Archives

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for August 25-31 2014

afghanistan260The Federal Election Commission has deadlocked along party lines more than 200 times in the past six years that the commission has split votes, but instead of paralyzing the commission, the 3-to-3 votes have created a rapidly expanding universe of unofficial law, where Republican commissioners have loosened restrictions on candidates and outside groups. Marc Ambinder considered the dangers of the electronic transmission of voted ballots and Dan Tokaji weighed the arguments in the Tenth Circuit Court hearing involving Arizona, Kansas and the Election Assistance Commission. Testimony was heard in a Maryland case concerning the security of a proposed online ballot marking tool. A special circuit court in Mississippi dismissed Chris McDaniel’s lawsuit challenging his primary runoff defeat. Wisconsin’s Governor and Attorney General have asked a federal court to reinstate Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Both Afghan Presidential candidates have pulled their observers out of a ballot audit meant to determine the winner of a June runoff and Ukraine’s newly inaugurated president dissolved the parliament and set early elections for Oct. 26 in a move that will probably put further pressure on the country’s east-west divide.

Voting Blogs: The Iowa Case and the Question of Paid Political Endorsements | More Soft Money Hard Law

Mr. Kent Sorenson was indicted and now has pled guilty in a matter involving falsified campaign finance reports. One campaign paid him to switch his support from another, and the compensation was routed through other vendors to the campaign to conceal money paid for his changed candidate preference. His guilty plea covers the federal reporting violation and the obstruction of justice committed when he denied publicly that he had been paid for his switch in allegiance and asserted that anybody who doubted him could simply consult the campaign’s reports where they would not find any such compensation. As a straightforward reporting offense, Mr. Sorenson’s case is of limited interest. But another question, presented squarely by the comments of the senior FBI official, is whether the criminal laws reach compensated political endorsements that are openly disclosed. Is it true, as this official suggests, that it is a crime to “exploit the political process for personal gain” in this way? Or that it should be? Read More

National: Federal Election Commission Enacts Policies by Not Acting | New York Times

The three Republican and three Democratic appointees of the Federal Election Commission had reached yet another deadlock: They would issue no advisory opinion on whether the Conservative Action Fund could accept contributions of Bitcoin, the online currency created to be untraceable. But a ruling of sorts emerged nonetheless in the hearing, held late last year, when one of the Republican commissioners, Lee E. Goodman, suggested that the group could essentially do as it pleased. The fund “has a clear statutory right to give and receive in-kind contributions regardless of what we say here today,” Mr. Goodman said. The case was just one of the more than 200 times in the past six years that the commission has split votes, reflecting a deep ideological divide over how aggressively to regulate money in politics that mirrors the partisan gridlock in Congress. But instead of paralyzing the commission, the 3-to-3 votes have created a rapidly expanding universe of unofficial law, where Republican commissioners have loosened restrictions on candidates and outside groups simply by signaling what standards they are willing to enforce. Read More

Editorials: Why internet voting is a very dangerous idea | Marc Ambinder/The Week

Unless you’re one of those ornery folks who believe that only politically engaged Americans should vote, there aren’t many good reasons to oppose efforts to expand access to the ballot. Voter fraud is quite rare, and voting fraud — an organized effort to illegally disrupt elections — is hard to organize. So you might think that any restriction on the way someone can vote will unfairly marginalize potentially legitimate voters. That’s true, with one big exception: internet voting. No doubt — nationwide internet voting has an intuitive appeal. It would decrease the costs of elections. It would dramatically increase turn-out. It would allow marginalized communities to avoid harassment at polling sites. It would speed the vote count. A majority of voters regularly endorse the idea. There are two main reasons, though, why internet voting is, at best, a dream best realized 20 years in the future — if ever. The internet is not secure. It does not matter whether results are sent to an air-gapped system, because there’s plenty of technologies that jump air-gaps, and we know that big governments (like ours) use them to spy. Read More

