National: Obama Gives A Push To Restoring Voting Rights Act: ‘The Right To Vote Is Sacred’ | Huffington Post

President Barack Obama pushed Congress Tuesday night to restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, even though Republicans signaled last week they have no intention of doing so. “We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American,” Obama said during his State of the Union address. In July 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the landmark civil rights law, which required parts of the country with a history of minority voter suppression to clear changes to their voting laws with the federal government.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake by David Cole | David Cole/The New York Review of Books

Five years ago this week, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court decided to allow unlimited amounts of corporate spending in political campaigns. How important was that decision? At the time, some said criticism of the decision was overblown, and that fears that it would give outsize influence to powerful interests were unfounded. Now, the evidence is in, and the results are devastating. To coincide with the decision’s fifth anniversary, eight public interest organizations—the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Demos, U.S. PIRG, Public Campaign, Justice at Stake, and the Center for Media and Democracy—have simultaneously issued reports that demonstrate the steadily growing influence of money on elections since the Court’s decision. Their findings show that the case opened the spigot to well more than a billion dollars in unrestricted outside spending on political campaigns, by corporations and individuals alike. It has done so at a time when wealth and income disparities in the United States are at their highest levels since 1928. Increasingly, it’s not clear that your vote matters unless you’re also willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to support your preferences. Some of this money has come directly from the kind of corporate money at issue in Citizens United. But much more of it has come from other kinds of funding made possible by the Court’s decision, whose rationale undermined expenditure limits across the board, not just for corporations. Take the 2014 midterm elections. Just eleven closely contested Senate races tipped the balance and allowed the Republicans to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. In eight of the ten states for which data is available, outside groups outspent the candidates themselves, by many millions of dollars. In North Carolina, for example, outside groups spent $26 million more than the candidates did. With these kinds of numbers, elected politicians may feel as beholden to such groups as to the people who actually voted for them.

Editorials: Honor King’s Legacy by Protecting Voting Rights | Ari Berman/The Nation

The film Selma movingly chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to win the Voting Rights Act (VRA). It ends with King speaking triumphantly on the steps of the Alabama capitol, after marching from Selma to Montgomery. Five months later, Congress passed the VRA, the most important civil-rights law of the twentieth century. If only that story had a happy ending today. Selma has been released at a time when voting rights are facing the most sustained attack since 1965. The Supreme Court gutted the centerpiece of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013. That followed a period from 2011 to 2012 when 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in 41 states, and 22 states made it harder to vote. Last year, on King’s birthday, a bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced a legislative fix for the Shelby decision, restoring the requirement that states with the worst record of voting discrimination have to clear their voting changes with the federal government. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA) was an imperfect piece of legislation, but voting rights advocates viewed it as a good first step toward protecting voting rights.

Arkansas: New voting machines could be on horizon, official says | Arkansas Online

The race is on to replace Washington County’s decade-old voting equipment before the 2016 presidential election, the county’s election coordinator said Thursday. Two vendors will meet with election commissioners as part of the companies’ statewide push to grab Arkansas’ next voting equipment contracts, said coordinator Jennifer Price during the commission’s first meeting of the new term. California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions and Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software are both angling for the state’s attention, Price said. Election Systems & Software provides the state’s current equipment and support. New contracts could net either company tens of millions of state taxpayers’ dollars, Price said. “It’s the money that’ll be the holdup,” Price told the three commissioners, who oversee all city and county votes. “The state appropriating the money is the biggest hurdle.”

Connecticut: Hartford Council Looks To Remove Registrars of Voters | Hartford Courant

Citing Election Day problems, city council members said Tuesday that they will seek to remove the city’s three registrars of voters. Council members said they will file a resolution Wednesday that, if approved, would begin the removal process for the registrars — Democrat Olga Vazquez; Urania Petit, a Working Families Party member; and Republican Sheila Hall. Council President Shawn Wooden said a vote on the plan is expected Monday. The council can remove elected officials with a supermajority vote, meaning that seven of the nine members would have to vote in favor of the proposal. The registrars’ office could face additional reforms as well; the council’s operations, management, budget and legislative affairs committee is developing a set of recommendations for change. “The council believes that the conduct reported by the committee may constitute ‘dereliction of official duty, or incompetence’ by the Hartford Registrars of Voters,” the resolution, sponsored by Wooden and four other council members, says.

