The U.S. Department of Justice is fighting a request from the lawyers for Shelby Co., Ala., for more than $2 million in legal fees and costs tied to their challenge of the constitutionality of a provision of the Voting Rights Act. The government on Nov. 26 in Washington federal district court filed its opposition to the attorney fees and litigation expenses that Shelby County’s lawyers—led by Bert Rein of Wiley Rein—contend they should receive for their work. The U.S. Supreme Court in June, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the provision of the Voting Rights Act that established the formula for determining which jurisdictions were required to give the Justice Department or a federal court the authority to review certain electoral changes before they were implemented.
Editorials: The Register’s Editorial: Should Iowa expand the use of runoff voting? | Shreveport Times
When voters in Ward 1 on Des Moines’ northwest side went to the polls last Tuesday, they didn’t have to wait in line long. Only 2,960 people cast ballots in the runoff election. The total number of participants was less than 1 in 10 registered voters in the ward. Some might say this is a good argument for getting rid of the runoff election as a way to decide races where none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote. But the turnout was only 1,200 fewer than the 4,168 who showed up four weeks earlier in the general election when five candidates were on the ballot. The runoff is one of two options most Iowa cities can use to elect council members and mayors under state law. The other option is to hold a primary election. Some cities in the United States — including Minneapolis — have adopted the so-called instant runoff system. In that system, voters mark not just their top pick. They also rank their second choice, third choice and so on, depending on how many names are on the ballot. The votes cast for the candidates with the fewest votes are reallocated until a candidate accumulates more than 50 percent.
A Minnesota task force studying a higher-tech voter verification process leaned away Monday from recommending that electronic poll books be mandatory in every precinct for the 2014 statewide election. Several panel members highlighted concerns over equipment costs, security protocols and timing while describing a full-scale rollout by next fall as a tall order. The task force will deliver its final recommendations to the Legislature in January and could call for more experimentation. “We need to make sure we don’t do it too soon — before we are ready,” said task force member Max Hailperin, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Gustavus Adolphus College.
July 18, the Constitution Party of New Mexico (CPNM) received a letter from Secretary of State Dianna Duran (SOS) stating they are not qualified for ballot access. However, she did not follow state Elections Code that requires a notice of disqualification no later than March 15. The SOS did not notify county clerks of the removal and non-qualification of the party within the required time frame, and failed to notify registered members of the party within 45 days of the non-qualification of the party. Party members did not receive notice until Nov. 1, a full six months past the deadline. In addition, the SOS broke precedent: from 1997 through 2011, when a party submitted a successful ballot access petition, as CPNM did, it attained ballot status the next two elections, not just one. Nov. 25, Jon Barrie, chairman of the NMCP, filed an Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus with the New Mexico Supreme Court to reverse Dianna Duran’s ruling — Nov. 26, the court asked the SOS to respond by Dec. 14.
Voting-rights advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich to veto a handful of election-reform bills moving through the state legislature, saying the proposed law changes would make it more difficult for eligible Ohioans to cast ballots. “What we see right now is a concerted effort by Gov. Kasich and our very, very hyper-partisan state Legislature to undermine the democratic process and build a brick wall between voters and the ballot box,” said Deidra Reese, representing the Ohio Fair Election Network. Among other bills, legislation is pending in the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee to eliminate “Golden Week,” the period during which residents can register to vote and cast ballots at the same time.
Voting advocates on Thursday urged Gov. John Kasich to veto bills headed for his desk that they argue could make it more difficult to cast a ballot and be sure it was counted. The Ohio Senate has gone home for the year, but the state House of Representatives is expected to return next week to consider several election-related bills passed by the upper chamber. The measures would increase the information voters must provide to obtain absentee ballots and prohibit mass-mailing of absentee ballot applications to registered voters by any public official other than the secretary of state — and even then, only when the General Assembly appropriates funding. Another would reduce the number of days for absentee voting by mail or in person to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week,” in which would-be voters could register and then immediately cast a ballot. Yet another would increase information sharing among governmental entities, such as death certificates and driver’s license information, for cross-referencing with the state’s voter-registration database and change the formula to require fewer voting machines.
