It’s the latest fad among state officials looking to make voting harder: We’re not racist, we’re just partisan. Some background: In June, the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, under which nine states and portions of others had to get federal approval before changing their election laws. One of those states, Texas, is again in court, facing a Justice Department suit seeking to get the state under federal oversight again. To do so, the Justice Department must prove intentional racial discrimination. Texas’ defense? It’s discrimination, all right — but it’s on the basis of party, not race, and therefore it’s O.K. Says Texas: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.” Leaving aside that whopper — laws that dilute black and Hispanic voting power have more than an “incidental” impact — the statement, part of a court filing in August, was pretty brazen. Minority voters, in Texas and elsewhere, tend to support Democrats. So Republican officials, especially but not only in the South, want to reduce early voting; impose voter-identification requirements; restrict voter registration; and, critically, draw districts either to crowd as many minority voters into as few districts as possible, or dilute concentrations of minority voters by dispersing them into as many white-controlled districts as possible.
Seldom does a week goes by that I am not asked by a jurisdiction to provide estimates of election costs for a series of hypothetical scenarios under consideration. In the US there is a wide range of costs for an election depending upon the county, the date, the number of participants and the accounting and billing methods used by a county. Providing an estimate is not a science- it is an art form. An estimate must not understate the actual costs that will be billed nor should it greatly overstate the costs. Estimates which are not in-line with the actual costs undermine the credibility of election officials and invites accountants and financial managers to scrutinize the way election costs are calculated, often opening up a window into the bizarre and byzantine. We live in a society where the price of almost everything we purchase is pre-determined and not subject to negotiation- with the notable exceptions of real estate and autos. The price of a gallon of milk is clearly marked, doesn’t change from one customer to another and does not change between the trek from refrigerator case to the checkstand. The price doesn’t vary by the number other people buying milk from the same store on the same day. The price per ounce is based upon the contents and not by the portion consumed.
The Alabama Secretary of State will take the first major step in implementing a voter identification law Dec. 5, but some question whether the law places an unnecessary and discriminatory burden on voters. “It does not make it impossible to vote, but it creates hurdles,” said Decatur City Councilman Billy Jackson, who represents the district with the city’s highest poverty rate and highest percentage of black voters. “The sad thing is the hurdles are greatest for exactly the people who already feel their vote does not count.” The law, passed in 2011, requires voters to present a photo ID when they vote. Beginning in January, voters will have to present a driver’s license, a passport, a college ID with a photo or other government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. Previously, prospective voters could use non-photo IDs, including utility bills, Medicare or Medicaid cards, gun permits, fishing licenses, Social Security cards and birth certificates.
Arizona has spent enormous amounts of time and money waging war against voter fraud, citing the specter of illegal immigrants’ casting ballots. State officials from Gov. Jan Brewer to Attorney General Tom Horne to Secretary of State Ken Bennett swear it’s a problem. At an August news conference, Horne and Bennett cited voter-fraud concerns as justification for continuing a federal-court fight over state voter-ID requirements. And some Republican lawmakers have used the same argument to defend a package of controversial new election laws slated to go before voters in November 2014. But when state officials are pushed for details, the numbers of actual cases and convictions vary and the descriptions of the alleged fraud become foggy or based on third-hand accounts.
This month’s municipal elections in Connecticut marked the first time voters there could register on election day, and local advocates and election officials say the process worked well. Secretary of State Denise Merrill was expecting it would mostly be younger residents showing up for same-day registration, but she said the new option attracted voters of all ages. “This is the first election it’s in effect and it did very well; we had no problems, and we think about between 1500 and 2000 people took advantage of it.” Merrill said election-day registration was particularly popular in New Haven, and most importantly, she said, it gave many people a chance to vote who otherwise would have been left out.
District of Columbia: Judge Denies Lawsuit to Hold DC Attorney General Election in 2014 | Washingtonian
A federal judge denied lawyer Paul Zukerberg’s lawsuit against a DC Council bill to delay the election of the District’s attorney general until at least 2018, dealing a severe blow to Zukerberg’s campaign to be the first person voted into that position. Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in his opinion that while Zukerberg raised several valid points about the uncertainty about the scheduling of an attorney general election, the case did not belong in his courtroom because the delay bill is not settled law. “While Zukerberg raises an interesting challenge, the Court has no power to rule on that question today, as none of his claims is ripe for review,” Boasberg wrote.
Editorials: Courts should reject new law governing third parties in Ohio | Aaron Keith Harris/Cleveland Plain Dealer
Most Americans have a general sense that the Republican and Democrat parties have too much control over our political system and electoral process, but, for Ohio voters, Senate Bill 193 is a stark demonstration of just how ruthless those in power work to fend off challenges to the status quo. Passed earlier this month, and signed by Gov. Kasich, SB 193 removes all challenger parties from the Ohio ballot in 2014, and makes it more difficult for them to regain status as a recognized political party in Ohio. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz said he introduced the bill because Ohio had no election law in place for minor parties. This is true, having been the case since 2006 when a federal court declared Ohio minor party law unconstitutional in LPO v. Blackwell.
