National: Court case: Voting via the Internet is a civil rights issue for disabled | Al Jazeera

The debate over whether Americans should be permitted to vote via the Internet has long pitted voting system manufacturers, who frame it to election officials as inevitable and modern, against top cybersecurity experts who insist it cannot be done without inviting wide-scale fraud. In recent months, however, a powerful new force has joined the fight: people with disabilities, insisting that using electronic ballots from their homes ought to be seen as a right guaranteed by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Most notably, a federal judge in Maryland is scheduled next month to hear arguments as to whether the state board of elections must certify a system that involves the Internet-based delivery and marking of absentee ballots for people with disabilities. The lawsuit’s main plaintiff is the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), joined by a man with cerebral palsy and a woman who is deaf and blind. Separately, the Utah legislature in March passed the Internet Voting Pilot Project Act to permit county election officials to develop systems for people with disabilities to vote online. No actual system has been proposed or adopted yet. …  Those systems are worrisome to opponents, but for the most part they represent a relatively small number of voters scattered across the nation. The focus on Maryland is the result of both limited resources and the fear of a federal precedent, said Susan Greenhalgh of Verified Voting, a watchdog group that raises concerns about vulnerabilities in electronic voting systems of all types.

National: Justice Department backs challenges to voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin | The Washington Post

The Justice Department on Wednesday supported legal challenges to voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin as part of the Obama administration’s ongoing effort to challenge state legislation it believes unfairly affects the ability of minority voters to cast ballots. In Wisconsin, the department filed an amicus brief supporting a ruling by a federal judge that struck down a law that requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. In Ohio, Justice officials filed a “statement of interest” in a challenge by a civil rights group to a state law curtailing early voting and same-day registration. “These filings are necessary to confront the pernicious measures in Wisconsin and Ohio that would impose significant barriers to the most basic right of our democracy,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “These two states’ voting laws represent the latest, misguided attempts to fix a system that isn’t broken. These restrictive state laws threaten access to the ballot box.”

Editorials: Voter Discrimination Just Got Easier | Steven H. Wright/New York Review of Books

For almost fifty years, the US government has had an especially effective tool for ensuring fair elections: sending teams of federal observers to polling stations across the country. Though relatively little known, the program has been crucial in dismantling the discriminatory practices that disenfranchised voters of color. In the program’s early days, federal monitors risked their lives to collect evidence courts needed to outlaw the electoral mechanisms of Jim Crow. And as recently as the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department dispatched more than 780 federal employees to 51 jurisdictions across 23 states. As a result of a 2013 Supreme Court decision, however, the program is now being quietly curtailed. In 2013, the Supreme Court hobbled the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which for decades had provided safeguards to prevent unfair voting practices, including special oversight for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court found that Congress created a flawed formula to select those special jurisdictions. Last week, the Justice Department revealed that, in light of the Supreme Court decision, it has concluded that the Attorney General no longer retains the statutory authority to send observers to those jurisdictions.

Florida: Judge calls for special election and immediate revamp of congressional map | Miami Herald

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled Friday that the Florida Legislature must immediately revise its flawed congressional map and gave it until Aug. 15 to submit a revised  map and ordered the state to propose a special election for the affected congressional districts. The  practical effect is that lawmakers will have to schedule a special session to approve the new maps before the court’s deadline, or they could appeal his ruling and ask a higher court to stay the ruling. Lewis agreed with the Legislature’s lawyers and concluded “there is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th as prescribed by Federal law.” Lewis acknowledged that there is no easy solution but suggested “it might be possible to push the general election date back to allow for a special election in 2014 for any affected districts.”

California: State doesn’t allow write-in candidates in its general election, so a write-in candidate is suing | The Washington Post

An independent candidate who received a single vote for a U.S. House seat in California is suing the state over it’s top-two primary system, which allows write-in candidates in the primary but not the general election. Theo Milonopoulos, a PhD student at Columbia University, filed to run as a write-in candidate in the crowded primary race to replace the retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D), after missing the deadline to appear on the ballot. Under California’s election law, the top two candidates with the highest number of votes in a primary election move onto the general election, regardless of party, and any write-in votes in the general election are not counted.

Illinois: Peoria County voters may decide election commission consolidations | Journal Star

Next to a host of constitutional amendments and advisory questions, Peoria County voters may face at least two more referendum questions in the Nov. 4 election. The County Board’s executive committee agreed Thursday to ask the full board to approve on Aug. 14 letting citizens decide whether to consolidate the City Election Commission and the county election operations now under the county clerk into a new countywide election commission. The full board also will weigh consolidating the offices of clerk and recorder of deeds. Bringing together the two election entities has long been a priority for the county, and board members have asked legislators for a measure making it easier to do — requiring just one referendum with easy wording rather than two votes with more complex ballot language — since at least 2009, board member Allen Mayer said. “We’ve voted on this again and again and again,” he said of the board’s repeated efforts to get lawmakers to advance a bill, something that was finally done in 2013.

Kansas: Kobach challenges church leaders who oppose voter ID law | Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a radio interview Wednesday that he will continue to move forward with voter identification requirements and questioned the religiousness of church leaders who have opposed the law. While a guest on Topeka radio station WIBW 580, Kobach was asked to respond to religious leaders and other critics of the voter ID requirement. “We’re absolutely going to keep fighting back, and Kansans overwhelmingly approve it,” Kobach said. “I don’t know what churches — and I would put churches in quotation marks — because the vast majority of church leaders I’ve spoken to are fully in favor of our photo ID law.”