The lawyer representing Republican Mark D. Obenshain in the pending statewide recount in the attorney general race on Monday for the first time openly raised the issue of contesting the election in the General Assembly if the tally does not sway the result in the Republican’s favor. During a hearing in Richmond, William H. Hurd, head of Obenshain’s legal team, told the three judges who will oversee the recount that it is “critically important” for his team to get full access to data from electronic poll books because Dec. 23 marks the deadline to challenge the election results. The court previously set Dec. 17-18 for the statewide recount, giving Fairfax County a one-day head start. The three-judge panel will review any challenged ballots on Dec. 19, leaving a candidate only three days to announce a contest – a rarely used provision in state law. Obenshain requested the recount in what is regarded as the closest race in modern Virginia history after his opponent, Democrat Mark R. Herring, maintained a lead of just 165 votes of more than 2.2 million votes cast – that’s a margin of just 0.007 percent.
State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, is asking the special court overseeing the recount of the attorney general’s race to hold off counting a large number of ballots from Fairfax County because measures to keep them secure after the election were not followed. Obenshain is seeking a recount of the election he lost to Democrat Mark Herring by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast. The court did not make a decision on the request but took it under advisement, said William Hurd, Obenshain’s lead lawyer. His request involves part of some 115 boxes of election material out of the 869 now in the custody of the clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court. He asked the court to set those ballots aside and not recount them for now until the court decides whether the ballots were secure. “It was a gross violation of security,” Hurd said. “Now we’ve got to figure out what did happen and whether these were the same ballots that were cast on Election Day,” he said. In the motion, Obenshain’s lawyers said that counted and blank ballots “remained unprotected by the legally required security measures for nearly a month after the election.”
Voters in the city of SeaTac have approved a $15 minimum wage, a recount of the ballots confirmed Monday. Proposition 1 initially passed by a slim margin of 77 votes out of 6,003 votes cast last month. But even before the ballots were certified, the group Common Sense SeaTac called for a recount by hand in the hotly-contested race. The group is supported by Alaska Airlines, rental car companies and airport baggage-handling businesses. Monday’s recount confirmed the general election’s outcome, King County Elections said. The recount results will be certified and posted on Tuesday, the office said.
An American organization tasked with furthering democracy in developing nations said Monday that while elections next April in Afghanistan are unlikely to be perfect, they should be better than previous polls marred by widespread fraud. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said its assessment mission to Afghanistan believes there is “guarded optimism” about the April 5 polls that will elect a new president to succeed Hamid Karzai, along with local council members for the country’s 34 provinces. But the organization said the elections still face serious challenges, including security, potential fraud and even weather conditions that could affect voter turnout. The 2009 presidential election was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than 1 million votes — enough to force a second round. Many observers blamed much of the fraud on Karzai’s supporters, but he blamed the U.S. for allegedly interfering against him. In the end, the opposing candidate dropped out and Karzai was elected was elected to a second and final five-year term. Since then, reforms in the voting process have tried to make the elections commissions more independent of the presidency.
The likely repeat WA Senate election next year will be one of the most high-tech and high- security exercises in democracy in the Western world. Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn said the Australian Electoral Commission would implement all 32 of Mick Keelty’s recommendations after the bungled WA count that resulted in 1370 ballot papers going missing. “I’ve accepted, the commission’s accepted, all of the recommendations,” Mr Killesteyn told ABC radio yesterday. “Bear in mind, this will take us to the forefront of control. No other electoral commission, certainly in Australia or indeed many parts of the Western world, has these sorts of controls over ballot papers.” Mr Keelty, a former Australian Federal Police commissioner, recommended the AEC introduce “cradle to grave” handling of ballot papers to keep them sterile at all times by ensuring secure warehousing with CCTV, alarms and guards whose political neutrality had been checked. Ballot papers are likely to be routinely scanned electronically and the AEC will use tamper- evident materials during transfer and storage.
