Voting in midterm elections that will determine control of Congress ends this fall. But it starts in North Carolina this week. On Friday, election officials begin mailing absentee ballots there, followed soon by Alaska and Georgia — with no excuses required. Iowans can vote in person beginning Sept. 25. After decades of expansion in American voting methods, an estimated one-third of all ballots will be cast before the traditional Election Day on Nov. 4. Yet this year, the trend collides with a Republican-led pushback in some states — for reasons of cost-cutting and election integrity or, as the Obama administration and civil rights groups suggest, crimping turnout by Democrats. Various new restrictions on voting, which range from more stringent identification requirements to fewer registration opportunities to curbs on early voting, have been put into place. A key election variable is whether the new limits will tilt close races. They might not. New voting restrictions have proven to be mobilizing tools for constituencies that feel threatened by them. In 2012, President Obama won battleground states, such as Florida and New Hampshire, where new limits had taken effect.
With counties staring down eventual replacement of their election management systems, some in California and Texas are leading the charge for an alternative that could save counties a lot of money and change an industry. Open-source voting would use software designed by counties, which could run on inexpensive computer terminals to design, print and count paper ballots. All of which purportedly increases transparency and security, Most of the savings would come from eliminating the software license fees charged for management system vendors’ proprietary programs. Twelve years after the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandated new voting technology, the machines and software are reaching the end of their usable lives in counties nationwide, and voting officials are feeling pressure. Travis County, Texas’ machines have generally been reliably operational — though a few have begun freezing — but County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she is worried they won’t remain in working order for long. HAVA’s $3.5 billion that helped fund the new election management systems will likely not be replenished to help replace them. “It’s the same urgency we all feel in counties everywhere,” she said. “We all bought new voting systems at the same time and now we’re all watching them approach their ends-of-life at the same time. Counties just don’t have multi-millions to pay for new voting systems.”
One of the gestures toward states’ rights that the Founders made in writing the Constitution was to give the states a primary role in deciding who gets to vote – not only in state and local elections, but also in federal elections. But, to protect national interests of the new government they were setting up, the Founders also gave Congress a veto power in this area. It has never been quite clear how the two provisions were supposed to work together, instead of in conflict, and that is at the heart of a new controversy over who controls the right to vote. The controversy arises at the intersection of two recent trends in the management of elections. First, a number of states, out of a fear of voter fraud (especially, a suspicion that non-citizens who are illegally in this country are voting), have been imposing tight new ID requirements to ensure that only citizens get to vote. Second, Congress and a federal election management agency have been proceeding, under a 1993 law, to try to ensure that barriers to registration are eased so that more people get to go to the polls. Those contrasting trends have been made more difficult to sort out, as a constitutional matter, because the Supreme Court in a major ruling last year gave guidance that points in two directions: buttressing federal power to try to make registration requirements uniform, but virtually inviting states to sue to try to get their way in enforcing their own registration rules.
It is rare for a politician to publicly deride efforts to boost voter turnout. It is seen as a taboo in a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals. Yet, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week slammed efforts to simplify voter registration. Referring to Illinois joining other states — including many Republican-led ones — in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.” Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July. Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite the Illinois State Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Referring to the same-day voter initiative, Christie said Quinn “will try every trick in the book,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Christie said the program is designed to be a major “obstacle” for the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates. The trouble with such rhetoric – beyond its anti-democratic themes — is its absurd assertions about partisan motives. After all, many of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors.
While many Americans are familiar with some of the high-profile issues in voting and elections systems, not many are aware that some of the best and brightest computer science and engineering professionals are dedicated to finding improvements. As one can imagine, it is a major undertaking to bring the voting systems of a nation of 300 million citizens from punch cards to the latest technology of the 21st Century. Recently, U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) spoke with John P. Wack and Dr. Arthur M. Keller, members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) Voting Systems Standards Committee (VSSC). Commonly referred to as VSSC/1622, their working group is building a common data format for election systems.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is alleging that at least 282 ballots in the state’s June 3 primary election were not counted due to Alabama’s law requiring voters to show a valid photo identification card. In a letter dated today to Jean W. Brown, the Alabama Secretary of State’s chief legal adviser, the group raised concerns about disenfranchisement associated with the identification law during the primary election — the first statewide contest with the requirement. The organization obtained the figure after trying to contact election officials in each of Alabama’s 67 counties. Of the 49 counties that provided full or partial responses, the group determined that at least 282 voters “went uncounted solely due to the failure of otherwise eligible voters to provide ID,” according to the letter. The group’s figures included six in-person provisional ballots uncounted due to no photo identification and another 276 that were labeled as uncounted absentee ballots lacking an ID card.
