Sen. Tom Courtney isn’t giving up. The Burlington Democrat is turning to the U.S. Senate in his fight against Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s federally funded investigation of alleged voter fraud. But what he’s asking for is going to be hard to get. Courtney is asking that the Senate appoint enough members to the Election Assistance Commission for it to function. Such a request may seem like a no-brainer. But the four-member federal panel, created in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 presidential election to help with election administration, currently doesn’t have a single commissioner. As the Election Assistance Commission said in its 2012 annual report, it hasn’t had a quorum since 2010. So far, that doesn’t appear to be changing. One of President Barack Obama’s nominees has been waiting two years for the Senate to act on her appointment. The other nominee has been waiting for three years. Many Republicans don’t even think the commission should exist and, the GOP leadership hasn’t put any names forward to serve on what was created as a bipartisan panel.
Nearly half the states in the country passed laws restricting the right to vote in the five years leading up to the last presidential election, with most of them in the South, according to a study recently released by two professors from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien, professors of sociology and political science, respectively, found that race, class, and political partisanship influenced the push for a raft of restrictive laws from 2006 to 2011. The study, published last month, found that during the five years preceding the 2012 election, nearly every state proposed a voting law that would have, in some way, restricted access to casting ballots or registering to vote. Almost half of states passed such a law, the study said. From 2006 to 2011, according to the study, restrictive voter access policies were more likely to be proposed in states with larger African-American and immigrant populations, and where voter turnout among minority and low-income voters had increased during presidential elections.
Editorials: Want to Rock the Vote? Fill the Election Assistance Commission. | Abby Rapoport/American Prospect
Just days after the 2013 elections, former Congresswoman Mary Bono and I were on MSNBC discussing voter-ID laws. A moderate Republican, Bono tried hard to shift the focus to a universally hated aspect of American elections—the lines. “There should be no reason there should be long lines, ever,” she said. “Why [can’t they] orchestrate and engineer a solution that you get to the polls, and there’s 15 minutes, guaranteed in and out, and you vote?” It’s a good question. Even if we forget about the disturbing rash of voting restrictions—the ID laws, the cutbacks to early voting, the efforts to make it harder to register—a basic problem remains: We don’t invest enough in our elections. Across the country, machines are old and breaking down, and we’re failing to use new technology that could clean up our voter rolls and make it easier to predict—and thus prevent—those long lines. The odds of Congress allocating the billions it would take to help localities buy new voting machines and solve other voting problems are slim to none. But there’s already an agency in place that can help jurisdictions run better elections. All Congress has to do is allow it to function. But for House Republicans, that’s asking too much.
Voting Blogs: New Pew Issue Brief Drills Down on State Implementation of Online Voter Registration | Election Academy
No development in recent years has had a bigger impact on election administration than online voter registration. As more and more states make OVR available, the process by which citizens create or update their voter record is fundamentally changing. At this stage in OVR’s expansion, however, we have reached the point where it is not only possible but desirable to look past simply IF a state has OVR and ask HOW IT WORKS. That’s why I was so delighted to see yesterday’s release of a new Pew issue brief dedicated to online voter registration.
Editorials: Colorado’s terrible election law has real-world consequences | Jon Caldara/Greeley Tribune
I’m not going to jail, at least not for voting. That means good news for me, and a chance to keep Coloradans’ trust in our election results, but only if the new General Assembly is willing to act on the terrible election law passed last year. While anti-gun legislation dominated the media during the last Colorado legislative session, the most dangerous bill passed was a revamp of our voting laws. Thanks to House Bill 1303, Colorado is now the poster child for sloppy election law. Not only does a cable TV or phone bill serve as a valid form of voter identification, but we’re also the only state in the country that has both all mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration. Under the new law our ballots, including yours, are flung through the mail like grocery-store coupons, whether you want them delivered that way to you or not. As the news site CompleteColorado.com reported, ballots in the last election were readily found in trash cans and apartment mail rooms, just ready to be harvested.
An Iowa senator asked a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday to confirm appointees to a federal election commission so a decision can be made about whether Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz is properly using money for voter fraud investigations. Schultz, a Republican, last year agreed to pay the Iowa Division of Criminal investigation up to $280,000 over two years to investigate voter fraud. A review of those voter fraud investigations last month by The Des Moines Register found fewer than 20 cases in which charges were brought against alleged cheats and just five cases in which Iowans were convicted of election-related offenses. Sen. Tom Courtney, a Democrat, questions whether the use of the money sent to Iowa as part of the Help America Vote Act was legal. Courtney said the funds are intended for education about voting procedures, voter rights and technology, and not for “a voter fraud goose chase.”
Voter turnout in Michigan’s last presidential election was 63%, better than the national average of about 57%, but far below turnout in Georgia, at 72%, or Maryland, 74%. The difference between the states? Georgia and Maryland are among the 28 states that allow something called “no-reason absentee voting.” In Michigan and in 21 other states, voters who would like to vote absentee must present a reason to be allowed to do so. To receive an absentee ballot a voter must be 60 or older, unable to vote at a poll without assistance, plan to be out of town, in jail awaiting arraignment or trail, working as an election inspector or unable to vote at a poll for religious reasons. And because Michigan is also one of a small number of states that don’t offer early voting, folks who can’t make the wait have few options.
