Editorials: Why putting photos on Social Security cards won’t save voting rights | Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times

A certain William Wachtel, the co-founder of WhyTuesday, an election reform group chaired by former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, wrote me over the weekend to complain that I treated Young harshly by criticizing his proposal to require Social Security to issue photo IDs. I called it “a terrible idea.” Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute and another co-founder of WhyTuesday, also defended the proposal, which Young mentioned at an event last week marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Ornstein mounted his defense via Twitter, which only made Young’s idea sound even shallower and more foolish.  What these gentlemen failed to do is explain why requiring Social Security to issue photo IDs is not a terrible idea. But since they seem to feel strongly about it–Wachtel even suggested that I owe Young a “public apology”; who knew seasoned diplomats could be so sensitive?–it’s proper for me to reinforce my point. Young’s goal is to undercut efforts by Republicans in many states to discourage voting by enacting laws requiring voters to prove their identities with photo IDs. Since people who lack government-issued IDs are disproportionately minorities and the poor and probably tend to vote Democratic, you’d have to be blind not to see what’s going on here. But as I wrote, Young has the wrong answer. His idea could undermine voting rights even more.

Editorials: Republicans Used to Support Voting Rights—What Happened? | Ari Berman/The Nation

During a speech on Friday at the National Action Network, President Obama made his strongest and most extensive comments yet on the topic of voting rights. “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,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.” The election of the first black president and the resurrection of voter suppression efforts was hardly a coincidence. New voting restrictions took effect in nineteen states from 2011–12. Nine states under GOP control have adopted measures to make it more difficult to vote since 2013. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, half of the states (eight in total) previously covered under Section 5 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions. … Things weren’t always this way. In his new book about the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum tells the story of Bill McCulloch, a conservative Republican from Ohio who championed civil rights as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. The Politico excerpt from the book was titled “The Republican Who Saved Civil Rights.”

Arkansas: GOP can intervene in voter ID lawsuit, judge rules | Arkansas News

The state Republican Party can intervene in a lawsuit over how absentee ballots should be handled under the state’s new voter ID law, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Monday. The party had asked Judge Tim Fox to allow it to intervene in a lawsuit the Pulaski County Election Commission filed against the state Board of Election Commissioners. The suit alleges that the board exceeded its authority when it adopted rules on how absentee ballots should be handled when voters submit them without the proof of identity required under Act 595 of 2013. The attorney general’s office is representing the Board of Election Commissioners in the case. George Ritter, attorney for the state GOP, argued in a hearing Monday that the party should be allowed to intervene because Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, cannot provide vigorous and effective representation in the case.

Delaware: Pew report praises Delaware voter registration, questions voting machines | Delaware Public Media

The Pew Charitable Trust’s examination of 17 areas such as polling station wait times placed Delaware in the top twenty-five percent of states overall when it comes to “election performance” – so says Pew’s manager of election initiatives Zachary Markovitz. “Delaware really is a pioneer leading the states, especially in improving their voter registration system,” said Markovitz. That improvement comes in the form of the “e-signature” program, which the First State implemented in 2009. The initiative lets Delaware residents complete the entire voter registration process at the DMV, instead of having to fill out paperwork, send it in by mail, wait for a response…. and very possibly, and understandably, have something get messed up along the way. The e-signature program was even praised by a task force commissioned by President Obama after the 2012 elections to find ways to improve election performance around the country. Still, Pew’s report found room for improvement in Delaware. Markovitz points to Delaware’s “residual vote rate” — basically, the number of votes cast in an election versus those actually counted. And when those numbers don’t match up, it could imply that some people’s votes are slipping through the cracks. …

Iowa: Officials: Iowa law may void some absentee ballots | Associated Press

Lawmakers have been unable to change a state law on postmarked absentee ballots that may accidentally void some valid ballots. Election officials say some valid ballots over the years could have been invalidated because the Postal Service doesn’t always postmark business reply mail envelopes, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/Q6Vtv7 ). Voters return completed absentee ballots in those envelopes. State law requires that absentee ballots received after Election Day must be stamped with a postmark from the day before Election Day or earlier. The law has been in effect for years. But an accompanying administrative rule that allowed election officials to open ballots received after Election Day without a postmark and check the date on the enclosed voter affidavit was repealed in 2011.

