During the Wednesday afternoon session of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., pressed the attorney general nominee over her position on voting laws—and at one point tried to show she’d contradicted herself. Tillis, elected to the Senate in November, asked Lynch about the sweeping voting bill North Carolina’s governor signed into law in August 2013 while Tillis was speaker of the House in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. “It’s not something that I’m intimately familiar with,” Lynch, born in Greensboro, N.C., responded. “I look forward to learning more about it should I be confirmed, and I believe the matter will proceed to court and we will await the results there.” Tillis then focused attention to remarks Lynch delivered on a Martin Luther King Day celebration in January 2014. At the time, Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, had more pointed comments about her native state’s new voter laws. “Fifty years after the march on Washington, 50 years after the civil rights movement, we stand in this country at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. King fought for,” Lynch said in comments available on video. “People try and take over the Statehouse and reverse the goals that have been made in voting in this country.”
This week may be remembered as the birth of the Koch Party. A usurper of the GOP and a rival to Democrats, the network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch pledged Monday to spend $889 million on the 2016 election. Financially, the tax-exempt Koch coalition could be as big as either of the two major parties, spending more than the combined 2004 campaign budgets of President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry. Koch operatives will poll, track, and target voters—mirroring the activities of a traditional political party. Except for one thing: dark money. The Democratic and Republican parties are required by law to disclose their donors. Not so for outside groups. While the Koch alliance disclosed some of its contributors last year, most of its money comes from anonymous sources. Secrecy breeds distrust, if not corruption, as voters are left to guess what politicians do to repay their donors.
Several months of quiet whispers have quickly turned into a resounding buzz — and a nervous buzz, no less — about a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that questions whether it’s constitutional for independent state commissions to have the sole power to draw political district maps. The case is centered on Arizona, but the buzz being heard on this side of the Colorado River arises from the fear that if a lower court’s ruling is thrown out, California may very well be next in the return to partisan congressional gerrymandering. It explains why everyone from legal scholars to three former California governors is asking to be heard before the nation’s highest court.
Kansas: Kobach pushing bills to limit ballot withdrawals and to allow straight-party voting | Lawrence Journal-World
Candidates would have a much harder time withdrawing from a race after a primary election, but voters would have an easier time casting straight-party ballots under bills that Secretary of State Kris Kobach is urging lawmakers to pass. Kobach appeared before the House Ethics and Elections Committee Wednesday to testify in favor of two bills, including one that he said is a direct response to last year’s controversy over Democrat Chad Taylor’s withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race. “This bill is a direct response to two, what I believe to be erroneous, decisions by Kansas courts interpreting Kansas election law,” Kobach said. Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, dropped out of the U.S. Senate race on Sept. 3, a month after winning the Democratic primary. That cleared the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to be the sole challenger to incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican.
Maryland voters will return to casting ballots on paper starting with the presidential election in 2016, election officials said Thursday, adding it to the long list of states that use paper ballots or a blend of paper and digital formats. On Thursday, state lawmakers were given a sneak peek of the new paper voting machines that will be set up in polling centers for the 2016 election. Officials also briefed the legislators on lessons learned from the last election in November. The state has used digital voting machines for the past decade.
North Carolina’s upcoming photo identification requirement to vote received a full day in court Friday but no decision from a judge on whether the mandate is lawful to begin in 2016 or unconstitutionally harms the poor or older adults who lack IDs. Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan didn’t immediately rule on motions by each side that would essentially declare a winner, and said it may take him up to three weeks to do so. A summer trial is scheduled unless Morgan strikes down the requirement as unconstitutional or rejects all the claims of those who sued. Attorneys representing state officials sat at one table in a Wake County courtroom while lawyers for some voters and two advocacy groups sat at another making oral arguments on top of written briefs already filed since the August 2013 lawsuit. The litigation is one of four complaints filed soon after Gov. Pat McCrory signed an elections overhaul law that contained several voting changes. In additional to photo ID, the law reduced the number of early-voting period days by one week, repealed same-day registration and prohibited voting outside one’s home precinct on Election Day.
