National: How Facebook Influences Voter Participation | Digital Journal

2015 will be an interesting year for politics. Whether you love it or hate it, social media is completely changing the landscape of voter participation, one Facebook post at a time. The social media company is no stranger to watching voting and post activity analytics, keeping track of trends with some intriguing and perhaps unsettling blog updates regarding national voter turnout on Election Day. However, one of the bigger controversies is the question of how our newsfeeds might influence our decisions. According to The Verge, “Facebook had been running another newsfeed experiment, giving news stories an algorithmic boost for certain users to see if it heightened civic engagement, as measured by a questionnaire.” Do these algorithms guarantee that Facebook viewers gain exposure to unbiased items in their news feeds? If not, then it’s certainly possible that our newsfeeds could subtly influence a user’s affinity for specific candidates or party alliances.

National: New IRS Rules on Dark Money Likely Won’t Be Ready Before 2016 Election | ProPublica

The Internal Revenue Service says it won’t come out with new proposed rules for so-called dark money groups until late spring at the earliest, increasing the likelihood that no changes will take effect before the 2016 elections. These groups — social welfare nonprofits that can engage in politics, but do not have to disclose their donors — have become a major force in elections, pouring at least $257 million into the 2012 elections. The Wesleyan Media Project estimates that dark money paid for almost half the TV ads aired in the 2014 Senate races. The IRS originally issued a draft version of the rules for dark money groups more than a year ago, but withdrew them for revisions after receiving intense criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Some advocates of campaign finance reform have touted tighter IRS controls as the best shot of reining in the influence of such groups ahead of the 2016 presidential race.

National: Double Dip: How Rand Paul Can Legally Tap His Biggest Donors Twice | National Journal

Sen. Rand Paul could have a financial edge over many of his prospective presidential rivals in 2016 due to a quirk in timing and election law that lets him to tap his biggest donors for campaign cash twice. Paul has said he plans to seek Senate reelection and, if he runs, the Republican presidential nomination simultaneously. And because he would be campaigning for two federal offices, he would be eligible to have two open federal campaign committees at the same time. Thus, his largest donors could give $2,600 to his presidential primary campaign and another $2,600 to his Senate account for the primary. While federal rules do limit how he could spend the money, veteran election lawyers say diligent accounting could allow for legal cost-sharing between the two committees, saving Paul’s presidential bid precious dollars and letting him collect bigger checks from his biggest contributors. “The two big advantages you can think of are the ability to double-dip from donors and the ability to allocate your costs between two different entities,” said Neil Reiff, a Democratic campaign lawyer.

California: Youths seek to lower voting age to 16 in San Francisco | San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco teenager Joshua Cardenas really wanted to vote in the Nov. 4 election. It was packed with local measures, such as raising The City’s minimum wage and extending funding for youth services, which the lifelong resident would have voted for. But the Riordan High School senior was barred from hitting the polls because he did not turn 18 until two weeks after the election. Instead, Cardenas has opted to try to lower The City’s legal voting age to 16 — a change that has gained the support of at least two supervisors. On Monday, the effort cleared its first hurdle to potentially go before San Francisco voters as early as November. Cardenas, a member of the San Francisco Youth Commission since August 2013, has authored a resolution that urges Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors to explore lowering the voting age to 16 for municipal and school district elections. The Youth Commission, currently comprised of 15 commissioners ages 12 to 23, supported the resolution in a 14-1 vote Monday night.

Editorials: For 2016, bring back Colorado’s presidential primary | The Denver Post

Two political scientists at Colorado College made the case in The Sunday Denver Post that lawmakers should open up the next presidential primary in this state to wider voter participation. But Thomas E. Cronin and Robert D. Loevy aren’t just lonely voices in the wilderness in this belief. Others have raised similar questions over the years about the wisdom of relying on a low-turnout caucus system to select the parties’ presidential favorites. Indeed, a group known as Colorado Open Voting is hoping to reform the caucus system this year through legislation, according to spokesman Curtis Hubbard — if sponsors can be found at the Capitol. Let’s hope lawmakers step up and a resulting bill reflects some of the principles espoused by Cronin and Loevy. The present system in which a relatively small slice of activists attend local caucuses to determine the presidential candidate that each party supports has the effect of limiting both public interest and participation — as well as the influence of Colorado in the presidential selection process.

District of Columbia: D.C. appeals to Republicans for expanded voting rights | WTOP

The corridors of Capitol Hill are lined with paintbrushes, ladders and hammers as the 114th Congress moves in to its new digs. Before the dust settles and while good will runs high, D.C. leaders will appeal to the new faces in the Republican majority for greater voting rights. On Tuesday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton plans to take to the House floor in an effort to win back the District’s vote in the Committee of the Whole, which she had during three Congresses. “I will make the point that in a democracy, the vote can never be tied to the party in power,” she says. “The vote is tied to the people.”

Indiana: Lawmakers To Push For Independent Redistricting Commission | Indiana Public Media

Last session House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, coauthored legislation creating a redistricting commission, with members appointed by legislative leaders of both parties. While that bill passed the House, it never received a hearing in the Senate. Bosma says he will offer the bill again, but notes both chambers need to buy in this time. “We’ll check out the likelihood of passage in the Senate before we spend a lot of time on it in the House,” Bosma said. “But as you know we passed it last year or the year before and it’s worthy of discussion – and I still think it’s the right direction for the state to go.”

