Few Americans would argue that the “D” in Washington, DC, might well stand for “dysfunction”—but it’s especially true when it comes to one government agency in particular: the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC has been something of a mess for quite some time, due to partisan infighting among its commissioners and lack of help from Congress or the White House. There are six commissioners and no more than three can be from the same party. But things took a turn for the truly ugly during the government shutdown in October, when Chinese hackers took advantage of federal employees being furloughed, leaving no one around at the FEC to mind its computer network. Indeed, every one of its 339 employees had been sent home. The cyber-attack—possibly the worst act of sabotage in its four-decade history—reportedly crippled the commission’s systems that inform the public about the billions of dollars raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees.
The Federal Election Commission has unquestionably had its full share of troubles. And on the agency’s role and performance—about which there is unceasing disagreement—certain points deserve general acceptance: that the FEC’s computers should not be hacked, its Commissioners should not act spitefully toward one another, and it should be provided a reasonable amount of money with which to carry out its functions. Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity makes just these points, among others, and so far so good; but then he presents a dubious history of the FEC that will confuse readers about the sources of its problems and the reasons why “reform” of the agency is elusive. Has the FEC, rent apart by ideological differences, engaged in unseemly squabbling in recent years? It is fair to say so, and it is good to hear freshly confirmed Commissioner Goodman suggest that there is no reason for Commissioners to be disagreeable in their expression of otherwise sincerely held differences of opinion. But the Levinthal piece goes farther and re-writes the history of the agency to suggest that in the 1990s the agency was doing its job and transcending partisanship among its Commissioners, only to fall to earth and into disrepute in the following decade. A “golden age,” one is led to believe: “during the 1990s…the FEC’s stature soared,” and while Republican and Democratic Commissioners “certainly disagreed from time to time…they could find enough commonality to cobble four votes together and take action.”
n new court filings, House and Senate Republican leaders are conceding they deleted records related to the 2012 re-drawing of congressional and legislative maps. The voting-rights groups — including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and individual voters — challenging Florida’s re-drawn congressional maps notified a Leon County court Wednesday that they intended to place House and Senate officials under oath to find out what documents were destroyed and why. “The admission that redistricting records were destroyed should have Florida voters up in arms,” League President Deirdre Macnab said in a statement. But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, shot back that the “accusation that the Florida House … thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false.” “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents,” Weatherford said. “They should know better.”
Iowa: Secretary of State Spent $150,000 To Expose Voter Fraud, Instead Found Nothing Significant | Huffington Post
Eighteen months and $150,000 later, a rigorous voter fraud investigation commissioned by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) has failed to produce any statistically significant evidence of voter fraud in Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register. Since taking office in 2011, Schultz has made safeguarding the ballot box from fraud a top state priority, striking a two-year deal with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in 2012 that directed $280,000 of federal funds toward voter fraud inquiries. Additionally, a full-time agent was hired and assigned to pursue voter fraud cases. Although Schultz had expected to unveil “a lot” of voter fraud cases, the investigation so far has yielded just five guilty pleas and five dismissals, The Des Moines Register reported late Sunday. Of the five guilty pleas, three of them involved felons who had completed their prison terms but whose voting rights had not yet been restored when they went to vote.
The timing was perfect for Secretary of State Matt Schultz when he ran for office in 2010. The Republican was able to ride a national wave of trumped-up hysteria about hundreds of non-citizens supposedly voting illegally. Schultz made rooting out voter fraud the centerpiece of his campaign, and he won the election, unseating incumbent Michael Mauro. Schultz went on to propose rules seeking to purge ineligible voters from voter lists. This move became the subject of a lawsuit. In July 2012, he struck a deal with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to assign a full-time agent to investigate suspected voter fraud. The state auditor’s office is now reviewing whether it’s appropriate for Schultz’s office to use federal election-improvement money to pay for fraud investigations. After 18 months of scouring the state for voting scofflaws and spending $150,000 in tax money on the effort, what serious problems have been uncovered? None — other than we now know that there isn’t a problem with voter fraud in Iowa and that some Iowans are confused about voting laws.
Editorials: Signing campaign finance bill would betray Michigan Governor Snyder’s pledge to voters | Detroit Free Press
That grunting and straining you hear is the sound of Gov. Rick Snyder’s struggle to reconcile campaign finance legislation recently adopted by state lawmakers with a pledge he made as a candidate to help voters learn who’s spending how much to influence Michigan’s political process. But it simply can’t be done — and we urge the governor to stop trying before he hurts himself and the state government he has repeatedly promised to make more transparent and accountable. Senate Bill 661 started out as an unnecessary initiative to double the maximum amount that Michigan’s wealthiest political donors and political action committees could legally contribute to election campaigns.
