Most Americans believe that voting is their right, like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. But the right to vote doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution. Americans have historically faced legal obstacles to voting based on race, property ownership, gender, or age, while others were limited based on procedural confines such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Some of these restrictions were statutory. Others were administrative and further defined by court decisions and opinions. For example, here in Arizona, Native Americans did not get the right to vote until 1948 through a court case challenging a 1928 decision that denied that ability. Regardless of when or how certain groups have won enfranchisement, election administrators, voters, and advocates need to consider how technology can be an empowering force to ensure eligible voters have easy access to the process.
Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said recently that if Democrats want to pass a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the voting rights of felons, they’ll have to agree to a strict new law that would require citizens to present voter IDs when voting. Why screw up perfectly good legislation like House Bill 70, which would allow non-violent felons to vote once they’ve served their sentences, with a bad bill that is anti-democratic (notice the small “d”) and potentially racist. We’ve yet to see exactly what Mr. Thayer, R-Georgetown, has in mind, but the bills pushed across the nation in recent years to make it harder to vote — all in the name of a bogeyman called vote fraud — are universally bad. Take for instance, Texas, where former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright was at first refused a voter identification card last weekend when his expired driver’s license and Texas Christian University faculty card were deemed insufficient to prove his identity. He had to later provide a birth certificate to prove he was entitled to vote — which he has been doing in Texas for longer than most of us have been alive.
Alabama legislators who have been studying state election laws say there’s a problem: Candidates for state offices have to report their contributions and expenditures to the secretary of state, but little is being done to make sure the reports are filed accurately. The solution could be to create a small state agency similar to the Federal Elections Commission. Since taking control of the Legislature in 2010, Republicans have enacted major changes in Alabama’s election laws, including requiring candidates for state offices to disclose their contributions more frequently and to file them electronically to make it easier for voters to search the donations. State law requires candidates to file their reports with the secretary of state, but that office is simply a collector of the reports. And that’s where a problem exists, said Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor, of Prattville. “There was nobody charged with monitoring campaign reports,” said Taylor, chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Campaign Finance Reform.
Nearly 1,500 Minnesotans used Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s new online voter registration system last month, but the program’s legitimacy is under question. Four Republican state legislators and two conservative interest groups filed a lawsuit last Monday against Ritchie, claiming the program was created illegally without legislative input. The registration program, which debuted Sept. 26, allows voters to register or update their information through an online form instead of a paper application. During the site’s initial debut, which lasted about three weeks, the system registered 323 new voters statewide for the 2013 elections, and about 900 Minnesotans used the site to update their information. The plaintiffs are requesting the program end completely and its users re-register before casting a ballot. Until the case is heard, nothing will change for voters who have used the site, according to a report by the Star Tribune. Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, that supports Ritchie’s program, said in a Nov. 1 statement the system “makes the process of registering to vote easier and more streamlined. Republicans are simply being obstructionist in opposing online voter registration … I commend Mark Ritchie for a job well done to move Minnesota’s voting systems into the future,” he said in the statement.
Sean McQuillan doesn’t send letters by mail, and he definitely doesn’t carry around postage stamps. So to vote in last week’s all-mail election, McQuillan, 21, dropped off his ballot at one of the election drop sites in Missoula. This year was the fourth time the city of Missoula held a mail-only election, and turnout hit 43 percent with the mayor’s race on the ballot. “It really does help drive up participation in elections,” said McQuillan, chairman of the Montana Public Interest Research Group. It does by large numbers, too, according to the Missoula County Elections Office. At the same time, though, casting a ballot in Missoula can be complicated, and the process can leave voters muddled.
A commission’s last-minute reassignment of two state senators to new central Montana districts was a political move to allow another state senator from Conrad to run for re-election in 2014, and should be thrown out, a lawyer for citizens in one of the districts argued Friday. Matthew Monforton, a Bozeman attorney, said the state Districting and Apportionment Commission members made the decision in closed-door meetings this February, without giving citizens in the affected districts any advance notice to comment. “This is a case where governmental power was used not for the benefit of the public, but rather to serve the interest of one man: (state Sen.) Llew Jones,” Monforton told a district judge in Helena. “Montana Senate seats are not the personal property of Llew Jones or any other citizen.” But an attorney for the state said the five-member panel violated no laws when it decided Feb. 12 to change districts assigned to a pair of senators, thus freeing up a district where Jones, a Conrad Republican, could run for re-election in 2014.
