Anyone concerned about voting rights will remember 2013 as the year the Supreme Court neutered one of the strongest protections against voter suppression, the “preclearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had required that nine states (as well as dozens of counties) – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – all needed to abide by Section 5 preclearance requirements. Three counties in California, Five counties in Florida, three counties in New York, 40 counties in North Carolina, two counties in South Carolina, and two towns in Michigan also needed to have new election laws approved by the Department of Justice until last June. (as well as dozens of counties) with long histories of voter discrimination get any changes in election law approved by the Department of Justice or the D.C. District Court. This preclearance requirement was an invaluable civil-rights protection. It stopped many discriminatory elections laws, including gerrymandered maps and photo-ID requirements, like those in Texas and South Carolina.
Editorials: Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America | Jotaka L. Eaddy/Huffington Post
Today, nearly 4.4 million people in America have families, own homes and have even started their own businesses. They are pursuing the American Dream with one exception — they cannot vote. Felony conviction laws are blocking them from the ballot box. This barrier to full participation in our country’s democracy underscores why felony disenfranchisement is as much an international issue as incarceration rates and prison reform. On December 10th — Human Rights Day — we must continue to make this injustice visible. It is no secret that the U.S. is home to more than 2.4 million prisoners, surpassing countries like Russia, Brazil, and South Africa combined. The data becomes even more jarring when broken down by race. Blacks, who constitute roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 38 percent of the prison population by state. Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, account for 21 percent of the state prison population. Whites, who account for about 78 percent of the country’s population, only make up 35 percent of the prison population.
Controversy surrounding voter identification laws has now reached the Natural State. On April 1, 2013, the Arkansas state legislature completed abicameral majority vote overriding Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) veto of a law requiring voters to show photo ID. The law, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2014, provides for the state to issue a free photo ID to voters who lack one. The law also allows a voter without photo identification to cast a provisional ballot on election day. The provisional ballot will be counted if the voter reports to the county clerk or county board of election commissioners by noon of the Monday following the election, with proof of identity or an affidavit showing the voter is either indigent or has a religious objection to being photographed. Voter identification laws have proven contentious throughout the country, and the new Arkansas law is no exception. When questioned about the impetus behind the new legislation, State Senator Bryan King (R), primary sponsor of the bill, stated, “The purpose of the law is to ensure electoral integrity.”
Americans in uniform who are putting the most at risk to defend the country might have the least say in how the home front is governed under current election law. Two bills, SB 486 filed Monday by Florida state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and HB 215 filed earlier by state Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Midway, are aiming to change that. The bills would enable Florida election supervisors to count the absentee votes of members of the military on non-candidate elections, such as ballot initiatives, constitutional amendment proposals and judicial retention. The bills are part of a natural evolution to “fully enfranchise” members of the military who are serving away from home, said Okaloosa County Elections Supervisor Paul Lux. Before 2010, members of the military using federal absentee ballots were restricted to voting in federal elections: president, Senate, and House of Representatives.
Editorials: It’s time for Guam Election Commission to update election equipment, policies | Pacific Daily News
With the 2014 elections fast approaching, it’s imperative that the Guam Election Commission moves with urgency to address its outdated equipment. The 2012 elections made it clear that the island’s current tabulating machines are old and falling apart. During the 2012 General Election, the Election Commission had problems with at least three of its four tabulators. Those problems drew attention to the age of the machines. The four tabulators are based on technology from the 1980s. It’s time for the Election Commission to move forward with its primary focus on updating equipment and technology. GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan said the commission is expecting to announce an invitation for bids for new tabulators by next month. Pangelinan and the commission need to ensure that these new tabulators fit the needs of our community and come with the appropriate support and regular maintenance.
