Ol’ Elbridge Gerry is back in the dock, his namesake “gerrymander” blamed for all that ails our “gridlocked” Congress. Some claim that the House districts drawn by state legislatures in 2011 have reached new heights (or lows) of partisanship. Critics deride the shape of the districts and object to their effect on control of the House. These claims are important, but they ignore the fact that state legislatures have since 1788 sought to influence the selection of members of Congress. The current, computer-aided gerrymandering is only the most recent battle in that perennial fight. When viewed as the “selection” of sympathetic House members by state legislatures, gerrymandering reflects deeper constitutional roots than its critics admit. The Framers of our Constitution granted state legislatures key roles in the election of the members of the Senate and House. Article I of the 1787 Constitution provided for the election of senators by vote of the state legislatures. Members of the House were to be chosen by the vote of the people of each state, but state legislatures would choose the “time, place, and manner” of such direct elections,” though Congress retained power to “alter” such state regulations.
Voting Blogs: The McCutcheon Case: Hard money, soft money and now something in between? | More Soft Money Hard Law
Campaign finance regulation in the United States is complex, and judges have begun to complain about it. Most famously, Justice Kennedy spoke about the proliferating and abstruse rules in his opinion for the Court in Citizens United. At oral argument in a recent case, Justice Scalia suggested that no one really understood the law. The complexity of campaign finance rules is not just the handiwork of the regulators: the Court’s own doctrine can be hard to fathom. Once there was supposedly a clear distinction between “contributions” and “expenditures,” but this is no longer quite the case. And the line that once separated legal, clean “hard money” from illegal “soft money” may soon be harder to discern, after the Court has decided the pending case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The hard money/soft money distinction became the central focus of the campaign finance discussion in the 1990s. Hard money was understood to mean funds raised and spent within election law requirements—funds “subject to the [Federal Election Campaign] Act’s disclosure requirements and source and amount limitations.” McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93, 122 (2003). Soft money was the unregulated funding, “beyond [federal law’s] reach” that parties and groups used to influence federal election campaigns. McConnell at 128. According to critics, soft money was imported into federal races through ingeniously devised loopholes, or simply disregard of the law. Hard money limits offered protections against corruption; soft money was effectively unlimited and overwhelmed those protections.
It’s considered the equalizer for the most-talked about organizations in politics: an IRS requirement that 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ groups spent less than half their cash on politics. But experts say the IRS left a big loophole that could play out big time in California: ballot measure spending isn’t considered political. “You could have a nonprofit doing virtually no traditional charitable work at all and really just being a funnel for campaign funds,” says Gary Winuk, the chief enforcement officer of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. The existence of the loophole is understandable; few states have an initiative system that allows voters to write their own laws. And even fewer have a system that’s used as often, and costs as much, as the one in California. Even so, it’s a loophole not widely publicized and likely to gain more attention as 501(c)(4) groups turn more of their attention — and money — to the Golden State.
Controversial rules governing voter fraud investigations will remain suspended until the conclusion of a lawsuit challenging their legality. A Polk County judge on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction against implementation of the rules. The move is a positive development for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, which brought the suit against Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. At issue are rules written by Schultz’s office guiding the process by which the state may verify a voter’s eligibility and strip the voting rights of those found to be ineligible. The ACLU and LULAC argue Schultz exceeded his authority in issuing the rules, and say the rules themselves could violate eligible voters’ right to vote. They’re asking that the rules be struck down entirely. Schultz’s office, by contrast, argues the rules are appropriate and has asked the court to dismiss the case.
The restoration of felon voting rights has slowly come to the Blue Grass state. Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution excludes those who have been convicted of a felony, bribery in an election, or treason from voting. Felons, regardless of the variety of crime committed, are prevented from voting for life and the only way they can reestablish their voting rights is by applying to the governor. Kentucky’s felons are “socially dead” having basic rights permanently withheld, most notably the right to vote. However, there is a movement in Kentucky to change these somewhat draconian laws. Bills amending the constitution’s section 145, while unsuccessful to date, have been introduced and have gained popularity. Additionally, popular politicians have thrown their weight behind the movement. It is entirely conceivable, if not probable, that Section 145 will be amended in the near future.
