Christmas comes early for campaign watchdogs—or late, depending on your perspective. Thanks to a lag in IRS reporting rules, the tax returns of independent groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 election are just now coming due. Considered together with a recent campaign-finance investigation in California, these filings hint at an orgy of self-dealing and “dark money” shenanigans unprecedented in American politics. The first presidential election since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision spawned what Bloomberg Businessweek called “a Cayman Islands-style web of nonprofit front groups and shell companies.” These not only shielded donors’ identities but also obscured the huge profits of political operatives who moved nimbly between the candidates, the super PACs, and the vendors that get their business. The so-called “independent expenditure” groups have been “transforming the business of running a political campaign and changing the pecking order of the most coveted jobs,” Businessweek noted. “With a super-PAC, the opportunity to make money is soaring while the job is getting easier to do.” Is it any wonder then that many of the biggest players from past elections jumped to the other side of the game in 2012? Or that they imported two money-making techniques perfected in campaign work: shell corporations that put fees and commissions beyond the reach of federal disclosure rules, and “integrated businesses,” set up by staff and advisers to do nuts-and-bolts electioneering?
A national conservative organization that aims to address voter fraud filed lawsuits Monday against two Colorado county clerks for what it says is improper maintenance of voter rolls. True the Vote alleges clerks from Gilpin and Mineral counties have voter registration rates — according to the group’s analysis — of more than 100 percent, which it says signifies a problem. As a result, the group says, the clerks haven’t complied with the Voter Registration Act of 1993 by not making “a reasonable effort to conduct voter list maintenance programs in elections for federal office.”
An 18-month investigation into voter fraud that has cost nearly $150,000 has led to charges against 16 people in Iowa, many of whom said they mistakenly registered or believed they were eligible to vote. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who launched the investigation and has made ballot security a key issue, said the results show that voter fraud is a problem. But his critics scoff at that argument, saying the investigation confirmed that misconduct is insignificant in Iowa, where about 2.1 million people are registered to vote. Schultz, a Republican, signed a two-year deal with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in July 2012 to assign an agent to investigating voter fraud cases fulltime. The contract allowed him to pay as much as $280,000 for the investigations. Five cases have been dismissed, while five others were resolved in guilty pleas. As part of the plea deals, three people paid fines, one received a suspended sentence and probation, and one is serving five years in prison for perjury and identity theft. So far no cases have gone to trial, though two cases’ trials are pending.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has little to show for a voter fraud investigation that has gone on for nearly 18 months and cost the state almost $150,000. Schultz, a Republican who has made ballot security his signature issue since taking office in 2011, struck a two-year deal with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in July 2012 to assign an agent full time to investigating voter fraud cases. Since then, according to figures provided by the secretary’s office, the effort has yielded criminal charges in 16 cases, of which five have resulted in guilty pleas and five have been dismissed. None of the cases has, as yet, gone to trial.The DCI has been paid $149,200 for its efforts so far and could receive up to $280,000 out of the secretary of state’s budget.
A federal agency has been ordered to take another look at the national voter registration form and consider a change requested by Kansas and Arizona. The two states require proof of citizenship in some cases when registering to vote. The states want the federal form to include instructions on the document requirement. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the federal Election Assistance Commission hasn’t yet made a decision. “Because the agency has right now basically said ‘we’re in limbo, we can’t act,'” says Kobach. “And what that means for the state of Kansas and for the state of Arizona is that we cannot fully enforce our laws with respect to one particular form people use for registering.” The commission says it hasn’t acted yet on the request because it is short on commissioners.
The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal over Michigan’s sore loser law that kept Gary Johnson from appearing as a Libertarian presidential candidate on the state ballot after running in the Republican primary. The high court Monday refused to hear an appeal from Johnson and the Libertarian Party of Michigan. Johnson in the 2012 presidential election ran as a GOP presidential candidate in the primary, and then tried to run as the Libertarian presidential nominee.
The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case testing a Minnesota law that bans the wearing of buttons or clothing with messages that election officials deem too political to be worn within 100 feet of any polling place. The justices took the action in a one-line order without comment. It lets stand a federal appeals court decision upholding the statute. The Minnesota law seeks to prevent campaigning and electioneering by candidates and their supporters at the locations where voters are casting their ballots. But an array of conservative groups challenging the statute said it went far beyond preventing electioneering and violated the free speech rights of voters to express broader political ideas without facing government censorship.
A Democratic lawmaker and frequent critic of GOP-backed election law changes wants the state’s chief elections official to offer online voter registration. Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, sent a letter to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted outlining the reasons she believes the change can be implemented without legislative approval. “Since online voter registration is already permitted by Ohio law, there is no reason to wait to make it available to all Ohioans,” Clyde wrote. “Ohio should be a leader on this, especially since our online registration system is already built and ready to use.”
A combination of lax enforcement in the state’s election code, a faulty voter registration system and lack of leadership by state election officials have led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Texans who faced challenges while registering to vote in the 2012 elections, according to a report the Texas Civil Rights Project released on Monday. The TCRP’s report largely focused on what the organization calls a problematic lack of enforcement power in the office of the state’s top election official, the Secretary of State, and calls on the Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to give officials there the ability to enforce voter registration procedures at the state and local levels. The Texas Secretary of State’s office said while it does not have enforcement authority, it does educate and work with entities that carry out voter registration and ensure that voters are able to cast ballots. The report outlines several recommendations to improve voter registration, including additional oversight of state agencies that are required by law to register individuals who apply for state services.
