National: Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion on 2016 elections | The Washington Post

A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries. The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign. The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two major parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and it cements the network’s standing as one of the country’s most potent political forces. With its resources and capabilities — including a national field operation and cutting-edge technology — it is challenging the primacy of the official parties. In the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee spent $404 million, while the Democratic National Committee shelled out $319 million.

Editorials: The Growing Shadow of Political Money | New York Times

Like bettors checking Las Vegas odds on the Super Bowl, specialists in the nation’s booming campaign finance industry are tracking the action in the 2016 elections, not so much to assess the candidates as to see how much of a payout is likely this time around in the grand casino of American politics. The record total of $6.3 billion spent on the presidential and congressional elections of 2012 is only the starting point. Estimates of next year’s likely total are running between $7.5 billion and $8 billion. This moneyed universe is certain to keep expanding as the political industry’s managers and their candidates master the unlimited fund-raising and spending devices they now have at hand. The sheer numbers should be enough to raise public alarm. But needed reforms are going nowhere, with too many congressional members busy bolstering their incumbency with the help of the same large-scale donors. In last year’s elections, the 100 biggest campaign check writers gave $323 million, plus many millions more in anonymous donations to politically active “social welfare” groups and other new money troughs. According to a report by Politico, total spending by the 100 ultra-donors exceeded that of the 4.75 million ordinary Americans who made smaller donations of $200 or less.

Voting Blogs: Evaluating Reform Argument as False, True, Barely Either, or Something Else | More Soft Money Hard Law

Rick Hasen has twice posted in the last several days a sharp criticism of the President’s fifth anniversary statement about Citizens United. He objects to the assertion that Citizens United opened up the avenue for unlimited foreign corporate spending in the United States. Rick says this is false, citing in support of that position PolitFact’s prior rating of that statement as “mostly false,” which that fact-checking enterprise arrived at after originally rating the statement as “barely true.” And a review of PolitiFact’s analysis reveals that a statement merits criticism as “mostly false” if it is an ”overstatement.” Readers will probably think very little is at stake in tracing the chain of reasoning from false to mostly false to barely true, or somewhat true, or whatever, and trying to sort out what fine differences distinguish one of these ratings from the others. But because Rick stakes out a strong position—that the statement is simply “false” —he should have a high degree of confidence that it is a black-and-white matter subject to no disagreement.

Voting Blogs: Ballot Access Cost to Third Parties | State of Elections

Pennsylvania’s ballot access process is one of the most hotly-contested in the country. On July 9, 2014, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian Parties of Pennsylvania did have standing to bring a claim challenging Pennsylvania’s “method of checking ballot access petitions.” The plaintiffs challenged two provisions of Pennsylvania’s election code, Title 25 §§ 2911(b) and 2937 arguing that combined the two provisions are unconstitutional. The argument stems from the requirement of §2911(b) that minor parties and political organizations must obtain a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot. However, under §2937 if those signatures are successfully challenged the candidates may be held financially liable. Read together, these two provisions arguably act as a barrier for candidates of minor parties and political organizations. The appellate court merely ruled on standing and did not intend to prejudge the merits of the case.

California: 3 former California governors back independent redistricting | Los Angeles Times

Three former California governors are wading in to an Arizona elections case before the Supreme Court that could have major implications on how California draws its congressional and legislative districts. Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the California Chamber of Commerce, GOP mega-donor Charles T. Munger Jr. and entrepreneur Bill Mundell, submitted a brief late Friday stating their support for an independent commission that crafts a state’s districts, rather than restricting the task to state legislatures. Arizona, like California, has an independent panel that draws the state’s districts. But Arizona’s legislature wants to take the job back and has challenged the constitutionality of allowing such a committee to determine district boundaries. They argue that legislators alone have that power. The case is set to go before the Supreme Court in March.

Florida: State among nation’s toughest places to have voting rights restored | Sun-Sentinel

Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you. The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2. Only two other states have that tough a policy. Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer. Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.