Minnesota: Law cited to justify online voter registration passed with no controversy | Minnesota Public Radio News
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s contention that a 13-year-old law gave him the green light to launch a new online voter registration system is receiving support from two former legislators who sponsored the measure. Former state Rep. Matt Entenza and former state Sen. Deanna Wiener, both Democrats say an online voter registration system Ritchie started does fall under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act passed in 2000. When Ritchie, a Democrat, announced the start of the system in September, he said the law required his office to provide online options for all paper transactions. “We’ve been able to get quite a bit, but not all of our business services online, as mandated by that 2000 law,” Ritchie said then. “We’ve been able to get some, but not all of our election services online as mandated by that law. But we’re slowly but surely getting there.”
A voting machine malfunction in Comal County has forced a recount of the Nov. 5 election results, which include three Schertz City Council races. Comal County officials are trying to determine how 2,415 ballots that were not included in the initial election results were discovered in an audit of the county’s electronic voting machines The revised election results so far have not affected the outcomes of the three Schertz council races – Places 3, 4 and 5. Schertz’s city limits extend into three counties — Bexar, Guadalupe and Comal. Today, Comal County election officials will canvass the results of the Nov. 5 election. After the canvassing , county elections administrator Julie Kassab said the county will request a court order for a recount. “We will canvas the original results from (Nov. 5) even though we know they are inaccurate,” Kassab said. “As soon as we’ve canvassed (the ballots), we will go to the district court judge to request the recount be done as soon as possible.” Kassab said the recount, which will be done by hand, should take three to five days to tabulate.
Texas: Low Turnout or Bad Law?: Voter ID Effects Uncertain: Turnout boost heaviest in counties with local referendums | The Austin Chronicle
The turnout numbers from the Nov. 5 election recall the gnomic phrases of former Defense Department Sec. Donald Rumsfeld trying to explain what went wrong in Iraq. There are the “known knowns” – how many people turned up to vote, and how they voted. There are the “known unknowns” – how many people had trouble voting because of the state’s stringent new voter ID law. And then there are the “unknown unknowns”: What kept 91.5% of Texans away from the polls, and what role did that law play? The answers to the latter could become exhibit A in the ongoing federal legal challenges to the Texas rules. This was the first election under the new photo ID law passed in 2011. Republicans and statewide officials pointed out that, with 1,144,844 ballots cast statewide, turnout was actually higher than in the last two constitutional elections: 2009 (1,058,986 votes cast) and 2011 (690,052). On Oct. 25, Secretary of State John Steen issued a press release noting that, in the first four days of early voting, almost 95,000 Texans had cast a ballot in the state’s 15 largest counties. “That is more than double the 45,379 voters who voted at the same point in 2011, the most recent constitutional amendment election.”
A day after he took to Twitter last week to question the vote-count in the Virginia attorney general race, an email from a top state official popped into David Wasserman’s inbox. Wasserman, a political analyst with encyclopedic knowledge of Virginia’s voting patterns, figured he was in for a tirade. In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 election, he had been combing through the state’s ballot count and posting Twitter messages about problems and discrepancies. “I was expecting them to say, ‘Stop denigrating our electoral process.’ Instead they said, ‘I want to thank you for the public service you’re doing’,” Wasserman, the House Editor at the Washington-based nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said in an interview. Virginia’s cliffhanger of an attorney general’s race is the first in which Twitter, the micro-blogging social media platform, has played a prominent part in the vote certification, and it may offer a model for how close elections play out in the age of social networking.
The difference between a vote cast and a vote counted was nowhere clearer than in the Virginia race for attorney general. A week after Election Day, Democrat state Senator Mark Herring proved victorious over Republican state Senator Mark Obenshain by a margin of 164 votes out of over 2.2 million cast, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections unofficial online tally. Localities had until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to report numbers to the state. … Episodes occurred in Fairfax and Richmond counties, two of the most populous in the state. Among other election observers, Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor of government and politics at George Mason University, found that absentee turnout from Fairfax didn’t match his prediction. While Brian W. Schoeneman, a Republican member of the Fairfax Electoral Board, protested through Twitter that all had been counted, upon further review, state election officials found that a tabulation machine had broken and the votes on a replacement machine weren’t counted. Around 3,000 votes were then reviewed, and a large majority went to Herring, who at that point was losing in the unofficial tally. … In Richmond, state officials failed to enter more than 200 votes, throwing the aforementioned 17-vote lead for Obenshain to the razor-slim 117-vote margin for Herring. In this case, officials realized their mistake well before it hit social media.
