National: Judge candidates’ free-speech rights at issue before the Supreme Court | The Washington Post

Tampa lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee’s 2010 campaign for Hillsborough County judge was in many ways one she might like to forget. Not only did she lose in a landslide to a longtime incumbent, she was rebuked by the Florida Bar and fined a little more than $1,800. Voters failed to find Williams-Yulee’s candidacy compelling, but the Supreme Court has taken a greater interest. Later this month, the justices will consider whether the action that got the lawyer into trouble — violating Florida’s restriction against directly soliciting contributions to judge campaigns — is instead an unreasonable constraint on Williams-Yulee’s right to free speech. Florida is among the vast majority of states that require the election of at least some judges. (Federal judges, by contrast, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime appointments.) But 30 states prohibit judicial candidates from directly asking for campaign contributions, in most cases leaving that work to a committee the candidate establishes.

Editorials: What ‘Selma’ Gets Right—and Wrong—About Civil-Rights History | Ari Berman/The Nation

The civil-rights movement has been richly chronicled in books like Taylor Branch’s trilogy on Martin Luther King Jr. and documentaries like Eyes on the Prize. But there have been few equally powerful depictions of the movement in pop culture, which tend to overstate the contribution of white protagonists and turn African-Americans into supporting players in their own struggle (i.e., The Help, Mississippi Burning etc). That’s why the new film Selma is such an important work. The movie is unique in many respects. It movingly captures the dramatic events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It has a great cast, anchored by an unusually nuanced portrayal of King by David Oyelowo. It also boasts a diversity rarely seen in major films, both on screen and behind the camera: as a black woman filmmaker, writer-director Ava DuVernay is, sadly, a rarity in Hollywood. In her hands, Selma skillfully shows the tensions within the civil-rights movement between groups like King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the young activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the many pressures—personal, political and organizational—that King faced at the time.

Georgia: Appeals Judges: Fayette voting rights case to go to trial | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A contentious voting rights case involving Fayette County and the NAACP appears headed to trial. The three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court for trial. “We conclude that this case warrants a limited remand so that the district court may conduct a trial,” the judges said in their 26-page decision. The decision came down late Wednesday afternoon. The appeals court ruling is the latest chapter in a three-and-half-year old legal fight over Fayette’s voting system.

Illinois: Lawmakers quickly approve special comptroller election in 2016 | Chicago Tribune

Democrats gave speedy approval Thursday to a measure that would require a special election to fill part of the term left vacant after the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, as Republicans railed against the move as a power grab aimed at undermining Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner as he prepares to take office. The move foreshadowed what could be a combative relationship between Rauner and Democrats who run the legislature as Republicans assume control of the governor’s office for the first time in 12 years. The legislation, which was pushed through during a special session called by Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, would effectively limit Rauner’s comptroller pick to two years in office instead of four before facing voters. Departing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn indicated he would sign the bill before leaving office Monday.

Vermont: Election Is Held on Nov. 4, and Governor Is Chosen on Jan. 8 | New York Times

November came and went, and even until Thursday, Vermonters did not know who would be inaugurated as governor. They seemed to take this uncertainty in stride, much as they ignored the record-breaking low temperature of minus 20 degrees that encased the gray granite statehouse here in a brittle air. But on Thursday, members of the Vermont House and Senate elected the state’s governor — by secret ballot. They chose Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, giving him his third two-year term. That’s right: 179 state legislators had the final say, not the 193,603 voters who cast ballots for governor in the Nov. 4 election. “Thank you all for making it possible for me to be able to give this speech today,” Mr. Shumlin told legislators a few hours later as he delivered his inaugural address in the House chamber. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” He had reason to be grateful.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision continues to echo | Amanda Hollis-Brusky/Los Angeles Times

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission turns 5 this month, but the damage from the Supreme Court’s revolutionary ruling on campaign finance is just beginning to be felt. Scholars and pundits will undoubtedly mark the anniversary with commentary on such issues as the troubling rise of “super PACs” and the proliferation of undisclosed contributions known as “dark money.” The biggest long-term impact, however, is the powerful framing effect the decision has had on other areas of the law. With last year’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the idea that “corporations are people” has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there. The idea that ‘corporations are people’ has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there.