Nigeria’s main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party said its presidential candidate, former General Muhammadu Buhari, will not accept any attempt by the government to postpone the February 14 vote. APC National Public Secretary Lai Mohamed said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election, has been canvassing media houses trying to influence editorial opinion in favor of a postponement. The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has not directly come out in favor of postponement, but National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki suggested last week that the elections should be delayed because not all voter cards had been distributed. The government has accused the opposition of politicizing the threat of the Islamic insurgency, Boko Haram.
It is a sign of the times that the Speaker of the House of Commons – not the first person that comes to mind as being part of the digital age – has established a Digital Democracy Commission to look into ways to re-imagine democracy for the connected world. With one important exception – that concerning online voting – its recommendations are sensible and to be welcomed. … Enabling people to vote online would indeed draw in many young people who otherwise wouldn’t vote, and that’s hugely important. So why am I against the idea? Well, the report quotes a good encapsulation of the key issues here by the Open Rights Group:
Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed.
Civil rights leaders and groups are hailing legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Jan. 22 that would unequivocally guarantee every American’s right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, in the wake of growing attacks on that right. “This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen,” Pocan said in a statement. “As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.” Added Ellison: “Our nation is stronger when we make it easy for Americans to participate in democracy…A guaranteed right to vote in the Constitution would go a long way towards increasing access to the ballot box for all Americans.” Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers said, the right to vote is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and the “Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment” would amend the Constitution to expressly guarantee that fundamental right.
Republicans used the confirmation hearings this week for Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, to stress their commitment to voting restrictions—and to try to tie Lynch’s hands on voting issues should she assume the post. One GOP senator pressed Lynch on her stance on restrictive voting laws. And Republicans asked for testimony from a witness who has led the effort to stoke fear over voter fraud, suggested her group was targeted by the Obama administration because of her group’s support for voter ID laws. Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has acted aggressively to protect voting rights, challenging strict GOP-backed voting laws in Texas and North Carolina. Holder also has seemed to compare these laws to past efforts to keep minorities from voting. So Republicans sought to put pressure on Lynch to take a more conciliatory approach.
Fingerprints can now be used to unlock smart phones, car engines, even guns. Why not ballots, too? A New Mexico legislator has just proposed that his state’s election officials study the feasibility of a biometric voter identification system. The idea is simple enough: Rather than require voters to show a particular type of document that not everyone possesses, the law could require election officials to collect a piece of information — a finger image or an eye scan — from all voters, which would confirm their identity at the polls. The political appeal of the idea is clear: Republicans would have the ID laws they claim are needed to protect against voter fraud. And Democrats would have a system that doesn’t disproportionately hurt minorities and the poor. Both parties could declare victory in the war over voter ID and move on.
California: Santa Clara County: First steps suggested to start fixing beleaguered election system | San Jose Mercury News
With an upgrade to its outdated equipment years away, Santa Clara County officials suggested Wednesday taking steps now to remedy the beleaguered election system from malfunctions encountered in past elections. At a special committee meeting on Wednesday, supervisors Joe Simitian and Ken Yeager said the Registrar of Voter’s Office should look into providing staff 24-hours around the clock during the election period to speed up notoriously slow ballot counting and improve communications with the public — a situation that left voters confused and wary about the status of recounts. They also suggested developing a system that would require an automatic recount when races come down to the wire. “We’re all of the same mind that we’ve got to see some real progress,” said Simitian. “We can’t be having this same conversation every two years.”
Michigan teens would be able to pre-register to vote under a proposal in Lansing. The measure would allow 16 and 17 year olds to fill out their voter registration paperwork when they get their driver’s licenses. The state would mail their voter cards when they turn 18. “It’s another way of making government much more efficient,” said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren. “It saves people in lines at secretary of state offices. It saves more correspondence going to the secretary of state’s office. It makes it a much easier process.”
