National: The exciting war to make secretaries of state more boring | Washington Post

On Thursday, a new voting-rights campaign called iVote launched, and it plans to target its resources at secretary of state races in Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and Ohio. Last week, a conservative super PAC named SOS for SoS kicked off its fundraising campaign in secretary of state races in nine states — including Colorado, Iowa and Ohio. In December 2012, two longtime Democratic strategists started the SoS (Secretary of State) for Democracy super PAC, which plans to be involved in six races — including Ohio and Iowa. Why has a series of elections known to send the most aerobic of election-year browser refreshers into a deep sleep suddenly taken on the contours of a close Senate contest? Blame a string of events that started with the 2000 presidential election and reached their climax with the current battle over voting rights. The Constitution states, “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof,” and in 38 states, secretaries of state are tasked with carrying out the will of the legislature and orchestrating the complex system that decides who gets to run the country.

National: In A Political Campaign, Is There A Constitutionally-Protected Right To Lie? | Forbes

On January 10, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments from two political action committees that seek standing to thwart the strictures of the Ohio Election Commission, which, by statute, had sought to bar billboard ads that allegedly lied about a Congressional candidate’s positions.  The candidate claimed that the ads were intentionally false and misleading, and were designed to damage his reputation and hurt his bid to retain his seat in the U. S. Congress.  The political action committees (the Susan B. Anthony List, which is committed to female candidates who oppose abortion, and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) have succeeded in having their appeal docketed for hearing by the high court (SBA List, et al, petitioners v. Steven Driehaus, et al ). Governmental attempts to “outlaw” election campaign lies raise significant and delicate “free speech” issues:  Can states insist on truth in slander?  Can states bar knowing falsehoods in ads whose purpose is to damage a particular candidacy?

Editorials: Government has to make voting easier | The Washington Post

Once the recount was over on Monday, control of Virginia’s Senate was determined by a margin of less than a dozen votes in a special election in which a mere 20 percent of registered voters participated. This wasn’t the first time a high-stakes race depended on an unhealthily small sliver of the electorate. Maybe only so many people will ever bother with a state senate special election. But registration and turnout would be a lot higher across the board if voting in the United States weren’t a Kafkaesque exercise. Government has got to make voting easier. The first thing politicians can do is stop trying to make it harder. GOP lawmakers should end efforts to limit access to the ballot box with restrictive and unnecessary voter identification laws, for example. Then they should fix the things the government was already doing wrong. That’s where a report President Obama commissioned after the 2012 presidential election comes in. The commission included Mr. Obama’s top campaign lawyer — and that of Mitt Romney, his 2012 rival. The result could easily have been a collection of useless platitudes. Instead, the bipartisan panel offered a set of serious changes that could, if state and local election officials took them up, make a big difference.

California: Has California cured its political dysfunction? Not so fast. | Washington Post

The federal government has been something of a train wreck lately. The shutdown was just the latest in a seemingly endless parade of partisan bickering and dysfunction. Not long ago, California’s government suffered from similar problems: intense partisan conflict and late, out-of-balance budgets. In response, voters approved an independent redistricting and a “top two” primary. The first denied incumbents the power to directly draw their own lines and the second let primary voters choose any candidate, regardless of party, with the top two candidates advancing to a fall runoff.  The goals included empowering independent voters and clipping the wings of partisan extremism. California has now seen on-time budgets and progress on several major policy fronts. Democrats have reached a dominance not seen in decades, yet have not passed a tax increase and on many key bills have even supported the position of pro-business organizations more closely associated with Republicans. This has generated a lot of interest outside the state. Could these reforms be the medicine for what ails D.C.? Not so fast. We’re getting ahead of the evidence.

Editorials: Schultz’s hunt for fraud disenfranchises eligible voters | Iowa City Press Citizen

Last week, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced the state was filing charges in nine additional voter fraud cases — all concerning felons who voted in the 2012 general election without having had their voting rights restored. We’ve already opined repeatedly against Schultz’s instance on playing Captain Ahab to what he views as the White Whale of statewide voter fraud. And so far — despite Schultz’s having pledged to spend more than a quarter-million dollars on such investigations — that White Whale has seemed more like a minnow. And we’ve likewise opined repeatedly against Gov. Terry Branstad’s issuing an executive order to stop Iowa from automatically restoring the voting rights of felons once they have paid their debt to society. Branstad’s order nullified the one issued by his predecessor, Tom Vilsack, and created an incredibly complicated situation for determining which ex-felons have the right to vote and which ex-felons, if they cast a vote, risk committing yet another felony.

