The ballots are printed, election workers trained and voting locations scouted. But with just a month to go before Election Day, the rules under which the midterms will be conducted remain in flux in four key states. The outcomes of legal challenges could determine just who is eligible to vote on Election Day — and, in states where Senate and gubernatorial races are nail-bitingly close, just who wins when the votes are counted. In Wisconsin, voting rights advocates have appealed to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, seeking an injunction to halt the state’s voter identification measure. A federal district court in Texas is weighing whether to block a voter identification law after hearing arguments last week. Justices on the Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over the constitutionality of a similar law. And North Carolina officials are seeking an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the state must allow eligible residents to register and vote on the same day, and to cast provisional ballots if they show up at the wrong precinct.
One federal judge has allowed a voter ID law to take effect in Wisconsin. Another is now contemplating whether to do the same in Texas. Defenders of these laws, which exist in some form in 34 states, insist that requiring people to show government-issued identification at the polls will reduce fraud—and that it will do so without imposing unfair burdens or discouraging people from voting. In North Carolina, for example, Republican Governor Pat McCrory wrote an op-ed boasting that the measures fight fraud “at no cost” to voters. It’s not surprising that McCrory and like-minded conservatives make such arguments. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has steadily weakened the Voting Rights Act and related legislation, which for generations federal official used to make sure minority voters had equal voice in the political process. But in 2008, when the Court approved Voter ID laws, the Court left open the possibility of new challenges if plaintiffs can demonstrate the laws impose a burden on would-be voters. There are now good reasons to think the laws do exactly that.
In the last decade, 34 states—including nearly a dozen since 2011—have enacted new or stricter voter-identification laws. Critics say the requirements have prevented a significant number of people from voting, but research indicates turnout in recent years has been strong. It’s possible both claims are true. The work of Michael McDonald , a political-science professor at the University of Florida and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, shows that far from being in decline, voter participation in U.S. presidential elections hit a 40-year high of 61.6% in 2008. Though participation decreased some in 2012, it still was 58.2%. The U.S. Census Bureau, whose official figures have dropped sharply since 1960, measures turnout by dividing the number of votes by the number of people who are 18 or older. Mr. McDonald performs the same math, but first he removes noncitizens and ineligible felons from the equation and adds in overseas voters, such as members of the military. His tally, he says, represents eligible voters rather than simply anyone who is old enough to vote.
Few tasks that confront a state legislature are more jealously guarded than the power to draw new lines for election districts for their members and for their state’s members in the U.S. House of Representatives. But few actions of state legislatures may do as much to limit voters’ real choices than the use of those redistricting powers. With a month to go before this year’s congressional election, according to the respected Rothenberg Political Report, a total of 385 of the 435 seats in the House are considered safe for the party that now holds them: 212 Republicans, 173 Democrats. Thus, the Report’s most recent calculation is that only 50 seats are actually “in play.”
If their questions during oral arguments last week are any indication, some Arkansas Supreme Court justices are skeptical about the idea that the state’s voter ID law amounts to merely a verification of registration and not a new requirement for casting a ballot. It’s an encouraging sign to voter ID opponents, but they still may wind up with a verdict that could leave unsettled the law’s constitutionality until after the November election. The 45-minute hearing before the court offered little new in a debate that was being fought long before the Republican-led Legislature approved the voter ID law over the objections of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe last year. The debate primarily boils down to whether requiring Arkansans to show photo ID before casting a ballot violates Arkansas’ constitution by imposing a new qualification to be a voter.
In a sign of how close the contest for control of President Barack Obama’s home state is expected to be, Illinois Republicans are mounting what they call an unprecedented and costly campaign to have ineligible people purged from voter lists and recruit their own election judges before November. With their sights on unseating a Democratic governor and winning back several congressional seats, Republicans have allocated $1 million in Cook County alone — from fundraising and the Republican Governors Association — to examine voter rolls and recruit 5,000 GOP election judges to watch over polling places in Democrat-heavy Chicago. In two counties east of St. Louis, the party is examining obituaries to ensure the deceased are removed from the rolls and tracking down death certificates. They’re looking for addresses where utility service has been cut off to determine if registered voters have moved. And they’re checking to see whether people are voting from addresses for vacant lots or commercial properties. Similar efforts are planned for Cook County. State election officials say they also have noticed an uptick of GOP inquiries about voter registrations in at least two other counties in central Illinois.
Attorneys for North Carolina and voting rights groups battling it out over the state’s 2013 voting law will have yet another hurdle to clear before it becomes clear if that law will or will not be in effect come early November’s elections. Just days after the civil rights organizations challenging the law celebrated an appellate court decision to lessen its impact by allowing same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting during upcoming midterm elections, they now have until 5 p.m. ET Sunday to respond to the state’s request that the U.S. Supreme Court enjoin the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to block parts of the law. In a petition filed late Thursday, North Carolina attorneys say the lower court’s decision, set to be in effect during a statewide general election for the first time this November, “represents a massive and unprecedented last-minute change” before the state’s early voting period starts Oct. 23. “North Carolina is not prepared for the changes and will not have enough time to implement them in an orderly manner,” the petition reads.
