A bipartisan commission recommended a series of steps Wednesday to make it simpler to cast ballots in the next election, but largely avoided the most politically contentious issues in a debate over voter access that has become deeply partisan. Concluding a six-month review, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in its report that jurisdictions should expand online voter registration and early balloting, update electronic voting equipment as first-generation voting machines grow obsolete and share voter registration records across state lines to protect against fraud.
Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Applauds Findings in Presidential Commission Report on Elections
Today’s landmark report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, recognizes many of the obstacles and opportunities in today’s election administration universe, and proposes several excellent approaches to solving some of those challenges. “We applaud the bi-partisan Commission’s substantial work, balancing the need for secure elections with positive ways to improve voting for all,” said Pamela Smith, President of Verified Voting. “We strongly agree that military and overseas voters can be supported by providing access to online registration and distribution of information including blank ballots online, and appreciate that the Commission also notes that ‘the internet is not yet secure enough for voting.’” (p. 60)
A superb report released Wednesday by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration can be summarized in one quick sentence: There are many ways to make voting easier in America. There shouldn’t be the slightest whiff of controversy or partisanship about that concept, or the important suggestions made in the report. But, of course, there is, and that makes the commission’s persuasive logic and research all the more valuable. President Obama appointed the commission last year to address the problem of long lines at the polls in 2012. At a time when states were deliberately keeping people from voting with draconian ID requirements, that seemed a narrow goal, but members of the commission did far better than expected in showing the many ways that the nation’s patchwork of state and local election laws has contributed to low turnouts.
When the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act last year, it seemed impossible that a divided Congress would be able to agree on new legislation that would satisfy the court’s concerns and restore robust enforcement of the landmark civil rights law. But a creative new proposal may confound the cynics. Last June, the court by a 5-4 vote struck down the formula used in the Voting Rights Act to determine which states and localities must “pre-clear” voting procedures with the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington. Although all 50 states are prohibited by the Voting Rights Act from engaging in racial discrimination in voting, pre-clearance made it harder for states with a history of discriminating against African Americans and other minorities to slide back into their old ways.
It’s way too early to forecast the fate of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, the federal legislation introduced Thursday in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This sensible new measure has bipartisan support. But already there are grumblings on the right that the bill either isn’t necessary or that it too boldly protects the rights of minority citizens to be free from what we used to call discriminatory voting practices (but which the Supreme Court wants us now to call “the exercise of state sovereignty”). But it’s not too early to know that state voter identification laws will have an exalted place of protection in the Congressional response to Shelby County no matter what the final legislation looks like. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, that is to say in an effort to appease Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors specifically exempted state voter ID laws from the litany of discriminatory voting policies and practices that would count under the new “coverage formula” contemplated by Section 4 of the proposed law. It’s like proposing a law to ban football and then exempting the Super Bowl.
Ohio’s Legislature doesn’t look like Ohio. And, in some cases, lawmakers aren’t doing what Ohioans would want them to do. And citizens have little chance to change it. That’s because the problem stems, in part, from the state’s broken system of drawing legislative district lines, in which Ohio’s majority party creates districts it can win. For example, in the 2012 election, a slight majority of votes cast in state House of Representative races went to Democrats. But after redistricting, those votes translated into a supermajority for Republicans in the Ohio House, with 60 seats to Democrats’ 39. Last year, the leaders among those 60 Republicans refused to take up bills to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act or to institute a tax on fossil fuels released through fracking, even though public polling showed a majority of Ohioans supported both measures.
A voting report released Wednesday by a bipartisan presidential panel offers a frank rebuke to Republicans working to make voting harder—especially through cuts to early voting. And the GOP is already working to limit the report’s impact. “The administration of elections is inherently a state function so I do not believe that new one-size-fits-all Washington mandates would be of assistance.” Rep. Candice Miller, a former Michigan secretary of state and the House GOP’s point person on voting issues, said in a statement. The Republican National Lawyers Association, a group of GOP election lawyers that has played a key role in advancing voting restrictions, echoed Miller’s view. The report has mostly been applauded by voting rights groups and those looking to expand access to the ballot. “The commission’s recommendations are a significant step forward,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, in a statement.
The presidential commission that was tasked with reviewing and making recommendation about the election process stayed away from one of the country’s thorniest legal issues—the merits of voter identification laws. The commission, led by Washington lawyers Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, issued recommendations Wednesday that included the expansion of early voting and better management of voter rolls. The report, however, did not address whether certain voter identification requirements—which the U.S. Department of Justice has fought against—should be a component of good election management. Voter ID challenges are playing out in state and federal courts across the country. A state court judge last week struck down Pennsylvania’s law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is unconstitutional, and the Department of Justice has ongoing Voting Rights Act suits challenging identification laws in North Carolina and Texas.
