The sweeping language and logic of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on campaign finance may imperil other legal restrictions on money in politics. The 5-to-4 decision, which struck down overall limits on contributions by individuals to candidates and parties, was the latest in a series of campaign finance decisions from the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that took an expansive view of First Amendment rights and a narrow one of political corruption. According to experts in election law, there is no reason to think that the march toward deregulating election spending will stop with the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. “Those who support limits see the court right now as the T. Rex from ‘Jurassic Park,’” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “What’s next? ‘Just don’t move. He can’t see us if we don’t move.’” For now, federal law bars corporations from making contributions to candidates, though they can spend what they like independently to support or oppose candidates. Contributions from individuals to candidates are capped at $2,600 per election. Individual contributions to political parties are capped, too. Public financing of elections is allowed.
Editorials: The subtle awfulness of the McCutcheon v. FEC campaign finance decision: The John Roberts two-step | Richard Hasen/Slate
Back when Justice Elena Kagan was Solicitor General Kagan, she argued to the Supreme Court in favor of the ban on corporate spending in the Citizens United case. She offered the justices all kinds of ways for the court to decide that case in favor of the nonprofit corporation, short of overturning the ban itself. When questioned by Chief Justice John Roberts about whether she was asking for the government to lose in a certain way, Kagan responded: “If you are asking me, Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Today, once again, the government lost a campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC. And while it could have lost in somewhat worse ways, this opinion is pretty awful, portending a raft of new First Amendment attacks on soft money and even on the basic rules limiting how much individuals can give candidates for office. As I explained back in September in Slate, at issue in McCutcheon was “aggregate” campaign finance limits in federal elections. Federal law currently caps at $48,600 thetotal amount an individual can give to all federal candidates for office during any one two-year election cycle. It also limits to $74,600 the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates and sets a total cap of $123,200 for contributions in the two-year cycle. This law was challenged by someone who wanted to give a series of $1,776 contributions to more congressional candidates than he was allowed, and the Republican National Committee, which wanted to accept more than it was allowed to take under this legal regime.
Not only did the Supreme Court deliver a major blow Wednesday to campaign finance restrictions, it may have laid the groundwork to dismantle what’s left of campaign contribution limits, legal experts say. The controlling opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, eliminated “aggregate” limits on a person’s contribution to candidates and political committees in an election cycle. It left untouched restrictions on how much money someone can give to a single candidate or committee — but Roberts’ reasoning signals that those may be in trouble, too. “By requiring that any campaign finance laws be deemed necessary to prevent quid pro quo corruption, akin to bribery, many more campaign laws could fall in the near future, including those base $2,600 limits,” wrote Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UC Irvine. “While Roberts goes out of his way to say that those base limits were not challenged today, he does not do anything to affirm that those limits are safe.”
Editorials: The John Roberts Project: Campaign Contributions Beyond McCutcheon | Jeffrey Toobin/The New Yorker
If you think that the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was bad, just wait: worse may be on the way. The issue before the Court was fairly narrow, even a little obscure. Congress bars individuals from contributing more than fifty-two hundred dollars to any candidate for federal office in any election cycle. It also bars individuals from contributing more than a hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars, in total, to multiple federal candidates in a cycle. In the McCutcheon case, by a vote of five to four, the Court struck down the overall hundred-and-twenty-three-thousand-dollar limit. But this ruling will affect relatively few campaign contributors. In the most recent cycle, fewer than six hundred donors maxed out to candidates. So why is the case important? Because the language of Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion suggests that the Court remains committed to the project announced most prominently in the Citizens United case, four years ago: the deregulation of American political campaigns.
The press release arrived on April Fool’s Day, and it turns out it was legit, but as we say in this business, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” It was from AIPrl_Fooled, a self-identified “grass-roots campaign to bring awareness to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are accidentally registered as members of the American Independent Party.” Maybe even you. While this is not breaking news, it’s worth repeating, especially with the May 19 deadline to register to vote in the June primary: The American Independent Party, or AIP, is California’s fastest-growing political party, with about 2.6% of all registered voters — a lot of them, in all likelihood, because of a mistake: the word “independent.” There’s no other logical explanation for why the third-largest party in one of the nation’s most liberal states is the party whose presidential nominees have included segregationists George Wallace and Lester Maddox. According to its platform, the AIP is God-inspired, anti-gay marriage, antiabortion and dedicated to “freedom from liberalism.”