Minnesota: Election officials go after voters listing mail centers as addresses | Minneapolis Star Tribune

County election officials across the metro area are scrutinizing dozens of voter registrations tied to commercial mail centers after a probe in Minneapolis revealed a loophole in the state’s election system. A new Star Tribune comparison of voter records and data from the U.S. Postal Service found that 95 voters were registered at the addresses of mail centers — such as UPS Stores — despite requirements that voters list their physical residence.

Missouri: Early voting initiative may miss Missouri ballot | Associated Press

A Missouri proposal to create one of the most expansive early voting periods in the nation appears to have fallen short of reaching the November ballot, according to an Associated Press analysis of initiative petition signatures. The AP review of signature counts conducted by Missouri’s local election authorities found that the proposed constitutional amendment on early voting lacks enough valid signatures of registered voters in all but two of the state’s eight congressional districts. To qualify for the ballot, initiatives must get signatures equal 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in at least six of the congressional districts. Missouri currently allows absentee voting only in limited circumstances when people attest that they won’t be able to vote in person on Election Day. The initiative proposed a 42-day, no-excuse-needed early voting period that would have been one of the longest in the nation and also would have allowed votes to be cast on weekends.

Virginia: Cantor to resign from Congress on Aug. 18 | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Less than two months after his stunning primary upset and just hours after stepping down as House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor said Thursday that he will resign his seat in the House of Representatives effective Aug. 18. “I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session,” Cantor said in an exclusive interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday afternoon. Cantor said he has asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election for his district that coincides with the general election on Nov. 4. By having a special election in November, the winner would take office immediately, rather than in January with the next Congress.

Editorials: Hypocrisy on Wisconsin Supreme Court: Why voter ID decision is wrong | Joshua A. Douglas/Journal-Sentinel

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday issued two decisions that had the effect of upholding the state’s  strict voter ID requirement. Crucial to the court’s decisions was its finding that, once it modified a different rule, the voter ID law did not impose too substantial of a burden on qualified voters who do not otherwise have the necessary identification. The split decisions entail both breathtaking judicial activism and ignorance regarding the difference between the federal and state constitutions. First, the conservative-leaning majority found that the voter ID law imposed a severe burden on voters because it would cost money for voters to gather the underlying documentation they might need — such as a birth certificate — to obtain the “free” voter ID. But the majority then forges ahead to adopt a “saving construction” of a state administrative rule to conclude that the law does not, really, require voters to pay money to obtain the documentation. It rewrites the administrative rule so that the voter ID law does not become an unconstitutional poll tax. To justify this maneuver, the court cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision that states “where a saving construction is ‘fairly possible,’ the court will adopt it.” But that U.S. Supreme Court case said no such thing; it instead noted that if a saving construction of the very statute at issue is possible, then the court should avoid the constitutional question and decide the case under that statutory ground.

Afghanistan: Troubled Afghan election audit gets green light, but disputes remain | Reuters

The mammoth task of auditing eight million votes cast in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election will restart on Saturday, the electoral commission said today, but disputes still hang over the process. Allegations of mass fraud have cast doubt over the outcome of the vote that aims to transfer power democratically for the first time in Afghan history before most foreign troops pull out at the end of the year. A US-brokered agreement to audit all ballots defused a crisis this month, but the process has stalled three times since and the candidates have yet to agree on how to disqualify votes.

Australia: AEC concerned about safety of electronic voting | The Australian

Australians are unlikely to be able to cast their votes electronically in a federal election any time soon. Acting Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers today poured cold water on the push to introduce a trial of e-voting at the next federal poll, conceding his comments risked caricaturing him as a cautious bureaucrat. Mr Rogers voiced concerns about whether the AEC could implement e-voting safely. … “I would have to be honest with you and say I’m concerned about our ability to introduce some form of electronic voting safely.

Turkey: In a First, Germany’s Turks Get to Help Decide Turkish Election | Wall Street Journal

Far from Istanbul, voters at cardboard polling booths set up in a Berlin sporting arena are helping to decide whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s becomes Turkey’s next president. The large Turkish diaspora in Germany and other countries around the world is for the first time getting its say in a Turkish election, with presidential voting kicking off in a change that offers new clout to the community here. The recent change in Turkish law allowing Turks abroad to vote has been heralded as a sign of political empowerment. It is a move that comes as Turks in Germany are also being courted by German politicians after years of being ignored—amid new laws that make it easier for Germany-born Turks to gain dual citizenship and the appointment of the country’s first minister of Turkish descent. The community may not be large enough to make much difference for Mr. Erdogan, who is widely expected to win Turkey’s first direct presidential elections handily. But the prime minister has made visits to Germany this year, packing stadiums in Cologne and Berlin.

Turkey: OSCE to observe presidential elections in Turkey

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) parliamentarians will travel to Turkey next week to observe the upcoming presidential elections and provide leadership for the OSCE’s short-term observer mission, the group announced on Tuesday. The OSCE delegation, which includes more than 20 parliamentarians from 15 participating OSCE states, will be led by Asa Lindestam, chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. On Aug. 10, for the first time voters will go to polling stations to elect the next president by popular vote. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held for the two top candidates on Aug. 24.