Top officials from past presidential campaigns have quietly formed a group to push for major changes in the general election debates, with recommendations expected by late spring. The working group is questioning the debates’ format, moderator-selection process and location: Might a TV studio make more sense than a college town? Members said a major goal is to make more allowance for changing technology and the rise of social media. A likely recommendation is an earlier start for the debates, in response to the increase in absentee voting. Members include the longtime lead debate negotiator for each party: Bob Bauer for Democratic nominees and Ben Ginsberg for the Republicans. So the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates could have a profound effect on the signature fall events of the race for the White House. The group’s co-chairs were top debate-prep advisers to each of the 2012 nominees: Anita Dunn for President Obama, and Beth Myers for Mitt Romney.
A new administration proposal to limit the political activity of tax-exempt groups could fall short of forcing “dark money” out of campaigns, experts say. The new Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service proposals, which are expected to spark extensive debate, would bar so-called 501(c)(4) organizations from counting certain political activity as part of their social welfare work. But the IRS and Treasury are still going to accept recommendations on how much political activity a group can engage in while still receiving the prized 501(c)(4) status — and their decision is crucial to lawmakers and outside groups trying to ensure that big-time political contributors are public knowledge. But no matter how the decision comes down, campaign finance experts predict lawyers will eventually be able to find a way to help donors avoid public disclosure. “One thing we’ve learned is that very few fixes in this area of the law are permanent, and it requires a consistent regulatory response since lawyers can find their way around these rules,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. According to the current law, groups classified as 501(c)(4), which can accept unlimited amounts of donations, are to be exclusively engaged in promoting social welfare.
As the American electorate becomes more diverse, new voting laws threaten to disenfranchise young Black and Latino voters in what a new report called “the largest wave of voter suppression since the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” The report by OurTime.org and Advancement Project, titled “The Time Tax,” details disparities in the excessive wait times that millennials (18-29 years-old), especially millennials of color, endured to cast votes during the 2012 November elections. According to the report, millennials are expected to account for 40 percent of the electorate in less than eight years including a higher proportion of young minority voters. During the 2012 November elections, millennial voters (18-29 years-old) accounted for 19 percent of the electorate. While turnout for Latinos, Asians and the youngest voters decreased (18-24 years-old), voter turnout for Blacks increased. Yet, Blacks “waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to only 12 minutes for Whites,” stated the report.
Editorials: Special elections not best for lawmaker vacancies in California | San Francisco Chronicle
Under California law, the governor is allowed to choose a replacement for a statewide-elected official who vacates her post midterm. He chooses a replacement for county supervisor when one of those positions is unexpectedly vacated as well. It’s an easy and painless process that doesn’t attract much controversy or concern from voters. So why can’t the governor do the same thing with state legislators? This isn’t an idle question – in fact, it’s an expensive one. There have been 10 legislative desertions in the past year alone. In accordance with state law, each of these vacancies requires a special election at an average cost of $1 million. Can’t California always use a spare $10 million?
State Sen. Evie Hudak resigned her seat Wednesday, ending a recall effort being waged against her days before gun-rights activists were to turn in petitions to try to oust the Democrat from office. In her resignation letter, Hudak said her decision would spare Jefferson County residents from having to shell out more than $200,000 for a special election, especially after the county has cut programs for seniors and mental health. She praised the gun laws Democrats passed in the 2013 session that sparked recall efforts against her and two fellow senators, Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Several Democratic lawmakers conceded that a recall election would have served as a distraction during the 2014 session for them and for Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is up for re-election. And if voters in Hudak’s district had voted to oust her and replaced her with a Republican, the GOP would have gained control of the Senate by one seat. Democrats now have only an 18-17 majority over Republicans, thanks to the successful recalls of Morse and Giron, who were replaced by Republicans. Under Colorado law, Hudak’s successor will be a member of her own party.
Here we go again. The state’s top elections officer is attempting to dictate another policy that local elections supervisors say is unnecessary and an impediment to thousands of voters. This time, Secretary of State Ken Detzner is telling the state’s supervisors to eliminate any remote sites — such as libraries or other public buildings — where voters could drop off an absentee ballot during early-voting hours. Detzner says his directive is meant to clarify a state law that stipulates the return of absentee ballots be restricted to the office of the supervisor of elections. But it’s only his interpretation of the law, and state elections supervisors should challenge that interpretation before agreeing to eliminate the popular remote sites. If Detzner’s interpretation is upheld, state lawmakers should change the statute to allow for the remote sites. The supervisors this week were once again caught by surprise by Detzner and left to wonder why they are being told to eliminate a practice that makes it easier to vote.
