Robert A. Pastor, an influential scholar and policymaker who spent decades working for better inter-American relations and democracy and free elections in the Western Hemisphere, has died after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 66. American University Provost Scott A. Bass announced the death on Thursday. A letter posted on the university website by Dean James Goldgeier of the university’s School of International Service, where Pastor was a professor, said he died Wednesday evening.
During his Senate hearing yesterday, Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s pick for Justice Department Civil Rights Division chief, was asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley if he would block state voter ID laws if confirmed. In his previous capacity, Adegible served as attorney and one-time acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been in litigation with Texas over its voter ID law for the past three years. Adegbile also twice argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the Voting Rights Act. Sen. Grassley’s question mistakenly assumed that the assistant attorney general could unilaterally veto a state’s law, through dictatorship or executive order or something. The role of the Assistant Attorney General is not “to determine in the first instance how states run their voting systems,” said Adegbile in response to Grassley. “It’s only in the context of a particular law that is passed that [it] then occasionally becomes subject to review either because of the way in which it was passed or because of its impact.”
Voting Blogs: Fundraising and Corruption in the Arguments about McCutcheon | More Soft Money Hard Law
Public Citizen attempts to make the case that the Supreme Court’s pending decision inMcCutcheon could, if wrongly decided, unleash a flood of money with the probable effect of corrupting the political process. The argument is the one heard before in briefs and in oral argument about joint fundraising committees. A donor who gives to a joint fundraising committee can write a check for millions, to be apportioned within the limits among all the joint fundraising participants. Public Citizen warns against “naïveté”: the more “practical” view it urges is that the officeholder who solicits for the joint fundraising committee risks corruptive indebtedness to the donor. This is a plausible policy argument, but not clearly one best directed to the Supreme Court or sufficient to carry the constitutional position Public Citizen is advocating. Public Citizen is relying on a hypothetical (which is another way of saying that no record exists to suggest that it is realistic) and on a particular understanding of corruption and fundraising that does not capture the complexities of Congress’ treatment of the issue in reform measures over the years.
Palmdale officials this week appealed a trial judge’s ruling that their at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act and said they will not hold new balloting in June. Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney ordered a new, district-based elections system for Palmdale and required that it hold a special election in June to replace the city’s November at-large election. He also ruled that the current council members could not stay in office beyond July 9. The appeal automatically stays the order for a new election but not the prohibition against current council members remaining in office, thus adding to the confusion that has beset the city since the court fight began over the elections system last spring.
California: Opening statements made in State Senator Rod Wright’s voter fraud trial | Los Angeles Times
State Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) deliberately misled voters and broke the law when he took steps to run for an Inglewood-area seat several years ago, a Los Angeles County prosecutor said Thursday during opening statements in Wright’s perjury and voter fraud trial. But Wright’s lead defense attorney said the veteran lawmaker acted properly and was the victim of a “murky” law governing residency rules for candidates and office holders. More than three years after his September 2010 indictment on eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud, Wright faced a nine-woman, three-man jury in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. Before the proceedings began, Wright’s attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said outside the courtroom that his client will testify in the case, which could take two to three weeks. Prosecutors, McKesson said, were “trying to make somebody a convicted felon for the most minor” of matters.
State Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, called for legislation Thursday that would limit the amount of time a congressional seat may remain vacant. Adams and other local leaders decried Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to hold a special election to fill the state’s 12th Congressional District seat on the same schedule as this year’s regular elections. Ryan Tronovitch, a spokesman for the governor’s office, declined to comment on Adams’ proposal. He said in an email that McCrory’s decision took into account several factors, including the estimated $1 million cost of holding a special election and the confusion that voters might experience with multiple primary and general election dates. U.S. Rep. Mel Watt resigned from the 12th District seat Monday when he was sworn in as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Under the special election schedule, 12th District residents won’t have a representative in Congress until November. Adams, who is running for the seat, called McCrory’s decision “shameful.”
Election Day on November 5 marked the first time Texas’ controversial voter ID laws were affected in the state. And the results were mixed. There is little evidence that the law suppressed voter turnout. Out of the state’s 13.4 million registered voters, only 1.1 million cast ballots in the 2013 election, about 8.5 percent of the electorate. Compare this to 2011 and 2009, other election “off years.” In 2011 when only 5.4 percent of voters showed up. In 2009, about 1 million people cast ballots, about 8.1 percent of the electorate. So as far as the numbers go, voting seemed on par. However, the law lost some PR points with some high publicity hiccups, including several prominent politicians initially being told they couldn’t get a new voter identification card vote because they lacked proper identification. State Senator Wendy Davis, the front-running Democratic candidate for governor next year, had to sign an affidavit because her married name did not match her driver’s license . State Attorney General Greg Abbott, a champion of the law was also flagged because his license listed his name as “Gregory Wayne Abbott” while his voter registration record simply calls him “Greg Abbott.” And former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright couldn’t get his new voter ID at first because his driver’s license had expired.
