Kansas and Arizona have asked a federal appeals court panel to revisit its decision allowing residents of those states to register to vote using a federal form without having to provide proof of citizenship. The states submitted a petition late Monday asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel to rehear the case, saying they believe the court overlooked certain legal issues when it ruled against them in November. The appeals court ruled that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand federal election officials help them enforce their state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. The panel overturned a March ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren that required the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to tailor its federal voter registration form for those states to require those proof-of-citizenship documents.
With the 2014 election in the rearview mirror, the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in the coming session will look to address some of the issues raised during this year’s campaigns and at the polls. The 2014 election was the first test of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws as they were modified by the legislature in 2013, when lawmakers reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by easing limitations on the amount of money political parties could raise and contribute to candidates using the public financing system. Rep. Ed Jutila, one of the committee’s co-chairman, said he was wary of those changes to begin with. “Now, looking back after an election cycle with those changes, I think we need to revisit them. I think we may have over-reacted,” he said. The new rules allowed the state Democratic Party to spend $207,000 on senator-elect Ted Kennedy Jr.’s public-financed campaign.
It’s a tie. Candidates for the Kent County Recorder of Deeds position are at a dead heat after a court-ordered hand recount of absentee ballots Monday afternoon. Both Republican challenger La Mar Gunn and Democrat incumbent Betty Lou McKenna are deadlocked with 19,248 votes each in a race that has already seen three recounts prior to Monday. The tie – unprecedented in recent history – has yet to be certified. Gunn could still mount a legal challenge over one absentee ballot that he and the GOP contend was unclear as to what the voter’s intent was.
One of every three Iowans — 37 percent — voted a straight-party ticket in the 2014 general election, statistics the Iowa secretary of state’s office compiled for the first time revealed. Expect those results to be part of another bid in the 2015 Iowa Legislature to eliminate straight-ticket voting, the practice that allows voters to fill one oval on the ballot for all of the candidates in one political party. Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, said this week he has filed another attempt to pass the straight-ticket ban in the upcoming session. “This is one area where, if we can just take a little bit of partisanship out of the process, I think it serves all Iowans better,” Cownie said.
The Virginia Board of Elections is under fire for alleged racial gerrymandering during a 2011 voter redistricting plan for the House of Delegates. In a lawsuit filed in the Richmond, Va. Federal Court, a dozen voters say the committee violated electoral rights by packing black voters into fragmented and irregularly shaped district lines — targeting a 55 percent threshold and significantly decreasing compactness in these areas. “As a result, African-American voters were illegally packed into the Challenged Districts, thereby diminishing their influence in the surrounding districts,” the complaint says. “The General Assembly adopted the 55% racial threshold without justification, including any determination that the threshold was reasonably necessary to avoid retrogression in each of the Challenged Districts or otherwise comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
If Gov. Terry McAuliffe has his way, there will be new voting machines across the commonwealth in time for the 2015 November elections. McAuliffe announced in a news release last week that his proposed budget includes $28 million to replace the variety of voting machines in the state with a single type of machine that will use paper ballots that get scanned into an electronic format. The switch will remove touch-screen voting machines that proved to be a problem in the 2014 election, during which 49 localities reported voting equipment issues with no paper trail to fall back on, McAuliffe said. “[W]e cannot expect Virginians to come to the polls on Election Day if we cannot ensure that their votes will be counted correctly and in a timely manner,” McAuliffe said in the release. “The problems Virginians encountered on Election Day this year were unacceptable, which is why I have taken unprecedented steps to replace all legacy voting equipment in the commonwealth with state-of-the-art machines that have paper trails and will update our Department of Elections website. The money will cover new voting machines for 2,166 precincts in the state as well as reimburse 401 precincts that have already purchased the approved machines.