New Mexico: Voter ID debate goes high-tech with new proposal | Associated Press

The push to require New Mexico voters to present some form of identification at the polls has long divided Democrats and Republicans, but one state senator is taking the debate in another direction. Senate Minority Whip William Payne introduced a proposal this week that calls for the state’s top elections officials to study the feasibility of bringing biometrics into the mix. That could mean anything from retinal scans to the thumbprint-imaging technology used to access smartphones. After hearing the same debate year after year, the Albuquerque Republican said he wanted to find a way to take some of the “venom” out of the argument that requiring photo identification would lead to voter suppression. “This could put to rest the criticism that voters cannot afford to produce reliable photo identification when they vote,” Payne said. “Everyone has an eyeball or thumb that could be scanned for identification. No need to produce a photo ID.”

National: The $5 billion presidential campaign? | The Hill

The 2016 presidential election could cost as much as $5 billion, according to top fundraisers and bundlers who are already predicting it will more than double the 2012 campaign’s price tag. Behind-the-scenes jockeying to raise big bucks from bundlers connected to super-PACs and third-party groups is well underway, even with no top-tier candidates officially in the race. Potential candidates with proven fundraising prowess, such as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are throwing political elbows at each other to secure donors’ money at an early stage in the race. And then there’s Hillary Clinton. In private conversations, allies to the former secretary of State are predicting that the campaign totals on their end alone might surpass $1.5 billion and go as high as $2 billion.

Illinois: Kane County to investigate disbanding Aurora Election Commission | Daily Herald

Just when it looked like officials would create the first written, mutual agreement spelling out the funding and operation of the Aurora Election Commission, Kane County Board members said Thursday they would rather work toward disbanding it. Kane County Chief Judge Judith Brawka began working with the commission and the city of Aurora in July 2013 to resolve conflicts about the commission’s funding. As it stands, Aurora and Kane County are required to fund the commission. Kane County kicks in about $400,000 a year, and Aurora’s commitment is more than $600,000. But neither taxing body has authority to set the commission’s budget, which has resulted in multiple late bill payments.

Maine: Ranked-choice voting advocates aiming for 2016 Maine ballot | Associated Press

A group that wants to implement ranked-choice voting in Maine elections plans to wait until 2016 to put its proposal before voters. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting had been considering filing signatures to force a referendum this November, but it now wants more time to educate voters on the proposal’s merits, said former independent Sen. Richard Woodbury, who is helping to lead the effort. Under the group’s proposal — which would apply to races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and state Legislature — voters would rank candidates by order of preference. The first-choice votes would be counted, but if no one receives a majority, then the person who received the fewest is eliminated.

Minnesota: Secretary of state pursuing voting advancements | Albert Lea Tribune

Two weeks into his term as Minnesota’s new secretary of state, Steve Simon has a goal to make voting as easy as possible for the state’s residents. Simon, a former DFL legislator from Hopkins, in 2014 helped bring about no-excuse absentee voting, which he said has been a huge success. He said there was a 55 percent increase in people utilizing absentee voting during the election in 2014 when compared to 2010, another non-presidential election year. With no-excuse absentee voting passed, he is now focusing on implementing what he calls “true early voting.” Simon said under absentee voting, voters place their vote in an envelope and either mail or bring it into the Freeborn County Courthouse, where it remains locked up until the election and is then counted.

Nebraska: With Legislature’s more conservative bent, voter ID measures face clearer path in ’15 | Omaha World Herald

The Nebraska Legislature’s more conservative cast has given new hope this year to supporters of a bill requiring government-issued photo identification to vote. But opponents are already promising to filibuster the proposal and, if that fails, mount a legal challenge. “There will be a vigorous and very long debate, and I will do everything I can to stop it,” said State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who is executive director of the voter advocacy group, Nebraskans for Civic Reform. Morfeld said he believes opponents have enough votes to block voter ID legislation.

