A federal appeals court extended its order allowing Kansas and Arizona residents to continue registering to vote using a federal form without having to show proof of citizenship. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its order late Monday and granted an expedited hearing on the merits of the case sought by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and voting rights groups. Earlier this month, the appeals court issued its emergency stay of U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s ruling ordering the commission to immediately modify its federal voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements.
The Republican lawmaker in a key position to help bolster the Voting Rights Act (VRA) isn’t convinced new legislation is needed, and wants more evidence that current laws aren’t strong enough to stop racial discrimination in voting, according to people involved in the discussions. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s go-slow approach—which comes as efforts to pass the bipartisan measure before this fall’s midterm elections enter a critical phase—is causing frustration among voting-rights advocates. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Before agreeing to hold a hearing on the bill, Goodlatte has asked for examples of voting discrimination that have occurred since the Supreme Court weakened the VRA last year in Shelby County v. Holder, as well as information on how such incidents would have been stopped by the proposed legislation. Lobbyists with the NAACP responded to Goodlatte’s request last week with a 16,000-word document outlining a slew of discriminatory voting changes stopped by the VRA before the Shelby decision, as well as several new ones that went into effect after the landmark civil rights law was eroded.
The U.S. Federal Election Commission has taken a leap into the Digital Age, approving the use of the virtual currency Bitcoin to make financial contributions to political candidates. The FEC’s move comes as several candidates running in this year’s midterm elections have started accepting Bitcoin contributions. In an opinion issued earlier this month, the agency’s six commissioners unanimously adopted guidelines proposed by the Make Your Laws political action committee. The Federal Election Campaign Act defines a “contribution” as “any gift … of money or anything of value,” and, the commission concluded, Bitcoins “are ‘money or anything of value’ within the meaning of the Act.” Under Make Your Laws’ guidelines, contributions will be limited to $100 per donor per election cycle and, to promote transparency, an individual must provide identifying information, including name, physical address and employer, in order to make a contribution.
Voters across the country scored significant victories in the past few weeks. A federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act. A Pennsylvania ID law is dead after the governor decided not to appeal a decision ruling it unconstitutional. And two states passed laws expanding voter registration access. Still, fights continue in dozens of states, and a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act is stalled in Congress. At a time of historic dysfunction and congressional inaction, it is not enough to rely on the courts. It is high time for a greater executive role in safeguarding the right to vote. President Obama has the authority to act, and he must. After long lines marred the 2012 election, the president formed a bipartisan commission to identify best practices and new ideas to improve the voting experience. The commission’s final report, issued in January, contained potent recommendations for reform on the state and local level. Obama also spoke out recently on the grim reality of voting restrictions. “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,” the president told a group of activists in April. These efforts to restrict the right to vote will not go unchallenged, he assured the audience. But if the president’s words are to be more than mere flourishes, he must assert his leadership through executive action. The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a proposal outlining several concrete steps Obama can take to improve elections in America.
This year’s October election could see more Kenai Peninsula Borough residents casting votes from their kitchen tables. An ordinance requiring borough elections be held by mail is up for introduction at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. Assembly member Bill Smith sponsored the ordinance, which proposes that instating vote-by-mail precincts borough-wide would be more efficient, convenient, save money and could increase voter turn out. “We’re hoping that we’ll get some good results if we go to vote by mail and make it easier for people and have better voter turn out,” Smith said.
