After two trips to the Deep South alongside civil rights icon and Georgia Democrat John Lewis, the pressure is on Eric Cantor to deliver on the Voting Rights Act. The majority leader has made a major, personal investment in connecting to the civil rights movement — something that ultimately could prove important for a GOP that regularly polls in the single digits among African-Americans and poorly among other minorities. But translating participation in the Faith and Politics Institute’s annual pilgrimage into legislative text that can win support from the bulk of the Republican Conference isn’t an easy task. And so far, Cantor hasn’t laid out a clear path for a bill nine months after declaring his support for a congressional response to the Supreme Court decision striking down the VRA’s core enforcement mechanisms. Democrats have signaled that they trust Cantor, a Virginia Republican, on this issue, and that the extent to which he is able to help advance a VRA fix depends largely on his ability to mobilize his flock, many of whom are hostile to the idea.
As Republicans have pushed for voter ID in states across the country, they’ve been emboldened by polls showing such laws are popular with voters. But new research—conducted partly in Ohio, still the most pivotal presidential swing state—suggests that when it comes to making voting harder, the tide of public opinion may be turning. There isn’t enough data to draw firm conclusions. But a genuine shift would be a major boon to the movement to protect voting rights, and it would significantly complicate efforts to enact new restrictions. A Des Moines Register poll released Monday found that 71% of Iowa voters—including two out of three Republicans—think it’s more important that every eligible registered voter has the chance to vote than that no ineligible voter is allowed to cast a ballot. Just 25% said the reverse.
National: Big-money partisanship invades quiet realm of secretary of state elections | The Washington Post
The partisan battle over voting restrictions is engulfing secretary-of-state races around the country, as parties on both sides focus on controlling the offices responsible for administering election laws. Democrats and Republicans are launching high-profile and well-financed campaigns aimed at spending millions of dollars in what are normally under-the-radar contests. On the left, veterans of President Obama’s reelection campaign have launched iVote, a super PAC that will funnel money to battleground states with competitive races for secretary of state. Another group, dubbed SoS for Democracy, is being led by longtime labor activists Steve Rosenthal and Larry Scanlon. From the right, a super PAC called SOS for SoS — organized by a former top official at an outside group that supported Newt Gingrich — is aiming to raise and spend $10 million on key races.
Monday morning I woke up — not with Georgia — but with Selma on my mind. Selma bears witness to the bloody and murderous struggle to end discrimination in voting on the basis of race. The demonstrations there led directly to President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was historic, designed to redress the unique history of discrimination against African Americans. But it was limited. It did not give each and every American citizen the explicit, constitutionally guaranteed federal right to vote. The 1965 Voting Rights Act has been effective and efficient. Sections 4 and 5 were its heart and soul because they provided for a prior review that prevented racial discrimination in voting. In the recent Shelby decision, a conservative majority of the Supreme Court cut the heart (Section 4) out of the law and left its soul (Section 5) as exposed as a cadaver on a funeral director’s table. Shelby said you can keep the car but you can’t have the keys. The car looks great, but it’s not going anywhere. Now we must all join together in an effort to fix the damage done by Shelby, and revive the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, a proposal to fund $1.98 million for new voting machines pitted Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho and two commissioners on opposite ends. A brief heated exchange erupted between Sancho and Commissioner Bryan Desloge, who expressed strong hesitance to approve a no-bid vendor contract for 250 new hybrid voting machines that can be independently used by all voters, including those with varying disabilities. Erring on the side of transparency, Desloge and Commissioner John Dailey favored the county issue a request for proposals. Sancho explained only one company in the nation manufactures a modern voting machine to meet the needs of all voters, instead of using separate devices. Sancho said a request for proposals would result in the same company being picked and delay having devices in hand by November’s election.
