National: Backers of voting rights bill try a new strategy | USA Today

President Barack Obama named voting rights protections as a priority in his State of the Union address Tuesday, but legislation that would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act faces tough challenges this Congress. That legislation, called the Voting Rights Amendment Act, would resurrect the 1965 law’s “pre-clearance” provision requiring states with a history of voting discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes in their elections procedures. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 — in Shelby County vs. Holder — that the formula used to determine which states were subject to pre-clearance was invalid, effectively nullifying the provision itself.

Editorials: Here’s what I learned when I helped Stephen Colbert set up his Super PAC | Trevor Potter/The Washington Post

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision. The ruling gave rise to a complicated mess of super PACs, dark money, and “coordinated non-coordinated expenditures” — a world that likely surprised even the Supreme Court. Viewers of Stephen Colbert’s late lamented “Colbert Report,” however, knew just how tricky this new world had become. In 2011, Colbert formed his own Super PAC. And he reported on the process every step of the way, explaining to viewers how the wacky post-Citizens United world worked (or, perhaps, didn’t work). I was his lawyer for the venture, which meant I did everything from drafting a Federal Election Commission Advisory Opinion Request to accompanying Colbert to hearings. I even figured out how to make the money “disappear” from public view when the PAC was closing. (Hint: It’s not that hard.)

Connecticut: As City Council Plans to Remove Her, Hartford’s Democratic Registrar Plans to Fight | WNPR

As Hartford’s City Council is seeking to remove all three of its registrars because of a disastrous Election Day 2014, at least one of them — Democrat Olga Vazquez — is planning a strong defense. “She does not disagree with the fact that there were some serious snafus,” said Leon Rosenblatt, Vazquez’s attorney. “But the registrars weren’t the cause of it. And the report that was written is very one-sided and incomplete.” Rosenblatt said that a “perfect storm” caused the problems, chief among them being the “internecine warfare” between the registrars and the town clerk, and the leaderless structure of the three-headed office.

District of Columbia: Grosso Re-Introduces Bill To Allow Local Voting Privileges For Legal Non-Citizens | DCist

The D.C. Council will once again try to pass a bill allowing green card holders the right to vote in local elections. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced a bill yesterday that would grant permanent resident immigrants municipal voting privileges. Councilmembers Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) joined him in co-introducing the bill. “What most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives, like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more,” Grosso said in a statement. “Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.”

Iowa: Online voter registration program approved | WCF Courier

Iowans soon will have the opportunity to register to vote online, provided they have a driver’s or state-issued operator’s license, thanks to a rule approved Tuesday by a state commission. The five-member voter registration commission unanimously approved a new rule that uses the transportation department’s database to allow state residents with government-issued identification to register to vote online. The Secretary of State’s Office said it hopes to have the program in place in time for the 2016 elections, which will include an open-seat race for the White House. “This is obviously another major step toward the goal we all share … to encourage as much (voter) participation as we can. This is one more step toward that,” Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “We’re going to be very aggressive and work with the DOT. That’s what this really is about, so we can keep the timetable moving.

Editorials: The ballot has become another partisan battleground | Dave Helling/The Kansas City Star

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, says Kansans should be able to cast a straight-ticket ballot, where a voter could select all of a party’s nominees by checking just one box. “It’s a matter of voter convenience,” he told reporters last week. That would be news to former state Sen. John Loudon of Missouri, also a Republican. In the mid-2000s he sponsored legislation that ended straight-ticket voting in his state, claiming it confused voters. “There’s really no virtue to it at all,” he said then. Now, reasonable politicians can disagree on issues, but both Republicans can’t be right. Straight-ticket balloting either helps voters or hurts them. But the fact that two members of the same party disagree so sharply — in two different states — suggests their views are less about voter convenience and more about manipulating outcomes at the voting booth.

Oklahoma: State Senator proposes big election changes | KOKH

An Oklahoma state Senator has proposed big changes to the way Oklahomans vote. Senator David Holt has filed a package of nine bills and a joint resolution he says are designed to increase voter participation. “Oklahomans are patriotic, but our voting record is undermining that reputation. Our plunging levels of civic participation are reaching crisis levels,” Holt said in a release.

South Dakota: Proposed election law changes move forward at Capitol | Times Union

South Dakota lawmakers are moving quickly on an election law package to expand state and citizen oversight of candidates’ petitions to secure a spot on the ballot. Two state Senate panels on Wednesday approved parts of the package put forward by Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and the bipartisan state Board of Elections. The Senate Local Government Committee approved a measure allowing the Secretary of State’s office to audit a random sample of voter signatures from statewide candidates’ petitions.

Vermont: Burlington Residents to Decide on Noncitizen Voting | Seven Days

In 2007, an Italian ecologist led a group of local immigrants in trying to convince Burlington residents to allow people who weren’t U.S. citizens to vote on Town Meeting Day. The proposal elicited reactions so vitriolic that the group disbanded. Four years later, Progressive Councilor Vince Brennan asked the city council to put that question to voters. It died during deliberations. By the time Brennan brought the proposal up again in 2014, things had changed: All but two councilors agreed to put the question on Burlington’s ballot this March. The once-ambivalent Mayor Miro Weinberger supported the decision, too.

Wisconsin: Judicial panel dismisses complaint against judge in voter ID case | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The state Judicial Commission has dismissed the complaint filed last year against a judge over his handling of a voter ID case. Last fall, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess stepped aside from the lawsuit challenging the state requirement on voters to show photo ID at the polls rather than dismissing the case as ordered by the state Supreme Court. Another judge dismissed the case soon afterward. In a letter to Niess on Jan. 6, commission executive director Jeremiah Van Hecke said his judicial ethics agency found nothing for it to charge in the matter. “The commission’s examination of the investigation resulted in a determination that there is insufficient evidence of misconduct within the jurisdiction of the commission which would warrant further action or consideration,” Van Hecke said.

Congo: Senate to Vote on Amended Electoral Law After Protests | Businessweek

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Senate will vote Thursday on an amended electoral law that may not require a new census before presidential elections are held, potentially resolving a debate that triggered deadly protests. “In principle we’ll have a law that will clarify this problem and we hope this will calm public opinion,” Senator Emery Kalamba said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa. A parliamentary commission is currently amending the law, he said. Demonstrations against the law continued for a fourth day, spreading to the eastern city of Goma where at least one man died, Thomas D’Aquin Muiti, president of Civil Society in North Kivu province, said by phone. Police and soldiers were deployed throughout Kinshasa, where more than 40 people have died in protests since Jan. 19, according to human-rights groups.

Greece: Smaller Party Could Emerge as Kingmaker in Greek Election | Wall Street Journal

Greece’s elections on Sunday are poised to give one of a handful of smaller parties a central role in the direction of the country—and possibly the entire eurozone. The opposition leftist Syriza party and the ruling conservatives, New Democracy, are battling for a first-place finish. But neither is likely to get a majority and will need to turn to another party to help govern, putting whoever comes in third in a position to become a kingmaker. The contenders range from the far-right Golden Dawn, shunned by Greece’s mainstream parties, to Pasok—part of the ruling coalition, but a shadow of the party that dominated Greek politics for most of the past four decades.

Zambia: Voting extended to third day | AFP

Zambian police fired tear gas Wednesday to disperse about 100 supporters of the leading opposition candidate, as a hotly-contested presidential election was extended into a third day. A number of Hakainde Hichilema’s supporters in the United Party for National Development were arrested and bundled into a police van, an AFP correspondent saw. Police initially asked the supporters to disperse but one of them shouted back at the officers, who then drove them off with batons and tear gas.