With more than 12,000 registered voters, Hudson is by far the largest community in Massachusetts to count its results by hand each election night. That will soon change. The town’s capital plan for next fiscal year, approved by Town Meeting early this month, includes spending $56,000 to purchase eight electronic voting machines, one for each of Hudson’s seven precincts and one backup. For at least the last 15 years, town officials have mulled switching from hand-crank ballot boxes, which require a crew of vote counters each election night to tabulate the paper ballots. But they’ve been reluctant to switch from a system they know works to one they are not familiar with, according to Town Clerk Joan Wordell. “We’re going to miss it. Tradition, you know?” she said. “What I won’t miss is at 8 o’clock when everyone has to start counting and then people start asking, ‘What time do you think the results will be in?’ ”
Political pros know better than anyone that election laws are typically crafted by statehouse lawmakers with enough hedges, hurdles and moats to insulate party machines and shield incumbents against insurgent challengers. That’s the nature of the power game. All the more shocking then to Washington’s political class that Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, was denied a place on the ballot this week. He was widely expected to win his primary this summer as a prelude to a re-election stroll into his 26th term in Congress. Instead, Wayne county officials ruled that most of the 1,236 voter signatures submitted for ballot qualification by Mr. Conyers — one of the civil rights pioneers and Democratic wheel-horses of Washington — were invalid under state law.
A Minnesota judge has temporarily blocked a Minnesota campaign contribution law in light of an April ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. United States District Judge Donovan Frank ruled a group of plaintiffs challenging Minnesota’s ban on large-dollar donations from so-called “special sources” has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim,” and ruled Minnesota can’t enforce the law as the case works through the judicial system. The special-sources law limits the amount of money candidates can receive from PACs, lobbyists and “large contributors,” individuals who give more than more than half the base contribution limits for state races (the base limits are $4,000 for a gubernatorial candidate and $1,000 for a House race this cycle). Under the law, gubernatorial candidates can only receive $730,200 from these sources, and state House candidates, $12,500. Once a candidate hits that cap, PAC and lobbyist money is banned and individuals are restricted to giving half the base contribution limit.
There is something incongruent and deeply troubling with the notion of a World War II veteran, someone who risked his life to protect the rights that all Americans cherish, being denied the power of his vote because he voted absentee and then died before Election Day. Regardless of the intent of the law that allowed a citizen to challenge the vote of Everette Harris and have it nullified, it is wrong and the General Assembly should change it. The injustice was made worse by the fact that Harris’ family was not contacted and allowed to argue against the challenge made to the Forsyth County Board of Elections by two voters. The board unanimously agreed to sustain the challenge. “There is a principle at work here that is extremely disappointing,” Harris’ son, Mark Harris, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the right to challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, told the Journal’s Meghann Evans.
Eliminating the master lever in Rhode Island elections is picking up steam in the General Assembly. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says getting rid of straight party voting may be much ado about not much. The Rhode Island House of Representatives recently voted unanimously to end the so-called master lever, a relic of the state’s urban political machine past. A conga line of statewide elected politicians, from Gov. Lincoln Chafee down to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, support this change. Good government groups and Rhode Island’s beleaguered Republican Party have been campaigning vigorously to curb straight party ballots. And many in the media, especially the editorial pages of the Providence Journal, have been on a crusade to scuttle it. The master level isn’t even a lever anymore. It was a dubbed the master lever when voters cast ballots in those big boxy metal voting machines that were enclosed in a thick curtain to maintain privacy. With one flick of a lever at the top of the machine, a voter could cast a straight party ticket, without having to click the levers next to the names of each individual candidate. When the state junked the machines for paper ballots that were counted with supermarket-style scanners, straight party voting survived as a single box at the top of the ballot. Thus, a voter who wanted to vote an all Republican or Democratic ticket could do so by drawing a line connecting one box, which eliminates the need to go all the way down the ballot and checking each individual box next to a candidate name.
The European Parliament elections and the vote for a new president in Ukraine dominate the agenda this week. Voters in The Netherlands and the UK begin the EP election process on Thursday (22 May), followed by the Czech Republic and Ireland on Friday, four more countries (Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Lithuania) on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. The results are due at 11pm Brussels time on Sunday. The latest poll, by TNS, indicates the centre-right EPP will slightly increase its lead over the centre-left S&D and that the Liberal group will shrink. Polls also indicate that the number of populist, anti-EU MEPs of various stripes will grow, with the eurosceptic Ukip and the far-right National Front set to become the leading EU parties in the UK and France, respectively. Also on Sunday, Ukrainians will vote for their new president under the eyes of more than 1,000 OSCE monitors, the largest ever election mission by the Vienna-based multilateral body.
