The Supreme Court on Wednesday wrestled with the role race may play in drawing legislative maps. The issue was an old one, but the case had a novel twist: Wednesday’s challenge came from black and Democratic lawmakers in Alabama who said the state Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts. Justice Antonin Scalia said things have changed in how voting rights cases are litigated. “You realize, I assume, that you’re making the argument that the opponents of black plaintiffs used to make here,” he told Richard Pildes, a lawyer for one set of challengers. The problem with the Alabama districts, Mr. Pildes said, was that the Republican-controlled Legislature had used “rigid racial quotas” in drawing district lines. “Racial quotas in the context of districting are a dangerous business,” he said. “They can be a way of giving minorities faced with racially polarized voting a fair opportunity to elect, but they can also be a way of unnecessarily packing voters by race in ways that further polarize and isolate us by race.”
Election watchdog groups are worried about the role electronically submitted ballots in Alaska might play in the state’s two tight federal elections. Ballots returned online are vulnerable to cyberattacks and lack a proper paper trail, said government accountability advocate Common Cause and election oversight group Verified Voting. Alaska’s gubernatorial and Senate races have both dragged on long after Election Day, with opponents split by narrow margins. Early Wednesday, The Associated Press declared former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) the winner over incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), even though 30,000 ballots remain uncounted. Begich has yet to concede. Former Valdez, Alaska, Mayor Bill Walker (I) maintains a thin lead over incumbent Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R), although the race remains too close to call. If either race “is to be determined by ballots sent over the Internet, its legitimacy is in doubt,” said Verified Voting President Pamela Smith.
At 4 a.m. on Election Day, a bleary-eyed group of poll workers walked into the Hartford town and city clerk’s office to check the last of more than 1,200 absentee voters off the voter registration lists. The task was routine; the time and day troublesome. The job, crucial to ensuring that absentee voters couldn’t show up Tuesday at city polling places and vote again, should have been mostly finished days earlier, city and state officials said. The last-minute scramble, completed less than an hour before polls were to open, was one in a series of lapses that led to some polling places not having registration lists when voting was scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. As a result of the failure, voters were turned away, a judge ordered the extension of hours at two polling places and the state’s chief election official filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Interviews show that the problems were widespread.
The Supreme Court appeared divided Wednesday over whether Alabama can draw its election map with predominantly black legislative districts that effectively limit racially diverse areas where Democrats can compete. The case could have implications for redistricting across the country, but particularly in the South, where racially polarized voting has produced legislative majorities of white Republicans and significant numbers of black Democrats, but left little room for white Democrats, whose numbers have dwindled in recent decades. It is the court’s first major review of Voting Rights Act requirements since last year’s 5-4 decision scaled back federal enforcement of the 1965 law. Following the 2010 census, the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature resolved to maintain black supermajorities in a handful of districts, over objections from Democrats who believed having racially diverse districts could help white Democrats hold seats.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared unsure how to resolve a challenge to a state legislature redistricting plan in Alabama that packed black voters into certain districts in a way that critics say diminishes their influence at the polls. The nine justices heard an 70-minute oral argument on two cases brought by the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus against the redistricting by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2012. The case centers on the practice known as gerrymandering in which election districts are drawn in a way to provide one party an advantage in as many districts as possible while consolidating the other party’s voters into as few as possible. Democrats say Alabama, a state with a past history of erecting hurdles for black voters, violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law by concentrating black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, into a small number of districts.
Editorials: Argument analysis: Hitting the “sweet spot” on race, party, and redistricting? | Richard Hasen/SCOTUSblog
By the end of Wednesday’s oral argument in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, it was not clear whether the state of Alabama or challengers to its state redistricting plan would be likely to win the racial gerrymandering claim currently before the Supreme Court. Nor was it clear how the Court would separate permissible partisan gerrymanders from impermissible racial gerrymanders. But the argument left little doubt that, one way or another and sooner or later, Alabama is likely to have a legislative districting plan which helps the state’s Republican legislators and minimizes the voting power of the state’s Democrats and African Americans. The legal landscape and factual background of this case are exceedingly complex and laid out more fully in this argument preview. The case concerns a challenge to state legislative districts drawn by the Alabama Legislature after the 2010 census. The legislature, newly controlled by Republicans, drew a redistricting plan that contained the same number of majority-minority Senate districts and one additional majority-minority House district compared to the 1990s plan drawn by a court and the 2000s plan drawn by a Democratic legislature. Because of population shifts and declines, as well as the composition of the original 2001 districts, the African-American districts were the most underpopulated of all the districts, meaning that many voters had to be shifted into these districts to comply with “one person, one vote” requirements.
