State legislatures are back in session, under more Republican control now than at any other time in U.S. history. One issue they’ll be debating a lot is voting — who gets to do it and how. It’s a hot topic, but this year’s debate could be less contentious than it has been in the past. One reason is that lawmakers will be considering a lot of proposals to make voting easier and more efficient. “In many states the most divisive battles have already been fought,” says David Becker, director of election initiatives at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “That does give these states an opportunity to address more of these good governance issues. Things like, how do we make the voter registration process more effective, bring it into the 21st century? Should we adopt early voting, for instance? Should we expand the reach of mail voting?” There are many such proposals among the 1,200 voting bills already introduced in state legislatures this year. Several measures would expand online voter registration, something half the states already allow. Voters like the option and it saves money — something both parties can support. Many lawmakers also want to clean up voter registration lists, which are often filled with outdated and invalid entries.
American voting technology is trapped in the last millennium. This lifeline to democracy is kept secret—closed off from public inspection and controlled by large businesses. It is decades old to boot. Our voting methods ought to be at least as cutting edge as our selfie apps, but they’re not. “Our nation’s elections systems and technology are woefully antiquated. They are officially obsolete,” says Greg Miller of the TrustTheVote Project, an initiative to make our voting system accurate, verifiable, transparent, and secure. He adds: “It’s crazy that citizens are using twentieth-century technology to talk to government using twentieth-century technology to respond.” Miller and others are on a mission to change that with an entirely new voting infrastructure built on open-source technology. They say open source, a development model that’s publicly accessible and freely licensed, has the power to upend the entire elections technology market, dislodging incumbent voting machine companies and putting the electorate at the helm. With Miller’s system, we’d still go to the polls to vote and use a machine to cast our ballot. But the software on that machine would be completely open to public inspection. While coders wouldn’t be able to edit or tamper with the code, technically literate citizens would be able to, in effect, cross-examine the processes tabulating all of our votes, verifying their integrity and assuring accountability.
When is a legislature not a legislature? That odd question could have big implications for election law. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case brought by Arizona legislators challenging the authority of the state’s independent redistricting commission, which was set up by voters through a ballot initiative back in 2000. The federal Constitution states that election law shall be crafted “in each state by the legislature thereof.” The idea that this clause refers to anything other than the legislature itself is “wholly specious,” argues Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs. The commission’s lawyer, however, notes that the high court has previously held that the word “legislature” in the Constitution doesn’t necessarily mean the literal legislature, but rather the state’s lawmaking process on the whole. But the fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case in the first place might mean some of the justices are ready to rethink this interpretation.
Nebraska: Blue Dot for Obama Prompts Red Nebraska to Revisit Electoral College Rules | New York Times
If this state had an official color, it would most certainly be red. Football fans here don scarlet sweatshirts each game day, red meat is a dietary staple and, for decades, Republican presidential candidates filled Nebraska’s borders on the electoral map with their party’s hue. But in 2008, a Nebraska quirk injected a drop of blue into that sea of red, in the form of a single, lonely electoral vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Nebraska is one of just two states, along with Maine, that do not award all their electoral voters to the statewide winner. And that meant that in 2008, Barack Obama picked up an electoral vote from the congressional district around Omaha, even as Senator John McCain trounced him across the rest of the state. One electoral vote — out of five in Nebraska and 538 nationally — might seem trivial, but Republicans do not see it that way. It was the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964, when Mr. Obama was a toddler, that the state awarded any votes to a Democrat.
In the wake of big Republican victories in 2010, new conservative majorities in state legislatures across the country passed laws that rolled back a decade-long trend of expanding access to the ballot box. Democrats fought back, in the few states they still controlled, by expanding early voting, mail-in voting and new registration rules. Now, Oregon Democrats are trying something even more aggressive: A proposal likely to pass the legislature this year would further ease the hassle of voter registration by automatically adding eligible citizens to the voting rolls. Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) introduced the measure Monday in testimony before the state House Rules Committee in Salem. Brown said the bill would add an estimated 300,000 voters to the registration rolls by scraping data from the Department of Driver and Motor Vehicle Services. Brown said DMV data from as far back as 2013 would reveal hundreds of thousands of citizens eligible to cast a ballot. The measure introduced this year isn’t as aggressive as a version that passed the House but failed in the Senate by a single vote two years ago.
Two bills in the Legislature aim to simplify the process of voting: One through providing prepaid postage on ballots, and the other by allowing voters to return ballots by email and fax. … The state would reimburse counties for the cost of postage. Critics say they support the intent of the bill, but are concerned about where to find the money. The bill would require $2.7 million in the next two-year budget, according to the Office of the Secretary of State. Counties would have to pay for the postage initially until they get reimbursed by the state. … Another proposal to allow ballots and signed declarations to be faxed or emailed also is prompting concern. House Bill 1143 would allow voters to do so by election night, without having to turn in a hard copy of their ballots to the county auditor. Armed forces members and overseas voters vote this way.