An unusual alliance of some of the state’s most liberal and conservative lawmakers at the Capitol this year are supporting an effort that would allow convicted felons to vote once they leave prison. Under Minnesota law, convicted felons are only eligible to vote after they’ve completed all terms of their sentences — including probation or supervised release. Bills sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and Sen. Bobbie Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow convicted felons to vote after finishing their prison sentences. It would restore voting rights to an estimated 47,000 Minnesotans. On Thursday, Republicans and Democrats joined together at a press conference to tout the effort. Joining them were representatives from the Restore the Vote Coalition, which is comprised of more than 60 organizations that include public safety groups, churches and civil rights organizations.
State and local election officials endorsed a bill Wednesday to allow citizens to register to vote online if they have a valid Montana driver’s license or identification card. The House State Administrative heard testimony on House Bill 48, by Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, on behalf of Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, a Democrat. The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bill. Custer said the bill is for registering people with driver’s licenses and voter ID cards. The former longtime Rosebud County clerk and recorder said the system would be secure. McCulloch said HB48 would give people the choice of registering to vote between the current paper form or electronically. “Offering the ability to apply for voter registration online will increase transparency, accuracy and efficiency in the voter registration process,” said McCulloch, the state’s chief election official.
Whether N.C. voters will have to show a photo ID in 2016 will depend on whether opponents can show why they shouldn’t have to. That test begins Friday when critics of the 2013 election law overhaul argue that the ID requirement violates the North Carolina Constitution. North Carolina residents and voting-rights organizations challenging the state’s voter ID requirement contend that voters, not lawmakers, hold the power to make such a change to election law. Voters, they say, would have to approve an amendment to the state Constitution. In a hearing scheduled to take place in Wake County court on Friday, attorneys for the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute and five female voters plan to argue that lawmakers overstepped the bounds of the state Constitution when they overhauled election laws in 2013. Friday’s hearing focuses on the voter ID requirement scheduled to go into effect in 2016.
North Dakota: Student organization against voter ID legislation: Klein says bill could disenfranchise many | The Dickinson Press
A representative of the North Dakota Student Association spoke against a bill that would tweak the state’s voter identification law Thursday. Kelsey Klein, governmental relations director for the group, told the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee that House Bill 1333 could disenfranchise many student voters, especially those from out of the state. The bill would eliminate the option of student identification certificates that were provided by the university system. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Randy Boehning, R-Fargo, would allow a bill, bank statement or U.S. Postal Service change of address form to prove residency if a voter’s ID hadn’t been updated. It would also clarify acceptable forms of voter identification.
If it doesn’t take 30 days to get a sandwich made-to-order, it shouldn’t take 30 days to process a voter registration form. That’s one York County legislator’s take on same-day voter registration, under which people could turn out at the polls the same day as an election, register on the spot and cast a vote. “In this day and age, you can walk into a gas station and get a custom-made sandwich in minutes just by touching a screen,” said Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City. “We should make voting that easy.” The process of casting a vote is already as effortless as touching a screen, but Schreiber and Erie County Democrat Rep. Ryan Bizzarro are resurrecting a proposal to make registration just as easy.
As U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin considers a 2016 return bid for governor, Republicans hope to block West Virginia’s most prominent Democrat from handpicking his Senate successor for two years. Should he reclaim his old job, Manchin will have served enough of his Senate term that the governor — potentially him in 2017 — could name the next senator through 2018. The appointment would guarantee that the Democratic Party holds a crucial seat for at least another two years. After a bruising 2014 election, Manchin is in the Senate minority for the first time in his short tenure. In his state, he’s the last Democrat standing in Congress. Big Republican gains also shook up the statehouse. With majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in more than eight decades, Republicans have the numbers to stymie Manchin’s ability to name a potential replacement.
