Voters in Florida waited far longer than those in other states to cast their votes in the 2012 election, hampered by long ballots and cutbacks in early voting options, according to a new report by congressional auditors. Voters in the state stood in line more than 34 minutes on average, significantly longer than ballot-casters did in any other state reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog. The shortest waits? Alaska, at just 1.4 minutes. Three others states had wait times about 25 or more minutes: Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. But most of the others fell somewhere between five minutes and 20 minutes, on average. In Florida, the GAO estimated, 16 percent of voters waited 61 minutes or more to cast their ballots – tops among the states surveyed. “People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement.
With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a challenge by Arizona’s legislature to a voter-approved plan that stripped state lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in an bid to remove partisan politics from the process. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature is objecting to a 2000 ballot initiative endorsed by the state’s voters that set up an independent commission to work out the U.S. House of Representatives districts in Arizona. The legislature contends that the amendment to the state constitution violated a provision of the U.S. Constitution that requires state legislatures to set congressional district boundaries.
An effort to expand California’s Voting Rights Act to allow claims of racial discrimination in the configuration of election districts has been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation, SB1365 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), was passed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that weakened the federal Voting Rights Act. That law had required state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination — including Monterey, Yuba, Kings and Merced counties in California — to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes in their voting rules. California’s Voting Rights Act, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, allows minority groups to challenge “at-large” elections. All candidates in at-large elections compete for votes in an entire city, county or special district, increasing the likelihood of control by a white majority that votes cohesively. Suits filed under the law have prompted more than 100 local governments and agencies to switch to district elections, with a better chance of minority representation.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether candidates for judgeships have a constitutional right to solicit campaign contributions, agreeing to hear a case that tests the balance between free speech and judicial integrity. The justices today said they will hear an appeal from Lanell Williams-Yulee, a former Florida state judicial candidate who was disciplined after signing a mass-mail fundraising letter. The case will have ramifications across the country. At least 38 states have judicial elections in some form, and 30 of those states ban candidates from making personal solicitations. Spending on state judicial elections has soared in recent years, topping $56 million in the 2011-12 election cycle, according to a study by three groups, including Justice at Stake, a Washington organization that works to protect the courts from political pressure.
North Carolina: 4th Circuit Court of Appeals hands NAACP partial victory on voter ID law | Associated Press
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a federal district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction on some parts of North Carolina’s controversial new voter ID law. The higher court will delay elimination of same-day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots. “The court’s order safeguards the vote for tens of thousands of North Carolinians. It means they will continue to be able to use same-day registration, just as they have during the last three federal elections,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement.
Last year, North Carolina passed the most sweeping voting restrictions since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Civil rights groups like the North Carolina NAACP and ACLU asked the courts for an injunction against three major parts of the law before the midterms—a reduction in early voting by a week, the elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period and a prohibition on counting ballots accidentally cast in the wrong precinct. In early August, District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder denied the injunction, saying the plaintiffs had not proven “irreparable harm.” Two of three judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled parts of Schroeder’s ruling today, reinstating same-day registration and the counting of out-of-precinct ballots for 2014. In not-so-good news for voting rights, the appeals court also upheld: “(i) the reduction of early-voting days; (ii) the expansion of allowable voter challengers; (iii) the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the polls open an additional hour on Election Day in ‘extraordinary circumstances’; (iv) the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen years old by the next general election; and (v) the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements to go into effect in 2016.”
Wisconsin: U.S. Supreme Court is asked to block Wisconsin’s voter ID law | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Opponents of Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement for voters took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, seeking an emergency halt to the state’s implementation of the law ahead of the fast approaching Nov. 4 election. … In their petition, voter ID opponents told the Supreme Court that there’s not enough time to properly implement the law ahead of the tight election between GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, which is five weeks away. On Sept. 12, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the law could be put in place for the election while a lawsuit over the requirement grinds on, leaving state officials and local election clerks sprinting to put the law in place. “Thousands of Wisconsin voters stand to be disenfranchised by this law going into effect so close to the election. Hundreds of absentee ballots have already been cast, and the appeals court’s order is fueling voter confusion and election chaos. Eleventh-hour changes in election rules have traditionally been disfavored precisely because the risk of disruption is simply too high,” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the voters suing the state.
