Critics of tough voter ID laws are running out of time and options in their efforts to knock down those barriers ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Opponents got good news last week, when a state judge struck down Arkansas’s law, and another jolt Tuesday, when a federal judge ruled Wisconsin’s law, which wasn’t yet in effect, was unconstitutional. But their enthusiasm could be short-lived. At least eight states are still slated to have strict photo ID requirements in place in November, leading voting rights advocates to send dire warnings about potential disenfranchisement at the polls this year. Yet on Capitol Hill, the voter ID issue remains as partisan as ever, forcing even the sponsors of bills softening those rules to concede that their legislation has no chance of moving through a divided Congress in 2014. “My bill probably doesn’t have a lot of hope to it right now,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who’s pushing a proposal essentially nullifying many of the state-based ID requirements enacted in recent years, mostly by GOP legislatures, in the name of tackling election fraud. Instead, Democrats, advocates and other voter ID critics see their best hope in passing an update to the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the 1965 civil rights law that the Supreme Court gutted last summer.
When it comes to the fight about voter fraud and voter suppression, how do you prove a negative? One key question in the battle over the legality of voter identification laws is whether such laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and whether they suppress a lot of votes from eligible voters. Though the answer to the second question remains in considerable dispute, after Tuesday’s federal court decision striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, it is time for voter ID supporters to throw in the towel and admit state voter ID laws don’t prevent the kind of fraud they are supposedly targeted for. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman looked at the evidence from Wisconsin and reached a conclusion unsurprising to those of us who study how elections are run. “Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Adelman wrote, “and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.” Wisconsin is not alone in lacking such evidence. When the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, the state conceded there was no evidence, ever, of impersonation fraud in the entire state.
National: Shining a Spotlight on How the Laboratories of Democracy Are Administering Elections | Work in Progress
A recurring lament among reformers is that the basic structural features of our constitutional system get in the way of needed change. For example, many believe that our federal system decentralizes policy-making and gives rise to partisan feuds in ways that thwart the adoption of positive reforms and enable bad situations to persist. This is certainly a common refrain with respect to our decentralized system for administering elections and the chronic problems associated with it. But there is a silver lining sewn into our federal system—namely, the potential for experimentation, innovation, and—not least—productive competition among what Justice Brandeis called our “laboratories of democracy.” State and local governments are free in many domains to tackle common problems differently, as they might see fit. Superior approaches developed in one state or locality can thus be adopted in places where performance is subpar. If not, the onus is on the underperforming policy-makers and administrators to explain themselves to their underserved citizens.
Editorials: Welcome to the beginning of the end of the GOP’s voter-imposter performance | Arvina Martin/The Guardian
After Tuesday’s court ruling that the Republican-sponsored voter ID law in Wisconsin was going to prevent more real votes than fraudulent votes from being cast, Republicans who insist on pushing more states to adopt these overreaching laws are going to have to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince anyone that voter impersonation is a real issue, let alone a big enough problem to affect any election. US District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the law, passed by the state’s Republican legislature and signed by Governor Scott Walker in May 2011, places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and violates the Voting Rights Act because of its disproportionate effects on black and Latino voters. Judge Adelman agreed with the main point that voter ID opponents have long argued: there is virtually no voter impersonation – despite claims like that of State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who told the Green Bay Press Gazette “We continue to see these isolated incidents of people trying to vote five, six times a day; people voting based on some sort of fraudulent documentation that’s offered.” Additionally, Adelman ruled that whatever voter impersonation does occur does not justify the potential infringement on citizens’ voting rights. “It is,” Adelman wrote, “absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.” He added: The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.
A divided federal court has upheld the legislative map drawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, removing any question about which districts candidates would run in this year. The 2-1 decision by a federal panel came 13 months after the trial, which was sought by a group of Republican voters, including the wife of Senate President Andy Biggs. The plaintiffs argued the map approved by the redistricting commission in 2011 violated equal protections as ensured by the U.S. Constitution because partisanship motivated the creation of some of the 30 districts. But the court assumed that partisanship was not a contributing factor as it weighed the legal arguments in the case, although it conceded that in one district in northern Pinal County, it contributed to a commission decision to shift the boundary lines.