The Supreme Court seemed divided Wednesday over and perhaps even stumped by a request that Alabama redo its state legislative redistricting plan that challengers said was drawn with too much emphasis on the race of voters. The challenge was brought by black officeholders and Democrats who argued that the state’s Republican leadership packed minority voters into districts that allowed the election of African American officials but reduced their influence elsewhere. The court’s jurisprudence on when race can be used in drawing legislative districts, however, is complex and at times contradictory. And more than one justice pointed out during oral arguments that minority voters used to come to the court to demand that legislatures specifically use race in order to ensure that blacks and Hispanics be represented in government.
Retired Col. Martha E. McSally, a Republican, retained a small lead over Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., Wednesday, as initial ballot-counting ended in the 2nd District. McSally leads Barber by 161 votes, according to a local affiliate. As a result, the race will automatically go into a recount because it is within a 200-vote margin mandated by Arizona law. The Associated Press has not yet called the race in McSally’s favor, but the Republican claimed victory on Wednesday night. “All ballots are now counted and the voters have made their choice,” McSally said in a statement. “After nearly three years, some twenty million dollars in ads, and two campaigns, it’s time to come together. We are united in our love for Southern Arizona.” “I thank Congressman Barber for being willing to stand up and serve as he has,” she added. “While we still have a recount to go, we expect similar results and will provide the necessary oversight to ensure accurate results.” The Barber camp did not concede.
Connecticut: Merrill Wants Election Reforms, But Says ‘Political Will’ May Be Lacking | Hartford Courant
Right now, there’s no way to remove a registrar of voters who messes up an election. There’s no way to force registrars to get training, and no way for the state to take over a persistently dysfunctional local election system. After yet another troubled election, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Wednesday she expects to ask the legislature for reforms that could solve those issues. Merrill said she also wants state funding for technological improvements that could help reduce the chance of error in what she considers “an archaic system” for keeping track of who has voted and reporting election results. The biggest question surrounding any significant reform, Merrill said, is whether “there is the political will” in the General Assembly and the governor’s office to act. “I don’t think it’s politically impossible,” Merrill said, “but it is difficult … we’re talking about vested interests here.”
Eligible voters in Iowa had the opportunity to exercise a privilege of democracy when the polls opened on Election Day, Nov. 4. Some of them chose not to participate, but thousands of others were denied the right to participate by a disputed provision in the Iowa Constitution. That provision excludes otherwise eligible voters who have been convicted of “any infamous crime,” which has generally been interpreted to mean felonies. Which also means that literally tens of thousands of people who have served their time and paid their debt to society are denied one of the fundamental rights of citizenship in a democracy. The latest effort to end this denial of a fundamental right came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa three days after the election. The lawsuit on behalf of a woman with a felony record from a drug conviction seeks have her voting rights restored by a Polk County District Court judge. She argues that her criminal conviction does not meet the definition of an “infamous” crime. Beyond that, the lawsuit asks the district court to specifically define which felonies fall under the broad definition of infamous crimes for voting rights purposes.
Yet another Republican-controlled state is looking to impose a voter ID law just in time for the 2016 elections. GOP state lawmakers in Nevada are readying ID bills for early next year, Secretary of State-Elect Barbara Cegavske told msnbc in an interview. Cegavske said she knew of two separate bills that might end up being merged together. “They’re writing them now,” said Cegavske, a Republican and a supporter of voter ID. “It just depends on how soon they get them in.” Last week, Republicans took full control of state government for the first time since 1929, meaning a voter ID bill would likely have a strong chance of passing. Governor Brian Sandoval has said in the past he supports voter ID. The GOP takeover also has raised fears of a broader rightward shift for the state, on everything from immigration to Stand Your Ground laws.