Editorials: Schultz’s crusade punishes voters | The Des Moines Register

A felony record can make it next to impossible to find a job and build a successful life, and in Iowa felons also lose the right to vote. Now these social outcasts face the possibility of criminal prosecution if they mistakenly register to vote. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s misguided crusade to expose voting fraud has produced no evidence of voting irregularities, but it has ensnared several people whose crime was making a mistake. These are people with felony records who registered to vote, either because they did not understand the state’s confusing registration form or because they mistakenly thought their rights had been restored. Besides discouraging Iowans with criminal records from trying to exercise their right to vote, which is in society’s interest, it now is clear that Schultz’s crusade has wrongly denied some Iowans the right to have their ballots counted. That is based on the Cerro Gordo County auditor’s discovery that he wrongly rejected ballots cast by three voters in the November 2012 presidential election on the basis of a flawed criminal-records database. If this occurred in one county, it almost certainly happened in other Iowa counties, too, as there are 46,000 names in the database. It is impossible to say how many Iowans’ votes have wrongly been rejected, but it is an outrage whatever the number.

Minnesota: Task force that led pilot project on electronic voting rosters backs another study | Star Tribune

A Minnesota panel that led a pilot project around an electronic voter verification process is urging the Legislature to authorize a more extensive study this fall. The Electronic Roster Task Force was meeting Friday to finalize a report and proposed legislation. The recommendations they were set to adopt seek a broader examination of the effectiveness and expense of a higher-tech alternative to the paper sign-in process at polling places. The panel asks the state to pick up costs of the next study and any technological needs required for local election administrators to carry out the test. The review would occur at more sites and in a busier environment than the 2013 pilot. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said a higher turnout election would offer a better handle of the costs versus benefits.

Missouri: State likely to pass voter ID bill this year | Washington Post

Missouri could become the latest state to institute new rules requiring voters to show identification at the polls under a measure being considered by the state Senate. And after earlier versions were struck down by the state Supreme Court, Republicans believe they have fixed provisions to which the court objected. The new version of the law, which was subject to a hearing earlier this week in the state Senate, would allow voters without proper identification to receive new IDs without cost. Voters who can’t afford an identification and voters born before 1941 would be able to cast a provisional ballot under the new legislation. That the bill is originating in the Senate is significant, observers said, because the upper chamber has been the hurdle in recent years. The state House has passed voter identification legislation in each of the last seven years, but those bills have all died in the Senate.

Ohio: Election history will repeat itself in Ohio districts drawn to favor one party or the other | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Any way you define “suspense,” the word doesn’t apply to Ohio’s November election, at least as to General Assembly and congressional contests. Districts drawn by Republicans favor Republicans, and so the legislature will continue to be Republican-run, and even though Ohio twice voted for Barack Obama, most of Ohio’s U.S. House members will be Republican. Yes, history proves that Ohio Democrats, when they could, drew tilted districts, though that was a while ago. Yes also, when Democrats last ran the Ohio House, they cold-shouldered a reasonable plan to at least try to make Ohio General Assembly and congressional districts less one-sided. Drawing tilted maps is called “gerrymandering,” named for a Massachusetts governor, Gerry (rhymes with “Gary”), who signed a slanted remap in the Bay State in 1812. So, if Democrats somehow run the Ohio General Assembly in 2021, after 2020’s census, they’ll draw Ohio’s congressional districts to suit Democrats. If Republicans run things, they’ll do the same for the GOP.

Afghanistan: Presidential campaign to begin | Boston Herald

The posters are printed. The rallies are organized. A televised debate is planned. Campaign season for Afghanistan’s presidential election kicks off Sunday, and the stakes are high for the 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai and oversee the final chapter in a NATO-led combat mission. The April 5 vote is a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history, its outcome seen as make-or-break for the country’s future and key to the level of foreign involvement here after nearly 13 years of war. Billions of dollars in funds are tied to the government’s holding a free and fair election — the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance. Amid a surge in violence from the Taliban ahead of the NATO combat troop withdrawal at the end of the year, the poll also will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable transition. And the West will be watching the vote as means of gauging the success of its efforts to foster democracy and bolster security over the past 12 years.

Canada: Law that strips certain Canadian expats of voting rights to be debated in court | The Globe and Mail

Two Canadians who are challenging a law that strips voting rights from expatriates who have lived abroad for more than five years expect their case to be heard in court this week. Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, who live in the U.S., were shocked to learn of the five-year rule when they tried to cast their ballots in the 2011 federal election. In an effort to combat what they see as an affront on their citizenship, the pair launched a legal challenge against the federal government nearly two years ago, arguing the rule in the Canada Elections Act is arbitrary, unreasonable and should be struck down as unconstitutional. “Having a say in the government, having my full citizenship reinstated is absolutely vital to me,” Frank told The Canadian Press in an interview ahead of the three-day hearing, which begins Monday in Ontario Superior Court. “I believe the Canadian government continues to affect me and it will affect me when I return home one day.” Frank, a history professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, moved to the U.S. in 2001 to get his PhD and stayed on as his studies led to a job.