Pennsylvania’s candidate nominating petitions are getting a facelift. The Department of State is taking the process into the 21st century with new petition forms meant to streamline form submission and review. Candidates will be able to fill out their information in the preamble before printing them and will be issued a unique barcode. Previously, candidates and campaign staffers had to individually fill out each form or have them photocopied. Candidates still need to have their signatures completed in hard copy and then have those forms notarized, but a new QR code on the form will allow the Department to count the signatures electronically.
Bangladesh: Another beating: Sheikh Hasina plans to hang on to office after an electoral farce | The Economist
It is becoming hard to know whether Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister, is a cynically good actress or cut off from political reality. Smiling before journalists in Dhaka, the capital, on January 6th, she chided opposition parties for their “mistake” in boycotting general elections the day before, then waved aside doubts over the legitimacy of her victory. Either way, her country’s democracy is in a rotten state. Of a potential electorate of 92m (out of more than 150m people), only a minority turned out. The government says just under 40% voted in contested seats; others think much less. It does not give Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL), which has ruled since 2009, much of a basis for another term. Many polling stations saw almost no voters, then suspiciously large numbers of ballots cast late in the day. Of the 300 constituencies, just over half, 153, had no contest at all, since only AL candidates or allies registered. In the capital voting took place in just nine of 20 seats.
The 7 members of the Electoral Commission have been announced today after being appointed by President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Those who will make up the 7 member Electoral Commission were revealed by the Attorney General and Minister for Elections Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum this afternoon. The Commission is made up of 7 prominent citizens from various walks of life headed by its Chair, leading legal practitioner Chen Bunn Young, who is a former President of the Fiji Law Society. The other members are academic Professor Vijay Naidu of USP, the tourism industry leader and marketing expert James Sowane, accountant and financial advisor Jenny Seeto, the filmmaker and media specialist Larry Thomas, electoral expert and priest Father David Arms and the educationalist and civil society leader Alisi Daurewa.
The Election Commission has decided not to pursue its proposed tie-up with internet giant Google after concerns over national security were raised from several quarters, including major parties. US-based Google had earlier this week made a formal presentation to the Election Commission proposing a tie-up with it for voter facilitation services ahead of Lok Sabha elections. The Commission, at its meeting here today which was attended by Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath and Election Commissioners H.S. Brahma and S.N.A. Zaidi, deliberated on the issue and decided not to go ahead. “After due consideration, the Commission has decided not to pursue it any further,” said an EC official.
Tunisia’s national assembly appointed an electoral council on Wednesday to oversee elections this year, a key step in the country’s transition to democracy three years after its “Arab Spring” uprising. Selecting the nine-member electoral council was a key part of an agreement to overcome months of political crisis between the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, and its secular opposition over how to shape the country’s young democracy. “Congratulations to the Tunisian people for the election of these nine members. It was a tough task, but we have overcome differences,” Meherzia Laabidi, deputy president of the assembly, said at the end of voting. Under the deal brokered late last year to end deadlock, Tunisia’s government plans to resign shortly and hand over power to a non-political caretaker cabinet that will govern until new elections later this year.
At first sight, the suggestion from the Electoral Commission that voters should be required to show photographic ID at polling stations appears sensible. On closer examination, it is not so straightforward. The rationale for the move is to reduce the incidence of electoral fraud. Yet the latter is, as Jenny Watson, chairman of the commission, pointed out, fairly unusual. So before the entire population is required to provide such ID, there should surely be a greater effort to clamp down on fraud where it is known to exist. The commission identifies 16 “suspect” areas and makes the point that some communities, “specifically those with roots in parts of Pakistan or Bangladesh”, are particularly vulnerable to the practice. Yet politicians are reluctant to say so, not least because when they do, the roof caves in – as Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, found a few weeks ago when he raised the issue in an interview with this newspaper.
North Carolina: Why A Majority-Minority Congressional District May Go Unrepresented For An Entire Year | ThinkProgress
A quirk of North Carolina’s election law may leave voters in the state’s 12th Congressional district without representation until 2015. Though Rep. Mel Watt (D) resigned his seat on the first day of the legislative year to become director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Governor Pat McCrory (R) announced Monday that his replacement will not be elected until November 4. The 12th District, which includes a long swath of central North Carolina running from Charlotte to Greensboro, has a majority of voters who are minorities. McCrory ordered a primary be held on May 6, 2014, the regularly scheduled date for North Carolina primary elections. If none of the candidates receives more than 40 percent of the vote, the second place candidate can request a runoff, which would be held on July 15 (the same day reserved for any regularly scheduled primary runoffs). This situation is quite possible, given that several candidates are reportedly seeking the Democratic nomination in this heavily Democratic district. The general election, again coinciding with the already scheduled state elections, will be held on November 4 — after all of the 2014 session is over, save for a possible lame-duck session. Oddly, the governor’s official writ of election did not include a provision for holding the general election in July if a runoff is not requested. Such a provision could potentially have vastly sped up the process. With the new Representative set to be elected on the same day in the normal general election, it is possible that the 12th District special election winner could serve for just for a lame-duck session — or never be sworn-in at all. McCrory’s office did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress request for information about the writ.