The Supreme Court sure looks like it’s fine-tuning the rules for the 2014 election. Over the past three weeks, the justices gave Ohio the green light to cut early voting by a week, let North Carolina end same-day voter registration and blocked Wisconsin from implementing a new voter ID law. And the justices could soon face another request, one that asks them to step in to block a Texas voter ID law from being enforced in next month’s elections. Despite the flurry of high court rulings, many legal analysts and some judges say the Supreme Court’s actions are less about broad voting rights principles than telling federal judges to butt out, particularly so close to Election Day. In each of the cases where the justices acted, lower federal courts had issued orders that would have changed the rules for elections just weeks away, potentially causing confusion among voters and election officials.
One could be forgiven for being confused about where things stand with voter ID laws in this fall’s midterm elections. A slew of federal-court orders, some of them still unresolved, have altered voting practices and procedures in a number of states, just weeks before voters go to the polls. Already, election officials and candidates have vowed to make a special effort to educate voters about what exactly awaits them on November 4. But there is a larger concern that has received much less attention: whether state election authorities can prevent confusion among poll workers themselves—the people who have the de-facto last word in determining whether you are eligible to vote. Consider the conflicting rulings that have been issued in the last few days alone. On Monday, a federal appeals court reversed a decision by a district court and put Wisconsin’s stringent voter-ID requirement back into effect—a ruling that would require voters to show state-approved identification when they vote in November. But on Thursday, the Supreme Court put the Wisconsin law on hold again. Meanwhile, in Texas, it remains unclear whether a law requiring photo identification will apply, following a decision by a federal judge, also on Thursday, that is now being appealed by the Texas state attorney general. Nor are these isolated cases. In the past two weeks, the Supreme Court has overturned lower court decisions effecting voting practices in Ohio and North Carolina. In late September, a federal court in Alaska required state election officials to provide bilingual voting materials to Native-American voters. The Kansas Supreme Court, also in late September, ordered the Kansas Secretary of State to remove the Democratic nominee for Senate from the ballot. Litigants in Arkansas await decisions on the state’s contested voter-ID laws.
Arkansas’ highest court on Wednesday struck down a state law that requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, ruling the requirement unconstitutional just days before early voting begins for the Nov. 4 election. In a decision that could have major implications in the state’s election, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that determined the law violated the Arkansas Constitution by adding an additional requirement before voting. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox struck down the law in May but suspended his ruling while it was being appealed. Arkansas is among a handful of states where voter ID requirements have been in limbo. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed new restrictions to take effect in North Carolina but blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID requirement.
Miami-Dade County’s law aimed at curbing absentee-ballot fraud has withstood a first big legal challenge. An appeals court on Wednesday shot down the case of Hialeah’s Sergio “El Tio” Robaina, who claimed the county law was unconstitutional and unfair to elderly Hispanic voters who rely on friends to deliver their absentee ballots. The ruling is a resounding victory for Miami-Dade County, which in 2011 passed the ordinance amid fears of growing election fraud. Under the law, a person can only turn in two absentee ballots other than their own: one belonging to an immediate family member, and another belonging to a voter who has signed a sworn statement designating that person as responsible. The Third District Court of Appeal issued the ruling without a written opinion, which means that Robaina will likely be unable to appeal his case to the Florida Supreme Court.
Georgia: Legal action — and mass voter confusion — looms in Georgia as Election Day nears | The Washington Post
A fight over alleged voter registration fraud in Georgia appears headed to the courts as early voting begins in the state, amid concerns that tens of thousands of Georgians who show up to vote may learn instead that their registration forms were never processed. More than 81,000 new voters were registered during this campaign cycle by the New Georgia Project, which targets unregistered African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Increased minority turnout in November could make the difference for Democrats in the state’s tight gubernatorial race between Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Jason Carter (D) and the increasingly competitive U.S. Senate race between David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D). “When you talk to Republican campaign operatives, yeah, they’re quite worried” about the long term electoral impact of growth in minority turnout, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “They know the Georgia electorate isn’t going to become whiter.”