Alaska: Judge: Election officials broke voting rights law; must help Yup’ik, Gwich’in voters | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
State elections officials broke a federal voting rights law by failing to provide sufficient election information in Alaska Native languages, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday, causing the state to scramble for improvements before the November election. Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of four Alaska Native village councils and two Native men alleging the state violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by failing to provide translated voting materials for voters who do not speak and read English. The villages — Venetie, Arctic Village, Togiak and Hooper Bay — as well as Manokotak resident Mike Toyukak and Alakanuk resident Fred Augustine, were denied their voting rights, because the state did not provide an election pamphlet translated to Gwich’in or Yup’ik, Gleason ruled.
A coalition of groups that advocate for voters’ rights is alleging that public assistance agencies in Arkansas are failing to provide voter-registration services as required under the National Voter Registration Act. Voting rights groups Demos, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, Project Vote, and the Proskauer Rose law firm sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mark Martin advising him that Arkansas agencies must comply with the law or face litigation. The groups offered to work cooperatively with Martin and other state officials to achieve compliance.
With essentially the press of a button, Leon County became one of the first counties in the nation to conduct an independent, automatic audit of election results. In the past, the Supervisor of Elections Office was required to audit a randomly selected precinct and race as part of a post-election, state-mandated audit. The manual audits would take days to complete using temporary workers and result in audits that were not statistically reliable, said Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. But on Wednesday, the elections office used new technology called ClearAudit, developed by a Boston-based company called Clear Ballot, to audit 100 percent of the Aug. 26 primary-election results in just moments. Florida is the first state in the nation to allow the use of the technology for audits, and Leon County was among the first four counties in the state to use it. The others are Bay, Putnam and St. Lucie counties.
Kansas: Kobach: Democrat Chad Taylor’s name will remain on ballot for U.S. Senate | The Wichita Eagle
Chad Taylor doesn’t want to be in the race for U.S. Senate, but he’s going to remain on the ballot, at least for now. The Senate race in Kansas was shaken up for the second time in two days Thursday when Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Taylor had not met the requirements to withdraw from the race and would stay on the ballot. Kobach said Kansas law requires that candidates who want to be removed from the ballot submit a formal letter and also declare themselves “incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected.” Taylor submitted a letter on Wednesday, the deadline to withdraw, but did not make such a declaration. So he will remain on the ballot, Kobach said. A Kansas Senate ballot that includes a Democrat is widely seen as helpful to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. A ballot without a Democrat would allow anti-Roberts votes to coalesce around Greg Orman, a well-financed independent. Polls show weak support for Roberts, but he has maintained a lead with Taylor and Orman splitting the bulk of the remaining vote. Orman would not comment.
Ohio cannot enforce a new state law for this election that reduced the number of days available for voters to cast absentee ballots by mail or in person, a federal judge ordered today. U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus granted a preliminary injunction sought by the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and a group of African American ministers that effectively restores the full 35 days of early voting prior to the Nov. 4 general election. He found that the law is likely unconstitutional even though the state argued that its absentee voting options are more liberal than most states in the nation. His order requires Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, to add more evening voting hours and an additional Sunday to the hours he previously had set through a directive.
A federal judge blocked Republican-backed reductions in early voting opportunities in Ohio for the fall election today. U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus granted a preliminary injunction against a GOP-backed bill that ended “Golden Week” — when people could register to vote and vote on the same day — and a February directive from Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted that lopped off some weekend and evening hours of early voting in some urban counties. Husted said he will appeal the ruling “because we can’t simultaneously treat people the same and differently. Today’s ruling kicks the door open to having different rules for voting in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, which is not fair and uniform and was not even acceptable to this court or the plaintiffs previously.”