Editorials: Fairer approach: Take redistricting job off legislators’ hands | Journal Gazette

Partisan redistricting makes a mockery of the basic principles of democracy. In the session that begins today, the Indiana legislature has the opportunity – actually, the obligation – to take its thumb off the scales of voter equality. Changing demographics rapidly make congressional and legislative districts obsolete. Redistricting, which occurs at the beginning of each decade just after the national census is completed, is a necessity for democracy to function. But in Indiana, the legislature draws up its own legislative voting districts, as well as congressional districts. There are provisions for a redistricting commission, but they never come into play as long as both the House and Senate can agree on new maps within a set time. This has never been a good procedure, but it can be made to work when one party controls each of the two legislative chambers. Both parties, though, have used the system to create unfair advantages over the years. In the redistricting at the beginning of this decade, the GOP did a masterful job of controlling the process. Republicans held both houses, and they took the opportunity to move more Democrats into heavily Democratic districts and more Republicans into districts that had been fairly even.

Kentucky: Supporters hope for voting rights reform | Bowling Green Daily News

Five prefiled bills in the Kentucky General Assembly propose restoring voting rights for many of the state’s convicted felons, and advocates say they hope reform can be enacted in a state with a high rate of disenfranchisement. The different acts of legislation are sponsored by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, prefiled the first bill in the 2015 legislative session to call for an amendment to the state constitution to allow convicted felons to vote. Subsequent bills were filed by Rep. Darryl Owens, D- Louisville, Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, and Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.

Missouri: St. Charles County refunds $221,367 in election charges to local governments | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The county has refunded $221,367 in what an audit says were election cost overcharges to cities and other local governments. The action was taken over the objections of County Elections Director Rich Chrismer, who disputes the findings and had refused for months to issue the refunds himself. County Finance Director Bob Schnur said Friday that the checks were mailed Tuesday. Chrismer was notified Wednesday. “This is the right thing to do,” said Schnur. Chrismer said he planned to take legal action to fight the county administration’s move, which was first requested by the County Council last summer. He says state law gives him control of the fund in question. “He took money out of the account,” Chrismer said of Schnur. “By law, he has no right to take it out.” Schnur disputed that, saying the money in question was collected in error and never should have been in the account.

Montana: Gallatin County officials scratching heads after forgetting election | Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Three of the Gallatin Conservation District’s supervisors forgot to file for re-election when their terms expired in November, then tried to fix the situation by having their two colleagues appoint them to their old positions. At a meeting Dec. 18, supervisors Bill Wright, Sherwin Leep, and Jason Camp, whose terms had expired, were appointed to another four-year term by board chairman John Schutter and vice chairman John Venhuizen. “Most of us have been on that board for quite a number of years,” Leep told the Chronicle. “Our administrator there usually takes care of that for us and she inadvertently overlooked it … kind of a weird little circumstance.” Leep said it was as an honest mistake made by a small group of people, and pointed out that no other candidates had filed for the seats. “It’s not like there’s a large line of people trying to get on this board,” said Leep, who has been with the conservation district since 1985. “It’s not like we’re trying to exclude anyone.”

North Carolina: Forsyth County elections office wants to replace equipment; proposal could cost about $1.4M | Winston-Salem Journal

The Forsyth County elections office wants to buy new elections equipment this year, but the county commissioners will have to decide whether to fund the request. Steve Hines, director of elections for Forsyth County, said his office is asking to replace all of its voting equipment – including the optical scanners that record paper ballots at precincts and the larger tabulator used at the elections office. Hines said his office is still in talks with the vendor for Election Systems & Software equipment, but has a rough cost estimate of about $1.4 million. Hines said he hates to ask for that much. “But I’d hate to go through what we went through this past year on a presidential scale,” Hines said. The elections office dealt with a number of hiccups in the general election last November, including breakdowns of vote-counting machines at precincts and the elections office. The equipment is about a decade old. … The county uses paper ballots on Election Day, but it uses iVotronic touch-screen machines for early voting and Election Day handicap-accessible voting. The county will no longer be able to use those machines as of 2018 because they don’t print a ballot.

Cuba: Local Elections to be Held in April | Havana Times

The Cuban government called today for regularly schedule elections on April 19th for local delegates, the part of the process of electing municipal authorities where the population is allowed to participate, reported dpa news. In any voting district where no candidate receives 50% of the valid votes cast a runoff among the top two vote getters will take place a week later on April 26. The island has approximately eight million voters in a population of a little over 11 million people. The local delegates are elected for a period of two and a half years.

Sri Lanka: Election chief agrees new measures for vote counting | Lanka Business Online

Sri Lanka’s election commissioner has agreed to a set of proposals aimed at holding a transparent vote counting process, the bar association of Sri Lanka said. The proposals for the upcoming presidential election include, polls monitors to be informed of the results of the counting centers before making it officially announced. “All the proposals forwarded by us on vote counting have already been accepted”, the association president Attorney-at-Law Upul Jayasuriya told LBO. The proposals had been made in consultation with the election watchdogs including PAFFREL and CaFFE.