The New Hampshire legislature is in the early stages of considering an electoral novelty: allowing Granite State voters to cast their ballots for “none of the above.” It’s a great idea. Every state should consider similar legislation. The New Hampshire bill, proposed by state Rep. Charles Weed (D), is an unusual idea in American politics but not a unique one: Nevada has offered its voters a “none of the above” option in statewide races since 1976. The New Hampshire version appears to have “the proverbial snowball’s chance of passing the House,” says John DiStaso at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Weed’s stated motivation for a “none of the above” option is to give voters a way to lodge a meaningful protest vote. “Real choice means people have to be able to withhold their consent,” he tells The Associated Press. “You can’t do that with silly write-ins. Mickey Mouse is not as good as ‘none of the above.'” The arguments against the bill from Weed’s colleagues range from the absurd to the nonsensical. Secretary of State Bill Gardner, for example, says that voters won’t know what “none of the above” means, since ballots now list names left-to-right, not top-to-bottom.
Saying that voting can help former felons reintegrate into everyday life, a state lawmaker wants to make it easier for them to get back that right. “I think that people that have served their time and paid their debt to society that it’s important for them to get their most fundamental right – constitutional right – the right to vote, to get it back,” said Rep. Martín J. Quezada, D-Phoenix. He authored HB 2132, which would restore the right to vote to a person who has been convicted of two or more felonies after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge from the Arizona Department of Corrections. The latter requires completing a prison term and parole and paying restitution in full. At present, members of that group must apply to vote again, a process that varies by county. “The right to vote being so fundamental … it seems automatic restoration of that right in particular is critical to making us a better-functioning society,” Quezada said.
Voting and civil liberties groups sued Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Tuesday over a decision she made in 2011 that said tens of thousands of criminals who are serving their sentences under community supervision are ineligible to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and other groups filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of nearly 60,000 convicts who are sentenced either to mandatory supervision or post-release community supervision. It’s the second lawsuit challenging Bowen’s interpretation of the 2011 criminal justice realignment law, which is designed to ease overcrowding in state prisons by sentencing those convicted of less serious crimes to county jails or alternative treatment programs.
The League of Women Voters slammed legislation Tuesday requested by small cities to shorten early-voting periods from 21 days to six, including one Saturday. Cities complain that staffing three people as poll workers for days when almost no one shows up to vote is too costly for local taxpayers, according to Tom Gehl, a lobbyist for the Georgia Municipal Association. “The requirement that they stay open can be really expensive, especially with a part-time staff,” he said. That argument doesn’t wash with Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
It goes without saying that one of the cornerstones of a functioning, modern, liberal democracy is universal suffrage. However, it appears that headlines across the state of Iowa are ringing with actions committed by state officials, which undermine that noble principle. This past week, a Republican official in Cerro Gordo County reported that mistakes made by state election officials led to three voters being barred from voting because they were incorrectly labeled as disenfranchised felons (two of the voters were felons who had had their voting rights restored, while the third was not a felon). This incident is just an anecdote amid Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s overzealous crackdown on the nonexistent threat of voter fraud, a crusade we have often criticized on this page. Firstly, it’s important to note that it is fundamentally immoral to deny anyone the right the vote, even if a citizen committed some sort of criminal offense. Free societies don’t strip their citizens of basic democratic freedoms. Authoritarian regimes do that.
Holding a special election to fill a vacant local Missouri House of Representatives seat the same day as a primary election for the same seat was described as “tricky” by a state official Monday. Friday, Gov. Jay Nixon scheduled a special election to be held Aug. 5, 2014, for the vacant House seat in the 120th Legislative District, which covers parts of Phelps and Crawford counties, as well as two other districts in the state with vacancies in the House. Aug. 5 is also the date of the primary election for county and state legislative offices in Missouri. This could result in some candidates appearing on two ballots simultaneously — one that would allow them to serve in the House for the final five months of 2014 and another that would make them their party’s nominee for a regular two-year term to begin in January.
Dallas County Commissioners are discussing whether to pony up more money to reach voters whose photo IDs don’t match their elections records. The Democratic county judge says it’s an effort to make sure everyone who’s registered gets to vote, but the commission’s lone Republican thinks there’s another reason. Last November was the first test of Texas’ new voter ID law, and in Dallas County one in five had to sign affidavits before they could cast ballots. They had to swear to their identities because the names on their photo ID’s didn’t exactly match their names on the county’s registration list. Election officials believe at least 195,000 registered voters in Dallas County have name discrepancies that will delay their voting in March and November.
Virginia localities may continue to use touch-screen voting machines at the polls beyond the 2014 election. A proposal that would have forced precincts to replace the so-called direct recording electronic machines with optical scan tabulators by November was defeated in the House Privileges and Elections Committee Friday after several panel members voiced concern with the financial burden of replacement. The measure, sponsored by Del. David I. Ramadan, R-Loudoun, would have created a fund to help localities cover half of the cost of new tabulators.
