How will voters cast ballots in the future? “That is the million-dollar question when I meet with other election officers and directors,” said Utah Elections Director Mark Thomas. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), making available billions of dollars in funding for states to purchase electronic voting machines — then new and controversial technology aimed at eliminating a repeat of the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 presidential election. “The manufacturer is no longer building them,” Thomas said of the 7,500 electronic machines the state purchased with its $28 million. “The parts will get scarce, and the technology will become obsolete. We’ll work through that as best and as long as we can, but at some point we’ll have to do something different.” That “something different” has yet to be clearly defined — but as current machines age out of use, counties and states will be on the hook to devise and fund their own changes. “Money is a big driver,” Thomas said. “We had HAVA money a decade ago, but that has since dried up. “We wish we had a crystal ball,” he added.
Limits on federal election campaign contributions that have stood for nearly 40 years appear ready to fall unless Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rescues them, as he did President Obama’s health care law. That’s the growing assessment of legal experts on the left and right who are gearing up for the first big case of the high court’s 2013 term, one that could fortify the Roberts court’s opposition to restrictions on campaign spending. Three years after their blockbuster decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and labor unions, the justices are being asked to eliminate the ceiling on what wealthy donors can contribute to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. Limits on each donation would be retained, but donors would be allowed to make as many as they like. The case pits the First Amendment’s freedom of speech against the government’s interest in stopping political corruption — and Roberts, more than any of his colleagues, is the man in the middle. He has ruled five times in a row against restrictions on political speech, but unlike several of his conservative colleagues, he has not debunked limits on federal contributions.
National: After Contentious, Impromptu Debate on Enforcement Procedures, FEC Deadlocks on Two Advisory Opinion Requests, Approves a Third | In the Arena
Before the Federal Election Commission took up the scheduled agenda at today’s public meeting, a contentious debate broke out over its continued inability to agree on whether and how to revise its enforcement procedures. Commissioners have disagreed over how to handle fact-finding during enforcement investigations, as well as proposed guidelines on information sharing with the Department of Justice. In an hour-long back-and-forth, Commissioners McGahn, Hunter and Petersen all called for prompt consideration of the proposed Office of General Counsel (OGC) Enforcement Manual. Commission Chair Weintraub acknowledged that she had placed a hold on consideration of the manual, but criticized McGahn for publicly discussing the matter. While she did not explicitly state when she would remove the hold, Weintraub argued that only after a new general counsel is appointed and two new Commissioners are confirmed by the Senate would there be enough of a “level playing field” to warrant a vote on the manual. (There is currently one vacant seat on the Commission, and McGahn has announced his plans to leave in the near future.) Commissioner Walther (via phone connection) said that while the agency had made “unprecedented improvements in transparency” regarding its enforcement procedures, it needed to go further. Eventually, Chair Weintraub brought the discussion to a close, citing the fact that the matter was not included on the agenda.
Why are social justice organizations up in arms about an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case involving political contribution limits? It might have something to do with America’s widening income inequality, which in many ways is being financed by wealthy campaign donors. A ruling in favor of lifting limits on the amount individuals can contribute would allow the wealthiest of the wealthy to control parties in ways that would make the Great Gatsby proud. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is seen by campaign finance reform watchdogs as a sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that held the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Independent expenditures are campaign communications that support or oppose candidates but are made independently of the candidate, committee, or party. In other words, the Supreme Court said that money talks and political races are not the venue to hush it — even if spending by Fortune 500 companies might drown out the political expressions of people of color and those of limited means.
Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would once again hunt for non-citizens on state voter rolls, and on Wednesday afternoon, his top elections officials released public details about taking the first steps toward another pruning effort. Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced in a statement that he would begin a roundtable discussion with the state’s 67 supervisor of elections in a series of five public meetings across the state in October. (Sorry Tampa Bay and Miami-Dade, the closest meetings are in Sarasota and Ft. Lauderdale.) Called “Project Integrity”, the meetings will be an opportunity for Detzner to hear from supervisors about how to conduct another purge. “I am embarking on the Project Integrity roundtable tour to collaborate with Supervisors to protect the integrity of our voter rolls,” Detzner said in the statement. He’s creating a new list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking state voter data with a federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security.
With nearly 60 ballots in question, Conservative Party leadership has broached the idea of seeking a new primary. The Livingston County Board of Elections is still receiving absentee ballots and will not be able to certify ballots for at least a week, according to elections commissioners. In the interim, some are already thinking about getting the court involved. “It certainly is looking more and more that way,” said Jason McGuire, Conservative Party Chairman. “Out of the 377 ballots that we believe were cast in that race, it looks like between 15 and 16 percent of those were given out irrespective of party affiliation, that’s a problem, you can’t do that in New York.” On Tuesday elections commissioners received word from inspectors at two of the 27 polling sites in Livingston County, that elections inspectors handed out ballots regardless of party affiliation, a violation of state law. James Szczesniak won the Conservative party line by one vote. His opponent, Tom Dougherty won the Republican line by 157 votes.
The Election Day scene on Tuesday was all too familiar to lots of New Yorkers. Just one example among many: Early morning, voters at a downtown Brooklyn polling site were told they would have to cast their votes on paper ballots because its voting machines were broken. “We’re going back to paper ballot? You’re kidding,” said one disbelieving voter at the site — who just happened to be Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota. Over the years, many New Yorkers have suffered problem-plagued elections, with broken machines, long lines, chaotic poll sites and inadequately trained polling inspectors who unintentionally disenfranchise voters.
South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said Wednesday he won’t seek re-election and instead will return to the private sector at the end of his first term in office, which runs through the end of 2014. Gant, a Republican, previously worked in health care and was a state senator for six years from Sioux Falls. He said in a statement that he has accomplished his goals, including creating an online system for filing and accessing corporate documents, putting more open records online, increasing transparency in campaign finance and increasing access to the voting booth. His successor will inherit a government agency “that is at the forefront of technology,” he said.