As exercises in democracy go, this week’s EU election rivals the United States, India and Brazil for sheer numbers. But when it comes to voter recognition it is a very different story. The lead candidates could not even dream of comparisons with Barack Obama or Narendra Modi and therein lies a problem for the European Union as it battles to make itself more relevant and accountable to its citizens. This week, from May 22-25, the 28 countries that make up the EU will elect a new European Parliament with up to 380 million voters, from western Portugal to northern Finland, choosing 751 deputies to represent them. In every European election since the first direct one was held in 1979, turnout has fallen, dropping to just 43 percent in 2009, despite four EU countries requiring voting by law. This year will be no different: pollsters expect turnout to drop to 40 percent or just below, and turnout among young voters – who politicians have worked hardest to connect with on issues such as jobs, education and training – will fall furthest.
Sarong-clad anti-coal hippies have been marked as a chief threat to online voting at the election scheduled to take place in 2015 in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). The protestors are identified as a threat in a report penned by CSC for the NSW government. The Reg has seen a copy of the report, which suggests developers feared protesting farmers and fire fighters could launch an attack against New South Wales’ iVote online ballot system in objection to various coal mining projects across the state. “Anti-coal lobby groups could lead to the targeting of the SGE (state government election) in 2015,” the document read. The document also outlines scenarios in which protestors could launch denial of service attacks, knocking out the ability for 250,000 remote and blind users to vote online.
With about a quarter of the ballots counted, the Syriza candidates for Athens and the province of Attica—where roughly 40% of the Greek population lives—staged a come-from-behind surge to secure a runoff against incumbents Mayor Giorgos Kaminis and regional prefect Ioannis Sgouros. In Athens, Mr. Kaminis was running roughly one percentage point ahead of challenger Gavriil Sakellaridis, while Rena Dourou, the Syriza candidate for provincial chief, was more than a percentage point ahead of Mr. Sgouros. Until a few days ago, both incumbents—who are identified with Greece’s socialist Pasok party—appeared to enjoy solid leads in their respective constituencies. This will be the first time New Democracy won’t even have a candidate in the second round in the Greek capital since 1975. “The first decisive step was taken today,” said Mr. Sakellaridis, promising an upset next week.
Long lines formed outside polling stations in Guinea-Bissau on Sunday for a presidential runoff vote intended to restore constitutional order in a country known for coups and unrest. The vote pits Jose Mario Vaz, whose party won a parliamentary majority in April’s first round, against Nuno Gomes Nabiam, who is known for having close ties to military leaders. More than 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the first round, a statistic observers say indicates the country is eager to move past its instability and begin rebuilding the economy with the help of international donors. The large crowds on Sunday at polling stations in the capital, Bissau, suggested a similarly healthy turnout for the second round.
Scientists at a US university say they have developed a technique to hack into Indian electronic voting machines. After connecting a home-made device to a machine, University of Michigan researchers were able to change results by sending text messages from a mobile. Indian election officials say their machines are foolproof, and that it would be very difficult even to get hold of a machine to tamper with it. India uses about 1.4m electronic voting machines in each general election. A video posted on the internet by the researchers at the University of Michigan purportedly shows them connecting a home-made electronic device to one of the voting machines used in India. Professor J Alex Halderman, who led the project, said the device allowed them to change the results on the machine by sending it messages from a mobile phone.
A coalition led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won the most seats in the country’s first parliamentary elections since U.S. troops left in 2011, setting the stage for a lengthy period of political wrangling amid the worst violence since the civil war. Mr. Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 92 out of 328 parliamentary seats in the elections held in late April, three more seats than it won in 2010, the Iraqi High Election Commission said Monday, putting the Iraqi leader in a strong position to secure a third term. The result left many Iraqis wondering whether another four years under Mr. Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, would deepen the sectarian rancor and extend a political stalemate that has left the government adrift. Western diplomats and analysts say that further instability would also add to the region’s political maelstrom; Syria’s civil war has spilled over into Iraq.