Voting Blogs: How Young Is too Young for Poll Workers, and How do We Adapt to a Younger Generation? | State of Elections

It is no secret that the typical poll worker tends to be a senior citizen; indeed, the average age of those volunteering to work the polls is seventy-five. As new technologies are implemented for use in elections, however, there has been a growing push for younger volunteers who are presumably more tech-savvy. In efforts to recruit this younger demographic, California amended its election law statutes to allow high school students to serve as poll workers if certain conditions are met, including a minimum GPA and age requirement. On its face, this law appears like an excellent way to encourage young people to volunteer to serve as poll workers, especially as they are compensated for their time spent both in training and on Election Day. However, one question that remains unanswered is whether high school students, and minors in general, are mature enough to handle the responsibilities that come with the position.

Georgia: Fayette residents urge officials to end voting rights fight | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fayette County residents implored county officials Thursday night to abandon their ongoing fight over the county’s new voting system, calling it a costly waste of time. “I strongly urge the new commission… take another look at what’s going on with district voting,” said Terrence Williams, who lives in District 5, the mostly minority district created under the court-ordered district plan. “Take a deeper look and spend our money wisely. There’s other things we need to spend our money on.” “Don’t – I beg you – don’t step back,” resident Larry Younginer said. “I subscribe to the theory that change is difficult but change is necessary. Change is going to happen whether you like it or not.”

Iowa: The Straw Poll is Not Dead Yet | Bloomberg

The Republican Party of Iowa received confirmation Thursday from the Republican National Committee that it can hold its traditional straw poll without violating the party’s new rules governing the primary season calendar, meaning one of the more colorful events of the nomination season is likely to go forward this August. Iowa’s Republican State Central Committee is scheduled to formally vote Saturday on the future of the straw poll, a carnival-like event that features barbeque and speeches from presidential candidates in the state that traditionally hosts the first nomination balloting. “The straw poll has absolutely no bearing on the official presidential nomination process,” RNC General Counsel John Ryder wrote in a memo to Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. “Indeed, it is exactly the nature of the Iowa straw poll as simply a fundraising mechanism at an entertainment event for Republican activists and their families, with absolutely no connection to any primary, caucuses or state convention, that protects the straw poll from the requirements of Rule 16(a)(1).” “It will require the candidates to move up their organizational efforts.”

Montana: McCulloch pitches vote-by-mail, other election bills | Montana Standard

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch again is asking legislators to pass a bill requiring all Montana elections to be conducted by mail, except for school elections. McCulloch, the state’s chief election official, said switching elections to mail ballot would increase voter turnout and save counties $2 million every two years. If it’s approved, Montana would join Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states where citizens vote by mail for most elections. “I feel if every voter could get a ballot in their hands, that would increase those who voted,” she said. “It was true in 2014.” In the November 2014, 88 percent of voters receiving absent ballots cast their votes, while only 36 percent of those who didn’t sign up for absentee voting actually turned out to vote. Rep. Geraldine Custer, R-Forsyth, is sponsoring House Bill 70 for McCulloch, a Democrat.

Ohio: Fewer provisional ballots cast in 2014 | The Columbus Dispatch

A smaller portion of Ohio voters were forced to cast provisional ballots in the 2014 general election, and a greater percentage of those votes were counted, a report released today by the secretary of state says. Provisional ballots made up 1.6 percent of the total ballots cast in November, a decrease from the previous gubernatorial election in 2010, when 2.7 percent had to vote provisionally. The share of provisional ballots counted increased to 90.4 percent, an increase from 88.8 percent four years earlier.

Vermont: Calls grow for elections amendment | Times Argus

On the eve of the Legislature’s vote to decide who will be the next governor, lawmakers and advocates are calling for a constitutional amendment that would return the decision to the voters. Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, was joined Wednesday morning just before the start of the 2015 legislative session by Sens. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, Bill Doyle, R-Washington, and Jeanette White, D-Windham, to promote a change to the state’s constitution that would eliminate the mechanism that allows the Legislature to choose the governor. “From VPIRG’s perspective, the concept is pretty simple. The voters of Vermont should be the ones who decide who our governor and other top elected leaders will be,” Burns said. “This year’s election has only provided more evidence that we need a constitutional amendment now. It’s fair, it’s democratic and it’s time.”