Editorials: American elections need help. Here’s how to make them better | Nathaniel Persily/Washington Post
Earlier Wednesday, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its Report and Recommendations (pdf) to improve the voting experience in the United States. Unlike many others that have entered this fray, this commission was unanimous and bipartisan in its recommendations. Of particular interest to readers of this blog: the commission relied heavily upon the expertise of the nation’s top political scientists and election administration experts. Although the most infamous problem that gave rise to the commission’s creation was the problem of long lines on Election Day, the Executive Order creating the commission tasked it with a wide range of election administration problems. The roughly 100 pages of recommendations and best practices in the report are equally broad ranging.
Editorials: Commission Wants to Make Voting More Like Disneyland and Less Like the DMV | Ben Jacobs/The Daily Beast
If a presidential commission has its way, the traditional Election Day is dead. The “traditional election day model 12 hours from x in morning to x at night is not feasible,” Bob Bauer, one of two co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, said in a panel at George Washington University School of Law on Wednesday, just hours after presenting the commission’s report to President Obama. The commission–popularly known as the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission after its two chairs, Bauer, a top Democratic lawyer, and Ben Ginsberg, the leading Republican election litigator—delivered its recommendations unanimously in a report commissioned in the aftermath of numerous reports of long lines and delays during the 2012 election. The commission dodged issues normally associated with partisan battles, such as voter ID and the Voting Rights Act. Instead it focused on the nuts and bolts of how to get voters in and out of their polling places quickly and efficiently, setting a standard of a half-hour as the longest anyone should wait to vote.
Observers of our polarized democracy often blame party primaries for producing some of our most extreme politicians. It’s well known that the most vociferous and partisan activists have a disproportionate influence in primaries. Less well known is this: 44 states have “sore loser” laws of one form or another. These laws effectively block a candidate who fails to win a party primary from appearing on the general election ballot, as either an independent or as the nominee of another party. These laws deprive voters of a full array of choices. They are arguably even more insidious than partisan redistricting, which affects House races but not Senate ones.
Voting Blogs: Don’t Listen to the Naysayers – This Report is Important, and It’s Going to Matter | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog
The President’s Commission on Election Administration just released its report, and it offers something we don’t often see in policymaking circles these days: sanity. The report provides a knowledgeable, balanced overview of what ails our system, and its recommendations are spot-on. No good deed goes unpunished in Washington, of course. Indeed, I’d be willing to make two predictions. First, the naysayers are going to tell you the Commission should have “done more” by weighing in on controversial issues like voter ID or the Voting Rights Act. Second, most reporters are going to miss why this report matters as much as it does. If tomorrow’s papers trumpet complaints that the Report doesn’t offer any bipartisan “grand bargains” on voter ID or the Voting Rights Act, toss ‘em. Grand bargains can’t be had in this political climate. The Commissioners wisely focused on getting something done. And their recommendations are going to make a real difference to real people. I’d take that deal any day.
A hearing on a bill repealing a sweeping 2013 election law that galvanized voter’s rights groups, Democrats, some conservative Republicans and third-party candidates was cancelled Thursday. But the delay is expected to be short as majority Republicans agree the repeal is needed. The bill was held in the House Judiciary Committee in part to ensure its language matches other repeal bills being readied, but it will be back on the agenda next Thursday. Once the bills match up, quick passage by each chamber could send them to Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for action in just weeks, Senate President Andy Biggs said. “We’re just looking for certainty, as soon as possible,” Biggs said. The repeal of last year’s House Bill 2305 is designed to head off a voter referendum set for November’s ballot. The election-overhaul law was cobbled together from several GOP bills on the last day of last year’s Legislative session and passed without a single Democratic vote by the Republican majority.
With only the prosecution’s rebuttal remaining in the perjury and voter fraud trial of state Sen. Roderick D. Wright, the case is expected to go to jury Friday. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy delivered detailed instructions to the jury Thursday before both sides presented their closing arguments. Wright, 61, an Inglewood Democrat, was indicted more than three years ago on eight counts of perjury and voter fraud stemming from steps he took to run for what was then the 25th Senate District. Prosecutors allege Wright cooked up an elaborate scheme in 2007 to make it appear he was eligible to run when he registered to vote and made other moves to establish as his legal residence an Inglewood rental complex he owns. They allege his true residence, or “domicile” as state law puts it, was a single-family home in Baldwin Hills, outside the district he wanted to run in.
