Editorials: When Can a Judge Ask, ‘Write Me a Check’? | Garret Epps/The Atlantic

Here’s an old Chicago joke: A judge comes to a lawyer preparing to try a case. “The other side just gave me $10,000 to decide for them,” he says. “You have two choices: you can give me $20,000 to decide for you.” “What’s other choice?” the lawyer says. “Give me $10,000 and I’ll just decide based on the law.” A judge who actually tried this would be in trouble. Flat-out bribery is illegal. But very often the real scandal in a society is what is legal.  What about a judge who says, “You might want to know that the other firm has contributed to my campaign fund”? Currently 39 out of the 50 states have a system of popular election for judges.  All but nine of those states have laws providing that judges and judicial candidates “shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support.” They may establish campaign committees to raise funds; but the hey-given-me-money-lately sidebar is forbidden.

Editorials: Tycoon dough: The ultimate electoral martial art | Lawrence Norden and Daniel Weiner/Reuters

Jan. 21 marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations (and, by extension, unions) have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections. Few recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have received as much attention — or generated as much public backlash – as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court and its defenders promised that the ruling – which gave corporations (and, by extension, unions) a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections — would free up more voices to enrich U.S. political debates. Critics predicted a deluge of corporate cash into U.S. elections. Yet neither has been the most striking result of Citizens United. The most stunning consequence is the influence that a few tycoons and other wealthy donors now wield in U.S. elections. Running a close second is the tidal wave of “dark money” from unknown sources making it impossible for citizens to know who is supporting candidates in pivotal races. Both these unexpected and troubling developments undermine American democracy.

Florida: 1 name on ballot for District 64 special election | Bay News 9

The special election for District 64’s house seat will now only include one name. In April, James Grant is the only one whose name will appear on the ballot in the Special Election for House District 64. “I would say that it’s really unfortunate,” said Grant. Miriam Steinberg was originally in the race, but she didn’t qualify for the special election. Her husband said she didn’t want to pay the filing fee again. “She wasn’t going to pay another filing fee for a special election, she had already lost the election the first time,” said Michael Steinberg, Miriam’s husband.

Indiana: GOP-led plan: End one-click straight ticket | Journal Gazette

One of the House Republicans’ key priorities is an election bill filed Thursday that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in the general election. Under current law, voters can automatically choose all Democrat, Republican or Libertarian candidates with one click or mark of the ballot. But House Bill 1008 would require voters to choose a candidate specifically for each office. The legislation is being carried by Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, at the request of House GOP leadership. “As we revolutionize elections and technology continues to creep into the way we campaign and the information available to voters, it’s clear folks are looking at candidates rather than party affiliation,” he said. “We don’t put donkeys and elephants on our signs anymore.” Only 12 states allow or offer straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It has been declining in popularity over the past decade.

Montana: Changes afoot to tighten campaign finance reporting laws in Montana | The Missoulian

The first-time registration of a Missoula law firm as a political action committee appears to indicate a shift in the political landscape since the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The high court’s decision five years ago this month found independent expenditures by corporations are protected under the First Amendment, and it struck down a ban on those contributions. The Supreme Court subsequently found Montana’s ban on independent spending by corporations to be unconstitutional. Now, changes are afoot to tighten remaining campaign finance regulations in Montana, and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl has been active in enforcing existing ones. “What we have left in Montana is reporting and disclosure,” Motl said.

Ohio: Idea is for fewer Ohio polling places, but you can use any of them | The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio voters would lose most of their Election Day polling places under a plan for centralized voting pushed by the head of the group representing county elections officials. Urban areas such as Franklin County could see a reduction of 60 to 75 percent, translating into a potential drop from the current 404 voting locales to perhaps a little more than 100. The tradeoffs: Voters could cast a ballot from any polling location in their home county. And the cost to run elections would drop substantially, especially with most Ohio counties due to replace aging voting equipment. “The more I talk to people nationally, the more I read and learn, this has the potential to be a game-changer for voters, for taxpayers and for elections administrators,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “We’ve got to be more efficient. We have to take advantage of technology and think outside of the box.”

