The last surge of investment in voting technology happened a decade ago. Since then the regulatory apparatus for election reform has broken down, and voting machines themselves are starting to fail as well. Every election shines attention on a different bit of dysfunction, from long lines at polling places to cyber security risks. Open source to the rescue? Maybe, although probably not in time to have much impact on the 2016 election. Silicon Valley’s Open Source Election Technology Foundation (OSET) is methodically chipping away at the problem, building credibility with software for voter registration and election-night reporting while also working on the more challenging problems of improving the casting and counting of votes. Meanwhile, a few brave — and impatient — county election officials are embarking on their own voting technology design and development projects, which may or may not intersect with OSET’s work. The bottom-line goal of these initiatives is the same: to move away from reliance on proprietary technology while boosting transparency and leaving a reliable audit trail — making it clear that the victor in any contest really is the candidate who won the most votes.
A report from the vendor of the elections system used by Cochise County during the Aug. 26 Primary Election indicates that the issues surrounding incorrect ballot data being sent to the state on election night was the result of a procedural error at the local elections office. The report from Elections Systems & Software explains that the incoming results from a number of precincts throughout election night were aggregated incorrectly by the county elections staff selecting the wrong option on the system. This resulted in already tabulated election results being added multiple times to the aggregate total for those precincts. County officials received the report on Thursday, Sept. 4. Elections staff reviewed the report individually before holding a meeting by telephone with ES&S personnel on Monday, Sept. 8.
Editorials: Critics of D.C. statehood cite specious objections, such as Grave Snowplow Threat | Robert McCartney/The Washington Post
Why shouldn’t the District become a state? Opponents at Monday’s U.S. Senate hearing cited the grave threat that the city might gain full authority over its snowplows. You read that right. According to this objection, a self-governing District might intimidate Congress through its control of basic services for Capitol Hill. Statehood “would make the federal government dependent on an independent state, New Columbia, for everything from electrical power to water, sewers, snow removal, police and fire protection,” Roger Pilon, a constitutional scholar for the libertarian Cato Institute, testified. In Pilon’s defense, his argument is rooted in James Madison’s long-ago desire to prevent any individual state from unduly influencing Congress. But that concern is completely outdated.
Kansas: State Supreme Court hears Taylor’s request to remove himself from U.S. Senate ballot | The Kansas City Star
Everyone agrees that Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor withdrew from the U.S. Senate race in Kansas. The question is, did the Democrat do it the right way and say the right words? The Kansas Supreme Court began exploring that issue Tuesday as it weighed a request to remove Taylor from the ballot, a decision that could boost independent Greg Orman’s chances of unseating Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. The country is watching the race because it could decide whether Republicans gain control of the Senate. The court has not said when it will deliver a decision. But a deadline for sending out ballots to overseas voters is Saturday.
The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether the Democrat who wants to drop out of the U.S. Senate race must stay on the ballot, a dispute that could have a big effect on Republicans recapturing a Senate majority. Democrat Chad Taylor, a county prosecutor from Topeka, threw the race into chaos earlier this month when he announced he wanted to be taken off the ballot, without giving an explanation. Taylor’s exit seemed to set up a clear two-person race between the three-term incumbent, Republican Pat Roberts, and wealthy independent Greg Orman, who many believe has a chance to unseat Roberts head to head. The unusual move by Taylor, apparently at the urging of fellow Democrats who worried that a three-person race would split the anti-Roberts vote, turned the race into one of the hottest campaigns of the season.
Robert Stewart hasn’t been able to vote since 2006, a right he lost because there’s a felony on his record. But for the past several years, the third-year sociology graduate student has been fighting to regain his voting rights. “It’s encouraged me to be involved,” he said, “because I have no other way to be involved in the political process, other than through advocacy.” While a bill to restore voting eligibility to many Minnesotans with criminal records when they leave prison made headway in the last legislative session, the measure failed to make it onto the floor of either chamber. Now, some University of Minnesota students are working to further the rights of those with criminal backgrounds. “I think [people with criminal records] should be welcomed back into the community,” said associate sociology professor Joshua Page. He said he believes the public should strive to integrate former convicts back into society, rather than exclude them.
