A high-stakes trial that could decide the future of the state’s congressional districts began Monday in Tallahassee , as a Republican political consultant testified that he didn’t influence the drawing of U.S. House lines in 2012. The testimony of Marc Reichelderfer marked the beginning of the first-ever court battle over the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments. Those constitutional standards, passed by voters in 2010, bar lawmakers from drawing lines intended to harm or favor parties or candidates when overhauling legislative and congressional districts after each U.S. Census. Over three weeks, members of the Tallahassee establishment ranging from behind-the-scenes aides and consultants like Reichelderfer to high-profile politicians like House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz are expected to answer questions about their role in redistricting as it unfolded two years ago. Weatherford and Gaetz could testify as soon as this week; former House Speaker Dean Cannon is also expected to be called to the stand during the trial.
When voting-rights advocates complain about voter-ID laws as an unnecessary suppression policy, the right generally responds with rhetoric that might seem sensible: “everyone” already carries identification, so these laws are no big deal and the left’s concerns are exaggerated.
Evidence to the contrary is fairly common, and once in a while, even amusing.
Asa Hutchinson, who won the Republican nomination in the race for Arkansas governor Tuesday, forgot his ID when he went to the polls, despite backing the state’s new voter ID law, according to the Associated Press. Christian Olson, a spokesman for the Republican candidate, told the AP that Hutchinson believed the situation was a “little bit of an inconvenience” and that a staffer retrieved his ID so he could cast a ballot. Olson said the former congressman still believes voters should be required to show an ID.
The larger takeaway from this should be obvious.
Tuesday primaries marked the first state-wide election in Arkansas since the state’s new voter ID law went into effect earlier this year. And there were problems. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has received numerous complaints from voters who say poll workers “quizzed” them about the information on their IDs, one of the organization’s officials told TPM on Wednesday. “It’s not one or two specific locations, we’re hearing about it in various locations around the state,” Holly Dickson, legal director at ACLU of Arkansas, said in an interview. “There may have been a coordinated effort to have poll workers enforce the law this way — that remains to be seen, of course.”
A string of legal cases against lawmakers that include two Democrats facing political corruption charges has magnified the usually quiet race for the office overseeing California elections and campaign fundraising. Candidates vying to become secretary of state are offering competing plans to inject transparency and restore public faith in government. A race that typically exists in the political backwaters of a California election season popped on to the public stage earlier this year when one of the top candidates, Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, was arrested and later indicted on federal corruption charges as part of a wider probe into illicit dealings in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yee has since pleaded not guilty and dropped his candidacy, even though his name will remain on the June 3 primary ballot. The charges against Yee include allegations that he peddled his influence in the Legislature in exchange for campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents.
For the second day in court, a high-ranking Republican legislator defended how the Florida Legislature drew up political maps for Congress. The redistricting trial now underway in a Tallahassee courtroom could wind up reshaping the state’s political landscape if the groups suing the state can prove the current maps violate the law. Attorneys for the Legislature have denied any wrongdoing, but if the court finds the current districts unconstitutional it could force legislators to redraw them. But so far top legislators remain adamant they have done nothing wrong even when confronted with evidence of consultants getting maps ahead of the public. Florida Senate President Don Gaetz spent several hours on the stand Wednesday. Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, was in charge of the Senate committee that oversaw redistricting in 2011 and 2012.
A bid to change the Illinois constitution to take political mapmaking out of the hands of state lawmakers faces trouble after state election authorities Tuesday found less than half of the signatures gathered by supporters on petitions were valid. In a sampling of 5 percent of the total signatures submitted to the State Board of Elections, only 46 percent were deemed legible and from registered voters by state election officials, said Rupert Borgsmiller, the election board’s executive director. That validity rate, if applied as the law allows to the 507,467 signatures gathered by those advocating for a depoliticized mapmaking process, would leave the movement well short of the 298,400-signature threshold they need to get their constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. In order to qualify for the ballot, based on the total number of signatures filed, those in the independent mapmaking movement would need a validity rate of about 59 percent.
A judge sharply questioned lawyers Wednesday in a dispute over whether U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit gets on the ballot for a chance to extend one of the longest careers in Congress. The Democrat, first elected in 1964, has been scratched from the August primary because of problems with people who collected signatures for his nominating petitions, a standard task for any candidate. Some of those people weren’t registered voters or put a wrong registration address on the petitions. It spoils those petitions, under Michigan law, and means Conyers lacks 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot.
A lower court judge acted properly when she ordered changes at New York City polling places to improve access for the disabled, a federal appeals court said Wednesday. The written decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan came in a lawsuit filed in 2010 on behalf of more than a half-million New York residents with mobility and vision disabilities.
A frail 92-year-old woman has earned her right to vote Tuesday after struggling with new voter identification laws sweeping across the U.S. Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she’d need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law. “I’m sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp,” Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. “Didn’t have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me.” This was rectified Tuesday when the state was able to verify her citizenship by finding her birthday in a U.S. census taken in the 1940s, Barber’s son Jimmy Denton told the Tribune. Barber also showed her Social Security card, two utility bills and her Medicare card.