Illinois: Lawmaker: Close East St. Louis Election Board | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s a new effort underway to shut down the East St. Louis Election Board. Illinois State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is sponsoring a bill to close it. Kay’s district includes portions of Madison and St. Clair County, but not East St. Louis. If the bill passes, the St. Clair County Clerk will take over responsibility for elections in East St. Louis. “Illinois is sort of at a brink here when it comes to its finances,” Kay said. “And I think we are doing ourselves a disfavor by continuing to fund two separate offices when it comes to counting ballots and doing the work of the county clerk when he could be doing the work himself.” Kay said that closing the election board could save East St. Louis more than $400,000 a year.

Kansas: Kobach defends suspended voter list; study shows 59 percent on list are eligible to vote | Topeka Capital-Journal

One percent of people on Kansas’ suspended voter registration list are verified noncitizens, an analysis provided to Secretary of State Kris Kobach shows. But more than half have no factors preventing verification of their voter eligibility. The data analysis, provided to the Secretary of State’s Office by the leader of a conservative group that champions tougher voter verification measures, found 41 percent of individuals on the list have one or more factors preventing Kansas from verifying their eligibility. The suspended voter registration list — which stands at 25,000 — proved a flashpoint in Kobach’s re-election race against Democrat Jean Schodorf. Individuals who register to vote but don’t submit proof of citizenship are placed on the list. Critics of the secretary and Kansas’ voting requirements say the list contains thousands of Kansans who should be able to vote. Kobach, who has devoted his time as secretary of state to championing policies he says are needed to combat voter fraud, has referenced the analysis while speaking to lawmakers — but also has declined to provide it to either them or the public. The Topeka Capital-Journal obtained the document through an open records request, however.

Mississippi: Early Voting, Online Registration Could Become Reality in Mississippi | MPB

Mississippians could soon see some changes in the way they vote. A report released by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office outlines a number of recommendations to change Mississippi’s election laws. The report is the end product of a series of meetings held last summer by a 52 member panel organized to review how Mississippian’s vote, and ways to improve the process. Hosemann says “for a couple of years we have been discussing amendments to the election code [that] really is a mismatch over a period of years has been added onto and subtracted and they are contradicting provisions in there,” says Hosemann. “There are just a lot of things that I have wanted to address.”

Nebraska: Committee tables national popular vote compact | North Platte Telegraph

The Nebraska Legislature’s Government Committee tabled for this year a bill to enter Nebraska into the “National Popular Vote Compact.” For this, Nebraskans should be happy. However, this is the second year it has arisen so the chances of it coming back are good. The compact is being pushed on states by an extremely well-financed lobbying effort centered in northern California. Here’s how it would work. Once states controlling 270 dlectoral votes (the number needed to win the presidency) pass a bill to join the compact, the compact states all agree to throw their electors to the ticket that won the national popular vote, regardless of how their state voted. So for instance, in the 2012 election, had the compact been in effect and included Nebraska, Nebraska’s five electoral votes would have gone to President Obama even though Mitt Romney carried Nebraska.

New Jersey: Bill proposes expanding mail-in voting to primaries |

Voters in New Jersey primary elections could cast ballots by mail, a move that would save taxpayers money, according to a bill recently introduced by a North Jersey lawmaker. The bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Timothy Eustace, D-Maywood, would allow primary elections to be held by mail in any county where the governing body for the county approves of conducting the election in such a way. Eustace said 22 states already have rules in place to allow some elections to be conducted entirely by mail, and three states permit all elections to be conducted by mail. One of those states, Oregon, he said, has realized 30 percent savings on election costs.

New Mexico: Secretary of State withholds support for voter ID bill that doesn’t require photos | Farmington Daily Times

Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was re-elected in November after stressing her support for a photo identification requirement at polling places, is not supporting a bipartisan voter ID bill crafted by a Republican House member and a Democratic senator. Instead, she favors a more restrictive bill. In a memo issued Thursday, titled “Secretary of State’s Office 2015 Legislative Priorities,” Duran’s staff wrote that House Bill 61, sponsored by Rep. Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, “allows for something less than full photo voter ID.” A yet-to-be-introduced bill by Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad, however, “does propose full photo ID,” according to the memo, which said Duran’s office “worked with Rep. Brown on the drafting of her bill.” Brown said Friday that her bill is still in the drafting stage. Smith is the newly appointed chairman of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee — to which all voter ID bills will be referred.