Greece: Greece plunged into crisis as failure to elect president sets up snap election | The Guardian
Fears were growing on Monday night of a fresh crisis in the eurozone after Greece failed to elect a head of state, triggering a snap election that is tipped to bring radical, anti-austerity leftists to power. The Athens stock exchange slumped by more than 10% at one point as concerns mounted over the political turmoil likely to hit the twice bailed-out country. The effective interest rate on the nation’s three-year debt soared to more than 12% – signalling investor fears that Greece will not be able to repay its loans in the short term. Elections were called for 25 January after the government failed to find enough votes to elect its preferred candidate for president, the former European commissioner Stavros Dimas. With the vehemently anti-cuts Syriza opposition ahead in the polls, the campaign will now revive the debate about austerity policies across the eurozone and raise questions over the harsh terms attached to Greece’s €240bn (£188bn) bailouts.
The outgoing Liberian Senate Pro Tempore said that while there were some flaws in the December 20 special senatorial election, Liberians must respect and improve on their electoral process. Senator Gbehzongar Findley of Grand Bassa County lost his seat to Jonathan Kaipay of the opposition Liberty Party. Elections Commission Chair Jerome Korkoya announced the final results Saturday. It appears the ruling Unity Party will have won seven or eight Senate seats when the legislative body reconvenes next month.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has conveyed his “strong expectation” that the Government of Sri Lanka will ensure “the peaceful and credible conduct” of its upcoming Presidential election. The Secretary-General spoke on the phone with Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs Prof. GL Peiris on 24 December and reaffirmed the UN’s continuous support for reconciliation, political dialogue and accountability as the country heads towards the election on 8 January 2015.
A Securities and Exchange Commission rule designed to limit conflicts of interest in state contracting is becoming less effective amid the rise of super PACs and should be broadened, groups that track campaign finance say. The SEC’s so-called pay-to-play rule, which applies to state officials including governors, could become a prominent factor in the 2016 presidential election given that four or more Republican governors who would be in office during the campaign have said they may run or are thought to be considering a candidacy. The rule effectively prohibits certain employees of financial-services companies that do—or might do—business with state agencies from contributing to the officials who oversee those agencies. The rule, adopted in 2010, was intended to prevent political contributions from influencing state contracting decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide who exactly is the “Legislature’ in Arizona, at least for purposes of drawing political lines. In a brief order Tuesday, the justices set March 2 to hear arguments by attorneys for the organized Legislature that only they — meaning the 90 members — can divide up the state into its nine congressional districts. They contend that’s what the U.S. Constitution requires. If the high court agrees, that would pave the way for the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw the lines ahead of the 2016 election. And that would allow them to reconfigure the maps to give GOP candidates a better chance of winning — and of improving the 5-4 split in the congressional delegation this year’s election gave to Republicans. But first they have to convince the justices that the majority of a three-judge panel got it wrong when they concluded otherwise. The fight is over a provision in the federal Constitution which says the “times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.’
Incoming Secretary of State Paul Pate says allowing Iowans to register to vote online will be a top priority when he takes office next month. The effort is already underway, and online registration should be available before next fall’s local government elections, he said. Pate, a Republican, will succeed Matt Schultz as the state’s top elections administrator after winning a statewide election in November. The transition opens a new chapter for an office that was at the center of several legal and political fights over the last four years. In an interview with The Des Moines Register, the secretary-elect outlined several elections-related priorities as well as improvements to the office’s business registration functions. His ultimate goal, he said, is to increase access to the polls and voter participation while maintaining ballot security. “All elections offices in the country really have to work harder at keeping the technology updated and balancing out participation with integrity,” he said.
One of every three Story County voters — 35 percent — and 37 percent of voters statewide voted a straight-party ticket in the 2014 general election, statistics the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office compiled for the first time revealed. In Story County, 6,004 Democrats and 5,346 Republicans voted straight-party tickets, as did 244 residents for the New Independent Party Iowa and 115 for the Libertarian Party. The practice allows voters to fill one oval on the ballot for all of the candidates in one political party. In the county, 11,709 of the total 33,213 voters chose to do so. Straight-party voting played a role in the race for the Story County Board of Supervisors, in which voters could select up to two candidates on their ballots. A second Republican joined the race late, likely damaging independent challenger Lauris Olson’s bid for a seat through straight-party voting. All four contenders publicly encouraged voters not to cast straight-party tickets.