Lawyers sparred Wednesday in federal court over whether race or politics were the main drivers in drawing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, as trial began in a lawsuit accusing the Virginia General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1m6JU28) reports plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that the Legislature packed African-American voters into Virginia’s only black majority congressional district. They say that made neighboring districts safer for Republicans. “Race, not politics, was the motive, (and) the defendants cannot show any evidence that the Voting Rights Act required them to increase the black voting bloc. There is no evidence for a political quota,” Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told a panel headed by Judge Robert E. Payne of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Afghanistan’s election commission said on Wednesday it had fired more than 3,000 staff accused of fraud in the first round of the country’s presidential election, as it sought to quell fears that it might fail to deliver a legitimate outcome. Afghans voted on April 5 in the first round of the election to pick a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who is barred by the constitution from standing for a third term after more than a decade in power. The winner will take charge at a crucial time, with most foreign troops due to withdraw by the end of the year, the Taliban insurgency still raging and a pact with Washington permitting some U.S. forces to stay hanging in the balance.
Some Brockton residents are upset with council’s decision to go with electronic voting in the municipal election this fall. Council has approved a contract with Dominion Voting to provide telephone and Internet voting at a cost of $1.70 for each 7,600 potential voters. Pauline Gay and Barb Klages left last Monday’s council meeting critical of council’s decision. They want the municipality to stick with paper ballots. “I’m disappointed because they don’t seem to consider the security of my computer if I choose to vote with it . . . and there is no way to do a valid recount with an electronic vote,” said Klages. During the meeting council heard from former IBM employee and computer scientist Barbara Simons, who addressed council by teleconference from California. She cited cost, lack of security and the inability to have a recount in a close election as reasons to reject electronic voting. She also said Internet voting doesn’t increase voter participation.
Opposition parties are sceptical over the new electronic voting system to be used in the presidential and parliamentary elections in November. Some of the opposition say the electronic voting machines (EVMs) should not be used because they were not previously tested in Namibia and the electorate have not been educated on them, while others propose the ballot and electronic systems be used together. E-voting is a term encompassing several different types of voting, embracing the electronic means of casting a vote, storing the voting record in some database and electronically counting the votes. In interviews on Monday,some parties decried the Electoral Commission of Namibia’s plans to introduce the new system, while others claim the new system can be the panacea for smooth elections if some of the nitty-gritties are addressed.
Thailand: Prime Minister calls for election, opposition to keep up the fight despite martial law | Deutsche Welle
Caretaker Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday that his government had written to Thailand’s electoral commission to propose that a general election be held on August 3. He also said he hoped to “submit a royal decree” for the king’s endorsement and that his government would “engage in reforms before the election,” without providing any details. The army announced in the early hours of Tuesday that it was imposing martial law, but also denied that this amounted to a military coup. In a televised statement, the head of the army, General Prayuth Chan-ocha said the move was designed to head off a possible new violent confrontation between supporters of the opposition and the government. “There are some groups with bad intentions to create unrest, and threatening to use weapons on the people,” he said. “I’m asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis,” he added. Earlier, the prime minister had said he supported the army’s decision to impose martial law in an effort to restore order.
Ukraine: Solidarity Eludes Ukraine Separatist Groups as Presidential Election Nears | New York Times
With a critical presidential election looming on Sunday, rifts are appearing among the patchwork of separatist groups that have seized control of public buildings in numerous cities in southeastern Ukraine. In an interview on Wednesday, a rebel politician in Slovyansk said he did not recognize the authority of the self-proclaimed government of the Donetsk region and suggested he could use force to seize control. Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-declared mayor of the city of Slovyansk, where Ukrainian troops and anti-Kiev militias have engaged in sporadic fighting for several weeks, said that there was no contact between him and the new republic’s government and suggested he could order the city’s paramilitary groups to “restore order” in Donetsk.
When it comes to elections, the pendulum just keeps swinging. With electronic voting equipment nearing the end of this life expectancy, Barton County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman is eyeing the future and sees a need for a change. This change could include a return to the old-school paper ballots. With such an evolution on the horizon, Zimmerman hosted a voting equipment demonstration in the Barton County Courthouse Thursday morning. Kansas county clerks and election officials joined her staff for the presentations. Participants witnessed demonstrations from multiple voting system manufacturers. ElectionSource of Grand Rapids, Mich., presented Dominion Voting Systems and Henry M. Adkins & Son of Clinton, Mo., presented Unisyn Voting Solutions. “It appears that the trend is to return to paper ballots with equipment only for used by those with disabilities,” Zimmerman said. “This is the yo-yo in elections. It seems really weird that we’re going back to paper ballots,” said Darin DeWitt, Barton County voter registration clerk. “It’s like two steps backward.” DeWitt and Zimmerman were among the handful of election officials huddled around the pricey new equipment in the Barton County Commission chambers to hear the sales pitch for from ElectionSource.
Massachusetts voters will be able to cast their ballots early beginning in 2016, under a new law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday. “Whenever we have a law that expands access to the ballot and makes it easier for people to register and to vote, it makes our democracy better,” Patrick said moments after signing the law, surrounded by legislators and voting reform activists. The election reform law allows for early voting in biennial statewide elections, starting 11 business days before an election and ending two business days before Election Day. The law also establishes online voter registration and requires the Secretary of State’s office to develop a tool that lets voters check their registration status and their polling location online. The law allows 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, although they will not be allowed to cast a ballot until they turn 18.