With clouds of tear gas hanging in the air, hundreds of students sheltered themselves behind the National University’s gates two days after the hotly contested presidential election here. The student groups didn’t come out looking for trouble, they say, but to register their disgust with the country’s election system – which had just proclaimed ruling party Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández Honduras’ next president. Many of these youth were among thousands of university students who sacrificed their chance to vote in order to serve as election custodians, running polling centers in far-flung parts of the country. Though none would give his or her full name, citing fears of reprisal, several recalled witnessing signs of fraud, like the buying of votes and polling credentials; voters presenting false IDs; and people handing out gifts on the eve of the Nov. 24 election. “We thought [this election] was going to be different, and it was the same as always,” says a 23-year-old IT student who served as an election volunteer. “What happened is a mockery for us.”
The Tokyo High Court ruled Monday that denying prisoners the right to vote is constitutional, rejecting a plaintiff’s demand that the proportional representation segment of last July’s Upper House election be invalidated. The ruling conflicts with a decision handed down in September by the Osaka High Court, which ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote is unconstitutional. It was the first judgment on the public offices election law provision restricting voting rights for convicts.
A call for new elections by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand on Monday failed to quell anti government demonstrations, as tens of thousands of protesters massed outside her office and vowed to expel her powerful family from the country. Ms. Yingluck’s announcement that she would “let the people decide the direction of the country” set in motion the dissolution of Parliament and the official endorsement of elections by the king. A royal decree set the election for Feb. 2, more than two years before the government was expected to finish its term. Yet leaders of antigovernment demonstrations, which have left five people dead and several hundred injured over the past two weeks, vowed to press on with their quixotic campaign to rid the country of the influence of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire tycoon and former prime minister whose policies have cemented the loyalty of voters in the most populous regions of the country.
When the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act in June, Democrats and civil rights activists vowed to breathe new life into the landmark law. Six months later, they haven’t gotten very far. Efforts in Congress to restore preclearance, the process by which the Justice Department reviews state election law changes for their effect on minorities, have stalled. And though a lawsuit aims to restore review of Texas based on allegations of recent discrimination, it’s months away from a hearing. A Congressional Black Caucus task force crafted a set of recommendations that would reinstate the formula for preclearance and sent it to Democratic leaders in August, but no legislation has come of it. If the recommendation became law, Texas could be back under preclearance, needing federal approval on every change, including tweaking districts, moving polling locations and changing voter ID laws. The recommendations would require federal oversight for any district where a law or change to voting procedure has been found by the court to be discriminatory since 2000. In August, a federal court found Texas’ voter ID law to be unconstitutional, and an appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected after its June ruling. But it could be awhile before Congress considers the matter. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who helped lead the task force, said that the plan would have majority support in the House, but not from most Republicans who control the chamber — and it’s rare for the House to vote on a bill that most Republicans oppose.
Advocates for more transparency in the political system were dealt another blow this week as the Securities and Exchange Commission dropped a potential rule on the disclosure of corporate campaign contributions from its 2014 agenda. The regulatory agency, which is mandated to protect investors, is required by law to submit its agenda for the next year to the Office of Management and Budget. A conspicuous absence this time was consideration of a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose the specifics of their political spending to shareholders — an item that was included in the SEC’s 2013 agenda but was never acted upon. Individuals, interest groups, and corporations can write to the SEC to show they are in favor or opposed to proposed regulations. This particular provision garnered more than 600,000 public comments, more than any other rule in the SEC’s history, mostly written in favor of more disclosure. That fact alone makes the SEC’s decision all the more disappointing to those agitating for reform.
California: Anaheim hopes to settle suit over alleged Latino political exclusion | Los Angeles Times
Anaheim is in talks to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU accusing the city of effectively excluding Latinos from holding political office and violating the California Voting Rights Act. The case is set to go to trial in March but key hearings and depositions have been delayed because the parties appear to be moving toward a deal, according to court records and a plaintiff. “For me, certainly, any settlement talks are about the city agreeing toward the direction of establishing districts, authentic districts, where the representatives are voted for by the residents of those districts,” said Jose Moreno, a plaintiff in the suit. The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Moreno and two other Latino residents of Anaheim last year in an effort to end the city’s at-large elections. Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects its leaders at large rather than by districts.
