For more than 40 years, Iowa voters have played a vital role in picking the nation’s president, culling the field of hopefuls and helping launch a fortunate handful all the way to the White House. For about 35 of those years, Iowa has been the target of jealousy and scorn, mainly from outsiders who say the state, the first to vote in the presidential contest, is too white and too rural; that its caucuses, precinct-level meetings of party faithful, are too quirky and too exclusionary to play such a key role in the nominating process. Now, a swelling chorus of critics is mounting a fresh challenge to Iowa’s privileged role, targeting especially the August straw poll held the year before the election, which traditionally established the Republican Party front-runner. Increasingly, critics say, the informal balloting has proved a meaningless and costly diversion of time and money. Some GOP strategists are urging candidates to think hard before coming to Iowa at all.
Ohio: Voter Bill of Rights petition language approved, moves to Ballot Board for review | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohioans pushing to enshrine state voting laws into the Ohio Constitution moved one step closer to putting the issue on the November ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine certified on Monday petition language to add a Voters Bill of Rights to the Ohio Constitution. DeWine rejected the initial language in February because two of the rights conflicted with federal election law. “Without passing upon the advisability of the approval or rejection of the measure to be referred,…I hereby certify that the summary is a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment,” DeWine stated in a letter to the petitioners. The Ohio Ballot Board will meet 9 a.m. Thursday in the Finan Finance Room of the Statehouse to determine whether the proposed amendment contains more than one amendment.
A senior Democrat on Tuesday said he was “hopeful” the House would approve new voting rights legislation by the summer, despite the lack of an endorsement from the Republican leadership. “We are very hopeful that we will pass a voting rights bill and do so in the near term, hopefully in the next couple of months,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during his weekly briefing with reporters. Hoyer over the weekend participated in an annual bipartisan pilgrimage to the South commemorating the civil rights movement. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also attended events on the trip, and Hoyer said he planned to meet with Cantor this week to discuss a legislative response to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cantor has joined the pilgrimage with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader, for the past two years, but he has yet to take a position on a bill that Lewis wrote with GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.).
Congress on Tuesday agreed to cancel its giveaway of taxpayer money to its own political conventions every four years, as the Senate cleared a bill to cut off funds. Senators approved the bill by unanimous consent early Tuesday, sending it straight to President Obama for his signature. “This is the type of bipartisan legislation that should move easily through the Senate,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he pushed the bill through.
Leaders on two U.S. House committees acknowledge that parallel investigations into computer security and staffing breakdowns at the Federal Election Commission aren’t living up their initial billings. Such apparent lack of action comes at a critical time for the FEC, which this month warned Congress of threats to its computer networks that have “increased dramatically,” and of staff vacancies across the agency that “have begun to affect negatively the FEC’s ability to provide public services.” The Center for Public Integrity detailed the severity of both problems, which include the successful infiltration of FEC computer systems by Chinese hackers, in an investigative report last year. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee that oversees federal IT matters, in January promised to “conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials.” That hasn’t yet occurred.
The city is set to move City Council elections to even-numbered years and employ cumulative voting. The decision was made in closed session before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but it’s not going to affect the ballots that voters will have for the April 8 election, officials said. “The settlement represents an opportunity for all Santa Clarita citizens to have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice — no longer will a bare majority be able to dominate 100 percent of the City Council,” said Kevin Shenkman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. “(Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser) should be commended for their efforts to make that a reality.”
Florida: First Step To Online Voter Registration In Florida, Bill Moves Forward | Daily Business Review
A Senate committee moved forward with a bill that would allow online voter registration in Florida and put new restrictions on drop-off locations for absentee ballots. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved introducing the measure (SPB 7068), which will still have to return to the panel for another vote. Because of that, Democrats backed away from offering amendments that could still become flashpoints in the debate over the measure. Much of the controversy over the provisions in the bill focused on language that would allow elections supervisors to provide secure boxes to receive absentee ballots, but only at early-voting locations and supervisor of elections’ offices.
It all seemed so reasonable last year when the Indiana General Assembly adopted a law to require electronic poll books be certified. But theory and practice are often different things. “It has taken what was a reasonable process we’ve been using for five years and made it unreasonable,” Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey said, noting that primary voting starts here on April 8, and the county’s hardware has yet to be certified. The county has a digital database of registered voters. Each satellite voting site and vote center connects to the database through an electronic poll book — basically, laptop computers running software specifically designed for that specific purpose. When a voter signs in at a polling site, the electronic poll book immediately updates the database, indicating where and when the person voted. This prevents voter fraud, Coffey explained.
