ust over a fifth of registered voters cast their ballots in the Los Angeles primary and runoff elections that ushered in Mayor Eric Garcetti last year. The elections continued a persistent downward trend in voter participation that’s not limited to Los Angeles. In New York, Bill de Blasio won a landslide election that similarly saw the lowest voter turnout since at least the 1950s. More recently, just over a quarter of voters showed up for the District of Columbia’s hotly-contested mayoral primary – the lowest turnout in more than 30 years. Voter turnout for local elections, typically held in off-cycle years, has historically lagged behind state and federal races set to take place in November, but recent results suggest it’s slowly becoming even worse. University of Wisconsin researchers provided Governing with elections data covering 144 larger U.S. cities, depicting a decline in voter turnout in odd-numbered years over the previous decade. In 2001, an average of 26.6 percent of cities’ voting-age population cast ballots, while less than 21 percent did so in 2011. Turnout for primary and general local elections fluctuate from year to year, but long-term trends in many larger cities suggest voter interest has waned.
Editorials: Voting restrictions may reach the Supreme Court: From Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas. | Rick Hasen/Slate
he fights in our states over how hard or easy it is to vote have been filling the courts and are headed toward the Supreme Court. The cases range from voter ID laws to early voting rules and beyond. Already there is a case from Ohio, with ones from Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas potentially on the way in a matter of days or weeks. The stakes are high, not only for the lazy 2014 midterm elections but also for the 2016 presidential election and for the protection of voting rights in the next decade. The fact that the cases are making it to the Supreme Court at about the same time is no surprise. Over the past decade, in the period I have called “the voting wars,” we have seen both an increase in restrictive voting rights legislation passed by Republican legislatures, such as voter ID laws, and litigation from both Democrats and Republicans to manipulate the election system to their advantage. In 2008, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter identification law, and in 2013, the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act providing that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting get approval before making changes to their voting rules and procedures.
Voting equipment around the state is breaking down. There is limited money for new systems. A complex statewide voter registration database has been years in the making. And while hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars change hands every day in California, the state’s public-disclosure system confuses searchers and occasionally stops working. Whoever gets the keys to California’s secretary of state’s office in January will inherit a lengthy to-do list for the post’s role overseeing voting and elections, its most public responsibility. The office also handles businesses filings. Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who recently disclosed that she is battling depression, has defended her tenure and blamed politics for would-be successors’ criticism of her office during this year’s campaign. Budget cuts during the recession and a lack of new funding have hampered efforts to improve some programs, she has said, such as the Cal-Access campaign-finance website. But whether it is Republican Pete Peterson or Democrat Alex Padilla, California’s next secretary of state will need to hit the ground running, county registrars and other experts say.
A three-judge Shawnee County panel didn’t decide Monday whether Kansas Democrats should be required to fill the vacancy left when Chad Taylor dropped out of the closely contested U.S. Senate campaign against Sen. Pat Roberts, a three-term Republican. The court challenge seeking to force Democrats to fill the vacancy hit a stumbling block Monday when David Orel, the man who filed the suit, failed to show up for his day in court. The judges didn’t rule on whether the suit was still viable in light of the plaintiff’s absence, preferring instead to hear more arguments before making a ruling they indicated would come before 2 p.m. Wednesday — the time Secretary of State Kris Kobach says ballots absolutely must have candidate names to be sent to printers.
The future of the Kansas ballot is now in the hands of a three judge panel in Topeka. That panel is deciding whether state law requires the Kansas Democratic Party to name a new candidate after Chad Taylor dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate against Pat Roberts. This latest lawsuit was brought by a registered Democrat who’s son works for Governor Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign. It asks the court to force the Kansas Democrats to name a replacement candidate. But, the man who filed the lawsuit didn’t show up for court. “He filed a lawsuit, dragged them into court in the middle of a busy campaign season,” Randall Rathbun told the three judges, pointing at the leaders of the Kansas Democratic Party. “Then he didn’t show up?” When David Orel, the man asking the state to force the Kansas Democrats to name a new candidate, didn’t show up in court Monday afternoon the Democrats’ attorney asked the judges to dismiss the case. The judges decided to go ahead and hear arguments then decide later what to do.