In a locked windowless chamber across the street from the Iowa State House, three bureaucrats sequester themselves for 45 days every decade after census data is released. Their top-secret task: the “redistricting” of the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries. But here, unlike in most other states, every care is taken to ensure the process is not political. The mapmakers are not allowed to consider previous election results, voter registration, or even the addresses of incumbent members of Congress. No politician — not the governor, the House speaker, or Senate majority leader — is allowed to weigh in, or get a sneak preview. Instead of drawing lines that favor a single political party, the Iowa mapmakers abide by nonpartisan metrics that all sides agree are fair — a seemingly revolutionary concept in the high-stakes decennial rite of redistricting. Most other states blatantly allow politics to be infused into the process, leaving the impression — and sometimes the reality — that the election system is being rigged. And it has long, maybe always, been this way.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says she’s asked the state Attorney General’s office to investigate 10 people who aren’t U.S. citizens but have voted in past Michigan elections. In a letter to Attorney General Bill Schuette, Johnson said they were referring the cases “for investigation, and if appropriate, prosecution. The law is clear – you must be a U.S. citizen to register to vote and to vote on Election Day,” Johnson said in a statement. “We have races that are decided on a handful of votes, and ballots cast by ineligible voters cancel out those by legitimate voters.”
Parties in the three federal lawsuits challenging voting law changes signed into law here in August will appear before U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder on December 12 to map out a schedule for proceedings moving forward. And while they’ve reached agreement on some preliminary litigation matters, the parties are not budging on one critical date: when the case should be tried. Those challenging the voting changes, including the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, say in papers filed with the court yesterday that all preliminary proceedings can be completed in time for a trial in the summer of 2014. That timing would ensure that changes set to take effect in January are reviewed by the court before the 2014 midterm elections. But the state defendants claim that such a schedule is unrealistic and are asking for a trial in the summer of 2015.
A coalition of groups is trying to take the politics out of the most political activity in state government: drawing legislative and congressional districts. The latest effort to end gerrymandering comes from groups representing organizations as diverse as the John Locke Foundation and the NC Policy Watch. The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is holding community meetings across the state – the next will be Wednesday night in Apex – to drum up support for a big change that would likely lead to more legislative and congressional races. Efforts to cut ties between legislators and political mapmaking have been going on for years. But this is the first community campaign on the issue, said Jane Pinsky, the coalition’s director. Organizers hope to build enough support for nonpartisan redistricting to get a bill passed calling for a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot, she said.
Sometimes, you’re in the “right pew – wrong church,” said Doug Lewis, the executive director of the nonpartisan National Association of State Election Directors, as he talked about one of the ways people use provisional ballots. For years, voters in North Carolina have been able to use a provisional ballot for several reasons. Among them, they could have their vote counted even if they had shown up at the wrong precinct – the wrong church – to pick candidates. Not anymore. Among the sweeping changes brought by North Carolina’s new election law, the one requiring voter-identification by 2016 has drawn much of the attention, but the election law also implemented a slew of other changes. Under the new law, provisional ballots will still be counted under certain circumstances. For example, a provisional ballot will count if voters use one because they did not show up on the list of registered voters at their precinct but are in fact at the correct precinct and were properly registered before the election. But starting in 2014, voters will no longer have their votes counted if they use a provisional ballot outside their correct precinct.
Voting rights advocates are calling on Gov. John Kasich to veto a handful of election reform bills moving through the state legislature, saying the proposed law changes would make it more difficult for eligible Ohioans to cast ballots. “What we see right now is a concerted effort by Gov. Kasich and our very, very hyper partisan state legislature to undermine the democratic process and build a brick wall between voters and the ballot box,” said Deidra Reese, representing the Ohio Fair Election Network. Among other bills, legislation is pending in the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee to eliminate “Golden Week,” the period during which residents can register to vote and cast ballots at the same time. Other bills would increase how often voters’ addresses are checked against other government databases, permit the secretary of state to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters while prohibiting other public officials from doing the same, require certain information be included on provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility is in question, and reduce the amount of time voters casting the latter have to confirm their status.