Editorials: Another legislative ‘fix’ could endanger Kansas voting rights | The Winfield Daily Courier
A bill that would create new limits on when Kansas voters could change their party affiliations is another example of state legislators trying to correct a problem that probably doesn’t exist or at least not to an extent that justifies legislative action. In this case, that “fix” also could limit Kansas voters’ ability to cast their ballots for their preferred candidates. The bill that has passed the Senate Ethics and Election Committee last week would bar Kansas voters from changing their party affiliation from June 1 (the filing deadline for candidates) to Sept. 1 (about a month after the August primary elections). The goal of the bill, according to Kansas Republican Party officials, is to prevent voters from switching parties in order to skew the opposing party’s primary.
The effort by Ohio Republicans to make voting harder in the nation’s most pivotal swing state has triggered a furious response—one that could yet succeed in fighting off some of the worst effects of the new restrictions. “Since these bills have been passed, we have seen an incredible response from all corners of the state,” State Senator Nina Turner, who has helped lead the effort, told msnbc. “Ohioans are just plain tired of their ballot access being made into a political tool. From local leaders stepping out, to the court system, to the ballot, we are seeing the people push back against an effort to limit their voice using all the tools at their disposal.” Last month, Ohio lawmakers passed GOP-backed bills that cut six days of early voting, ended same-day voter registration, made it harder to vote absentee, and made it more likely that provisional ballots will be rejected. Just days after the bills were signed, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican,announced the elimination of Sunday voting, effectively ending the “Souls to the Polls” drives organized in recent years by many African-American churches.
Gov. Scott Walker signaled Tuesday that he was open to signing a bill that would limit early voting, including disallowing it on weekends in the two weeks leading up to an election. The state Senate was expected to pass the bill Tuesday, despite objections from those who say it’s an unconstitutional attempt to make it more difficult for minorities in Wisconsin’s largest cities to vote. Senators were preparing to work into the night voting on more than 50 bills, including more than a dozen that would make substantive and technical changes to election law, as part of an effort to end this year’s session within the next couple weeks.
We, the undersigned — professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy — believe that the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), if passed, would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections. We urge the Government to heed calls for wider consultation in vetting this Bill. While we agree that our electoral system needs some reforms, this Bill contains proposals that would seriously damage the fairness and transparency of federal elections and diminish Canadians’ political participation. Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions (see below), we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament. We see no justification for introducing legislation of such pivotal importance to our democracy without significant consultation with Elections Canada, opposition parties, and the public at large.
A recount of the results of El Salvador’s presidential election will be completed no sooner than Thursday, the country’s election authorities said Tuesday, following a surprisingly close run-off vote over the weekend. Fewer than 7,000 votes separated former guerrilla commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren from conservative rival Norman Quijano, according to a preliminary count on Monday. Initial results showed that the left-wing candidate Ceren claimed 50.11% of the vote, while Quijano, the right-wing mayor of the capital city, won 49.89% of ballots. While the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said it would not announce a winner before a manual count had been completed, it expressed doubts the preliminary results would be reversed.
Italian lawmakers edged closer on Tuesday to approving a new electoral law seen as a test of new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ability to enact broad structural reforms needed to end government instability in Italy. Overhauling the complicated voting system blamed for leaving Italy with a deadlocked parliament has been a top priority for Renzi since he became leader of the main centre-left Democratic Party (PD) last year. The new law, designed after an agreement between Renzi and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, is intended to produce a clear winner able to govern without the kind of unwieldy cross-party coalition left by last year’s inconclusive election.
Kim wins. That is the unsurprising outcome of North Korea’s first legislative elections under the leadership of young dictator Kim Jong Un. State media report that nearly 100% of eligible North Koreans voted in Sunday’s poll, and 100% of them cast votes in favor of the status quo. This is only partly as ridiculous as it sounds: voting is mandatory and there is one option on the ballot. Indeed, when North Korea votes, it votes. When exactly 100% of eligible North Korean set out to cast votes 100% in favor of predetermined politicians, they were carried forth on “billows of emotion and happiness,” state media reported. And nowhere were they happier — or more billowy, presumably — that in Kim’s district, Mount Paektu, the Korean peninsula’s highest peak. The group that voted at the storied site were so moved by the exercise that they spontaneously burst into song, state media said.
