Time is running out for Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court last year struck down major parts of the voting law, and a bipartisan fix has stalled in Congress. The justices ruled that the formula used to designate which parts of the country must face heightened federal voting clearances was outdated and unconstitutional. New legislation, introduced earlier this year, seeks to update the procedures. Advocates believe the bill will pass both chambers of Congress if it is brought up to a vote, but that looks unlikely. In the House, conservative Republicans, especially those from Southern states that are singled out for the extra scrutiny, are skeptical of the measure Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) hammered out with House and Senate Democrats. If the bill were signed into law soon, it would be in effect for this November’s elections. Some Democrats are unhappy with compromises struck to win GOP support related to voter identification. Others on the left are concerned with the scope of the bill. Previously, nine states with histories of voter discrimination were required to get federal approval before they changed their election procedures. Under the new plan, only four states would be forced to seek such approval. Still, most Democrats would back the bill if it comes up for a vote. A number of senior Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are on board.
Even after felons pay their dues to society and leave prison, America sidelines them from the public square. Parolees and probationers are often perceived as undeserving of citizen benefits, and they have little power to assert their rights. Not only do governments often deny felons public resources such as Food Stamps, subsidized college loans, public housing and professional opportunities like licenses and contracts, it is also common for U.S. states to deny former prisoners the right to vote and otherwise exercise full and free citizenship. Felon disenfranchisement is the rule rather than the exception. Some 35 U.S. states deny voting rights when felons leave prison, restoring the right to vote only after the completion of terms of parole and probation. Effective lifetime disqualification prevails in a few states like Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — where the right to vote can be restored for felons only on a case-by-case basis involving individual appeals leading to gubernatorial pardons. But felon disenfranchisement is not going unchallenged. Reform pushes are widespread — and a 2006 victory in Rhode Island offers room for optimism that full citizenship rights may, over time, be restored to former prisoners.
One of the most pernicious outcomes of the intense political struggle between Democrats and Republicans is the parties’ breathtaking capacity to game our voting rules. Nothing makes voters more cynical than seeing political leaders seemingly supporting or opposing election laws based solely on their partisan impact — from redistricting reform to fights over whether to allow early voting. But a reform win in New York could foreshadow a cease-fire in the voting wars. On April 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation making New York the 10th state to pass the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact for president. Overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and Democrats approved the bill, which seeks to guarantee election of the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We don’t need a constitutional amendment to achieve this goal. The Constitution gives each state power over how to allocate its electoral votes and the ability to enter into binding interstate compacts. The Founding Fathers gave states freedom to structure how to select the president — and national popular vote embodies that tradition.
Most Alabama voters won’t see anything other than Republicans and Democrats on their ballots in the November general election. That’s because it’s hard — unjustly hard — for anyone else to get on the ballot in our state, thanks to the restrictive ballot access law the Legislature has refused to change. Lawmakers have had many opportunities to amend the law to something more reasonable that still protects the integrity of the ballot, but a bill to do that failed in this year’s session, just as similar measures have languished in past sessions. Independent candidates face serious barriers to the ballot here. Under current law, an independent candidate trying to run for a statewide office must collect signatures of registered voters — lots of them. The candidate must present to the secretary of state petitions bearing such signatures totaling at least 3 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the previous general election.
The Colorado House of Representatives passed, on a 37-28 party-line vote, a bill that will allow citizens to cast remote ballots in recall elections. Senate Bill 158 was being pushed by Democrats angered by the recalls last year of state Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse, who were voted out of office after their support for gun-control measures. A third Democratic senator, Evie Hudak, resigned rather than face a recall battle. Morse and Giron were removed after voter turnouts of 21 and 36 percent, respectively. Democrats argue that the outcome was, at least in part, the result of recall election laws, which effectively required voters to physically turn in ballots on a single day.
The District’s Republican Party says it will sue any sitting Democrat on the D.C. Council who opts to run as an independent for one of two at-large seats reserved for minority political parties, promising the latest spirited defense of the set-aside positions that have long been a source of discord among city politicians. “The law was set up for third-party candidates, for nonmajority candidates. It wasn’t set up so Democrats could play games with their identification,” said D.C. GOP Chairman Ron Phillips, pointing to the Republican and Statehood Party candidates who have held the seats in the past. The threat was made after two Democrats — council members Tommy Wells and Yvette M. Alexander — last week openly discussed switching to independent status to pursue the at-large seat being vacated by Republican turned independent David A. Catania in his bid for mayor. Another five independent candidates, all of whom were previously registered as Democrats, also have expressed interest in the seat.
Iowa felons will continue to be disqualified from voting, even after a court ruling this week indicated that some felonies may not rise to a level that should bar those convicted from voting or holding office. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a second operating-while-intoxicated conviction, an aggravated misdemeanor, did not bar former state Sen. Tony Bisignano from running for state Senate again. Rival Democrat Ned Chiodo challenged Bisignano’s candidacy in the south-side Des Moines district, arguing that second-offense OWI was an “infamous crime” that would strip Bisignano of his voting and office-holding rights. In the ruling, Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote that Bisignano’s aggravated misdemeanor was not an “infamous crime.” Cady also wrote that the court should review in a future case whether some of Iowa’s 777 felony charges also might not rise to a level that would require stripping a person of voting rights.