Florida is once again trying to constrain voter rights by restricting satellite locations where citizens can deposit absentee ballots. The Legislature is considering a bill that would ban county elections supervisors from accepting completed absentee ballots at branch libraries and tax collector offices, in response to Pinellas County’s defiance of a state order to quit that practice. That voter-friendly option is not only convenient but also saves money, according to several elections supervisors. Florida should allow the eastiest balloting possible, not the toughest.
A bill that would prevent voters from switching political parties after the filing deadline for candidates is on its way to the governor. The Senate voted 27-12 on Wednesday to approve the bill; the House approved it last year. House Bill 2210 would prevent voters who have a party affiliation from switching after the June 1 filing deadline until after primary results are certified in August. It would allow unaffiliated voters to change registration. Current law allows voters to change parties up to two weeks before the primary election. During the primary, voters affiliated with a party select one candidate from the party in each race to advance to the general election.
Republican Senate leaders in Kentucky cheered a bipartisan vote Wednesday that advanced a bill to let Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul run for president without automatically giving up his Senate seat – but Democratic leaders in the House warned it was not a sign the bill has enough support to become law. Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, joined seven Republicans in voting to send the bill to the Senate floor. McGarvey told reporters he thinks Paul can run for two offices at once just like former Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman did in 2000 when he was Al Gore’s running mate. But Greg Stumbo, leader of the Democratic-controlled House, repeated his comments from last week that “a man that can’t make up his mind which office he wants to run for ain’t fit to hold either one.” Asked if that were true of Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat who ran for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat while Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008, Stumbo said: “That’s exactly right. Quote me on that.”
A recent change to North Dakota law had some voters turn away on March 11, 2014 during the Fargo Public School District’s Special Election. About 25 voters did not have valid North Dakota id. This recent law comes years after allowing voters to use an affidavit or other forms of identification. North Dakota’s voter id law changed August of 2013 and now require a valid North Dakota id when voting at the polls. “I think the new voting law has caught many of us off guard including the voter, ” said Fargo school board member Robin Nelson.
Wisconsin: Senate narrowly passes package of election measures, including early voting limits | Associated Press
With just one vote to spare, Republicans who control the state Senate on Wednesday passed a series of hotly contested election law changes, including disallowing casting early votes on the weekends or past 7 p.m. in the two weeks leading up to an election. All 15 Democrats were joined by Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, who is not seeking re-election, in voting against the bills. All six proposals, which also included measures to delay asbestos lawsuits and limit liability for parents of teen drivers, passed 17-16. Democrats, who used a procedural move Tuesday to delay the final votes until Wednesday morning, renewed their arguments that Republicans were trying to make it more difficult for people to vote, particularly minorities in Milwaukee and Madison. “It screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow and you should be ashamed,” said Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, who is black. Jim Crow laws dating back to the 19th century mandated segregation in some U.S. states.
Australia: Senate vote debacle: Recycling banned at polling centres as AEC introduces reforms | Sydney Morning Herald
The Australian Electoral Commission has ordered a suite of changes prior to the re-run of the WA Senate election, including increased tracking of ballot papers and a ban on recycling at polling centres. Acting Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers told Parliament’s electoral matters committee on Wednesday that the debacle over the loss of 1370 ballots “is certainly the worst period in our history”. Mr Rogers said the AEC had made several changes in response to an investigation by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty and those changes would be in place for the fresh WA Senate election on April 5. Mr Keelty’s investigation identified numerous breakdowns in the handling and storage of ballots and he has said “poor leadership” contributed to the “disastrous result” that has forced Western Australians back to the polls. It has been estimated that the Senate re-vote in WA will cost $20 million.
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s party charged Wednesday that its showing in Sunday’s legislative elections was affected by what it said were serious irregularities in the vote count. Uribe’s opposition Democratic Center party said it had evidence that 250,000 votes in its favor were not counted, “which would substantially change the election results and the composition of the Congress.”