Editorials: Will fairer districts mean longer Ohio legislative terms? | Benjamin Lanka/Cincinnati Inquirer
Ohio lawmakers coalesced at the last minute to approve a deal that could make its legislative maps fairer and more competitive — and could open the way to examine letting those legislators serve longer in office. With redistricting reform headed to Ohio voters in 2015, many legislators believe now is the time to review the state’s term limit restrictions. Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, helped lead the redistricting effort, which he said had to happen to begin even examining term limits. “Without a fairer system, some legislators were more reluctant to deal with extending terms,” he said. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission has begun discussions on the issue, Executive Director Steven Hollon said. He said a few presentations were given on term limits and that it was mentioned as a topic that could be tackled in 2015, but no definitive plans have yet been created.
Pennsylvania state government behind the times? Let’s count the ways. We can list failure to privatize liquor sales and a system so far behind that visitors are amazed at the hoops we jump through to buy beer, wine and spirits. Go up the scale in intensity and we encounter an outdated property tax system for funding schools, and a public pension system racking up a $50 billion liability shortfall. Our lawmakers choose denial over solutions. Twice a year, we encounter another area in which the Commonwealth falls woefully short — ease of voting. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has failed to adopt practices made possible in the internet age that make it easy for people to register and to vote. Instead of making the process more customer-friendly, Republicans two years ago used their majority in the House to push through even stricter requirements for voter ID. The new law which required a state-issued photo ID for all voters was challenged and struck down in Commonwealth Court. Now, some legislators are hoping to enact some meaningful reform and get Pennsylvania voter services out of the past. PAIndependent reported last week that a number of proposals are in the works to make voting more user-friendly.
In the November general election, voters in Shannon County overwhelmingly approved changing the name to Oglala Lakota County, but the new name cannot go into effect without legislative action. Patrick Weber with the Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s office said it’s unknown when the South Dakota Legislature intends to pass the needed joint resolution to rename Shannon County. The county includes the majority of the land on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It had been named after Peter Shannon, a chief justice of the Dakota Territory Supreme Court who later helped negotiate land deals with the Lakota. Shannon isn’t well thought of among many Native Americans. When the name change is finalized, it will mark the first time in more than 100 years that a South Dakota county has undergone a name change, according to the South Dakota Historical Society.
When it comes time for Saskatoon citizens to choose their mayor and councillors in 2016, they probably won’t be able to do so on their laptops, tablets or smartphones. Internet voting – which has become increasingly common in municipal elections across Canada – is unlikely to make a debut in any Saskatchewan cities or rural municipalities by the next election. “We’re looking down the road (from 2016),” said Rod Nasewich, legislation and regulations director for the provincial ministry of government relations. Before Internet voting or Internet voting pilot projects are permitted in the province, Saskatchewan’s Local Government Elections Act would have to be amended. Nasewich said such changes are not being pursued because “There hasn’t been a lot of widespread lobbying or support from the municipal sector for that.”
The liberal incumbent and a conservative rival are heading for a showdown in a runoff presidential election in Croatia, according to the partial count of the Sunday poll, held amid severe economic woes in EU’s newest member. Current President Ivo Josipovic, who is backed by the center-left government, held a slight lead with some 39 percent over opposition candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarevic at around 36 percent, early results released by the election authorities showed. Two other candidates were far behind. Since no one took more than half of the votes, a runoff will be held in two weeks. Analysts said no major change was expected with all the ballots counted.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces a vote in parliament on Monday that will decide whether the country goes to snap elections that could bring the leftwing Syriza party to power and derail an international bailout. In the most hotly contested vote for president since Greece joined the euro more than a decade ago, the result in the final round of voting is likely to be decided by a small handful of deputies. If lawmakers fail to elect a successor to 85-year-old Karolos Papoulias, a snap election will be held within weeks. Syriza, leading in the opinion polls, vowed again to renegotiate the joint European Union-IMF bailout bailout Greece needs to pay its bills and roll over its debt.
