Last year, we wrote extensively about photo ID laws and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, with gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and the debt ceiling and healthcare debates already shaping the 2014 midterms, we’re revisiting voting policies to see which states have enacted tougher restrictions since the Supreme Court ruling in June. Under the Voting Rights Act, states and localities with a history of racial discrimination needed to get permission from the federal government to enact any changes to their voting laws, in a process called “preclearance.” As of June 2013, nine states, mostly in the South – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – needed to get any new voting laws pre-approved. Some counties and townships in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Michigan were also subject to preclearance. Section 5 first applied to states that imposed literacy tests or other unfair devices, and had low voter registration or turnout. Congress later expanded the law to add jurisdictions with sizable minority populations and English-only election materials.
The Secretary of State doesn’t call his plan to remove ineligible voters from the rolls a “purge” or “scrub.” “List management” is Ken Detzner’s preferred terminology. But the plan is still raising the ire of Democrats, and supervisors of elections continue to express concerns. Many Democrats believe that Detzner is trying to solve an issue that doesn’t exist while ignoring more pressing elections and voting issues. “Has there been a clamoring from supervisors?” Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, asked during Tuesday’s House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee hearing.
Yesterday’s voting brought an end to the 2013 election cycle. Ten of America’s 30 largest cities — including Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle — elected mayors this year. Another 13 of those 30 cities elected mayors during the 2011 cycle. And regardless of election year, the vast majority of American cities also allow candidates to skip a November contest entirely by winning a majority of votes cast in typically low-turnout first-round elections. America’s local elected officials still enjoy far higher citizen trust than their state (and, especially, their national) cousins, so it’s worth asking why so many local governments continue to risk their relatively favored status by structuring their election systems to virtually guarantee abysmal voter turnout, thus essentially disenfranchising huge numbers of citizens. New York City’s mayoral contest exemplifies the problem in two ways. First, like about 20 percent of all U.S cities, the Big Apple still elects mayors on a partisan basis. Just 22 percent of New York’s 4.2 million registered voters turned out for this September’s party primaries. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination with a plurality of just 280,000 votes – less than 7 percent of the city’s registered voters. De Blasio’s primary win virtually guaranteed yesterday’s victory over Republican nominee Joe Lohta in a city where Democrats hold a 6-to-1 party-registration edge. Meanwhile, 700,000 non-affiliated voters, locked out of the party primaries, had no meaningful say in this election.
Proper oversight of voting policy and procedure is being questioned in Alaska’s elections due to the lack of language assistance for Yup’ik speakers. The federal lawsuit, Toyukuk v. Treadwell, filed by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), claims that Alaskan officials have violated the Voting Rights Act, as well as the 14th and 15th Amendments, by failing to provide appropriate language assistance to native Yup’ik speakers. The suit claims this lack of assistance has prevented them from fully participating in the election process and suppressed voter turnout. According to a case update on the NARF website, Natalie Landreth, Senior Staff Attorney with NARF, “Without complete, accurate, and uniform translations, the right to register and to vote is rendered meaningless to many Native voters.” Precedence on this issue is found in similar lawsuits (such as Nick et al. v. Bethel et al settled in 2010) that have questioned the implementation of language assistance mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, the state of Alaska is covered under section 203 of the Act which has led to specific implementation strategies. The Alaska Division of Elections website states “In addition to on-call translators available on Election Day, the Division of Elections provides oral language assistance through the use of bilingual registrars, outreach workers, bilingual poll workers, and translators in communities where there is a need.”
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced today the Voting Systems Technical Oversight Program (VSTOP) at Ball State University’s Bowen Center will begin testing electronic poll book systems commonly referred to as ePollBooks. Secretary Lawson approved the Bowen Center’s ePollBook testing standards, clearing the way for testing to begin. “The Secretary of State’s office has always been a leader in using technology to modernize the way we do business as a state,” said Secretary Lawson. “Today, we continue that tradition by modernizing the electoral process. Indiana is now the first state in the nation to have ePollBook certification standards. “We took the first leadership step by giving every county in the state the option to deploy ePollBooks. Now we take the next step in protecting Hoosier voters as they sign-in to vote by ensuring only the best quality ePollBooks are used in Indiana.”
