “We will have to hold talks with the internal affairs ministry.” Presiding Judge Hiroshi Kojima dismissed the government’s argument that prisoners lack a law-abiding spirit and cannot be expected to exercise their right to vote in a fair manner. The judge also noted that prisoners are allowed to vote in a national referendum, which is required in procedures to revise the Constitution.
Maldives: No presidential run-off in Maldives tomorrow after Supreme Court order | Business Standard
Maldives’ Election Commission today halted preparations for the presidential run-off scheduled for tomorrow after the Supreme Court ordered security forces to stop any attempts to go ahead with the polls against its directives. Hundreds of supporters of Mohammed Nasheed, the front-runner in the Maldives’ presidential election, held protests against the court’s decision to postpone this weekend’s runoff. Earlier, Election Commission of Maldives chief Fuwad Taufeeq’s statement saying that the panel would go ahead with the run-off despite the Supreme Court order to postpone it had sparked confusion. In an interview to ‘Minivan News’, Taufeeq said, “We don’t believe any organisation or institution can overshadow the constitution. So we are working as per the constitution. I am trying to fulfil the national duty of the election commission. I don’t want to leave room for those who break laws and the constitution.”
THE SADC Lawyers Association (SADC-LA) has questioned the legal framework governing the elections in the country. One of the issues highlighted was the promulgation of the six electoral laws, which received Royal assent just weeks before the elections. The mission has since released its preliminary statement on its observation, and a full report is to be released at the end of the month. In its summary of findings, the mission questioned the legal framework governing or related to the elections, including the Constitution. The SADC LA noted that enactment of the six electoral laws weeks before the start of the primary elections may have had an adverse effect on voter education and in the capacity of the election officers to discharge their responsibilities in accordance with the newly-enacted legislation, because they may not have been aware of the new legislation. The observers also stated that the promulgation of the Acts did not provide enough time for the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and civil society groups to conduct civic education on the elections.
Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, which many describe as the next Citizens United and Lawrence Lessig considers it as much a test of the five conservative justices as of the law they will review. Two civil rights groups are challenging Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s authority to pass emergency voting rules in the months before an election. Voter advocacy groups alarmed that adequate security measures for a new Maryland law allowing voting by mail with a ballot downloaded online will not be in place for the 2014 elections. The Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified a recount of the Aug. 6 primary election that changed only nine votes in the Detroit mayoral election. A Federal judge in South Dakota ruled that a group of Native Americans will not have to pay court costs related to their voting-rights lawsuit against the state. The Australian Election Commissioner has questioned the wisdom of internet voting proposals and amid claims of security vulnerabilities and an ensuing Supreme Court case, Estonian officials tested their internet voting system.
In two weeks, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in what many describe as the next Citizens United and the outcome could have major implications for campaign spending at the state level. What’s at stake in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission — for which oral arguments are scheduled on Oct. 8 — is the limit to individual political spending. The federal government sets separate limits for each election cycle on how much an individual can give to candidates, party committees and political action committees. But it also currently limits overall spending to $123,200. It’s that overall limit that the McCutcheon fight is about. Proponents say it prevents corruption; opponents say it limits speech. “When you have somebody writing a one, two or three million dollar check that greatly increases opportunities for corruption,” says Lawrence Norden, a deputy director at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which filed a brief in the case supporting the limit. But critics of the aggregate contribution limit say individual limits — such as the $2,600 cap on donations to a federal candidate or candidate committee per election — already provide that protection.
Editorials: If You Thought Citizens United Was Bad, Wait for This Supreme Court Case | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic
It is tempting to think that there is only one issue hitting Washington these days: the coming apocalypse over a government shutdown and a possible default. It is, to be sure, the Big One, and it should dominate our discussion and analysis. But there are many other issues looming out there that deserve broader focus and attention. One is the farm bill, a case study in dysfunction and chaos over the past three years which has devastated farmers hit by the most significant drought since the Great Depression and which, if unresolved by the end of the month, could cause milk prices to skyrocket, among other things. A key part of that dispute is the most punitive, cruel, and hypocritical action taken by Congress in years: the move by the House to slash food stamps in the face of a continuing stagnant economy. Such action would leave hungry millions of Americans, including children, despite the fact that their erstwhile breadwinners cannot find work. In the process, the move would also strike down state waivers for food stamps in favor of a rigid work requirement, without providing any funds for work training. House Republicans, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, pushed this plan as a way to cut government spending — even as he and his colleagues voted to keep in place generous taxpayer subsidies for multimillionaire big farmers and billionaire farm conglomerates. Government spending is OK, apparently, if it is for fat cats and contributors, just not for poor people.
The struggle to protect the fundamental right to vote for people with a felony conviction is nothing new in this country, but has now reached a crisis level. Almost six million people are denied the right to vote because of felon disfranchisement laws that perpetuate racial and economic disparities by excluding citizens from the democratic process even after they have paid their debt to society. Last week none other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) came out in favor of restoring the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated. The result is of the injustice of felony disenfranchisement is that people, especially people of color, are legally barred from participating in our system of government, and denied a say in the issues that impact their communities. Factors that contribute to so many people’s involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place are then rarely addressed.