Sweden’s government on Saturday announced a deal with the opposition that will avert the country’s first snap elections in more than half a century and counter the rising influence of the anti-immigrant far right. The deal announced by Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, in office for less than three months, will see the minority center-left government remain in power. The far right has however threatened a no-confidence vote. Loefven had called early elections this month after the populist and anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats torpedoed his fledgling government’s budget. The crisis had dealt a severe blow to Sweden’s self-image as a tolerant nation and illustrated the rising political fortunes of anti-immigrant parties in much of Europe.
Now that a quorum of commissioners has been confirmed for the Election Assistance Commission, the co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, have written letters to the new commissioners laying out some immediate short-term steps to jump-start the agency’s voting technology testing and certification process. As New Hampshire braces for another wave of White House hopefuls next year seeking votes in the first-in-the-nation nominating primary, much of the credit for the state’s hold on that position goes to one man: Secretary of State William Gardner. With roughly 44 percent of registered voters participating in 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, the impact of changes to North Carolina’s election law on the overall turnout remains unclear. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel argues that the State’s non-partisan Government Accountability Board “remains the best model for supervising partisan elections and ethical behavior.” In the culmination of a four-year democratic transition Beji Caid Essebsi , an 88-year-old veteran of Tunisia’s political establishment won the country’s presidential election and proponents of online voting in the United Kingdom face the same concerns over security and privacy that have plagued such proposals in other countries.
An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday. The I.R.S. has admitted that before the 2012 election it inappropriately delayed approval of tax exemption applications by groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement, but the I.R.S. and its parent agency, the Treasury Department, have said that the errors were not motivated by partisanship. Republican lawmakers, dismissing the Obama administration’s denials, have suggested that the delays were not only politically motivated but also orchestrated by the White House. Some of the most strident comments have come from Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has issued subpoenas to compel testimony from administration officials and held a series of tumultuous hearings on the I.R.S. scandal.
Editorials: Mandatory Voting, Killing Electoral College Would Diversify Electorate | Stephen Wolf/The New Republic
The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, over white police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, brought attention to a curious disparity. While two-thirds of the St. Louis suburb was black, its local government was almost entirely white. One culprit was simple: voter turnout. In the preceding local election, 6 percent of black voters cast ballots, compared to 17 percent of white voters, narrowly yielding a white-majority electorate. The resulting racial disparities on the city council were as predictable as they were dire. Two generations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other Great Society reforms, America’s electoral system still suffers from the legacy of Jim Crow: Our political officials and public policies don’t represent the diversity and interests of the country’s large and growing share of non-white citizens. Improving voter turnout is the most obvious solution to this problem, but doing so will require uncharacteristic boldness from our politicians. One of the biggest structural factors keeping turnout low is that the majority of cities nationwide—Ferguson included—hold elections at times that don’t coincide with federal or state elections. Since non-white voters skip non-presidential elections in higher numbers than white voters, moving local and state elections to the quadrennial presidential cycle would painlessly, efficiently increase turnout and produce a more representative electorate across the ballot. As a bonus, holding fewer elections would save money.
Voting Blogs: You Won’t Believe What Happens When a Partisan Operative Writes About Hand Recounts | Election Academy
I write a lot on this blog about the trouble that litigants and partisans cause for elections officials. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’m trained as a lawyer; because I speak the language of courts, it’s easier to spot how and when litigation (or the threat thereof) is preparing to affect election administration. You can imagine my concern, then, when DailyKos (a well-known Democratic blog) recently had a post by contributor Dante Atkins with the aggressively-clickable headline “You won’t believe what happens in a manual recount.” Normally I resist the siren song of clickability, but a few people I know and trust on Twitter had shared it so I took the plunge. Know what? It’s a terrific piece. Here are the key parts (though it’s worth reading the whole thing):
I’m a relatively seasoned campaign professional, and I’ve been lucky enough (unlucky, perhaps?) to have already been part of two manual recounts in California. And while election and recount laws vary from state to state (hint: they really shouldn’t), the process is instructive, and provides insights into how we could make our entire voting systems better serve the people they’re intended to: the actual voters.
