The chances of Congress acting to fix the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was weakened by the Supreme Court last summer, appear slimmer by the week. But lately, it looks like the landmark civil rights law might end up being strengthened in a different way: by being used. Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Wisconsin struck down the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it violates the VRA’s Section 2, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The state has said it will appeal the ruling. Two days later, voting rights advocates filed suit against Ohio’s recent cuts to early voting, again alleging a violation of Section 2. “I think it’s exactly what the federal courts should be doing,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, referring to the Wisconsin ruling, and the potential for a similar verdict in Ohio. “When partisan politicians go too far to restrict the right to vote in an effort to serve their own ends, courts aren’t likely to look on that kindly.”
California: Coding error in Marin County’s June primary ballot will cost $100,000 | Marin Independent Journal
An error on the Marin County ballots for the June 3 primary election will cost an estimated $100,000. “I take full responsibility for this mistake and apologize to voters for any confusion this has caused them,” Marin County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold said in a prepared statement. The mistake, due to a coding error, placed Measure A on all of the ballots and voter information pamphlets throughout Marin, including those jurisdictions outside the Marin County Library District. Measure A would provide funding to the Marin County Free Library by extending a $49 per year parcel tax for another nine years.
Iowa: Democratic National Committee Discusses Rules, Iowa Thinks Internet Options | US News & World Report
Iowa Democrats are mulling a slate of ways to boost participation in their next presidential caucuses, including permitting Internet voting, a controversial method that would mark the first time in history the web is utilized to cast an official ballot preference for president. Hawkeye State Democrats are in the midst of surveying how to most effectively expand access to those who would like to participate in the unique caucus process, but cannot due to residency or military service overseas or age or physical restrictions that keep them in hospitals and nursing homes. It could also enfranchise participation among blue-collar workers who have shifts during the evening hours when caucuses are held. … A co-chair of the committee noted that the DNC would likely need to amend the existing rule to permit caucus states to exercise the Internet option. Currently the existing rule only applies to party-run state primaries. “I didn’t even know the damn thing was there,” remarked DNC committeeman Harold Ickes about the Internet option. The remark prompted laughter in the ballroom, but the implications of online voting would be serious.
It’s election day in Tennessee, and in Hamilton county, new voting machines make their debut. “I thought it went through fine,” said one of the first voters on Tuesday Morning. For the first time in 15 years there’s a new voting machine at each of the 75 polling locations in Hamilton county. “We have multiple audit features to the system as well as multiple reconciliation and security features as well,” said Mark Beckstrand, with Dominion Voting Systems. He says the machines meet the highest standards set by the federal government.
Texas: Day before final election contest trial, Hidalgo County to hire voting machine expert | The Monitor
An investigation into criminal vote tampering took a step forward Tuesday as the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approved a $110,000 appropriation for a grand jury to hire an election machine auditor. Commissioners approved the payment, which came from seized gambling funds at the District Attorney’s Office, to go toward a grand jury investigation. The grand jury is expected to hire a Chicago-based forensic analyst to investigate possible tampering with electronic voting machines used in the March 4 Democratic primary, said Murray Moore, a DA’s Office attorney supervising the case. The impact of the investigation on the six election challenges filed by unsuccessful primary candidates could be null. Some of the election contestants filed motions to have their trials delayed pending the grand jury-ordered analysis. But five cases have already been denied, and the sixth — that of Paul Vazaldua in the justice of the peace Precinct 2 Place 2 race — is set for trial Wednesday. “Basically, this is for the grand jury investigation only,” Moore said. The grand jury will hire Data Defenders, a Chicago-based election auditing firm, to conduct the analysis, Moore said. A man who answered the phone at the number listed on Data Defenders’ website declined comment Tuesday, saying he was too busy.
Dallas County officials say they’re getting an unusually high number of calls from confused absentee voters, causing worry that some votes may not be counted this month. The confusion is related to the odd circumstance of two elections this month. Voters in many cities and school districts, including the Dallas Independent School District, go to the polls Saturday. Runoffs for the statewide primary are on May 27. It’s possible, election officials say, that absentee voters are mixing up their local and runoff ballots, or sending them in using the wrong envelopes. When that happens, those votes are lost — and the people who cast them will probably never know it. By law, election workers can’t open absentee ballots until after early voting ends. For Saturday’s municipal and school board elections, the last day of early voting was Tuesday. The ballots will be opened Wednesday. “We will know then if there is an issue,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole.
Wisconsin: Assembly backers of voter ID vow to reintroduce bill next session | Wisconsin State Journal
The Republican authors of a new voter ID bill that passed the state Assembly, but not the Senate, said Tuesday they plan to reintroduce the legislation after the November elections. Reps. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, wrote in a column they believe their bill is constitutional because it’s based on an Indiana law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Born and Schraa also responded to a criticism of their bill by state Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, who is running for Congress and authored the state’s current voter ID law that passed in 2011. Leibham said last week, after a federal judge struck down the law, that he believes the current law is constitutional and the new bill would create “such a big loophole in the voter ID requirement” that the system would be “substantially similar to the one we have now.”