The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to use its strict voter identification law in the November election. The court’s order, issued just after 5 a.m., was unsigned and contained no reasoning. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent saying the court’s action “risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the dissent. The court’s order was an interim move addressing emergency applications filed Wednesday, and a trial judge’s ruling striking down the law will still be appealed. But the Supreme Court’s action set the ground rules in Texas for the current election. Early voting there starts Monday, which helps explain the court’s rush to issue the order as soon as Justice Ginsburg had finished her dissent. The law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport.
Another day, another ruling about who can vote in elections that are just around the corner. Thirty-four states have some form of requirement that voters show identification to be able to cast their vote at the polls, but several of the laws are facing legal challenges by voters who say the rules are unconstitutional. In October alone, five courts issued rulings over laws in three different states. Their findings may seem incongruous but taken together, they maintain each state’s status quo, at least for now. The most recent ruling involves Arkansas. The state legislature overrode a veto by Governor Mike Beebe in 2013 to pass a law requiring voters to provide photo ID at the polls. Four residents, represented by two nonprofit organizations, challenged the rules. This week the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously upheld a circuit court ruling that the ID requirement violates the state constitution, a ruling that immediately prevented the new requirements from taking effect. Because the challenge was to a state law, this is the final word on the matter unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case. Early voting in Arkansas—without mandatory ID—will start on Monday.
National: Election Day chaos: Control of the Senate may hang on recounts, runoffs, and independent candidates. | Slate
Election Day is coming and it’s likely to stick around. The question of which party will control the Senate may very well not be decided on Nov. 4. Republicans look like they will have a good night, but there are so many close races—at least 10—and so many unpredictable factors in at least four of those races, that with recounts, independent candidates, and runoffs, the process could drag into next year. Here, in rough order of delay, are the possible outcomes and how long they could keep us all bollixed up. Let’s say the GOP wins five of the six seats it needs to regain control of the Senate and then one of the independent candidates in South Dakota or Kansas wins. Whether Democrats or Republicans control the upper chamber would then be determined by which party that independent decided to pick. Greg Orman of Kansas has said he would caucus with the clear majority, but in this case there wouldn’t be one. Given that he ran as a Democrat and Republicans are pounding him pretty hard in his race, he’d probably stick with the Democrats. South Dakota independent Larry Pressler has said he will be “a friend of Obama,” which suggests he’d probably stick with the Democrats too, though he’s the bigger long shot to win at the moment. Still, the leaders of both parties should probably have emergency gift baskets at the ready. The president would no doubt be called in to lobby, or perhaps Democrats would have one of their Hollywood backers make the pitch. On the Republican side, the Koch Center for Cowboy Poetry seems like a natural to round out South Dakota’s tourist offerings. Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell might put together a short list of choice committee assignments to offer.
There are so many things wrong with voter-ID laws — 143 pages’ worth, you might say — that it can be hard to decide where to begin. Still it’s worth trying once again, now that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has, predictably, reversed a federal judge’s takedown of Texas’s strict voter-ID law and allowed it to be enforced for the upcoming election. The law, SB 14, requires prospective voters to show up to the polls with a government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport. On Oct. 9, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued a no-holds-barred ruling that SB 14 violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Voting Rights Act, and the 24th Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes. Judge Ramos found that more than 600,000 Texans, or about 4.5 percent of all registered voters, did not have the required ID; that a disproportionate number of those were poorer and minority voters, who lean Democratic; and that the law itself — passed by a Republican-dominated legislature, as all voter ID laws have been — was intended to make it harder if not impossible for these people to participate in elections.
Arkansas: State Supreme Court Strikes Down Voter ID Law, Saying It Exceeds State Constitution | New York Times
The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter identification law on Wednesday, saying that it would set a new requirement for voting beyond those listed in the state’s Constitution. The ruling came less than three weeks before the Nov. 4 election in a state where there are several close contests this year, including for governor and the United States Senate. A day earlier, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas could enforce its voter identification requirements in the November election. The Arkansas ruling found that the law went beyond the four qualifications for voting in the state Constitution. The Constitution says that a voter must be a United States citizen, a resident of the state, at least 18 years old and lawfully registered to vote in the election. “These four qualifications set forth in our state’s Constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement,” the ruling said.
