The U.S. Senate Rules Committee has passed a bill aimed at strengthening voting protections for military members. The Safeguarding Elections for our Nation’s Troops through Reforms and Improvements (SENTRI) Act is co-sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Upon its passage out of committee this week, Senator Cornyn released a statement urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to “immediately” bring the bill before the full Senate. “The 2012 election made clear that there are still too many barriers to military service members and their families having their votes counted,” Cornyn wrote in his statement. “These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and the least we can do is ensure that everything possible is being done to safeguard their voting rights.”
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future. His discussion of voting rights is framed by the civil rights movement and the once overwhelming and bipartisan support for expanding voter franchise. He mentions that Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the ’80s, and that the Senate vote to reauthorize the law in 2006 was 98-0. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said before that vote, “As we reflect on the true wrongs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s and where those wrongs may have taken place, we owe it to history . . . to pay tribute to those who took the law and made it a reality.” Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which means states with a history of discrimination that once needed preclearance for redistricting no longer require special attention from the Justice Department, unless Congress passes an amended Section 4, an unlikely prospect given the current congressional class. Many state legislatures reacted by passing legislation that often makes it harder to vote. There are new voter-ID laws, and early voting and same-day registration have been sanded away in many states. The conservative argument for these laws is that they help prevent voter fraud. Democrats respond that it also prevents their base from voting.
Voting Blogs: The Election Performance Index and Election Reform: The Early Returns Are Promising | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog
I want to offer a brief response to Rick Hasen’s post about the release of Pew’s 2012 Election Performance Index. Now that we can assess state performance across two comparable elections, he asks an excellent question: Will we see states trying to improve their performance? I suggested as much in my book, The Democracy Index: Why Our System is Failing and How to Fix It, where I proposed creating a ranking like the EPI. It’s only been a few days, of course, but the early returns are heartening. States are obviously paying attention; there are lots of stories about states touting their rise in the rankings or grumbling about their scores, with more discussions happening behind the scenes. More importantly, election officials are already using the EPI to push for reform.
Arkansas’ Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday adopted rules for handling absentee ballots under the state’s new voter ID law despite a lawsuit that accuses the board of overstepping its authority. The rules allow an absentee voter who does not provide a proper ID when voting until noon on the Monday after the election to provide an approved form of ID — such as a copy of a driver’s license. The rules also say those absentee voters should be notified via first class mail that they must submit approved forms of identification before their votes can be counted. “What we’re doing is making sure that we’re not disenfranchising any voters,” said Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, the chairman of the election board.
Florida: Voters are told to hold everything – yes, everything – at some polling places | Sun Sentinel
Broward and Palm Beach County voters can rest easy. Elections supervisors in the two counties say they won’t implement the restroom ban imposed by Miami-Dade County. In the state’s most populous county, voters who need to go while waiting to vote aren’t allowed to do so. The media office at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department didn’t respond to a request for information about the rule. But it’s detailed by county officials in email exchanges with a disability rights lawyer. “It’s absolutely stunning,” said Marc Dubin director of advocacy for the Center for Independent Living of South Florida, which serves people with disabilities in Miami-Dade County. He’s a former senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he was responsible for ADA enforcement. “It is a current policy of the Department of Elections. It’s in effect right now,” Dubin said.
Florida: Purchase of new voting equipment will be delayed, Manatee County elections chief says | Bradenton Herald
A purchase of high-tech digital voting equipment will be delayed until after the November election, an official said Wednesday. “We were concerned we would not have the equipment in time to train for a major election,” said Mike Bennett, Manatee County supervisor of elections. Over the past few weeks, discussions have been continuing with an Omaha, Neb., company that manufactures digital high-speed scanners and specialized equipment designed to accommodate the handicapped, but those negotiations have ended for now, he said. “We can do with what we’ve got,” explained Bennett.
Illinois voters this fall will get to decide a pair of constitutional amendments on ballot protections and crime victim rights. The Senate voted today to put both questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment to protect voter rights says no person should be denied registration and voting rights based on race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language or income.
New Mexico: Sandoval County secures more voting machines for shorter waits | Albuquerque Journal News
Sandoval County appears unlikely to see a repeat of the long lines of November 2012, with a large number of voting convenience centers and voting machines lined up for this year’s primary and general elections. In October, the Albuquerque Journal reported, the county commission approved 17 voting centers in Rio Rancho and two in Corrales for the two elections the county’s Bureau of Elections will conduct in 2014. Rio Rancho had just five voting convenience centers in the 2012 general election. Various reports from that night indicated some Rio Rancho residents waited between three and five hours to vote. For the June 3 primary, the bureau expects to have 66 computer stations set up at voting centers to print ballots on-demand as voters check in. The bureau also plans to have two voting machine for counting completed ballots in each voting center, spokesman Sidney Hill said. The voting centers that consolidate the most precincts will receive the most systems for printing ballots on demand, he said.
