Editorials: Strength and weakness of the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 | Anna Massoglia/TheHill

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a provision mandating that specified states “preclear” any changes in election regulations with the federal government. The court upheld other provisions of the Vot­ing Rights Act intact, including Section 2, a permanent provision that prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws nationwide, but determined that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) constitutes the “coverage formula” used to apply Section 5. As enacted, Section 4 requires certain states and jurisdictions that were determined by the formula to have a history of racially unbalanced voting to preclear any changes in election regulation with the federal government, even changes as minor as moving a polling station from one building to another. The Court in Shelby found that the provision was unconstitutional because it was based on outmoded data from voter turnout in 1964, 1968, or 1972 elections. Further, many states and vicinities subject to preclearance no longer correspond to the same incidence of racial discrimination in voting. In fact, the Census Bureau has reported that black voters voted at substantially higher rates than whites in seven of the states covered by Section 5, a rate higher than many other states that remain unaffected by Section 5.

Editorials: Restore voting rights to ex-felons | Al Jazeera

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-felons, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.” Holder is reportedly the first attorney general to take up this cause. It has been a long time coming. Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although felons were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all felons in those states were black. The South’s loss of the Civil War in 1865 presented former slave owners with dual dilemmas. Their captive labor supply had been liberated, and those formerly involuntary workers were going to be allowed to vote. In the words of one former slave, “bottom rail on the top.” Soon after the withdrawal of federal troops in 1877, however, white entrepreneurs of the South solved both problems with two linked concepts: convict leasing and felon disenfranchisement. First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work in mines, mills and fields, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-felons were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book “Slavery by Another Name” describes these circumstances in excruciating detail: The depraved system has made enduring marks on today’s criminal justice landscape, in the form of felon disenfranchisement laws and racially disparate arrest, conviction and sentencing practices. Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.

California: Senate’s Republican, Democratic leaders agree district boundary law is ambiguous, needs review

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the state Senate on Monday said a law that ensnared a legislator on perjury and voter-fraud charges is ambiguous and might need to be changed. Sen. Roderick Wright is awaiting sentencing in May after he was convicted last month of lying about his true residence, which a Los Angeles County jury determined was outside his Senate district. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in separate comments to reporters that current state law is so ambiguous that other lawmakers also could be in violation of a requirement that they live in the district they represent while running for office.

Colorado: Tracking Voters in Real Time in Colorado | National Journal

Hoping to make voting accessible without opening the door to fraud, Colorado is turning to technology. In 2013, the state Legislature created Colorado’s own “electronic pollbook,” a new real-time voter-tracking system that allows the state to combine an all-mail election with traditional in-person voting, maximizing the opportunities for residents to cast ballots. Colorado already had a robust vote-by-mail system—about three-quarters of the state’s voters mailed their ballots in 2012—but now, every registered voter in the state, including previously “inactive” voters, will receive a mail ballot in upcoming elections. Yet unlike in Washington state or Oregon, which run all-mail elections, Coloradans can still vote in person if they choose. Instead of being tethered to a local precinct, voters can cast ballots or return their mail ballots at any “voting center” in their county, where poll workers can check them in using the real-time connection in the new e-pollbook to ensure they haven’t already voted using a mail ballot. The process is spread over a couple of weeks of early voting and Election Day itself to reduce crowding and wait times at polling places.

District of Columbia: Could the U.N. Help D.C. Win a Vote in Congress? | Roll Call

Raising the profile of the District’s struggle to win voting rights in Congress to the international level could create some interesting geopolitical dynamics. Imagine Chinese President Xi Jinping denouncing D.C.’s disenfranchisement in Congress as a human rights violation. Picture Russian President Vladimir Putin lecturing the White House for denying voting representation to citizens in the nation’s capital. “I don’t want to encourage anybody to poke a stick in our eye in the United States, but the reality is, I think we have some vulnerability on that and there are groups that are eager to find some chink in the United States’ armor,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., during a recent symposium on congressional representation for D.C. residents hosted by the William & Mary Election Law Program. Davis believes that launching an international dialogue on the issue could be helpful in pressing it forward politically. As one of the staunchest allies the District has ever had in Congress, Davis repeatedly defended the city during his 14 years in Congress and pushed legislation to give the District a vote in the House.