Potential remedies for election night delays in D.C. might cost millions of dollars, according to elections leaders who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday. Most recently, there was an hours-long delay in tallying votes after polls closed in the April 1 Democratic primary in D.C. The public and the media waited well into the night to learn that D.C. council member Muriel Bowser had defeated Mayor Vince Gray. Earlier this month, D.C. elections officials said some problems with electronic voting machines may have led to the delay in reporting results.
Could a recent ruling on the constitutionality of voter ID requirements affect Georgia’s law? That’s the question after a federal judge in Wisconsin earlier this week struck down a law requiring voters to show a state photo ID at polls, a policy in place in about half the U.S. states, including Georgia. In his ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman said Wisconsin’s voter ID law violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, adding the law disproportionately affects minority and low-income individuals. Laughlin McDonald, director emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, said the future implications of the Wisconsin ruling are unclear, but called it “significant.”
Those fancy voting machines with touch-pad screens will no longer be used in elections in Clay County. County Clerk Kayla Wang, also the county’s election officer, recommended that the county follow what other counties are doing and return to voting on a paper ballot, according to the meeting minutes. The recommendation is based on presentations commissioners and the Clerk;s Office attended on new voting equipment, which included two demonstrations over the last couple of months. Expense is part of the reason the county is returning to paper ballots. The main reason is that the current election equipment that Clay County uses is no longer being made or supported, Wang said. Most of the state of Kansas is going back to voting on a paper ballot and using a precinct counter at each polling place to tabulate the votes.
Voting and civil rights advocates today sued in federal court to block a new state law that sliced a week off early voting as well as a secretary-of-state directive limiting voting hours. If the lawsuit is successful, it would again put decisions on setting hours for in-person early voting in the hands of 88 county boards of elections. Many of those four-member boards deadlocked 2-2 on early voting schedules in 2012, ultimately making Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted the tie-breaker. “I can’t speculate on what we may do,” Sean Young, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union National Voting Rights Project, said when asked if they would intervene later at the county level. The suit against the GOP-passed bill was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus by the voting rights project, the ACLU of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and several African American churches.
The GOP-controlled Ohio legislature, after repeatedly attempting to cut early voting in 2012, earlier this year eliminated the state’s first week of early voting—the “Golden Week” when voters could also register at the polls. In addition, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive abolishing the last two days of early voting before Election Day and eliminating early voting hours on weeknights and Sundays, when African American churches traditionally organize “Souls to the Polls” drives. In 2012, 157,000 Ohioans cast ballots during early voting hours eliminated by the Ohio GOP, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of groups including the Ohio NAACP and the League of Women Voters. As in Wisconsin, the lawsuit contends that such cuts violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by disproportionately burdening black voters.
The Libertarian Party of Ohio immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday after a lower court denied its attempt to get a gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday’s primary ballot. Their candidate, Charlie Earl, was disqualified by Secretary of State Jon Husted after his nominating petitions were challenged. Husted agreed with a hearing officer who found two Earl petitioners failed to properly disclose their employers.
The February breach of the Oregon Secretary of State’s website cost taxpayers about $176,662, including about $4,500 for meals and lodging to allow employees to work through a snowstorm. The breach was detected Feb. 4 and knocked the agency’s elections and business registry databases offline for nearly three weeks. The largest expense — about $72,450 — went to Virtual Security Research for “vulnerability testing,” according to cost figures obtained by The Oregonian through a public records request
Rhode Island: House Votes 70-0 To Kill Master Lever; Paiva Weed “Keeping An Open Mind” | Rhode Island Public Radio
The Rhode Island House, in an abrupt change after years of indifference to the issue, voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the use of the master lever in Rhode Island in 2014. Through her spokeswoman, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she’s “keeping an open mind about the legislation to eliminate the straight ticket voting option from Rhode Island ballots.” Citizens have for years decried straight ticket voting as an outdated relic that gives an edge to the ruling Democrats at the Statehouse. Scituate Representative Michael Marcello, who lost a fight for the speakership in March to Nicholas Mattiello, credited Mattiello with sending a signal that change is possible on Smith Hill.
