National: Election Assistance Commission rejects voter registration changes for states | Associated Press

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Friday rejected requests by Kansas, Arizona and Georgia to modify federal registration forms to allow their states to fully implement proof-of-citizen voting laws for their residents. The decision came just hours before a court-imposed deadline in a lawsuit filed by Kansas and Arizona in U.S. District Court in Kansas. Georgia is not part of that litigation but has similar requirements. The agency found that granting the states’ requests would “likely hinder eligible citizens from registering to vote in federal elections,” undermining the core purpose of the National Voter Registration Act. Most immediately, the issue will likely return to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren, who has held onto litigation in anticipation of further proceedings. Both states enacted laws requiring new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote, and most voters use state forms that enforce the requirement. But some voters use the federal form, which requires only that someone sign a statement under oath that he or she is a U.S. citizen, and Kansas and Arizona want to force a change to close what their officials see as a loophole in enforcement of their proof-of-citizenship requirements.

National: Bipartisan group begins effort to restore parts of Voting Rights Act | Los Angeles Times

Lawmakers announced Thursday bipartisan legislation that would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court last summer. The bill would also establish new criteria to determine whether states need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to voting rules. The legislation is a response to the high court’s ruling in June that Southern states had been unfairly singled out by the long-standing formula used to determine which states must seek federal “pre-clearance” before changing their voting laws. The proposed legislation would establish a new trigger. Any state that is found to have committed five voting violations over a 15-year period would be subject to federal scrutiny of any new voting laws for a period of 10 years. It would also allow states to create “reasonable” photo identification laws. Four states would be subject to the law immediately upon enactment: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Alabama: Judge Reinstates Federal Oversight of Voting Practices for Alabama City | New York Times

A federal judge in Alabama on Monday reinstated federal oversight over the voting practices of a city there, in what election law specialists said was the first such move since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in June. Judge Callie V.S. Granade, of Federal District Court in Mobile, used a mechanism in the law that the Supreme Court had left untouched, Section 3, which allows jurisdictions that have intentionally discriminated against minority voters to be “bailed in” to the oversight requirements. Relying on Section 3, Judge Granade ordered the city, Evergreen, to submit some changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court for review before they can go into effect. “This is a major win for the people of Evergreen,” said John K. Tanner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a former chief of the Justice Department’s voting section. But he added that piecemeal litigation under Section 3 was no substitute for a general requirement that states and localities designated by Congress be subject to federal oversight.

Ohio: Bills may make voting more difficult in Ohio |

Ahead of the November election, it may get more difficult to vote in Ohio, the quintessential swing state. The GOP-dominated General Assembly is pushing a collection of bills that sponsors – most from Southwest Ohio – say will make voting more fair, secure and efficient. Civil rights leaders and Democrats, however, say the provisions discriminate against the poor and harken back to post-Civil War laws intended to keep African-Americans from voting. Some of the changes would take away conveniences in Ohio’s voting system – for instance, eliminating the chance for someone to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day. To state Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, the potential extra trouble is worth the gains: “Uniformity across the state, cleaning up that process to make it crystal clear as to what everyone’s responsibilities are.”

Pennsylvania: Voter ID Law Struck Down as Judge Cites Burden on Citizens | New York Times

In a strongly worded decision, a state judge on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s 2012 law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID at the polls, setting up a potential Supreme Court confrontation that could have implications for other such laws across the country. The judge, Bernard L. McGinley of Commonwealth Court, ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots, with the burden falling most heavily on elderly, disabled and low-income residents, and that the state’s reason for the law — that it was needed to combat voter fraud — was not supported by the facts. “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election,” the judge wrote in his 103-page decision. “The voter ID law does not further this goal.”

National: Lawmakers to Introduce Bipartisan Voting Rights Act Fix | Roll Call

Several months after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers plans to introduce a legislative fix on Thursday afternoon. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a passing reference to developments on the VRA front at a news conference earlier in the day. “I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress — and that’s a good thing — that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act, and I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement on that later today,” Pelosi said. “I’m not here to announce it, but I’m here to say what’s occurred in briefings and meetings we’ve had. While it’s not the bill everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress and it is worthy of support.” Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., confirmed Pelosi’s remarks while heading into the House chamber, adding that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., are the sponsors.

National: Members of Congress Introduce a New Fix for the Voting Rights Act | The Nation

Today Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June invalidating a critical section of the VRA. The legislation, known as “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” represents the first attempt by a bipartisan group in Congress to reinstate the vital protections of the VRA that the Supreme Court took away. In the Shelby County v. Holder ruling on June 25, 2013, the Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the VRA, the formula that compelled specific states with a well-documented history of voting discrimination to clear their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the VRA. The two provisions were always meant to work together; without Section 4, Section 5 became a zombie, applying to zero states.