Editorials: An unfair and politically motivated jab at third-party rights in Ohio | Cleveland Plain Dealer
General Assembly Republicans on Wednesday demonstrated once again they can act quickly — when their self-interests are threatened. They passed, and Republican Gov. John Kasich immediately signed, a bill making it harder for candidates from the Libertarian, Green and other third parties to get on Ohio’s ballot. Of course, Republicans said Amended Substitute Senate Bill 193 simply filled a gap in Ohio law. But if that were so, Ohio Libertarians, who have sued to block the new law, would hardly be as vexed as they are. What’s actually at issue isn’t up-to-date law books but splits among Republicans that could threaten Kasich’s 2014 re-election. Much of the anti-Kasich huffing and puffing on the GOP’s right is just that: hot air. Still, a strong statewide showing by a third party or an independent could be significant — and some in the GOP fear that a Libertarian on the November ballot would take votes from Kasich.
A last-minute change means Fairfax County voters who cast provisional ballots may face troubles getting them counted. Nearly 500 voters cast provisional ballots in the county, many more across Virginia, in Tuesday’s election. But the promise from Democratic and Republican parties to make sure their ballots got counted is now no good. The state Electoral Board decided Friday to change the rules that had been followed in Fairfax County and ban legal representatives from stepping in to help get the ballot counted, unless the voter him or herself is there. County Electoral Board Secretary Brian Shoeneman says he and board chairman Seth Stark disagree with the ruling, but they have to comply. The board is voting on some provisional ballots later Saturday. “The office of the Attorney General advised us that this was the correct reading of the statute,” State Board of Elections Secretary Don Palmer says.
As the dust settled on election night, a few things seemed clear about the race for Virginia attorney general: It was too close to call, the numbers would change during a statewide canvass and the loser would probably ask for a recount. What was then a standard-issue tight contest between state Sens. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) has turned into something more dramatic and uncertain. A frenetic weekend search for the right numbers — much of it taking place at the Fairfax County Government Center — produced thousands of uncounted votes and an even closer race. As of Sunday night, Obenshain led by 17 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, according to the State Board of Elections Web site. At times Friday, Obenshain led by more than 1,200 votes, but the totals have changed regularly since Tuesday. Some of the shift was due to a handful of mistakes attributed to human or machine error. Some of it was the result of the standard canvassing process that takes place after every election. Both types of adjustment are typical, and no one suspects wrongdoing. But in a typical year, these additions and subtractions don’t affect the outcome.
You have heard the statement “every vote counts” your entire life. For the second time in eight years, voters in Virginia are learning that lesson first hand. The race for Attorney General is still unsettled. It will remain that way for at least another month or so. A recount is certain, but the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman argues that it may not be the recount you should be focused on. Wasserman argues that whomever is in the lead when the vote is certified at the end of November will likely be the winner. Even if the likely recount occurs. Wasserman stopped by the NBC12 studios Friday afternoon, the morning after he broke the news of the discovery of a serious error in the absentee vote collection in ballot rich Fairfax County. The potential for a problem was first raised by Ben Tribbett during our NBC12 Election Special Tuesday night. Wasserman was informed of the discrepancy by Rep. Gerry Connolly’s political team, who understands Fairfax County’s electorate better than anyone. “They were suspicious from the beginning that Fairfax County’s absentee ballot count, particularly in Eastern Fairfax County, was too low given historical trends,” Wasserman said.
Fairfax County election officials said Friday that they think that nearly 2,000 votes went uncounted after Tuesday’s election, a technical error that could affect the outcome of the still unresolved race for Virginia attorney general. The error stemmed from problems with a broken machine at the county’s Mason district voting center, officials said. The machine, known as an optical scanner, recorded 723 votes on election night before it broke down, elections officials said. Its memory card was then placed inside another, working machine, which recorded a total of 2,688 votes. But that tally was not included in the statement of election results delivered by the individual voting center to the county board of elections. Instead, officials received the statement that reported the 723 votes from the broken machine. The county’s board of elections believes that the larger total includes the original 723 votes, which could mean adding an extra 1,951 to the total outcome, said Seth T. Stark, chairman of the three-member electoral board.