Voting Blogs: What’s the Matter with Kobach? | Dan Tokaji/Election Law Blog

By “Kobach,” I mean the Kobach v. EAC case in which the Tenth Circuit heard oral argument Monday – rather than its lead plaintiff, Kansas’ controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who argued the position of his state and the State of Arizona. This post discusses what’s at issue in the case, where the district court went wrong, and what the Tenth Circuit should do. Kobach involves a narrow but important issue, left unresolved after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. That case involved Arizona’s attempt to impose a proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration, an issue that has been percolating for many years. Arizona law requires would-be voters to provide documents proving their citizenship when they register, documents that some eligible citizens don’t have. But the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to “accept and use” the national voter registration form, commonly known as the “federal form.” And that form’s instructions don’t require documentary proof of citizenship.  In Arizona, the Supreme Court said that states must register voters who used the federal form, even without these documents. But the Court allowed Arizona to ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to add the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement to the federal form. That’s exactly what Arizona, along with Kansas, sought to do. But there’s a problem. The EAC had no sitting commissioners – hasn’t had any for years, in fact, due to gridlock in Congress. With no Commissioners to vote on the states’ requests, they went to federal court to force the commissioner-less EAC to incorporate their proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal form’s instructions.

Read More

National: How Candidates Communicate, Legally, With Super PACs | Bloomberg

When Republican Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado announced in March that he would run for the U.S. Senate, he knew he could count on backing from national Republican groups, including so-called super PACs. But he wasn’t allowed to talk to them directly. Federal election law prohibits campaigns from having contact with the super PACs and advocacy organizations that have come to dominate political spending since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Those rules were intended to put a wall between candidates, whose fundraising is constrained by federal limits, and special interest groups allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates and issues. In practice, campaigns have found ways to talk to super PACs while staying on the right side of the law. Gardner’s race illustrates how the system works. Within weeks of his declaring his Senate run, Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, told the Washington Post it would spend $970,000 on three weeks of television, radio, and online ads attacking incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall. That news was a signal that Gardner, who was unopposed in the primary, could hang back and focus on raising money—even as Democratic groups began running their own ads attacking him. Read More

National: Study: Citizens United elected more Republicans | The Washington Post

The 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in a new era of political spending gave Republicans a measurable advantage on Election Day, according to a new study. The advantage isn’t large, but it is statistically significant: The researchers found the ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC, was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race. And in six of the most affected states — Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee — the probability that a Republican would be elected to a state legislative seat increased by 10 percentage points or more. In five other states — Colorado, Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming — Republican candidates were seven percentage points more likely to win. Read More

Editorials: What if Alabama elected multiple congressmen per district? A radical reform proposal | Brendan Kirby/AL.com

No one would dispute that Alabama is a Republican-leaning state, but an electoral reform group contends the current voting system distorts GOP dominance. Presently, six of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Republican. But the state is not 85 percent Republican. The Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy, in an analysis of the upcoming 2014 election issued last month, puts the Republican percentage at 63 percent. In “Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution,” the center details how gerrymandered districts and winner-take-all elections have reduced the number of competitive districts across the country to a handful. The group also argues that the system encourages polarization and increases the number of voters with virtually no chance of electing representatives of their choice. “In contrast, fair representation voting systems provide nearly everyone with a real chance to elect a preferred candidate in every election and make it likely that large groups of like-minded voters (those who vote for similar candidates) will win seats in proportion to their share of the vote,” the report states. Read More

Arizona: Flawed Cochise County election returns recounted | Tucson Sentinel

Primary election tallies from Cochise County have been updated, after being temporarily pulled from statewide totals because incorrect results were reported Tuesday night. “We’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened,” an election official said. The results uploaded Tuesday showed “unusually high” turnout in Cochise primaries, alerting county officials that something was wrong, said Jim Vlahovich, a deputy county administrator. The data showed “more than 60 percent of the total number of registered voters had turned in ballots,” he said Wednesday. The preliminary results were pulled down early Wednesday morning, he said. “We’re still trying to figure out what exactly happened,” he said Thursday. Read More

Hawaii: State Supreme Court Dismisses ACLU Election Challenge | Honolulu Civil Beat

The Hawaii Supreme Court sided with the state today and dismissed an election challenge launched by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Big Island voters who were unable to cast ballots on Aug. 9 due to Tropical Storm Iselle. According to the Thursday ruling, the high court said it did not have jurisdiction over the constitutional questions raised by the ACLU. The dismissal also noted that the ACLU’s lawsuit, filed Aug. 21, was admittedly ““not a typical ‘election contest.’” Read More