Iowa: Voter fraud investigation concludes; 80 additional cases referred to prosecutors | The Des Moines Register

A controversial investigation into alleged voter fraud has concluded, the investigator leading the effort said Monday. Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Adam DeCamp said Monday that the probe aimed at identifying and prosecuting fraudulent Iowa voters ended Feb. 13, roughly 20 months after it began. Since September, when DeCamp took over as the lead investigator, the effort has scrutinized 245 individual voters. Of those, more than 80 have been referred to county attorneys for possible prosecution. It will be up to prosecutors on whether to bring charges based on the evidence provided by the DCI.

North Carolina: Voter ID laws challenge out-of-state voters | The Pendulum

Junior political science major Niki Molinaro has voted in every election since she came to Elon University. But new North Carolina voter identification laws may keep her out of the voting booth. Although she considers Elon her home, Molinaro, an official New York resident, must present a North Carolina identification card at the polls if she wants to continue voting in North Carolina. The bill, passed August 2013, does more than require voters to show a government-issued ID at the polls. It also shortens the voting period by one week and ends same-day voter registration. This is particularly a problem for university students who use their college ID cards as a form of identification at the polls. Beginning in 2016, they will no longer be considered acceptable. “I think the new law is meant to keep certain groups of people out of the elections,” Molinaro said.

South Carolina: Embattled Richland County elections director fired | The State

Howard Jackson has been fired after eight months as director of the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office. Jackson, 43, was dismissed Monday on a 4-1 vote by the election board, with member Adell Adams the only “no” vote. His last day in the office will be Feb. 28. “Things were not going right,” board member Samuel Selph said in confirming the board’s decision. Jackson, who was hired at an annual salary of $78,000, said he would be holding a news conference Tuesday to discuss the turn of events as well as recent elections. He was brought in by the board after the election disaster of November 2012, when too few machines were deployed and voters waited in long lines, some for as long as seven hours, to cast ballots. Then-director Lillian McBride, who oversaw that election, was demoted to another position.

Ohio: Cuyahoga County considering legal action against election bills, FitzGerald says | The Columbus Dispatch

Gov. John Kasich signed two GOP-sponsored bills today that shorten early voting in Ohio and change the process for mailing absentee ballot applications statewide, potentially inviting a legal challenge from his likely Democratic opponent. Kasich put his name on Senate Bill 238 — which eliminates “Golden Week,” when Ohioans could register and vote on the same day — and Senate Bill 205, which requires the approval of the legislature for the secretary of state to mail absentee applications statewide. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, who also serves as the elected Cuyahoga County executive, said he has asked his county law director to review the two bills and is considering taking legal action. “We’ve done that before,” FitzGerald said. “We are the only county in Ohio that when they tried to change the election rules at the last minute in 2012, of course there was a lawsuit over that, there was only one county in Ohio that filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief.

Oregon: Secretary of state to ask lawmakers for cash to fix hacked website | Associated Press

Secretary of State Kate Brown has informed the Oregon Legislature that she’ll be asking for money to hire a security contractor to fix her website, which was taken offline after hackers broke in. Brown’s office hired a contractor to review security upgrades and another to help manage communication with website users, said Tony Green, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. Brown’s office has cut off access to the state’s business registry and campaign finance records since the hacking was discovered Feb. 4. Officials have said little about what information was compromised or when the website will work, but they insist personal information is safe. The hackers did not get access to the state’s central voter registration database, officials say. Green declined again Friday to say when the website might return or whether the public can be assured of having access to campaign finance information before the primary in May or local elections next month. The office has suspended fines for businesses that are late in paying annual fees.

