California: Los Angeles County’s reluctance to vote by mail hurting candidates, causes | San Francisco Chronicle

For California Democrats, sprawling Los Angeles County is the scary-looking guard dog that just won’t bark. In November’s election, California’s largest county was dead last in turnout, with just over 31 percent of registered voters casting ballots. And even that dismal number was a huge improvement from the June primary, when Los Angeles County turnout was 16.9 percent — also the lowest in the state. The dismal local turnout makes a difference, particularly to Southern California politicians who aspire to statewide office, like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Rep. Jane Harman. Both have been mentioned as potential candidates for the seat that Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer will be giving up after 2016. Plenty of politicians, consultants and academics blame the county’s turnout woes on the mail. “Los Angeles County is still suffering the effects of not embracing vote-by-mail years ago,” said Douglas Herman, a Democratic political consultant in Pasadena.

Florida: Orange County updating voting equipment for $1.5 million | Orlando Sentinel

Orange County’s voting equipment is undergoing a $1.5 million upgrade aimed at modernizing the system, making the ballot-counting faster and improving access for disabled voters. The County Commission on Tuesday is expected to authorize spending about $1.35 million on the project in the current fiscal year. The remainder was spent last year. Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he had hoped to have the new system up and running in time for this spring’s municipal elections, but that timetable didn’t work out because an element of the system has yet to be certified by the state. If all goes according to plan, Cowles now hopes it will be in place for the presidential preference primary slated for March 1, 2016. One key change will be to do away with land lines for transmitting results. “We want to upgrade them from land line to wireless modeming on election night because more and more facilities are getting away from land lines,” he said. “The trade off is, I don’t have to put land lines into the polling places. “Savings will come in not having to install land lines in the future.” The new system also will include vote-counting machines.

Nebraska: Nebraska could be next state to pass voter ID | MSNBC

Nebraska could be the next state to impose a voter ID law. Two different ID bills have already been introduced already this year, and voting rights advocates have said they’re ready to go to court if either measure passes. One bill, proposed by state Sen. Tyson Larson, is similar to some of the stricter ID laws passed by other states: It requires in-person voters to show a non-expired photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The address on the ID must match a voter’s current address. Absentee voters wouldn’t be required to show ID unless they’re voting for the first time—even though most of the voter fraud that exists occurs through absentee voting.

Ohio: 26 in Hamilton County voted twice in November but only counted once | Cincinnati Inquirer

At least 26 Hamilton County voters cast two ballots in the November election, but no extra votes were actually counted. Elections officials say they caught the double votes and are investigating why they happened. If voters intentionally cast more than one ballot, they will be referred to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution. In most cases, though, investigators believe the votes were cast in error. They say several ballots involved elderly people who sent in absentee ballots and later cast provisional ballots at their polling place. “The system worked the way it should,” said Tim Burke, president of the Board of Elections and leader of the county’s Democratic Party. “The appropriate number of votes were counted. Whether these particular voters acted properly, they did not impact the election because only one vote was counted.”

South Dakota: Native Voting Plaintiffs Got It Right, Says DOJ | Indian Country

The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a Statement of Interest in the federal voting-rights lawsuit, Poor Bear v. Jackson County (South Dakota). The agency supports the Oglala plaintiffs’ allegation that restricting voter registration and in-person absentee voting (often called “early voting”) to an off-reservation county seat makes it difficult for them to vote and is discriminatory. The statement also cites the need to ensure that the Voting Rights Act “is properly interpreted and…vigorously and uniformly enforced.” “Many of us lack the vehicles and gas money to get to the county seat in Kadoka,” explained lead plaintiff, Oglala Sioux Vice President Tom Poor Bear. He and other plaintiffs live in the town of Wanblee, in the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps Jackson County. They want a Wanblee satellite voting office offering the same election services that the primarily white population of the county receives in Kadoka. They also want the county to come under special Justice Department scrutiny via the VRA’s Section 3.

Pennsylvania: Online voter registration getting new look | The Herald

Citizens in almost half the states can sign up to vote the same way they buy music, order pizza or do their banking. While online voter registration has failed in Pennsylvania, three lawmakers are vowing to try again this year. Twenty-four states either have online voter registration or are in the process of adding it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The idea has spread because it often enjoys bipartisan support, said Katy Owens Hubler, an election policy specialist for the group. In legislatures beset by gridlock, she noted, politicians often look for ideas that are unanimously popular so they can accomplish something.

Texas: In campaign finance case, Houston to argue against its own rules | Houston Chronicle

City officials will argue that the city’s election ordinance is unconstitutional as part of a strategy to strengthen their position in a lawsuit that could shape the early stages of this year’s mayor’s race. After defending the city Monday in civil court, City Attorney David Feldman said he would write an opinion explaining to the City Council why its fundraising “blackout” rule is unconstitutional. A federal judge on Friday ruled that law likely violated the First Amendment. A separate lawsuit by likely mayoral candidate Chris Bell, the subject of a hearing in state court Monday, accused the city of failing to strictly enforce its fundraising law. Feldman intends to take advantage of the ruling in the federal case to convince the judge in the Bell lawsuit that Bell no longer has a case.