The Supreme Court on Monday blocked an appeals court ruling that would have restored seven days of early voting in Ohio. The Supreme Court’s order was three sentences long and contained no reasoning. But it disclosed an ideological split, with the court’s four more liberal members noting that they would have denied the request for a stay of the lower court’s order extending early voting. Dale Ho, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the court’s action “will deprive many Ohioans of the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election as this case continues to make its way through the courts.” The ruling, which reflected a partisan breakdown in many court decisions nationwide on voting issues, saw the five Republican-appointed justices uphold the voting restrictions enacted by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature in February. The new limits removed the first week of Ohio’s 35-day early voting period, in the process eliminating the only week that permitted same-day registration, a feature most often used by minorities.
On Monday afternoon the Supreme Court justices decided 5-4, on party (of-the-president-who nominated-them) lines, to block extended voting hours and days in Ohio, 16 hours before voting was to begin there. The decision affects everyone in the state but will disproportionately harm poorer and minority voters, who rely on weekend and evening hours to avoid forbiddingly long lines on Election Day. The court’s order is technically temporary, but in practice it means that the longer voting hours won’t be in effect in 2014. There are reasonable arguments to be made about why these particular restrictions are not the most burdensome in the country, since Ohio already has four weeks of early voting. Still, the plaintiffs made the argument — accepted by a federal trial court and a three-judge appeals panel — that the cuts violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the battered-but-still-standing Voting Rights Act.
Arguing that early voting is necessary to continue to deal with the “unprecedented disaster” at the polls in Ohio in 2004, several civil rights advocacy groups urged the Supreme Court on Saturday to permit Ohioans to start casting their ballots next Tuesday for this year’s general election. Allowing that would merely keep in place what the state has been doing for the past four elections, and would not affect any other state, the fifty-four-page brief contended. Justice Elena Kagan is currently considering, and could share with her colleagues, pleas by state officials and the Ohio legislature to allow the state to cut back early in-person voting from thirty-five to twenty-eight days, to bar voting on most Sundays in the coming weeks, and to eliminate voting in the early evening on any day. Those are the very opportunities, the advocacy groups said in their response, that tens of thousands of black and low-income voters have been able to use to cast their ballots. A federal district court judge in Columbus and a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati recently struck down the changes that the legislature and state election officials have sought to put into effect this year. The state seeks to have those rulings delayed until the Supreme Court can settle the constitutional and voting rights law issues at stake.
The first Tuesday in November is notorious for long lines to tap a few buttons, cast a vote, and possibly change the future course of our state. Depending on where you live, you may not be waiting in line to cast your vote in November. Several counties across Utah are doing it: mail-in ballots- for everyone, not just the absentee voters. This isn’t new, but several counties are trying it for the first time this year.
Pro-democracy protests took on a festive atmosphere Tuesday, a day after police pulled back and the government offered minor concessions, with musicians entertaining the crowds and people decorating the umbrellas they had used to block pepper spray. But protesters worried about the possibility of a crackdown. Tens of thousands of people stretched across Hong Kong Island’s main shopping and business districts and across Victoria Harbour into Kowloon on Monday. Newcomers joined the protests, which took on an air of spontaneity, growing as the day progressed, with marchers walking and sitting on the city’s normally traffic-choked roads.
The government of Somaliland asked Notre Dame computer science professor Kevin Bowyer with graduate students Amanda Sgroi and Estefan Ortiz to use their iris recognition biometric research to improve the legitimacy of their elections. Somaliland is a self-declared independent state directly north of Somalia recognized by the international community and U.S. as an autonomous region of Somalia. According to a College of Engineering press release, it is transforming into a rare, multiparty democracy in the Horn of Africa and is working to establish honest, respected elections. “Someone in Somaliland sent me an e-mail asking me to help with improving their voting register,” Bowyer said. “They said they wanted to use iris-recognition technology and asked us for help. The ultimate goal is that you can only vote one time,” Sgroi said. “If you’re trying to vote a second time, then the iris recognition system is going to block you before you can even cast your ballot.”
