It’s still 10 months from Election Day, but the amount of money raised to fund this year’s congressional races already numbers in the hundreds of millions. Early indicators suggest that 2014 could see the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history. Candidates have officially collected $446 million through their campaign committees, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Most worrisome for many concerned about the avalanche of money in the political system is the cash originating from a few wealthy donors and corporations, then funneled through outside groups like trade associations, nonprofits affiliated with political causes, and commitees, or “super PACs,” closely allied with candidates. These so-called independent expenditures have already topped $25.5 million for 2014 and the 2013 special elections. That figure outpaces the $21.2 million spent at this point in the 2012 cycle and dwarfs the $8.5 million spent by this time in 2010. Much more is expected to flow in as candidates vie in competitive primaries and the general election season gets into full swing.
Congress leaned toward a breakthrough on Thursday, as elder statesmen from both parties agreed on a plan to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten during the Selma march for civil rights in 1965, joined Rep. John Conyers, first elected that same year, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the conservative author of the Patriot Act and a longtime backer of the Voting Rights Act. They offered the first legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the law last year. In June, the court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act because the law was not updated for current conditions. Chief Justice Roberts criticized Congress for using “40-year-old data” to patrol modern voter discrimination. That was peculiar logic, since most federal regulations sit on the books without updates. After all, laws aren’t iPhone apps. Their power comes from permanence, not a constant refinement. As Richard Posner, a respected appeals judge, explained in a critique of the ruling, “ordinarily… a federal statute is not invalidated on the ground that it’s dated.”
Civil rights advocates and some progressives are voicing concerns about a bipartisan Voting Rights Act overhaul introduced in both houses of Congress Thursday. The proposal would reinstate federal oversight of states with a recent history of voter discrimination, though it leaves voter ID laws off the list of grievances that qualify as discrimination. The original Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 and amended most recently in 2006, subjected states and counties that had historically used a “test or device” like literacy tests or racial gerrymandering to restrict voting to special oversight—any new election laws in those places had to be approved as nondiscriminatory by the federal government.
In a rebuff to state officials, the head of the federal Elections Assistance Commission has rejected Arizona’s request to require proof of citizenship by those using a federal form to register to vote. In a 46-page order late Friday, Alice Miller, the commission’s acting director, said Congress was within its rights to conclude that those seeking to vote need not first provide documentary proof of eligibility. Miller said the affidavit of citizenship, coupled with criminal penalties for lying, are sufficient. Friday’s ruling is yet another significant setback for Arizona’s effort to enforce the 2004 voter-approved law. The state had argued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court it has a constitutional right to demand citizenship proof, only to be rebuffed last year. But the justices, in their 7-2 ruling, said state officials were free to petition the EAC to add the requirement to the form. Friday’s order forecloses that option.
Federal Election Commission lawyers urged a federal judge not to heed U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s contention that regulators are being too hard on him — and to force him to pay nearly $360,000 in fines and restitution for tapping campaign accounts for his legal defense following his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. The FEC, which announced its latest legal filing Friday, says the Idaho Republican ignored the U.S. Senate’s own warnings not to spend the money. Craig also has acknowledged the campaign didn’t seek out FEC guidance on whether he should spend the money or not because he was worried it would tell him not to do it, its lawyers wrote.
No remedies have yet been put in place to heal the Iowa GOP’s black eye from the vote-count embarrassment that unfolded after the 2012 Iowa presidential caucuses. Two years ago today, Rick Santorum was announced as the official winner based on a certified vote, reversing Mitt Romney’s eight-vote win announced after 1 a.m. on caucus night. Both Republican and Democratic leaders say Iowa’s leadoff spot in presidential voting is assured for the 2016 cycle, but beyond then, its privileged position remains precarious. The 2012 GOP debacle escalated ever-present criticism, and other states constantly maneuver in an attempt to grab the leadoff voting prize. Iowa Republican Party officials say changes in caucus procedures will be made this spring. They’ve been carefully weighing options, working in concert with the national party, Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker said.
Nebraskans could register to vote online and would have to present a photo ID in certain situations under a pair of bills that will have a public hearing next week. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha has introduced three bills relating to elections and voting on behalf of Secretary of State John Gale. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear testimony on the bills on Thursday. One of the bills would allow Nebraskans with a driver’s license or state identification card to register to vote or to update their voting information online. Thirteen states have online voter registration, Gale said.