Voting Blogs: Ohio Early Voting Case: A Potential Precedent-Setter | Edward B. Foley/Election Law @ Moritz
Today’s federal district court ruling in the Ohio early voting lawsuit will set a major precedent of nationwide significance if its novel legal theory is sustained on appeal. The key to understanding today’s decision is to compare Ohio, a state that has a relatively extensive early voting period—although less than before—with a state that lacks early voting altogether, like Pennsylvania or Michigan or New York. Nothing in today’s decision indicates the court’s belief that New York is violating federal law, either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, because it has failed to provide any early voting. It appears, moreover, that the court would take this position regarding New York even if there were clear evidence that African-American voters would disproportionally take advantage of early voting as an option in New York and thus the lack of early voting there has a disproportionally adverse impact on African-Americans in New York. The judge’s theory of the Ohio case, instead, rests on the fact that Ohio previously was more generous in its provision of early voting than it currently is and that this cutback, even to an amount of early voting much larger than the none that New York provides, is unlawful discrimination under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. It is a bold and innovative proposition that will be tested on appeal.
Wisconsin: Madison tech entrepreneurs devise website to vote (mostly) online | Wisconsin State Journal
If today’s young people conduct much of their lives online, it only makes sense to bring voting to them online, as well. At least, that’s the thinking of a group of young, Madison tech entrepreneurs who have created a website called Vote (Mostly) Online. The service could tip the political balance slightly if it works, a key state pollster said, although how much is hard to predict. Vote (Mostly) Online is a service to help people register to vote, request an absentee ballot and get information about candidates. Voters who already are registered can have their absentee request form emailed to the municipal clerk. Those who are not registered will get a package in the mail with registration and absentee ballot forms to sign, and a stamped envelope in which to send them. “This is not actually voting; it’s mostly voting,” said co-founder Michael Fenchel.
Having spent several weeks auditing ballots in Afghanistan’s fraud-plagued presidential vote, election officials there are expected to declare a winner within days. If the two candidates vying for the post fail to reach a power-sharing deal beforehand, the announcement could easily kick off a wave of unrest that would all but guarantee a catastrophic wind-down to America’s longest war. The window of opportunity to strike a compromise is narrowing dangerously. Without a new government in place, the Obama administration may well pull back on plans to keep a military contingent in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and without that force, the international community will cease bankrolling the impoverished nation. Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, not without reason, is fighting the outcome of an election in which his rival, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, is widely expected to be declared the winner. Western officials say that the audit of millions of ballots cast on June 14 has made clear that the scope and sophistication of fraud was staggering even for Afghan standards.
New Brunswick’s new voting machines may hinder a person’s right to secretly spoil their ballots in this year’s provincial election, according to a University of Moncton professor. Elections New Brunswick started using the electronic vote tabulation machines in 2008, but this is the first time the units have been used to count the ballots in a provincial election. The machines speed up the vote-counting process and are intended to be more accurate. However, Denis Duval, a University of Moncton professor, said he has a problem with the machines because they beep when a person selects more than one candidate or no candidates on their ballot. “It not only tells the person working the machine, but the beep also can be heard by people in line waiting to vote,” Duval said. He said it’s a fundamental right for people to cast their votes in secret, so Duval filed a complaint with Elections New Brunswick in 2012.
Voters in Fiji’s election this month are keen to end a dictatorship that has ruled the South Pacific island nation since a military coup in 2006, but sprucing up its human rights situation, and ties with Western neighbors, will take time. Change could be slow because Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, the army chief who seized power to become prime minister, looks set to retain a dominant role, with polls giving his Fiji First Party a strong lead in the run-up to the Sept. 17 election. The much-delayed vote is being closely watched by neighbors Australia and New Zealand, the region’s economic and diplomatic powerhouses. They and their Western allies are eager to welcome Fiji back to the fold after eight years of diplomatic, military and travel sanctions that appear to have achieved little.
Think twice before taking an election selfie with your ballot paper – you could be breaking the law. The advance voting period began this week, and already early bird voters are sweeping social media, posting photos of themselves at the polling booth. Among them were Labour leader David Cunliffe, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, and Internet-Mana benefactor Kim Dotcom. Others, including Labour MP Trevor Mallard, have shared photos of their completed ballot papers, prompting warnings they risked falling foul of the Electoral Act. Internet-Mana leader Laila Harre tweeted yesterday: “Reminder that it’s against electoral law to post pics of your ballot paper.” The Electoral Commission advised candidates and supporters to exercise caution when it came to publishing or distributing material that included a ballot paper. This particularly applied to social media where material could be shared, reshared or reposted on election day.