Kentucky could be heading for a historic change this year as it moves closer to abolishing its law banning felons from voting, thanks to a bipartisan effort in the state Capitol and a big assist from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The state has long had among the most restrictive felon voting rules, thus disenfranchising a high percentage of its voting-age population. Black residents have been disproportionately affected — more than one in five of voting age cannot cast a ballot. A long-running push by voting rights advocates to end these restrictions got a boost from Paul, who this week pushed a compromise in testimony before state lawmakers. Republicans in the legislature, who control the Senate, for the first time agreed to ease the ban. “It has the best chance it’s ever had,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.
With the help of former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party launched a national drive on Thursday to expand voting opportunities and fight back against what it calls restrictive voting laws. The program will establish permanent procedures and staff in each state to help register and educate voters, and work with local officials to expand access to the polls in the November elections and beyond. Voting laws have been the subject of partisan fights since 2011, when a wave of Republican-sponsored state laws began to impose stricter identification requirements on voters or restrict access, including by cutting back on early voting sites and hours. Republican supporters say the laws, many of which have been blocked by the courts, are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats say they are designed to limit the ballots of minorities and low-income voters who tend to support Democrats.
National Democrats are launching a program to expand voter access to polls, with a Thursday announcement aided by former president Bill Clinton. The Democratic National Committee says it will fund and staff a permanent effort in battleground states to work for early voting and online voter registration, and against voter identification laws, combating what it calls Republican efforts at voter suppression. “Today, there is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote,” Clinton says in a four-minute video that hits social media Thursday. “It’s not enough anymore just to be against these new voting restrictions. We need to get back on the road forward and work for more and easier voting.”
Former President Clinton said Wednesday the greatest “assault” on the United States’ values are new restrictive voting laws springing up across the country. In a five-minute video, Clinton announced a new initiative by the Democratic National Committee to defend voting rights at a time when, he said, opponents of progress want fewer people to vote. “There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote,” Clinton said. He added: “Now all across the country, we are seeing a determined effort to turn the clock back, an effort taking many different forms.”
National: FEC Deadlocks Again over Disclaimers on Mobile Phone Advertisements, with No Resolution in Sight | In the Arena
The irresistible force met the immovable object Thursday, as the Federal Election Commission deadlocked again on whether disclaimer requirements applied to advertisements displayed through new technologies. The deadlock left no clear path toward a common understanding of the disclaimer requirements, with the Democratic-selected Commissioners contending that the law permits no exception for mobile phone ads, and the Republican Commissioners contending that applying the requirements would violate the law and burden speech. Advisory Opinion Request 2013-18, submitted by Revolution Messaging LLC, dealt with so-called “banner advertisements” appearing at the bottom of a smartphone screen. (Revolution Messaging LLC is a political consulting firm that crafts and places digital advertisements for Democrats and progressives.) Commission regulations apply the disclaimer requirements generally to public communications, including Internet communications that are placed for a fee. But they contain exceptions for “small items,” and for advertisements where “inclusion of a disclaimer would be impracticable.”
Editorials: Conservatives’ 17th Amendment repeal effort: Why their plan will backfire. | David Schleicher/Slate
ver the past year, an increasingly central plank of conservative and Tea Party rhetoric is that constitutional change is needed and that the 17th Amendment in particular, which gives state residents the power to elect senators directly, should be repealed. (Previously, senators were selected by the state legislatures). Hard-right figures across the country, from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to Georgia Senate candidate Rep. Paul Broun to a steady drumbeat of state officials, have now called for repealing the amendment and giving the power to select senators back to the state legislatures. Radio host Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments, calling for repeal, among other constitutional changes, was the best-selling book on constitutional law last year. Clearly this is an idea with legs. This boomlet of energy for repealing the 17th Amendment is not the first in recent memory. Back in 2010, repeal was similarly endorsed by a bevy of conservative bigwigs from Justice Antonin Scalia to Gov. Rick Perry to now-Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Back then, support for repeal was mocked in Democratic campaign ads as kooky, but perhaps it’s time to concede that it is no longer a fringe idea. Given the ascendance of the right flank of the GOP, it’s worth taking the argument for repeal seriously.
With the first voters of the 2014 mid-term election cycle already heading to the polls; with secretaries of state garnering more national attention than ever before; and with state legislatures expanding and limiting the right to vote across the country, 24 states will elect a top election official this year. In 13 of those 24 states, the incumbent is seeking re-election, but in nine states voters are guaranteed a new top election official. Those nine states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nevada. Some of the nine are term-limited or retiring, while others are seeking higher office including governor and the U.S. Senate.
State Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) is under pressure from colleagues to resign, but the timing of any such action could play havoc with this year’s election and its costs, officials say. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has given Calderon until March 3 to resign or take a leave of absence in response to his recent indictment on 24 counts involving the alleged acceptance of nearly $100,000 in bribes. If Calderon does not do one or the other by Monday, he could face a Senate vote suspending him from office.
Under the gold dome in Atlanta Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved a measure to reduce the number of early voting days for municipal elections. But the amended version of House Bill 891 gives city officials around the state the option of deciding whether to have one week of early voting before an election or keeping the early voting period at three weeks. It now heads to the Georgia Senate for consideration. The proposal surfaced after some city officials around the state complained it’s inefficient and costly to staff polling places for three weeks, especially in rural areas where one or two people vote each day. However, the NAACP and other agencies opposed the measure, maintaining it could infringe on some people’s voting rights.
On the floor of the Iowa Senate waits Senate File 2203, a bill that would reinstate the voting rights of ex-felons automatically after they finish serving their criminal sentences. Another version of the bill, Senate File 127, has already been killed by the Senate. “There is a provision in the state constitution that’s been interpreted to disqualify felons from voting,” Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) explained of the current rules in place on ex-felon voting rights. “And a process has been set up subsequently that allowed ex-felons to apply to have their voting rights restored by the governor.” During his term as governor, Tom Vilsack issued an executive order during his term that “rubber stamped” the application process to have voting rights reinstated. “Vilsack’s executive order rubber stamped without giving consideration to whether the individuals paid their restitution,” Johnson said.
Editorials: How ‘the next Citizens United’ could bring more corruption — but less gridlock | Rick Hasen/The Washington Post
An opinion could come as early as this coming week in the Supreme Court case being called “the next Citizens United,” and groups concerned about the influence of money in American politics are bracing themselves for the result. Public Citizen has planned more than 100 events across the country in anticipation of a McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling that further dismantles our campaign finance laws and strikes down a key federal campaign contribution limit. I, too, am troubled by the prospect of an awful decision that would clear the way for more corruption. But I find some solace in the thought that such a ruling could have a surprising positive side effect: reducing gridlock in Washington. At issue in the McCutcheon case is the constitutionality of caps on an individual’s total donations to federal candidates, parties and certain political committees in a two-year election cycle. Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon wanted to give $1,776 to each of 28 candidates in the 2012 cycle, but that would have exceeded the $48,600 aggregate limit on direct contributions to candidates. He and the Republican National Committee are challenging that limit, along with the $123,200 cap on total donations.
Under debate, after passing in the Kentucky Senate with a vote of 34-4, is House Bill 70, an amendment to Section 145 of the Constitution of Kentucky, which asks that persons convicted of a felony, other than treason, intentional killing, a sex crime or bribery, the right to vote after expiration of probation, final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence. The bill is also asking that this amendment be submitted to the voters for ratification or rejection. The amendments to HB 70 impose a five-year waiting period after sentencing has been completed and disqualify anyone with more than one felony conviction from automatic restoration of voting rights. According to a recent analysis, conducted by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, of the 180,000 former felons who have completed their sentences and who would have voting rights restored under original provisions of HB70, 100,000 would be adversely affected by these amendments.
The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus is asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to block the state’s plan to start using a voter identification law. “The law adversely affects Mississippi’s most vulnerable population, namely, the elderly, minorities and disabled,” the caucus wrote a letter dated Wednesday and released Thursday. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says the June 3 federal primaries will be the first time Mississippi voters will be required to show a driver’s license or other form of government-issued photo identification at the polls. Mississippians approved a voter ID constitutional amendment in 2011, and legislators put the mandate into law in 2012.
The question of whether voters should have to carry a photo ID to the polls could be decided on the ballot in 2014. The Missouri House on Thursday approved measures to require photo identification, but the changes to the state’s constitution require approval by voters. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he would like to put the issue to a vote of the people. Proponents of a requirement that voters present a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot argue it will increase the integrity of the election process. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, sponsored the constitutional amendment. “We deserve the protection of photo identification at the moment the vote is cast,” Cox said. But opponents point out there has not been a documented case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri in years.
The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the rejection of a lawsuit claiming Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission improperly assigned a Democratic senator to a new central Montana district. The court, without comment this week, affirmed a ruling by state District Judge Mike Menahan of Helena, who said the five-member panel did not violate open meetings law when it made the Senate District 15 assignment a year ago. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the court will issue a full opinion later, but wanted to issue its decision before the end of candidate filing next Monday.
The protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy. It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal. Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government.