Minnesotans can now go online to register to vote, update their current registration or apply for overseas absentee ballots, the Secretary of State’s office said. The website is mnvotes.org. “Today we join many states that have already demonstrated that online registration is secure and that it saves taxpayers money,” said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in a statement. He said online registration will supplement but not replace paper applications. His office said the system “was built to ensure that only persons providing verifiable identification numbers will be able to register,” and these applications will undergo the same verification process as paper applications. Minnesota is the 15th state to offer online registration, Ritchie’s office said. On Nov. 5, more than 35 municipalities and 113 school districts hold elections. Online registrations will be accepted through Oct. 15, and unregistered voters may continue to register at their polling places on Election Day.
Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale hopes to increase voter turnout by allowing online registration and expanding on the use of all-mail ballots in special elections. Gale visited McCook Wednesday and said he intended to seek legislative approval in the coming session for online registration and believed the Internet could help the state reach out to more voters. “Hopefully it will be a big convenience, voters wouldn’t have to secure a paper form or even go to their county office,” said Gale. Gale said he planned to confirm the online submissions by asking legislators to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to populate the voter database with driver’s license numbers and the last four digits of citizen’s social security number. “This will help authenticate citizenship and ensure valid and appropriate registration,” said Gale, adding that he needed legislative authorization to do it.
Nevada: Republican Assemblyman criticized for remarks about minority, young voters | Las Vegas Review-Journal
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, has come under fire this week, including from Sen. Dean Heller, for making comments that may have been factually correct but are unwise in today’s political world. During a Tuesday appearance on a Reno radio talk show, Hickey said Republicans in Nevada may pick up seats in next year’s election because many minorities and young people don’t vote in non-presidential elections. “Probably where we had a million voters turn out in 2012, we’ll have like 700,000,” Hickey told radio station KOH. “A lot of minorities and a lot of younger people will not turn out in a non-presidential (year). It’s a great year for Republicans.” Democrats have a 97,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans and control the state Senate, 11-10, and Assembly, 27-15. Heller, R-Nev., in a statement Thursday called the assemblyman’s comments “divisive, insensitive, and run counter to the basic duties and honor of public service. Assemblyman Hickey should know that it is a privilege to represent Nevada’s many cultures and ethnicities.”
By 2016, college students and citizens in North Carolina will have to adhere to new policies in regards to voting. By way of a Youtube video, Governor Pat McCrory announced in August that he signed House Bill 589. “Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID, and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote,” the governor said. The bill will require voters to show photo identification at polling sites. However, only military ID cards, a valid driver’s license, passports, and tribal cards will be accepted. Student identification cards will not be an acceptable form. Eliminating the use of student ID cards as an acceptable form of identification forces students to not vote in the county of which their campus is located. College students must request an absentee ballot from the precinct of their permanent address or parents may pay a $2,500 fee so that their child may vote out of their district. It is also unclear if students will be able to use their on-campus addresses as their permanent residence in order to get a DMV issued ID.
A Green Township state senator, one of Ohio’s most controversial and colorful, is pushing bills that opponents say would keep the Libertarian Party candidate off the gubernatorial ballot and would lead to higher prices for electricity users. The first bill would set rules for small political parties to follow if they want their candidates to appear on Ohio ballots, after a federal appeals court struck down Ohio’s previous rules. The second would loosen the energy-efficiency and demand-management rules the state passed in 2008. Republican Sen. Bill Seitz defended both his bills Wednesday in committee hearings. Opponents will get chances to speak against the bills this fall. They’re already making their views known, though, setting the bills up for a fight. “This is the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act,” Aaron Keith Harris, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Ohio, said of Seitz’s political party bill.
State Sen. Mike Folmer carries a dog-eared copy of the Pennsylvania Constitution in his breastpocket. When it comes to elections, he opens the booklet to Article 1, Section 5 where it states, “Elections shall be free and equal, and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise thereof.” And then he asks how free and equal elections are in the commonwealth when Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress and row offices need 1,000 signatures to gain access to the ballot while independents or members of a third party are required to obtain upwards of 60,000 signatures. In his view, that makes Pennsylvania’s ballot process unconstitutional. Whether the rules in place are constitutional or not is for the courts to decide. But we agree with him on one count: It’s clearly unfair.
Parliamentary elections in Guinea on Saturday officially cap the mineral-rich West African country’s return to civilian rule after a 2008 coup, but many fear that the vote could reignite violence that killed dozens of people earlier this year. The contest, two years overdue, is ostensibly for the 114 seats to Guinea’s National Assembly, but with no single party expected to command an outright majority, political deal-making is sure to follow. And in a country where the president holds the real power, the parliamentary poll is widely seen as a warm-up to the 2015 vote when incumbent Alpha Conde’s five-year mandate ends. “They are all playing for the first round of 2015,” said a Conakry-based diplomat. “How do the presidential dividends weigh up against the frustrations of the first few years?”