Jaye Cawkins stepped out of her polling place not entirely sure about what she’d just done. Like many of the 1.6 million people who voted in Pennsylvania on Nov. 5, Cawkins didn’t know much about the judicial candidates on the ballot. They’re not like other politicians, who knock on doors for votes, run races with more media coverage and compile easily-digestible records of their votes, she said. “There’s no way you can sit and go over every one” of a judge’s decisions, said Cawkins, 56, of the North Side. Pennsylvania is one of seven states that elects judges in partisan elections, according to the American Bar Association. Two state representatives — Bryan Cutler, R-Peach Bottom, and Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia — introduced a bill to change that.
Voting Blogs: State of Texas files final brief on effort to dismiss voter ID suits | Texas Redistricting
The State of Texas filed a reply brief today defending Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s position that the voter ID suits filed by the Justice Department and by African-American and Hispanic voters should be dismissed without need for a trial. In addition to challenging the standing of some of the individual and organizational plaintiffs, the brief reiterated the state’s contention that the claims should be dismissed because the Texas voter ID law was “no more difficult than ‘the usual burdens of voting’” and argued that the plaintiffs had failed to “produce or allege the existence of any person, of any race, who could not get a free EIC because of anything other than what may be fairly characterized as that person’s choice.”
With implementation of Virginia’s new voter ID law seven months away, state election officials are scrambling to affordably create a photo ID card that will be provided to voters for free. They also are gearing up to educate the public about the law that will take effect July 1. The state is organizing a marketing campaign and vetting vendors charged with the creation of a voter identification card that will meet requirements under the new law, according to a plan and timeline developed by the State Board of Elections. The new ID will be available in July for voters who do not have other acceptable forms of identification. Other acceptable forms of photo ID include a Virginia driver’s license, a U.S. passport or any other photo ID issued by the United States, Virginia or one of its political subdivisions, a student ID issued by any institute of higher learning in Virginia or any employee identification card. Voters who need the new ID card can apply for the card with their local registrars in a process similar to obtaining a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In the upcoming recount of Virginia’s attorney general election results, Chesapeake’s 61,000 paper ballots must be tallied manually, the state Board of Elections has told city officials. The reason, according to Chesapeake General Registar William “Al” Spradlin, is that the city’s optical scanning equipment cannot segregate ballots that were undervoted – didn’t vote in all races – or overvoted – voted for too many candidates. Instructions from a three-judge panel overseeing the recount indicated those ballots must be singled out for examination, Spradlin said. Democrat Mark Herring was certified with a victory of 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast in the Nov. 5 election, close enough for his opponent, Republican Mark Obenshain, to request the recount.
An inquiry into Western Australia’s missing Senate votes has found significant failures in the handling, movement and storage of ballot papers. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) asked the former commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, to conduct the inquiry after more than 1,300 ballot papers disappeared. The bungle has left the Senate result up the air, with the AEC asking the High Court to order a fresh election in the New Year.
A lost box of ballot papers worth just $30 will likely condemn taxpayers to a $13 million election, according to a scathing review of the WA Senate recount. Former Federal police commissioner Mick Keelty accused the WA office of the Australian Electoral Commission of having a culture of complacency that is likely to result in 1.3 million people going back to the polls next year. Mr Keelty was given the task of determining how the commission lost 1370 votes after it was asked to conduct a recount. The probe came after a very close Senate count in WA which, depending on the lost votes, could have two different candidates elected to the Upper House for the next six years. There has been an appeal in the High Court against the result, with a directions hearing to be held next week. Mr Keelty found he could not “conclusively” rule out foul play in the recount, though he suggested the votes could have been placed in wrong boxes, lost in transit or accidentally destroyed. He found the electoral commission was under more pressure, with a bigger workload, demographic changes and increased expectations for results on election night. This had led to mistakes that cumulatively could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Voting with their feet, 220,490 people chose to exercise the none of the above (NOTA) option, according to results known till 2.45pm on Sunday. Rajasthan, with 87,609 voters choosing the option to reject all candidates, had the highest number of NOTA voters among the states that went to the polls. In Madhya Pradesh, 43,851 voters chose the NOTA option with Shahpura constituency registering the highest number at 7,929. Keshoraipatan, a scheduled caste reserved seat in Rajasthan, saw 7,230 voters exercising this option. Bawana in Delhi saw the highest number of NOTA votes at 1,217 and the total for Delhi was 21,808.