Canada: Ontarians like online voting, but turnout boost may be minor, study suggests | The Globe and Mail
Voters and election administrators were satisfied with online ballots in many of last fall’s Ontario municipal races, according to a new study, but the digital shift’s impact on declining turnout appears to be modest. Ninety-seven municipalities across Ontario used online voting in October, most for the first time, in addition to traditional in-person voting and mail-in ballot options. Half of the municipalities participated in a study by the Internet Voting Project, which surveyed voters, candidates and election administrators. Preliminary results of the study are being released in a webinar Thursday afternoon.
A hostile and dangerous atmosphere is being created to thwart journalism in Guatemala ahead of elections, the Guatemalan Journalists Association, or APG, has warned. Perpetrators hope to curb access to information and discredit journalists and columnists, the APG said in a Jan. 21 statement by its Press Freedom Committee. As examples, the APG mentioned the cases of Juan Luis Font, editor of the weekly magazine Contrapoder, Spanish journalist Pedro Trujillo, a columnist with the morning daily Prensa Libre, and José Rubén Zamora, president of the daily El Periódico. Reporting on the communiqué, Agence France Presse pointed out that Font and Trujillo have been criminally charged after criticizing Manuel Baldizón, a presidential hopeful in the September elections and a favorite in opinion polls. Baldizón seeks the presidential nomination of the center-right Libertad Democrática Renovada party, which he founded in 2010.
A group of northern pro-democracy activists under the aegis of the Northern Coalition for Democracy and Justice (NCDJ), has reported the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress(APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, to the government of the United States of America (USA), asking it to facilitate his prosecution for his role in the post-election violence of 2011. The group, in a letter to the United States Secretary of States, Senator John Kerry, which was also copied to the US Ambassador to Nigeria, stated that the assistance of the US has become imperative in order to help Nigeria stem the tide of election violence in the 2015 election. In the letter dated January 25 and titled: ‘The role of General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2011 post-election violence in Nigeria,’ which was signed by Dr. Ibrahim Baba , Secretary Research and Documentation, Mr. Yunana Shubkau, Publicity Secretary and Umar Farouk, Secretary General, the NCDJ said it had dragged General Buhari to the International Criminal Court but needed the backing of the US to have Buhari repatriated to the court.
United Kingdom: Number of 18-year-olds registered to vote in the election crashes by half following changes to the electoral roll | This is Money
The number of 18-year-olds registered to vote fell by almost half last year following changes to the electoral roll registration system. The dramatic fall, revealed by credit checking company Experian, sparked warnings from student groups that young people will be under-represented at the upcoming election. Experian obtains electoral roll data from local authorities when it checks credit applications. Analysis of this showed the number of ‘coming of age’ voters – those who turned 18 in previous year – steadily rising in the years since the last election, but then suffering a 47 per cent fall between 2013 and 2014. There were 511,352 18-year-olds registered to vote in December 2013, but this fell to just 272,995 last year. This pushed the total voter population into reverse as well. There were 41,692,818 people registered to vote in the UK in December compared to 42,709,134 in the same month the year before – a 2.4 per cent fall.
National: GOP Senator Says DOJ Challenge To His Voting Law Is A Waste Of Resources | Huffington Post
One of the newest members of the U.S. Senate suggested Wednesday that he did not think the Department of Justice’s decision to sue him was a wise use of its resources. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be attorney general, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) used his time to take issue with the DOJ lawsuit that sought to block provisions of a North Carolina election law that civil rights advocates considered one of the most restrictive in the country. Tillis, who previously served as speaker of the house in North Carolina, helped push through the law in 2013 shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that had required 40 of the state’s 100 counties to obtain federal pre-approval of changes to voting procedures.
The decade-long effort to require photo IDs in Missouri voting booths is once again under way in the General Assembly, although it’s unclear if the chances are any brighter. State Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, is once again the chief sponsor of the two-pronged campaign to mandate government-issued photo IDs at the polls. “I am 100 percent sure that voter impersonation fraud is taking place in the state of Missouri,’’ he said a hearing Tuesday before a House committee. State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, is among the opposition leaders who say there’s been no proof of such fraud. They say that Dugger is targeting certain groups of Democratic-leaning voters – including students and minorities – who are less likely to have the types of photo IDs his legislation requires.