North Dakota: Legislators consider revisiting voter ID laws | Jamestown Sun

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 state 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 state 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.

Ghana: Electoral Commission acts on reforms | Africa Report

Ghana’s Electoral Commission has set up a 10-member working group to scrutinise raft of proposals submitted to it for electoral reforms aimed at amending existing laws, administrative procedures and arrangements ahead of the 2016 general elections. Following the 2012 presidential election dispute culminating in a petition to the country’s Supreme Court, there was a clamour for electoral reforms from political parties, civil society organisations, individuals and technical staff of the commission. This public outcry, coupled with the Supreme Court’s recommendations, forced the West African country’s elections body to initiate a roadmap for the process. The committee, made up of representatives of the commission’s members, political parties and civil society organisations is, therefore, tasked to examine those proposals for the reform.

Greece: Syriza Forges Coalition With Right-Wing Party | Wall Street Journal

Alexis Tsipras, sworn into office as Greece’s new prime minister a day after his radical leftist Syriza party won a resounding election victory, swiftly forged a coalition government with the aim of shedding European-imposed austerity policies. Syriza has little in common with its coalition partner—the small, right-wing Independent Greeks party—other than a fierce opposition to the austerity measures Greece embarked on in exchange for bailouts from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund. Still, the common bond on that front signals tough negotiations with Greece’s creditors over its debt repayments in the months ahead. Together, Syriza and Independent Greeks will jointly control 162 seats in Greece’s 300-seat legislature. The Independent Greeks are also expected to hold at least one cabinet position in the new government, the details of which are likely to be unveiled on Tuesday.

Greece: Expats frustrated after exclusion from election | The Guardian

Watching the Greek elections unfold from her London office left Zoe Spiliopoulou frustrated. Like thousands of expatriate Greeks she was prevented from voting in Sunday’s polls after the Athens parliament failed to pass a law in time to overturn a longstanding ban. “It is really unfair being in London. I am still interested in Greek politics. But to vote means taking time off work and buying a plane ticket back to my town, which is two hours from Athens,” said Spiliopoulou, an urban designer who has spent the last three years in the UK. “Some people I know looked and return tickets cost £300. The airlines put the prices up when they know there is an election because they know flying is the only way many people can get back to the place where they are registered. And for some people it would be a seven-hour trip from the airport to get back to vote.” … In 2010 the European court of human rights ruled in favour of two Greek nationals working at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg who were unable to vote in the 2007 Greek parliamentary elections. The Greek ambassador to France had previously rejected their application, saying there was no legislation providing for “special measures […] for the setting up of polling stations in embassies and consulates.”

New Zealand: No prisoner voting rights a ‘dangerous precedent’ | NZ Herald News

Not allowing prisoners to vote is being labelled a dangerous precedent, with claims it could be extended to other groups considered unfavourable. Prisoner Arthur Taylor is representing himself in the High Court at Auckland today, arguing Prime Minister John Key shouldn’t have been elected in Helensville, as Auckland Prison inmates were denied their right to vote. Taylor says a 2010 amendment to the law which stopped them voting is dangerous, as parliamentarians shouldn’t decide who can and can’t elect them. He said there was no telling who the amendment could be extended to, alleging refugees, beneficiaries, or those who earn less than $28,000 could all be on the list.

Nigeria: After fleeing Boko Haram, many in Nigeria without documents to vote | The Globe and Mail

When the Boko Haram fighters swept into her town, Salamatu Billi fled for her life, running so fast that she didn’t even think about her identification documents. Today, after five months of homelessness, she has learned that she cannot cast a ballot in Nigeria’s crucial election next month, the most closely contested in the country’s history. Having already lost her life’s possessions when Boko Haram captured her town in northeastern Nigeria, she has now also lost the right to vote. … Many displaced people, such as Ms. Billi, cannot get voting cards because they lack documents, missed the chance to be registered when they fled, or are too frightened to return to their home state, where they must vote under election rules. As much as 20 per cent of Nigerian territory is under Boko Haram’s control, and voting will be virtually impossible there.