With the Libertarian Party threatening a legal challenge, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill yesterday requiring minor political parties to collect about 28,000 signatures next year to be recognized in Ohio. And it wasn’t the only measure raising Democratic objections yesterday. The Senate passed a bill designed to establish uniform rules for the mailing of absentee-ballot applications. The bill on minor parties moved quickly. Republicans pushed to get it signed into law by the end of the day — so it would not take effect after the Feb. 5 filing deadline for 2014 candidates and give minor parties another legal argument to use against the law. Republicans argued the law is long overdue, filling a void left after the federal courts struck down Ohio’s prior minor-party law in 2006. Secretaries of state have been giving blanket recognition to a handful of minor parties since that ruling — and Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, said it was time to stop letting the courts and a statewide officeholder set Ohio’s election law.
A few onlookers attending the unofficial vote count late Tuesday in Luzerne County questioned whether voters should have had an option to vote straight party for independent candidates. The straight-party option may have helped independent candidate Rick Williams retain a seat on county council. Williams is 79 votes ahead of Republican Sue Rossi for the fifth and final winning slot in the council election, according to the latest unofficial tally on the county website. The unofficial count had 3,861 straight-party ballots for Republicans, 5,956 for Democrats, 758 for independents and eight for non-partisan. Williams is ahead of Rossi 17,226 to 17,147, and the official count is scheduled to start Friday. County Councilman Stephen J. Urban, a Republican, claimed the straight-party option should only be offered to official parties. Bob Caruso, a Democratic committeeman from Wilkes-Barre Township, also objected to straight-party voting for independents.
For years, Stephanie Cochran has voted without any problems. But when she went to the polls Tuesday in her upscale, diverse neighborhood here, things went a lot less smoothly—thanks to Texas’ strict new voter ID law. On the voter rolls, she’s listed as Stephanie Gilardo Cochran, while on her driver’s license, she’s Stephanie G. Cochran—a mismatch common to married or divorced women including Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic candidate for governor next year. As a result, Cochran faced what she described as a barrage of questions from poll workers about the discrepancy. In the end, Cochran was able to vote by signing an affidavit in which she swore, on penalty of perjury, that she was who she claimed to be. But the experience left her angry: She told msnbc that she sees the law as an attempt to keep women from the polls. “It’s against us,” Cochran said. “It’s to keep us from voting for Wendy.”
Kansas: Kobach has lawsuit against voter ID law moved to federal court; attorney disputes change | Associated Press
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and an attorney challenging a Kansas law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls are locked in a dispute over which court should hear the lawsuit. Kobach said Tuesday that he sought to have the case moved from state court to federal court because Wichita attorney Jim Lawing has raised federal election law issues on behalf of two retired northeast Kansas residents. In a court filing, Kobach’s lawyer noted that the lawsuit cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case this year. “Most voting cases do end up in federal court,” said Kobach, a conservative Republican who pushed for passage of the photo ID law in 2011. Kobach moved last week to have the case removed from Shawnee County District Court to federal court, and it has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil, though no hearings have been set. Lawing, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1998, declined to comment Tuesday about the lawsuit being moved to federal court, but a few hours later, he filed a request to have the case returned to state court.
Almost before the smoke had cleared at Pearl Harbor, he had enlisted to serve his country in the Army Air Forces. He viewed the war in the South Pacific through the bomb sight of a B-24 Liberator as a second lieutenant and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. When he got home to Texas, he was eventually elected to Congress and served 34 years, including a term as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. But Jim Wright found out the other day he wasn’t qualified to vote in the election in his home state. Wright, who no longer drives at 90, tried to get a voter card under a new Texas law and was told his expired driver’s license and university lecturer’s ID were not adequate proof of his identity. A war hero and former congressman had to go home and dig through old files to return with his birth certificate. Hurrah for the flag of the free? Although there has been only one indicted incident of voter fraud in Texas since 2000, Gov. Rick Perry and the GOP-controlled legislature passed a stringent voter ID law.
