People bank online and do their taxes online. But not many vote online. On Monday, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen‘s venture-capital fund said it was betting that online voting will win over skeptics worried about security and gradually become the norm for elections world-wide. Vulcan Capital’s growth equity fund, based in Palo Alto, Calif., said it will invest $40 million in Scytl, a digital voting services company based in Barcelona with customers in more than 30 countries, including Canada, Mexico and Australia. Scytl, founded in 2001, sells a range of services aimed at modernizing elections, from training poll workers and registering voters to hosting elections online and counting votes. Scytl has previously received investments from Balderton Capital, Nauta Capital and Spinnaker SCR.
Democrats and civil rights groups are stepping up demands for Congress to move on legislation that would require some Southern states, including Mississippi and Louisiana, to once again get federal approval before making election changes. Almost 160 Democrats in Congress recently wrote House Republican leaders calling for action on the stalled bill, which they said would “restore the safeguards of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., signed the letter. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, didn’t, saying the measure wouldn’t include key states with a long history of discrimination, including Alabama. “There is a lot of concern that many of those areas will not be covered with the new bill,” said Thompson. “At the end of the day if the bill comes to the floor in whatever form, in all probability I’ll support it. But at this point, I’m going to lobby for a better bill.”
For all the criticism about long lines and other Election Day snafus, most states actually improved the way they handled elections between 2008 and 2012, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report found that, overall, wait times at polling stations decreased by about three minutes over 2008, and 40 states and the District of Columbia improved their “election performance index” scores, which Pew calculated from 17 indicators that make up the index. Pew analyzed state election administration by looking at factors such as the availability of voting tools online, voter turnout, wait times at polling stations and problems with registration or absentee ballots.
The headline about a new Supreme Court opinion rarely tells the whole story. Rather, the detailed reasoning of the ruling often reveals whether a decision is a blockbuster or a dud. When the court writes broadly, it can eventually remake entire industries, government practices or areas of the law. Lawyers and lower courts scrutinize an opinion’s every line and footnote, pouring over the legal reasoning and noting subtle changes from the court’s earlier decisions in the same area. This is why it is fair to call last week’s Supreme Court ruling in the campaign finance case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission a blockbuster case. In McCutcheon, the court struck down limits on the total amount that an individual could give to federal candidates, parties and certain political committees in an election cycle. The ruling is itself significant, and will channel a great deal of money into the hands of party leaders — opening up new ways for big donors to buy access to elected officials. But just as significant is the court’s reasoning — which could well lead to courts striking down what remain of campaign finance limits, including limits on contributions to individual members of Congress. We could be on our way to politicians accepting multimillion-dollar contributions from a single donor.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ first sentence of his majority opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission, striking down important limits on campaign contributions, declares “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” A look at the Roberts Court’s record, however, shows that this may not be its guiding principle. Through a series of rulings, the court’s conservative majority’s rulings have instead made it easier for big-money donors to influence elections — while making it harder for many Americans to use the only political influence they have: their vote. The court has done handsprings to accommodate claims that laws burdening donors’ ability to spend money in elections are unconstitutional. In Citizens United, for example, the court decided to schedule re-argument during a special court session — something very rare in the Supreme Court — to consider whether to strike down campaign finance restrictions on corporate expenditures as unconstitutional. (Which the court ultimately did.). The plaintiff in that case hadn’t even pressed such a radical argument, until the court explicitly invited it to do so.
An oligarchy, Webster’s dictionary tells us, is “a form of government in which the ruling power belongs to a few persons.” It’s a shame that the Republican majority on the Supreme Court doesn’t know the difference between an oligarchy and a democratic republic. Yes, I said “the Republican majority,” violating a nicety based on the pretense that when people reach the high court, they forget their party allegiance. We need to stop peddling this fiction. On cases involving the right of Americans to vote and the ability of a very small number of very rich people to exercise unlimited influence on the political process, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his four allies always side with the wealthy, the powerful and the forces that would advance the political party that put them on the court. The ideological overreach that is wrecking our politics is now also wrecking our jurisprudence. The court’s latest ruling in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission should not be seen in isolation. (The “et al.,” by the way, refers to the Republican National Committee.) It is yet another act of judicial usurpation by five justices who treat the elected branches of our government with contempt and precedent as meaningless.
