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, also 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.