Even if Democrat Mark Herring ends up with more votes than his Republican rival Mark Obenshain in the tightly contested Virginia attorney general’s race, he could still lose. Herring is currently ahead of Obenshain by a follicle–the current official count states that Herring has 164 more votes than Obenshain out of more than two million cast. A recount is all but guaranteed and litigation seems likely. But even if after the dust clears Herring remains in the lead, under Virginia law, Obenshain could contest the result in the Republican dominated Virginia legislature, which could declare Obenshain the winner or declare the office vacant and order a new election. “If they can find a hook to demonstrate some sort of irregularity, then there’s nothing to prevent them from saying our guy wins,” says Joshua Douglas, an election law expert and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law. “There’s no rules here, besides outside political forces and public scrutiny.” An election contest is a specific post-election procedure for disputing the official outcome of an election. Different states have different rules for election contests–some put them in the hands of the courts, others in the hands of the legislature. Obenshain couldn’t simply contest the election out of the blue. He’d have to argue that some sort of irregularity affected the result. Still, Virginia law is relatively vague in explaining what would justify an election contest, and historical precedent suggests that co-partisans in the legislature are unlikely to reach a decision that hurts their candidate.
Voters decide who wins an election, right? Not necessarily. In fact, we may see partisan operatives determine the winner in the razor-thin race for Virginia’s attorney general. After the initial count, Democrat Mark Herring is ahead of Republican Mark Obenshain by a mere 164 votes out of 2.2 million. If Herring remains on top after a recount and any federal court litigation, then the next step is for the Republican candidate to initiate an “election contest” with the Virginia General Assembly. This election contest is a procedure in which the losing candidate disputes the certified results. States have varying ways to resolve these controversies — and most use a process that allows partisans to determine the ultimate winner. There are better solutions, however, than allowing a partisan legislature to decide. We can minimize ideology, actual or perceived, by creating a bipartisan entity that would resolve a post-election battle. Yet in Virginia an election contest goes to the General Assembly sitting as a joint session, with the speaker of the House of Delegates presiding. Republicans now control a majority of the Virginia General Assembly seats — and have been pushing through a socially conservative agenda.
Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her closest rival in Chile’s presidential election Sunday, but she fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a Dec. 15 runoff. With more than 92% of votes counted, the moderate socialist Bachelet had nearly 47%, to 25% for conservative Evelyn Matthei. Seven other candidates trailed far behind. Bachelet predicted she would win big in the second round and push forward major social reforms. “We’re going to have a decisive and strong victory that backs up the transformation program that we have been building,” she said. Matthei’s campaign celebrated getting another try at Bachelet, this time in a one-on-one race. “Going into a second round is certainly a triumph,” an exultant Matthei told supporters.
Guinea-Bissau said today it was postponing national elections which had been due to take place in nine days until March next year. “The presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on March 16, 2014,” the transitional regime said in a presidential decree, announcing that it would “immediately cancel the elections previously set for November 24, 2013”. The decree said the postponement was agreed by the transitional government, political parties and the electoral commission, but did not specify a reason for the decision. The polls were originally pencilled in for May but in January transitional president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo said such a short time frame was “technically” impossible.
Minority Serbs in a tense northern Kosovo city cast ballots under tight security on Sunday, redoing a vote that was derailed when masked men attacked staff and destroyed voting materials. Special police units in bulletproof vests backed by members of the European Union police and justice mission and armed NATO peacekeepers stood outside polling stations to prevent a repeat of the electoral violence that stopped the Nov. 3 poll in ethnically divided Mitrovica. The incident was blamed on hardline Serbs who fear the vote endorses Kosovo’s 2008 secession from Serbia. Kosovo authorities said Sunday that voter turnout to elect a mayor of the Serb-run part of the city and members of the local council was 22 percent.
The Maldives’ newly-elected President Abdulla Yameen pledged Sunday to end two years of political turmoil that have brought violent protests to the popular high-end tourist destination, as he was sworn in after defeating the favorite Mohamed Nasheed in a runoff. The win was a victory for the political old guard, who rallied around Yameen to defeat Nasheed – who was the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader, and was forced to resign last year in what he said was a coup. The election was the fourth attempt to choose a new president after three earlier ballots were either canceled or delayed, adding to tension between the rival political groups and drawing international condemnation. Yameen won 51.4 percent of the votes in Saturday’s ballot, in which 91 percent of the 240,000-strong electorate took part. “Rising out of political turmoil and establishing peace is a big responsibility as Maldives’ president and head of state,” Yameen said in his inaugural speech, after he was sworn in at a special session of parliament.
As a Nepalese transgender dancer in her twenties, Nazia Shilalik says her gender has cost her jobs, respect and soon, she believes, it will cost her a vote in upcoming elections. Transgenders had high hopes six years ago when Nepal’s Supreme Court approved third gender citizenship — part of a judgment that ordered the government to enact laws to guarantee the rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. But now the fundamental human rights changes that transgenders anticipated look elusive because of a lack of documentation proving their identity. “I would love to (vote), but I know I will not get the chance because I am a transgender person,” said Shilalik. Despite the landmark ruling, the vast majority of transgender people in Nepal are still waiting to obtain vital documentation officially recognising their third sex gender.