Spain’s Constitutional Court has temporarily halted an independence referendum called by the rich northeastern region of Catalonia, a decision which the region’s leaders vowed to ignore despite warnings by the central government. The court’s unanimous decision to hear the government’s case automatically suspended the November 9 non-binding referendum from going forward until the court hears arguments and makes a decision, a process that could take months or years, a court spokeswoman said. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of court rules preventing her from being named. The court acted hours after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said the referendum decree represents “a grave attack on the rights of all Spaniards.”
Ukraine’s tenuous truce and troop withdrawal deal lay in tatters on Tuesday after the deadliest wave of attacks by pro-Russian insurgents in more than a month killed nine government soldiers. The surge in clashes across the separatist rust belt spelled an ominous start to campaigning for parties that make the ballot for October 26 parliamentary polls once the registration deadline passes on Tuesday night. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told German Chancellor Angela Merkel — his closest and most powerful European ally — on Monday that Russia was ignoring the terms of a September 5 peace pact the sides sealed in the Belarussian capital Minsk. Poroshenko “stressed that he expected Russia to fulfil its Minsk Protocol obligations: to withdraw forces, ensure the border’s closure, and establish a buffer zone,” the presidency said in a statement.
The nation’s highest court on Monday granted an emergency plea from state officials to block a lower court’s order expanding statewide early voting days and times. The last-minute decision means early voting will not start Tuesday, but instead will be delayed one week. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse or delay the district court order restoring Golden Week, a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, forcing Husted to add more early voting hours to the statewide schedule and allowing county boards of election to set additional hours. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals where the case was appealed, referred the case to the full court, which voted 5-4 to grant the stay. The court issued its order without an opinion or explanation, noting the court’s liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan would not have granted the stay. Justices Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy voted to grant the stay.
The midterm election may be weeks away, but tens of thousands of ballots have already been cast in a reprise of an increasingly powerful political tool: early voting. In North Carolina, which has a pivotal U.S. Senate contest at the top of the ticket, voting began Sept. 5 when absentee ballots were mailed to voters. As of Friday about 15,000 voters — the majority of them Democrats — had requested ballots ahead of Nov. 4. On Thursday, Iowans, who will choose between Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst in a competitive race for an open Senate seat, began to vote both in person and through early absentee ballots. Already, more than 145,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, with Democrats outpacing Republicans by about 38,000 requests, according to the Iowa secretary of state’s office. In 2010, Democrats in the Hawkeye State cast 19,000 more early ballots than did Republicans.
An Alaska Superior Court judge Friday morning denied a complaint brought by a Republican Party official that could have unraveled the “unity” ticket of gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker and his running mate, Byron Mallott. Steve Strait, an Anchorage district chair of the Alaska Republican Party, said he will decide over the weekend whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Judge John Suddock said the lieutenant governor and the Division of Elections acted appropriately when they issued an emergency regulation Sept. 2 allowing the merger of the “nonparty” ticket, though primary voters had previously chosen Mallott as the Democratic nominee for governor. In a lengthy explanation of his decision, Suddock said he was constrained by three decades of precedent, including a Supreme Court ruling, attorney general opinions, similar decisions by past lieutenant governors, and numerous Legislatures that had “OK’ed this kind of monkey business after the primary” by not creating a statute to address such situations.
A judge on Friday sided with the state of Alaska and ruled against a lawsuit that challenged the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled that an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid. The state argued that invalidating the order would leave the November election in shambles and disenfranchise voters, saying more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out. “The people of the state of Alaska expect an election,” Suddock said after opposing sides had presented their oral arguments. “They expect to have a choice.” The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair. Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 order, which permitted candidates affected by the merger to officially withdraw from their respective races.
Arkansas’ highest court is set to take up a case this week that could decide whether the state’s voters will be required to show photo identification at the polls in the November election. The state Supreme Court on Thursday is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the lawsuit over Arkansas’ voter ID law, which took effect in January. With a U.S. Senate race that could determine which party controls that chamber, how the court rules could have national implications. … The Republican-led Legislature approved the voter ID law last year, overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. At the time, Beebe called the proposal an “expensive solution in search of a problem.”