Despite opposition from Democratic-leaning groups who say laws requiring voter ID could keep minorities, young people and college students away from polls, Mississippi’s voter ID law will first be tested in a hot Republican primary for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. Mississippi Secretary of State of Delbert Hosemann’s office is launching a publicity blitz to bring attention to the state’s voter-identification law that’s scheduled to be used for the first time for the June 2014 primaries. The most highly anticipated in the state, that election will pit incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who announced plans to seek reelection last week, against state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a proxy between the GOP’s mainstream and more radical Tea Party factions. Hosemann and several other Republicans had been eyeing the seat had Cochran opted for retirement. Of the voter ID awareness campaign, Hosemann told reporters Monday that his office is airing two 30-second TV commercials—one that started Monday and one that starts in January.
North Carolina: Challengers of new voting regulations want 2014 trial; state officials push for delay | News Observer
Parties who are a gulf apart over what laws should be in place to ensure fair and open elections are just as widely divided about how quickly a lawsuit challenging new voter laws should be heard in federal court. On Thursday, attorneys for the NAACP, League of Women Voters, the ACLU of North Carolina and other voter rights advocates will gather in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem to talk about one early point of contention – whether the trial will happen before or after the 2014 elections. Attorneys representing Gov. Pat McCrory, the N.C. Board of Elections and other state officials have laid out a proposed schedule in a report to the federal court, suggesting that a two- to three-week trial could be held no sooner than the summer of 2015.
Ohio: House likely to take up voter database legislation this week, hold off on other elections bills | Cleveland Plain Delaer
The Ohio House of Representatives is likely to vote Wednesday on legislation to increase state agency cooperation for Ohio’s voter registration database. A couple of other, more contentious voting bills, meanwhile, are likely to stay in a House committee until next year, according to a House GOP spokesman. The House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee is set to vote Tuesday on Senate Bill 200, which would require state agencies such as the Ohio Department of Health and Bureau of Motor Vehicles to send updated voter information to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. It would also, among other things, reduce the minimum number of electronic voting machines that a county must have.
Ohio would cross-reference voter addresses with other state databases to try to clean up discrepancies under a voting bill that’s likely to pass the General Assembly on Wednesday. The legislation is part of a collection of Republican-sponsored bills that Democrats and civil rights activists say are slowly chipping away at voting rights in Ohio, the quintessential swing state. Most of the other bills won’t get a vote until next year, and many may not get a vote at all. Under the bill up for a vote on Wednesday, the secretary of state’s office would be able to try to update the voter rolls using information in databases associated with agencies such as the license bureau, the criminal justice system or offices that manager welfare and food stamp benefits. If the review were to identify a discrepancy, the secretary of state would notify local boards of elections so they could contact a person to try to update the record.
Richland County’s state lawmakers have pre-filed legislation to shift oversight of elections to the counties that pay for them. The bills come as Richland County’s lawmakers work to address problems that led to the 2012 election debacle, where mismanagement and long lines at the polls produced one of the biggest voting disasters in state history. Now, Richland County’s legislative delegation names the board members who oversee elections and voter registration, said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, a sponsor of the legislation in the House. The counties that pay for elections should have that authority if they want it, he said. “The people of Richland County would be best served by a level of government that regularly meets and provides oversight and funding (of elections),” Smith said. “It’s a solid stab at good government, better government, to devolve these responsibilities to County Council,” he said.
Minnehaha County commissioners Tuesday postponed deciding where residents will be allowed to vote in next year’s elections after expressing doubts about the effectiveness of electronic poll books. The Sioux Falls School District was first in the state to experiment with e-poll books and voting centers in 2011 with Secretary of State Jason Gant’s encouragement. Since then, several other local governments have used the system, which enables residents to vote at any of several voting sites throughout the jurisdiction. The electronic poll books ensure people don’t vote more than once. One problem the school district had was getting enough ballots to each voting center. Because any voter can go to any polling place to vote, each site must stock ballots that contain every combination of races that day.