The top commanders of El Salvador’s armed forces said Wednesday they will stay out of a presidential election dispute that pits a conservative candidate against a former leader of the leftist rebels the army fought in a 12-year civil war. Conservative ARENA party candidate Norman Quijano is organizing Venezuela-style protests against preliminary returns from Sunday’s ballot that gave leftist candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren a razor-thin 0.2-percent margin. Quijano claims fraud was committed but he has presented no evidence. Quijano had called on the army to defend against the alleged fraud, but the defense minister, Gen. David Munguia Payes, and the army’s top commanders said at a news conference that they’re staying out of the dispute. “We are committed to respecting the official results that are issued by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Munguia Payes said. “We repeat that we are committed to strictly respecting the sovereign decision that the people of El Salvador expressed at the ballot box.”
Lawmakers from pro-Kremlin parties United Russia and LDPR have submitted to the State Duma a bill abolishing popular elections of mayors and city councils in major cities. Analysts said the legislation represents an attempt to increase the dependence of municipal authorities on the Kremlin and effectively liquidate their self-government. Some observers also interpreted the proposed measure as part of a Kremlin effort to consolidate power in reaction to the political crisis in neighboring Ukraine. The reform would apply to 67 large cities, including 56 regional capitals. The mayors of affected cities would be elected by city councils from among their members, while the city councils would consist of deputies delegated by newly created assemblies of city districts. City governments would be headed by city managers — executives appointed by commissions, half of which would be chosen by governors and the other half by city councils.
Slovaks will choose a new head of state in the direct presidential election, the fourth since its introduction in 1999, from among the record number of 14 candidates in the first election round March 15. The two most promising candidates are the incumbent Prime Minister and Smer-Social Democracy Chairman Robert Fico, and entrepreneur Andrej Kiska (unaffiliated). It is expected that none of the candidates will be elected in the first round. To be elected, the candidate would have to be supported by an absolute majority of all eligible voters, including those who do not take part in the election. The new head of state, who will replace outgoing President Ivan Gašparovič, will probably emerge from the second election round March 29, in which the first round’s two most successful candidates will clash. According to public opinion polls, the election favorite is Fico, the country’s most popular politician, who might gain about 35 percent of the vote in the first round.
Sunday’s vote in Ukraine’s Crimea is being officially billed as a chance for the peninsula’s peoples to decide fairly and freely their future – but in fact there is no room on the ballot paper for voting “Nyet” to control by Russia. The Crimean voter will have the right to choose only one of two options in the March 16 referendum which the region’s pro-Russian leadership, protected by Russian forces, announced earlier this month. According to a format of the ballot paper, published on the parliament’s website, the first question will ask: “Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?” The second asks: “Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?”
A referendum can be a proper instrument of direct democracy. But if applied improperly, it may devalue the cause it was meant to advance. This is the case with the vote on 16 March 2014 announced by Crimea’s authorities, who – following the takeover of the peninsula by Russia’s armed forces – seek a result that would make Crimea part of the Russian Federation. The most straightforward objection is constitutional. The constitution of Ukraine, of which Crimea is an integral and recognised part, says that Ukraine’s borders can be altered only via an all-Ukrainian referendum. This is why the Crimean initiative (formally proposed and passed by the parliament of Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine) is anti-constitutional. This makes it bad for Ukraine as a whole, but this “separatist” plebiscite could also prove counterproductive for Russians in Crimea, a majority of the population, and for the Russian Federation.
United Kingdom: Legal bid over expats’ voting rights could delay Scottish independence referendum | Expatriate
Calls to allow expatriate Scots to vote in the upcoming referendum on independence are heating up, with legal action in the pipeline. A top lawyer has claimed that first minister Alex Salmond may have broken the law in preventing them from exercising their right to vote. Aidan O’Neill, an expert in European law, believes there is a good chance of overturning the decision in court. He has suggested that a judicial review would likely find the rights of Scottish expats to enjoy freedom of movement under EU law had been infringed. If this legal battle is won, it has the potential to add 1.15 million Scots no longer living north of the border to the voting register.