Louisiana: Bill requiring 20 percent voter turnout for tax election survives | Shreveport Times

Strong opposition to requiring at least a 20 percent voter turnout for an election for a property or sales tax to pass wasn’t enough to kill it. With only the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry for it and numerous groups like the Louisiana Municipal Association and Louisiana School Boards Association against it, SB200 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, survived the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee when Chairman Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, voted to create a 5-5 tie. That vote left the bill in committee to be heard later. “I’m talking about a higher standard,” Allain said. “These are tax elections where they’re taking people’s money.”

North Carolina: State joined controversial voter cross-check program as other states were leaving | Facing South

On April 2, 2014, leaders of North Carolina’s state election board announced they had participated in a national program to verify voters run by Kansas’ controversial secretary of state, Kris Kobach. The results ignited a firestorm: Media outlets and Republican lawmakers quickly declared that plugging North Carolina’s voter data into Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program had revealed proof of “widespread voter fraud” and justified a host of voter restrictions passed in 2013. But Interstate Crosscheck has been hounded by controversy since it launched in Kobach’s office in 2005. Despite initial hysteria about alleged fraud — as happened this month in North Carolina — few actual cases of fraud have been referred for prosecution, as presumed cases of double voting in multiple states turn out to be clerical and other errors. Amidst the controversy, at least two states have dropped out of the program, just as North Carolina was joining it.

North Carolina: Voting rights groups turn to education in fight against voter ID law | Al Jazeera

Even before it passed, opponents had taken to calling it the Monster Law. But the 56-page bill that ultimately cleared the GOP-controlled General Assembly here last summer and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in August was, if possible, worse than what they had imagined. Freed from having to clear election law changes with the Justice Department after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina lawmakers enacted what is considered by many the toughest voting restrictions in the United States. “That was the opening for the Senate to then say, ‘OK, we can do anything. We can make this in our view the best’ — or in Common Cause’s view … the worst — ‘proposal in the land,’” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, a nonpartisan citizens’ advocacy group. “We have the worst overall elections laws in the country and the most onerous voter ID in the land.”

Europe: A Clash between National and European in the European Elections | EU Inside

For the first time in the EU, you will hear, we have a broad choice. We can vote for a specific candidate for the post of the European Commission president, not only for members of the European Parliament. The candidates of the biggest political families in Europe were selected in the American style – some more democratically (via primaries), others via the ordinary party procedure. Whatever the manner, they are already touring European cities and capitals competing for our vote. They even call their campaign with the same term as in the US – campaign trail. The culmination will be on May 15th when the five candidates will appear together in a debate which will be broadcast live within the Eurovision network and online. To sum up, European democracy in action. There is no doubt that it is more than exciting that, finally, the EU will come to us instead of us constantly going to the EU. The European political parties will fight for our vote, they will present us their ideas, plans, visions about the future of the Union not from the distant Brussels, but they will come in our capitals and cities. They will try to balance between nationalists, austerians, spenders, Germans, Greeks, the north and the south, the east and the west, between Euro-Atlanticists and pro-Russian forces. But there is a problem. In these elections, for the first time, the clash between the national and European political interest will be especially strong because the national parties make calculations of their own for these elections, while the candidates at EU level threaten to mess them up. And this is especially evident in the fact that there are two parallel elections for the post of European Commission president going on. One is the democratic one that I mentioned above and the other is the well known behind-the-scenes way in which the highest European posts are always bargained.

Algeria: Discontent Swells as President of Algeria Seeks a Fourth Term | New York Times

With a presidential election on Thursday, most Algerians see a fourth term for the incumbent, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as a foregone conclusion. Mr. Bouteflika has already been in power 15 years. In the last election in 2009, he was returned to office with an improbable 90 percent of the vote. So tightly controlled is this North African country that, virtually alone in the region, it passed on the Arab Spring. Yet even as the re-election of Mr. Bouteflika, 77, appears inevitable, his insistence on running again, despite his apparent frail health, has increased popular exasperation, revealed unusual signs of division within the ruling elite and provoked an unlikely show of solidarity among opposition parties, both secular and Islamic, which have united in a call to boycott the election. Exceptionally, a nascent urban middle-class youth movement, Barakat! (“Enough!” in Arabic), styled along the lines of the protests organized through social media during the Arab Spring, has begun campaigning against another term for Mr. Bouteflika. In recent weeks, it broke a taboo by holding small political protests here on the streets of the capital.