Quick: Name a senator who served between the Civil War and World War I. Struggling? Now name a tycoon who bought senators during the same period. J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller … it’s easier. And for good reason. The tycoons mattered more. Gilded Age industrialists—who had amassed levels of wealth unseen in American history—frequently dominated the politicians who enjoyed putative power to write the laws. In 1896, when corporations could give directly to political candidates, pro-corporate Republican presidential candidate William McKinley raised $16 million to populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s $600,000. “All questions in a democracy,” declared McKinley’s campaign manager, Mark Hanna, are “questions of money.” The Roberts Court seems to agree. The astonishing concentration of wealth among America’s super-rich, combined with a Supreme Court determined to tear down the barriers between their millions and our elections, is once again shifting the balance of power between politicians and donors. You could see it during last weekend’s “Sheldon primary,” when four major presidential contenders flocked to Las Vegas to court one man.
Voting Blogs: A Novel Proposal from Heather Gerken: Plus One More, Also from Yale | More Soft Money Hard Law
In an interesting Washington Post article, Professor Heather Gerken has proposed with co-authors a new strategy to advance a core reform objective, the enhancement of transparency, as other options seemingly dwindle after CItizens United andMcCutcheon. Heather is well known and well-respected for just such an insistence on thinking beyond the well-traveled, now largely exhausted policy choices. A good example is the Democracy Index, which she constructed to “harness politics to fix politics,” by generating political incentives for the improvement of performance on election administration through the publication of public rankings. What she and her co-authors now suggest is that 501(c)(4)s and other organizations not publicly reporting their finances be required to disclose that they do not disclose. Public opinion would do the rest: politics would be harnessed to fix politics. Suspicious that the advertisers won’t say who is paying for their messages, the audience would be mistrustful, the ads would have less value, and donors would have reason to doubt that their money is well spent. Money might then flow to messages financed by disclosing organizations. This mode of attack, Gerken et. al believe, might also help with the “whack-a-mole” problem: that regulators and lawmakers must chase ever-changing organizational forms, from “527” to 501(c) organizations. This new regulatory program would target the ads, irrespective of the type of sponsor.
A plan to consolidate voting precincts in St. Clair County could save $300,000 during a two-year election cycle. St. Clair County Board members Frank Heiligenstein, a Democrat of Freeburg, and David Tiedemann, a Republican of Shiloh, are pushing to combine the county’s voting precincts with the fewest voters. State law recommends voting precincts should have between 500 and 800 voters per precinct. The county has 40 voting precincts with fewer than 500 voters. “If we follow logic and common sense, we could eliminate 65 precincts,” Heiligenstein said, noting he believes each precinct should have about 1,200 voters. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said county officials are working to consolidate precincts that fall significantly below the required 500 voter level and the county should adhere to all applicable law when consolidating precincts.
A state district judge has thrown out a complaint filed against the Democratic outreach group Battleground Texas that was based on a conservative filmmaker’s video, a special prosecutor said Monday. Special prosecutor John Economidy, a Republican, told The Associated Press that he and fellow special prosecutor Christine Del Prado, a Democrat, determined that Battleground Texas did not violate state election law by transcribing phone numbers submitted on voter registration forms. San Antonio Judge Raymond Angelini signed the dismissal without comment on Friday, Economidy added. The inquiry began after conservative activist James O’Keefe and his group, Project Veritas, made a video that purported to show Battleground Texas workers talking about transcribing telephone numbers from voter registration cards they’d collected. O’Keefe said in the video that taking phone numbers violated Texas law, and Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, called for a criminal investigation.
Voting Blogs: Federal Judge Orders Texas to Produce Legislative Docs That May Prove Polling Place Photo ID Restriction Law Was Racially-Motivated | BradBlog
Just over a week ago, it was North Carolina legislators ordered by the court to cough up documentation relating to passage of new, draconian restrictions on voting rights in their state. Now, legislators in Texas are facing much the same thing, as that state’s extreme polling place Photo ID restrictions also face legal and Constitutional challenge. By way of an eight-page Order [PDF]issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has directed the State of Texas to serve upon the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) documents that relate to the question of whether “state legislators, contrary to their public pronouncements, acted with discriminatory intent in enacting SB 14,” the Lone Star State’s polling place Photo ID restriction law. That law had previously been found to be discriminatory against minority voters in TX, and thus rejected by both the DoJ and a federal court panel as a violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It was then re-enacted by the state of Texas almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the VRA in the summer of 2013.
Afghanistan has begun tallying votes from the weekend’s historic presidential elections, a process that will take weeks to complete, but rough early counts suggest that the country is heading for a second-round showdown between two former ministers. Voters defied Taliban intimidation, turning out in unexpectedly high numbers on Saturday to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai, who has ruled for 12 years and is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. The Taliban mounted nearly 700 attacks nationwide, said General Zahir Azimy, spokesman for the defence ministry, but fears of a bloody, dramatic attack in the capital or another major city during the election proved unfounded. The day ended with an outpouring of support for the 350,000 police and soldiers on duty around the country, who for the first time secured an election without foreign support.
