Supreme Court justices often grouse about the political polarization and gridlock across the street in Congress. Now they have a chance to make it worse. The high court will hear a case Monday that could give partisan state legislatures sole authority to draw congressional districts, a task voters in several states have transferred to independent commissions. The case comes from Arizona, where Republican lawmakers want to take back the power to draw the district lines. If the court sides with them after agreeing to hear their appeal, the ruling would affect similar commissions in California and a handful of other states. Such a ruling “would consign states to the dysfunctionality of a system where politicians choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians,” says a brief filed by three national experts on redistricting.
Democrats have came out in support of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. The proposed amendment has no realistic shot at passing for the foreseeable future. But the move points to an intensifying Democratic response to the wave of conservative efforts to restrict voting, and lays down a clear marker for the party’s long-term goal. “We have been having an expanding of the franchise in America. That’s the trajectory of history,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who, with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) has introduced legislation in Congress for a right-vote amendment, told msnbc in an interview. “But in recent years, folks who don’t want everybody to vote have been very busy, and they’re trying to peel back the trajectory of opportunity to vote and participate in our society.” At its winter meeting Saturday in Florida, the Democratic National Committee unanimously passed a resolution that supports “amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual’s right to vote.” The DNC also said it would urge state parties to push for statewide referenda backing the idea, and pledged to create a “Right to Vote Task Force” to offer ideas on how to protect voting rights. The resolution was submitted by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, as well as Donna Brazile, a vice chair and prominent figure in the party.
Press Release: Wisconsin County Successfully Debuts ExpressVote and DS200 | Election Systems & Software
Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the world’s largest elections-only company, is pleased to announce that Kenosha County, Wisconsin launched a successful first use of its newly acquired voting technology, the proven DS200® in-precinct paper ballot scanner and the company’s innovative ExpressVote® Universal Voting System for a special election held on February 17, 2015. This system is powered by Electionware®, the election industry’s newest and most robust election management software. It was important to Kenosha that their voting systems provide initial results in a timely and accurate manner. The ES&S wireless modem functionality included in the DS200® performed above and beyond the county’s expectations. “We are so pleased with our first use of the ExpressVote and DS200,” commented Mary Schuch-Krebs, Kenosha County Clerk. “The modeming of the voting results from the DS200 is so easy. Our polls closed at 8:00pm and we had our results by 8:20pm,” noted Schuch-Krebs. “The implementation, service and support from ES&S are first class.”
When hundreds of Californians got together to roll up their sleeves and talk about elections last week, they were joined by a looming, unwanted problem. “And that voter turnout. That’s really the elephant in the room, isn’t it?” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “November 2014. June 2014. We can and must do better. And there is no magic wand to get more and more Californians to vote.” The room was filled for the Future of California Elections (FOCE) annual conference in Sacramento. The theme of the conference was building a more inclusive democracy, taking up issues of elections funding, language and disability access, election data and other nuts-and-bolts. But, the low voter turnout and what to do about it dominated several of the discussions.
On the March 3 Los Angeles ballot are proposed Charter Amendments 1 and 2, which would cancel the city’s elections in 2019 and instead let city officials elected in March 2015 stay in office until December 2020. NBC4 News says moving city elections out from the shadows was “an effort to clean up corruption at City Hall.” Now politicians want to undo that reform and put our city elections in Junes (and for the small fraction of city elections with runoffs, Novembers) of even-numbered years. Why? They say it’s because we can call it increased turnout if voters pulled in by marquee contests end up marking city choices at the bottom of a long ballot. As if mindless, “what the hell, I’m here anyway” turnout is the hallmark of good democracy. And it’s hard to credit the leader of the effort, Councilman Herb Wesson, with sincere concern about turnout in city elections, since he’ll be termed out after getting re-elected next week.
Editorials: It’s time for Connecticut to change its outdated registrar of voters system | Hartford Courant
Twice in the last three election cycles, snafus in Connecticut elections have made national news. In 2010 it was when Bridgeport ran out of ballots. In 2014 it was when Hartford couldn’t get polling places open on time. But these aren’t the only communities that had election difficulties in this period. Fairfield, Naugatuck, West Hartford and other towns had issues as well. “Enough is enough,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Wednesday as she announced a radical-for-Connecticut plan to reform the administration of elections. She is submitting a bill to the General Assembly that would do away with the system of two (or three) elected registrars of voters in each town and replace them with a single appointed, nonpartisan registrar, who likely would be on the town clerk’s staff.