California: Santa Clara County: Print shop flub compounds ballot error in two school board races | San Jose Mercury News
A flub on sample ballots for two school board races that were mailed to thousands of voters in Santa Clara and Gilroy was compounded when the printing vendor sent out official ballots repeating the error. In addition, most residents in the Santa Clara Unified and Gavilan Community College districts have yet to receive the correct ballots because the vendor didn’t send them out last week with the other vote-by-mail ballots throughout the county. The initial error, which cropped up just over two weeks ago, involved a mistake at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters that resulted in sample ballots going out which omitted some candidates and their statements. “That was a programming error on our part in the election database,” said Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey.
Florida: Voting rights advocates say Florida should lift restrictions on felons voting | Sun Sentinel
Convicts who served their time shouldn’t be shut out of Florida voting booths, according to Palm Beach County voting rights advocates who favor more forgiving voting rules for felons. They want to change a state policy, imposed under Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, that requires 5- to 7-year waiting periods followed by applications to the governor and state Cabinet for felons to try to have their voting rights restored. Most other states restore voting rights automatically when felons complete their sentences. The League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County, the Voting Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the groups gathering in Boca Raton Sunday at a forum to raise awareness about what organizers call a state policy that is “undermining democracy.”
A communications breakdown between state and county elections officials looks like it will cost more than $13,000 in unanticipated expenses that will be picked up by Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott out of her taxpayer-funded budget. The glitch was the result of Kourtney Ann Waldron, a write-in candidate for Florida House in District 53, dropping out of the race last month. Waldron on Sept. 11 notified the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections of her decision to withdraw. But the state did not pass the information on to Scott’s office before ballots were printed a week later. So the local ballots, including absentee ballots, included a line for a write-in candidate in the District 53 race. Scott — who said she found out on Sept. 29 about Waldron’s withdrawal from a voter — decided she needs to inform voters that there no longer is a write-in candidate in the race.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Thursday blasted accusations that his office has failed to help thousands of voters register to vote, saying “we should not have to waste valuable resources on a frivolous lawsuit.” It’s the first time Kemp has commented since the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights filed suit against him and five Georgia counties last week, asking a state judge to make sure more than 55,000 people will be able to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Kemp, however, said his office has now confirmed nearly 40,000 of those voters are active and on the rolls despite accusations to the contrary. He said almost 10,000 more are on the state’s “pending” voter list, meaning those voters have been asked to provide more information to confirm their identities.
In almost any other year, it would be hard to get much attention inside Kansas, let alone nationwide, in the race for Kansas secretary of state, by tradition a no-drama job that administers elections, handles business paperwork and publishes directories on government services. Instead, as Supreme Court rulings reignite a national debate over voter ID and fraud, no candidate more defines this moment of politicized voting rules than Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, who has transformed an obscure office in a place far from the usual political battlegrounds, to become a lightning rod on restrictive voting and illegal immigration. Mr. Kobach has been a major conservative voice on voter issues for years. He has helped states write strict laws requiring proof of citizenship, presided over the “Kansas project” — a national hunt for double registrations — and, most recently, tried to keep a Democratic candidate on the ballot with the potential to help Kansas’ endangered Republican senator, Pat Roberts.
Northern Mariana Islands: Tabulating machines could ‘skip’ Article XII initiative on ballots if ordered by court, says election official | Marianas Variety
Tabulating machines, if so ordered by the federal court, could be programmed to skip House Legislative Initiative 18-1, according to court documents submitted in support of a motion for sequestration of ballots pending appeal of a federal lawsuit challenging Article XII. In his declaration, Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Robert A. Guerrero said, “I have confirmed with ES&S [or Election Systems & Software] that the tabulating machines could be coded in such a manner as to ‘skip’ a certain section of the ballots. The proper code needs to be entered into the tabulating machines before the [election] Commission begins tabulating the ballots. If the court so ordered, the tabulating machines could be programmed to skip Legislative 18-1” on the ballots for the Nov. 4, 2014 elections. On Wednesday, District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said an Oct. 29, 2014 motion hearing will be held, since a decision on the motion for sequestration was needed by Nov. 3, 2014 “in order for any relief the court may grant to be effective.”