Gov. Mary Fallin confirmed Friday that the special election to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn will coincide with this year’s regular election schedule. Coburn announced last night that he is resigning effective the end of the current session in December. Two years remain on Coburn’s term. Under state law, a vacancy such as the one occurring because of Coburn’s resignation requires the governor to declare a special election to fill out the remainder of the term, with the election to run concurrently with the regular election.
A state judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the state’s new Voter ID law. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley ruled that the law, which has already been delayed by the courts and was not implemented in the 2012 election, is unconstitutional. The ruling sets up a key showdown in the state Supreme Court over the controversial law. “Voter ID laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” McGinley wrote in his decision, adding: “Based on the foregoing, this Court declares the Voter ID Law photo ID provisions and related implementation invalid…”
A judge in Pennsylvania struck down one of the most restrictive voter identification laws in the country on Friday, in a victory for civil rights campaigners who are seeking to block voter eligibility rules they claim are discriminatory. Commonwealth court judge Bernard McGinley concluded the state’s voter ID law, introduced by Republican-controlled state legislature in 2012, disenfranchised “hundreds of thousands” of voters who could not easily meet the requirements set by the state. “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the voter ID law does not further this goal,” the judge said, adding: “Disenfranchising voters through no fault of the voter himself is plainly unconstitutional.” The new law required voters to present photo identification proving their eligibility to vote, replacing other proof-of-address documents such as paychecks or bills. Photo identification had proven difficult for many voters to obtain, despite the state’s promises to the contrary. In one particularly damning section of his ruling, Judge McGinley found there was no evidence the legislation was even intended to stamp out voter fraud, which was the justification given by state lawmakers when they passed the law.
Madagascar’s electoral court declared former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina president-elect on Friday despite allegations by his defeated rival that the December run-off vote was rigged. The ruling raises the specter of protests by supporters of Jean Louis Robinson who had demanded a recount and warned on Thursday that his patience was wearing thin. Any prolonged row over the result of the Dec. 20 vote, the first since a coup on the Indian Ocean island in 2009, threatens to extend a political crisis that has sharply slowed economic growth and deepened poverty. An aide to Robinson, who was backed by Marc Ravalomanana, the man ousted from power five years ago, this week said he would outline the “irregularities” to the Southern African Development Community and African Union. Both blocs had worked on a political deal to push Madagascar towards an election.
Lack of government funding has put this year’s national elections at stake. The Electoral Commission on Friday warned its planned voter registration field work, scheduled to start January 27, may now not possible due to lack of funding. “It is very important the Commission has an assurance from the Government that sufficient funding will be committed for the entire operation,” chairman of the Electoral Commissioner Sir Allan Kemakeza said on Friday. “We do not want to be in a position where we are forced to stop mid-way through the process because this will cause widespread confusion for the public,” he added.
At least 28 people were injured as two explosions rocked a protest site in Bangkok yesterday, adding to almost daily attacks as groups push to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and derail a Feb. 2 election. The afternoon blasts occurred at Victory Monument, one of seven key districts that have been blockaded by demonstrators in the capital since Jan. 13, according to the Bangkok Emergency Medical Center. Violence over the past three days has killed one and wounded 67, the center said on its website. Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition party lawmaker, is escalating efforts to cause chaos in the capital to destabilize Yingluck’s administration. He wants the government replaced with an unelected council that would change laws to prevent parties linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra returning to power, risking a backlash from some of the 15 million people who voted for Thaksin’s sister in the 2011 election.
Only seven months after the Supreme Court shattered the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has come up with a bill that would go a long way toward putting it back together. If they can persuade Republicans in Congress to set aside partisanship and allow it to pass, they would begin to restore justice to a deeply damaged electoral process. It would be an ideal way to observe the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week. The bill is far from perfect. In particular, it does not give enough weight to the discriminatory effect of voter ID laws. But it would make it more difficult for states and localities to take other actions that reduce minority voting rights. Jurisdictions would once again be put under Justice Department supervision if they committed multiple violations of the Constitution. All states and cities would be required to make public any last-minute changes to election practices, an improvement over current law, which requires such public notice in just a few states. And the bill would make it easier to stop harmful voting changes in court before they happen.