A bill allowing Iowans who don’t have a drivers license or state-issued I.D. to register to vote online is moving to the Iowa Senate floor for a vote, after the Senate State Government Committee approved it Wednesday. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is currently working on allowing online voter registration for Iowans with an I.D., but Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) says that would leave out about seven percent of the state’s population. Given modern technology and security standards, he says it’s safe and possible to allow Iowans without an I.D. to still register to vote online.
An old issue has come back in Augusta: voter ID. A bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Collins (R-Wells) would require Maine voters to show an ID before casting a ballot. The issue has been debated in the Legislature before. Republican staffers say it was proposed in 2011, but did not end up being passed into law at that time. Instead it was passed as a Legislative resolve. That was the same year the Republican majority passed a law eliminating same day voter registration, a law that was ultimately overturned by Maine voters in referendum.
The North Dakota Senate voted down a bill Wednesday that would have allowed voters without an approved form of identification to cast a provisional ballot. Senate Bill 2353, sponsored by Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, failed 18-29 Wednesday. Provisional ballots wouldn’t count until the voter could prove their eligibility with a postcard mailed by the county auditor after the election.
The Senate Rules Committee has advanced three proposals introduced by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, to modernize Oklahoma’s election system and increase rapidly declining voter participation. In 1992, over 70 percent of eligible Oklahomans participated in the presidential election, but by 2012, that percentage had plunged to only 52 percent, third-worst in the nation. In 2014, less than 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the statewide general election. A third of eligible Oklahomans are not even registered. There were fewer registered voters in 2014 than there were in 1988, even though the state’s population has grown 22 percent.
A broad alliance of civil rights groups representing voters most affected by Wisconsin’s photo ID law pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the measure enacted during Gov. Scott Walker’s first term. The Wisconsin Department of Justice, meanwhile, are asking the high court to reject the appeal. The case, Frank v. Walker, is pending before the Supreme Court, on appeal filed after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the statute last October. After the appellate ruling, challengers secured from the Supreme Court a temporary hold that kept the law from being implemented for the 2014 midterm election. However, the high court has not indicated whether it will hear the case on merit.
The Wyoming House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to approve first reading of a bill that would allow county clerks to set up voting centers that are independent from any given precinct. Senate File 52 would allow any voter in a given jurisdiction to vote at any polling center in that jurisdiction, rather than being tied to a specific location on Election Day.
Estonia’s ruling party is poised to retain power in a ballot on Sunday as concern the conflict in Ukraine will herald similar unrest helps isolate its main challenger. Prime Minister Taavi Roivas’s Reform Party has as much as 23 percent support, neck and neck with the Center Party, which is backed by more than three quarters of ethnic-Russian voters, the latest polls show. Even if the Center Party wins, potential coalition partners such as the Social Democrats or Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit have ruled out an alliance with it. The Baltic region, which evaded Soviet control as communism fell 24 years ago, has been jolted by the Ukraine conflict, the annexation of Crimea and Russian fighter-jet activity on its borders. Concern Vladimir Putin will foment disquiet among ethnic Russians in Estonia, a European Union and NATO member, prompted Reform to add defense pledges to promises of tax cuts.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reassured prospective voters that the elections now scheduled for March 28 will proceed as planned despite concerns the vote could be postponed again for security reasons. The general election, originally set for February 14, was postponed by the INEC, which cited security challenges in parts of the country’s north, where Boko Haram militants often attack civilians. Nick Dazang, INEC’s deputy director for public affairs, said the electoral body is using the postponement period to strengthen systems to ensure a transparent, credible, free and fair election. Dazang spoke after opposition groups including the All Progressives Congress led by retired General Muhammadu Buhari said they will not accept another “unconstitutional” postponement of the election.
The only question to ask about Tajikistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections is whether the authorities will allow any opposition parties to win seats in the rubber-stamp body. A victory for the president’s party is guaranteed. But, just in case, authorities are making it almost impossible for anyone else to run. Eight parties are fielding 288 candidates to contest 63 seats in parliament’s lower house on March 1. Tajikistan has never held an election judged free and fair by impartial observers. During the previous election, in 2010, President Emomali Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 55 of the 63 seats. The only opposition party to enter parliament, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), won just two seats. The other seats went to members of the loyal opposition—parties that bestow on Tajikistan the trappings of democracy, but kowtow to the president.
From Pope Francis and President Obama to the kid down the block, we have, for better or worse, become a world full of selfie-takers. But as ubiquitous as they are, there are some places where selfies remain controversial — like the voting booth. The legal battle rages over so-called “ballot selfies” in the state that holds the first presidential primary. This may be a fight of the digital age, but according to New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, it involves a very old American ideal — the sanctity of the secret ballot. “If somebody wants to go out and say that they voted for this person or that person they can do it. They can do it, but that ballot is sacred,” he says. Gardner has been the state’s top election official since 1976. To say he views ballot selfies with suspicion would be an understatement. He backed a change in law last year that made New Hampshire the first state to ban them explicitly.
