A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider a decision allowing residents of Kansas and Arizona to register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a one-sentence ruling denying a request from the two states. The appeals court ruled in November that Kansas and Arizona cannot demand help from federal officials in enforcing state laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship.
Northerners who went south at the start of the civil rights movement were stunned to find localities where African-Americans represented an overwhelming majority of the population – but not a single black person could be found on the county voting rolls or in the jury pool. The new movie “Selma,” which focuses on the civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, vividly illustrates the system of intimidation and misdirection that made this possible.
When he is sworn in Monday as California secretary of state, Alex Padilla, a former two-term state senator and possible candidate for higher office, will assume one of the most-maligned posts in state government. The secretary of state’s campaign-finance disclosure system is old and confusing, businesses complain about filing delays and a federally required computerized voter registration list is years behind schedule, contributing to a national survey recently ranking California second-to-last in election administration. Padilla, a Democrat from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, said fixing all three will be early priorities after he takes office. “Coming in, I know there’s a lot that I want to help get accomplished and pushed forward. That’s the approach, the urgency I will bring,” said Padilla, who recently completed two terms in the state Senate and is regularly mentioned as a possible future contender for governor or U.S. Senate.
Los Angeles’ budget for 2014-15 tops $8.1 billion, which is bigger than the budgets of about a dozen states. In the coming months, the city must grapple with some serious questions, many related to how to spend that money, such as the funding of pensions; hiring and retention of police officers, firefighters, city attorneys and other city employees; building and maintaining our city’s infrastructure; and alleviating traffic. Dismal voter turnout numbers create a system in which we have a ‘voting class’ that makes the decisions for the rest of the city’s constituents. So it is more than a little distressing that so few bother to take part in our government by voting. Less than one quarter of registered voters showed up in the May 2013 municipal election. That was an election with a competitive race for mayor. Even fewer showed up — 17.9% — in the 2009 mayoral election when incumbent Antonio Villaraigosa ran against largely unknown challengers. The city has about 1.8 million registered voters, 47% of the city’s residents. It is worth noting that these voters are not reflective of the makeup of the city. Registered voters are older, whiter, better educated and typically wealthier. Unregistered residents fall into two categories: those who cannot vote (because they are underage, not citizens or felons) and those who do not want to.
Another recount Monday that resulted in a tie in the Kent County Recorder of Deeds election gives rise to a question: What do they do now? Democratic incumbent Betty Lou McKenna and Republican challenger La Mar Gunn have been battling for two months. First, Mr. Gunn was declared the winner before an initial recount gave Ms. McKenna another term. A motion filed by Mr. Gunn caused Superior Court Judge Robert Young to order yet another recount. On Monday officials from the Board of Elections sorted through 1,500-plus absentee ballots cast in Kent County. In the end, after more than 38,000 machine and absentee ballots, both candidates each received 19,248 votes. A single disputed ballot might decide the contest. But the tie vote could be as good as a win for Ms. McKenna.
Qualified voters with a state driver’s license or photo ID issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation will be able to register to vote online by the 2016 primary election if a new regulation is approved by a state commission, Iowa’s incoming top election official said Tuesday. The Iowa Voter Registration Commission held a public hearing Tuesday on a rule that would let qualified voters with a driver’s license or photo ID register to vote on a website. Currently, voters registering or updating their information must fill out a paper application form. Secretary of State-elect Paul Pate, a Republican who takes office in January, said he hopes to have the online system running for those in the DOT system by the primary election in June 2016. “My goal is, well before the next election cycle we would have this in place on some level, and keep expanding on it as we have the resources to do that,” Pate said.
Iowa’s incoming Secretary of State expects a new online voter registration program to be ready by the time Iowans vote on the next president. That program likely will require state-issued photo identification. The state’s Voter Registration Commission met Tuesday morning to receive public comments on a proposed rule that would allow Iowa residents to register to vote online. Initially, users will need state-issued photo identification to use the program. Paul Pate, who was elected in November, will continue the work of outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz to implement the online registration program, which Pate hopes to have implemented in time for the 2016 elections. “My goal is well before the next election cycle we would have this in place at some level and keep expanding on it as we have the resources to do that,” Pate said.
Volunteers are expected to fan out across Maine this coming weekend to gather signatures on a citizen initiative petition to place ranked-choice voting on the ballot. Organizers for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting have already collected more than 55,000 signatures and need 60,000 to put the measure on the ballot this fall. Under ranked-choice voting, voters in a multiple candidate election assign a number corresponding to their interest in a candidate. Votes of candidates with the fewest votes are redistributed until a final victor emerges.