Companies, nonprofits and unions wouldn’t have to disclose when they pay for an election advertisement, and corporations with state contracts would be allowed to spend money on elections, under a provision that passed the Ohio House Wednesday. The provision would void a rule implemented by former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that governs election spending by corporations, nonprofits and labor unions. The rule requires the groups to disclose when they spend money to advocate for or against the election of a candidate, both through a statement included in the ad and through a form filed with the secretary of state’s office. But Republicans’ main issue with the rule, a spokesman said, is its prohibition of election-related spending by corporations with state or federal government contracts within one year of their receiving money from the government. They also wanted to void the part of the rule that prohibits spending in elections by corporations with more than 20 percent ownership by non-U.S. citizens or corporations based outside the U.S.
Rhode Island: Senate committee hears pros, cons of Rhode Island voter ID law | The Providence Journal
Impassioned at times, a debate gathered force again at the State House Thursday over the law that requires Rhode Island voters to present forms of identification at elections. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from supporters of a bill sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, that seeks the repeal of the voter ID law and from supporters of a bill by Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, who portrayed it as balancing worries over disenfranchised voters and worries over voter fraud. Metts’ bill would add several forms of identification — including some that would not have photos — to what was slated to be allowed for voters in 2014. That includes adding credit cards, public housing cards, documents issued by a government agency, a senior citizens ID, and U.S. citizen naturalization papers. Current law, phased in since 2011, holds that with the 2014 election, photos IDs are slated to be required. “I did my best to make sure that there was a balance to address the concerns of people concerned with disenfranchisement and also those concerned with fraud,” said Metts. He said his proposal includes provisional ballots for someone who does not have an ID.
Several acts of violence marred Algeria’s presidential election campaign over the last week, as voters prepare to head to the polls April 17th. In Bouira, a representative of Ali Benflis, a serious rival to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was prevented from holding a public meeting at a cinema on Tuesday (April 8th) by a group of campaigners. That followed an incident last Saturday, when protesters in Bejaia raided a community arts centre that was supposed to host a meeting led by Abdelmalek Sellal, who was forced to call off the event. Damage to the building was estimated at 100 million dinars, according to APS. Despite the condemnations that followed the acts of violence in Bejaia, where journalists from the private TV channel Ennahar and law enforcement officers were injured, young people ran into the street in Metlili, Ghardaia at the end of a Wednesday meeting staged by Sellal. Scuffles between youths and law enforcement officers ensued. The young demonstrators accused Sellal of failing to keep promises to improve living standards that he made while serving as prime minister.
Guinea Bissau holds presidential and legislative elections on April 13 in a bid to help restore democracy two years after a coup that thwarted a previous vote and triggered an economic slide in the former Portuguese colony. As many as 775,500 voters out of a population of 1.6 million will cast ballots in an election that was delayed twice, according to the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office in Guinea Bissau. There are 13 presidential candidates, while 15 parties are vying for 102 seats in parliament. Former Finance Minister Jose Mario Vaz is considered the frontrunner in the presidential vote, according to Bjorn van Wees, Africa analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. Vaz is the candidate for Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde, or PAIGC, which fought a guerrilla war against the Portuguese and took power at independence in 1974.
If you lived in New Delhi and went out to vote today, you could have used Uber’s recently launched India service to get there and back for free. All you’d need to do is enter a promo code into the Uber app to get two rides worth up to Rs 1,000 ($16.60) between 7am and 7pm. You wouldn’t even need to vote. And the thing is, it actually wouldn’t make much sense to use the codes to vote—the maximum distance a voter needs to travel to get to a polling booth in Delhi is 2 km (1.25 miles), a much smaller fare. The California-based transportation network’s promotional deal may end up having the perverse effect of encouraging voters to skip voting and go see friends instead—specially since election day is a holiday in Delhi. Uber probably has good intentions, even if the execution leads to undesirable outcomes. Its Silicon Valley peers Google and Facebook are also using India’s elections as an excuse to build their brands, but their exploitation of the aura of significance that surrounds voting in the world’s largest democracy is arguably more pernicious. Those companies are using the elections to sell a beguiling myth: that the internet promotes democracy. The reality is more complicated, as the outcome of the Arab Spring has shown, and as polemical thinkers such as Evgeny Morozov have argued.
A series of attacks north of Baghdad killed eight soldiers Tuesday as Iraq’s election campaign enters its 10th day, leaving many believing that efforts taken to reach across the sectarian divide have failed. Iraq’s electioneering campaign officially started 1 April marking a transition in the country’s political crisis with the vote set for 30 April. The campaigning by candidates was matched by an increase in violence in some provinces. Not only will violence affect the political stability of Iraq, it also might raise — if it has not already raised — concern in Washington over the viability of the “democratic” system they brought to Iraq via military action over 10 years ago. Iraqi analysts agree that security forces must guarantee the security of the vote so as to encourage participation. Ahmed Ali, Iraq research analyst and Iraq Team lead at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC, told Ahram Online that pre-election violence in Iraq is common and has happened in previous elections. “The groups carrying out the violence, like ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), intend to disrupt the electoral process and prevent Iraqi Sunnis in particular from participating, leading to discrediting the political process.”