Wisconsin: Supreme Court could rule on Wisconsin voter ID law | MSNBC

Voting rights advocates want the Supreme Court to rule on Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law—and if they get their way, the impact could go way beyond the Badger State. Lawyers for the challengers to Wisconsin’s ID measure filed documents Wednesday asking the high court to review a ruling last October by a federal appeals court that upheld the controversial law. “Efforts to restrict access to the ballot demand a full and thorough hearing, which is why we are asking the Supreme Court to review this case and ultimately strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law,” said Dale Ho of the ACLU, which is representing the challengers. It’s by no means certain that the Supreme Court will take the case. If it says no, the law would stay in effect.

Wisconsin: Groups ask Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin voter ID case | Associated Press

Civil rights advocates asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reverse a decision upholding Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law, arguing the case raises questions of national importance about limits on a state’s ability to restrict voting. The American Civil Liberties Union and allied groups argued in their filing that the Wisconsin case offers an “ideal vehicle” to settle the legal debate over voter ID laws. They said 17 states have adopted voter identification laws since the high court upheld Indiana’s law in 2008. They contend that arguments by supporters of such laws that they help prevent voter fraud is a pretext. The measures don’t serve any legitimate state interest and curtail the rights of black and Hispanic voters who lack ID, opponents say. What’s more, legal challenges moving back and forth between state and federal courts have created confusion, they argued.

Egypt: Parliament elections announced, vote to start March 21 | Associated Press

Egypt announced Thursday that the nation’s long-delayed parliament elections will start in March and that the voting will be staggered over seven weeks — the final step in a political roadmap put in place by the military after its ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president. The chief of the Supreme Election Committee, Ayman Abbas, said the voting will take place in phases in Egypt’s 27 provinces and among Egyptians living abroad. Egypt has been mired in turmoil since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The country has been without a legislature for more than two years, after its last elected house was dissolved by a 2012 court ruling. Legislative powers have lately resided in the hands of new President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, elected in June 2014.

Editorials: The Problem With Greek Democracy | Neophytos Loizides and Iosif Kovras/Wall Street Journal

Once again, Greek politics are a focus of global attention as voters head to the polls for a snap parliamentary election on Jan. 25. Observers are especially interested in the implications for economic policy, but this is also an opportunity to reflect on certain fundamental problems with the structure of Greece’s electoral system that help explain the country’s dysfunctional politics. Greece is the only country in the eurozone where the economic crisis has ignited such a deep political crisis, far worse than in Portugal, Spain or Ireland. Yet the Greek public isn’t naturally prone to polarization. Opinion polls since 2010 show a steady public preference for political cooperation, coalition governments and less frequent elections. Unfortunately, flawed electoral laws open a chasm between voters’ wishes and political outcomes.

Sri Lanka: Monitors say voters obstructed in Sri Lankan election | Al Jazeera

Election monitors said Thursday that voters in northern Sri Lanka were prevented from casting their ballots in an election that pits President Mahinda Rajapaksa against an ally who suddenly defected from the ruling party to run against him. The Center for Monitoring Election Violence, based in the capital of Colombo, also said a hand grenade exploded near a voting station in the northern Jaffna peninsula in the Tamil minority heartland, but that no injuries were reported. Elsewhere, voting appeared to proceed without any major incidents as people formed long lines in Colombo, and turnout was good in Tamil-dominated areas where voting had been poor in previous elections. Polls closed Thursday late afternoon and full results were expected to be announced sometime Friday.

United Kingdom: Britain likely to allow voting at 16 | The Times of India

In a massive shift, Britain is planning to allow 16-year-olds to vote in the upcoming general election in May. Prime Minister David Cameron has backed a House of Commons vote on expanding ballot to teenagers. This was done in the recent Scottish independence referendum that boosted youth engagement with politics. “I thought the referendum in Scotland did switch a whole lot of people onto political issues because the question being asked was so important. Now, we should respect the views of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament and we will devolve those powers over voting age… I’m very happy to listen to the arguments and to put them forward,” the PM said.

Canada: Ontario Court of Appeal to weigh restrictions on expats’ voting rights | Toronto Star

The right of long-term expats to vote in federal elections goes before Ontario’s top court Tuesday, as Ottawa fights a ruling that struck down part of Canadian voting laws. Barring Canadians from voting — in this case, those who have lived abroad for more than five years — is a justified restriction in a free and democratic society, the government argues. “The residence limit to voting ensures the connection of the citizen to the place where he or she casts their vote,” the government states in its factum. “That is the social contract at the heart of our system of constitutional democracy.” In May last year, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Penny ruled that parts of the Canada Elections Act — which became law in 1993 — were unconstitutional.