A Democratic lawmaker on Thursday called for Montana to support a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit corporate donations in election campaigns. Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula introduced House Joint Resolution 3 in the State Administration Committee. Committee members did not take immediate action. “I believe the corporate buyout of our elections is the reason to do it,” she said of a Constitutional amendment that calls for free and fair elections. It takes 34 states to trigger a convention. Thirty-eight states would then have to approve a change for the amendment to be put into effect. Twenty states have similar resolution proposals in their legislatures this year, according to Ryan Clayton with Wolf PAC, a political action committee working to promote the amendment nationwide.
California: Activists say California violates Motor Voter Act, lawsuit threatened | Los Angeles Times
Voting-rights advocates warned Thursday that they may sue California based on claims that the state is not complying with the so-called Motor Voter Act, a federal law mandating that states offer people an easy way to register to vote when they obtain their driver’s licenses. The law firm of Morrison & Foerster sent a “pre-litigation” letter to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, the ACCE Institute, California Common Cause, the National Council of La Raza and several individuals.
California: Santa Clara County: Registrar and supervisors look to fix to sluggish election system | San Jose Mercury News
A November election rife with results delays and uncertainty across Santa Clara County is pushing officials to look for solutions before heading toward the 2016 election and to look closely at a dated system. “We keep hoping for improvements,” said District 4 County Supervisor Ken Yeager during a special committee meeting Jan. 28. “I’m hoping to do more than a tweak and to be ready for the 2016 election.” Election result delays–some of the slowest in the state–in tight races across the county had some voters and candidates on the edge of their seats. For the first time, 50 percent of mail-in ballots were turned in the day of the election, further slowing down the counts.
Despite protests from a psychiatrist, Del Mar will be allowed to proceed with an online poll of local registered voters, an act city officials say does not constitute an election and thus is exempt from state laws prohibiting online voting. … Dr. Edward Mohns, however, sued the city and San Diego–based Everyone Counts Inc., the company that received the contract to set up and monitor the poll on January 29, arguing that the system “has not been certified by the California Secretary of State.” The courts acted swiftly, ruling the next day that Mohns’s request for an injunction could not go through because he could not demonstrate that he would specifically be harmed from the poll-taking.
Voting Blogs: Hoisted on His Own Petard? New California Law Allowing Late Vote-by-Mail Ballots May Have Determined Winner of Year’s First Election | BradBlog
When California state Sen. Lou Correa (D) authored SB 29 last year, allowing Vote-by-Mail (VBM) ballots to be accepted and counted even if they arrive at county election headquarters up to three days after Election Day, some state Election Integrity advocates were concerned. Somewhat vague language in part of the bill might allow for a case where, in the event of a very close margin announced on Election Night, unvoted absentee ballots could be quickly filled out after the fact and delivered to election officials inside the new three day post-election window. If a race was close enough, late arriving ballots — either legitimately voted on or before Election Day, or, depending on how local election officials choose to interpret the statute, illegitimately voted and delivered after Election Day — could actually reverse the results of such a contest. Little could Correa have known, however, as he was successfully moving his bill through the California state legislature last year, to take effect in January 2015, that the very first election of the year — and the very first to be decided by a small enough margin that it could be directly affected by late ballots now allowed under SB 29 — would be…Lou Correa’s…
Florida: North Miami Beach leaders discuss steps to prevent voter fraud in elections | The Miami Herald
North Miami Beach officials want to avoid drama, confusion and voter-fraud issues that have plagued campaign seasons of the past. The last two municipal elections were tainted with soap-opera-style incidents that included accusations of death threats, campaign misdeeds and complaints about an incumbent mayor unfairly targeting opponents with code violations. “We don’t want to have the circus we had two years ago to happen again,” said council member Anthony DeFellipo at Tuesday’s council meeting. With four of the seven council seats up for grabs in the May 5 municipal elections, the council discussed efforts to fend off any confusion that could result in voter fraud or any unfavorable image of their city.
Someone who casts an absentee ballot but dies before Election Day would still have their vote count under a proposal being considered by Indiana lawmakers. The provision is part of a bill that the House Elections Committee took up Wednesday. Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington told members about how disappointed he was when former U.S. Rep. Frank McCloskey’s absentee vote that he cast while fighting cancer didn’t count because he died before Election Day in 2004. Pierce said that only some county clerks actively check for deaths of absentee voters.