Delaware is one step closer to allowing its unregistered voters to sign up and cast a ballot on Election Day. House lawmakers passed same-day voter registration legislation Thursday, allowing voters to register for presidential primary, primary, special and general elections on the same day they would cast their ballot. The current deadline is the fourth Saturday prior to the date of the election. The legislation, passed 24 to 15, reduces the need for provisional ballots, boosts voter registration, increases turnout among minorities and young voters, and is particularly effective during primary elections when a majority of Delaware’s elections are decided, its supporters say. “I don’t think that we, as elected officials, should put up artificial barriers in front of people,” said bill sponsor Rep. John Viola, D-Newark. “I think that people should be able to vote. How can we stop them from voting. I think it’s wrong.”
Verified Voting in the News: Problems and questions face D.C. following primary | electionlineWeekly
The complaining on social media began almost as soon as the polls in Washington, D.C. closed at 8 p.m. on the April 1 primary. Where were the first results? Why haven’t we heard anything? While certainly the 8 p.m. naysayers could be dismissed for their short attention spans and need for instant gratification, when 9 p.m. came and went with no results, not even those from early voting, even calmer heads started to wonder: Again? Why are there no results? Whoever was running the D.C. Board of Elections’ Twitter page was doing their best to keep people informed, but by 9:30 the Twitterati and local media were having none of it. Finally at 9:55 p.m. the first results began to trickle in, but there were discrepancies in the numbers between what reporters were given and what was appearing on the DCBOE’s website. It was near 2 a.m. before the final votes were tallied in an election that had the lowest election turnout in 30 years. … In D.C. there are not just two different voting systems but multiple electronic systems. Poll workers had to go through a complex-sounding process to transfer the results from one DRE to the other so that all the votes in the precinct were reported together. “When you have two systems, you have more shutting down and more reconciling to do. You have more checks to do and more checklists to check,” said Dana Chisnell with the Center for Civic Design. “You also have to reconcile *between* the systems, so it wouldn’t be surprising to me if there was confusion around that.”
District of Columbia: It’s Disenfranchisement When Independents Can’t Vote in Primaries | The Daily Beast
District of Columbia voters went to the polls Tuesday, a few of them anyway, to vote in mayoral and city council primary elections. Unfortunately, although I am a Washington resident, I was not one of them. My non-participation wasn’t due to a lack of interest but because I am an Independent voter. The DC Board of Elections officially lists my party affiliation as “No Party.” It’s a non-affiliation I claim proudly but it comes with a price. Like many millions of other unaffiliated voters around the country I am prevented from exercising the right to vote in partisan primary elections. The outcome of Tuesday’s election will have a significant impact on the future direction of the city and I would have liked to weigh in. Current Mayor Vincent Gray is facing probable indictment on corruption charges—five people who were connected with his 2010 campaign have already pleaded guilty to felonies related to that campaign.
As he took to the stage Tuesday night to concede defeat in the District’s Democratic primary, Mayor Vincent C. Gray felt the need to mention the night’s delay in reporting election results. “We’ve got some work to do there,” he said of the D.C. Board of Elections. “We probably have known that for a while.” Indeed. So woeful was the performance of election officials that it competed with Muriel Bowser’s upset of Mr. Gray for the morning’s headlines. Even more distressing is that this was not the first time the District has been embarrassed or its residents inconvenienced by the amateurish operation of its elections office.
Florida’s flawed 2012 purge of the voter rolls was struck down by a federal appeals court Wednesday. This came only days after Secretary of State Ken Detzner delayed yet another planned purge of the voter lists. With any luck, Florida elections officials will respond by quietly giving up on the whole, flawed exercise. The rationale behind the past purge lists and the planned purge for this year was that there are a large number of ineligible noncitizens out there somehow registering and voting. Something still unproven. Just look at how the 2012 search for illegal voters proceeded here. That first purge list included 15 possible noncitizens out of 319,207 Volusia registered voters. Except that one voter identified as an noncitizen was a 76-year-old Ormond Beach woman who was born in Pennsylvania and had voted in every presidential election since 1956. Another was a soldier serving in Afghanistan.
Indiana: Faintly, the fine print – Printed boxes on absentee ballots too light, longtime voter discovers | Terre Haute Tribune Star
In the warm sunlight bathing the front porch of Margaret Taylor’s South 14th Street home, faint boxes are barely visible on her absentee ballot for the May 6 Democratic Party primary. According to instructions on the ballot, the boxes are vital because they are what voters must fill in to have their votes counted for various candidates. Voters must fill in the boxes across from the names of the candidates they support. However, when Taylor stands up and takes her ballot into her home, the reduced lighting makes the lightly shaded boxes nearly invisible. “I have a lot of trouble seeing it,” Taylor said. “You gotta really look hard.” Taylor, 82, a former Democratic Party vice precinct committee person and longtime activist in local politics, has been voting since she was legally eligible, and this is the first time she’s seen a ballot like this one, she said. She worries that the boxes may be difficult for older people or those with weak eyesight to see. “I think it’s unfair to everyone on that ballot,” she said, adding that other people she has spoken with share her concern.