Bruce M. Peterson, the Democratic Party nominee for a six-year term on the Wayne Township Board of Supervisors whose name was omitted from the November ballot, will have to wait a bit longer for word on the next step. A hearing on Peterson’s request for a special election to decide the winner of the race took place Wednesday morning in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas before President Judge Anthony J. Vardaro. While Vardaro expressed optimism during the hearing that his decision-making would be complete before the close of business Wednesday, in the end, his ruling was not handed down before the courthouse closed. Peterson won the Democratic nod in the May 21 primary while incumbent Lee Singleton won the Republican Party nomination for the same seat. Both names qualified to appear on the township ballot for the Nov. 5 election, but the only name to appear was Singleton’s. Diane Putney Adsit, chairwoman of the Crawford County Democratic Committee and Peterson’s attorney, described the omission of Peterson’s name as “an error.”
The election of state Sen. Ralph S. Northam, D-Norfolk, as Virginia’s next lieutenant governor gave Democrats reason to cheer by providing what is potentially a critical tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided Virginia Senate. But the apparent election of Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, as attorney general — and the time involved in a recount challenging his razor-thin victory over Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg — raises the distinct possibility that winning the statewide offices could put Senate Democrats at a numerical disadvantage when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8. Currently the Virginia Senate has 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Ties on most issues are broken by the vote of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the chamber. For the past eight years, that has been the prerogative of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.
Lawyers for the losing Republican candidate in a tight race for Virginia attorney general filed a petition in Richmond Circuit Court on Wednesday for a recount of the votes. In results certified on Monday by the Virginia State Board of Elections, out of 2.2 million votes cast in the November 5 election, only 165 separated Republican Mark Obenshain from Democrat Mark Herring, who has declared victory. Overseeing the recount will be a three-judge panel consisting of the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court and two other judges named by the chief judge of the Virginia Supreme Court. … Obenshain’s team seems to be particularly interested in examining what are called “under votes,” in which a person votes for a lesser number of candidates than he is entitled to vote for on the ballot.
Germany: Unintended Consequences: The Implications Of The German Coalition Agreement For Europe | Social Europe Journal
German coalition agreement – Commentators have been poring over the 185-page coalition agreement between the German CDU/CSU and the SPD. Germany is the largest economy in the EU and has played a decisive role in recent years in crafting the policies that have sought, to date unsuccessfully, to resolve the economic and financial crisis. What then can Europe hope for from Germany’s next government, based on the text of the coalition agreement? (I skip over the “detail” that the Grand Coalition has to be approved in a vote by all SPD members. There will be considerable opposition, but I cannot see the grassroots rebelling against the party leadership.) Judging only by the sections that explicitly deal with European issues, the short answer is nothing good. Fortunately a number of measures motivated purely by domestic concerns will have favourable knock-on effects on the rest of Europe. Overall, then, the impact ought to be a small positive. The section on Europe bears the title “Strong Europe” and opens with a section on “Germany’s responsibility for Europe” (all translations are mine). Both headings are highly misleading. The policies envisaged will help ensure that Europe will remain enfeebled and Germany’s “responsibility” for Europe limited. Behind the pious language the nine pages can be summarised as saying that the previous and future Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Schäuble will continue to hold the reigns of German policy on Europe firmly in their hands.
Honduras’ contested results from its Nov. 24 election threaten to unleash civil unrest and repression that could further destabilize the country. Amid widespread allegations of fraud, vote buying and voting irregularities, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) — Honduras’ electoral authority — announced on Nov. 26 that conservative National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez had an irreversible lead. Both Hernandez and left-leaning LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro claimed victory on election night. Castro based her claim on LIBRE’s exit polls that showed a substantial lead. Her husband and former president Mel Zelaya – who was ousted in a 2009 coup – also contested the results, noting that the vote tally from 20 percent of the polling stations announced by the TSE contradicted the actual vote count from polling stations. Anti-Corruption party candidate Salvador Nasralla has also impugned the accuracy of the vote counting process. In the cloud of election violence and suspicions, outside pressure from the international community, especially the United States, is critical to ensure that democracy prevails in Honduras and to protect those vulnerable to state sponsored repression. However, the signals from the U.S. so far suggests that it is pleased with the results, even if they are tainted by fraud and intimidation.