National: Congress, FEC meet about security breakdowns | Center for Public Integrity

Federal Election Commission staff today traveled to Capitol Hill and briefed congressional officials investigating the beleaguered agency on how it intends to address recent computer security and staffing problems, officials from both government bodies confirmed. The FEC’s contingent was led by Alec Palmer, who doubles as the agency’s staff and information technology director. It wasn’t immediately clear how many congressional officials participated in the meetings, although a spokesman for Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that his office participated. Brady, along with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., last week called for separate inquiries into the FEC’s recent woes, which include an October infiltrationinto its computer systems by Chinese hackers. Brady is the ranking member on the Committee on House Administration, which has FEC oversight powers.

National: Campaign Activists Blast FEC Decision on Crossroads | Wall Street Journal

Campaign-finance activists vowed to take the Federal Election Commission to court Thursday after it disregarded a finding by its staff that Crossroads GPS, conservative nonprofit backed by Karl Rove, likely broke campaign laws during the 2010 elections. On Friday, the FEC quietly released a legal opinion by its staff lawyers that found that the “major purpose” of Crossroads GPS was to elect federal candidates, despite being registered as a “social-welfare” nonprofit group. The FEC’s general counsel recommended holding a formal investigation into the group. However, the FEC decided not to take any action after a deadlocked 3-3 vote by its commissioners along party lines. On Thursday, that decision drew sharp criticism from campaign-finance activists.

Editorials: A Bipartisan Voting Rights Act Is Possible | Spencer Overton/Huffington Post

Conventional wisdom among some liberals, conservatives, and moderates is that a “polarized Congress” will never update the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act bill introduced today in Congress (summary here, bill text here), however, shows that a bipartisan update is possible. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court scaled back part of the Voting Rights Act. The Act required that all or parts of 15 states (many in the South) preclear their changes to election rules with federal officials. The Court ruled that the formula that determined which states had to preclear their changes was unconstitutional because it was based on election data from the 1960s and ’70s, and the decision effectively released those 15 states from preclearance. The new bill responds to the Court’s decision by tying preclearance to recent discrimination. For example, the bill would require a state with five or more Voting Rights Act violations in the last 15 years to preclear new election law changes. While the new bill would require that fewer states preclear changes, the new bill expands nationwide some of the functions served by preclearance.

California: Visalia faces California Voting Rights Act lawsuit |

The City of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act and doesn’t have enough Latinos on the city council. Currently Visalia residents vote for their top city council candidates, and whoever gets the most votes is elected. The lawsuit says the city must instead divide itself into districts to give Latinos a voice. A lawsuit filed against the City of Visalia claims in the history of the city, there has only been one Latino council member voted into office, despite Latinos making up 46% of Visalia’s population. It claims the city’s failure to elect council members based on districts is mostly to blame.

Colorado: Officials: State should pay for recall | The Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz and Republican lawmakers often don’t see eye to eye on election issues, but they do on one: The state ought to pay the cost of last year’s recall elections in Pueblo and El Paso counties. New state Sens. George Rivera, R-Pueblo, and Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, have signed onto a letter to Secretary of State Scott Gessler this week that insists the state should cover the $270,000 it cost Pueblo County and the $150,000 it cost El Paso County to conduct the special elections last year. Those recall races ousted Democratic state Sens. Angela Giron, of Pueblo, and John Morse, of Colorado Springs. Rivera and Herpin were elected to replace them.

Editorials: The District of Columbia needs to tackle election reform | The Washington Post

The crowded field of candidates for D.C. mayor opens up the possibility that the winner of the upcoming Democratic primary will have less than a majority of votes. Perhaps as little as 30 percent of the total vote could spell victory. Obviously, that would not be ideal. More people voting against the winner than for the winner seems a strange way for democracy to operate. While it is too late to change the rules for this year’s elections, the District’s political leaders need to look ahead to future contests and put in place reforms that require a majority vote.

Florida: Miami-Dade mayor overturns elections supervisor, will keep key absentee ballot information public | Miami Herald

Miami-Dade County will no longer block the public from obtaining key information that has helped detect attempted voting fraud. Overturning a decision by his appointed elections supervisor, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday that Internet Protocol addresses for absentee-ballot requests submitted online are public record. Gimenez explained his position in a memo to Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who had asked the mayor to use his executive authority to make the IP addresses available. Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley had said she would keep them secret. Gimenez and Townsley both said Thursday they had spoken earlier and agreed to the policy change. “

Massachusetts: State Senate approves bill to allow early voting | Boston Globe

Massachusetts residents would be able to cast ballots up to 10 days before an election and register to vote online and on Election Day under a bill overwhelmingly approved Thursday by the Senate. The bill, which passed on a 37-1 vote, would allow early voting in all state and federal elections and primaries. Voting would begin 10 business days before an election and end two days before Election Day. The House last year approved an early voting bill that would allow voters to cast ballots up to two weeks before a presidential election. A joint House and Senate conference committee will have to iron out the differences between the two bills and a final version sent to both chambers for approval. Both bills would allow early voting to begin with the 2016 elections. Gov. Deval Patrick has said he ‘‘loves the idea’’ of early voting.