For the first time in eight years, the State Election Commission is expected to certify a new voting system for use in state elections when it meets Friday afternoon. Commissioners will be asked to certify the EVS 188.8.131.52 system manufactured by Elections Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., for use in elections statewide. Jake Glance, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said a key advance in the new system is that it incorporates a high-speed digital scan central ballot counter, which can record and tabulate ballots faster than optical-scan ballot counters currently in use. “It will make the counting process faster,” he said Thursday. “It’s all about speed and accuracy.”
Editorials: Electronic voting won’t solve the two biggest problems with the Australian system | Luke Mansillo/Sydney Morning Herald
Americans love their democracy. As soon as one election is over people start campaigning for the next one two or four years away. There is no other nation on this planet as keen on elections as Americans. In 2000 Arizona held a primary election with the option of internet voting. This was a world first and was thought to completely revolutionise voting as it was the first legally binding public election. The only problem was all Macintosh computers failed to register a vote when users thought they had registered a vote. People were not happy to have their democratic right as a citizen taken off them because of the technology. This disenfranchisement and failure of the voting system is a major reason why we do not universally have internet voting or other forms of electronic voting today. Electronic voting also has drawbacks. It was detailed after the 2000 Florida Presidential election when the new computer ballot system in some of the counties did not leave any paper trail. This did not allow a manual hand recount when the need arose. No computer system is foolproof. Computer systems can have errors or a polling place may lose power. If there is no paper trail there is no way to check and verify a count.
United Kingdom: Test of new electoral system shows 78% of voters will be automatically registered | Computerworld
The Cabinet Office has this week released preliminary results from a data-matching ‘dry run’ of the switchover to the new Individual Electoral Registration (IER), which show that approximately 78 percent of voters won’t have to do anything to remain on the electoral roll. IER will replace the Household Electoral Registration (HER) system in 2015 and will require that each person in a household register their details, rather than one person doing it for everyone in the household, which is the current approach. It is hoped that the new voting system will make it safer and simpler to register, as HER had been vulnerable to fraud and errors. With the introduction of IER, it will also be the first time individuals can register online. The government hopes that this will bring electoral registration into the “modern age”, where some people are currently getting lost in the system, such as those in shared housing and students.
National: GOP State Officials Blame Republican Obstructionism For Blocking Voting Restrictions | TPM
There’s a deep irony about a joint lawsuit Republican state officials in Arizona and Kansas have filed against the Obama administration in order to require voters to present proof of citizenship in order to register to vote: Republicans’ own national obstructionism on voting rights is a key blockade for the state-level restrictions to go through. The lawsuit, filed by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and following Scalia’s guidance issued in the Supreme Court case this July, claims that the Obama administration is illegally blocking Arizona and Kansas’ efforts to require proof of citizenship for registering to vote. The suit argues that failing to staff the vacant Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which is charged with overseeing voter registration guidelines related to the national voter registration form, is blocking these states’ ability to change their voter registration processes. “The lack of quorum unconstitutionally prevents Plaintiffs, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, from exercising their constitutional right, power, and privilege of establishing and enforcing voting qualifications, including voter registration requirements,” the states said in their complaint.
It’s nice to see that Australia’s new digital minister is looking to technology to solve the issues plaguing the nation, but moving towards a system of electronic voting is a needless and expensive solution to a problem in process. On ABC News Breakfast this morning, Malcolm Turnbull floated the idea of electronic voting machines to reduce the number of informal votes cast at last weekend’s election. “About 6 percent of Australians voted informally in the House of Representatives,” Turnbull said. “The overwhelming majority of them, what scrutineers have told me over the years is 90 percent plus, have voted informal either because they have just marked ‘1’ against a candidate who they favour and not filled in the other boxes, or they have filled in the other boxes incorrectly. “I think this is a very big issue, and one of the ways that can be dealt with is if we consider electronic voting.” Oh, dear. For a man who Prime Minister-Elect Abbott claimed “virtually invented the internet” in Australia, I would have expected a longer memory on the issue of electronic voting.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner will take his pitch for a revived voter scrub on the road next month, but supervisors of elections and voting-rights advocates remain skeptical. Detzner’s office announced this week that he would meet with supervisors in five cities to get their input into another attempt to identify and remove non-citizens from the voting rolls. “Through transparency and the statutory due-process protection afforded to every voter, we can ensure the continued integrity of our voter rolls while protecting the voting rights of eligible voters from those who may cast an illegal vote,” Detzner said in a press release announcing the “Project Integrity Roundtable Tour” of five cities beginning Oct. 3. But despite the spin put on “Project Integrity” by Detzner’s office, his announcement immediately drew fire from Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, who tweeted: “There is no greater ‘voter advocate’ or ‘voter roll integrity advocate’ than a Supervisor of Elections!”
Moments after the recount of Detroit’s mayoral race ballots began Tuesday, the first hand went up from a challenger citing an issue. Other hands were soon to follow. So went the first day of recounting ballots after former mayoral candidate Tom Barrow and others alleged fraud in the elections process in several city races. “This is an investigation,” Barrow said Tuesday at Cobo Center, where the recount was being conducted. “We’re seeing thousands of ballots in the same handwriting. All for the write-in. All for (mayoral candidate) Mike Duggan. These are clearly fraudulent ballots — and we’re just getting started.” Tuesday morning, Wayne County Director of Elections Delphine Oden told observers and poll workers that once ballots were taken from ballot boxes, county workers assembled for the recount would begin by holding some ballots faceup, giving challengers from the various campaigns time to examine them, before putting them facedown and moving through the votes.