Results for Nepal’s national elections show its Maoist party has plummeted in popularity, coming in a distant third and suggesting the former rebels’ influence has diminished in the South Asian nation. The centrist Nepali Congress, one of the country’s oldest political parties, won 2.4 million proportional votes, followed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), which won 2.2 million votes, the Election Commission said Thursday. The main Maoist party, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), won 1.4 million votes. Exactly how the proportional vote, in which voters pick parties rather than candidates, will translate into seats in the new constituent assembly was expected to be announced by Sunday. Thursday’s count mirrored the results earlier this week of the direct voting, in which voters choose candidates rather than parties, announced earlier in the week. The candidates for the Maoist party—led by the revolutionary leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal —secured only 26 of the 240 seats.
Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections could descend into chaos if alleged irregularities and bungling in a key local vote are repeated nationally, politicians and activists are warning. Nearly two weeks after voters went to the polls to elect a new governor in southeastern Anambra state, there is still no result and Nigeria’s electoral watchdog has ordered a re-run in some constituencies this weekend. The November 16 election in the mineral-rich state was seen as an early indication of support for President Goodluck Jonathan before his expected run for re-election in about 18 months. Jonathan’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been split by his election ambitions and on Tuesday a splinter group of prominent politicians and powerful governors defected to the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). Provisional results in Anambra gave victory to the All Progressives Grand Alliance party of incumbent governor Peter Obi – a Jonathan ally.
Arizona: Activists seek to thwart proof-of-citizenship demand for voter registration | The Verde Independent
Attorneys for four Arizona groups involved with voter registration are trying to get a federal judge to kill a bid by Secretary of State Ken Bennett to require proof of citizenship from all who register to vote. Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Arizona cannot enforce its documentation requirement on those who use a special registration form crafted by the federal Election Assistance Commission. “The interest that these Arizona organizations have is in protecting their victory that they just won,’ Perales said. She said Bennett’s lawsuit “is essentially trying to make an end-run around the U.S. Supreme Court decision.’ But Bennett said all he is doing is following a roadmap the high court provided when it ruled against Arizona in June.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his critics are tangled in two lawsuits over whether Kansas will create a dual voter registration system, but the disputes are only proxies for ongoing battles over the state’s proof-of-citizenship law. The lawsuits, one each in state and federal court, deal with how Kansas treats prospective voters who use the federal government’s national registration form. The federal form has people sign a statement affirming their U.S. citizenship but doesn’t require them to produce a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers. If people use state registration forms, they aren’t eligible to cast ballots in any race until they produce citizenship papers under a law that took effect in January. Under a dual registration system, people who use the state form and comply with the proof-of-citizenship rule could vote in any race on the ballot. People who use the federal forms and don’t submit citizenship papers to election officials would be eligible to vote only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.
The State Election Commission has discovered that the votes of 1,114 people in Richland County were not counted in the November 5 election. The results from one machine were overlooked in the vote count. The votes were from absentee voters who cast their ballots in person at the Richland County Elections and Registration Office. The votes would not have changed the outcome of any of the races or the ballot question if they had been counted. But it raises the question: What’s done to protect your vote and make sure it counts? Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission, says, “There’s no excuse for not counting any ballot and there are ample checks and balances in place that should prevent that from happening.” Richland County Elections director Howard Jackson says, “We had procedures in place and we just didn’t follow those procedures.” He says his office is taking steps to make sure it never happens again.
Delays at the polls this month due to glitches with voters’ identifications could signal a bigger problem to come next year, when many more turn out for state and county elections. Thousands of voters had to sign affidavits or cast provisional ballots on Nov. 5 — the first statewide election held under the state’s new voter identification law — because their name on the voter rolls did not exactly match the name on their photo ID. It took most only a short time, but election officials are concerned that a few minutes per voter to carefully check names and photos against voter registration cards, and then to have voters sign affidavits or fill out provisional paperwork, could snowball into longer waits and more frustration. A review by The Dallas Morning News found that 1,365 provisional ballots were filed in the state’s 10 largest counties. In most of them, the number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled from 2011, the last similar election, to 2013. Officials had no exact count for how many voters had to sign affidavits, but estimates are high. Among those who had to sign affidavits were the leading candidates for governor next year, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.