Swiss voters have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to introduce what would have been the highest minimum wage in the world in a referendum. Under the plan, employers would have had to pay workers a minimum 22 Swiss francs (about $25; £15; 18 euros) an hour. Supporters said the move was necessary for people to live a decent life. But critics argued that it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. The minimum wage proposal was rejected by 76% of voters. Supporters had argued it would “protect equitable pay” but the Swiss Business Federation said it would harm low-paid workers in particular. The issue was the most prominent of several referendums held on Sunday.
From a cramped office in residential Donetsk, election officials were frantically working on Sunday to prepare for Ukraine’s May 25 presidential poll, despite what they described as intimidation and threats from pro-Russian separatists. By Monday morning, their resolve broken, they had shut down their office. “We’re not working out of safety concerns,” said Volodymyr Klotsky, a member of election commission no. 43, adding that he and his colleagues had reluctantly taken the decision after “terrorists” had seized the offices of another voting commission nearby. Klotsky’s commission had been the last of five such election bodies opened up in the eastern Ukrainian city, an industrial hub of about 1 million, which is now the centre of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. The separatists’ revolt, fuelled by heady Russian propaganda, was focused at several points in the east following the overthrow of the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and the annexation by Russia of Crimea. Nonetheless, electoral authorities had set up Klotsky and others like him to do their best to prepare for an election that Kiev’s pro-Western rulers hope will legitimize government after the street revolt that forced Yanukovich to flee to Russia.
In one week Ukrainians are to vote in a presidential election scheduled for May 25th. Developments on the ground have left people wondering if the past few days have been the calm before the storm—or whether both sides, uncertain about what to do and unable to muster enough force to prevail, have reached a stalemate. In one dramatic development the commander of rebel forces railed that he had less than 1,000 men to fight the entire Ukrainian army “while tens of thousands are watching calmly on TV, drinking beer.” On the outskirts of Sloviansk, a rebel-held city, there have days of sporadic fighting but no significant move by either side. On May 13th however, rebel forces ambushed a Ukrainian military convoy in a hit-and-run operation, killing seven soldiers. All the same it is becoming increasingly clear that both sides are bogged down. The rebels do not have enough men to defeat the Ukrainian forces deployed around town, while the army does not seem to know how to retake it without causing major civilian casualties. In an extraordinary video released by Colonel Igor Strelkov, the military commander of the rebel forces, “Strelok” says that while he now has enough weapons to fight Ukrainian forces who are preparing a major onslaught, hardly anyone was volunteering to fight. He complained that many of those who did volunteer only wanted to defend the areas around their own homes. Many want to use the resistance, he says, as a cover for banditry. Strelok suggests that many believed that they need not actually fight themselves, thinking that Russia would intervene on their behalf.
“I gave my e-vote. This is not only convenient, but a vote of confidence to one of the best IT systems in the world, a vote of confidence to the Estonian State,” tweeted Toomas Hendrik Ilves , the president of Estonia on May 15th, marking the start of early voting for the European Parliament (the voting process will end on May 25th.) While undoubtedly convenient, e-voting in Estonia might not be as safe as President Ilves think. An independent group of researchers recently tested the Estonian I-voting system used during the last municipal elections, held in October 2013, and concluded that the flaws and lapses in operational security make it vulnerable to manipulations. Therefore, it cannot be considered safe enough. Last Monday, the Guardian reported on the research, whose results are available in a technical report published on Estoniaevoting.org, a website set up by the researchers, complete with photos and videos. “These computers could have easily been compromised by criminals or foreign hackers, undermining the security of the whole system,” declared Harri Hursti to the British newspaper. Hursti is an independent researcher from Finland with experience in testing e-voting system.