Last Friday, a Pennsylvania trial court struck down the state’s voter ID law because it violates the state constitution’s explicit grant of voting rights to the citizens of Pennsylvania. This decision, issued just a day after several members of Congress introduced a sensible bipartisan update to the Voting Rights Act, shows that bipartisan solutions to repairing our broken election system are indeed possible. Amid the partisan debates surrounding election rules—charges of vote suppression on one side and vote fraud on the other—the Pennsylvania decision also highlights the fact that state constitutions can shore up the fundamental right to vote through a mechanism that should appeal to both sides of the political spectrum: states’ rights. Conservatives, who normally support voter ID laws, believe that states should retain significant autonomy and thus that sources of state law are paramount. Progressives espouse robust voting rights. The right to vote is located in state constitutions. That’s why reliance upon state constitutions to invalidate the strictest voter ID laws is a perfect, and bipartisan, solution to an intractable political problem.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is pushing his Democratic colleagues to strengthen the protections for minorities in their proposed update to the Voting Rights Act. Begich said the bill introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) does not do enough for minority voters, especially native populations in Alaska. Begich expressed concern that Alaska would not have to clear voting procedure changes with the federal government under the bill. A transparency provision that requires notice of voting changes is little consolation, he said. “This is cold comfort considering that the burden is entirely on the voter to find out about such changes,” he said in a letter to Leahy.
The special election for the vacant state Senate District 21 seat could have been quite controversial if it had been closer. Perhaps the result will at least provide state officials with a hint that they should be prepared for disputed election results under a new law. Since Saturday the Craighead County Election Commission has been publishing a one-third page advertisement in the classified section of The Jonesboro Sun aimed especially at voters who cast an absentee ballot in the Jan. 14 special election but failed to provide the identification required under Act 595 of 2013.
Sparking howls from Democrats and the NAACP, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said last week that his office soon would begin Voter Purge 2.0, by sending local supervisors of elections the names of voters who might not be citizens. Who could disagree with the idea that only eligible citizens should vote? But there is more to the issue. First, the purge is a solution in search of a problem. The number of noncitizens registered to vote is minuscule, mostly because there is no incentive for intentional fraud. What immigrant would risk deportation for the small reward of casting one vote? In fact, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” a 2007 report by Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, stated: “We are not aware of any documented cases in which individual noncitizens have either intentionally registered to vote or voted while knowing that they were ineligible.”
A Georgia House bill with the effect of moving Augusta mayor and commission elections to May 20 is the first signed by Gov. Nathan Deal this year. “The General Assembly acted swiftly on this issue, and I have as well, so that local election officials and candidates can prepare,” Deal said in a statement. House Bill 310 aligns state and local nonpartisan elections, such as the mayor and commission races and two state court judgeships, and state party primaries, with the May 20 date of the federal primary, which was set by a federal judge to accommodate military voters.
Kansas’ efforts to erect barriers to voting with stringent proof-of-citizenship requirements have been rebuffed again, this time by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. And with his typical arrogance, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has brushed off the commission’s ruling as yet another partisan strike against state sovereignty and vowed to continue the legal fight. Meanwhile, Kansas is now only months away from important state elections, and more than 20,000 residents have their voting registrations on hold because of Kobach’s conflict with federal judges and elections officials. Paging Kansas legislators. The best way to avert a well-publicized elections debacle is to fix the statute that imposes the onerous documentation requirements. And the sooner the better.
At a time when some states are restricting access to the polls, following the demise of the Voting Rights Act, Massachusetts is moving to empower voters. Last week, the state Senate agreed to reforms that hold the potential to increase participation in elections and modernize how voting takes place. The bill goes now to a conference committee with representatives of both the Senate and House, whose members have passed similar legislation. We think state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, the Senate’s majority leader and future president, is right to declare that his chamber’s vote last Thursday represents the most significant election reform in two decades. As with the “motor voter” legislation in the early 1990s, which allowed voters to sign up through the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the new legislation is designed to streamline and simplify the process of voting.
The Justice Department is suing the State of North Carolina over voter ID laws. Eric Holder’s agency filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Tar Heel State. The voter ID lawsuit claims that North Carolina violated provisions in Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act when passing the ballot casting legislation.The North Carolina voter ID law reduces the early voting period in addition to requiring photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Governor McCrory’s comments about how similar North Carolina’s voting laws are to those of others states appears to be very accurate. The state is one of 32 which currently offer early voting options for citizens. Unless Eric Holder’s lawsuit is successful, the Tar Heel State will also be one of 34 that already requires or will require some type of voter ID when casting a ballot. North Carolina and 36 other states prohibits same-day voting registration. A total of 43 states do not allow underage voters to pre-register, according to the Secretary of State website.
