National: Supreme Court considers whether judges can directly ask for campaign donations | The Washington Post

The Supreme Court’s latest test of whether campaign contribution restrictions violate free-speech rights split the justices into familiar liberal and conservative camps. And skeptical questions from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the pivotal vote, did not bode well for Florida and 29 other states that forbid judicial candidates from directly soliciting campaign contributions. Such restrictions are needed, the states contend, because judges are not like other politicians. The public expects judges to be impartial, the states argue, and that perception is compromised when candidates directly ask for money. But Barry Richard, representing the Florida Bar Association, received sharp questioning from justices about whether Florida’s regulations are too porous to accomplish those goals. While candidates may not directly solicit contributions, they may organize a committee to ask for money, direct the committee toward potential contributors, see who gave and even send thank-you notes.

National: Hoyer presses GOP on voting rights | The Hill

Saying voter discrimination “has not gone away,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called on GOP leaders Tuesday to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Maryland Democrat said the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision eliminating central provisions of the law “clearly undermined the protections of the right to vote in this country” and urged Republicans to replace those provisions this year. “The majority of the court was simply wrong,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Something that had helped solve the problem, and made sure it didn’t reoccur, was jettisoned.” Republican leaders have shown little interest in the issue. And last week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said congressional reforms are unnecessary because “substantial” parts of the VRA remain intact. “To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area,” he said Wednesday during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Voting Blogs: From Selma to Citizens United: The contested struggle for one person, one vote | Facing South

On Jan. 19, our country celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., half a century after his work — chronicled in the recent Oscar-nominated movie “Selma” — helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Next week will also be the five-year anniversary of another momentous event for our democracy: the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and groups the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. The two anniversaries are more closely linked than many realize. The 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches — and the brutal backlash to them from Alabama state troopers — galvanized national support for the Voting Rights Act, changing the balance of power in the South. Building on years of local organizing, “roughly a million new voters were registered within a few years after the [Voting Rights Act] became law,” says historian Alexander Keyssar in his seminal book “The Right to Vote,” “with African-American registration soaring to a record 62 percent.”

Editorials: The legacy of ‘Citizens United’ strays from the Supreme Court’s vision | The Washington Post

Five years ago, the Supreme Court turned a corner on campaign finance. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , the court held that corporations could undertake unrestricted independent spending in election campaigns, overturning decades of restrictions on corporate money in politics by saying that the money represented free speech . At the same time, the court, in a decision written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, emphasized the importance of disclosure of the sources of campaign money. The court declared, “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” It also said that disclosure “permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” And the court expressed enthusiasm that technology today makes disclosure “rapid and informative.”

Iowa: Online voter registration coming to Iowa in early 2016 | Des Moines Register

Online voter registration could be available to Iowans in early 2016 following the approval of new state rules Tuesday. The Iowa Voter Registration Commission voted unanimously to adopt rules establishing an online registration system that we be maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation. The move allows the DOT to begin developing the system, with plans to make it available to would-be voters by the first quarter of 2016. That might be after Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, but well before next year’s primary and general elections. … Because the system will rely on electronic signatures on file with the DOT, online registration will be available only to Iowans with a driver license or non-operator ID. More than 90 percent of eligible voters have a state-issued ID card, Secretary of State’s Office officials said Tuesday. All other means of voter registration will remain available with the introduction of the online form.

Missouri: Days out, Eric Fey is in as director of St. Louis County elections | Post Dispatch

Former State Sen. Rita Days has been removed from her post as director of the St. Louis County Board of Elections. The Board of Election Commissioners – which ousted Days in a unanimous vote Tuesday afternoon – tapped Eric Fey to oversee voting in the state’s most populous county. Fey, the legislative aide to St. Louis County Council Chair Pat Dolan, brings prior experience as an election board employee to the job. He has also served as a foreign election observer. A Democrat, Days has overseen county elections since her appointment by the commission in 2011. Her annual salary was $118,539.