New Mexico: Senator wants New Mexico to study thumbprint and eye-scan technology for voter ID | Santa Fe Reporter

A Republican state senator wants to take a different look at the contentious idea of requiring voters to present photo IDs at the polls. Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R-Bernalillo, introduced a Senate memorial today calling on the state to study the feasibility of using biometrics like thumbprints, eye scans and DNA recognition technology to identify voters at the polls and prevent voter fraud. He says he got the idea after hearing “years and years about whether or not any effort to have photo ID or other identification measures suppresses the vote.” “I thought I’d shake it up a little because I recently got an iPhone that uses a thumbprint identification that only I could open it instead of having to use a password or any other code to get into it,” Payne says in a video statement provided to SFR by the Senate Republican Leadership office (he had already left the Roundhouse when we tried to reach him this afternoon).

North Dakota: Lawmakers float voter ID proposals | Grand Forks Herald

North Dakota lawmakers are proposing changes to the state’s voter identification law after some had problems casting a ballot in November. The proposals come after the Legislature changed North Dakota’s voter identification law two years ago to do away with the voter affidavit process that allowed voters to cast a ballot without proper ID. A bill introduced last week by Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, would reverse that change and bring back affidavits. “Let’s go back to the 2013 law and start from there,” Mock said. But Rep. Randy Boehning, R-Fargo, said voter affidavits leave the state’s election system vulnerable to fraud. He’s sponsoring a bill that would allow citizens who don’t have an updated ID to use a change of address form, bill or bank statement that shows they’ve lived in that location for 30 days to vote. It would also clarify acceptable forms of ID, which wouldn’t include student identification certificates. Neither proposal, House Bill 1333 or House Bill 1302, has been scheduled for a hearing.

Oklahoma: Election Reform Bills | KTUL

In the election process, casting your vote, and the steps the lead up to it are virtually frozen in the past. “I’ve never met a government process that can’t be modernized,” said Oklahoma State Senator David Holt, looking to kick start election reform with a series of bills that would hopefully increase voter turnout. How bad have things gotten? “In 1992 over 70% of Oklahomans voted in the Presidential election, but in 2012 only 50%, third worst in the nation,” he said. The bills would do things such as online voter registration, and voting by mail like folks do in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. … As for one day actually voting online? “We’re a ways off, decades probably,” said Holt.

Tennessee: State’s photo-ID law for voters questioned | Daily News Journal

Voting-rights advocates questioned and pushed for reforms in Tennessee’s photo-ID voting law during a lecture at Middle Tennessee State University Thursday. More than two dozen people packed a small classroom at MTSU for the lecture by Fair Elections Legal Network’s Jon Sherman, who tied the Tennessee law passed in 2011 to a series of other state laws he said are meant to suppress people from casting ballots. The state law requires all voters to provide either a state driver’s license, a state or federally issued photo identification, a military photo ID, a U.S. passport or a Tennessee carry permit to cast their ballots in person. Student identifications and city- and county-issued ID cards are not accepted under the law, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office.

Greece: From prison, Greece’s Golden Dawn runs quiet but vitriolic campaign | Reuters

Nearly three years since entering parliament after rousing rallies and food handouts, Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn is running a much quieter campaign for Sunday’s election from a high-security prison. With most of its top brass jailed pending trial on charges of being in a criminal gang, Greeks have seen little of one of Europe’s most ardent anti-immigrant parties in recent weeks except for the occasional broadcast and odd leaflet. Golden Dawn, whose leaders deny neo-Nazi sympathies, taps into the same anger at politicians seen as responsible for austerity, wage cuts and record unemployment that is expected to propel the radical leftist Syriza to power. The party’s resilience on Greece’s turbulent political scene, it ranks as high as third in some polls, raises the prospect of an imprisoned far-right leader being asked to form a government if Syriza and the ruling conservatives both fail to win outright or form a coalition.

Israel: State May Tackle Threats on Female Haredi Party | Arutz Sheva

The new female haredi party B’Zhutan has already been threatened with excommunication and other forms of backlash by members of the haredi community, to the point that Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber has decided to get involved. Zilber on Thursday sent a letter to the Central Elections Committee chairperson, judge Salim Joubran, responding to the societal pressure being directed at the party’s three founders Ruth Kolian, Noa Erez and Karen Mozen. “One of the rabbis identified with (the haredi party) United Torah Judaism published statements about women who back a party that is not led by ‘gedolei Yisrael’ (leading rabbis – ed.),” wrote Zilber. Elaborating, she continued “according to the publication, a woman who acts in opposition to the rabbi’s orders will have her ketuba (marriage contract – ed.) removed from her, her income will be harmed (it will be forbidden to study at her educational institutions and to buy products from her), and her children will be removed from institutions of study.”

