President Barack Obama tonight urged Congress to take up patent reform and to restore the Voting Rights Act in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that he said “weakened” the anti-discrimination law. … On the Voting Rights Act, Obama took an indirect swipe at the Supreme Court’s ruling—in Shelby County v. Holder—that voided a provision of the law. The author of the high court’s opinion—Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.—was one of five justices who attended the State of the Union. The ruling struck down the part of the law that determined which jurisdictions were required to submit electoral changes for preclearance from a federal court or the U.S. Department of Justice.
A sensible election administration reform is quietly sweeping the nation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states have implemented or recently adopted online voter registration, either initiating a new registration or updating an old one. Twelve other states have legislation winding its way through the legislative process. The reform is bipartisan in that both Democratic- and Republican-controlled state governments have adopted it, from Arizona to Maryland. Legislators are attracted to online voter registration because it offers substantial election administration savings. Arizona, the first state to adopt online voter registration in 2002, reports that over 70 percent of registrations are now conducted online. The old paper system cost 83 cents to process each registration form, compared to 3 cents for the online system. The online system is more reliable than the paper system, reducing data entry errors that can disenfranchise voters and introduce other election administration costs when communications — such as absentee ballots — from election officials to voters are sent to a bad address. With state and local governments strapped for cash, online voter registration can reduce election administration costs by millions of dollars while simultaneously improving the integrity of the system. And for those who are concerned about fraud, federal law requires first time registrants to provide identification before they are allowed to vote.
Errors in state records could be denying legitimate voters the right to cast ballots, a Republican county election official from northern Iowa said. Three voters were wrongly denied the right to vote in Cerro Gordo County in northern Iowa in the 2012 presidential election, and Auditor Ken Kline said he wants an investigation to figure out how it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. One person who was never convicted of a felony and two ex-felons whose voting rights had been restored were denied votes in the election after Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s office confirmed the three were on a list of ineligible voters, Kline told The Des Moines Register for a story published Thursday. Schultz’s spokesman said his office relied on information provided by Iowa court officials and concerns about the accuracy of the list of ineligible felons should be addressed to the courts.
Nebraska legislators are weighing a bill that would reinstate a “winner-take-all” system of awarding presidential electoral votes. The state’s unicameral legislature is in its second day of debating a bill that would scrap Nebraska’s two-decade-old system of awarding one electoral vote per congressional district and two electoral votes to the statewide winner. Nebraska, which has three districts and five electoral votes, and Maine are the only two states that eschew the winner-take-all system and use this district-based system instead.
A judge made a host of mistakes in deciding to throw out the Pennsylvania’s requirement that voters display photo identification, lawyers for Gov. Tom Corbett argued in a court filing Monday. The team of private lawyers and the attorney general’s office asked in 39 pages of post-trial arguments that the law be reinstated, the decision revised or a new trial ordered. The filing says Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrongly decided the law was unconstitutional because of how it was implemented, and took issue with his rejection of a Department of State-created ID card. “The statute cannot be declared facially unconstitutional based solely on flaws found in the executive’s reading or administration of the statute,” Corbett’s lawyers argued. McGinley ruled Jan. 17 that the law did not further the goal of free and fair elections, saying it lacked a viable means to make photo IDs easily available.
Virginia localities may continue to use touch-screen voting machines at the polls beyond the 2014 election. A proposal that would have forced precincts to replace the touch-screen machines, formally known as direct recording electronic machines, with optical scan tabulators by November was defeated this morning in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Several panel members voiced concern with the financial burden. Some lawmakers prefer optical scan machines because they preserve a paper record of the ballots. The measure, sponsored by Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudoun, would have created a fund to help localities cover half of the cost of new tabulators. Under current law, local electoral boards are not permitted to replace old DREs with new equipment but they are allowed to use their old machines as long as they keep them operating.
Here’s a very interesting development that suggests Dems are beginning to take the war over voting far more seriously than in the past — and are gearing up for a protracted struggle over voting access that could make a real difference in 2016. A group of leading Democratic strategists is launching a new political action committee that will raise money for a very specific purpose: Getting Democratic secretaries of state who favor expanded voting elected in four states — Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada. Jeremy Bird, a national field director for Obama’s presidential campaign, tells me the effort will aim to raise in the “significant seven figures” to spend on just those four races (read more about the races right here). That could have a real impact, Bird says, because the average secretary of state candidate in such races spends an average of $500,000 total. The group’s board of directors has ties into the world of Obama and Clinton donors.