North Korea reported a perfect turnout on Sunday for its first national election in five years to confirm state-selected representatives for its rubber-stamp parliament. The election, the first under dictator Kim Jong Un, provides the state with a chance to buttress the leadership by elevating or demoting officials based on their loyalty to the regime. It is also used as an unofficial census, allowing the government to check on the whereabouts of its citizens. Defectors say that some North Koreans return to the country for the election to avoid the state learning of their absence.
The Election Commission (EC) has approved a proposal involving poll re-runs in 11 provinces where balloting for Jan 26 advance voting and the Feb 2 election was disrupted by protest blockades, its secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong says. Mr Puchong said the poll re-runs are scheduled for April 5 in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Bangkok and on April 27 for Chumphon, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Krabi, Phuket, Satun and Phangnga. He said the proposal is the result of last Friday’s meeting between the EC and parties concerned in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. The EC has resolved that it will wait for a Constitution Court ruling before making any decision concerning 28 constituencies where there were no candidates to contest the Feb 2 election, he said.
The Crimean parliament voted Tuesday that the Black Sea peninsula will declare itself an independent state if its residents agree to split off from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum. Crimea’s regional legislature on Tuesday adopted a “declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.” The document specified that Crimea will become an independent state if its residents vote on Sunday in favor of joining Russia in the referendum. Residents who vote in the March 16 referendum reportedly will have two choices regarding whether to join Russia — “yes now” or “yes later.” According to KyivPost.com, voting “no” is not an option and residents will have to vote to join Russia immediately or declare independence and then join Russia.
She said political parties should be forced to sign up to a new code of conduct, including a ban on activists handling postal ballot papers. ‘We are talking about the behaviour of unscrupulous campaigners who act in an improper way to put pressure on people,’ she said. ‘It is that behaviour that needs to be tackled. ‘You can’t punish voters for the behaviour of unscrupulous campaigners, and that’s what abolishing postal voting on demand would do.’ But others warned that further action may be needed to eradicate ballot-rigging. Returning officer Ray Morgan, chief executive of Woking Borough Council, said: ‘I don’t think any election that I’ve presided over since 2006 has been totally fair and honest.’
Postal voting is open to fraud on an “industrial scale” and is “unviable” in its current form, a top judge has said. Richard Mawrey QC, who tries cases of electoral fraud, told the BBC that people should not be able to apply for postal votes as a matter of course. “On demand” postal voting had not boosted turnout or simplified the process for the vulnerable, he said. But the Electoral Commission said it would not be “proportionate” to end postal voting altogether. The government also said it had no plans to abolish the current system, saying it had made it easier for many people to vote.
Utah could jump to the front of the U.S. presidential primary lineup in 2016 and hold its own online election a week before any other state, under a proposal advanced by state lawmakers this week to win more sway for the conservative state. For decades, the Iowa caucus has been the first event in which presidential hopefuls can secure convention delegates, followed closely by a vote in New Hampshire, which has held the nation’s first full primary election since 1920. “Utah is roughly the same size as Iowa and roughly twice the size of New Hampshire, and yet our influence in the presidential primaries process is minimal if it all,” bill sponsor Representative Jon Cox, a Republican, said during a House debate of the bill on Monday. “It’s time to change that. We’ve created a system that is blatantly discriminatory, that creates second-class states,” he said.
Wisconsin: Walker to call special session if courts rule against voter ID | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he would call a special legislative session if courts this spring do not uphold the state’s voter ID law, which has been blocked since soon after it was enacted. Shortly after taking over all of state government in 2011, Republicans passed a law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. In 2012, two Dane County judges blocked the measure. Those cases are now before the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by June. Separately, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman is considering two other cases that argue the voter ID law violates the U.S. Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act. Adelman and the state Supreme Court may not rule until after the legislative session ends in early April. Any one ruling against the voter ID law would keep the measure from going into place. Walker told reporters he would closely monitor what the courts decided on voter ID to see if lawmakers needed to make any modifications. He said he would want a special session if the courts didn’t allow the requirement to take effect for the November elections.