A federal judge ordered a halt Tuesdayto the John Doe investigation into campaign spending and fundraising by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups, saying the effort appeared to violate one of the group’s free speech rights. In his 26-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee told prosecutors to immediately stop the long-running, five-county probe into possible illegal coordination between Walker’s campaign, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a host of others during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. “The (Wisconsin Club for Growth and its treasurer) have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted. Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech, an activity that is ‘ingrained in our culture,'” Randa wrote, quoting from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The Indian election reaches the de facto capital of Tibetans-in-exile on Wednesday as members of the community in Dharamsala are given the right to vote for the first time. But the decision to grant voting rights to all people of Tibetan origin born in India between 1950 and 1987 has divided the exile community. While some have welcomed the move and registered to vote, many see it as a blow to more than 50 years of struggle that could diminish their chance of returning to their homeland. Tenzin Tsundue, an exiled Tibetan poet and activist, said: “We are not immigrants, but political refugees waiting to return home. We cannot settle in exile; our rights are in Tibet, not in India. Indian citizenship may be personally beneficial, but it will leave us divided, culturally diluted and finally get us killed by complacency.” Narendar Chauhan, chief electoral officer for Himachal Pradesh, which includes Dharamsala and votes on Wednesday, said that just over 1,200 people of Tibetan origin had registered to vote, though the number in the state who applied to vote but failed to meet the conditions was three times that. Around 48,000 out of an estimated 120,000 – one-third resident in Himachal Pradesh – were made eligible to vote by the rule change.
Polls have opened in South Africa’s fifth general election since the end of apartheid 20 years ago. The governing African National Congress (ANC) is tipped to win, returning President Jacob Zuma for a second five-year term. However, it might lose some ground amid concern over high unemployment and a number of corruption scandals. The run-up to the vote has been marked by protests and troops have been deployed to boost security. The election is the first time that those born after the end of white-minority rule are able to take part and commentators say much will depend on how they cast their ballots. Polls show many are disaffected with the country’s leadership but it is not clear whether this will translate into a significant swing to either main opposition party – the Democratic Alliance, led by anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille, or the Economic Freedom Fighters, headed by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema.
Thailand: Yingluck Court Ruling Could Leave Thailand’s Next Elections in Doubt | Wall Street Journal
The plot is thickening in Thailand’s political drama, with elections penciled in for July 20 now in doubt if the country’s Constitutional Court removes Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Wednesday for allegedly overstepping her authority by removing a top civil servant. The country’s Election Commission Tuesday said it has held back from filing a draft decree on calling the elections to Cabinet, and is apparently waiting to see how the situation will unfold. The court could either remove Ms. Yingluck alone, which paves the way for one of her deputies to become prime minister. Or it could remove her entire Cabinet, leading to a political vacuum that might enable the Senate to appoint an interim prime minister more acceptable to the country’s royalist establishment, members of which have been campaigning for Ms. Yingluck’s removal on the streets of Bangkok for over six months. Either way, the timing of fresh elections will be in doubt, assuming they are held at all – and that’s something that could further enrage Ms. Yingluck’s supporters in the populist Red Shirt movement. The group’s leaders are calling for demonstrations Wednesday evening and are planning a large rally for Saturday.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office after the Constitutional Court ruled she abused her position by transferring a top security official, deepening the nation’s political crisis. Yingluck, 46, “violated the constitution,” Judge Udomsak Nitimontree said today in a nationally-televised ruling. She transferred the secretary-general of the National Security Council in 2011 in a process that “indicates an abuse of power,” the judge said. The nine judges in their unanimous decision invalidated Yingluck’s ministerial status, creating doubt about her caretaker government’s ability to continue until an election the Election Commission has agreed to hold July 20. The verdict risks prolonging a crisis that began with anti-government protests last October and has its roots in the removal of Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 coup.
Ukraine: As Ukrainian Election Looms, Western Powers and Russia Campaign for Influence | New York Times
Russia and the West maneuvered on Tuesday ahead of a seemingly inevitable clash over Ukraine’s plan to hold a presidential election on May 25 that Western powers view as crucial to restoring stability and that the Kremlin says will be illegitimate, particularly if the government in Kiev cannot first stabilize the country. Senior Russian officials have repeatedly referred to the provisional government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as an illegitimate “junta.” From their perspective, allowing an election to go forward when no pro-Russian candidate has a real chance of winning would seriously weaken the Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine. It could also help the West coax the country out of Moscow’s orbit. Russia has made clear that it wants the election to be delayed. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov pressed the point again on Tuesday, insisting that the interim government end bloodshed and amend the Constitution to devolve power to the regions — and that it do so before Ukrainians are asked to choose a new leader.