Earlier this week, law professors Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis contributed a piece to Politico Magazine making The Case Against Early Voting. … This piece isn’t unique; indeed, the proposal to expand early voting seems to have struck more of a nerve than the endorsement of online voter registration. But this piece is especially curious because it seems to focus on one criticism of early voting that was more prevalent years ago – namely, the loss of the experience of a single day of voting. … This argument, which was popular a decade ago, is undercut by research by Paul Gronke and othersshowing that early voters are not only more partisan but less undecided, meaning that they have no interest in “taking in the full back and forth of the campaign.” It also flies in the face of voters, well, voting with their feet by choosing to cast ballots outside of the traditional polling place. There are, to be sure, evidence-based arguments that early voting isn’t the turnout machine it’s often sold to be – indeed, Barry Burden and three colleagues have a provocative new paper that suggests that early voting actually DECREASES turnout in the absence of opportunities for same-day registration. There is also a growing realization of the need to do cost-benefit analyses of lengthy voting periods and identify the best time to open the process when significant numbers of voters are ready to take advantage of early voting.
A House panel took the first step Thursday toward repealing a controversial election law that opponents had successfully referred to voters on the November ballot. On a 4-2 vote, the House Judiciary Committee repealed last year’s package of election changes over the objections of referendum supporters, who say they want their referendum — a repeal of sorts — to proceed because they don’t trust the Legislature will leave elections procedures untouched. “We do not want to see it repealed and re-enacted piecemeal, and that does seem to be the intent,” Sandy Bahr told committee members. Bahr is a member of the coalition that gathered the 146,000 signatures needed to repeal last year’s House Bill 2305.
Miami-Dade voters endured lines up to seven hours long during the last presidential election in part because the county delayed a key once-a-decade decision to evenly divide voters among precincts. Now, with a looming gubernatorial election in November, the county plans to delay the decision once again. Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, said Thursday they have decided to push back “re-precincting” until early 2015. The reason: The county thinks the reshuffle would be too much to handle in the same year that Miami-Dade plans to install new electronic sign-in books at every polling place. “We’re trying to cram in too much at one time,” Gimenez told his elections advisory group Thursday. “We don’t want to create that confusion.” That’s the same reason Gimenez and Townsley, after consulting with county commissioners, decided against the new precincts in early 2012. The uneven distribution contributed to the long lines, as did the 10- to 12-page ballot and fewer early-voting days.
Hungarians residing permanently outside their country may help Viktor Orban score a higher win in this year’s parliamentary election after they were given the right to vote. Mr. Orban is headed for a second consecutive term in power. His Fidesz party won the 2010 election in a landslide. Its two-thirds majority in the country’s parliament has allowed it to push through at-times controversial legislation, including a change of electoral rules that allows Hungarian minorities in other countries to vote in national elections. Depending on the turnout in Hungary, their votes could be decisive, experts agree. So far, only those with a permanent residence in the country could vote at the elections, casting their votes at embassies. Legislation by the current government extended voting rights to those without a permanent address in Hungary.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s office said Thursday it is willing to work to fix a problem that led to three northern Iowa voters having their ballots tossed out of the 2012 election. Meanwhile, officials in several county auditors’ offices said that although they think the problem experienced by the three is rare — or at least that it hadn’t happened in their jurisdictions — they recognize the statewide voter database that improperly included their names has errors. “The important thing is now that we know there was this flaw that exists, we’re going to work with the Secretary of State’s office to fix it,” said Eric Van Lancker, the Clinton County auditor who is president of the state auditor association. About 46,000 people are on the database of felons who are prohibited from voting.
The House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday to allow an enhanced early-voting system in Maine, but the 92-56 vote was several short of the two-thirds margin that will be needed for final passage. The bill, L.D. 156, sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, would change the Maine Constitution to give cities and towns the option of allowing in-person voting before Election Day. It does not specify how long before Election Day voting could take place. The same bill received majority votes in the House and Senate last year, but fell short of the two-thirds margin in both chambers. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, held the bill before it failed final passage last year and brought it back for the current session.