Voting by mail surpassed 50 percent of votes cast in a general election in California for the first time in 2012. A new study shows that nearly 69,000 mailed ballots, or about 1 percent, were not counted, and why they were rejected. The top three reasons mail-in ballots were rejected: not arriving on time, not being signed or because signatures could not be verified, according to the study to be released Sept. 29 by the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change. “California has one of the highest mail ballot rejection rates in the country,” said study author Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project. “Although 1 percent may not seem very high, that’s tens of thousands of people whose votes were not counted. And these votes could make the difference in close elections.”
A year after far-reaching election reform, Florida’s election supervisors are deploying more early-voting sites but fewer total hours and days than in the last nonpresidential-year election, an analysis shows. Florida’s massive election-law rewrite happened last year in the wake of the chaos that ensued after the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott reduced early voting in 2011. After Florida became a national punch line over its hours-long lines at the polls during the 2012 presidential contest, lawmakers scrambled to lengthen the days, hours and locations for early voting. But they also provided more flexibility for counties to reduce early voting if they wanted to do so. Election supervisors were allowed to have eight to 14 days of early voting spread over the final two weeks before an election. They were also authorized to hold 64 to 168 total hours of early voting.
Voting Blogs: Gerrymandered or Court Ordered: The Second Re-Drawing Is the Charm for Florida’s Fifth | State of Elections
After the first round of judicial wrangling over two allegedly gerrymandered congressional districts, a Florida judge ordered on July 10th 2014 that the Florida fifth and tenth districts be sent back to the drawing board. The dispute arose from the Florida House of Representative’s mandated redrawing of the state’s congressional districts under amendments to Florida’s constitution passed during the 2010 election cycle. The amendments were intended to ensure that legislative districts were drawn cohesively and without favoring any political party. The Republican controlled state legislature interpreted “cohesive” as a mandate to pack African American voters into one district. The first redrawing of Florida’s fifth district, seemingly drafted in the likeness of a Burmese Python, slithered from the northern tip of Orange County along the college town of Gainesville all the way to the Jacksonville city limits. African American Congresswoman, Corrine Brown (D), holds the congressional seat and the district contained a plurality of African American voters prior to redistricting.
A key contest in the fight for control of the Senate could turn on the outcome of an arcane legal argument Monday over whether Democrats must field a candidate against struggling Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. The case centers on whether a state election law requires Democrats to pick a new candidate after ex-nominee Chad Taylor withdrew earlier this month or whether the party can choose not to replace him. Some Democrats pushed Taylor out, viewing independent candidate Greg Orman as the stronger rival for Roberts and hoping to avoid a split in the anti-Roberts vote that would help the GOP incumbent stay in office.
Absentee voting opened Tuesday for the November general election, but local residents who want to vote early won’t get a real, official ballot Ñ at least not yet. That’s because all the ballots for the Missouri general election are being reprinted after an appeals court ordered a change to a proposed early voting amendment that will be decided in November. Ballots for most counties had been printed before the ruling was handed down, forcing county clerks order new, revised versions, said Bonnie Earl, Jasper County clerk. “We were pretty much blind-sided,” she said. Rep. Sue Entlicher, chairwoman of the House Elections Committee, said she will work on legislation aimed at preventing similar problems in the future. Under current law and court rulings, changes to ballot measures are allowed up to six weeks before the election Ð the same day that state law requires clerks to make absentee ballots available to the public.
Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, is going to the mat to impose cuts to early voting, and he’s asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on his behalf. His office is framing its fight for the cuts – which already been found to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics – as a matter of “protecting states’ rights.” Late Thursday, Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine filed documents asking the nation’s highest court for an emergency stay to reverse a ruling by a federal appeals court panel on Wednesday. The decision earlier in the week upheld an injunction blocking the cuts from taking effect during this fall’s elections. Earlier on Thursday, Husted and DeWine filed a separate appeal for a rehearing of the case by the full appeals court. The cuts are being challenged by a coalition of civil and voting rights groups led by the ACLU. A full trial on the cuts is scheduled for next year.