A three-judge panel has set the rules for next week’s statewide recount of the Attorney General’s election between Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain. With a historically narrow 165-vote margin separating the two men, the details were strategically important to the candidates’ lawyers-who spent hours on Monday arguing their positions at a Richmond hearing. The recount will include examination of thousands of undervoted ballots-to determine if no votes were cast for that office or if the machines did not read them the first time. The judges ordered Alexandria and Chesapeake to begin one day early since they must hand-count thousands of paper ballots. They also gave the campaigns broad access to pollbooks, as requested by Obenshain attorney William Hurd. “There’re some other materials, too, that the court said we could obtain involving absentee ballots, provisional ballots, incidents that occurred on Election Day that are recorded. It’s a big victory. It means we don’t have to sit there and go through the documents in the office of the clerk, but the copies will be made and made available to us.”
Virginia: Lawyer hints that Obenshain hasn’t ruled out bringing Virginia AG race before legislature | The Washington Post
An attorney for state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain hinted in court Monday that the Republican would consider using an obscure law to throw the outcome of the attorney general’s race into the hands of the General Assembly. The lawyer made the statement as legal teams for Obenshain and Democrat Mark R. Herring jockeyed for advantage in advance of next week’s statewide recount. Even floating the idea of contesting the race through the legislature is an act of political daring. Until now, Republican leaders, including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), have indicated that they thought a challenge would be inappropriate unless evidence of major voting irregularities emerged.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) issued a report on the Georgian presidential elections held in 2013. The report also included some recommendations. PACE special commission established that the presidential elections held on October 27, 2013 “were held effectively, transparently and conducted in a peaceful and constructive atmosphere. Fundamental rights of expression, movement and assembly were protected and the candidates were able to conduct their election campaigns without restrictions. Just a year after the parliamentary elections, Georgian citizens have once again demonstrated their political maturity in a peaceful atmosphere through the election administration. These elections are an important achievement for the country and the entire South Caucasus”.
The leftist Libre party in Honduras late Friday formally asked election officials to overturn the results of the November 24 presidential election, which their candidate claims to have won. A document formally requesting the annulment was delivered by ex-president Manuel Zelaya, accompanied by his wife, Libre candidate Xiomara Castro. Officials earlier declared conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez the election winner. Zelaya told AFP that the document he submitted included proof of “clear” voter fraud. “It was a well-done fraud,” said Zelaya, who claimed that officials at 2,800 voting stations conspired to throw the election for Hernandez. He insisted that votes were also bought, “because at the other voting stations, all 12,000 of them … Xiomara won.”
India: Citizen surge: Election Commission ensures that low voting percentages are a thing of the past | The Week
Even before the results are announced, the latest Assembly elections have thrown up a pleasant surprise. The voting percentages in all the states have been extraordinary. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, notorious for low turnouts, recorded 74.5 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively. Chhattisgarh defied threats from Maoists to register an impressive 77 per cent, the highest ever for the state. Delhi, too, registered its best-ever voting performance at 66 per cent. Suddenly, low voting percentages are becoming a thing of the past and the Indian voters appear to be more involved and informed. The most important reason behind this surge is the Election Commission’s aggressive campaign to enrol new voters, especially women and the youth. The systematic voters’ education and electoral participation (SVEEP) wing of the commission, opened in 2009, has been tasked with expanding the registration of eligible voters, addressing gender gaps and ensuring more participation of the youth. “The programme has been undertaken across the country and the increase in turnout has varied from around 10 per cent in lower turnout states to 2-3 per cent in traditionally high turnout states,” said Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath. For the first time, the commission deployed ‘awareness observers’ in these elections. In all, 47 of them were put on the job in the five states for two weeks before the elections to motivate voters.
For the first time in elections in India, voters who cast ballots in recent assembly polls had the option to reject all candidates and vote for “none of the above.” The choice to do so appears to have been less popular than anticipated. Across Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, only 1.67 million voters out of a combined electorate of 115 million, chose to assert their right to register contempt for all candidates, according to figures released Sunday by the Election Commission of India. Vote counting in Mizoram where elections were also held in November began Monday in the predominantly Christian state because of petitions by church officials who said that Sunday should be reserved for religious observance. The Congress party retained power in the tiny northeastern state, where results, released by the Election Commission of India Monday, showed that the “none of the above” option was used by less than 1% (around 3,800) of voters.