For the half-million Oregon voters who reject party labels, the May election ballot can be pretty boring. Shut out of the Republican and Democratic primaries, this growing bloc of voters is left with a handful of nonpartisan local races and a perplexing question: Is it necessary to vote for all these judges running unopposed? This November, Oregon voters decide whether to enliven their primary ballots. Under Measure 90, the state would abandon partisan primaries and adopt a top-two election system similar to what is used in neighboring Washington and California.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board calm in middle of political storm | Wisconsin State Journal
“Umpires have the toughest jobs in baseball. Ever since the birth of boos, they have suffered more abuse than bathroom walls.”
— Ernie Harwell, Hall of Fame announcer
The same is true in politics, especially with a big election looming. Witness all the griping lately over the state Government Accountability Board, which is responsible for overseeing campaigns and voting. We’re in about the sixth or seventh inning of the race for Wisconsin governor, and control of the Legislature is on the line. Unlike baseball umpires, however, the public servants at the GAB have to deal with lawsuits and changing rules while the game is still being played.
Brazil’s presidential race is headed to a second round after President Dilma Rousseff won the most votes on Sunday but failed to clinch the majority she needed to win a second term outright. The leftist Ms. Rousseff will face the more conservative Aécio Neves in a runoff on Oct. 26. The volatile election campaign was marked by big swings in polls and the death of a candidate in an August plane crash. With 94% of the vote counted, Ms. Rousseff had won 41% compared with 34% for Mr. Neves. Marina Silva, an environmentalist, took 21%. Ms. Silva briefly led in polls after joining the race late to replace the Socialist Party’s Eduardo Campos, who died in the crash. “We’re on a roller coaster,” said André Cesar, a political consultant based in the capital, Brasília.
On the eve of Brazil’s presidential election, the Superior Electoral Court has dismissed reports that the country’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to hacking. The court’s president, Jose Dias Toffoli, has acknowledged that hackers make frequent attempts to break into the electronic ballots. But the system was “safe and fraud-proof”, Mr Toffoli said. More than 142 million Brazilians will go to the polls on Sunday. … O Globo newspaper has reported that the voting machines were the target of 200,000 cyber attacks per second two weeks ago.
Bulgaria’s incoming parliament looked set to contain a record eight political parties late Sunday night after voting booths closed, further fragmenting the country’s disparate political scene and creating hurdles to the formation of a coalition government. The established right-leaning party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, or GERB, took about one-third of all votes cast, according to preliminary results of the parliamentary election, falling short of securing an outright majority as several new parties passed the 4% threshold to move into parliament. GERB’s results were more than that of the two nearest parties combined. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which led the coalition government from May 2013 till this August, took about 15.5% of the vote. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, or DPS, a party comprised mostly of Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity that was a junior member in the previous coalition, won some 15% of the vote. If eight political parties do enter the incoming parliament, it would be an all-time high.
The Bulgarians are the EU frontrunners by a number of disheartening metrics: Bulgaria is the poorest EU member state with the lowest GDP, it has the highest perceived corruption and, according to a Gallup poll from 2012, it is home to the unhappiest population in Europe. Currently, there are hardly any signs that the situation could soon improve, says economist Georgi Angelov. “The political crisis has lasted for almost two years now and is ongoing. It has been having a negative impact on the economy and on investments,” Angelov explains. The Russian-Ukraine crisis, flooding this past summer, the growing fiscal deficit and the destabilization of the banks are making the situation worse yet. “The bottom line is: the future government is facing huge challenges,” says Angelov.
Bulgaria: Interior Ministry has ‘information’ on politicians involved in vote-buying | The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry has information about certain politicians involved in vote-buying ahead of the country’s early parliamentary elections on October 5, but lacks sufficient evidence to make statements about it, according to caretaker Interior Minister Yordan Bakalov. Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio on October 1, Bakalov said that this stage the ministry had no concerns about security on election day but said that in terms of the fight against vote-buying “things are little more complex”. He said that the ministry had to work on evidence that could put those involved in vote-buying in court, or at least prevent it happening.
As hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the streets of Hong Kong, challenging China’s Communist Party leaders with calls for greater democracy, much of the world anxiously awaits signs of how Beijing will react to their demands. But the anticipation is perhaps most keenly felt along the periphery of China’s far-flung territory, both inside the country and beyond, where the Chinese government’s authoritarian ways have been most apparent. Among Tibetans and Uighurs, beleaguered ethnic minorities in China’s far west, there is hope that the protests will draw international scrutiny to what they say are Beijing’s broken promises for greater autonomy. The central government’s refusal to even talk with pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, exiled activists add, also highlights a longstanding complaint among many ethnic minority groups in China: the party’s reliance on force over dialogue when dealing with politically delicate matters.
Latvia’s hawkish center ruling coalition has won a clear majority in a general election, results showed on Sunday, after taking a hard line over the actions of Russia, its neighbor and former ruler, in Ukraine. Victory for the center in the Baltic state, which takes over the presidency of the EU at the start of next year, will bring a sigh of relief from many worried that the pro-Russian Concord party might gain power and give Russian President Vladimir Putin a friendly voice in the European Union. “The pro-European, relatively predictable, economically liberal course will continue,” Ivars Ijabs, associate professor of political science from University of Latvia, said.