North Carolina Republicans cheered the come-from-behind victory of their U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis, but they’ve been relatively silent about their overwhelming success in the state’s congressional districts. Perhaps they’re sheepish about how they arranged the big win. They should be. Republicans won the General Assembly in 2010 and with it the right to redraw the state’s election districts. They, like the Democrats before them, drew the lines to make a majority of districts tilt in their favor. But they overdid it. The results from the 2014 general election look more like an indictment of Republican manipulation of the election process than an endorsement of Republican policies. More than 2.7 million votes were cast in the Senate race, with Tillis beating U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan by fewer than 47,000 votes, or less than 2 percent of the vote. That statewide result would suggest an almost even split between Republicans and Democrats, but the political competition evaporates in the congressional districts.
Vermont: Milne won’t seek recount in Shumlin win, but contest could go to the Legislature | Associated Press
While official election results released Wednesday confirm that Gov. Peter Shumlin won a plurality in last week’s election, the Democrat is hoping to hold on to the office in January when legislators could decide the race. Under the Vermont constitution, if no candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer wins more than 50 percent of the vote, lawmakers choose the winner when they begin their new session. Their longstanding tradition has been to support the plurality winner. Republican challenger Scott Milne said Wednesday he won’t ask for a recount, but could ask the Legislature to reverse the results in January. “I do not believe that a recount is the best way to spend taxpayer dollars,” Milne said in a statement, but added that he’ll make an announcement next week “regarding the Legislature’s constitutional duty in January.” Shumlin said he hopes the tradition holds.
The Council of Representatives in Bahrain has decided to exclude three people with dual Bahraini and Saudi citizenship from running for seats on the body in the forthcoming elections. The 40-member council is the lower house of the Bahraini Parliament and the main legislative body. The elections take place on Nov. 22. The body reportedly said recently that the three people who were rejected first had Saudi citizenship and then later acquired their Bahraini citizenship, which disqualifies them from standing as candidates under provisions of the country’s constitution. These provisions apply to all people who have citizenship of other foreign states, it said.
More people are calling for the implementation of an electronic voting system (e-voting) in next year’s concurrent regional elections. The Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) said on Wednesday that holding electronic-based elections (e-elections) was actually feasible and that they could begin as soon as next year. “If the General Elections Commission [KPU] gives the green light, e-elections can start [in 2015],” BPPT researcher and former chief Marzan Aziz Iskandar said during a discussion on e-voting at the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta. He said that the BPPT had conducted research on the feasibility of e-elections. “The research and the development [of the technology for e-elections] is complete and the needed equipment is available,” Marzan said. He said that the technology had been demonstrated and tested during some gubernatorial elections. “We have already used the technology in some village head elections,” said Marzan.
In a life spanning colonial rule, war, autocracy and revolution, Tunis resident Halima never saw a reason to vote. A chance meeting in a souk earlier this month gave her one. She was introduced to Kalthoum Kannou, who has three children, a long marriage to a doctor, a 25-year career as a judge and an ambition to be the first female president of Tunisia. “I’ll go to the polling station early in the morning,” said Halima, 91, who gave only her first name, wrapped in a cloak and headscarf to ward off the chill in the open-air market. “This woman who was able to succeed at home and at work will also be able to help govern Tunisia.”
Uruguay, a country whose name has often been synonymous with obscurity, will host its runoff presidential election on November 30, with incumbent President José Mujica vacating his seat to one of two candidates: Tabaré Vázquez or Luis Lacalle Pou. Voting in one of its closest elections since the establishment of its current regime, Uruguay is facing a fork in the road: the Broad Front Party’s Vázquez and the continuation of a state-guided economy, or the National Party’s Lacalle Pou and the adoption of a more conservative, smaller government that will further open the country up to international free trade. Preliminary polling data has the two rivals locked in a dead heat for the runoff election. Lacalle Pou is expected to gain the support of the right-wing Colorado Party, which had backed Pedro Bordaberry in the first round of presidential voting. To further complicate political predictions, this election includes approximately 250,000 new, highly unpredictable young voters who do not depend on print media or the radio, the dominant news mediums in Uruguay, instead relying on the Internet as their main source of news. As a result, gauging their political preferences is proving difficult in the weeks leading up to the runoff.