Canada: Senators recommend nine major changes to controversial elections bill | Vancouver Sun

The Harper government is getting some serious push-back from Conservative senators on its controversial overhaul of elections laws, with a Senate committee unanimously recommending nine major changes to the legislation. In an interim report to be tabled Tuesday, the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee recommends that the government drop provisions to muzzle the chief electoral officer and the elections commissioner, The Canadian Press has learned. It also recommends removing another provision which electoral experts have said would give an unfair, potentially huge, financial advantage to established parties — particularly the ruling Conservatives — during election campaigns.

Editorials: Compulsory voting is counter-productive | David Moscrop/Ottawa Citizen

Sometimes I catch hell from friends or colleagues for my occasional but deliberate choice to abstain from voting. Their admonitions take the form of a variation on the theme of it being my civic duty to vote: as a political theorist I should know better; men and women fought and died so that I could; those who don’t vote shouldn’t complain, and I complain a lot, so I should show up or clam up. These arguments are easily enough dismissed. When I choose not to vote I have reasons. Often the candidates are weak, but there’s no option to decline my ballot. Sometimes the parties are senseless and none deserves my vote. Other times the outcome of the race has been pre-determined by demographic facts well beyond my control. Always the atrocious and severely-dated first-past-the-post system does a poor job of translating votes into seats. Every few years the idea of compulsory voting — a system in which electors are required by law to cast their ballot and in which those who do not are, strictly speaking, subject to fines or criminal charges or even jail time — creeps into our political discourse. Nearly two-dozen countries have mandatory voting laws on the books, although not all of them enforce the law.

Guinea-Bissau: Observers give Guinea-Bissau vote clean bill of health | Reuters

Observers from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Monday said Guinea-Bissau’s weekend election was free and fair, and called on international donors to restart cooperation suspended in the wake of a 2012 coup. Bissau-Guineans flocked to the polls in large numbers on Sunday to vote in long-delayed legislative and presidential polls meant to bring stability to the former Portuguese colony after years of putsches and political infighting. No elected president has completed a five-year term in Guinea-Bissau, which has become a major transit point for smugglers ferrying Latin American cocaine to Europe. “The election was conducted according to international standards and the election was peaceful, free, fair and transparent,” the ECOWAS observer mission said in a statement.

Hungary: The 2014 Hungarian parliamentary elections, or how to craft a constitutional majority | Washington Post

Last weekend’s parliamentary elections in Hungary should have been a major event, at least within the European Union and the United States. Over the past four years the E.U. and the United States have criticized the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for its authoritarian, conservative and nationalist tendencies. These were institutionalized in the new constitution, which the government rammed through the toothless Hungarian parliament, in which the national-conservative Fidesz-KDNP party coalition held a constitutional majority. Scores of domestic and foreign observers have highlighted the many problematic parts of the constitution, although very little has been changed as a consequence of these critiques. But these are not ordinary times. The United States is preoccupied with the situation in Ukraine, while the E.U. is crippled by the lingering economic crisis and fears of an anti-European backlash in European elections next month. As a consequence, the Hungarian elections received little special attention from the E.U. and U.S. elite, despite widespread fears that another victory for Orbán, dubbed the “Viktator” by domestic critics, could lead to permanent damage to Hungary’s still-young liberal democracy.

Macedonia: Presidential runoff vote to be held April 27 | Reuters

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov will seek his second term in office in a runoff ballot against an opposition contender on April 27 after the first round on Sunday produced no outright winner. The second-round vote for the largely ceremonial post will be held together with a snap parliamentary election, called after the ruling multiethnic coalition in the small Balkan country failed to agree on a single presidential candidate. Ivanov, nominated by the VMRO-DPMNE party of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, captured 52 percent of the votes cast, according to preliminary results by the state electoral commission after counting almost 90 percent of the ballots. For an outright victory, a candidate must win votes of more than 50 percent of the 1.7 million registered voters, rather than of those who actually cast ballots. The runoff should be held two weeks after an inconclusive presidential election, according to the constitution.

Ukraine: Leaked UN report claims Russia “rigged” Crimea referendum | The Voice of Russia

A draft UN report on human rights in Ukraine reportedly acquired by US-based political magazine Foreign Policy claims Russia “rigged” the referendum in Crimea, the news outlet said on its website. The draft report, written by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, alleges the Russian government actively repressed the possibility of dissent or anti-Russian sentiment in the run-up to the referendum. “The delegation met with sources who claimed that there had been alleged cases of non-Ukrainian citizens participating in the referendum as well as individuals voting numerous times in different locations,” said an excerpt of the draft report published by Foreign Policy last Thursday, referring to allegations of Russia’s multiple efforts to “rig” the vote results in Crimea.