America enters the election year 2014 with considerable uncertainty about two major constitutional issues: what will the rules be for financing the federal campaign, and what is the outlook for minority and poor voters at the ballot box? Two controversial Supreme Court decisions will have a continuing impact: the ruling four years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder. It is not too much to say that the money side of national politics has been turned upside down by the Citizens United decision – a ruling that, after a century of restrictions on political financing by corporations and labor unions, turned them loose to spend as much as they liked as long as they did so independently from candidates running for Congress and the Presidency.
In just a few weeks Minnesotans will attend their party caucuses as part of the process of selecting the candidates who will run for governor and other constitutional offices, U.S. Senator and House of Representatives, and the Minnesota House of Representatives, among other positions. Yet if the past is any indication of what will happen, very few individuals will attend these caucuses–some by choice–but others will be excluded by economic or practical necessity, without the option of participating by absentee voting or through technologies that would make it possible to engage, even halfway around the world. The exclusionary nature of Minnesota’s caucus system questions what the right to vote really means. Who gets to participate in our political system and how is among the topics I address in my new book, Election Law and Democratic Theory, published this month by Ashgate Publishing. It is if not the first at least one of the first books that makes a simple argument–election law are the rules that make democracy possible.
The legislative session that begins Jan. 13 will be quicker than any in recent years, and that will create a wave of changes that will ripple through Georgia. When the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state for not allowing ample time for voters overseas with the military to get their ballots counted, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ decision last year created the tidal wave. He agreed with the DOJ that the primary runoff period wasn’t sufficiently long enough to get ballots from soldiers, sailors and airmen in time to be counted before the runoff voting begins. Jones decreed that the primary must be held no later than June 3 rather than the July 15 date in state law. So, state leaders wanting to avoid low turnouts during the Memorial Day period picked May 24 as the date they’ll ask the legislature to set into law.
The special election in North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District will be held along with the state’s regular elections, leaving the seat empty for what appears to be a record length of time. Gov. Pat McCrory made the announcement Monday hours after Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte was sworn in as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Before a ceremonial White House ceremony, Watt was sworn in by his Charlotte protege, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The special election to fill his seat will involve the first special primary election in the state’s history, according to legislative counsel Gerry Cohen.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announced a Nov. 4 special election to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt, ensuring the contest coincides with previously scheduled elections in the Tar Heel State. The 12th District primary — which will mostly likely determine the next member of Congress from this deeply Democratic district — will be held May 6. A runoff is scheduled for July 15. “Because of the various filing deadlines, ballot preparation time, state and federal calendar requirements for ballot access, voter registration deadlines and to avoid voter confusion, it was determined the most efficient process would be to roll the special election into the already established primary and general election dates,” a news release from McCrory’s office said.
The validity of North Carolina’s legislative and congressional maps is back in the hands of the state Supreme Court as attorneys argued Monday whether the boundaries comply with federal and state laws and previous court opinions. The court’s seven justices offered few of their own questions during 90 minutes of arguments over the districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 for the General Assembly and North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation. As usual, the justices gave no indication when they would rule. Many arguments focused upon redistricting decisions the state’s highest court had released over the past 10-plus years for previous boundaries. Thousands of pages of motions, briefs and background have been filed by lawyers since this round of redistricting litigation began in late 2011. “I’m not sure there’s anything left unsaid here,” said Special Deputy Attorney General Alec Peters, defending the maps for the state.
Street protests in three Asian countries — Cambodia, Bangladesh and Thailand — are a vivid reminder of the fragile state of democracy in many developing countries, particularly those that do not have independent judiciaries and professional police forces and militaries. While the immediate causes for the turmoil are different in each country, they share several shortcomings. The lack of sufficient democratic checks and balances in all three countries has undermined faith in elections and helped to create the conditions for civil unrest. Autocratic and corrupt political leaders have used government agencies, in some cases over decades, to serve themselves and their cronies.
Bangladesh’s governing party celebrated its victory in general elections on Monday, dismissing critics who said the vote’s legitimacy was undercut by violence, low turnout and the absence of the country’s main opposition force from the ballots. The party, the Awami League, won 232 of the 300 seats in Bangladesh’s new Parliament, about half of the victors unopposed. Partial results published by Bangladesh’s Election Commission put the average turnout on Sunday at 39.8 percent, though that figure appeared to have been padded by an influx of pro-government activists who arrived at polling stations shortly before they closed. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, receiving journalists in her home on Monday, put the blame on the main opposition force, the Bangladesh National Party, which boycotted the election and carried out a campaign to discourage turnout. Some observers had hoped that the poor results would force the warring parties to negotiate a new, more inclusive round of elections. But Mrs. Hasina took a tough tone on Monday, saying she would not enter talks unless the opposition first renounced violence.