Missouri: Lawsuit challenges county’s exclusion of third-party candidates in special elections | Call
If Concord resident Cindy Redburn gets her way, Republican Tony Pousosa and Democrat Kevin O’Leary will not be the only candidates facing off in the April 7 special election for the 6th District County Council seat. The Constitution Party, Redburn and south county residents who say they want to vote for Constitution Party candidate Redburn filed a lawsuit Friday against St. Louis County over the county Charter’s exclusion of third parties from special elections like the one for the 6th District seat. The lawsuit alleges the Charter’s clause that only allows major parties in special elections is unconstitutional. The Charter clause allowing only Democrats and Republicans to run candidates in special elections has gone unchallenged since the county Charter was adopted in 1979, until now. “I was a little bit astounded when I first realized it and then decided that this couldn’t be unchallenged,” Redburn said of the specific exclusion of third parties from the rare special elections.
Proposals to require voter photo IDs and to wipe out congressional district presidential electoral votes in Nebraska cleared their committee hurdle Wednesday and were sent to the floor of the Legislature for debate. The voter photo ID bill is virtually certain to trigger a legislative filibuster. Both bills were advanced from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee with Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, the sole Democrat on the committee, casting the lone opposition votes. Before advancing the photo ID measure, the committee amended the bill (LB111) to expand the range of government-issued IDs that would be accepted and allow anyone to request a free photo ID. The winner-take-all bill (LB10) was advanced immediately after a public hearing that attracted supporting testimony from Secretary of State John Gale and Bob Evnen of Lincoln, speaking for the Nebraska Republican Party.
Nevada: Gloves come off: Nevada GOP’s move on redistricting draws howls from Democrats | Las Vegas Sun
It didn’t take long for partisan politics to overshadow the prayers, songs and stilted harmony of the Legislature’s opening day. Democrats contend that in the first hours of the session, Republicans diverted the Legislature’s focus from education reform by introducing a bare-knuckle, partisan topic: redrawing political districts. Republicans, in majority control of the Legislature, acknowledge they’re exploring redistricting but say they are working to fix what’s proven to be a complicated, divisive process in the state. Redistricting is the process of reconfiguring district boundaries to adjust for population shifts and maintain an equal number of representatives for residents in different geographic areas. Depending on how the boundaries are drawn, the process can be a major factor in winning elections, as parties have an opportunity to loop in areas with strong voter turnout and high concentrations of voters who traditionally support them. At the same time, one party can create a disadvantage for the other by leaving it with areas where voter turnout is traditionally weak. “There’s nothing more partisan and political bloodsport than redistricting,” said Tim Storey, an elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New York: Lawsuit looks to force Gov. Andrew Cuomo to set special election for Congress | SILive.com
Eight people have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, arguing his failure to set a special election date to fill the congressional vacancy violates the constitutional rights of residents of Staten Island and of southern Brooklyn. Cuomo is constitutionally required to call a special election to fill the vacated seat. The election must take place within 70 to 80 days of when he announces it. However, the governor has discretion as to when to call for a special election, which could prevent it from taking place until the next general election in November. Former Rep. Michael Grimm resigned last month after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud in connection to a Manhattan health food restaurant he used to co-own before being elected. As recently as this week, Cuomo said he had no timeline for when a special election would be set. The suit requests that the court compel the governor to set a special election.
A plan for redistricting in North Carolina is once again being put forward by state lawmakers. A bipartisan group of legislators, from the House and Senate, held a press conference at noon on Tuesday. The purpose was to put forward a proposal to change how voting maps are drawn in the Tar Heel state. The debate over redistricting in North Carolina has raged on for more than a century. For years Democrats controlled the state legislature, and they drew maps that were favorable to the election of more Democrats. And that was deemed legal by the court system. During that time, Republicans, and some Democrats, repeatedly called for lawmakers to conceive of a more fair system for how the maps are drawn. Now that Republicans are in control of the state House and Senate, the roles have reversed.
State lawmakers propose a new form of voter identification for college students. The bill sponsored by Senator Ray Holmberg would include student identification cards as a form of voter ID. The cards would need to include a student’s photo, date of birth and address. Currently, students can obtain a student ID certificate from their university to present at the polls as proof of residency. Holmberg says he’s proposing the measure after hearing stories of confusion among students this past election.
Voters could apply to become permanent absentee voters under a measure approved by the Oklahoma House Elections and Ethics Committee today. State Rep. Elise Hall, author of House Bill 1559, said the intent of her legislation is to improve the absentee ballot system and encourage greater voter participation. “The current absentee ballot process forces individuals to apply for a ballot each and every election,” said Hall, R-Oklahoma City. “That can be a real hardship for traveling voters, nursing home residents and other incapacitated individuals. It makes more sense to allow people to apply for a permanent absentee status so that they can receive ballots for each election in which they are eligible to vote.”