Burma’s National ID Cards grant relative freedom of travel, allow voting in national elections, access to official schools. Denied for decades basic government services, villagers in Karen State view Burma’s National ID Card scheme with a mix of confusion, indifference, and even fear. Some of the Karen interviewed for this story, referred to the government issued cards as ‘Burma ID cards’, indicative of how they distrust the central government after over six decades of civil war. “I got an ID card many years ago, because I couldn’t travel without one. Authorities would ask for money if they stopped you and you didn’t have one, and if you didn’t pay you would be in trouble.” Naw Thae Nay, a villager, said. “We lived in a mountainous area on the border, but needed the ID cards whenever we decided to travel to town. When I had the ID card, I felt like there is more freedom for me to travel and more freedom to get into a job. Also, if we don’t have ID card our kids will not be allowed to study in government schools.” But applying for an ID card raises it’s own concerns.
Canada’s election law is getting a major overhaul, aimed at making it tougher to play on the dirty-tricks side of the political game. A crackdown on automated “robocalls” and voter fraud are among the measures contained in the 242-page bill unveiled Tuesday by Democratic Reform minister Pierre Poilievre. And in what’s being widely viewed as a rebuke to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, the Conservatives have taken away his oversight of investigations into election-law abuse. The commissioner of elections, who conducts those probes, will now report to Canada’s director of public prosecutions, who has an arm’s-length relationship with government and political entities. “What we are doing is making sure that office has full independence,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the Commons on Tuesday. Poilievre said the change gives Canada a new breed of political-crimes investigator — one with “sharper teeth, a longer reach and a freer hand.”
An Ontario judge was urged Monday to consider whether the historical reasoning for a law that strips some expatriates of their voting rights makes sense in today’s world. The request came from a lawyer for two Canadians who are challenging the rule that affects citizens living abroad for more than five years. “The most critical thing is to look at whether these provisions are constitutional now, considering the current context of globalization and the way people travel around the world and are able to stay connected,” said Shaun O’Brien. “Lots of things existed in voting legislation that we no longer accept . . . . The fact that historically the nature of our system requires residence doesn’t meant that residence is required now.”
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) officials on Tuesday began opening the bags containing all ballots from the presidential election last Sunday. Their task: a one-by-one counting of votes. Costa Rica’s legislation stipulates that when the difference in votes between the two leading candidates does not exceed 2 percent, the TSE must conduct a manual count of every ballot. According to the latest TSE report on Monday, Citizens Action Party candidate Luis Guillermo Solís had 30.95 percent of the votes, while the candidate of the ruling National Liberation Party Johnny Araya got 29.59 percent. These figures include the votes from 90 percent of polling centers. The results also indicate that a second round of voting must be held April 6th, as neither of the top candidates got 40 percent of votes (the minimum to be declared the winner). A total of 212 TSE officials are now distributing the ballots from 6,515 polling centers along five long tables for counting them.
While EU member states are gearing up for elections to the European Parliament in May, Sweden also has another election to prepare. In September, Swedes will again head to the voting booths, this time to decide the country’s political direction for the coming four years. As such, 2014 has become known as a “super election year”, a concept of almost mythical proportions. Sweden joined the EU alongside Austria and Finland in 1995, but not all Swedes rejoiced. The referendum preceding accession had given a slim majority – 52.3 per cent – in favour of membership, with a full 46.8 per cent of voters against. EU processes have become an integral part of Swedish politics, but Sweden in many aspects still remains a reluctant partner after almost twenty years of cooperation. Swedish ambivalence towards the EU has been particularly visible since the economic and financial crisis. Swedish top politicians have at once wished to move positions forward in the areas of economy and finance, by virtue of Sweden’s relatively strong performance during the crisis, and to keep actual commitment to EU economic policy at arm’s length. Swedish public opinion is amongst the most sceptical regarding the euro of all member states. As such, the government coalition, in principle in favour of the euro, has had to keep its common-currency dreams at bay. As in many other member states, the nature of Swedish ambiguity towards the EU is somewhat of a chicken-or-egg scenario: have governments sparked these doubts by playing off EU policy against domestic policy, or have they just been sensitive towards the wants and needs of the public? Interestingly, the Swedish political weathervane has seen different effects of the economic crisis in terms of EU policy.
Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday confronted a legal challenge to nullify weekend elections, while a scrapped rice deal dealt a blow to her effort to maintain support from farmers. The opposition Democrat Party’s legal team filed a petition to ask Thailand’s Constitutional Court to nullify Sunday’s election, arguing the poll violated the country’s constitution because it wasn’t completed in one day, and the partial results could influence decisions of voters who would vote late. General elections on Sunday were disrupted in 11% of the electoral districts—mostly in Bangkok and southern Thailand—by street protesters who vowed to remove Ms. Yingluck from office and suspend the election that her party was expected to win. The Election Commission said it would withhold results until all electoral districts that were prevented from voting on Sunday have done so. The chief of the opposition’s legal team, Wiratana Kalayasiri, said the ruling Pheu Thai Party and some ministers have already disclosed publicly how many parliament seats they are likely to get, and that could influence voters. Mr. Wiratana, whose party boycotted the poll, also asked the court to dissolve Ms. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai and ban its executives from politics.