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz will appeal the decision handed down last month nullifying rules his office wrote regarding voter registration. The Republican, who has made voter fraud investigations and ballot security efforts the centerpiece of his term in office, on Thursday asked the Iowa Supreme Court to review and overturn the March 6 ruling which said he exceeded his authority regulate elections in the state. At issue in the case, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa v. Schultz, was a rule issued by Schultz’s office to identify and remove ineligible voters from the state’s voter rolls. The rule outlined a process for identifying and removing non-citizens from Iowa’s voter registration list first by screening registered voters against state and national lists of non-citizens and then running suspected foreign nationals through a federal citizenship database. Voters identified as ineligible were then to be referred to their local county auditor, who would initiate a challenge to their registration.
North Carolina: Election officials identify hundreds of cases of potential voter fraud | Charlotte News Observer
North Carolina elections officials told state lawmakers Wednesday that they have identified hundreds, and potentially thousands, of voters who may have cast ballots in two states in the 2012 general election. Republican legislators on an elections oversight committee quickly reacted, calling the number of possible voter fraud cases “shocking,” “outrageous” and “proof positive” that fraud is occurring in North Carolina elections. They called on elections officials to investigate all possible fraud and refer potential criminal cases for prosecution. Double voting is a felony. “That is outrageous. That is criminal. That is wrong, and it shouldn’t be allowed to go any further without substantial investigations from our local district attorneys who are the ones charged with enforcing these laws,” said Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican. Others urged caution until more information about the numbers comes to light.
Security has been a scarce commodity in Afghanistan for some time, but the Taliban’s recent spate of attacks intended to disrupt the April 5 elections – and the promise of more to come – have amplified the sense of insecurity. Assaults targeting international observers and the election commission itself have left open questions regarding the legitimacy and the security of Saturday’s vote. In an attempt to calm nerves and promise a safe day at the polls, the Interior Ministry, coupled with Afghan Special Forces, planned a press conference on Thursday to answer security questions. But things did not go as planned; after Wednesday’s deadly attack on the MOI’s compound within central Kabul’s heavily guarded “steel belt”, it started to seem that the Taliban can strike at will. So can the security apparatus improve confidence?
Afghans are excited about the upcoming presidential poll. For the first time in history the war-torn country will see the transfer of power from one elected president to another. But for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, the April 5 election will just be another ordinary day as they have been officially disenfranchised. The Afghan election commission says it does not have sufficient resources to make proper polling arrangements for the Pakistani Afghans, most of whom dwell in the refugee camps along the Pakistani-Afghan border. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are around 2.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, most of whom had migrated to the neighboring Islamic republic during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet forces. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent toppling of the Islamist Taliban government in 2001, many Afghans moved back to their homeland. A large number, however, preferred to stay back in Pakistan. Afghanistan allowed its citizens in Pakistan to vote in the 2004 presidential vote, but in the 2009 election, they were excluded due to security risks. Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai was successful in both elections.
The case of five McGill University students who were refused the right to vote in the Quebec election went before the court Thursday morning and should be decided on by Friday. Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey requested an emergency injunction to allow the students to vote because Thursday was the last day to make revisions to the list of electors before Quebecers go to the polls on Monday. Because the students will only find out after the revision deadline whether they can vote or not, a legal mechanism could be used to permit them to vote in the event that the judge rules in their favour. But the lawyer for the director general of elections argued that the revisors have some judicial and authoritative powers, and ruling against them could call into question the entire voter registration system.
After National Liberation Party candidate Johnny Araya announced he was no longer campaigning for president in a second-round vote, many journalists and politicians questioned why a runoff election was necessary at all since his decision effectively gave the presidency to Luis Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party. Costa Rican law prohibits any of the two candidates in a runoff election from stepping aside. The constitution demands that the Costa Rican people vote on April 6. Voters will weigh their options and freely decide who is the best. The decision is theirs to make, and the future belongs to the voters, not the Legislative Assembly or a candidate who steps down. Only the people can make this decision. Candidates can withdraw from the race during a first round, but once entered into a second round, they are legally required to finish the process. This is not a whim or some old, unrevised piece of legislation; it was established after two bitter experiences in the country’s past. The people must vote, and a mandate must be given. Yes, it’s expensive and it may seem unnecessary, but democracy is funny that way.