US Virgin Islands: Hansen wants to take recount case to U.S. Supreme Court | Virgin Islands Daily News

Sen. Alicia Hansen plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her vote recount case, after the V.I. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that ordered a stop to the recount. The V.I. Supreme Court issued the decision upholding Judge Harold Willocks’ Dec. 24 ruling granting a writ of mandamus in a case filed by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly against the V.I. government and the St. Croix Board of Elections. Hansen intervened in that case. Rivera-O’Reilly, who was seventh among elected St. Croix senators, filed the case in V.I. Superior Court on Dec. 8 – four days after the board began the recount of Hansen’s write-in votes. Rivera-O’Reilly asked the court to stop the recount on the grounds that it was illegal. The territory’s high court on Thursday found that although the lower court’s decision granting the writ was correct, its reasoning was wrong.

Vermont: US Supreme Court declines to review challenge to campaign finance law | Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a hearing to a Vermont anti-abortion group that had challenged several provisions of the state’s campaign finance law. The court’s decision not to hear the case effectively upholds a ruling issued in July by a federal appeals court shooting down a legal challenge first filed in 2009 by the Vermont Right to Life Committee. Attorney General William Sorrell called Monday “a good day for Vermont,” while Vermont Right to Life’s Sharon Toborg said the group was disappointed. Changes to campaign finance laws occurred both at the state and federal level since the case was filed, and the case evolved with them. A key question ended up being whether VRLC could set up a separate “fund for independent political expenditures” and make unlimited political contributions through that vehicle.

Virginia: Are Virginia’s odd year elections facing challenges? | Daily Press

There are some rumblings about Virginia’s odd-year state elections that have some of the state’s more sensitive (and partisan) antennae twitching. One is Del. Marcus Simon’s proposal for a Constitutional amendment that elections for state and local offices be held at the same time as federal elections – that is, in even years. (You can read it here.) Another is a recent court challenge to House of Delegates districts. Simon, a Falls Church Democrat, says the idea behind his proposal is to boost turnout. Millions fewer Virginians show up to vote for members of the General Assembly in odd years than show up in federal elections, particularly in years like 2015 when there is no race for governor. In 2011, for instance,  1.5 million Virginians voted for members of the House of Delegates and State Senate. In the 2012 presidential race, about 3.8 million voted.

Editorials: The government is making it harder for Canadians to vote | Michael Pal/Ottawa Citizen

While the courts are making it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote, the federal government seems committed to making it harder. The Fair Elections Act elicited unprecedented condemnation for restricting access to the ballot box. The government has now introduced the Citizen Voting Act, after a court granted the right to vote to some Canadians living outside the country. The Act puts in place rules on how non-resident Canadians can exercise their constitutional right. These rules are so onerous that they will effectively prevent voting by many non-residents. The implications for the more than one million Canadians of voting age who live out of the country deserve close scrutiny.

India: Expats To Be Allowed To Vote Through Absentee Ballot, Court Rules | International Business Times

India’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest court, on Monday asked the government to allow Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), or Indian citizens living abroad, to vote remotely. This would mean that Indians living in foreign countries would be allowed to vote from their country of residence. Until now, Indian citizens living abroad have had to travel back home in order to exercise their franchise, something not many people do. India had given voting rights to NRIs in 2010. Under the new system — e-voting — a blank postal ballot paper is emailed to the voter, who has to then fill it and send it to their constituency via post, according to a report by NDTV, a local news network. India already allows on-duty defense personnel and certain categories of government officers and exiled Kashmiri Hindus to cast their vote remotely. The apex court has reportedly said that the proposed e-voting mechanism, which could require a constitutional amendment, should be implemented within eight weeks.

India: Supreme Court gives Non-Resident Indians the right to vote, but internal migrants are unable to do so |

Even as the Supreme Court ordered the Central government on Monday to give Non-Resident Indians e-voting rights within eight weeks to allow them to cast their ballots without travelling physically to their constituencies, it did not mention any such provision for the millions of migrant workers within India who remain removed from the voting process. Internal migrants cannot vote unless they travel back to their home constituencies. The expense of this prevents a great many migrants from voting. But perhaps a discussion on the question of voting rights of internal migrants was not within the court’s purview in this instance. On November 14 last year, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to state its position on the Election Commission’s proposal to allow NRIs proxy voting through e-ballots.  On Monday, the Centre told the court that it had decided to accept the recommendations.   Under this plan, blank postal ballots will be transferred electronically to NRIs, who will post them back to the authorities in their constituencies.

Nigeria: Vote Chaos Looms as Raids Highlight Islamist Threat | Bloomberg

Tujja Masa won’t dare vote in Nigeria’s presidential election next month. The 50-year-old farmer is one of the hundreds of thousands who’ve fled their northeastern villages to escape gun and bomb attacks by Islamist militants. Raids last week were said to have killed hundreds of people in the town of Baga, while a girl as young as 10 detonated explosives at a market in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. The self-declared leader of the Islamist Boko Haram group, Abubakar Shekau, has likened democracy to homosexuality and incest in video messages. “I am really afraid of election day,” Masa said in Maiduguri, the city in which he’s sheltering with relatives after running away from Krenoa, his village in the north of Borno state. “Honestly we are praying for God to come to our aid and have hitch-free elections, but I will not go there.” Nigeria, home to Africa’s biggest economy, oil industry and population, is stumbling toward general elections in the face of worsening violence by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, and the introduction of a biometric voter-card system designed to end ballot stuffing and fraud.