May’s European elections may be three months away, but for those who are yet to register to vote, this week may be their final chance to make sure they get their hands on a ballot paper. Like the voting itself, which starts in some countries on 22 May but is staggered across the following three days, each country has its own national deadline to register to vote. People living in France or Spain who are not already on the electoral register have already missed the boat. Citizens living in Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg have less than 48 hours to meet the deadline of 28 February. An estimated 8 million Europeans of voting age live outside the country they were born in, roughly equivalent to the entire population of Austria. With 2.2 million and 1.9 million respectively, Germany and the UK have more than half of the EU’s expat community, followed by Spain and Italy. With over 600,000 non-national EU citizens, however, Belgium has the largest number of expats as a proportion of its population. Registrations by EU citizens to vote in their country of residence rather than origin have doubled in the past twenty years, from 5.9 percent in 1994 to 11.6 percent in 2009, but expats are surprisingly reluctant to exercise their right to vote.
Going by the claims of organisers, more than a million signatures have been collected to demand that Bulgaria’s Parliament agrees to the holding of a national referendum on electoral law reform. If the figure is accurate and stands up to official scrutiny, it will be more than double the statuory minimum required for requiring Parliament to call a referendum. At issue is President Rossen Plevneliev’s call in January for the 42nd National Assembly to agree to the holding of a referendum on three issues – a majoritarian element in the election of MPs, compulsory voting and electronic voting – and for this question to be put to Bulgarian citizens when they go to vote on May 25 2014 in European Parliament elections. In collaboration, the parties of the ruling axis, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, already have voted in the legal affairs committee on Parliament to reject Plevneliev’s call.
Canada: Courts will have to decide if Elections Canada CEO can be ‘muzzled,’ say experts | The Hill Times
Elections Canada and critics of proposed government legislation that will restrict communications between the chief electoral officer and the electorate say the measure will also limit information the chief electoral officer will be able to distribute to news media. A source told The Hill Times the electoral agency remains concerned despite assurances Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, Ont.) made on a political talk show that he was open to amending a section of the legislation, Bill C-23, to address Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand’s concerns. And Ottawa lawyer Steven Shrybman, an expert on Canada’s electoral law who represented voters in a Federal Court challenge of results from the 2011 federal election, said the statement from Mr. Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, Ont.) will have no effect unless the government eliminates the section entirely.
Editorials: The Fair Elections Act doesn’t address the real problems with voting | Adam Scheletzky/The Globe and Mail
The Conservative government’s proposed “Fair Elections Act” aims to “protect the fairness of federal elections.” Yet, rather than effectively address issues like the 2011 robocall fraud, the Act attempts to tackle supposed individual voter fraud by prohibiting the use of “Voter Information Cards” (VICs) and ending the process of “vouching.” Presumably, since approximately 120,000 Canadians utilized vouching and 36-73 per cent of youth, aboriginal peoples and seniors used VICs in a 900,000-person pilot program during the last federal election, there is compelling evidence to justify making it harder for so many Canadians to vote. Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre points to the Neufeld Report for justification that the process of vouching needs to end. Yet this independent report does not present one iota of evidence that there was one case of actual fraud by an individual voter. Nor does it recommend that vouching be eliminated.
Ecuador: Electoral blow sparks changes in Ecuador but Correa still firmly in charge | Financial Times
A year ago Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s leftwing president, was riding high after winning a third term in a landslide election. Some say his party, Alianza País, got too used to winning. This week, Correa was looking more subdued after the opposition won the country’s key mayoralties – Guayaquil, Cuenca and, most painfully, the capital Quito – in Sunday’s local elections. The result is a setback for Correa’s “citizen’s revolution” and its aim of increasing the role of the state in the economy, as it means he can no longer count on the support of heavyweight mayoralties. Correa called the results “painful” and said losing Quito was “very sad and dangerous” and could make Ecuador “ungovernable”. The fiery president even drew parallels with Venezuela, an ally that has seen a wave of street protests in recent weeks, saying some members of the opposition were “counting the days for the government to fall.”
Russia: Crimean Parliament Dismisses Cabinet and Sets Date for Autonomy Referendum | The Moscow Times
The Crimean parliament on Thursday voted in favor of holding a referendum on whether to expand its autonomy and passed a no-confidence motion dismissing the region’s government. The referendum — set for May 25, the same day as Ukraine’s presidential election — was supported by 61 out of the 64 deputies who attended Thursday’s emergency session, the parliament’s press office told RIA Novosti. Crimeans will vote “yes” or “no” on whether the “Crimea has state sovereignty and is a part of Ukraine, in accordance with treaties and agreements.”