The United Nations panel dealing with peacebuilding efforts in Guinea-Bissau today welcomed the successful preparations for the country’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections and called on all stakeholders to cooperate in ensuring that the polls are free and fair. The elections, which have been postponed several times, most recently from 16 March to 13 April, is seen as a crucial step on the path to restoring constitutional order in the West African nation, which is recovering from an April 2012 coup. “With the voter registration successfully completed, political campaign[ing] in full swing, and financial requirements timely made available by various international partners, it is expected that general elections will be held on 13 April,” said a statement issued by the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). “No further delay is justifiable.”The United Nations panel dealing with peacebuilding efforts in Guinea-Bissau today welcomed the successful preparations for the country’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections and called on all stakeholders to cooperate in ensuring that the polls are free and fair. The elections, which have been postponed several times, most recently from 16 March to 13 April, is seen as a crucial step on the path to restoring constitutional order in the West African nation, which is recovering from an April 2012 coup. “With the voter registration successfully completed, political campaign[ing] in full swing, and financial requirements timely made available by various international partners, it is expected that general elections will be held on 13 April,” said a statement issued by the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). “No further delay is justifiable.”
National: Supreme Court Strikes Down Aggregate Limits on Federal Campaign Contributions | New York Times
The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and most likely increase the role money plays in American politics. The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, was a sequel of sorts to Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But that ruling did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on direct contributions to candidates and political parties. Wednesday’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, addressed that second kind of regulation.
India’s general election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise, kicks off on April 7th. Voting will take place, across 35 states and territories, until May 12th. The country has a Westminster-style system: it is divided into 543 roughly equal constituencies (typically with some 1.5m voters), each sending a single MP to parliament. The whole electorate is a whopping 815m people, the populations of America and the EU combined. A decade of rising incomes, on the back of a growth spurt, has improved many lives. Yet opinion polls show that voters everywhere are grumpy. One released this week by the Pew Research Centre found 70% dissatisfied with India’s prospects and more than eight out of ten bitterly gloomy about economic matters. “Everything is a problem for the Indian voter,” concludes Bruce Stokes of Pew.
In recent years, the Indonesian political scene has come alive with a host of old and new faces introducing themselves to the public. But ahead of the elections, analysts have raised concerns over the participation of former members of the military in politics, which they warn could have negative implications for the country’s democratic process. Edy Prasetyono, a researcher with the University of Indonesia’s Center for International Relations Studies (CIReS), said the participation or support of several military retirees on the political stage may negatively impact the public’s perception of the institution and prompt them to conclude that the military was failing to abide by the principle of political neutrality. “Their contributions to various parties could cause ruptures in the military,” Edy said at a discussion on Tuesday, adding that this form of support might violate the military’s obligation to maintain its neutrality during elections. This year’s elections sees People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) founder and retired Army general Wiranto, who was the last military commander under then-president Suharto, running for president, as well as another former Army general, Prabowo Subianto, the founder of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra).
After local elections on March 30, Turkish opposition figures are up in arms, claiming to have incontrovertible evidence of widespread voting fraud and calling into question the institutional integrity of Turkey’s electoral system for the first time in recent history. While criticized for many other democratic deficiencies since the establishment of the republic in 1923, Turkey has generally been recognized by the international community as holding free and fair elections. The majoritarian victories and even consistent electoral gains of the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AKP) over the last three general elections were accepted as legitimate. Unprecedented as they were, these election wins were understood mainly as approval of the tangible benefits available to AKP supporters during Turkey’s period of sustained economic growth and general political apathy or lack of a credible alternative among its opposition rather than as any kind of electoral foul play.
National: Election Assistance Commission seeks stay of order in voter citizenship case | Associated Press
Federal election officials have asked a judge to temporarily suspend his own order that they help Kansas and Arizona enforce state laws requiring voters to prove their U.S. citizenship, arguing that the case “implicates the fundamental right to register to vote.” The court filing late Monday comes in response to U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s decision on March 19 requiring the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements. More than a dozen voting rights groups, which had previously intervened in the litigation, made a similar joint request for a stay last week. Project Vote Inc. filed its own motion Tuesday seeking the same thing. Kansas and Arizona had asked the federal agency for state-specific modifications, but it refused. Secretaries of State Kris Kobach of Kansas and Ken Bennett of Arizona, both conservative Republicans, sued the agency last year.