At least 18 people were killed in elections in Bangladesh on Jan. 5, in a bloody culmination to months of violent protest. With an opposition-led boycott of the vote leaving 153 out of 300 parliament seats uncontested, the foregone conclusion that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League (AL) would remain in power translated into an abysmal voter turnout of some 20%, according to early reports. News of widespread violence on voting day kept many voters away. Though the streets of the capital city of Dhaka remained relatively quiet on Sunday, dozens of voting booths around the country were reportedly set on fire over the weekend. Other voters were simply disillusioned with the whole process. “It’s a very bad situation,” said Mohammed Abdul Salam, a businessman in Dhaka, who did not vote. “We have no choice.”
Just over a year ago, Egyptians living abroad voted in a referendum on a new constitution put forward by an elected Muslim Brotherhood-led government, which was ousted by the army last July following a period of violent unrest. Starting on January 8, thousands of people are expected to visit Egyptian embassies worldwide to cast ballots on another draft constitution. This one is supported by Egypt’s military-backed interim government, which – by banning Islamist parties and scrapping parts of the former government’s legislation – reflects the shift in power in Egypt. Expatriates will be able to vote until January 12, ahead of the referendum at home which is slated for January 14-15. “It’s essential that everyone votes in this referendum, whatever their vote may be,” said Sabry Fahmy, an Egyptian who lives in Doha, Qatar. “Whether it’s in favour of or against the constitution, your vote must be made. For us abroad, taking part in these polls has been one of our main gains from this saga.” About 2.7 million Egyptians live outside the country, according to the International Organisation on Migration, but other reports peg the figure far higher – closer to eight million.
Fiji: Academic says Fiji needs to set up an Electoral Commission as soon as possible | Islands Business
An Auckland University political scientist says the Fiji Government needs to set up an Electoral Commission as soon as possible, in preparation for the country’s approaching elections. A general election is promised for September but the members for the commission and an election supervisor are yet to be appointed. Stephen Ratuva says an Electoral Commission is needed soon. “Some names have been bandied around but nothing has been confirmed yet so they are still looking for people to be on the commission – that’s a very very important aspect of the electoral process – to have a commission in place and also the electoral regulations to be in place before the election. Because the electoral commission will basically look after the election process.”
Protesters trying to topple Thailand’s prime minister marched in Bangkok on Tuesday to drum up support for their plans to bring the capital to a halt next week by blockading major roads and preventing the government from functioning. Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called an election for February 2 but the protesters, aware she would probably win on the back of support in the rural north and northeast, want her to step down and be replaced by an appointed “people’s council” to push through electoral reforms. The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her self-exiled brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, a man they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who used taxpayers’ money to buy electoral support with costly populist giveaways.
Tunisia’s ruling Islamists are preparing to resign in the next few days to make way for a caretaker cabinet once government and opposition parties agree on the makeup of an electoral commission, mediators said on Tuesday. Three years after its uprising ousted veteran autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is in the final stages of its transition to full democracy after months of deadlock between Islamist and secular parties. Late last year, after a political crisis erupted, the ruling Islamist party Ennahda agreed to hand over power to a caretaker government once a new constitution was complete, an election committee named and a date for elections set. Tunisia’s national assembly last week began voting on the final parts of the new constitution, and parties on Tuesday were working out disagreements over composition of the election commission to oversee a vote later this year.
The Election Commission dropped plans on Thursday to partner Google Inc on a project to ease voter access to information, after a backlash against the move from campaigners who fear Google and the U.S. government could use it for spying. India, the world’s largest democracy, will go to the polls in a general election due by May. Google (GOOG.O), the world’s No.1 search engine, had pitched a project to the Election Commission to create a simpler and faster search tool for voters to check whether they were registered correctly or not. But the plan was opposed by the Indian Infosec Consortium, a government and private sector-backed alliance of cyber security experts, who feared Google would collaborate with “American agencies” for espionage purposes. The Election Commission did not officially give a reason for dropping the plan. But an official, who did not want to be named, told Reuters that Google’s proposal was not a major improvement on its existing website, and that Google’s involvement had drawn criticism in India.