Two cities in Salt Lake County that agreed to be test cases for voting by mail recorded higher turnout in their municipal elections than most other cities across the state. “I’d like to think that we had great voter turnout because we had great candidates and they wanted to vote for the mayor. I would like to think that, but I know better,” said reelected Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, Jr. “We had the opportunity to be one of the test cases for voting by mail, and we thought that was a great opportunity to engage our citizens more than is typical in a municipal election.” Cullimore and city council members approved the vote-by-mail election this year, after the county asked them if they were interested. The turnout in Cottonwood Heights was about double what previous municipal election in the city have yielded, according to Cullimore. “We had 40 percent voter turnout, and that was incredible for a municipal election,” Cullimore said. The other test case in Salt Lake County, West Jordan, saw 30 percent turnout, as voters weighed in on a nearly $500 million Jordan School District Bond.
Virginia: Possible discrepancy in Fairfax absentee votes could affect count in AG race | The Washington Post
The Fairfax County Electoral Board is investigating a possible irregularity in the number of absentee ballots cast in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction that Democrats say could shift votes in the still-unresolved race for Virginia attorney general. As of Thursday evening, state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) led state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) in the contest by 777 votes – or .03 percent of the 2.2 million votes cast — according to the State Board of Elections’ Web site. Local election boards are now counting provisional ballots, cast by people without ID or in the wrong polling place, and canvassing the returns looking for any possible errors. Both campaigns have said they will consider asking for a recount, depending on the results of the review. One oddity was flagged in Fairfax County by the political team of Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.). The State Board of Election’s site shows absentee ballots cast in each county broken down by congressional district. Fairfax County includes portions of three districts: Connolly’s 11th, Rep, Frank R. Wolf’s (R) 10th and Rep. James P. Moran Jr.’s (D) 8th.
Amid wild rumors, frantic fundraising and legal maneuvering, Virginia’s attorney general election hangs in the balance. Shades of Florida 2000? As of Thursday afternoon, Republican Mark Obenshain held a 681 vote lead over Democrat Mark Herring, out of 2.2 million ballots cast. But more ballots are still out there. Thousands of provisional votes — 492 in Fairfax County alone — have yet to be counted. Both parties are gearing up for a county-by-county fight to include or exclude those ballots, which were cast by people who didn’t present legally permissible identification at the polls. All these battles come before the inevitable statewide recount. Virginia election results are due to be finalized Nov. 25.
With more than 2.2 million votes cast, the margin between Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D) has been within a few hundred votes since Election Night on Tuesday. Within the last few hours, an unexplained discrepancy has been discovered by those combing over the reported numbers in Fairfax County. The county leans heavily Democratic and, unlike much of the rest of the state which uses 100% unverifiable touch-screen, Fairfax uses optically-scanned paper ballots for its main vote tabulation system. After Democrats reportedly won both the Governor and Lt. Governor races, only the AG’s remains undecided at the top of the ticket. For the last 24 hours or so, the Republican Obenshain has been leading during the canvassing of ballots by about 700 votes, as absentee and provisionals are tallied and doubled-checked. But now, thanks to some smart detective work by both a Democratic political team in Fairfax County and by Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, the fortunes for the Democrat candidate Herring may just have taken a big turn, even as a new mystery is added to the equation.
One of the biggest challenges in rolling out Wisconsin’s 2011 photo voter ID law was training the state’s unusually large number of election clerks, a top elections official testified Thursday during a federal hearing over the stalled law. Kevin Kennedy, the head of the state’s Government Accountability Board, said there were about 1,850 clerks in Wisconsin at the time the law was passed. That’s one-sixth the number of clerks in the entire nation, he noted. An attorney asked Kennedy whether it was difficult to train so many workers on the details of the new law. “It’s never an easy process,” he said, shaking his head. Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that administers its elections at the local level, Reid Magney, a Government Accountability Board spokesman, told The Associated Press. Many states run elections at the county level, but Wisconsin defers control to the state’s 1,852 cities, towns and villages. That means the state elections board has to train all 1,852 clerks, who then instruct 30,000 poll workers, Magney said.