In this rugged country where ballots are counted by hand and election results are viewed with suspicion, impatient presidential candidates are not willing to wait for official numbers and have started counting votes themselves. After Saturday’s presidential election, tens of thousands of volunteers for the candidates are visiting polling stations across the country to call in results that have been taped on the walls of mosques and schools. The team of former finance minister Ashraf Ghani has created a website with pie charts and bar graphs that show partial returns as they come in, three weeks ahead of the expected announcement of the winner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his website is projecting that he will be the victor (by a margin of 57 percent, with a quarter of the ballots counted). The days after the vote have transformed campaign offices into command centers where candidates’ staffs are calling around the country collecting photos and videos and complaints about alleged fraud, calculating vote totals and positioning themselves for a possible runoff election if no candidate passes the 50 percent threshold. The early and partial results, which have been bandied about on social media and are showing a tight race between Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have galled the candidates who appear to be losing.
Canada: Elections bill ‘exacerbates’ lack of privacy, political parties micro-target voters more | Hill Times
MPs may be federal law-makers, but there are no laws restricting how political parties can collect or use personal information about voters in Canada, and with the development of micro-targeting techniques, information is more important than ever in politics, however, parties aren’t working to close this legislative gap out of “self-interest,” say experts. “It’s in parties’ self-interest to not be covered by these particular rules and regulations [privacy laws]. They want to be able to collect information and not have to worry about abiding by rules and standards … there’s no reason whatsoever that political parties shouldn’t play by the same rules as businesses and government institutions,” said Jonathon Penney, an associate law professor at Dalhousie University with a focus on intellectual property and information security issues, in an interview last week with The Hill Times. “There’s a real incentive I think for parties to collect more information, because the richer the information, the better your analytics will be, the more you can micro-target, the more you can segment your voter base and shape an individual message to target specific voters for specific reasons, and your electoral strategies and your voter messaging is going to be that much better the richer and deeper and more detailed your information is about the electorate,” he said.
India: Election Commission’s belated realisation, faulty Electronic Voting Machines waver voters’ faith in fair polls | Daily Bhaskar
Free and fair elections are central to the democratic ethos of any country. This includes fair, accurate and transparent electoral process with outcomes that can be independently verified. Behind this gigantic process is a little secret that ensures that the polls are indeed honest. The little white box known as the Electronic Voting Machine or simply EVM is the finest innovation of modern India. But this myth was shattered when last week an electronic voting machine during a mandatory mock poll in Jorhat turned out to be faulty, every time a button was pressed, the vote went in favour of BJP. What happened to the claim that the Indian EVM is one of the most refined systems in the world? It was believed that not even the US elections have been known to be so refined in its ability to gather all the votes in such a clean manner.
The independence referendum held in Veneto between the 16 and 21 of March adds to a growing list of struggles for territorial autonomy within established nation states and advanced democracies in Europe. As is well known, this year Scotland will go to the polls to decide whether it becomes an independent country. Crimea has also recently made the headlines for its sudden desire to secede from Ukraine and re-join Russia – a decision supported by a landslide victory in a recent, if contested, popular referendum. And yet, in many respects, the Veneto independence referendum cannot be directly compared to these cases. In the first place, the referendum was unconstitutional and defective. According to the Italian Constitution (Article 5) “the Italian Republic is one and indivisible” – which, put simply, means that no referendum could ever be lawfully called to question or change this principle.
An airforce major being court martialled for blowing the whistle on the indelible ink used in Election 2013 won an early reprieve today when a military court set aside five charges against him for going public. But Major Zaidi Ahmad remains in the dock with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) court, however, over two other charges for sending messages of a political nature. “I am thankful that at least in this early stage we can show that the charges were not right,” said lawyer Hanipa Maidin who is representing the major. Hanipa explained that the military court today set aside as defective five charges for violating council orders on the use of indelible ink during the election and for making a statement without the authorisation of the Defence Ministry. But the Sepang MP explained that the prosecution could still amend the charges later.
The recent elections in Turkey are under increased scrutiny, with results being challenged across the country not only by political parties, but also, for the first time, by non-partisan groups and individuals. Riot police using water cannon and tear gas dispersed protesters calling for an investigation into the local election results in the capital Ankara. Along with opposition parties, non-partisan pressure groups and individuals are contesting the fairness of some of the races. Soli Ozel, a political columnist for the Turkish newspaper Haberturk, says the country is witnessing a new development – citizen empowerment. “It’s very important: people are owning up to their votes and for the first time there is this great sensitivity. Their are a lot of people who consistently bicker on the Internet, saying: ‘Oh how awful these things are.’ Other people are basically taking matters into their own hands; we have not seen this before,” said Ozel.