Four years ago, Sharron Angle gave to Democrats the greatest gift they could have asked for in the campaign, assuring through her nomination that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be re-elected. Now, Angle is about to prove that she is the gift that keeps on giving. Or so some opponents of voter ID would hope as Nevada, inevitably, becomes a focal point of the national, partisan battle over voter suppression laws. In the space of 24 hours, Angle announced her voter ID initiative and ex-Obama campaign grassroots guru Jeremy Bird declared that Nevada is one of four states his new group fighting such tactics will focus on. This is about 2014, but more about 2016. This is a partisan conflagration, as Republicans grow increasingly fearful of increasing minority participation while Democrats want to expand access, preferably to their voters. And this is an issue that no one in elective office or on the ballot should be able to avoid, especially if Angle qualifies her petition and Republican Secretary of State hopeful Barbara Cegavske, the state senator, continues to emphasize “the integrity of elections in Nevada.”
With the Hamilton County Board of Elections members in a 2-2 political deadlock over a proposal to move its headquarters to the former Mercy Hospital in Mt. Airy in the College Hill area. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted may be the one to cast the deciding vote. The stalemate came at the Jan. 27 Board of Elections meeting following a public hearing on the issue, during which Republicans and Democrats expressed the pros and cons of it. Speakers on the Republican side said the move would be a sound financial decision in that it saves the county $700,000 in annual rental now paid for the Downtown office on Broadway, and Democrats opposed it as another move to suppress and disenfranchise voters. The Mt. Airy site is offered at no cost to the County. Cincinnati City Council members are unanimously against the move, following a vote on the issue.
Oregon: Republican National Committee actions may lead GOP to seek earlier Oregon primary | OregonLive.com
The Republican National Committee, unhappy with the way its nominating contest stretched out in 2012, is planning major changes for 2016 that could push Oregon Republicans to seek an earlier date for the state’s presidential primary. At least that’s what Greg Leo, a former Oregon GOP chief of staff and informal adviser to the party, thinks. “The Legislature’s going to have to look at moving up the primary” from its traditional mid-May date, said Leo after the national committee voted last week for a series of rules changes revamping the nominating calendar.
The European Commission has today issued guidance to EU-Member States which have rules in place leading to a loss of voting rights for citizens in national elections, simply because they have exercised their right to free movement in the EU. Five Member States (Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and the United Kingdom) currently apply regimes which have that effect. Whilst under the existing EU Treaties, Member States are competent to determine who can benefit from the right to vote in national elections, disenfranchisement practices can negatively affect EU free movement rights. Disenfranchisement practices are also at odds with the founding premise of EU citizenship which is meant to give citizens additional rights, rather than depriving them of rights. The European Parliament Office in Malta in Malta has said that “as an EU expat living in Malta you can vote for the 2014 European Elections in Malta.” “Closing date for registration is 31 March 2014. You’ll need an ID card or residence document from the Citizenship & Expatriate Affairs Department in Valletta: www.electoral.gov.mt.” Then the Application Form, to be registered in the European Union Electoral Register as a voter for the Election of Members of the European Parliament, is available for download here.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe remains silent on whether he will automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons. After two house bills (HB 7 and HB 556 ) that would have implemented automatic restoration of rights were killed Monday, the governor remains the only authority able to restore voting rights to felons under current law. Despite campaign promises, McAuliffe has made no formal announcement about whether or not he will continue the automated process that former Gov. Bob McDonnell set up in the final months of his administration. The restoration of rights webpage on the governor’s website hasn’t been updated since McAuliffe took office, and the hotline goes unanswered. Advocates remain hopeful despite the governor’s silence.
When its four candidates for European elections were unveiled in November, the European Green Party showcased its contenders with an air of optimism. By the time the victors were declared two months later, however, that enthusiasm had deflated. Even the winners, Franziska Keller and Jose Bove, were hardly in a celebratory mood. Barely more than 22,000 EU citizens used the Green mobilization experiment, “Green Primary,” from which the two top Green candidates were selected from four to represent the Greens in the upcoming European elections. With a total of 375 million voters across the EU, the paltry participation numbers were a flop. The Greens had originally set to mobilize 100,000 participants – a far cry from actual turnout.