The Travis County’s elections division is training 390 early voting workers in preparation for Monday. A major part that training is ensuring everyone is on the same page in regard to the state’s new voter ID law. “Our early voting workers are, for the most part, a very experienced set of workers,” training manager Alexa Buxkemper said. “They do this time and time again. We usually have an 80 percent or higher return rate.” Even with experience, contradicting court decisions can be confusing. That’s why the key for workers is to get up-to-date information.
It’s election season, and we should not be surprised that politicians and political groups moan about the state’s election watchdog. But few are as explicit as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who says the Government Accountability Board should be overhauled and its director ousted. Voters should know where the candidates for governor stand on this issue. There are plenty of ways to improve Wisconsin’s election system, but undermining an independent, nonpartisan overseer is not one of them. GAB staff has been called irresponsible — and unaccountable. But the GAB is working as intended by the Legislature that created it with near-unanimous support in 2007. Many of the same legislators are now beating up on their own creation because it has become inconvenient. While the GAB is insulated from partisan politics and has more power than the State Elections Board it replaced, it is not completely removed from political control. The Legislature controls its budget. The board itself is appointed by the governor, with five of the six members selected by Gov. Scott Walker. If the board thought that the GAB director was incompetent or biased, a simple majority vote could dismiss him. In contrast, removing the director simply because a prominent politician voices displeasure removes any semblance of independence from the position. A quick refresher about the GAB might help clarify things. Although anger is directed at the director, it is the board that makes decisions. Board members are former judges unaffiliated with a political party. A panel of appeals court judges creates a pool of candidates. The governor then nominates individuals from this pool, who then must get two-thirds support from the state Senate. The process guarantees that board members are approved on a bipartisan basis. It’s also helpful to consider some of the complaints launched against the GAB. They reveal a misunderstanding of how the agency is supposed to function.
For about five short minutes in June, everyone sitting around my lunch table in Kabul thought the Afghan government had shut down Facebook. Attempts to load news feeds were met with an abrupt, uninformative “network error” message, so, naturally, two of us jumped on Twitter to break the news. The others, also expatriates, but less swept up in the politics of the moment, continued eating, though no doubt they were somewhat dismayed at the prospect of their window to life back home being shuttered. It was less than a week after millions of Afghans had commuted to polls around the country to vote in a runoff election, the second round in 2014’s historic, if protracted, presidential race. Heralded as the country’s first democratic transition of power, the election process had taken an ugly turn. And social media followed suit. When former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah accused election officials and then-President Hamid Karzai of coordinating ballot stuffing in favor of his opponent, former economic minister Ashraf Ghani, Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with progressively violent and inciteful rhetoric from both sides. Unsurprisingly, the factions largely split along ethnic lines — Pashtuns versus Tajiks — the same antagonists of Afghanistan’s four-year civil war in the 1990s.
It is easy to write off Bosnia as a dysfunctional country hobbled by unnecessary layers of government in which nothing works. In fact, despite an unduly complex system of government that was the price of ending the war in 1995, Bosnia works—but badly. The elections held on October 12th will probably not alter that. Yet to dismiss them as just one more round of political musical chairs would be wrong. Some change may now be in the air. The war left Bosnia divided between the Serb-run Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation, which is dominated by Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats. The Federation is divided into ten cantons. In February it was rocked by rioters demonstrating against their parasitic politicians. In May much of the country was engulfed by floods that caused terrible damage. Bosnia’s infrastructure is run down partly because so much money has been stolen but also because it has to pay for too many levels of government.
Mozambique’s main opposition party Renamo on Thursday claimed victory in the country’s election, rejecting official tallies that appeared to show the ruling Frelimo party on course for a landslide victory. “We are not accepting the results of these elections,” party spokesman Antonio Muchanga said — a move that raises the spectre of post-election violence. “We can categorically say Renamo won these elections,” Muchanga told a news conference. With nearly a quarter of the polling stations reporting on Wednesday’s vote, Frelimo candidate Filipe Nyusi looked set to become the country’s new president, having garnered 63 percent of the vote. Initial tallies showed Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama struggling to win 30 percent of the vote. But amid allegations of ballot tampering and election violence, Renamo — which fought a long civil war against formerly Marxist Frelimo — said the vote should be annulled.