Thanks to new cross-checking of the statewide voter database with drivers’ license records, Secretary of State Jon Husted today said his office discovered 17 non-U.S. citizens cast illegal ballots in Ohio’s 2012 general election. Husted has turned over the names of those voters, including five from Franklin County, to the state attorney general’s office for possible prosecution. Under Ohio and federal law, a voter must be a U.S. citizen, and must attest to that fact when registering to vote. Another 274 Ohioans, all of whom are in the state legally but also are not U.S. citizens, are registered to vote but have not cast a ballot. Husted said his office is sending a letter to each informing them they are illegally registered along with the forms needed for them to cancel their registrations. They will not be turned over for prosecution unless they fail to cancel, Husted said.
Secretary of State Jon Husted said Wednesday that his office found nearly 300 people who are non-U.S. citizens but registered to vote in Ohio, including 17 who appear to have voted in the 2012 presidential election. Those 17 cases, including four from Cuyahoga County, have been referred to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for possible prosecution. The cases illustrate the need for online voter registration as a way to further bolster the integrity of Ohio’s voting system, Husted said in a news conference. Data incorporated in an online registration system would have caught any non-citizen attempting to register in that manner. “If the legislature had approved online registration and these individuals had attempted to register using that system, they could have been prevented from registering and they and our elections system would be better off,” he said. “I again ask the legislature to take swift action on this common sense reform.”
Seventeen non-citizens voted in the November 2012 election in Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday morning, but he acknowledged that there’s no evidence of an organized effort to register non-citizens. “It exists, it’s rare, violators will be held accountable,” Husted said of non-citizen voting during a press conference at his Columbus office. Around 5.63 million total votes were cast in the election. The announcement comes as state Republicans are preparing to pass a slew of voting restrictions next month. In addition to the 17 non-citizens who voted, another 274 non-citizens registered to vote, added Husted, a Republican. He said they all had provided paperwork to the state’s motor vehicles department, both before and after the November 2012 election, demonstrating their non-citizenship status. But he allowed that some of the 274 could have become citizens since registering.
Months before the conservative vote-monitoring group Judicial Watch filed to intervene in the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s restrictive new voting law, which includes a photo ID requirement, its counterparts at the Houston-based poll-monitoring nonprofit True the Vote filed the same for the Texas voter ID trial, which also involves the Justice Department. True the Vote filed its intervention plea back in September, arguing that a ruling striking down Texas’ voter ID law would “frustrate and hamper” the organization’s anti-voter fraud efforts. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the U.S. District Court of Southern Texas didn’t buy it and last week denied True the Vote’s motion. “The Court finds that True the Vote’s intended contribution to this case may be accomplished without the necessity of, or burden incident to, making it a party,” wrote Judge Ramos.
The new Texas voter ID law had one effect with which neither side can quibble. It got Fort Worth in the national news for something besides our weather or being forever and famously known as the place where former Baptist Sunday school teacher Willie Nelson lit up his first joint. Before the Nov. 5election, Fort Worth was ground zero for Voter ID law news. Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ signing of an affidavit when she voted early and former Speaker of the U.S. House Jim Wright’s problems in getting a state-issued personal identification card both made national news. But what hasn’t been covered nationally or even locally is how the law’s implementation, at least in Tarrant County, wasn’t quite ready for prime time.
Texas: A Perspective on Name Changes Appearing on Voter Registration Certificates | Texas Election Law Blog
A recent bit of kerfuffle has arisen regarding the practice of listing all of a voter’s prior names on the voter registration certificate – this isn’t a new law, but heightened concerns about how voter I.D. may be enforced have left some women concerned that (1) their voter registration lists some odd typographical mangling of a maiden and married name, or (2) lists a former name that hasn’t been used for many years. I haven’t been shy in my criticism of voter I.D. laws generally, but I think one must be careful to separate one issue (the dreadful policy decision to dramatically restrict the forms of photo I.D.) from another (the format and treatment of prior names when printing the voter registration certificate). As is so often the case with the state law, the Texas Election Code is not particularly clear about how the voter’s name is supposed to appear on the registration certificate.
