National: U.S. Panel Suggests Ways to Reduce Voting Delays | New York Times

A bipartisan panel created by President Obama after many voters waited hours to cast ballots in 2012 on Wednesday recommended ways to keep delays to no more than a half-hour. But changes are up to the states and 8,000 local jurisdictions, where voting laws have been a partisan battleground since the 2000 presidential recount. After surveying local officials, the commission also warned of two potential crises: Voting machines bought a decade ago, when federal funds were made available as a post-recount remedy, are breaking down or obsolete. And local schools, long a favored polling place and accessible to the disabled, increasingly are unavailable as more of them restrict entry in response to shootings like the massacre in Newtown, Conn. Mr. Obama noted in his 2012 victory speech that some voters were still in line that night, even as he spoke, and then announced the 10-member commission a year ago in his State of the Union address. He received the report, six months in the making, at the White House from the panel’s co-chairmen — Robert F. Bauer, a Democrat, and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a Republican, the top lawyers for his own and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaigns. The panel also included executives, academics and state and local officials.

National: Bipartisan presidential panel suggests ways to improve elections | Los Angeles Times

States should allow online voter registration and create more opportunities to cast ballots before election day, according to a report issued Wednesday by a bipartisan commission formed to address long lines and other troubles at the polls in 2012. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration made its recommendations in a 112-page report to President Obama. The commission — led by longtime Washington attorneys Robert F. Bauer, a Democrat, and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a Republican — declared that no one should wait more than 30 minutes to vote and warned of an “impending crisis” as electronic voting machines age. Obama created the group last spring after lines, machine malfunctions and confusion left some voters waiting hours. In his inaugural address at the start of his second term, he called for a panel to find ways to improve the “efficient administration” of elections. The commission stayed true to that prescribed mandate, experts said, largely steering clear of the more contentious debates. The report does not wade deeply into issues involving voter fraud or suppression, voter identification laws or protection for minorities after the Supreme Court struck down part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

National: Presidential Commission on Elections Tackles Voting Rights, Technology | Stateline

Local elections officials across the U.S. should expand early voting, allow online registration and do a better job enforcing federal election laws, according to a new report by a presidential panel charged with recommending fixes for election problems that have plagued American voters. Some of the recommendations in the 70-page report, which was presented on Wednesday to Vice President Joe Biden at the White House, are in sync with changes states are already making. In Florida, for example, where “hanging chads” entered the American lexicon in 2000 and there were long lines at polling places in 2012, lawmakers recently reversed a shortening of the early voting period and simplified ballots. The moves by Republican-controlled Florida are part of a broader trend.

National: Obama commission encourages early vote expansion | Associated Press

Responding to frustratingly long lines in the last national election, a presidential commission on Wednesday encouraged expansion of early voting and said no American should have to wait more than half an hour to cast a ballot. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was presenting President Barack Obama with a list of recommendations to reduce the wait and make voting more efficient. The commission warned of an “impending crisis in voting technology” as machines across the country purchased after the 2000 election recount wear out with no federal funds on the horizon to replace them. “We could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now,” Obama said after receiving their 112-page report in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. But fixing the problems will be easier said than done, since no federal commission can force changes to balloting run by about 8,000 different jurisdictions. Funds for upgrades are scarce. Not only that, there have been sharp differences in recent years between the parties on what approach to employ. Fights over voting process can — and sometimes have — been as partisan and bitter as those associated with the redrawing of political boundary lines.

National: Presidential Commission Recommends Expanding Early Voting, Online Voter Registration | National Journal

A year after President Obama’s pledge to address voting problems, a commission he established recommends expanding early voting and online voter registration to improve efficiency at polls nationwide. The 2012 election was characterized by stories of voters waiting for hours to cast ballots at some polls in battleground states. The commission’s unanimous conclusion is that “problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable,” and that no voter should have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. The commission also recommended jurisdictions form advisory groups to address the needs of disabled or voters with limited English proficiency; address the “impending crisis in voting technology,” as no federal dollars are set aside to update 10-year-old voting machines; and improve the recruitment and training of poll workers.

National: Presidential panel advises sweeping voting overhaul | The Hill

A panel commissioned by the White House to examine the nation’s voting laws after some Americans were forced to wait hours to cast their ballots during the 2012 presidential election presented President Obama with a report on Wednesday calling for a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s electoral practices. After studying the nation’s election laws for the past six months, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration argued that through “a combination of planning… and the efficient allocation of resources,” local jurisdictions could cut wait times at the polls to less than half an hour. “Problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable,” the commission wrote in its 112-page report. The panel recommended a dozen major changes to electoral practices, including an expansion of online voter registration and early voting.