A proposed overhaul of the Voting Rights Act that would essentially revive the process of “preclearance” would leave Florida out of the list of states that would have to get federal approval for changes to elections procedures, a scenario that concerns some voting-rights advocates. Voting-rights groups, many of which have been involved in recent legal battles over elections issues in Florida, largely support the bill, introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. House and Senate members. But they note that the process in the bill for selecting which states are required to gain preclearance would not include Florida or several other jurisdictions that were included under an old formula. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as antiquated the formula Congress established in the 2006 version of the law to single out so-called “covered jurisdictions.” That formula, based on data from the 1960s and 1970s, was used to decide which parts of the country must submit almost any changes in voting laws or practices to the federal government for approval — the process known as preclearance.
Kansas: Kobach: Birth-records scan helps 7,700 Kansas voters meet citizenship requirement | Wichita Eagle
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that comparing voter registration applications against Kansas birth certificates will reduce the backlog of registrants whose voting rights are on hold for not providing proof-of-citizenship documents. Checking the state’s birth certificates has reduced the number of prospective registrants who can’t vote by 7,700, from slightly more than 20,000 to about 12,500, Kobach said in testimony before the House Elections Committee. The backlog of suspended registrants has been a significant concern to some legislators and voting-rights advocates who object to the Secure and Fair Elections Act, a Kobach-inspired law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship before they can become eligible to vote.
Advocacy groups on Thursday assailed a voter ID law being proposed in the Legislature as unnecessary and unconstitutional. “Not only would many Nebraskans’ constitutional right to vote be limited if the voter ID bill were to be passed, taxpayer dollars would be wasted trying to prevent a problem which doesn’t exist,” said Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU in testimony before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. The committee discussed three measures by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist that are part of a Voter Integrity Project being touted by Secretary of State John Gale. The one (LB662) that caught the ACLU’s attention is aimed at increasing the integrity of the election process by addressing two areas that are at higher risk for potential fraud, Krist said.
The chairman of Fiji’s Electoral Commission says he is confident the commission will be able to complete its work in time for elections promised for September. The government recently announced a seven member commission, headed by former president of the Fiji Law Society Chen Bunn Young, to oversee the elections. Young says the commission has a lot of work to do, including appointing an election supervisor, but it can be done.
Beppe Grillo, the former comic who leads Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, on Thursday hit out against plans to reform the country’s voting rules, describing them as tailor-made to block his party’s rise. “The only point of this electoral reform proposal is to block us because we are the danger to the system,” Grillo, whose party won a quarter of the vote at last year’s national election, told a gathering of the foreign press in Rome. The center-left’s dynamic new leader Matteo Renzi this week drew up a plan to change the voting rules blamed for Italy’s chronic political instability after reaching a widely contested deal with center-right leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The 5-Star Movement, which espouses an eclectic mix of green and anti-establishment policies and wants a referendum on Italy’s euro membership, has stayed in opposition since the February 2013 vote and refuses to collaborate with the left-right coalition government.
The ruling Friday that struck down Pennsylvania’s voter-identification law is unlikely to be the last word on the case, or the issue. Supporters and detractors conceded that Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley’s 103-page ruling was almost certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court. And other federal and state courts nationwide are hearing challenges to their voter-ID laws. Every case remains distinct, but experts say each ruling like the one in Pennsylvania could provide ammunition to both sides on the issue. “This is a tremendous PR victory for voter-ID opponents,” said Richard Hasen, an election-law expert and professor at the University of California Irvine.
Voters in Slovak presidential elections won’t be able to vote by post, even after the new election rules currently being prepared by the Interior Ministry are introduced. “There’s a problem with the second round. There’s too little time [between the first and second rounds], it can’t be managed,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the TASR newswire. Moreover, voters aren’t able to take part via electronic voting. Kaliňák said that he doesn’t intend to there isn’t enough interest in this form of voting to make it worthwhile.
Solomon Islands Opposition leader Dr Derek Sikua has called on the Government to make every effort to immediately allocate funds to the National Electoral Commission for the commencement of the biometric voter registration next Thursday. Biometric voter registration to be introduced at the upcoming national general election at the end of this year is a highly advanced biometric information system designed to address the need of a robust and secure voter registration and identification system. Dr Sikua made the call after learning that the proposed commencement of the biometric voter registration on Thursday 27, 2014 would be delayed till March due to government funding problem.
Thailand’s Constitutional Court has delayed a decision on postponing the country’s general election as protesters continue to demand that the government step down. The Election Commission says the country is too volatile to hold a general election now, while the government argues that the decree to hold the election on Feb. 2 has been signed by the king and cannot be changed. “The Constitutional Court has accepted this case and we will look at the legal issues involved. If there is enough evidence, we may hand down a decision tomorrow,” Pimol Thampithakpong, court spokesman, said on Thursday.