Many analysts have written a lot about the decision, with a natural focus on its direct implications for campaigns. Those are huge and important. But they are, I believe, overshadowed by the impact of the decision on corruption in America. Here, Rick Hasen and Dahlia Lithwick, two of the best legal analysts in the country, have weighed in, and I want to add my weight. Some have suggested that McCutcheon was not a terribly consequential decision—that it did not really end individual-contribution limits, that it was a minor adjustment post-Citizens United. Others have said that it may have a silver lining: more money to parties, more of the money disclosed. I disagree on both counts. Justice Stephen Breyer’s penetrating dissent to the decision pointed out the many methods that campaigns, parties, and their lawyers would use to launder huge contributions in ways that would make a mockery of individual limits. Chief Justice John Roberts pooh-poohed them as fanciful. And, of course, they started to emerge the day after the decision. As for disclosure, the huge amounts that will now flow in through political parties will be channeled through joint committees, state and local party committees, and others in complex ways that will make real disclosure immensely difficult, if not impossible.
Missouri Republicans are working to ensure that if the state adopts early voting, it’s as limited—and inconvenient—as possible. On Wednesday, the state’s GOP-controlled House approved a measure that would ask voters to consider amending the state’s constitution to establish early voting. But under the amendment, the early voting period would last just nine days, ending a full week before Election Day, and would not include Sunday voting. In other states, Sunday voting is especially popular with African-American voters who often vote en masse after church. … But some Democrats say it’s designed to head off a Democratic-backed campaign that would put a different constitutional amendment on the ballot, allowing for six weeks of early voting, including three Saturdays and three Sundays. As such, they say, it aims to do almost as little as possible to make voting easier for working Missourians.
If the cuts to early voting in North Carolina’s restrictive voting law had been in effect in 2012, Election Day wait times would have risen dramatically, a significant number of would-be voters would have given up in frustration—and African-American voters would have been hit hardest. That’s according to two top voting scholars, whose testimony in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure was released Thursday by the ACLU, one of the groups leading the effort. The law’s challengers, including the U.S. Justice Department, allege that it violates the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The expert testimony of Ted Allen of Ohio State and Paul Gronke of Reed College is a key part of establishing both that the measure would make it harder to vote and that its impact would be felt disproportionately by non-whites. Among other provisions, North Carolina’s law, passed last year by Republicans, cut seven days from the state’s early voting period. In 2012, 900,000 North Carolinians used those days to vote.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Texas have locked horns over discovery in a prominent voting rights challenge. Lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division asked a panel of judges Wednesday to compel Texas to turn over legislative documents that “may shed light on the Texas Legislature’s motivation” for enacting the 2011 congressional redistricting plans. Specifically, the department’s lawyer say they’ve asked Texas to supplement its responses to similar document requests in other litigation in the state over alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This time, Texas said no, according to the Justice Department.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to announce today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list. The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly. In a series of changes to the state’s restoration of rights process, McAuliffe plans to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list. In Virginia, only the governor can restore civil rights to felons, and attempts over the years to change the Virginia Constitution to allow for automatic restoration have failed.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looked set to win a fourth term with allies claiming victory in an election on Thursday, despite questions over his health and his rare appearances since suffering a stroke in 2013. Official results were due on Friday, but Bouteflika’s camp claimed the independence veteran backed by the dominant National Liberation Front (FLN) party had succeeded in securing five more years at the helm of the North African OPEC state. The 77-year-old Bouteflika, who has appeared in public only a few times since his stroke, earlier voted in Algiers while sitting in a wheelchair. He gave no statement and only briefly shook hands with supporters before leaving.
With the launch earlier this month of campaigns for the April 30 parliamentary elections, Iraq is back to debating the fact that none of the political blocs has put forward an electoral program or platform. The blocs, misunderstanding the concept of a political program, have instead reduced them to vague slogans. The Iraqi political forces competing in the elections justify the absence of real programs by asserting that Iraq remains in transition, so there are real differences over the basis of the political process — such as the Constitution, government formation, the decision-making process and the relationship between the central government and the provinces and the regions. They claim that this reality forces them to take positions on these particular issues, rather than presenting political programs. For example, some campaigns are sloganeering on amending the Constitution, while others’ slogans invoke government formation by the political majority, decentralization and the war on terror.
Google has launched an online portal where voters, journalists and campaigners can easily track all the latest news, trends and information related to the 2014 elections. The South African Elections Hub serves as a one-stop site for voters to access election-related information, including party and candidate information, where to vote, real-time election news, search trends and some of the most engaging elections-related YouTube videos from a wide range of political parties, media and civil society. The Elections Hub is also mobile-friendly. Google has worked with a range of stakeholders including media, civil society organisations and political parties, enabling them to use technology to innovate during the elections and allow voters and politicians to share, discuss, and make informed decisions.
When California voters decided to change the way the state’s primary elections work, the move was cast as an effort to moderate a state Capitol gripped by polarization. If the top two vote-getters in a primary faced off against one another in November regardless of their party affiliation, the reasoning went, hard-nosed politicians who typically put party purity above all else would be forced to court less partisan voters. That could mean more centrists elected to office, more political compromise and better governance. But with the approach of only the second election since the enactment of the “jungle” primary — the first featuring candidates for statewide office — some argue that the change has had a decidedly undemocratic effect, muzzling the voices of small-party candidates. The Green Party, the American Independent Party and other minor groups will now rarely — if ever — appear on the general election ballot, even though they represent 1.2 million people. And they could eventually find themselves out of existence in California, the critics fear. “It’s just a violation of voting rights,” said Richard Winger, a Libertarian and publisher of the San Francisco-based Ballot Access News. “Because the right to vote includes the right of the choice.”