Last month, the big news coming out of Utah Republican Party State Central Committee meeting was the race to replace former Attorney General John Swallow. But, the group also changed a key rule in its caucus system for nominating candidates. The SCC voted to allow a caucus attendee to bring same-day ballots to a caucus meeting on behalf of three others. Utah Republican Party Secretary Michelle Mumford believes the “Count My Vote” citizen’s initiative prompted the change. “I think that’s great,” she said. “Voluntary reforms from within always have the greater, longer-lasting, positive effect. I welcome the catalyst that CMV has become.” Right now, the caucus system allows candidates at party conventions with enough votes from delegates chosen at those caucus meetings to qualify for the general ballot. CMV would trash that system by allowing any candidate who gets signatures from 2 percent of his party’s registered voters in his district, or office, to get on the ballot.
In a 124-15 vote, the Vermont House passed S.82, a contentious campaign finance bill rolled over from last session. The bill limits how much money individuals can donate to political campaigns in the state. Vermont hasn’t had a campaign finance law since 2006, when courts struck down the 1997 campaign finance law. Rep. Debbie Evans (D-Essex) says that was because the limits were too low and didn’t adjust for inflation. Since then, Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) says some state leaders reverted back to the 1981 law, which limited donors to $2,000 per candidate. “We didn’t actually re-adopt that,” White said about the 1981 law. “So whether we have any limits now, or any law at all is up in the air.” The new campaign finance bill passed in the Senate in 2013, then was amended by the House. It went to a conference committee made up of three House members and three Senate members, chaired by Rep. Evans. On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Evans said “We’re living in a sort of Wild West situation.”
Bangladesh: Opposition members go into hiding following violent national election | Associated Press
Opposition members in Bangladesh have gone into hiding as police carry out sweeping raids after the country’s violent national election, a news report and a rights group said Thursday. The ruling party easily won Sunday’s election, which was marred by street fighting, low turnout and an opposition boycott, with at least 18 people dying in election-related violence. The vote only exacerbated tensions in this South Asian nation, which has a grim history of political unrest. Political violence has convulsed Bangladesh in recent months as opposition activists staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades to protest Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. Nearly 300 people have been killed in the violence since last February. After her party swept the largely uncontested elections, Hasina said Monday that her first priority was to contain the violence with an “iron hand.”
Jail sentences of between six months and three years will be imposed on those proven to have voted more than once in the constitution referendum, Administrative Development Minister Hany Mahmoud announced on Thursday. The announcement comes after interim President Adly Mansour amended the political rights law on Monday to allow citizens to vote in the referendum at polling stations not affiliated to the address listed on their national identification card if they live in a different governorate. Citizens who reside in their hometown must vote at their registered polling station, Mahmoud added. He said that over 200 polling stations have been allocated for those residing outside their home governorates.
The Indian Election Commission dropped plans on Thursday to partner Google on a project to ease voter access to information, after a backlash against the move from campaigners who fear Google and the US 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, 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 Thai government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is pressing ahead with nationwide elections on February 2, despite a boycott by the main opposition Democrat Party. Street protests are expected to increase as demonstrators demand the polls be delayed. Thailand’s ruling Pheu Thai Party hopes the February elections return them to office with an even bigger majority. The campaign slogan “Respect My Vote” is a rebuttal to the anti-government demonstrators who succeeded in blocking candidates from registering in 28 districts. Nevertheless, the party is widely expected to regain its majority in parliament, partly because of populist policies that have benefited its backers, especially in northern rural areas.
A majority of Tunisian Constituent Assembly members on Thursday voted for a prominent law professor to become the head of the country’s High Electoral Commission. Law professor Mohamed Shafiq Sersar won 153 votes, out of a total of 203 votes in a heavily attended session. The assembly on Wednesday picked the nine members of the independent commission, while Sersar proved to be a unifying figure for everybody inside the representative body. The High Electoral Commission is due to start its mission by working on a series of technical issues before settling on the date of general elections.
Fights over the laws governing voting rights are nothing new – but 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for court decisions that will determine whether millions of Americans will face new and unnecessary barriers at the polls. Since the disputed 2000 elections, states have increasingly moved to change voting rules, and litigation on these issues has more than doubled. In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder to strike down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had long required states with a history of discrimination to “pre-clear” proposed voting rule changes with the U.S. Department of Justice. Republican-led states have since redoubled efforts to restrict voting – and civil rights groups and the Justice Department have responded by filing new challenges. In 2014, the courts will weigh in, revealing what role, if any, U.S. judges will play in checking moves to make voting harder.
Although the Constitution is silent on whether people convicted of felonies should have their rights curtailed, most American states have chosen to restrict the franchise in modern times. Nearly 6 million people in 48 states—2.5 percent of the adult population—are currently ineligible to vote because of a prior conviction. Two-thirds of them have completed their prison terms, including two million people in 35 states who are prevented from voting while on probation or parole, and two million more in 12 states who continue to be disenfranchised once they have served out their sentence in full. In the four most restrictive states—Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia—all citizens who are convicted of a felony permanently forfeit the right to vote, regardless of the offense. Ten states even disenfranchise citizens convicted of misdemeanors while they are serving time.