National: Hillary Clinton foes file FEC complaint | POLITICO

An anti-Hillary Clinton group has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against the former secretary of state and an independent group promoting her potential 2016 presidential bid. In what election law experts say is a long-shot argument, the hybrid PAC, titled the ‘Stop Hillary PAC,’ claims that Clinton and her political team have essentially authorized a campaign by renting her official resources to a super PAC. The Wednesday complaint singled out Clinton and the super PAC Ready for Hillary — a group that is urging Clinton to run for president but is forbidden by law from coordinating with Clinton or her staff. At issue, according to Stop Hillary lawyer Dan Backer, is whether Clinton is tacitly supporting a committee that’s aiming to “draft” her for president. “Ready for Hillary is in the business of trying to get Hillary Clinton to run for office — essentially to draft her for office. And that’s their right to do so, provided the object of their draft — Hillary — isn’t behind it or helping them, because then it stops being a draft committee and becomes an authorized campaign committee,” he said in a statement, going on to suggest that she and the committee are in violation of campaign finance law.

Editorials: Inside the ‘Lines Commission,’ an Answer for Elections? | Jeffrey Toobin/The New Yorker

The world’s greatest democracy is not so great at running elections, as we all saw in 2012. There were, among other things, long lines at polling places, botched registrations, and mysterious rules on absentee ballots. As President Obama declared victory on election night, he wanted to do something about these problems. He appointed a (very) bipartisan commission, chaired by two self-described “partisan hacks”: Robert Bauer (Obama’s personal lawyer and his one-time White House counsel) and Benjamin Ginsberg (the national counsel to the Romney campaign and many other Republican causes). Wednesday, after six months of work, the “lines commission,” as it’s known, released a hundred-page report. Notwithstanding the strong party affiliations of its leaders, the group was unanimous in its recommendations. Its an unexpectedly bold document, especially in light of the strong partisan differences over voting these days. Every since the Republican landslides of 2010, states have been tightening the requirements to vote, and Democrats have cried voter suppression. The commission avoids the especially controversial issues of photo-identification requirements and the future of the Voting Rights Act, but it strikes out in a clear pro-voting direction.

California: Feds: Illegal money funneled to San Diego pols | UTSanDiego

The owner of a Washington, D.C.-based campaign firm and a former San Diego police detective are accused of conspiring with a foreign national to illegally inject more than $500,000 into San Diego political races, including the 2012 mayoral contest, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Ravneet Singh, 41, founder of ElectionMall Inc., was arrested Friday by FBI agents and is charged alongside his company and Ernesto Encinas, 57, the former detective, with conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States. According to Tuesday’s complaint, Singh and Encinas helped a Mexican businessman donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to San Diego candidates. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from making contributions to election campaigns in the United States at any level.

Guam: Fighting for Democracy, But Can’t Vote for President | Huffington Post

President Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union Address that “we are betraying our ideals” when any American is denied the right to vote because of where they live. This month, as President Obama prepares once again to address the nation, nearly 600 soldiers from Guam are returning home after a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan. While these patriotic Americans answered the call to defend democracy overseas, they are denied democracy at home. When the 2016 General Election rolls around, they will be unable to vote for President and will only elect a non-voting Delegate to Congress. During their first month of deployment in Afghanistan, two Guam soldiers, Spc. Dwayne Flores, 22, and Sgt. Eugene Aguon, 23, were killed by a car bomb. According to statistics from the Washington Post’s “Faces of the Fallen,” Guam’s casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan have been 450 percent above the national average. Perhaps that is because Guam ranks higher than any state in per capita recruitment rates. Fully 1 in 20 Guam residents are military veterans according to the U.S. Census. During World War II, Guam endured a brutal enemy occupation that resulted in over a thousand civilian deaths. Today, Guam’s location on the doorstep to Asia contributes to national security, but also places its residents uncomfortably close to North Korea and other threats.

Indiana: Marion County holds off on voting machine upgrade | Indianapolis Star

The Marion County Election Board is holding off on plans to replace all voting machines this year because there’s no money to foot the cost and because its members have a more pressing issue on the horizon. Without money available for a purchase that could cost up to $15 million, Clerk Beth White and two party appointees say they will focus instead on the details needed to pull off a newly mandated centralized count of absentee ballots for the May 6 primary. The three-member board unanimously agreed to table the idea, for now, of soliciting proposals from voting equipment venders. White said the board could revive the issue after the primary. Plans called for any new equipment to be used for the first time in 2015, after this year’s elections.