National: Obama, Citing New Laws, Says the G.O.P. Is Moving to Restrict Voting Rights | New York Times
President Obama deplored on Friday what he called a Republican campaign to deny voting rights to millions of Americans as he stepped up efforts to rally his political base heading into a competitive midterm campaign season. Appearing at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Manhattan, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of trying to rig the elections by making it harder for older people, women, minorities and the impoverished to cast ballots in swing states that could determine control of the Senate. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”
During the brief time in the election cycle when the voting booths are actually open, we hear a lot how smoothly elections are going—where voters are waiting in long lines, where ballots are getting rejected, and the like. Elections expert Doug Chapin, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Elections Academy, calls it “anec-data”—anecdotes substituting for hard numbers. In a presidential election, we tend to hear all about problems in swing states, since the national press corps is already there, but we’re less likely to hear about issues in Montana or Connecticut, where the election outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Good data would make it easy to compare states’ election performance, and more importantly, let us see how states are improving or declining from one election to the next. That’s why Pew’s 2012 Elections Performance Index is a big deal. Released this week, the index uses standardized data from the U.S. Census, the Elections Assistance Commission, and a major survey to assess states on 17 different variables and judge just how well they are running their elections. Because Pew offered an index for 2008 and 2010, we can now compare two different presidential elections to actually see whether election administration is getting better or worse—rather than just guess. It’s the first time such a tool has been available. For the most part, the results are encouraging. A quick perusal shows 40 of the 50 states have improved since 2008—wait times are down an average of three minutes and online registration is spreading quickly, with 13 states offering online voter registration during the 2012 election, up from just two in 2008. (Since the election, another five states have started offering it.) Many of the top-performing states in 2008, like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado, stayed on top in 2012 while low performers, like Mississippi, Alabama, California, and New York remained at the bottom.
For Miami-Dade County voters who have had to wait up to seven hours on Election Day to cast their ballots, there’s an argument over what should take priority: the call to citizenship or the call of nature. Emails from a deputy elections supervisor and an assistant county attorney say Miami-Dade voters are banned from using restrooms at polling places. But the chief deputy elections supervisor pooh-poohed the notion. Number One and Number Two are fine in publicly owned voting sites, such as libraries and city halls, where bathrooms are open for anyone to use. The problem might arise when precincts are located in private buildings, which don’t have to allow public bathroom access, or in churches and other religious facilities, which are exempt from federal law requiring accessible restrooms for people with disabilities. Elections administrators have long relied on those locations to set up Miami-Dade’s more than 500 polling places.
A federal judge agreed Tuesday with the American Civil Liberties Union that a state court should decide a lawsuit challenging Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s enforcement of the state’s voter-citizenship rule. The lawsuit attacks a policy Kobach said he was considering to restrict Kansans who use a national voter-registration form to casting ballots only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races. The ACLU argued Kobach has no authority under Kansas law to impose the policy and it would violate voters’ right to equal legal protection under the state constitution. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita returned the case to Shawnee County District Court, where it initially was filed in November on behalf of two voters and the gay-rights group Equality Kansas.
North Carolina: After initial hysteria, back-pedaling over North Carolina voter fraud claims | Facing South
Last week, top staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections made a presentation to legislators about the state of voter registration in North Carolina. Out of the board’s 58-page PowerPoint presentation [pdf], only two of the slides (34 and 35) related to the Interstate Crosscheck, a project run by the Kansas secretary of state to root out suspected voter fraud. But the findings of North Carolina’s involvement in Crosscheck quickly ignited a media firestorm, especially in the conservative media: “N.C. State Board Finds More than 35K Incidents of ‘Double Voting’ in 2012” trumpeted National Review. “Oh My: Audit Finds Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud in North Carolina” blared Townhall.com. Dick Morris, the conservative comentator and former political operative, made even more wild claims, claiming in an editorial for The Hill that North Carolina’s findings offered “concrete proof that massive voter fraud might have taken place in the 2012 election, sufficiently widespread to have tainted more than 1 million votes nationwide.” As Facing South was one of the first to report, however, the North Carolina election board’s data offered little proof of rampant fraud. The 35,750 figure represented people who, when plugged into Crosscheck’s database of voter files from 28 states, had the same first name, last name and date as birth of people who had voted in other states in 2012. But many of those can be explain by clerical errors and the fact that a surprisingly large number of people in different states share the same names and birthday.