South Carolina will be one misstep away from renewed federal supervision of its elections if legislation to restore part of the Voting Rights Act becomes law. The bill introduced Thursday would rewrite the rules that would determine which states need strict oversight based on the chance their election-related changes could harm minority voters. The old rules, which applied to South Carolina and all or part of 14 other states, were thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court last year because they were based on outdated voting data.
A Senate committee rejected a bill Tuesday that would have let students at public colleges and universities use their campus identification cards to vote. The Senate State & Local Committee voted 7-2 against Senate Bill 1082, which would have amended the voter ID law that the Tennessee General Assembly passed less than three years ago. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, the Memphis Democrat who sponsored the measure, argued that the voter ID requirement has been a burden to students because they often do not have driver’s licenses. “Voter ID is not wrong, in my mind, per se,” he said. “Where I do believe states get into difficulty … is whether or not the access to the voter ID is fair and reasonable.” The panel spent about seven minutes debating the bill, which has been pending since last year. Similar measures have failed in the past.
Lawyer and lobbyist Steve Bresnen is asking Texas’ campaign finance regulators to shine a light on secret campaign spending in state elections. Reinvigorating the debate over dark money spending in the Lone Star State, Bresnen filed a petition for rulemaking with the Texas Ethics Commission on Tuesday asking the state panel to ensure “all contributors of money used to influence elections would be disclosed.” (read full the petition here). “The purpose of my proposal is to eliminate ‘dark money’ from Texas elections by dragging it into the sunlight,” Bresnen wrote to acting Executive Director Natalia Luna Ashley. “Secret money influencing elections — the life blood of self governance — is intolerable as a matter of law and is against the public interest. The Commission should exercise its authority to do something about it.”
Back in what now feels like another era, the European Union was a vessel of aspiration whose aims were largely supported by political leaders across the continent. Here was a super-nation constructed out of a collective yearning for shared security, prosperity and modernity. In the contemporary conversation, talk of the European Union engenders suspicion and even contempt. The union sometimes seems to have devolved into a totem of discontents — over the continued inflow of migrants from poorer countries, the expanding powers of bureaucrats in Brussels, and the very notion of tying one’s national fortunes to the perceived dysfunction of broader Europe.
Newmarket will take paper over getting plugged in during October’s municipal election. Council rejected a staff recommendation that called on the municipality to authorize the use of Internet voting in time for the election, meaning traditional paper ballots will be used, instead of the online method. “I don’t think the confidence of the community is there yet,” Mayor Tony Van Bynen said. Councillors want the issue addressed early in the next term, giving plenty of time for implementation in the 2018 election.
Thailand’s capital was under a state of emergency on Wednesday after the government moved to tighten security as protesters trying to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra threatened to disrupt an election she has called for early next month. Bangkok was calm and early commuters traveled to work as normal. There were no troops on the streets, as has been the case throughout the crisis since November, and even the police presence was light. No overnight curfew was enforced. Announcing the 60-day emergency late on Tuesday, ministers said they had no plans to clear the camps that protesters have set up at seven major road junctions in the city. Rather, they said they wanted to prevent an escalation of violence after deaths and injuries caused by grenade attacks on demonstrators over the weekend.
Gripped by a deadly crisis, with grenades exploding in the streets of Bangkok, the people and politicians of Thailand once again find themselves back in the global media headlines. Unfortunately, much of the coverage is sexed-up and superficial, which is normally what happens when outsider journalists buzz in and out of a country (‘clusterfuck’, as they say), hastily file their reports, then move on, to the next episode of breaking news, wherever it is happening. Fellow journalists elsewhere on the planet predictably join the chorus. Perched at their desks, working to tight deadlines, they blindly repeat what’s just been said. The resulting coverage becomes fully cosmetic: it shuns the unfamiliar, ignores the cutting-edge qualities of the unfolding drama, misjudges its larger historical significance. As the case of Thailand shows, the overall result is paradoxical: news kills its own novelty. The life-and-death events gripping Thailand deserve much more careful treatment. So here are a few brief thoughts that readers might find useful when trying to figure out the wider global significance of this vexed and vicious moment in Thai politics.