Virginia: Obenshain to concede Virginia attorney general’s race on Wednesday in Richmond | The Washington Post
State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R) will concede the race for Virginia attorney general to Democrat Mark R. Herring on Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the decision. Obenshain’s announcement will put an end to a drawn-out contest that, on election night, was the closest statewide election in history. Obenshain campaign spokesman Paul Logan did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday. Herring had significantly widened his slim lead over Obenshain in a statewide recount that began Monday and was scheduled to finish on Wednesday. The race to succeed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) had turned into a protracted nail-biter not only to determine who serves as Virginia’s top law-enforcement official but also to determine control of the evenly split state Senate. Herring and Obenshain are both state senators, and a win by either would have prompted a special election. And because Herring’s Loudoun County district is seen as very competitive, his win could cause Democrats to lose power in the evenly divided Senate. The GOP has a wide margin in the House.
Democrat Mark R. Herring continued to widen his lead over Republican Mark D. Obenshain on the second day of the statewide recount in the race for attorney general. As ballots were being counted Tuesday, Herring was 866 votes ahead of Obenshain by 7 p.m., said Herring’s legal counsel Marc Elias. “We continue to gain margin at a steady pace, and we expect to continue to do so through the rest of the recount,” Elias told reporters Tuesday. “We become more confident as this recount progresses.” Less than 120 ballots had been challenged by partisan election officials to be sent to the Richmond Circuit Court, where a three-judge panel will begin reviewing them Thursday. Of 133 localities statewide, 98 had finished their tallies by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Madagascar stages a run-off presidential election on Friday, but old rifts may persist, extending a crisis begun by a coup five years ago that deterred investors and donors of aid to one of Africa’s poorest nations. Neither candidate scored a commanding victory in October’s first round. Both rely on supporters of their respective sponsors, outgoing President Andry Rajoelina and the man he deposed with the army’s help in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana. Voters may not deliver a clear mandate to either Jean Louis Robinson, an ally of Ravalomanana, or Hery Rajaonarimampianina, a former finance minister backed by Rajoelina.
Mali has “turned a page in its political transition”, the European Union says, following a parliamentary election praised by international observers. The results of the second round of elections, which were held on Sunday (15 December), have yet to be announced, but for the EU the principal question was whether the conduct of the election would give the new parliament legitimacy within the country and encourage international donors to follow up on their pledges of support. Voting was marred by a suicide attack in the north-east that killed two Senegalese members of a UN peacekeeping force, but African and European observers said that the election had been acceptably free and transparent. “Nobody would have thought we could organise the return to constitutional order and the rule of law this fast,” said the leader of the EU’s observer mission, Louis Michel, a Belgian Liberal member of the European Parliament. Similar comments were made after the first round on 26 November.
Thousands of anti-government protesters have marched through the Thai capital, as the country’s Election Commission recommended the upcoming election be postponed because of fears of further unrest. The demonstrators marched through Bangkok, calling on people to join a big rally that they say will paralyse the capital on Sunday. The number of protesters was well down from the huge demonstrations of the last few weeks which prompted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to call the snap election for February.
State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R) conceded the race for Virginia attorney general to Democrat Mark R. Herring on Wednesday, bringing the election to a belated end and giving Democrats a sweep of statewide offices — but throwing control of the state Senate into question. The move allowed Herring to claim victory for the third time since Nov. 5 in a contest that on election night was the closest statewide race in Virginia history. It also spared a three-judge panel in Richmond from having to continue slogging through more than 100 ballots that one side or the other had challenged. And for the first time since Election Day, speculation in Virginia political circles shifted from who would succeed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) to how differently the new attorney general would lead. Herring spent much of the campaign promising not to run the state’s law firm like Cuccinelli, a social conservative who waged high-profile battles against a climate scientist, “Obamacare” and universities with policies that protect gay people from discrimination.
As attorneys and judges in Richmond carved out the ground rules for the statewide recount in the attorney general race last week, Spooner Hull logged more than 2,000 miles on Virginia roads in five days to make sure that the voting equipment will be ready to process tens of thousands of ballots in the coming days. Hull, 67, is a state-certified vendor who sells and services voting machines in 40 localities statewide. He has worked for decades in the background, doing his part to protect the integrity of the electoral system and allow democracy to run its course, unhindered by technical errors that could cause dramatic shifts in Virginia’s political landscape. “Here in Virginia, we have a very good election system, and it works,” said Hull, who bought his company, Atlantic Election Services Inc., from his father 33 years ago. Since then, he has serviced countless local elections and every presidential and state election — including two previous statewide recounts. His years in the business have strengthened his faith in the state’s electoral system. “I can assure you when any state in this country undertakes a rewrite of their election law, they will come to Virginia and look at our code and how we do things,” Hull said.