At its first meeting on Tuesday, the new quorum of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) took an important, much-awaited step toward making the work of election officials easier and improving the voter experience around the country. For four years, the lack of a quorum of Commissioners blocked the accreditation of new voting system test laboratories, which meant only two facilities in the country were able to review the quality and accessibility of voting systems. Yesterday’s accreditation of a third test laboratory promises to help alleviate the looming risk of major voting machine problems that have worried many smart observers. Federally accredited labs commonly test products we use everyday, from toasters to children’s toys, to ensure they are safe. Similarly, to protect the legitimacy of our elections, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires the EAC to put voting machines through rigorous testing and certification.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill Wednesday proposed scrapping the state’s system of having two elected registrars, a Democrat and a Republican, run elections in each of the state’s 169 municipalities, saying she would replace them with a single registrar appointed by officials in each city or town. “Connecticut is the only state in the country that leaves election administration to two partisan locally elected officials,” Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, said at a Capitol press conference at which she proposed that legislators pass a bill to reform the system.
A Wake County judge has refused to dismiss a challenge to North Carolina’s voter ID law, saying in a ruling issued Friday that most of the claims in the lawsuit are strong enough to take to trial. Judge Mike Morgan dismissed two of six claims made by the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and five female voters who contend that requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls violates the North Carolina State Constitution. Attorneys for the legislators behind the 2013 elections-law overhaul argued three weeks ago to Morgan that the case should be dismissed outright and that no one would be prohibited from voting if they did not have one of the acceptable forms of ID. The attorneys for the lawmakers contended that because an ID will not be necessary to cast a mail-in absentee ballot, that the challengers’ arguments have no merits.
Ohio: Redistricting reform for Ohio congressional maps proposed by House Democrats | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A pair of House Democrats announced Thursday a plan to change how Ohio draws its congressional districts, but a similar plan lacked support last year in the Republican-led legislature. The proposal, introduced by Reps. Kathleen Clyde of Kent and Mike Curtin of Marble Cliff, resembles one that the Republican-led General Assembly approved last year for drawing Statehouse districts. That plan goes before voters in November. … Clyde and Curtin’s plan has no Republican co-sponsors. Currently, congressional lines are drawn every 10 years by a committee of lawmakers and approved by the General Assembly. The setup allows the party in power — Republicans in 2011 — to draw lines and approve maps without minority-party input. Republicans hold 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional seats yet only won 55 percent of the votes in recent congressional elections statewide.
Two advocacy groups are asking the courts to set aside new Conservative election rules that they say will make it more difficult for thousands of Canadians to vote in this year’s federal election. The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students have filed evidence to support a constitutional challenge of last year’s legislation, dubbed the Fair Elections Act by the Harper government. “The very legitimacy of the government is at issue if these rules stand, in our submission,” lawyer Steven Shrybman told a news conference Monday. The groups say new voter identification rules contravene Section 3 of the charter, which states everyone has the right to vote, as well as the equality provisions in the Constitution. The office of Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre did not respond to a request for comment on the court challenge.
Almost a million voters – many of them young people and students – have disappeared from the electoral register in the past year, according to figures from the Electoral Commission. The register has fallen by 920,000 in the 10 months to December 2014, with some areas – including Cardiff and Oxford which both have large student populations – seeing falls of more than 10%. It amounts to a 2% reduction in the voter register overall. Critics have blamed the fall on a change in the way people are allowed to register. Previously, voters were able to apply by household but, because of concerns about voter fraud, the rules were changed and everyone now has to register individually. The quality of the electoral register as it is transferred from household to individual registration is so bad that the commission may warn against completing the transition to individual voter registration for all elections. A total of 117 local authorities reported falls between 3% and 12%.
Former President George W. Bush will join President Obama in Selma, Ala., on March 7 for the 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches there. Bush and his wife, Laura, will join a large, bipartisan congressional delegation for part of a three-day civil rights pilgrimage to Alabama, according to Robert Traynham, a spokesman for the Faith and Politics Institute in Washington, which is organizing the event. Obama and Bush will be on stage together to commemorate Bloody Sunday, when Alabama state troopers assaulted marchers on March 7, 1965, as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery to protest the lack of voting rights for African Americans. The event shocked the nation and helped win passage of the Voting Rights Act just a few months later.
