An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday. The I.R.S. has admitted that before the 2012 election it inappropriately delayed approval of tax exemption applications by groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement, but the I.R.S. and its parent agency, the Treasury Department, have said that the errors were not motivated by partisanship. Republican lawmakers, dismissing the Obama administration’s denials, have suggested that the delays were not only politically motivated but also orchestrated by the White House. Some of the most strident comments have come from Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has issued subpoenas to compel testimony from administration officials and held a series of tumultuous hearings on the I.R.S. scandal.
Editorials: Mandatory Voting, Killing Electoral College Would Diversify Electorate | Stephen Wolf/The New Republic
The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, over white police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, brought attention to a curious disparity. While two-thirds of the St. Louis suburb was black, its local government was almost entirely white. One culprit was simple: voter turnout. In the preceding local election, 6 percent of black voters cast ballots, compared to 17 percent of white voters, narrowly yielding a white-majority electorate. The resulting racial disparities on the city council were as predictable as they were dire. Two generations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other Great Society reforms, America’s electoral system still suffers from the legacy of Jim Crow: Our political officials and public policies don’t represent the diversity and interests of the country’s large and growing share of non-white citizens. Improving voter turnout is the most obvious solution to this problem, but doing so will require uncharacteristic boldness from our politicians. One of the biggest structural factors keeping turnout low is that the majority of cities nationwide—Ferguson included—hold elections at times that don’t coincide with federal or state elections. Since non-white voters skip non-presidential elections in higher numbers than white voters, moving local and state elections to the quadrennial presidential cycle would painlessly, efficiently increase turnout and produce a more representative electorate across the ballot. As a bonus, holding fewer elections would save money.
Voting Blogs: You Won’t Believe What Happens When a Partisan Operative Writes About Hand Recounts | Election Academy
I write a lot on this blog about the trouble that litigants and partisans cause for elections officials. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’m trained as a lawyer; because I speak the language of courts, it’s easier to spot how and when litigation (or the threat thereof) is preparing to affect election administration. You can imagine my concern, then, when DailyKos (a well-known Democratic blog) recently had a post by contributor Dante Atkins with the aggressively-clickable headline “You won’t believe what happens in a manual recount.” Normally I resist the siren song of clickability, but a few people I know and trust on Twitter had shared it so I took the plunge. Know what? It’s a terrific piece. Here are the key parts (though it’s worth reading the whole thing):
I’m a relatively seasoned campaign professional, and I’ve been lucky enough (unlucky, perhaps?) to have already been part of two manual recounts in California. And while election and recount laws vary from state to state (hint: they really shouldn’t), the process is instructive, and provides insights into how we could make our entire voting systems better serve the people they’re intended to: the actual voters.
Alabama: One of last vestiges of gutted immigration law, Alabama pushes voters for citizenship proof | AL.com
One of Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s last acts will be to try to implement one of the last provisions of the state’s controversial immigration law that has not already been resolved – a requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register. Under that provision of the 2011 law, known as HB 56, people must show a driver’s license or some other valid form of identification in order to register to vote. But the state never implemented it while lawyers fought over the legality of the law’s broader measures, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration. The federal courts invalidated most of that law, and the state last year reached a permanent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to permanently black enforcement of seven provisions. Bennett announced last week, though, that the state will press ahead with the citizenship requirement now that the U.S. Senate has confirmed nominees to fill long-vacant seats on the Election Assistance Commission. That is the organization that must agree to change the federal voter registration form to comply with the state requirements.
A committee charged with investigating Election Day mishaps began hearing testimony Monday, with employees from the Town and City Clerk’s Office and the Secretary of the State’s Office raising concerns about discrepancies in numbers reported by the city. Ross Garber, one of two attorneys working for the committee, said that in addition to determining what went wrong, the group is looking into whether reports were submitted on time by the city and whether the reports were accurate. “There is a question about the accuracy of the election reports,” Garber said. People were unable to vote at as many as 10 polling places when they opened at 6 a.m. on Election Day because voter registration lists were not delivered on time. Voters had to wait more than an hour at certain locations, and some left without voting, prompting the Democratic Party to seek extended hours.
In the age of Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, Pennsylvania is stuck in the past century when it comes to voter registration. Prospective voters can download the necessary form online, but can’t submit it digitally. Instead, they have to mail it or personally deliver it to their county voter registration office. That’s among the voting procedures some members of the General Assembly want to change. It’s early in the new legislative session, but several proposals to modernize voting protocol are already circulating among state lawmakers. One piece of legislation would provide for electronic voter registration and another would allow citizens to register the same day as an election and then vote, which proponents say could increase turnout. “In this day and age, I do truly believe that we should be doing everything we can to make voting easier and as accessible as possible to all eligible voters,” said state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York, who has joined state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, in sponsoring same-day registration legislation.