Costa Rica: Leftist outsider leads election, run-off expected | Reuters

A left-leaning former diplomat edged ahead in Costa Rica’s presidential election on Sunday, riding a wave of disgust at government corruption to get within reach of wresting power from the centrist government in an April run-off. Luis Guillermo Solis, an academic who has never been elected to office, had a slim lead over ruling party candidate Johnny Araya despite trailing in pre-election polls and early vote returns. Araya was seen as the front-runner ahead of the vote, but his campaign was hurt by corruption scandals that plagued President Laura Chinchilla’s administration. Solis, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, won 30.9 percent support on Sunday compared to 29.6 percent for Araya with returns in from around 82 percent of polling centers.

El Salvador: Former leftwing guerrilla takes lead in presidential election | The Guardian

A former leftwing guerrilla leader took a strong early lead in El Salvador’s presidential election on Sunday but he could still face a run-off against a conservative rival who wants to deploy the army to fight powerful street gangs, early results showed. Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a rebel commander who rose to the top of the now-ruling leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) during El Salvador’s civil war, had 49.2% support with votes in from about 45.4% of polling booths. His rightwing opponent, former San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, had 38.9%. If no one wins more than half of the vote, the two leading candidates will go to a run-off on March 9.

El Salvador: Runoff likely in El Salvador election | Herald and News

Salvadorans vote Sunday in a presidential election that may give former leftist rebels a second chance at government — or return national leadership to the right-wing party that ruled the country for two decades. Opinion surveys have shown an extremely tight race, especially with the entrance of a new third party run by a former conservative president with family members tied to notorious corruption cases. More than 20 years after the end of a civil war in which more than 75,000 people were killed, choices remain stark in El Salvador. When the left won the presidency in 2009 for the first time in modern Salvadoran history, there were high expectations about change and progressive policies after a generation of conservative rule. But many Salvadorans now express disappointment in a country where international drug trafficking has made great inroads, gangs control entire neighborhoods, and economic growth has plummeted.

Thailand: Protesters Disrupt Thai Voting, Forcing Additional Elections | New York Times

Protesters seeking to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra disrupted Thailand’s general election on Sunday in what appeared to be a prelude to more political upheaval. The opposition forces, who represent a minority of Thais and are seeking to replace the country’s elected government with an appointed council of technocrats, said they would challenge the election results in court while continuing to hold street demonstrations in Bangkok, the capital. Protesters stopped the distribution of ballot boxes on Sunday and pressed election officials to call off voting in a number of districts in Bangkok and in most of southern Thailand, the stronghold of the protest movement. Although no violence was reported during voting hours, a battle in the capital on Saturday between would-be voters and gunmen allied with the protesters left at least seven people wounded and might have deterred voters the next day.

Thailand: Protesters block voting in chaotic election | Digital Journal

Opposition protesters prevented voting at thousands of polling stations in Thailand on Sunday, triggering angry scenes in the capital over an election that plunged the strife-racked kingdom into political limbo. Despite weeks of mass street demonstrations aimed at forcing her from office, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was widely expected to extend her billionaire family’s decade-long winning streak at the ballot box. But the disruption to voting means that the results are not expected for weeks at least, and there will not be enough MPs to convene parliament and appoint a government until new elections are held in the problem areas. An angry crowd gathered outside one voting centre in the Bangkok district of Din Daeng, holding their ID cards in the air and chanting “Vote! Vote!” before storming inside.

Thailand: Gunshots, explosions rock Thai protest day ahead of polls | Reuters

Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tensions amid anti-government protests in the Thai capital on Saturday, a day ahead of a general election seen as incapable of restoring stability in the deeply polarised country. At least three people were wounded in the violence in front of a suburban shopping mall in the north of Bangkok. Gunmen among the crowds could be seen hiding their weapons before backing away from the shooting. Sporadic gunfire continued as the sun began to set. It was not immediately clear whether the demonstrators or those wounded were the government’s supporters or its opponents, some of whom are aiming to block ballotting in an election almost certain to return Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power. The attack took place in Bangkok’s Laksi district, close to the Don Muang airport, a stronghold of Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party. Her supporters had gathered to demand Sunday’s ballot is not obstructed. Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in politically related violence since late November. The protesters took to the streets in the latest round of an eight-year conflict broadly between Bangkok’s middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.