Some Republicans in the state Legislature want to tweak the state’s voter ID law to address objections that are now being debated in federal court. This law doesn’t need to be tweaked. It needs to be rescinded. The changes being proposed and that might be voted on next week would allow people to vote without a photo ID if they signed affidavits stating that they were poor and could not obtain an ID without paying a fee; they had a religious objection to being photographed; or they could not obtain the documentation needed to get an ID. Right. That’s exactly what’s not needed at the polls: different standards for different voters. Democrats who raised objections Wednesday were right. Ballots cast by people without an ID could be subject to more scrutiny than other ballots; people who voted without an ID could be embarrassed by being labeled poor; and they could face investigations for false swearing if someone accused them of signing affidavits if they weren’t qualified to vote without an ID. “It will intimidate (poor people) and then make them even less likely to go to the polls on election day,” said Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee). Of course, that could be the aim of Republican legislators.
ABC election analyst Antony Green says the outcome of the Senate vote in Western Australia would have come down to a solitary vote. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) today released the party-by-party tally of votes counted in the days after the election. Earlier this week the AEC declared the results of the poll despite admitting that it had misplaced 1,375 ballot papers in the recount. The tally sheets released today include the lost votes. Green says if the missing votes were to be included in the recount, the Palmer United Party (PUP) and Labor would have won the final two Senate spots and not the Greens and the Australian Sports Party. “If these votes could be included in the count, then they would produce the closest Senate election result in Australian history with a gap of just a single vote determining the final two Senate seats,” Green wrote in his election blog.
Falkland Islanders on Thursday elected a new government to manage the transition of the small British territory as oil exploration turns to development. Five members of the Legislative Assembly were selected to represent Stanley, the capital, and three for Camp, which is everywhere else in the South Atlantic territory of mostly remote sheep farms and small settlements. For the first time, the legislative positions will be full time. Those elected will receive a salary and must quit any other jobs. Officials said 75 percent of Stanley voters participated and just over 85 percent of the Camp constituency cast ballots. That was 1,046 votes in Stanley and 242 for Camp.
Masked men storming polling stations during Kosovo’s local elections, on November 3rd, was the image that captured the interest of the international media. But as Petrit Selimi, the country’s deputy foreign minister, says, events in three polling stations “don’t make an election, they make good visuals for TV.” The polling stations, in the divided city of Mitrovica, were important, but Mr Selimi has a point. Overall, Kosovo’s poll was remarkable for being so smooth and uneventful. Kosovo’s general election, in 2010, was tainted by accusations of “industrial-scale” fraud. This time no one has made any significant complaints. The turnout was also far higher than for local elections in most of the rest of Europe.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says its officials and those wanting to register for next years’ poll this weekend cannot be threatened to stay away. Some communities have warned IEC officials to stay out of their areas because service delivery issues that have not been addressed. Residents of Leratong Park, outside Kimberley, say they have been fighting for decent houses for more than 15 years, and are threatening to abstain from voting next year. Some say the IEC must stay away from their area this weekend. One of the residents who refused to be mentioned says: “We are not going to vote. Nothing changes and all stays the same.” Residents in Noupoort and some villages in Kuruman have also threatened to stop IEC officials from doing their jobs this weekend. IEC Deputy Chairperson, Terry Tselane says: “We expect a smooth weekend. People can’t hold democracy at ransom.” In Malamulele, residents have mixed views on the registration process. The area has been engulfed in violent protests in recent weeks. Officials are concerned.
Tajikistan’s president has won a fourth term in an election that has been criticized by Western observers and extends his more than 20-year rule in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation. The Central Election Commission said Thursday that Emomali Rakhmon won 83.6 percent of the vote, but monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, criticized the previous day’s vote. They say that state media had been dominated by coverage of Rakhmon’s campaign and that registration requirements were designed to limit competition. “While quiet and peaceful, this was an election without a real choice,” Gerdana Comic, Special Coordinator for the OSCE mission, said in a news conference in Dushanbe. The Tajik government long has drawn criticism for its crackdown on dissent and its tight grip on the media.
So here we are, embroiled in a mess of Parliament’s own devising. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that a blanket ban on prisoner voting is incompatible with European law. The UK Parliament has repeatedly flouted that edict. Now, more quickly than expected, the court has announced that it is reopening the 2281 cases involving British prisoners, despite previously saying it would put them on hold. Premature and disrespectful, say some Tory MPs. Maybe. But hell could freeze over before our legislature would willingly hand the vote to a single inmate of Her Majesty’s jails. Leave aside for now the argument that loss of freedom should automatically mean loss of franchise, and look at the practical consequences.