A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters. Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year. “This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.” Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks ruled Wednesday that Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen was not a candidate for election to the Senate in the November general election and is therefore not entitled to a recount. The 27-page opinion – which in places reads more like a lesson in English grammar and usage than a legal document – came in response to a motion by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly seeking a writ of mandamus and injunctive relief against the St. Croix District Board of Elections decision to recount Hansen’s vote. The opinion can be read here. Willocks denied Hansen’s motion to dismiss O’Reilly’s motion, granted the writ of mandamus, ordered the Board of Elections to deny Hansen’s petition for a recount, and ordered that any actions taken as a result of the petition for recount be null and void. The decision appears to put an end to the circuitous and convoluted case that had its roots in 2008, when Hansen was convicted on three counts of willful failure to file an income tax return. Under the Revised Organic Act, the federal legislation which provides the legal underpinning of the territory, the conviction made her ineligible to serve in the Legislature.
It cost around $33,000 more to run the vote-by-mail election this year than a similar election in 2010, but Cache County says it’s worth it compared to the cost of replacing 395 voting machines. “At first glance, that actually cost us more to do it that way,” said County Finance Director Cameron Jensen, referring to the mail-in ballots. “The problem, what becomes savings in my mind, is we are at a place with our equipment that we’re not replacing it.” The county set aside $850,000 in replacement funds in the mid-2000s, when they last purchased voting machines. At that time, the machines were paid for by a federal grant, the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The act, created in response to the Bush-Gore recount debacle in the 2000 election, helped pay for a slew of new electronic voting machines across the country and replaced old, unreliable machines. These machines are now over a decade old and need replacing, but there are no federal funds this time. As a result, Jensen said by-mail voting is a better long-term investment for electioneering in Cache County.
Croatia, the European Union’s newest member, is set to vote for a new head of state December 28, with none of the four candidates vying for the largely ceremonial post seems likely to secure an outright victory according to polls. Incumbent Ivo Josipovic, supported by the ruling Social Democrats, is seen as a frontrunner even though the government’s failure to halt economic decline has eroded the party’s popularity. Josipovic has campaigned on a platform proposing constitutional changes, saying that a more decentralized and democratic country is needed to help the economy find a way out its sixth year of recession. “Today we have an entire generation of young people who are no longer concerned with asking whose side one was on in 1941 or in 1991, they are concerned with where to get jobs. I want to learn from them, I want to live with them, and I want to see us giving them a future together. Let’s not forget that we have merely borrowed Croatia from future generations, and it is our obligation to solidify the foundations of the country, and without doing that, we cannot find a way out of the economic crisis,” Josipovic told a rally in Zagreb in December, referring to political divisions in Croatian society over the legacy of World War II and the independence war of the 1990s.
Croatia’s atypical president, Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic, is running for re-election Sunday with an emphasis on the more conventional promise of restoring economic health to the European Union’s newest member. Josipovic, a former law professor and classical music composer, was elected in January 2010 to the largely ceremonial presidential post on vows to fight corruption and help Croatia attain EU membership. When his country finally became the 28th member of the bloc in 2013, Josipovic celebrated by performing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in a televised piano appearance. The 57-year-old, who enjoys a squeaky-clean political reputation, has consistently topped the three other contenders in the race in opinion polls.
In the days after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, was betrayed by a group of his longtime aides, comparisons were made to Judas Iscariot and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, but nothing expressed the depth of the president’s hurt and bewilderment like the fact that the desertion had occurred just after a shared meal of hoppers. As he watched his old allies begin to stage an unexpected campaign last month to block his re-election, Mr. Rajapaksa could not help but dwell bitterly on the hoppers, pancakes made of fermented rice flour that are one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved comfort foods. He praised his new health minister, who replaced the most prominent defector, by saying he was not “someone who eats hoppers in the night and then stabs you in the back in the morning.” Mr. Rajapaksa is a famously sure-footed campaigner, so confident that he scheduled elections for Jan. 8, two years before the end of his second term. But the defections caught him unaware, and he is so jittery that he has begun promising concessions — like constitutional reforms and an investigation into possible war crimes committed during the government’s campaign against northern separatists — should he win a third six-year term.
Sudan will use the electronic voting system for the first time in its electoral history in next April’s elections, the country’s poll commission announced late on Wednesday. The chairman of the National Election Commission (NEC) Dr. Mukhtar Alasam confirmed in a press conference in Khartoum that the electronic voting system will be operated in the cities and urban centres around the country. Last month Namibia became the first country in Africa to hold e-poll, using an electronic device to verify the data of potential voters on an e-voters’ roll. Once potential voters were cleared to vote, they proceeded to a booth and pressed a button on another electronic machine displaying the colours and insignias of the parties taking part in the elections.