Missouri election officials are scrambling to reprint ballots and reprogram computers after an appeals court ordered a change to an early voting proposal that will appear on the November ballot. County clerks said Wednesday that the change could cost the state tens of thousands of additional dollars and delay the availability of absentee ballots that are supposed to ready for voters next Tuesday. It also could lead to a push during the 2015 legislative session to amend Missouri’s election deadlines. “It is a tremendous burden on the local taxpayers — on the entire state of Missouri — when these types of rulings are handed down at this late notice,” said Atchison County Clerk Susette Taylor, who is president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities. A panel of the Western District state appeals court on Monday ordered new ballot wording for a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing a six-day, no-excuses-needed early voting period for future general elections. The judges said the ballot summary approved by legislators was misleading because it failed to note the early voting period would occur only if the state provides funding. Many local election authorities already had printed their paper ballots and programmed their computers based on the list of candidates and issues that were certified last month.
The clock is ticking on a legal battle over who will appear as Pete Ricketts’ No. 2 man on Nebraska ballots this fall. The federal deadline to have ballots sent to military and overseas voters is Friday, and the printers are already running for some counties. “My ballots have gone to print,” said Cass County Election Commissioner Nancy Josoff. She’s also emailed ballots to a couple traveling abroad. Most counties are in the final stages of proofing the many versions of ballots they distribute within their areas. Those proofs are then generally sent to Election Systems and Software, the Omaha company that produces ballots for 90 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Meanwhile, attorneys are wrangling over whether state Auditor Mike Foley’s name should be allowed to replace that of former Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann on the ballot as running mate for Ricketts, the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Ricketts named Foley as his pick for lieutenant governor after Heidemann resigned last week. Democrats and others have balked at Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale for allowing the switch despite a Sept. 1 deadline for a person to agree to appear on the ballot as a candidate for lieutenant governor. Gale is a Republican.
Calling the 2012 general election in Sandoval County “a debacle,” a federal judge has ruled in favor of three Republicans who claimed actions by the Democratic county clerk and elections director deprived voters of the chance to cast ballots. There were problems administering the election in Rio Rancho, which resulted in voters standing in long lines and waiting in some instances for more than five hours to exercise their right to vote, according to the order by District Judge William P. Johnson. Johnson had granted a preliminary injunction ordering Election Bureau Director Eddie Gutierrez and Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni to comply with a resolution passed by the County Commission in October 2013 pertaining to the number of voting machines and distribution of polling places in Rio Rancho. The resolution establishes 17 voting convenience centers in Rio Rancho and two in Corrales.
Registered Ohio voters who end up in jail the weekend before the election should be allowed to cast an absentee ballot, a federal judge ruled yesterday. U.S. District Court Judge S. Arthur Spiegel decided in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Justice & Policy Center that he saw “no value in taking away this fundamental right, even for a short period of time.” Spiegel said since people who could afford to post bail could get out of jail and vote, preventing those who could not afford to post bail from voting poses an “unconstitutional wealth-based voting restriction.” Attorneys for the center said at least 400 people who were eligible were unable to vote in 2012 because they were in jail the weekend before the election.
Several key legislators joined the governor during a signing ceremony Thursday at the State House of legislation to eliminate the “master lever,” or straight-party voting option, on all non-primary Rhode Island elections that will be held after January 1, 2015. Sponsored in the House by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) and in the Senate by Sen. David E. Bates (R-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), the bills (2014-H 8072A and 2014-S 2091A) were passed by the General Assembly and officially signed by the governor earlier this year.
Friday’s U.S. court ruling that breathed new life into Wisconsin’s voter ID law is a “recipe for chaos” that will cause “extraordinary disenfranchisement” this fall, voting rights advocates are warning as they push for a rehearing of the case. “If this law is not stopped now from being implemented in November, it will cause irreparable harm to the 300,000 plus voters who lack ID,” John Ulin, a lawyer for Arnold and Porter who represents plaintiffs in the case, told reporters Wednesday. Late Tuesday, challengers to the law filed court documents asking that the full 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals take a second look at Friday’s ruling reinstating the law. That ruling, the brief argues, “imposes a radical, last-minute change to procedures for conducting an election that is already underway.” Friday’s ruling was made by a three-judge panel of the court, all of whom were appointed by Republicans. The strict GOP-backed voter ID law had been on hold since not long after being passed in 2012, and was a struck down in April by a federal district court judge, who ruled that it violated the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting.
