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.