The IRS and Treasury Department announced proposed guidelines clarifying the definition of political activities for social welfare nonprofits Tuesday afternoon, a move that could restrict the spending of the dark money groups that dumped more than $254 million of anonymous money into the 2012 elections. Read the guidelines here. However, the guidelines, which finally define what constitutes “candidate-related political activity,” aren’t a done deal. They will take some time for public comment and debate, and more time to finalize. (The IRS asks that all comments and requests for a public hearing be submitted by Feb. 27.) Experts also cautioned that the real test of oversight on the political spending by nonprofits will be how these regulations are enforced, something that the IRS has been so far reticent to do.
The Alaska Republican primary ballot next year will be a tale of two Dan Sullivans. Former state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, a first-time candidate, announced a challenge last month to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, the better-known of the two, is running for lieutenant governor. The presence of more than one Dan Sullivan is causing some confusion in polling on the two races, but it may not necessarily have negative repercussions for either candidate in the Aug. 26 primaries. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of advertising in this inexpensive state over the next nine months, any lingering confusion could conceivably provide the Senate candidate a few extra points of support. “From a strategy point of view, I think it’s to both parties’ interests — because both parties benefit from the other party’s advertising — to not dispel it until the primary is over,” said Marc Hellenthal, a veteran Republican pollster in the state whose client is the Anchorage mayor.
The latest election-related demand from Gov. Rick Scott’s secretary of state — a directive this week ordering officials to stop accepting voters’ absentee ballots at drop-off sites — didn’t go over well with elections supervisors or voting-rights activists. Then again, not much of what Secretary of State Ken Detzner has proposed to reform voting in Florida has gone over well with those groups. Particularly not with Volusia elections supervisor Ann McFall. “This is the bully pulpit that the supervisors have found themselves dealing with,” McFall said of Detzner’s new order — one she said her election workers might not even comply with. “I’d be willing to challenge it,” she added. “I feel that strongly about it.”
Once again Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is carrying out Gov. Rick Scott’s mission to make it harder to vote. With little explanation, Detzner told the state’s election supervisors this week to eliminate all absentee ballot dropoff sites except for their offices. This is no more defensible than the administration’s continuing misguided effort to purge the voting roll of noncitizens, and election supervisors should ignore Detzner’s latest demand. The new restrictions regarding absentee ballots have gone over like a hanging chad among many of the state’s 67 election supervisors, all of whom are elected officials except in Miami-Dade County. They were not consulted about the change, and Detzner’s argument that restricting ballot dropoffs to supervisors’ offices ensures statewide uniformity in voting procedures is a weak rationale for making voting more inconvenient.
On January 1, 2013 a new law went into effect in Kansas. The law requires new voters to prove their U.S. citizenship in order to register. As a result of the new regulations, more than 17 thousand Kansans, including more than 3,900 potential voters in Sedgwick County, remain in “suspended” status for failing to provide a birth certificate or other qualifying document when registering. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach authored the Secure and Fair Elections Act. Kobach says most people don’t carry birth certificates around, the law was written in a very permissive way. It allows applicants to take their time to complete their registration. … Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas says the proof of citizenship document is unnecessary and that the problem does not really exist. “There just isn’t that type of fraud,” Bonney said. “People do not show up at the election authorities and try to register to vote when they’re not citizens, so there’s no need for this.”
Implementation of Mississippi’s new voting requirements will begin with months to spare before its next election, according to a state official. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told the Associated Press that Mississippi will soon start issuing free voter identification cards to eligible residents who lack a government-issued photo ID. Issuance of the cards is expected to begin in early 2014, months before the U.S. House and Senate primaries in June. Mississippi was among the handful of states that were able to proceed with new voting requirements without federal approval, following a summer Supreme Court ruling that invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act.
A political group that has gained notoriety for challenging campaign restrictions on corporations was fined $260,000 on Tuesday after a judge said it failed to disclose spending. The civil penalty levied against American Tradition Partnership, which is organized as a nonprofit corporation, demonstrated that new campaign freedoms extended to corporations don’t make them immune to state disclosure laws. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock said in his order that the group has shown “complete disregard” for the laws of Montana, its courts, and the tradition of free and open elections. The case involves attack ads mailed by the group in 2008 denouncing candidates. Officials say it did not report the spending as political activity to the state commissioner of political practices. The group, which was headquartered in Montana then Colorado and the Washington, D.C., area, has challenged state campaign finance laws and targeted moderate Republican legislators and Democrats with harsh campaign ads.