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire leaders will meet Thursday to discuss the new Voter ID Law and what it means for students who want to vote in November. Following the reinstatement of the Voter ID Law last Friday, UW-Madison announced that it will provide students with separate voter ID cards starting next week. It’s an idea UW-Eau Claire says it will also discuss. Student leaders say it’s already a challenge to get students registered and to the polls to vote, but now with the requirement for a valid photo ID, there may be other hurdles. Jordan Luehmann, a student at UW-Eau Claire, said voting is important because at the end of the day, voting is what makes a difference. “It’s important for the country’s future, it’s important for you now even in college,” said Luehmann. “Even if you don’t like politics, the one thing you should do is vote. I think that’s a powerful thing to do.”
Thousands of Fijians got their first chance to vote in eight years on Wednesday in an election that promises to finally restore democracy to the South Pacific nation of 900,000. Military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, who has ruled Fiji since he seized control in a 2006 coup, is the frontrunner. He is popular, thanks in part to his focus on social programmes, increased infrastructure spending and a crackdown on the media. In early counting, Bainimarama’s Fiji First party had 59.2% of the vote with 804 of the 2,025 polling stations processed, according to official results reported by the Fiji Times newspaper. Its closest rival, the Sodelpa Party, had 28.1%. After casting his ballot, Bainimarama was asked whether he would accept the outcome if he lost. “I’m not going to lose. I will win. You ask that question to the other party,” he said. Then he added, “Of course we will accept the election results. That is what the democratic process is all about.”
New Zealand’s election campaign has been bitter and bizarre, unable to shake off the long shadows cast by an internet mogul and a blogger. Opinion polls suggest Prime Minister John Key’s National Party may cling to power after the real polls close on Saturday night, but it will be close. If Mr Key prevails for the centre-right, he will have overcome allegations of government dirty tricks – based on the hacked emails of burly blogger Cameron Slater, aka Whale Oil, that resulted in Justice Minister Judith Collins being forced to resign from cabinet. And a feud with German giant Kim Dotcom meant Mr Key, 53 and a fellow self-made multimillionaire, had to spend much of this week batting away claims that the nation’s GCSB spy agency is engaged in mass surveillance of its citizens. Mr Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US to face internet piracy charges, hosted an event in Auckland on Monday featuring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (both via video link), as well as US investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald to assert the spying allegations.
United Kingdom: Scottish referendum campaigns make final pitches in last 24 hours before vote | The Guardian
The leaders of the yes and no campaigns are making their final pitches in the Scottish referendum campaign ahead of Thursday’s historic vote, with the first minister Alex Salmond saying Scotland would be the “envy of the world” if it votes to leave the UK. The three latest pollsfrom ICM, Opinium and Survation suggest the no campaign has a slight lead, showing support for independence at about 48% and those backing the union at about 52%. Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign, said the vote would go “right down to the wire”. With just under 24 hours to go before polls open, campaigners will be out in force across Scotland making their final pleas and delivering millions of leaflets in an attempt to swing undecided voters.
United Kingdom: As Scotland Votes on Independence, Shetland Islands Ponder Own Fate | Wall Street Journal
People on this remote North Sea archipelago are following the Scottish independence campaign as intently as the rest of the U.K. Some even want another vote soon after—on their own independence from Scotland. Earlier this year a group of islanders petitioned the Scottish parliament for more referendums after Thursday’s vote on Scottish independence—a request that was denied. But that hasn’t silenced the debate over whether Shetland, along with the neighboring Orkney islands and the Outer Hebrides, should break away from Scotland, either to become independent on their own or to remain in the U.K. To be sure, the breakaway campaign is a fringe one. “I don’t get a sense there is an appetite for full independence,” said Malcolm Bell, a member of Shetland Island council. But, he added, “devolution shouldn’t stop at Edinburgh. We don’t feel any less removed from Edinburgh than London.”