New Mexico: House Democrat aims to lower voting age for school elections to 16; bill may face GOP opposition | The Santa Fe New Mexican
A freshman legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in school board elections, but it likely faces an uphill fight. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview that he wants to expand the pool of voters to improve historically low turnouts in school elections. Just as important, he said, the bill would allow more high school students to have a voice in the body of government that affects them most. Martinez, a 33-year-old lawyer, said he didn’t have a sense of whether his bill would have a chance in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But, Martinez said, House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, has stressed bipartisanship, and this bill should appeal to most everyone.
Come 2018, the county could have to cough up more than half a million dollars for new voting equipment and it could go back to paper ballots. Kim Strach, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said in a letter sent to local elections offices that most voting equipment in the state is nearing the end of its lifespan. She said counties will need to plan for large expenditures to buy new voting equipment. In her letter, Strach said direct record electronic voting equipment will need to be replaced because the machines will be decertified in January 2018. She said a law change will require a paper ballot for all certified voting systems. The state board of elections will have to approve any new voting equipment, she said.
Voting Blogs: Exercise of Democracy or Destruction of Impartiality: Election of Judges in Ohio | State of Elections
States select their judges in a couple different ways, but in thirty-nine states most or all judges are elected. Supporters of competitive elections for judges say that it is “the most democratic way to make judges accountable to the public.” Ohio is one such state, through constitutional mandate, to hold elections for judges. But do we really want courts to be accountable to the public? Or is the integrity of the law and its effective application of greater concern for the judiciary, and if so, is it incompatible with the interest of public accountability. One concern which suggests that public accountability is incompatible with judicial integrity is a concern over partisanship. This is a concern that the dirty political fights, which take place in legislative elections are starting to make judges look like anything but “neutral arbiters of the law.” Even if you do not have party identifiers on the candidates for judges, like in Ohio, all that means is that there is one less factor informing voters about the actual judicial candidates. In a sense, when a state opts to elect judges it must chose between allowing partisan leanings to take hold in the election, thus calling into question the impartiality of the judge, or take away a major source of information for the voter.
South Dakota: Amendment Would Make Ballot Access More Difficult for Independent Candidates | Ballot Access News
On January 28, the South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee amended SB 69 to make ballot access more difficult for independent candidates. Furthermore, the committee defeated an amendment that would have eased the deadline for a newly-qualifying party to submit its petitions, and approved the original part of the bill that moves the new party deadline from March to February. The votes on these amendments were all party-line, with all Republicans voting in favor of making ballot access more restrictive, and all Democrats voting in favor of easing ballot access. As amended, SB 69 says that no one can sign an independent candidate’s petition except voters who are registered “independent.” The bill also lowers the number of signatures needed for an independent, from 1% of the last gubernatorial vote, to 1% of the number of registered independents. The number of signatures for a statewide independent for 2016 would fall from 2,775 to 862. However, the net effect of the change would be to make ballot access worse for independents. Only 16% of South Dakota voters are registered “independent.” Going out on the street with a petition in which only 16% of the registered voters are eligible to sign would be difficult: effective petitioning depends on speed, and having to ask every person encountered if he or she is a registered independent would be perceived as nosy, and would be time-consuming. Also, not everyone knows whether or not he or she is registered “independent”. It’s especially likely that even well-informed voters wouldn’t know if they are “Nonpartisan” or “independent.”
A bill drafted with Yakima’s council elections system in mind has returned for a third straight try at passing in the Legislature. The state Voting Rights Act, which would make it easier to force localities to switch to geographic district-based elections, was reintroduced Wednesday in the House and with a companion bill in the Senate. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland. The proposal would make it easier to challenge a local government’s elections format in court if evidence of racially polarized voting exists.