New York: Bill de Blasio’s Other Party | National Review

As recently as 1998, New York State’s Republican party controlled the governorship, a United States Senate seat, and the mayor’s office in Manhattan. Today, it is greatly diminished, with its sole beachhead of influence in the state senate, where it shares a majority with four independent Democrats. In contrast, the Working Families party (WFP), a 15-year-old left-wing, union-fueled group with just 20,000 members, now holds the whip hand over much of the dominant Democratic party in New York — and is already spreading its wings to other states. The WFP not only was a major force behind Bill de Blasio’s victory for mayor last November; it dominated the rest of the election, too. “They propelled all three citywide officials in New York City into office, and have a huge chunk of the city council allied with them,” says Hank Sheinkopf, a leading Democratic consultant who has worked for Hillary Clinton. “They are a real force.”

Ohio: Groups push for Voter Bill of Rights in Ohio | The Columbus Dispatch

Black legislative leaders, clergy and civil rights advocates today announced a statewide effort to amend the Ohio Constitution to ensure protections for Ohio voters. The Voter Bill of Rights will prevent the erosion of voting rights, supporters said, by placing them in state constitution. “We come to represent constituents, memberships, average citizens who have been crying out to protect voting rights,” Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat and president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, told supporters at a lunchtime rally at Trinity Baptist Church on Columbus’ near east side. “These are the same citizens who have had to be targeted by voter intimidation billboards.

Virginia: With State Senate at stake, GOP asks for recount in special election to replace Northam | The Washington Post

With control of the Virginia Senate at stake, Republican Wayne Coleman will officially request a recount Thursday in his intensely close race against Democratic Del. Lynwood Lewis. The State Board of Elections last week certified Lewis (Accomack) as the winner of the contest to succeed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the Senate by just nine votes out of more than 20,000 cast. That margin of .04 percent entitles Coleman to request a recount paid for by local governments in the Hampton Roads-based seat, and he immediately made clear he would do so. “Today, I’m requesting a recount, because we owe it to the people of the 6th district to make sure we get this one right,” Coleman said Thursday.

Egypt: Widespread boycotts as Egyptian voters back new constitution | The Guardian

Participants in the first Egyptian vote of the post-Morsi era have voted overwhelmingly in favour of approving a new constitution. More than 90% of voters opted to ratify Egypt’s third constitution in as many years, state-run media reported – a result likely to be portrayed by the Egyptian establishment as a conclusive endorsement of the direction the country has taken since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi. But after a campaign in which no campaigners were arrested and the government said participation was a patriotic duty, many also saw the poll’s turnout as a more significant indicator of public sentiment.

Spain: Catalonia votes to ask Spain for secession ballot | Associated Press

A European season of separatist fervor kicked off Thursday with Catalan lawmakers voting in favor of asking for the right to hold a referendum on independence from Spain. The European Union was watching closely as Belgium’s Dutch speakers gear up to push for greater autonomy in May elections, and Scotland prepares to hold its own referendum on breaking away from Britain in the fall. The vote was a milestone in years of mass protests by Catalans, who are fiercely proud of their distinct culture and language, demanding the right to decide whether they want to secede. As lawmakers debated at the Catalan parliament in Barcelona on Thursday before the vote, about 150 Catalans outside waved independence flags. A smaller group unfurled Spanish flags before the debate began, yelling “Catalonia is Spain!” But the vote was also largely symbolic.

Thailand: Premier Sticks With Feb. 2 Election Plan | Wall Street Journal

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra held fast to her line that fresh elections on Feb. 2 are the best way of resolving the country’s political impasse Friday as mass demonstrations against her government continued for the fifth consecutive day. Speaking to reporters at a defense ministry facility in the northern edges of Bangkok, Ms. Yingluck said she is obliged to ensure the elections go ahead as planned after dissolving parliament last month, and that the country’s security forces are on standby to prevent any violence as the polls approach. “This is the democratic process,” she said. The Thai leader has come under mounting pressure to quit in recent weeks. On Jan. 13, tens of thousands of demonstrators began converging on the capital in a mass protest they call the ‘Bangkok Shutdown,’ to press her to step aside and allow an unelected council to enact a series of reforms to strengthen the country’s system of democratic checks and balances. The protesters’ leader, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, accuses Ms. Yingluck of acting as a proxy for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006.