You’ve probably read about the problems that many voters — especially older voters — have encountered under voter ID laws, many of which are relatively new. (There was the recent case, for example, of former House Speaker Jim Wright being turned away because, at 90, he didn’t have a valid driver’s license.) Among those who may have to make long trips to government offices to obtain voter ID cards are people without driver’s licenses (which, like Wright, many older Americans may no longer have), student or employee ID cards (which older Americans likely may not have had for years), or — in the curious case of Virginia — a handgun permit (I guess maybe some older Americans have those). Think about it: Every citizen (with the exception of convicted felons) has the right to vote. When voter ID requirements make it difficult to exercise that right, chaos may follow.
Voting Blogs: Down to the Provisionals: 55 Vote Margin (or Less) Out of 2.2 Million Cast in Virginia AG Race | BradBlog
As of late Saturday, just 55 votes separated the Democratic candidate from the Republican in the Virginia Attorney General’s race, according to the State Board of Elections (SBE) website. 55 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast after four days of canvassing, double-checking and processing a number of provisional ballots cast across the state during last Tuesday’s election. The state’s 55 vote spread, however, is still larger than the margin cited by the election geeks who have been following this race on a county-by-county and often precinct-by-precinct (even ballot-by-ballot) level. And they have been consistently and correctly ahead of the SBE-posted numbers. One of them, Virginia political expert and self-identified “vicious campaign insultant,” Ben Tribbett declared just a 15 vote margin earlier Saturday, after the spread had been just several hundred over the last few days. Late tonight, after a few more provisionals were tallied in the City of Richmond, Tribbett adjusted his tally to a 44 vote margin. Another one of those geeks, Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, predicted Friday night on Twitter that, after all provisional ballots are added in, “this thing could be single digits.” It looks like he wasn’t kidding.
A professor who studied voter fraud in Wisconsin and around the country testified Thursday that it is “exceedingly rare,” and that requiring voters to show a photo ID might have prevented just one of the few dozen cases prosecuted in the state over the last decade. Lorraine Minnite, author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” was presented as an expert witness by plaintiffs in a the federal trial challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law. She has written numerous scholarly articles on the topic, and testified before Congress and as an expert in other trials. Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said she’s been studying the incidence of fraud in contemporary American elections since 2001. She said she noticed that every time reforms were introduced that would make voting easier, claims that the changes would increase fraud also arose. She studied Wisconsin early because it was one of six states with same-day registration and might have more cases of fraud. But she said she did not find voter fraud — which she defined as “the intentional corruption of the election process by voters” — any more prevalent in those states.
Former police commissioner Mick Keelty says the whereabouts of the missing 1,375 votes from the disputed West Australian Senate election may remain a mystery. Keelty, who has been called in by the Australian Electoral Commission to investigate the loss of ballot papers in the 2013 Western Australia Senate election, told reporters in Perth on Monday: “We may never get to the bottom of this. Nearly six weeks down the track and there is no indication of where these ballots are.” The contested senate election result in Western Australia is now bound for the high court, and the AEC has left open the prospect of petitioning the court itself in a gesture to restore faith in the electoral process. The court has several options, including ordering a fresh election.
Chile goes to the polls on Nov. 17. The biggest question regarding the presidential contest is not who will win, but when. Michele Bachelet, who served a prior term as president from 2006-2010, has a wide lead in the polls. Chile’s electoral rules require a candidate to win more than 50 percent of the vote to secure the presidency in the first round. Bachelet’s supporters would greet a first-round win as a strong mandate for decisive moves to make the tax code more progressive and overhaul the education system. If Bachelet falls short of a majority in the first round, she will face off against the second-place candidate in a December runoff. She is expected to prevail against any potential rival, but her adversaries would have the opportunity to coalesce in opposition, cracking her aura of invincibility and slowing the momentum behind progressive redistribution.
The Supreme Court in the Maldives has suspended a presidential election run-off, after protests from a candidate. On Saturday, ex-President Mohamed Nasheed polled nearly 47%, just short of the 50% needed for outright victory. The second round was to have taken place on Sunday, but the runner-up Abdulla Yameen sought a delay, saying he needed time to campaign afresh. Mr Nasheed has been seeking to regain power after he was forced to resign in 2012, sparking a political crisis. This is the third time the presidential elections have been derailed. A vote on 7 September was annulled by the Supreme Court after one candidate, Gasim Ibrahim, alleged irregularities, despite observer groups deeming the vote free and fair. The court also introduced new guidelines for elections.