Oregon: Automatic voter registration bill clears first legislative hurdle on party-line vote | The Oregonian
A measure that would use driver license data to register hundreds of thousands of additional Oregonians to vote on Wednesday passed the House Rules Committee on a 5-4 party-line vote. The measure, sought by Secretary of State Kate Brown, was supported by the majority Democrats and opposed by the panel’s Republicans. It was one of the first bills to begin moving through the House in this session. The measure, House Bill 2177, now moves to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which will examine the estimated $1.5 million cost of the measure to the state and to county election departments.
Sydney-based Secure Logic has signed a contract to host the NSW Electoral Commission’s iVote system for the next five years. Secure Logic will provide the NSWEC with infrastructure and platform-as-a-service in a deal worth $990,000. The platform will be able to be scaled during peak election periods, according to head of sales and marketing for Secure Logic, Fergus Brooks. Spanish company Scytl was awarded the contract to provide the online voting software for iVote in May last year, after the state government announced plans to expand iVote for the 2015 election.
Nigeria: Boko Haram Massacres Civilians, Burns Down Mosque In Cameroon Days Before Nigeria Presidential Election | International Business Times
Members of the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram massacred civilians and burned a mosque in the Cameroonian town of Fotokol Wednesday, residents said. The assault came hours after neighboring Chad sent troops who allegedly killed more than 200 Boko Haram fighters in the Nigerian town of Gamboru, located just 500 yards from Fotokol. Boko Haram extremists who escaped the fighting in Gamboru crossed over to Fotokol, where they targeted civilians. The fighters slit the throats of several townspeople and torched Fotokol’s primary mosque, multiple accounts said. At least 10 people were killed in the attack, according to one report. “Boko Haram inflicted so much damage here this morning. They have killed dozens of people,” Fotokol resident Umar Babakalli told Agence France-Presse in a phone interview. “They burnt houses and killed civilians as well as soldiers,” a source familiar with local security forces said.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan held talks Thursday on postponing next week’s presidential election over mounting attacks by the radical Boko Haram group, but the election commission insisted on maintaining the date, a governor said. Jonathan held seven hours of talks with security officials, state governors, the election commission and former heads of state on whether to proceed with the vote in the face of growing bloodshed in the northeast, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha told journalists. Among those attending the meeting of the Council of State was Jonathan’s main challenger in the election, General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, who led Nigeria between 1983 and 1985.
Social conservatives in Slovakia aim to block gay couples from gaining more rights in a referendum on Saturday that pits the country’s mainly liberal city dwellers against those in the more traditional countryside. The campaign is part of a conservative pushback in eastern Europe against what they see as overly liberal policies spreading eastwards in the two decades since the European Union expanded to include former Communist states. More than 400,000 Slovaks, nearly 10 percent of the central European country’s electorate, have signed a petition demanding a national vote. It is a rare show of political engagement in a country where people often shun public affairs – a mere 13 percent voted in the European Parliament election last year.
It could be time to consider forcing people to vote because more than 20 million do not take part in elections, a Welsh MP has said. Labour Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane is a member of a Commons committee whose members were split on the question of forcing people to vote. A report published on Thursday calls for a consultation on the issue after May’s general election. The UK government said it had no plans to introduce compulsory voting. The report, by the Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, was published to coincide with national voter registration day.
Nigeria’s electoral commission has said it is postponing the Feb. 14 presidential election until March 28 due to security concerns, caving in to pressure from the ruling People’s Democratic Party in a move likely to enrage the opposition. Foreign powers are closely observing how elections will be held in Africa’s biggest economy and have voiced concerns over violence in the aftermath, as was the case after the 2011 election, when 800 people died. The postponement could stoke unrest in opposition strongholds such as the commercial capital, Lagos, and Nigeria’s second city, Kano, because the opposition has been staunchly against a delay. … “The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs … The risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility,” Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Attahiru Jega told reporters.
Some 81,015 people used Gov.uk to apply to be put on the electoral register, the Cabinet Office tweeted. Events were held across the UK to encourage online registration. Meanwhile, MPs called for to be able to register to vote on an election day itself to help address the growing deficit in democratic engagement. The Commons Political Reform Committee said such a step should be considered by 2020 to “re-energise” elections. Campaign group Bite The Ballot hoped to register 250,000 people on a single day, either through the online system or by post, by holding a series of rallies in workplaces, universities and schools. People have to be on the electoral register by 20 April to be able to vote in the general election on 7 May.