Gov. Scott Walker and a top lawmaker said Wednesday they see little chance they could pass a voter ID law that would overcome Tuesday’s decision by a Milwaukee federal court judge overturning the requirement. Any new law would have to be approved by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, who not only struck down the voter ID law but also enjoined the state from enacting any similar requirement, said John Ulin, an attorney who represented civil-rights groups and individuals challenging the law. Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, said he doesn’t expect the Legislature to be convened before the November elections. “It would be an exercise in futility,” Ellis said. “Based on what Adelman wrote, it seems whatever we do, he’s going to rule unconstitutional.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has taken a wait-and-see approach on the possibility of bringing lawmakers back to the Capitol, spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said. But Walker held out little hope the state could overcome the complete rejection of the law by Adelman, a former Democratic state senator who sits on the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.
He didn’t ask for it and he won’t get a pay raise, but Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki’s job now includes running the county Election Commission. Czarnezki said he plans to streamline reporting of election results and get them posted quickly online on election nights, something that hasn’t been done in the past. Czarnezki also is aiming for more timely posting of campaign finance reports by candidates for county offices, another duty of the county election office. “As soon as they are received and verified, (campaign reports) should be scanned and posted on the website,” Czarnezki said Wednesday. Thanks to a provision tucked into a larger bill signed into law last week, the county clerk was designated executive director of the Election Commission. Czarnezki will answer to the existing three-person commission on election matters.
As marathon national elections in the world’s most populous democracy head into their final phase, the Election Commission and local media are reporting dozens of cases of alleged vote fraud, and tens of thousands of names missing from voter lists in the country’s biggest city. But officials say that over all, with more than 815 million eligible voters casting ballots over a five-week period that began April 7, the elections are remarkably trouble free. “Certain questionable practices and people are expected to show up during elections,” said T. S. Krishna Murthy, former chief election commissioner who was in charge of the 2004 parliamentary elections. “But the Election Commission has managed to deal with them well. By and large, the elections are well-managed.” Still there have been complaints of proxy voting and of political parties using money and muscle to rig the outcome of elections, as well as regular reports that thousands of names are missing from the voters’ lists.
Rats have caused chaos in the latest round of voting in elections in India after they destroyed dozens of electronic vote counting machines by eating the cables. With more than 800 million voters, India uses the machines to reduce the time in declaring results compared to the old paper ballot system. But voters in Ghaziabad, a town close to the capital New Delhi, were furious when told that rats had ruined the machines, which were stored in a strongroom near a wholesale wheat market. The voting machines were attacked by rats in Ghaziabad, which is on the outskirts of New Dehli.
The Malawi Civil Society Grand Coalition has warned that the electoral commission’s failure to address concerns expressed by political parties about the preparations leading up to the May 20 general election, saying they could undermine the entire tripartite vote. The grand coalition, which comprises faith-based groups, civil society organizations, NGOs and Trade Union organizations, also expressed worry that the continued use of state resources by President Joyce Banda’s ruling People’s Party during the campaign period could potentially lead to disputes during the election process.
Tunisia’s national assembly on Thursday approved a new electoral law, to take one of the last steps in the country’s move to full democracy after the 2011 uprising that inspired the “Arab Spring” revolts. Passing the law allows electoral authorities to set a date for the first election since the North African state adopted a new constitution that has been praised as a model of democratic transition in the Arab world. Members of the 217-seat assembly voted 132 in favor and 11 against the new electoral law. “This is an important step,” said Mehrzia Labidi, vice president of the assembly. With its new constitution and a caretaker administration governing until elections later this year, Tunisia’s relatively smooth progress contrasts with the turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which also ousted long-standing leaders three years ago.