Alabama: One of last vestiges of gutted immigration law, Alabama pushes voters for citizenship proof | AL.com
One of Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s last acts will be to try to implement one of the last provisions of the state’s controversial immigration law that has not already been resolved – a requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register. Under that provision of the 2011 law, known as HB 56, people must show a driver’s license or some other valid form of identification in order to register to vote. But the state never implemented it while lawyers fought over the legality of the law’s broader measures, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration. The federal courts invalidated most of that law, and the state last year reached a permanent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to permanently black enforcement of seven provisions. Bennett announced last week, though, that the state will press ahead with the citizenship requirement now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed nominees to fill long-vacant seats on the Election Assistance Commission. That is the organization that must agree to change the federal voter registration form to comply with the state requirements.
A committee charged with investigating Election Day mishaps began hearing testimony Monday, with employees from the Town and City Clerk’s Office and the Secretary of the State’s Office raising concerns about discrepancies in numbers reported by the city. Ross Garber, one of two attorneys working for the committee, said that in addition to determining what went wrong, the group is looking into whether reports were submitted on time by the city and whether the reports were accurate. “There is a question about the accuracy of the election reports,” Garber said. People were unable to vote at as many as 10 polling places when they opened at 6 a.m. on Election Day because voter registration lists were not delivered on time. Voters had to wait more than an hour at certain locations, and some left without voting, prompting the Democratic Party to seek extended hours.
In the age of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, Pennsylvania is stuck in the past century when it comes to voter registration. Prospective voters can download the necessary form online, but can’t submit it digitally. Instead, they have to mail it or personally deliver it to their county voter registration office. That’s among the voting procedures some members of the General Assembly want to change. It’s early in the new legislative session, but several proposals to modernize voting protocol are already circulating among state lawmakers. One piece of legislation would provide for electronic voter registration and another would allow citizens to register the same day as an election and then vote, which proponents say could increase turnout. “In this day and age, I do truly believe that we should be doing everything we can to make voting easier and as accessible as possible to all eligible voters,” said state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York, who has joined state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, in sponsoring same-day registration legislation.
A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters. Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year. “This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.” Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks ruled Wednesday that Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen was not a candidate for election to the Senate in the November general election and is therefore not entitled to a recount. The 27-page opinion – which in places reads more like a lesson in English grammar and usage than a legal document – came in response to a motion by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly seeking a writ of mandamus and injunctive relief against the St. Croix District Board of Elections decision to recount Hansen’s vote. The opinion can be read here. Willocks denied Hansen’s motion to dismiss O’Reilly’s motion, granted the writ of mandamus, ordered the Board of Elections to deny Hansen’s petition for a recount, and ordered that any actions taken as a result of the petition for recount be null and void. The decision appears to put an end to the circuitous and convoluted case that had its roots in 2008, when Hansen was convicted on three counts of willful failure to file an income tax return. Under the Revised Organic Act, the federal legislation which provides the legal underpinning of the territory, the conviction made her ineligible to serve in the Legislature.
It cost around $33,000 more to run the vote-by-mail election this year than a similar election in 2010, but Cache County says it’s worth it compared to the cost of replacing 395 voting machines. “At first glance, that actually cost us more to do it that way,” said County Finance Director Cameron Jensen, referring to the mail-in ballots. “The problem, what becomes savings in my mind, is we are at a place with our equipment that we’re not replacing it.” The county set aside $850,000 in replacement funds in the mid-2000s, when they last purchased voting machines. At that time, the machines were paid for by a federal grant, the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The act, created in response to the Bush-Gore recount debacle in the 2000 election, helped pay for a slew of new electronic voting machines across the country and replaced old, unreliable machines. These machines are now over a decade old and need replacing, but there are no federal funds this time. As a result, Jensen said by-mail voting is a better long-term investment for electioneering in Cache County.