Nigeria: 1 Million Displaced Voters Pose Challenge | VoA News

Nigeria’s electoral commission is scrambling to find ways that will allow approximately 1 million people displaced by Boko Haram-related violence to vote in the February elections. The independent commission says voters displaced by fighting in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states can pick up their voter cards at designated centers and refugee camps, many of them located in the state capitals. Those locations are also where displaced voters will be able to cast their ballots. That means tens of thousands of displaced Nigerians who have fled farther south must make their way back.

South Sudan: Parties sue election commission to stop polls | Turkish Press

An alliance of 18 opposition parties on Thursday filed a court case against South Sudan’s election commission in hopes of delaying elections scheduled for June 30. “We are here to raise a constitutional suit against the national election commission so that we can seek an injunction for the date which has been fixed,” alliance chairperson Lam Akol told reporters at the High Court in Juba. The suit was lodged with the court’s constitutional division. “The date for elections should be declared null and void,” said Akol, who is also leader of the country’s main opposition party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change. The election commission has set June 30 as the date for general elections. But the opposition insists that elections cannot be held in the absence of a permanent constitution.

Zambia: Ruling party candidate takes early lead in vote | AFP

Zambia’s ruling party candidate Edgar Lungu on Thursday edged ahead in the race to replace the late president Michael Sata, authorities said as voting continued in parts of the country. According to the Electoral Commission of Zambia, ballots from 90 of the 150 constituencies had been counted by Thursday afternoon. Lungu, the ruling Patriotic Front’s candidate, was leading with 590,252 votes, closely followed by opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development with 524,976. Nevers Mumba of the former ruling party Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was meanwhile trailing a distant third with 8,831 ballots. Final results were expected to be released on Friday.

Oregon: More Democrats could boost Oregon voter registration bill | The Columbian

Secretary of State Kate Brown hopes a more Democratic Legislature will improve the odds for her effort to automatically add licensed drivers to the voter rolls. Brown’s initiative is one of several stymied liberal priorities that are likely to find a friendlier reception in the new Legislature, which begins a five-month session Feb. 2. The bill passed the House in 2013 but fell one vote short in the Senate. Brown said she and her staff haven’t spoken with all the newly elected lawmakers yet, but she’s optimistic about her chances. Brown’s bill, HB 2177, would require the state to use driving records to identify people who are eligible to vote and automatically register them. They would receive a postcard allowing them to opt out or select a political party if they choose to do so. “We want to make participating in our democracy as simple and as easy as possible,” Brown said Thursday.

International: Pirate party founder: ‘Online voting? Would you want 4chan to decide your government?’ | The Guardian

In 2012, a contest for US schools to win a gig by Taylor Swift was hijacked by members of the 4chan website, who piled ​on its online vote in an attempt to send the pop star to a school for deaf children. Now, imagine a similar stunt being pulled for a general election, if voting could be done online. Far-fetched? Not according to Rick Falkvinge, founder of Sweden’s Pirate ​party. “Voting over the internet? Would you really want 4chan to decide your next government?” he said, during a debate about democracy and technology in London, organised by the BBC as part of its Democracy Day event. Falkvinge was responding to a question about whether online voting – or even voting from smartphones – would encourage more people to vote. Besides online pranksters, his reservations included the potential ability of governments and security agencies to snoop on people’s online votes.

Zambia: Defence Minister Lungu wins Zambia’s disputed presidential race | AFP

Zambia`s defence minister Edgar Lungu, of the ruling Patriotic Front, has narrowly won the country`s presidential race, the electoral commission announced Saturday after an election marred by delays. Lungu won 48.33 percent of the vote, beating his rival Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), who garnered 46.67 percent. Lungu`s victory was greeted with cheers and dancing after the chairwoman of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Ireen Mambilima, announced the results of this week`s vote, which Hichilema has denounced as a sham. Some of the celebrations in the streets of capital Lusaka got out of hand, with police using teargas to disperse excited PF supporters who tried to force their way into the conference centre where the announcement was made.