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has split 5-5 on whether to restore the injunction blocking Wisconsin’s voter ID law for this election. Since the full court deadlocked, the three-judge panel’s decision to stay the injunction — or let the ID law go into effect — will stand, absent intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court (which so far has not been sought). There is an 11th seat for an active judge on the court, but that tie-breaking seat has remained vacant since January 2010. Following the 5-5 vote, the panel issued an opinion explaining its reasons for denying the request for rehearing and voting against the full court’s review, and the five judges who voted for continuing to block the ID law for this election filed a dissent. Both sides argued about the meaning of a 2006 Supreme Court opinion, Purcell v. Gonzalez. In Purcell, a district court had allowed Arizona to implement its new voter ID law, but with weeks left before the election, the Ninth Circuit issued an emergency stay, blocking the law pending its final decision. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit, finding that court orders changing the status quo so close to an election risk voter confusion and suppress participation. With the election mere weeks away and thousands of absentee ballots already mailed without ID instructions, hundreds of which have been returned without ID, the dissenting Seventh Circuit judges reasonably think Purcell requires blocking the law for this election (whatever the ultimate decision on the ID law’s legality).
Financial markets in the developed world do not seem to care. For the most part, they have shrugged off chaos in the Middle East, Russian incursions into Ukraine and democracy protests in Hong Kong. In the emerging world, however, political events can still move markets big time. This year the Indian and Indonesian stock markets have risen more than 20 per cent thanks to the electoral victory of more market-friendly governments. A similar pattern is taking shape in Brazil, only in reverse. Over the summer local markets soared on hopes the opposition would unseat Dilma Rousseff of the governing Workers party at the presidential election, which kicks off on Sunday. But this week opinion polls showed President Rousseff widening her lead, dashing hopes of an end to another four years of her interventionist policies. Investor gloom is now such that Brazil’s currency fell more last month than Russia’s rouble.
Latvians look likely to back their hawkish centre-right ruling coalition in a parliamentary election on Saturday amid increased tensions with giant neighbor Russia, Riga’s communist-era ruler, over the Ukraine crisis. Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma has taken a tough stance towards Moscow over its policies in Ukraine, boosting defense spending and joining Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania in pressing for a bigger NATO presence in their region. Among her main opponents in the election is the traditionally pro-Moscow Concord party, which draws support from the ethnic Russians who make up about a quarter of Latvia’s two million-strong population. “I think that most likely we will have the same centre-right coalition as we see now. And the main reason is Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” said Andis Kudors, executive director of the Center for East European Policy Studies. “Latvian parties will have a hard time convincing voters why they would go (into a coalition) with a Concord party which does not condemn Russia’s aggression enough.”
On Sept. 14, Russia held a spate of local elections. Thirty of 85 Russian regions held gubernatorial elections, residents of Crimea elected a new regional legislature, and Muscovites voted in municipal elections. These elections are interesting because they provide a bellwether for current protest sentiment levels and perhaps even an early preview of parliamentary elections that are due to take place in 2016. Furthermore, this is also the first time that Crimea has voted as part of Russia since being annexed in March. Gubernatorial elections were reinstated in 2012 as a major concession to a mass protest movement that for a time sent tremors through Russia’s political establishment in 2011-2012 and seemed to threaten the very stability of Vladimir Putin’s regime. The current round of elections confirms once again that the level of protest sentiment remains low across Russia and that the federal government is able to keep a firm lid on inter-elite conflict in the provinces, which back in the 1990s threatened the country’s territorial integrity. First, local elections failed to generate much public interest or discussion even in the country’s capital where many residents pay close attention to politics. Turnout was low—rarely exceeding 40 percent—and candidates nominated by the ruling United Russia party won in 28 of the 30 provinces that held gubernatorial elections (an independent won in Kirov oblast and a Communist in Orlov). Notably, incumbents won in all 30 provinces, and all of them won in the first round with levels of voter support ranging from 50.6 percent in Altai to Soviet-style 91.3 percent in Samara oblast. In other words, government candidates ran almost unopposed; all of them had been endorsed by president Putin personally shortly in the run up to the election.