North Carolina’s legislative attack on voting rights this year was quickly recognized for what it was — the most restrictive set of laws since the Voting Rights Act of the sixties was put into effect. A myriad of new rules for voters were put into place with the bill, which was then signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory. Now, the governor, facing an uphill battle for reelection, is trying to do a little history rewriting when it comes to limiting voter’s rights. One key piece of North Carolina’s law would drastically cut back on early voting, which is seen by many to be a key factor in increasing voter turnout and ensuring democratic participation when it comes to electing candidates to office. The legislature voted to eliminate a full week off the early voting calendar, decreasing it from 17 to just 10 days. Facing harsh criticism over that move, Governor McCrory is claiming that they actually didn’t shorten the early voting calendar at all. No, he says, they just “compacted” it.
Just days after Utah Attorney General John Swallow announced his retirement the Utah Democratic Party is taking issue with the governor’s office. The Democrats are calling the process of finding a new attorney general unconstitutional. As it stands right now, the governor will appoint a new attorney general once Swallow is done next week, but the democrats instead want Swallow’s election thrown out and are calling for a special election. Can an elected official resign from an office that they never legally held? That is the question that the Utah state Democratic Party takes issue with in the case of Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Virginia: Alexandria to Hand Count All Paper Ballots in Recount For Attorney General | Connection Newspapers
Alexandria election officials will be going back to the future in the next few weeks, pouring over thousands of paper ballots by hand as part of a recount effort in the hotly contested race for attorney general. Although other jurisdictions with paper ballots will be reprogramming their scanners for the recount, election officials say the Hart InterCivic machines currently in use in Alexandria and Charlottesville have some key limitations that prevent them from being reprogrammed. “It’s not like that would happen in a split second by feeding them through the machine,” said Deputy Registrar Anna Lieder. “So we are prepared to do a hand count if that’s what’s required.” Election officials say the Hart InterCivic machines have two problems that would lead to a hand recount of all paper ballots. One is that the scanners must be able to conduct a recount for the race in question without also doing a recount for all the other races on the ballot, one of the limitations of the brand purchased by city officials. Another problem is that the scanners must be able to separate ballots where the voter has written in a name and under vote ballots, where no vote was registered for the attorney general race. Election officials say the stack of undervote ballots are likely to include a number of ballots where a voter may have written the name of a candidate or marked it in a way that was not picked up by the electronic scanner. “All these scanning devices have benefits and drawbacks,” said Lieder. “These are much more precise and easier to mark in the initial voting process.”
Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, will seek a recount of the historically close Virginia attorney general’s race in which Democratic Sen. Mark Herring of Loudoun County was certified the winner by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast. The recount request, announced by the Obenshain campaign late Tuesday afternoon, follows Monday’s certification of Herring as the winner by the State Board of Elections. Earlier in the day, Herring announced co-chairs for his inaugural committee. “It is within Senator Obenshain’s right to pursue electoral victory to an ultimate conclusion beyond the original count, canvass and certification,” Herring said in a news release. “His tactics, however, will not impede our efforts to build the finest team to serve all Virginians in the Office of Attorney General or prepare for the 2014 legislative session.”
Opponents of a ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage for workers at some businesses in and around Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to $15 announced on Tuesday that they were calling for a recount in the narrowly decided and closely watched contest. The prospect of a recount and more legal hurdles hardly stopped supporters from celebrating their narrow victory in the three-week-long vote count by King County Elections. The initiative, SeaTac Proposition 1, which eked out a 77-vote victory, has garnered national attention as other cities, including Seattle, weigh the merits of upping their minimum wages. Supporters pointed to the measure’s potential for spurring wider action. The hot-button ballot measure continues to pit business owners, who say they can’t afford the 63 percent wage hike, against workers ,who say they can’t make ends meet. Proposition 1 is also facing legal challenges. Two small food businesses, Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association have a case pending against the city of SeaTac, the city’s clerk and the Port of Seattle in King County Superior Court, contending the ballot measure violates state and federal laws.
The NSW Government will spend $3.6 million expanding its electronic voting system iVote for the 2015 state general election. iVote was first used in a limited capacity in the 2011 state general election. The NSW Government announced earlier this year it would expand the use of the system in the 2015 election, following hanges to relevant legislation. It today approached the market for a supplier to build and implement the new expanded voting system, and also revealed the state’s treasury had approved funding of $3.63 million for the project. Over 46,800 voters used the iVote service to cast their vote in the 2011 election – around 1 percent of total votes taken. The NSW Electoral Commission expects around 100,000 will use iVote during the 2015 state election.