Texas: State officials investigating Democratic activists | Associated Press

The Texas Secretary of State referred three complaints against Democratic group Battleground Texas for possible prosecution as violations of a state election law on Friday. Battleground Texas issued a statement, saying it has done nothing wrong and that the complaints and referrals were partisan attempts to slow the group. Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which would normally investigate further, recused itself and forwarded the complaints in a letter to Susan Reed, the district attorney in Bexar County, where one of the violations allegedly took place. Abbott is running for governor against Democrat Wendy Davis, whom Battleground Texas is assisting by registering voters, building a supporter database and ultimately mobilizing those voters for the Nov. 4 general election.

Utah: Romney backs effort to end nominating conventions in Utah | Washington Post

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is lending his support to an initiative that would change the way Utah political parties choose their candidates. In an e-mail to former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), Romney said he supports Count My Vote, an initiative that would require party nominees to be chosen in primaries rather than through a convention system. “I want to tell you that Ann and I are supporters. Since the election, I’ve been pushing hard for states to move to direct primaries,” Romney wrote in an e-mail first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. “Caucus/convention systems exclude so many people: they rarely produce a result that reflects how rank-and-file Republicans feel. I think that’s true for Democrats, too.” Romney said the Count My Vote initiative could “count on us to help financially.”

Canada: New elections act could pull plug on federal online voting experiments | Edmonton Journal

A provision in the Conservative government’s new elections act will limit the ability of Elections Canada to experiment with online voting — a limit the Opposition argues will suppress the votes of young people who are less likely to vote Tory than older demographics. “The only reason for this has to be singling out a reform that the Conservatives have particular problems with,” NDP Democratic Reform Critic Craig Scott said. “E-voting is something they know appeals to younger generations, which is not necessarily their voting cohort.”

Colombia: President names Vargas Lleras as running mate | Reuters

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday named German Vargas Lleras as his vice presidential running mate, a popular choice that will likely boost his chances of winning a second straight term in office later this year. Vargas Lleras, a former Santos cabinet minister and senator, will campaign for election in May and promise to help bolster economic growth and steer peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels to end Colombia’s half-century war. Santos is the front-runner by far to win the election in a second round of voting in June, but having the popular Vargas Lleras as running mate raises his chances of clinching a first-round win.

South Africa: Electoral Body to Begin Preparation for Election | VoA News

South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) plans to close its voter registration list after President Jacob Zuma officially publishes the May 7 general election date in the government’s gazette on Tuesday. “President Jacob Zuma will be proclaiming the election date that means the election date would be published in the government gazette. Our offices will be opened across the country from 8 O’clock until five in the evening,” said Kate Bapela, IEC spokesperson. “At 12 midnight, the voters’ role for the 2014 national and provincial elections closes [and] that means that anyone who registers after midnight today will never be able to participate in the upcoming election,” she said.

Thailand: Election body frees some state funds to pay rice farmers | The Star

Thailand’s Election Commission gave the government approval on Tuesday to use a small sum from the central budget, 712 million baht ($22 million), to pay rice farmers who have been waiting months for payment from a state buying programme. The money will go a little way towards appeasing farmers protesting in Bangkok and their home provinces, but it is only a fraction of the 130 billion baht the government is estimated to owe nearly a million growers. “The Election Commission has approved a 712 million baht fund to help farmers, as requested by the government,” Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, an election official, said in a message posted on his Facebook page. The government is now looking for additional funds.

Ukraine: Ukraine’s Leader Flees the Capital; Elections Are Called | New York Times

Abandoned by his own guards and reviled across the Ukrainian capital but still determined to recover his shredded authority, President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday to denounce what he called a violent coup, as his official residence, his vast, colonnaded office complex and other once impregnable centers of power fell without a fight to throngs of joyous citizens stunned by their triumph. While Mr. Yanukovych’s nemesis, former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was released from a penitentiary hospital, Parliament found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised its constitutional powers to set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. But with both Mr. Yanukovych and his Russian patrons speaking of a “coup” carried out by “bandits” and “hooligans,” it was far from clear that the day’s lightning-quick events would be the last act in a struggle that has not just convulsed Ukraine but expanded into an East-West confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War.