Political campaign messages disappeared from mass media at midnight Wednesday, the official start of an electoral campaign ban ordered by Costa Rica’s Electoral Code. The law stipulates that all paid messages must be suspended three days before Election Day and during Sunday’s vote. The ban includes airing or printing of paid propaganda in newspapers, radio, television and on the Web. However, during the 2010 elections the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) ruled that in the case of Internet messages, the restriction only applies to the online publication of paid ads or banners, meaning candidates are allowed to post messages in free platforms such as social networks.
The February 2 election is set to trigger a lengthy legal battle between the two rival political camps, which are ignoring the negative consequences of the country being dragged into a power vacuum. It is quite certain that the February 2 election will be held, with the likely consequence being that voting cannot be carried out in many constituencies and provinces. No one knows when the voting in these provinces will be able to take place, or how many rounds of advance voting and absentee voting will be carried out, given that anti-government protesters are determined to block the elections. The possibility of completing the whole process of the February 2 poll is thus inevitably thrown into doubt. This may not be surprising; some political parties have rejected it from the very start. Legal specialists such as former Senate speaker Meechai Ruchuphan and People’s Democratic Reform Committee leader Suthep Thaugsuban believe that the solution is to nullify the election – with the April 2, 2006 election serving as an example.
Thailand’s tense national election got underway Sunday with protesters forcing the closure of several polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded. The extent of disruptions was not immediately clear when polls opened nationwide. But there were early indications that several hundred polling stations in Bangkok and southern Thailand, an opposition stronghold, could not open because protesters had blocked the delivery of ballots or stopped voters from entering. The outcome will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.
A multiagency effort is underway to modernize the mail delivery system to improve delivery of election materials to military and overseas voters, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program said here today. Matt Boehmer testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on how the Defense Department is improving ballot accessibility. “The Military Postal Service Agency is serving as the lead agency in an effort with the Department of State and the United States Postal Service to lead an effort to modernize military mail delivery,” he said. Boehmer said the department recognized the time required to redirect mail once it has arrived overseas hinders the ability to cast an absentee ballot. “The system will redirect election material to military and diplomatic addresses similar to how the civilian change-of-address system works,” he said, noting it should be available in October. Boehmer noted Congress and the judicial system repeatedly have affirmed that voting is a citizen’s most fundamental right. “The Federal Voting Assistance Program is committed to two voting assistance tenets: promoting the awareness of the right to vote, and eliminating barrier for those who choose to exercise that right,” he said.
To the delight of anyone who’s ever waited in line to cast a vote, a bipartisan election commission convened by President Barack Obama concluded last week that states across the country should increase their use of early voting. As the Presidential Commission on Election Administration notes in its new report, “no excuse” early voting — meaning it is open even to those who don’t qualify for an absentee ballot — has grown rapidly in recent decades in what the commission called a “quiet revolution.” In the 2012 election, almost one-third of ballots were cast early — more than double those cast in 2000 — and 32 states now permit the practice, allowing citizens to vote an average of 19 days before Election Day. The commission rightly notes that early voting has its advantages for individual voters — not just avoiding long lines, but in many cases also getting to vote on weekends without having to miss work or school. But early voting run amok is bad for democracy. The costs to collective self-governance — which the report refers to only in passing, in a single sentence — substantially outweigh the benefits. Instead of expanding the practice, we should use this moment as an opportunity to establish clear limits on it before it becomes the norm.
Election commissioners in Craighead County have suggested a change in Arkansas’ voter ID law, saying they received conflicting advice on how to treat absentee ballots submitted during a recent special election. The local panel said the State Board of Election Commissioners told them voters were required to present a valid form of identification when turning in ballots during a special state Senate election this month, and that any that came in without a proper ID should be rejected. The secretary of state told the Craighead County Election Commission to give voters a period of time to show a proper ID after submitting an absentee ballot. Craighead County Election Commission Chairman Scott McDaniel said the panel chose to wait and give voters extra time. In a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe, Secretary of State Mark Martin, the Election Commissioners Board and numerous state senators and representatives, the Craighead County panel said it was concerned that, in the future, different counties would follow different procedures involving the same race.