Ohio: Secretary of state wants online voter registration, ballot tracking | Twinsburg Bulletin

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted said Jan. 14 he’ll continue to push to allow Ohioans to register electronically to vote and for a system that will enable those casting ballots by mail to track their submissions online. Husted offered the recommendations during the winter conference of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, where he recapped election-related accomplishments of the last year and gave a snapshot of some of his priorities in advance of the 2016 presidential contest. Husted continued to call for state lawmakers to pass legislation to allow voters to register online. Eligible residents already can update their information via the secretary of state’s website.

Texas: The state of voting in Texas | MSNBC

This country has a long and complicated history with voting rights. Though universal suffrage was granted in 1920, it took years of organizing to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and finally secure unencumbered access to polling places. Now, nearly five decades later, politicians in Texas have been systematically chipping away at those protections — through voter ID laws, overreaching registration regulations, and other hurdles designed to drive down the number of people who are able to make their voices heard at the ballot box. In fact, Texas is the next great battleground for voters’ rights. Texas’ voter ID law was one of the most publicized voting restrictions of 2014 — in part because of the drama surrounding a last-minute Supreme Court decision to keep the law in effect only days before voting started in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Ruled to be “intentionally discriminatory” and likened to a poll tax by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Nelva Ramos, the law does more than require identification in order to vote: it limits the acceptable forms of voter identification to a select few – a concealed handgun license is acceptable, for instance, while a Social Security card is not. As a result, last November, about 600,000 registered Texas voters – a group that was disproportionately African-American, Latino, young and elderly – were at risk of being kept from the polls by this restrictive law.

Canada: Special voting machines, bedside balloting help make election accessible | The Record

Through the use of voting machines that read out a ballot or allow a quadriplegic elector to vote with a “sip and puff” controller, the City of Kitchener is working to make it easier for disabled residents to exercise their democratic rights. The city evaluates each poling station for accessibility, and sets up voting stations at 16 long-term care facilities or nursing homes, even allowing people to vote from their bedside if need be. “Everybody has a fundamental right to vote,” said city clerk Christine Tarling, “and so it is our obligation — and our honour — to be able to make sure we facilitate everyone who is eligible to vote, regardless of their circumstances or their limitations.” With an aging population and about 15.5 per cent of Ontarians reporting some limits on their activity because of disability, the province has increased its requirements for municipalities to remove barriers for disabled citizens. As part of that, municipalities are expected to ensure the election is as accessible as possible.

India: Community divided over citizenship rights | The Hindu

The Election Commission’s recent directive allowing Tibetan refugees to register for voter identity card for Delhi Assembly elections, which will help them acquire Indian citizenship, has not been welcomed by all and created a deep chasm within the exiled community. Those against acquiring citizenship rights argue that the Tibetans living in India must remain refugees as becoming an Indian citizen would “dilute the struggle” for a free Tibet. N. K. Trikha, national convenor of Core Group for Tibetan Cause, a pan-India group which advocates Tibet’s independence from Chinese rule, said, “Acquiring Indian citizenship will knock the bottom out of their reason for living in exile with a determination to return to their motherland or see her become free at some point in time.”

Nigeria: APC Alleges Plan to Annul Presidential Election If Buhari Wins | Nigerian Bulletin

The All Progressives Congress, APC has issued a statement claiming the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is set to scuttle the victory of its Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. A statement issued by Garba Shehu, Directorate of Media & Publicity, APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, read, ”The All Progressive Congress’ Presidential Campaign Organization has asked the general public to ponder on a statement posted on Facebook by an official of the Presidency saying their government will rather hand over power to the military rather than to General Muhammadu Buhari in the event that the APC candidate wins the election.

Zambia: Electoral Commission Says Ready to Administer Poll | VoA News

A senior official of the Electoral Commission of Zambia says the organization is ready to supervise a credible presidential by-election on Tuesday. Official campaigning ends on Monday ahead of the poll. The commission’s director of elections, Priscilla Isaac, says both sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been dispatched to ensure all polling centers across the country can open on time for the vote. “We have really tried to be on top of things and we will be ready to open polling station on time on the 20th,” says Isaac. “We dispatched the last set of ballot papers to the districts – that was Thursday. So all the ballot papers are all in the districts and now just waiting for the deployment to the respective polling stations with the polling staff … We know that everybody will be in place by the 19th at all their respective polling stations, in readiness for the polls on Tuesday.”