Whenever the Roman Catholic Church chooses a new Pope, one essential element of the drama is the watch over the chimney in the building where the voting takes place. As cardinals’ ballots are burned after each round (to preserve anonymity), chemicals are added to make the smoke either black (signifying an unsuccessful vote) or white (signalling selection of a new Pope). After the white smoke appears, church members and the media await the announcement “Habemus Papam” (“We have a pope”)! That announcement usually sets off celebration as well as seemingly endless speculation about what the new pontiff will mean for the Church and the world at large. I had a similar feeling earlier this week when I heard the news that the Senate had confirmed three members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. There, the white smoke came in the form of an announcement that the nominations had been approved by unanimous consent. Now, for the first time in years, the EAC has a quorum of three Commissioners (if not yet a full complement of four) and can get back to work on a wide range of issues.
The absurdity that has marred the HD 64 contest since last summer continues, with GOP candidate Miriam Steinberg dropping out of the special election GOP primary scheduled for February. That means that Jamie Grant, the former incumbent, will now face (and likely destroy) write-in candidate Daniel Matthews in the special general election contest scheduled for April 21. The contest will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the outcome not in doubt, as no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida. Even if Steinberg had qualified by the noon deadline on Tuesday, she would remain a heavy underdog to Grant, who was first elected to the half-Pinellas/half-Hillsborough district back in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. He defeated Steinberg last month by a 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent margin.
This month, the Illinois General Assembly passed a sweeping voting rights bill that brings our state’s antiquated election system into the 21st century. The landmark legislation means voting will now be a simple, high-integrity process, so all eligible Illinoisans have a voice in our democracy. Yet the bigger story is what the success of SB 172 portends for Illinois’ rising reform movement. The bill never would made it through the legislature without strong support from the diverse, nonpartisan Just Vote coalition, which mobilized people across the state to help move the common-sense election reform package forward. Just Vote represents a unique approach to political reform. In the past, good government groups often fell short because they failed to bring young people and communities of color to the table, or (worse) intentionally excluded them.
Iowa: Voter rights groups seek changes to proposed online voting registration rule | Associated Press
A proposed rule allowing Iowa residents to register to vote online would exclude anyone without a driver’s license or photo ID and must be fixed, voting rights advocates said Wednesday. The Iowa Voter Registration Commission began drafting a new rule in August that would allow prospective voters to register on the internet in addition to the paper registration process. “This is a great step that benefits 94 percent of the population of Iowa with minimal cost or any strains on the current system,” Charlie Smithson, a commission member, said Wednesday. The deadline for public comment was set for the day before Election Day in early November, prompting voting rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa to say the change was being pushed through too fast. They asked for a public hearing, which will be Dec. 30.
Six weeks after she lost her own bid for the U-S Senate, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (R-Kentucky) tells WHAS11 if U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) tries to appear on the same ballot for both Senate and President in 2016, she will challenge him in court. “The law is clear,” Grimes said. “You can’t be on the ballot twice for two offices.” Kentucky Democrats are not cooperating as Paul considers mounting simultaneous campaigns for Senate and President. Democrats maintained control of the Kentucky House in last month’s election, a roadblock to legislation favored by the Republican Senate to remove the prohibition. House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) declined to consider a Senate bill to that effect earlier this year.
A total of $28 million is included in the state budget to provide new voting machines to precincts across Virginia, so all polling places will have uniform, state-of-the-art equipment for the 2015 November elections, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Monday. On Election Day 2014, 49 Virginia localities reported voting equipment issues, and currently Virginia precincts are using a wide variety of machines that are often outdated and lack paper trails. McAuliffe also will include in his budget $30,000 per fiscal year to update the Department of Elections’ website to ensure reliable reporting for future elections.
The state’s Government Accountability Board is being targeted by the top leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has said the board is “dysfunctional, unresponsive and totally undemocratic” and Executive Director Kevin Kennedy is an “embarrassment.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said of the board, “I just don’t think they’re an independent voice at all.” Both Vos and Fitzgerald said they want the Legislature to make changes to the GAB. And both said they’d consider returning to having the board members appointed by political parties. “If we can create a system that has partisan makeup where decisions can be made, of course I’m open to that,” Vos said. Fitzgerald said a partisan-appointed board “seems to strike more of a balance than what we’re up against now.”
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ’s candidate for the presidency failed to win enough support in the first round of parliamentary voting on Wednesday, a move that could force the country into snap elections. Lawmakers couldn’t gather the two-thirds needed to elect former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas as the next president, with 160 members of the chamber backing the candidate, short of the needed 200. A present—or neutral—vote was cast by 135 lawmakers, while five lawmakers were absent. Although few officials in Mr. Samaras’s New Democracy party said they expected Mr. Dimas to be elected on Wednesday, his support came in at the bottom end of expectations. Informal estimates by government officials and analysts had suggested the government would garner between 160 and 165 votes.