National: Obama Calls Out America’s Dismal Voter Turnout: ‘Why Are You Staying Home?’ | Huffington Post
President Barack Obama urged Americans frustrated with the lack of progress on immigration reform to voice their discontent at the ballot box, lamenting the dismal turnout in last November’s midterm elections. Speaking Wednesday during a town hall in Miami, Florida, hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart, Obama said the immigration system won’t truly change until voters elect lawmakers who will press for reform. “Ultimately, we have to change the law,” Obama said. “And the way that happens is, by the way, by voting”
Editorials: The Next attack on voting rights and why Democrats should fight for a constitutional right-to-vote amendment | Jamelle Bouie/Slate
he last round of voter restrictions came after the 2010 Republican wave, when new GOP majorities passed voter identification laws and slashed ballot access in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Now, three months after the 2014 Republican wave, another class of state lawmakers are prepping another assault on voting rights under the same guise of “uniformity” and “ballot integrity.” In Georgia, reports Zachary Roth for MSNBC, Republicans are pushing a bill to slash early voting from the present maximum of 21 days to 12 days. The goal, says Rep. Ed Rydners, a sponsor of the proposal, is “clarity and uniformity.” “There were complaints of some voters having more opportunities than others,” he said, “This legislation offers equal access statewide.” If cities like Atlanta want to have more voting access, said Rydners, they could open more precincts and “pay to have poll workers present.”
It is time to try lowering the voting age to 17 nationwide. Takoma Park, Maryland, has done it. Iowa, too, for caucuses. Scotland went down to age 16 for its recent independence referendum. Evidence suggests it will boost informed participation in our democracy over time. … The political scientist Mark Franklin studied 22 democracies and found a pattern: Lowering the voting age to 18 actually caused turnout to fall in most countries. Why? Because 18-year-olds are less likely to vote than 21-year-olds. And once those 18-year-olds missed their first year as eligible voters, they were less likely to vote again — not even when they reached 21. Franklin argued that, in the United States, changing our voting age to 18 may be the sole reason voter turnout has declined since the 1970s. But 17 may be a better age. At 17, most people are still living at home, where they can see parents voting and probably hear about local issues and candidates. They also are still in school, where voting can be encouraged and become a social norm.
Voting Blogs: The Right to Vote Amendment is Worth At Least One Candle: A Reply to Heather Gerken | Josh Douglas/Election Law Blog
A new constitutional amendment affirmatively granting the right to vote could have a significant impact on protecting voting rights for all Americans. Most significantly – and perhaps paradoxically – we are likely to see the biggest effects of a federal amendment where we least expect it: in state courts. Professor Heather Gerken, in a characteristically eloquent and well-reasoned new article, claims that pursuing a new constitutional amendment enshrining the right to vote is “not worth the candle.” The heart of Professor Gerken’s argument is that the benefits of a new right-to-vote amendment do not justify the costs involved, particularly as Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges are unlikely to alter the scope of voting rights analysis given the likelihood that, to pass, the amendment’s language would have to be too vague. But a constitutional amendment granting the right to vote does not need federal judges, or even the U.S. Supreme Court, to have a big impact. That is because many state courts follow federal law even when construing their own state constitutions. So a new provision in the federal Constitution, even if couched in broad platitudes, will have corollary effects on state constitutional law.
The campaign to combine Los Angeles’ elections with state and federal contests has been hailed by backers as a way to lift the city’s dismal turnout, which in the last mayoral race was 23%. But more than a dozen candidates for City Council now say that they oppose the idea, claiming it could make races more expensive and give a leg up to incumbents and others backed by special interests. Charter Amendments 1 and 2 were put on the March 3 ballot by the council to reverse a decline in voter participation during the odd-year city and school board elections. On the campaign trail, however, several candidates — some experiencing their first brush with the election process — have begun warning that the date change would have other, less positive, consequences.
Chicago voters endorsed by a wide margin Tuesday a plan to institute public campaign financing and limit outside contributions. The ballot measure, though non-binding, begins a process that will now move to city and state government, where legislation would be drafted. Asked whether the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois should “reduce the influence of special interest money in elections by financing campaigns using small contributions from individuals and a limited amount of public money,” voters signaled yes by a 58-point margin, 79 percent to 21 percent.
As Iowa’s Secretary of State works to implement online voter registration, the Iowa legislature weighs in. A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate is considering a bill that allows voters to provide their birth date and a unique identifying number, like the last four digits of a Social Security number, to register to vote online. Voters would then verify their identity with an electronic signature. Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, suggested adding a provision for photo I.D. to increase security, but Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Waterloo, says that’s not necessary.