“That’s what a recount is all about,” Mr. McDonald said. “Make sure all the i’s are dotted, all the t’s are absolutely crossed, and there’s no possibility there’s anything else out there we don’t know about. It’s going to be close from this point right here.” When a recount is called, the State Board of Elections first sets the standards for the handling, security and accuracy of the tally. A three-member “recount court” is formed in Richmond and is headed by the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court. Two additional circuit court judges are appointed to the board by the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. The recount court sets the standards for determining the accuracy of the votes and certifies the election results. Its ruling is final and cannot be appealed, according to Virginia law.
Recalling the governor and others from office in Wisconsin would be more difficult, in-person absentee voting hours would be restricted and photo identification would be required to cast a ballot under a flurry of divisive measures the state Assembly plans to pass Thursday. The elections bills aren’t the only hot-button issues the Republican-controlled chamber plans to approve on its final session day of the year. Also slated for passage are proposals limiting the public’s access to a proposed iron ore site in northern Wisconsin and undoing the 124-year-old practice of having the most senior member of the state Supreme Court serve as chief justice. Democrats oppose the proposals and plan to push debate into the early morning hours Friday, but they don’t have the votes to stop the bills. Instead, Democrats plan to use the opportunity to argue that Republicans’ priorities are misplaced. Democrats say Republicans should respond to the call from government watchdog groups, newspaper editorial boards and others to hold public hearings on ways to improve the process of redistricting, the process by which political boundaries are drawn.
President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan is to depart the Maldives indefinitely on Thursday night. Speaking to Haveeru, Waheed said he will be accompanying First Lady Ilham Hussein on a medical visit to Singapore. Although he said he would come back to the Maldives, he did not specify a return date. On Sunday, an hour before his presidency expired, Waheed declared he would remain as head of state until run off polls take place on November 16. “I do not think there is much I can do from here, things that I cannot do over the phone,” Waheed told Haveeru. President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said he “wasn’t aware of any upcoming trips”.
Demonstrators protesting next week’s election in Nepal torched vehicles and hurled an explosive at a bus in Kathmandu late Wednesday, injuring eight people, police said. A 33-party alliance, headed by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), has urged a vote boycott and imposed a ban on motorised transport until November 20. “The attackers threw a petrol bomb at the bus. Eight passengers who were injured have been rushed to the nearby hospital,” Ganesh K.C., a police spokesman told AFP. “Protesters also set eight vehicles on fire and vandalised five other vehicles around the country,” he said.
Virginia: Herring, Obenshain dig in for a fight in tight attorney general race as the lawyers move in | The Washington Post
A week after Election Day, there may be as many lawyers involved in the race for Virginia attorney general as there are votes separating the two candidates. As of Wednesday, state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D-Loudoun) led state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) by 164 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, according to the State Board of Elections, a margin that would make it the closest statewide contest in modern Virginia history. The two candidates are digging in for a battle, and if the post-hanging-chads era has taught us anything, it’s that a race this tight can’t be over yet. The lawyers will make sure of that. Obenshain’s strategy is to concede nothing. Statewide vote totals won’t be certified until Nov. 25, and then the trailing candidate will probably ask for a recount. So on Wednesday, both Obenshain and Herring announced transition teams, and Obenshain said it was premature to discuss legal action or a recount. “I don’t know who is going to move into the attorney general’s office in January, and despite what Mark Herring says, he doesn’t know either,” Obenshain said at a Richmond news conference. “It is important for us to allow the State Board of Elections and our statutory process to work, to make sure every legitimate vote is fairly counted. And I’m committed to seeing that process through.”
An attorney challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law, the strictest in the nation, called it a voter suppression law, a “troubling blend of race and politics.” John Ulin noted that the law passed in 2011 over the objection of every African-American and Latino legislator, and he argued it has had a disproportionate negative impact on voters from those ethnic groups, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ulin spoke Friday during closing arguments in the non-jury trial of two lawsuits challenging the law, called Act 23. Eight days of testimony featured social scientists, bureaucrats and frustrated plaintiffs. Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski said the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of the electoral process and stopping fraud, and that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proof to overturn the law. Kawski called the many plaintiffs’ stories about their troubles and costs of trying to obtain qualifying photo ID unique, uncommon, bizarre and one-of-a-kind exceptions to the 90% of the population who have an ID to vote. Kawski also noted that most of the plaintiffs did ultimately get identification and even the three who don’t have an ID might still get it.