Last month’s elections continued what has become a striking trend in New Jersey recently: People are voting at historically low rates. Though U.S. Sen. Cory Booker — a nationally known politician — won his first full term in Washington and all 12 of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives were up for grabs, only 36 percent of New Jersey’s registered voters cast ballots in November’s midterm elections. It was the lowest voter turnout for a regularly scheduled federal election in state history. In fact, each of New Jersey’s last seven statewide elections have set some kind of record for low turnout — a stretch of voter apathy that experts blame partly on citizens being frustrated with partisan bickering and campaign finance issues. “I think people are fed up with government,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “How do you expect people to go out and vote for an institution in which about one in 10 have any faith in?” Experts say other factors play a part, as well: the state’s lack of competitive races, the schedule of its elections, and the method in which New Jersey votes. And the numbers are unlikely to improve next November, they add.
County lawmakers on Monday forcefully rejected a proposed settlement to a three-year-old voting rights lawsuit, sending the case back to federal court with an emphatic rebuke of County Executive Dan McCoy. The settlement would have ended the complex and increasingly costly case alleging racial imbalances in the county’s political map by, among other things, establishing a fifth legislative district in which minority voters are a majority. And while several of the majority Democratic lawmakers said that they support that goal, they blasted McCoy for freezing the legislature out of the settlement process and accused him of overstepping his authority in trying to dictate how the new lines would be drawn. High on the list of grievances is that the settlement would have prescribed the makeup of the county’s redistricting commission, a task legislative leaders said is clearly lawmakers’ prerogative. The vote was 34-3, with even some of the Democratic executive’s Republican allies opposing it.
Throwing out two lawsuits accusing North Carolina lawmakers of redrawing district lines based on race, the state’s highest court found no constitutional violation. Margaret Dickson and 45 other voters filed suit on Nov. 3, 2011, over redistricting plans that North Carolina lawmakers passed for the state House, state Senate and U.S. House. One day later, the North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopled, joined by three other organizations and 46 more individuals, filed a second lawsuit. Both alleged that the redistricting plans violate the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by classifying people according to their race.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide who exactly is the “Legislature” in Arizona, at least for purposes of drawing political lines. In a brief order Tuesday, the justices set March 2 to hear arguments by attorneys for the organized Legislature that only they — meaning the 90 members — can divide up the state into its nine congressional districts. They contend that’s what the U.S. Constitution requires. If the high court agrees, that would pave the way for the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw the lines ahead of the 2016 election. And that would allow them to reconfigure the maps to give GOP candidates a better chance of winning — and of improving the 5-4 split in the congressional delegation this year’s election gave to Republicans. But first they have to convince the justices that the majority of a three-judge panel got it wrong when they concluded otherwise.
North Dakota: State will consider election law changes as Heitkamp-for-governor rumors swirl | The Washington Post
The persistent rumor in North Dakota political circles is that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) wants to come home. The freshman senator, elected by a narrow margin in 2012, is said to be considering a run for governor in 2016. The rumor is so pervasive that Republicans will consider a bill in the legislature that would block Heitkamp’s ability to appoint her own successor in the Senate. Current state law allows the governor to appoint a successor if a Senate seat becomes vacant. But under a proposal to be introduced by state Rep. Roscoe Streyle (R), any vacancies would be filled by a special election to be held 60 days after a vacancy is declared.
Deputy voter registrars — the volunteers and political operatives who register voters — watched their certifications become as useless as old calendars at midnight Wednesday. Like replacing calendars, attending a training seminar and obtaining a new deputy voter registrar certification every two years isn’t exactly a new problem. Certifications have expired every even-numbered year since the late 1980s. For Battleground Texas, though, the certification process poses a particularly large hurdle. Nearly 9,000 volunteers with the Democratic Party-affiliated organization have become deputy voter registrars as part of a coordinated campaign to boost voter turnout. Volunteers will have to attend training seminars in every county where they want to register voters.
When I announced my retirement from the Legislature after 22 years, a surprising number of people asked me to continue writing “Scribblings.” I have considered those requests, and I have decided to make the effort. How long it will last and how frequently I will write remains to be seen. There is a vast difference between writing with inside knowledge of the doings on the hill and looking at things as the outsider I have become. However, realizing the futility of trying to keep my mouth shut when issues arise, I will occasionally get to work on the keyboard. The following is my first effort. But first, may I wish each and every one of you the best for the new year. On Thursday, Vermont will hold an election for governor. Only 180 people will be eligible to vote. Because no candidate received a majority of votes for governor Nov. 4, the Vermont Constitution declares that there has been “no election,” and it falls to the members of the General Assembly, meeting together in joint session, with each member having one vote, to elect the next governor. They must choose from among the three candidates for governor who received the greatest number of votes Nov. 4 — in this case Peter Shumlin, Scott Milne and Dan Feliciano.