The Irish abroad do not need a voice in Leinster House because they have the likes of Facebook and Twitter, a minister from the Irish Government has claimed. Speaking exclusively to The Irish Post, Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes said all Irish passport holders should be given a say in Ireland’s Presidential elections. But the growth of social media has eliminated their need for a political voice at home, he added. The Fine Gael TD’s comments come amidst revelations that Irish emigration is at an all-time high. Almost 90,000 people left Ireland in the 12 months to April this year, with one person emigrating every four minutes and 60 starting a new life in Britain every day. Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson for the Irish overseas previously told The Irish Post that the Government must respond to the mass exodus by giving the Irish abroad a voice in the Oireachtas rather than just a “tokenistic” vote for its President.
The Maldives will go ahead with a presidential election run-off on September 28, election commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek said on Thursday, despite a decision by the Supreme Court to postpone the second round following a complaint of vote rigging. Thowfeek’s comments followed mounting international pressure on the government to push ahead with a run-off, amid hopes it could end political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago. The first round of voting, on September 7, was won by ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, whose removal from power 20 months ago ignited months of unrest. He secured 45.45 percent in the first round, short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory, and his party promptly announced mass protests against the postponement.
The Maldives’ Election Commission sparked confusion on Friday over whether elections originally scheduled for this weekend but suspended by the Supreme Court would go ahead on the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago. The chief of the independent election body Fuad Thaufeeq told local media late Thursday that voting would take place in defiance of the Supreme Court order, which has been criticised by the international community. But his deputy, as well as the commission’s spokeswoman, denied to AFP any intention to hold the polls, indicating a schism had formed within a crucial institution in the young democracy. “We will not go against the law,” deputy elections chief Ahmed Fayaz told AFP. “We will not have elections on Saturday, unless the Supreme Court removes the suspension order.” He said they were merely going ahead with the preparations for Saturday’s ballot in case the court changed its mind. “Please be informed that still we are just continuing our preparations,” Elections Commission spokeswoman Aishath Reema told AFP on Friday
Editorials: The Court Case That Pivots on What ‘Corrupt’ Really Means | Lawrence Lessig/The Daily Beast
Early next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will be a test as much of the five conservative justices as of the law they will review. Ever the optimist that principled reasoning will prevail, I’m betting that the conservatives will pass the test (hoping for once to be proven right!). The issue in McCutcheon v. FEC is the limitation on aggregate contributions to federal campaigns. To simplify it radically: under federal law, individuals can give up to $2,600 to any candidate in any election cycle. But the total amount they can give to federal candidates in aggregate is capped at $123,200 per year. So, for example, while I can give $1,000 to any candidate I want, I can’t give that much to more than 123 candidates in one year (poor me!). Critics of the law say it “abridges” their “freedom of speech.” They should be allowed, these critics argue, to give as much as they want in aggregate, so long as the contribution for any candidate is limited to $2,600. Since 1976, the Supreme Court has been pretty clear about the basic question that must be answered in a case like this. The First Amendment limits Congress’s power to regulate political speech—severely, and rightly, in my view. Only if Congress can show a “compelling” interest can it restrict the freedom of individuals to contribute to political campaigns. Even then, the restriction must be “narrowly tailored” to the interest the government seeks to advance. “Good enough for government work” just doesn’t cut it when the issue is political speech.
Two civil rights groups will proceed with their lawsuit challenging Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s authority to pass emergency voting rules in the months before an election. It comes after a judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit over the weekend. Polk County Judge Scott Rosenberg said in a ruling Saturday that since there is nothing to stop the secretary of state from attempting to pass voting rules again prior to an election, the court must hear the case and resolve the issues. “If Schultz refiles these emergency rules before a future election, the same issues will arise of whether he abused the emergency rulemaking process, exceeded his statutory authority, and violated the right to vote,” Rosenberg wrote.
Maryland: Absentee ballots downloaded online raise security issues, as does Election Day voter registration | MarylandReporter.com
A new Maryland law allowing voting by mail with a ballot downloaded online has some voter advocacy groups alarmed that adequate security measures will not be in place for the 2014 elections. Election Day voter registration and the future of online voting were also among the hot button issues debated at a forum this week, hosted by the Maryland League of Women Voters in Annapolis. The bill, Election Law – Improving Access to Voting, extends the right to all Maryland absentee voters to download and mark their ballots online. Ballots would then be mailed in to local election boards rather than tallied online. Previously only overseas voters and military personnel were allowed by law to obtain and mark ballots on the Internet. Under Maryland’s no-excuse absentee voting law, any Maryland voter is allowed to receive an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason for being absent on Election Day. Cyber-security hawks like Rebecca Wilson of SAVE our Votes said Maryland has no process for examining voter’s handwritten signatures that are required for all the new potential mailed in absentee ballots. “Maryland is moving increasingly to vote by mail,” Wilson said. “How does the [election official] know the person on the computer is the real voter?” Wilson cited four western states that either vote entirely by mail — Washington and Oregon – or by a large percentage – California and Colorado.