Iowa: Secretary of State reports 9 additional cases of voter fraud in the state | Assocated Press

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz on Wednesday said nine additional cases of potential voter fraud have been reported in the state, the latest development in an ongoing debate over whether officials should invest resources on such cases. The charges all involve felons who did not have their voting rights restored. Eight cases were filed in Black Hawk County, and one was filed in Lee County. “Every vote can make a big difference and Iowans expect nothing less than fair and honest elections,” he said in a statement that thanked the county attorneys who filed the latest cases. Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said Schultz was investigating a small group of people who likely were simply confused about their voting rights.

Massachusetts: Senate legislation a victory for electoral reform coalition | Bay State Banner

The Massachusetts Senate approved electoral reform measures aimed at making it easier to vote, register to vote and monitor the accuracy of towns’ voting systems. The reforms include measures allowing early voting in state and federal primary elections, Election Day registration and automatic re-registration of voters when they move within Massachusetts. “The bill passed by the Senate takes important strides toward a more inclusive Commonwealth, removing unnecessary barriers to the ballot box,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz in a statement. The legislation brings voter rights activists closer to their goal of modernizing the Massachusetts voting system, much of which has been shaped by the limitations of 19th and 20th century technology.

Thailand: Court Says February Poll Can Be Delayed Amid Protests | Bloomberg

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that an election scheduled for Feb. 2 can be delayed and that both Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Election Commission have the power to set a new date. Judges unanimously voted that the timing of the ballot can be changed, and a majority ruled that Yingluck and the election body have the power and responsibility to set a new date, the court said in a statement yesterday. The court on Jan. 23 had accepted a petition from the Election Commission asking it to determine who had the power to postpone the vote. “If holding the election as scheduled will create serious damage to the country and the people, the Election Commission must inform the prime minister and cabinet to consider issuing a royal decree to set a new election date,” the court said. Yingluck and Election Commission Chairman Supachai Somcharoen have a responsibility to act, it said.

Minnesota: State already working on shorter voter lines | Grand Forks Herald

Long lines at U.S. polling places could be shortened if state and local governments take actions such as allowing early voting and online voter registration, a presidential commission said Wednesday. Good ideas, Deputy Minnesota Secretary of State Beth Fraser said, adding that Minnesota already is making progress in key areas. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie implemented online voter registration last year, although Republican legislators, and some Democrats, say he should have received their approval before it launched. And Minnesota takes a baby step toward early voting with “no excuse” absentee balloting starting this year. Fraser said Minnesotans can expect their legislators to discuss allowing voters to cast ballots at city or county elections offices before Election Day itself.

Thailand: Threats force halt to ballot paper deliveries | Bangkok Post

Thailand Post Co has decided to stop distributing ballot papers following threats by anti-government protesters, the Election Commission (EC) says. EC secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said Thailand Post president Anusara Chittmittrapap submitted a letter to the EC on Tuesday to announce the decision. According to the letter, People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters on Tuesday blocked the entrances to Thailand Post Co on Chaeng Watthana Road and several post offices after demonstrators learned the state enterprise was handling the delivery of the ballot papers. Protesters had threatened to disrupt water and water supplies to Thailand Post Co as well as its delivery operations if the firm continued to deliver the ballot papers, the letter said. Thailand Post Co had decided it could no longer support the EC’s work in the election, the letter said.

Tunisia: Electoral body selected | Magharebia

Members of Tunisia’s Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE) took the oath of office on Wednesday January 15th. Preparations for the elections must be accelerated in order to avoid political and economic risks to the country, President Moncef Marzouki said at the swearing-in ceremony. The nine ISIE members were elected by the National Constituent Assembly on January 8th. The officials are tasked with overseeing the upcoming presidential and legislative elections. Former Prime Minister Ali Larayedh linked his resignation to the election of the body. [AFP/Fethi Belaid] Tunisian Constituent Assembly Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar casts his ballot as MPs vote for electoral commission members on January 8th. The commissioners were selected from hundreds of candidates amid political bickering that almost shook the process of democratic transition in Tunisia. Their ultimate selection was considered a step towards political detente, according to politicians.

Ukraine: President faces ultimatum to call new elections | CBC

Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kyiv as an ultimatum issued by the opposition to the president to call early election or face street rage was set to expire with no sign of a compromise on Thursday. The three main opposition leaders urged protesters late Wednesday to refrain from violence for 24 hours until their ultimatum to President Viktor Yanukovych expires. They demanded that Yanukovych dismiss the government, call early elections and scrap harsh anti-protest legislation that triggered the violence. The largely peaceful protest against Yanukovych’s decision to shun the EU and turn toward Moscow in November descended into violence Sunday when demonstrators, angered by the passage of repressive laws intended to stifle the protest, marched on official buildings.