In reading the Sixth Circuit opinion in Ohio’s early voting case now before the Supreme Court, I get the sense that the Sixth Circuit believes that the exact same set of early voting opportunities would be constitutionally permissible in other states, just not in Ohio. Indeed, the Sixth Circuit went so far as to say “the same law may impose a significant burden in one state and only a minimal burden in another.” (Slip. op. at 25.) This view is perplexing. What is it about Ohio that makes its relatively generous provision of early voting opportunities unconstitutional, even though they would be constitutionally permissible elsewhere? In their Supreme Court brief, the civil rights plaintiffs stress Ohio’s horrible experience on Election Day in 2004. Because of the atrociously long lines at the polls on Election Day in Ohio in 2004, the plaintiffs assert that “the default Election Day-only system was no longer a constitutional option for Ohio.” (Page 32-33.)
A controversial voter ID law in Wisconsin, which critics fear will disenfranchise thousands of voters in the November midterm elections, must be implemented after a federal appeals court turned down a request to re-hear a legal challenge. The seventh circuit court of appeals in Chicago declined to take up the application to hear the challenge before its full panel of judges. On 12 September, three judges stayed an injunction issued by a district court that had prevented the law’s implementation. With less than six weeks to go until the 4 November midterms, voter-rights advocates fear chaos as people rush to get the required identification, and confusion at the polls as election workers and voters struggle with the new rules. Previous testimony in the case indicated that about 300,000 people who had previously been eligible to vote will have difficulty obtaining the identification now needed to cast their ballots. The plaintiffs in the voter ID cases include Ruthelle Frank, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and the Advancement Project.
Wisconsin: Federal appeals court rejects request to rehear challenge to voter ID case | Associated Press
The full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday it will not rehear its decision allowing Wisconsin’s voter identification law to be implemented for the Nov. 4 election. The court said in a seven-sentence order that it was equally divided on whether to take up a request to reconsider a Sept. 12 decision allowing for the law to go forward while it considers the merits of the case. That means the 10-judge panel was one vote short of reconsidering the earlier decision, as requested by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project. The groups argued that implementing voter ID so close to the election will create chaos at the polls, undermining election integrity and public confidence.
Downtown Hong Kong turned into a battlefield of tear gas and seething crowds on Sunday after the police moved against a student democracy protest, inciting public fury that brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of a city long known as a stable financial center. Hours after the riot police sought late Sunday to break up the protest, large crowds of demonstrators remained nearby, sometimes confronting lines of officers and chanting for them to lay down their truncheons and shields. Police officers were also injured in skirmishes with protesters. The heavy-handed police measures, including the city’s first use of tear gas in years and the presence of officers with long-barreled guns, appeared to galvanize the public, drawing more people onto the streets. On Monday morning, protesters controlled major thoroughfares in at least three parts of the city. A few unions and the Hong Kong Federation of Students called for strikes, and the federation urged a boycott of classes.
Hong Kong police used tear gas Sunday evening to disperse peaceful protesters sitting downtown near government offices. The crowd of perhaps 50,000 quickly regrouped, even more determined to demand that Beijing withdraw a plan for sham democracy in 2017. More than 70 protesters have been arrested so far; police held banners threatening “military force” if the protests continue. The confrontation marks a turning point in the city’s quest for democracy. For years the people of Hong Kong avoided direct conflict with Beijing in the hope that Chinese authorities might be persuaded to grant them self-government. Now they realize that their only chance for democracy is to demand it.
Allies of President-elect Joko Widodo are working to overturn a new law that ends direct regional elections in Indonesia, a battle that will require a Constitutional Court decision to succeed soon. Lawmakers on Friday passed a law that ends the world’s third-largest democracy’s nine-year experiment with direct elections for mayors, governors and others. The law empowers elected regional councils to appoint these leaders instead. Indonesia’s presidency will still be chosen in direct elections by voters every five years. The legislative vote was won by a coalition of parties who opposed Mr. Widodo in Indonesia’s presidential election this year. The coalition was led by the party of Prabowo Subianto, a former army general in the era of authoritarian ruler Suharto who lost a hard-fought election against Mr. Widodo in July. Mr. Subianto’s allies argued that elections are too expensive in the sprawling nation of 250 million, among other things.