Several Virginia voters have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by packing black voters into 12 of the state’s House of Delegates districts. According to the complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond last week, the General Assembly in 2011 adopted a redistricting plan purposefully drawn to have “an African-American voting age population that met or exceeded a pre-determined 55 percent threshold,” diminishing the influence of black voters in the surrounding districts as a result. After each decennial census, Virginia redraws its congressional and legislative districts, taking into consideration population shifts in the previous 10 years. The procedure opens a door for state legislators to gerrymander the districts to their partisan advantage.
Wisconsin’s elections and ethics agency refuted in a court filing on Monday claims that it had improperly participated in a campaign finance investigation into Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups that supported him. The Government Accountability Board’s filing comes after the Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the groups targeted in the probe, alleged in a complaint unsealed earlier this month that top GAB officials launched the investigation without first getting approval from the agency’s six-member board. The GAB then continued with the investigation, even after the board voted to end its involvement in July, the group’s complaint alleges.
Croatia’s incumbent President Ivo Josipovic maintained a slim lead in the first round of presidential election by winning 38.48 percent of the votes, compared with his rival Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s 37.18 percent. In Croatian history, only three presidential elections entered into the second round. Previously, all winners of the first round secured victory in run-offs by a margin of more than 13 percent of the votes. The upcoming run-off, to be held on January 11th, the two candidates will fight for votes going for Milan Kujundzic supported by a group of right wing parties as well as Ivan Vilibor Sincic, an activist. Both Kujundzic and Sincic lost in the first round of presidential election. It is very likely that Kujundzic voters, some 6.3 percent, will support Grabar Kitarovic if they go to polling stations again. Still, it remains unclear who will attract the votes going to Sincic, who won 16.42 percent of votes in the first round.
Greece formally dissolved parliament on Wednesday ahead of a general election on Jan. 25 that has cast its international bailout into doubt and set financial markets on edge just as the euro zone grapples with renewed signs of weakness. The traditional decree calling new elections was posted on the door to parliament two days after lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ candidate for president, automatically triggering a return to the polls. The Jan. 25 vote will mark a showdown between Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party, which imposed unpopular budget cuts under Greece’s bailout deal, and the leftwing Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras, who wants to cancel austerity measures along with a chunk of Greek debt.
The plan seemed such a simple one. Mahinda Rajapaksa called an election in November expecting to breeze past a shambolic, divided opposition and take an unprecedented third term as Sri Lanka’s president. The poll, on January 8th, would be two years earlier than necessary. It would also be the first after a constitutional amendment in 2010 that abolished a two-term limit for presidents. Everything had appeared set for Mr Rajapaksa to remain in power. Now his prospects look far less certain. The campaign has been marked by a series of defections by former allies who call him authoritarian and nepotistic (among relatives in important political jobs are a brother, Basil, who is in charge of running the economy; another brother, Gotabaya, who is defence secretary and a third, Chamal, who is parliamentary Speaker). Most striking was the exit of Maithripala Sirisena. He was both health minister in Mr Rajapaksa’s cabinet and general secretary of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). On November 21st he became the main opposition candidate. The president complains bitterly that Mr Sirisena dined with him only the night before.
South Sudan will hold general elections between May and July, said a government spokesman. The government will give amnesty to rebels to encourage the widest participation in the elections, said Ateny Wek Ateny, the president’s press secretary. “We will hold elections in 2015 as we will not allow our democracy to be held hostage to violence. A budget has been approved and we urge all parties to participate. In South Sudan power will not be attained by way of guns but rather by ballots,” Ateny said. The president is determined that the elections will be transparent and an accurate reflection of the will of the people, said his spokesman.
California: State’s ballot initiative process remade, and both parties agree | San Francisco Chronicle
After more than a century in California’s political spotlight, the state’s initiative process will be getting a major revise next year. Even more surprising, both Democrats and Republicans in the famously partisan Legislature are happy to see it happen. While Republicans made up most of the limited opposition when SB1253 made its way through the Legislature, the two GOP leaders, state Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County) and Assembly member Kristin Olsen of Modesto, both voted “aye.” “It was a bipartisan effort,” said former state Sen. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, the Democrat who authored the bill. “People like the initiative process but believe it can be improved.” The measure opens the way for increased collaboration between lawmakers and backers of initiatives by requiring the Legislature to hold a joint public hearing on a proposed initiative as soon as 25 percent of the required signatures are collected. It also calls for the attorney general to open a 30-day public review before approving an initiative for circulation and lets supporters amend the initiative during that time. “The No. 1 benefit is this allows two sources to work together to solve a problem or make an initiative better,” Steinberg said.