A Republican official says errors by the state election office wrongly prevented three Iowans from voting in the presidential election last fall. And this evening, state lawmakers are calling for an investigation. Ken Kline, the Cerro Gordo County auditor, reports that three ex-felons or non-felons were mistakenly included on a list of felons who are ineligible to vote in Iowa but the problem wasn’t caught until after it was too late to include their ballots in the official tally. In a letter on Tuesday to Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, a Republican, Kline expressed dismay and suggested that something be done to ensure that other names werent incorrectly included on the list of 46,000 felons. “I enjoy my job, and take pride in serving as county auditor in Iowa, where we have a strong history of fair and impartial elections,” Kline wrote in the letter. “One thing I dislike intensely is when I have to send a letter to a voter, notifying the voter his or her ballot was rejected. To have rejected a ballot based on an error or incorrect information is troubling, to say the least.”
Nebraska: Filibuster likely to sink Nebraska’s electoral votes winner-take-all bill | Omaha World Herald
There have been at least 10 unsuccessful attempts at overturning Nebraska’s unique system of awarding its Electoral College votes for president by congressional district. And, as a legislative filibuster against the latest attempt to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system droned on Wednesday morning, it appeared more and more likely that 2014 would be the latest failed effort. “It’s ‘good night Irene’ for this bill. There will not be a vote on it,” said State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Chambers, a registered independent, has pledged an all-out filibuster against Legislative Bill 382, which has sparked a partisan political debate about how best to gain presidential campaign attention for a small state like Nebraska. The bill would have the state join the 48 states that award all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gains the most votes statewide. Right now, Nebraska and Maine are the only states that award their electoral votes to the top vote-getter in each congressional district.
A lawsuit that alleges Albany County didn’t do enough in 2011 to create a new election district made up mostly of minority voters can go forward, a judge ruled. In a decision issued Tuesday, Judge Lawrence E. Kahn ruled there are enough black residents in a compact geographic area in the county to create a fifth minority district, allowing the case to proceed to trial. The plaintiffs — who include local NAACP leader Anne Pope and former County Legislator Wanda Willingham — brought the action seeking to invalidate the 2011 redistricting map by arguing the 2010 census showed a growth in the minority population, and therefore, minority representation should have been increased to five legislators out of 39 from the current of four. The suit says the county violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
After months of acrimony, including legal battles and harsh words, Secretary of State Jason Gant and a group advocating for Native American voting rights have reached a tentative agreement. In a meeting Wednesday in Pierre, Gant, representatives of the nonprofit Four Directions, and a collection of county auditors and other stakeholders agreed on a framework to spend state money to open early voting places in Native American population centers. The plan could “if not double, even triple” voter participation in several Native-dominated communities, said O.J. Semans, Four Directions’ executive director. At issue are Buffalo, Dewey and Jackson counties, where Indian reservations are dozens of miles from the county courthouses, where early voting takes place. That means taking advantage of South Dakota’s weeks of early voting requires long car rides for many residents of the poorest communities in the state.
Texas: 200,000 Dallas County voters warned of possible problems under new ID law | Dallas Morning News
Nearly 200,000 Dallas County voters have been told of possible problems with their identification, as county elections officials work to resolve complications arising from Texas’ new voter ID law before the March primary. The county elections department mailed out letters on Friday to alert voters to potential conflicts resulting from one part of the contentious law: the requirement that a voter’s name on a valid photo ID must exactly match the name listed in the voter registration database. That requirement could be particularly nettlesome for women, who are more likely to have changed their names after getting married or for other reasons, such as adopting their maiden names as middle names. The issue surfaced in the November election, when some voters complained about having to deal at the polls with name discrepancies. Those hiccups didn’t prevent anyone from voting. Elections officials created a relatively simple way to resolve the problem on the spot, but that added time to the act of voting. The letters — sent at a cost of $79,000 — represent a push by the county to allow voters to square things away before the March 4 primary. There’s a short form to fill out to reconcile differences between how names are listed on photo IDs and in the county’s voter database. The mailing offers the best glimpse yet of the scope and nature of ID problems among Dallas County’s 1.2 million registered voters.