Maryland: Officials Pulled 35 Voting Machines During 2014 Elections | NBC4 Washington

Maryland state election officials pulled 35 voting machines offline during the 2014 elections, mostly because of complaints about possible vote-flipping by the electronic machines, according to a review by the News-4 I-Team. The state’s board of elections received dozens of complaints from voters about machines that had changed their votes from the candidate of one political party to that of another — Democrat to Republican or Republican to Democrat. Those complaints included some from voters in Germantown, Columbia and Adelphia. The News-4 I-Team’s review of state election databases and internal agency emails shows a 50 percent increase in vote-flipping complaints in 2014 from the 2012 state elections.

Virginia: Redistricting reform, two-term-governor bills advance in Virginia | Daily Press

Annual efforts to change the way Virginia draws election districts, and to do away the state’s unique prohibition against governor’s running for re-election, moved forward Tuesday at the Capitol. They won bipartisan support in lopsided Senate committee votes, but continue to face an uphill climb that has toppled similar measures for years. Legislative leaders from both chambers didn’t give any of these measures high chances for success. “I would be surprised if we would move too far along,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, R-James City. Several redistricting bills moved forward, though. They differ in details, but each seeks to move Virginia away from the partisan process that allows the legislature to draw its own maps. Some rely on appointed commissions. At least one would have legislative staffers draw maps for General Assembly approval, similar to a method used in Iowa.

Greece: Expats in London, New York and Melbourne hold breath | The Guardian

From the enclaves of north London to Queens in New York City and Oakleigh and Northcote in Melbourne: an entire nation-in-exile is holding its breath before Sunday’s pivotal Greek elections. And for some, the vote is so important that they are even making plans to return to the homeland this week so they can cast their ballot. Ikaros Matsoukas, a 34-year-old management consultant at BHP Billiton, is one of more than 200,000 who have left Greece since the crisis bit five years ago. He feels so strongly about an election in which the leftist Eurosceptics of Syriza are in pole position that he plans to fly home at the weekend. “I believe it is the most important [election] in recent times in Greece,” Matsoukas said. “The coalition parties, with the same politicians, have been ruling the country for the last 40 years and have led Greece to this dire situation so I believe it is time for someone new.

Nigeria: Technical Challenges to Free, Fair, and Credible Elections in Nigeria | Council on Foreign Relations

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated every single Nigerian presidential election since 1999. Using sophisticated forms of electoral rigging and relying on a relatively unified political class built on patronage, a PDP incumbent or his anointed successor has secured electoral victory at every turn. Such a scenario would all but ensure the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan in the February 14, 2015 elections. But, that mold is broken. Under pressure from falling oil prices, a decline in the value of the national currency, the fall in values on the Nigerian stock exchange, the increasing success of the Boko Haram insurgency, and repeated episodes demonstrating that the Nigerian state can no longer provide security for its citizens have fractured agreements between the political elites that have run Nigeria for decades. Many elites also appear increasingly detached from the Nigerian people because of their association with corruption and poor governance.

Zambia: Zambians vote in a special election to replace President Michael Sata | Los Angeles Times

Zambians voted Tuesday in a special election to replace President Michael Sata, who died in office in October after a long illness kept secret by the government.Sata’s death unleashed ugly power struggles in the governing Patriotic Front party and the southern African country’s biggest opposition party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, both of which had to be resolved in court. In the Patriotic Front, the acting president, Guy Scott, a white Zambian of Scottish descent, battled the minister for defense and justice, Edgar Lungu. The two factions held separate conferences to select a candidate in Tuesday’s vote, with Lungu emerging as the winner after the conflict went to court. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Zambia’s largest opposition party, was in office for two decades until 2011, when Sata and the Patriotic Front took power. But the party split over its candidate in this election, initially selecting former President Rupiah Banda, a move challenged successfully in court by party leader Nevers Mumba.