Despite longstanding promises that the Irish government would this week debate and decide on the question of a presidential vote for Irish living abroad, they have failed to do so. Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh criticized the government for failing the Irish diaspora again, by not following up on their commitment to implement the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation to hold a referendum on voting rights in Presidential elections for Irish citizens abroad.
Editorials: The Uniquely Awful Role of Sheldon Adelson in the Israeli Election | Gershom Gorenberg/American Prospect
As the contest for who will lead the nation takes shape, the classic right-wing charge of pervasive, hostile media bias was splashed in giant tabloid type across the front page of the daily Israel Hayom last Friday. The headline read: “Netanyahu: The Media is Campaigning to Bring the Left to Power.” The Friday edition of an Israeli paper is the equivalent of a thick Sunday edition in America; print newspapers are still very popular in Israel, and Israel Hayom is one of the two most popular papers. You might just sense a contradiction here: The most-read headline of the week in one of the country’s most influential news sources carried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that the media is deliberately trying to take power from him and give it to the left. The irony certainly wasn’t intentional. The undeclared purpose of Israel Hayom is to promote Bibi Netanyahu. “Newspaper” in Hebrew is iton; Israel Hayom has gained the nickname Bibiton. A vast army of people wearing red overalls hand it out for free everyday, everywhere in Israel. For the newspaper’s owner, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, making money isn’t the goal.
The 2015 general election campaign officially begins on Friday, meaning candidates’ spending will be subject to strict rules and limits. The “long campaign” runs from 19 December until Parliament’s dissolution and introduces the first limits on individual spending in constituencies. From 30 March, the “short” campaign period will be triggered, and even tighter restrictions will apply. Election spending is regulated by the watchdog, the Electoral Commission. They apply to anyone who wants to become a candidate at a UK parliamentary election, which is to be held on 7 May 2015.
The last-minute flurry of action by the Senate Tuesday included filling three of four seats on the federal Election Assistance Commission, which had languished without commissioners since 2010 — or two election cycles, to put it in Washington terms. The Senate confirmed Thomas Hicks, a former election law counsel on Capitol Hill, Matthew Masterson of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, and Christy McCormick, a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, to the commission. A fourth nominee, Matthew Butler, former CEO of liberal media watchdog Media Matters, has yet to be confirmed. House Republicans have tried to shut down the EAC, and Senate Republicans resisted nominating commissioners. But reviving the commission was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan panel formed by Obama to look into long voting lines during the 2012 election. For one thing, the Election Assistance Commission is in charge of setting federal standards for voting systems, which haven’t been updated since 2005.
I recently received an email from John Wack regarding the new IEEE draft standard for election data – and it’s worth sharing key parts of it with you:
I’m writing [about] the IEEE 1622.2 election results reporting draft standard. I’m the chair of the sponsoring committee in IEEE and editor of the 1622.2 draft standard, and we’ve had significant input/buy-in into the standard from several of the manufacturers, a number of election officials including the Ohio SoS (who published November results in the 1622.2 format), and some industry groups such as the Associated Press. I’ve enjoyed working closely with Kim Brace [of Election Data Services, Inc.] especially, who was very helpful in making this not only a format for election results reporting but also a format for election management system import/export in general. Sarah Whitt from Wisconsin[‘s Government Accountability Board] chairs the 1622.2 working group and has been very helpful in attracting other election officials to the IEEE.
The closest race of the 2014 midterm election cycle has finally been decided, with Republican Martha McSally defeating Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) after a protracted recount. In a statement, McSally thanked Barber for his service and said she’d seek his input on issues going forward. “There’s no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race,” she said. “After what’s been a long campaign season, it’s time to come together and heal our community. That’s why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe.” The victory for McSally, a former combat pilot in the U.S. Air Force, cements a dominant cycle for Republicans in which they picked up 13 seats in the House and gained a 247 to 188 advantage over Democrats. It’s their largest majority in the House since World War II. “Martha McSally has broken barriers her entire life, and I know she will continue to fight for the issues she is passionate about in Washington. From growing jobs to securing our border, Martha will be an effective and common-sense representative for Southern Arizona,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) said in a statement.
Florida: New legislation could allow former felons to vote in federal elections | Capitol News Service
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have served time in prison are unable to vote because of what some are calling the most restrictive rights restoration policy in the nation. But multiple efforts are underway to change the system. The restoration of civil rights includes the right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office. It does not included the right to own a firearm. Legislation pending in Congress could require the state to allow former felons to vote in federal elections. About 50 black-shirted protesters showed up at the quarterly Clemency Board meeting, angry over what some call the most restrictive clemency system in the nation. Over the course of four years, those getting their rights back has fallen from 30,000 to under 1,000 last year. Applicants must wait at least five years before even applying. And a single speeding ticket can disqualify someone.