Voting Blogs: PCEA Co-Chairs Call on New EAC to Take “Quick Action” on Voting Technology | Election Academy
Last week, I engaged in what my friend and colleague Rick Hasen called “irrational exuberance” regarding the confirmation of a 3-member quorum at the EAC. [I plead “giddy as charged.”] I did note that there was work to be done, however, and already the new commissioners are hearing about what they can and should do once they formally take office. PCEA co-chairs Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer have written letters to the new commissioners laying out some immediate short-term steps they can take to get the nation’s voting technology testing and certification system back up to speed. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Matt Weil – himself a former EAC staffer – has a summary of those letters on the BPC blog:
As New Hampshire braces for another wave of White House hopefuls next year seeking votes in the first-in-the-nation nominating primary, much of the credit for the state’s hold on that position goes to one man: Secretary of State William Gardner. For the past four decades, Gardner has outmaneuvered states including Florida and Nevada to protect the front-runner spot mandated by New Hampshire law – and it has not always been easy. The state has steadily moved forward its primary, originally held in March. It shoe-horned the past two contests into January. Ask Gardner when the 2016 primary, which marks the 100th anniversary of the event, will be held and he smiles, careful not to limit his options. “I have never set the date and then changed it,” said Gardner, 66. “I wait until I feel it’s safe to do it and then I do it.” But the early January primaries of 2008 and 2012 were unpopular with Democratic and Republican officials, who worried that Americans were paying more attention to holiday parties than to candidates barnstorming New Hampshire and Iowa, whose citizens kick off nominating season with caucuses.
With roughly 44 percent of registered voters participating in 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, the impact of changes to North Carolina’s election law on the overall turnout remains unclear. Supporters of the changes – which include a shorter early voting period and the loss of same-day registration – say the turnout shows that claims of “voter suppression” were unfounded. Early voting participation and early turnout among minorities was higher than in 2010. But liberal groups say the turnout would have been even higher had the Republican-dominated legislature rejected the changes. They point to a study by Democracy North Carolina that estimated that 50,000 voters were “silenced” by the new law. That figure was generated from calls to a voting hotline, reports from volunteer poll monitors and a review of past election data. A deluge of ads in the most expensive U.S. Senate race in state history didn’t change turnout much. It barely increased, from 43.3 percent in 2010 to 44.3 percent this year.
Ohio: In a Break From Partisan Rancor, Ohio Moves to Make Elections More Competitive | New York Times
Of 435 House races in November, only a few dozen were considered competitive — a result of decades of drawing district lines for partisan advantage, generally by state legislatures. But in an era of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which many blame for the polarization of state and national politics, Ohio took a step in the opposite direction last week. With the support of both parties, the Ohio House gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to draw voting districts for the General Assembly using a bipartisan process, intended to make elections more competitive. “I think it will be a new day in Ohio,” said Representative Matt Huffman, a Republican who shepherded the plan. While the proposal is aimed narrowly at state legislative districts, it could have an indirect impact on congressional districts because they are drawn by state lawmakers. President Obama carried Ohio, a quintessential swing state, by two percentage points in 2012. Yet Republicans have overwhelming majorities in Columbus, the capital, and a 12-to-4 advantage in congressional seats. “When you’re an outsider looking in, it’s almost shocking,” said Senator Joe Schiavoni, the Democratic leader in the State Senate.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to announce today that he will shrink the time violent felons must wait to seek reinstatement of their voting rights and will remove some offenses from that list. The policy slated to take effect April 21 comes on top of years of work to streamline the process, and aims to make the system easier to understand and to allow more felons to petition the state more quickly. In a series of changes to the state’s restoration of rights process, McAuliffe plans to collapse the application waiting period from five to three years for people convicted of violent felonies and others that require a waiting period, and to remove drug offenses from that list. In Virginia, only the governor can restore civil rights to felons, and attempts over the years to change the Virginia Constitution to allow for automatic restoration have failed.
Republicans in Wisconsin have been out to get the Government Accountability Board for a while now — and some of them believe a recent audit of the state’s unique ethics and elections agency may provide an opening. Let’s hope not. The non-partisan GAB, run by retired judges, remains the best model for supervising partisan elections and ethical behavior. The idea of handing those tasks back to the very partisans being supervised, as was the case in the past, is ridiculous. That said, the report by the Legislative Audit Bureau should be taken seriously by the GAB and its longtime executive Kevin Kennedy. The report, released last week, found that officials sometimes waited years to review whether felons had voted and did not promptly audit electronic voting equipment. The board also failed to impose late fees on candidates and political groups that hadn’t file timely campaign finance reports. Those lapses should be corrected. But here’s something else that should be corrected — the GAB’s budget. It’s been squeezed in each of the last three budgets.
An 88-year-old veteran of Tunisia’s political establishment won the country’s presidency, according to official results issued Monday, capping a four-year-long democratic transition. Beji Caid Essebsi campaigned on restoring the “prestige of the state” and a return to stability from the years of turmoil that followed this North African country’s 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that kicked off the regional pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring. It is a measure of the country’s yearning for a return to stability after four hard years that a revolution of the youth calling for change and social justice ends up electing a symbol of the old regime.
There’s a ritual to the way most people vote in most UK elections – parliamentary, local, European and in referendums – which has remained largely unchanged for many decades. On election day, traditionally a Thursday, voters go to their local polling station and cast their ballots by marking crosses in boxes with a pen or pencil and paper. The ballots are then counted by hand after the polls close. The digital revolution, which has swept through so many areas of modern life, has barely touched the system by which we elect our democratic representatives. Moves to modernise it with automated systems have so far met with high levels of resistance amid concerns over security and fraud. … Concern over security is the main reason the UK government has so far resisted any significant moves towards e-voting. Cabinet Office Minister Sam Gyimah told the political and constitutional affairs committee there were “more downsides than upsides” to the technology.