Former Secretary of State Charlie White remains a convicted felon, despite the Indiana Court of Appeals Monday vacating three of the six guilty verdicts against him. In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court struck one of White’s perjury convictions on the grounds that lying about one’s home address on a marriage license application is not a material violation of the perjury statute, so long as the applicant lives in the county. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, a Porter County native, noted in her 55-page ruling that furnishing false information to a county clerk on a marriage license application is a felony, but White wasn’t charged with that crime. The court also concluded two of White’s voter fraud convictions violated double jeopardy prohibitions because they were based on the same criminal actions that resulted in two of his other convictions. The double jeopardy finding was expected after Deputy Attorney General Justin Roebel admitted at oral arguments earlier this month he would have charged White differently to avoid even the possibility of double jeopardy. At the same time, the appeals court affirmed White is guilty of perjury for lying about his address on a voter registration form, of deliberately voting in the wrong precinct in the May 2010 Republican primary election and of theft, for continuing to receive a salary as a Fishers town councilman after forfeiting his seat by moving out of his district.
When the movie Urban Cowboy made this refinery town famous in 1980, the honky-tonk Gilley’s was booming and wannabe cowpokes from the white Houston suburbs flocked here to drink and dance. Houston was the big city, but Pasadena was for kicks. Today Pasadena is a mostly working-class Hispanic suburb that looks as hard-ridden in some pockets as the mechanical bull that bucked John Travolta. Gilley’s burned down years ago. Now a federal lawsuit accuses the town’s white council members of leading a discriminatory plan to turn back the clock. Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city leaders hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics say dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.
Virginia: Federal lawsuit filed to challenge Virginia’s state electoral districts | The Washington Post
Voters in a dozen Virginia House of Delegates districts have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a legislative map that they say illegally concentrates African Americans voters and therefore dilutes their influence. The lawsuit — first reported by the political blog Blue Virginia — was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. It follows an October decision by the court that declared the state’s congressional maps unconstitutional because they “pack” African American voters into a single district. Congressional Republicans have appealed that decision. Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said Wednesday that he was confident the state’s legislative map would withstand legal challenge.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic failed to win re-election in the first round as NATO official Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic forced a Jan. 11 run-off on a campaign to help the Balkan country emerge from six years of recession. Josipovic, a Social Democrat, won 38.57 percent after 97 percent of vote counted, the state electoral commission said on its website yesterday. Grabar Kitarovic, running for the main opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union, took 37.08 percent. Milan Kujundzic, supported by a group of small right-wing parties, and Ivan Sincic, an independent, garnered 6.28 percent and 16.46 percent, respectively. “Grabar Kitarovic advances to run-off as a favorite, for several reasons,” Zarko Puhovski, a political science professor at the University of Zagreb, said by phone. “The Croatian Democratic Union has traditionally been better at mobilizing its voters. She will get all the votes given to Kujundzic, and about half the votes given to Sincic.”
Governments and investors across Europe braced for renewed economic upheaval on Monday after the Parliament in Greece failed to avert an early general election, reviving the toxic debate over austerity as the way to cure the Continent’s economic woes. Senior European Union officials immediately urged Greek voters — now headed to the polls on Jan. 25 — to focus on continuing the policies that have enabled the country to ride out its previous monetary crisis and remain part of the eurozone, and that have begun to restore the country’s battered reputation for fiscal management. But with household incomes down by a third from what they were before the policies were adopted, and unemployment higher than 25 percent, polls have indicated support for Syriza, a leftist party that opposes the deep budget cuts Greece has made in recent years as a condition of financial bailouts.
Sri Lanka: Government uses violence to deter opposition activities, election monitor charges | Colombo Page
A Sri Lankan election watchdog charges that the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government is using violence to deter opposition political activities. Election monitor Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) says that in parallel to electoral level campaigning by the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena there is an increase in UPFA propagated election violence. The election monitor observes that this trend is reaching systematic proportions and slowly turning into a wave of political violence. Up to December 31st CaFFE has received 1007 incidents of election law violations and election violence and 105 of them are election violence which includes 19 incidents of firearms usage. The CaFFE has noted that the government has unleashed a systematic campaign of intimidation to intimidate opposition supporters. When Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena holds a rally, election related violence spikes in the related area targeting opposition activists and infrastructure, the monitor observes.