Virginia: On first day of Attorney General race recount, Herring increases lead over Obenshain | Richmond Times-Dispatch
On the first day of the recount in the state’s tight race for attorney general, Democrat Mark R. Herring, the certified winner of the Nov. 5 election, had widened his lead over Republican Mark D. Obenshain to 305 votes, up from 165. “We saw significant growth in the margin of the Herring victory today; frankly, greater than we initially anticipated,” Herring’s legal counsel Marc Elias said Tuesday evening. “We expect to maintain or increase this margin as the recount expands to additional jurisdictions tomorrow.” Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Chesapeake a head start on the attorney general election recount. See pictures from the recount. Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Chesapeake got a head start Monday on the recount, with the state’s remaining localities following today. In Fairfax, Virginia’s largest county, recount officers are reviewing a total of 300,000 optical scan paper ballots. All ballots rejected by the tabulators — write-ins, undervotes and overvotes, in many cases — will be reviewed and counted by hand.
Virginia’s largest voting jurisdiction is set to begin a recount Monday for the tightest race in state history, even as one candidate raises concerns about the conduct of the election. Fairfax County is scheduled to start recounting more than 300,000 ballots cast in the state attorney general’s race between Republican Mark D. Obenshain and Mark R. Herring, a Democrat who leads his opponent by a mere 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast last month. In a motion filed last week in Richmond Circuit Court, attorneys for Mr. Obenshain criticized Fairfax elections officials for not only missing a deadline for delivering ballots, but because “Fairfax election officials grossly departed from the security procedures” required by law. Court documents state that Fairfax officials did not transport some ballots to the county’s circuit court clerk by the day after the election canvas that ended Nov. 12, and that those ballots “remained unprotected by the legally-required security measures for nearly a month after the election.”
Michelle Bachelet’s landslide victory was the largest in 80 years and yet, at the same time was the lowest voter turnout since the nation of Chile returned to democracy. According to some political pundits, this suggests that Bachelet will not get a mandate to push for any type of change when she begins her second term in 2014. A moderate advocate of socialist government, Bachelet ended her first term in 2010 with an approval rating of 84 percent in spite of the fact that she was unwilling to enact any type of major change. However, with this victory, political leftists in Chile are expected to hold Bachelet accountable to make good on her promises. Some of these include improving health care, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, and pushing a $15 billion program for the purposes of educational overhaul. Economically, Chile is the pride of Latin America. It is the top exporter of chrome worldwide and boasts a rapidly growing economy, a stable democracy and low unemployment rates. However, in the country itself, there has been much unrest as many have believed that there should be more of the nations wealth used for reform of the educational system and income disparity.
Presidential Constitutional Adviser Ali Awad held a meeting on Thursday with representatives of political groups including Wafd Party, Tamarod movement and National Salvation Front to agree on the new electoral system, according to which upcoming parliamentary elections will be held, ahead of issuing a law by Interim President Adly Mansour, sources said. Sources referred to a partial agreement on the mixed electoral system which allocates 80 percent of the seats to single-winners and 20 percent to the list-based system. The 444 seats will be divided among constituencies like before with two seats at each electoral district for the single-winner. Another 111 seats will be added to the parliament making the total 555 seats. Meanwhile, Ali Awad, the Constitutional Affairs Advisor to the President, denied in a press release that the presidency would approve allocating 80 precent of the seats to individual candidates and 20 precent to candidates’ lists.
India: Election Commission plans introducing downloadable ballot papers for forces | Business Standard
For the first time, lakhs of paramilitary soldiers may be able to download the ballot paper from the Internet, cast their vote and send it by post to the returning officer in the next Lok Sabha elections. At the initiative of the paramilitary forces like BSF and CRPF, the Election Commission is working on such a plan, which would make postal voting much easier for these force personnel who would be deployed in remote parts of the country. “This (downloadable ballot papers) is actually a suggestion, which we are right now looking at seriously for the defence personnel,” Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said, adding that such a move would reduce the one way travel time of postal ballots during the elections.
Malians voted on Sunday in the second round of parliamentary elections intended to cap the nation’s return to democracy but overshadowed by the deaths of two UN peacekeepers in an Islamist attack. The polls marked the troubled west African nation’s first steps to recovery after it was upended by a military coup in March last year, finalising a process begun with the election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August. “This second round establishes the recovery on a foundation of legitimacy in this country. It will give us more strength, more power to say ‘Mali’ and that’s what Mali needs,” Keita said after casting his ballot in the capital Bamako. “What has been done has put us in a position to say Mali everywhere with honour and dignity, without any hang-ups.”
Just a few years ago, Timbuktu was still a popular destination for tourists. These days, by contrast, the town has the lugubrious air of many post-conflict zones around the world. White SUVs from the United Nations patrol its streets. Its citizens depend on handouts from international humanitarian organizations. The electricity supply is still spotty. The craftsmen and tour guides who used to live from the tourism trade now wait in vain for customers. The reasons for the decline in the city’s fortunes are all too apparent. In 2011, a Tuareg-dominated separatist group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), capitalizing on an influx of weapons from Libyan arsenals after the collapse of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime, stormed across northern Mali (an area the rebels saw as a Tuareg homeland they called “Azawad”). The poorly equipped and deeply demoralized Malian Army collapsed. The outside world took relatively little notice at first — but then the MNLA’s allies, jihadi groups such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), set out to hijack the rebellion. In Timbuktu, they declared their own brand of sharia rule, amputating the limbs of thieves and stoning alleged adulterers.