Arizona: Brewer signs bill repealing elections overhaul that angered many and led to voter referendum | Associated Press
13 elections overhaul by Republicans that left voter-rights groups incensed and led to a petition drive that put the law on hold and referred it to voters. The bill repealed a sweeping elections overhaul that Republicans passed in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, angering Democrats, some conservative Republicans and third-party candidates. They came together to collect more than 146,000 signatures to place the law on hold and put it on the November ballot. Repealing the law cancels the voter referendum. Brewer issued no statement regarding her action. Both houses of the legislature approved the bill along party lines earlier this month.
During an event honoring African-American History Month Tuesday evening, Vice President Joe Biden pressed Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and said that voter ID laws offered in some southern states are evidence of lingering racism. He specifically pointed to voting legislation in North Carolina, Alabama and Texas as examples of what’s going wrong on the state level. “These guys never go away. Hatred never, never goes away,” Biden said of the laws in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas, the latter two of which are facing lawsuits by the Justice Department to block their laws that would require showing identification before voting. “The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise cannot be smothered by reason.”
The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday to change the date of the regular municipal election from April to November starting in 2017. Assemblyman Chris Birch, who introduced the measure, said that moving the city’s elections would boost voter turnout, citing historical data that recent city races have drawn 20 to 35 percent of voters, while there has been a 50 to 60 percent turnout for recent state races held in the fall. The ordinance passed in a six to four split, with Assembly members Tim Steele, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Paul Honeman and Dick Traini opposing the change. Patrick Flynn was absent from the vote. Mayor Dan Sullivan has said he supports the switch. While some Assembly members offered other solutions to amp up voter turnout, like switching to mail-in votes or connecting voting to Permanent Fund Dividends, all who commented stressed the need to bring more voters to the polls.
Kentucky: Changes to voting bill would leave more than half of Kentucky felons without the right to vote | Kentucky.com
More than half of the 180,000 Kentuckians barred from voting because of a felony conviction would remain permanently disenfranchised under changes the Kentucky Senate made last week to a voting rights bill, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. In its original form, House Bill 70 would put a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot asking voters if felons should have their voting rights automatically restored after they complete their sentences. Felons convicted of intentional murder and certain sex offenses would be excluded. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, last week changed the bill to make it more restrictive. The Senate version, which cleared that chamber on a 34-to-4 vote, would require felons to wait five years with no misdemeanor or felony convictions before they could register to vote. The Senate version also would exclude felons with multiple prior offenses.
More than a third of North Carolina’s counties are asking for an exemption from part of the sweeping election overhaul the General Assembly passed last year. Those exemptions would allow counties to cut early voting periods beyond what the new law already does. There are a couple ways to look at the early voting changes that are part of the overhaul. On a calendar, it’s simple: there are seven fewer days of early voting. But Republicans who back the law have argued that’s not really a cut. Governor Pat McCrory explained how on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks a few months ago. “The number of hours of early voting is going to be the exact same number of hours,” he said.
Ohio voters this year will not be able to cast votes at boards of elections on Sundays – and that has some Democrats angered across the state. Voters will still be able to cast ballots weekdays and two Saturdays in the four weeks before Election Day under a directive issued Tuesday by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. They’ll also be able to cast early ballots by mail. But to Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke, who is also the county’s Democratic Party chairman, Sunday voting is “critical.”
The ink is barely dry on the report from President Obama’s election administration commission and states are already disregarding its blue-ribbon recommendations, namely around early voting. The endorsement of expanding the voting period before Election Day was one of the strongest components of the bipartisan commission’s report. But yesterday Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted released a new voting schedule that deletes both pre-Election Day Sundays from the early voting formula. Under the new rules, people can vote in the four weeks before Election Day, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on the final two Saturdays before Election Day. The Sunday erasures come in conflict with the “souls to the polls” black church-led campaigns to take their congregants to vote after worship services. When Husted dropped Sunday from the early voting period in 2012 it landed him in court, where a federal judge ultimately forced him to reinstate Sunday voting. In 2008, over 77 percent of people who voted early in Ohio were African-American.
Lawmakers on Wednesday shelved legislation that would have required the Oregon Secretary of State’s office to study the feasibility of Internet voting. Senate Bill 1515 came under intense criticism from opponents who cited the state’s questionable track record of information technology projects and the Feb. 4 hack of the Secretary of State’s website. The agency’s business and elections databases returned online last weekend after a nearly three-week outage. Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, sponsored the bill and voted for it when it passed the Senate on Feb. 20. But on Wednesday, he asked the House Rules Committee to kill the bill.