Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner fell short in his 2014 efforts to convince GOP leadership to take up his Voting Rights Amendment Act, but the Wisconsin Republican is ready to take another stab at passing a rewrite of the historic law. But there’s little indication this year will be any different. For Sensenbrenner and his fellow co-sponsors of the legislation introduced Wednesday, many of the same obstacles remain — along with a few new ones. On the surface, it would seem the time has never been better — nor the political pressures greater — for the Republican-controlled House to take action. The VRA’s 50th anniversary this summer has the landmark civil rights legislation back in the spotlight almost two years after the Supreme Court, challenging lawmakers to update the law for the 21st century, struck down the enforcement section of the act. Sensenbrenner chose to drop his bill on the same day the House considered legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the “foot soldiers” of 1965’s bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Editorials: Open Mic Disaster: The FEC held a hearing that revealed almost everything that’s wrong with American democracy. | Alec McGillis/Slate
Woe, to be the Federal Election Commission in the age of the Koch brothers. The agency charged with safeguarding the integrity of American democracy has, in recent years, been hit again and again by other branches of the federal government further flooding the political system with money from a small coterie of ultrawealthy donors. There was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which made it possible for corporations, unions, and nonprofit groups to spend directly on elections. There was the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling last year, which, while keeping in place caps on how much an individual could give directly to a candidate or political committee, eliminated the aggregate limits on how much he could give combined. And just two months ago, Congress slipped into the big must-pass spending bill a further expansion of the sums a wealthy donor could give to party committees. The FEC is about as effective as a middle-school hall monitor at a Roman bacchanal.
Reinvention is part of California’s credo, the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to make of themselves and their lives what they will — and do it over again, if they’re not happy the first time. Second chances, surgical alterations, artificial enhancement — the only limits are wealth and the imagination. That extends not just to the body beautiful but the body politic. After years of partisan squabbling, massive budget deficits and general haplessness in Sacramento, voters grew fed up and decided it was time for a government makeover. One result was Proposition 14, passed in June 2010 and intended to help bring a new breed of more accommodating, less ideological lawmaker to the state capital. (The proposition also covered congressional and U.S. Senate contests, for good measure.) It was supposed to work like this: Candidates would run in a free-for-all primary with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff, regardless of party affiliation. Absent the need to appease the most puritanical elements of the major parties, the thinking went, candidates would broaden their appeal to the many voters in the middle. Voila! A more harmonious, pragmatic and productive Legislature. (Fixing Washington’s scabrous culture would, presumably, take longer.) Has it worked? In short, no, not yet.
District of Columbia: D.C., other cities debate whether legal immigrants should have voting rights | The Washington Post
David Nolan and Helen Searls are a professional couple in the District, active in their children’s school and local civic associations. As taxpayers and longtime residents, they feel they have a duty to be involved in public life. But as legal immigrants who have not become U.S. citizens, they have no right to vote — even in local elections. “It’s frustrating at election time to have no say in what’s happening,” said the British-born Searls, 54, who works at a media company. “Washington has people from all over the world. If they are engaged and participating in public issues, it benefits the city.” Searls and Nolan are among 54,000 immigrants in the District — and about 12 million nationwide — who have been granted green cards that allow them to remain in the United States permanently. Most are sponsored by relatives or employers. They pay taxes and serve in the armed forces. Yet in all but a handful of localities, they have no voting rights. Last month, for the third time in a decade, a bill was introduced in the D.C. Council to allow legal immigrants to vote locally. The measure has little chance of passage, but it is illustrative of a growing movement to expand local voting rights to noncitizens that has spawned similar proposals in several dozen communities across the country.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect behind some of the nation’s strictest voter ID requirements, is asking lawmakers to give him the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers. The state’s top federal prosecutor, however, says Kobach has not sent any cases his way. Some county prosecutors say cases that have been referred did not justify prosecution. The conservative Republican publicly chastised Kansas-based U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom late last year, telling Topeka television station WIBW he had referred voter fraud cases to Grissom and that Grissom didn’t “know what he’s talking about” when he said voter fraud doesn’t exist in Kansas. But in a Nov. 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, the prosecutor responded that his office received no such referrals from Kobach, and chided the secretary of state for his statements. “Going forward, if your office determines there has been an act of voter fraud please forward the matter to me for investigation and prosecution,” Grissom wrote. “Until then, so we can avoid misstatements of facts for the future, for the record, we have received no voter fraud cases from your office in over four and a half years. And, I can assure you, I do know what I’m talking about.” Grissom told the AP last week that Kobach never replied to his letter.
When Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced plans to fund replacement voting machines with Rep. Scott Rigell, R- Virginia Beach, at his side, it looked like an unusual bipartisan accord on election matters. But the staff of both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee recommend dropping McAuliffe’s plan — $1.7 million from the operating budget and borrowing $28 million through the sale of $28 million worth of Virginia Public Building Authority bonds.
Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) are reintroducing their bill to restore part of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, despite warnings by prominent Republicans that they won’t support it. The bill aims to revive a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination to approve voting changes with the Justice Department. The Supreme Court overturned the formula in 2013, determining the criteria were outdated. The proposed overhaul from Sensenbrenner and Conyers would create new criteria for “pre-clearance,” allowing courts to place states under that standard if they commit certain voting violations. The bill would also give the Justice Department more power to step in before an election takes place to protect voting rights.
It seem unfair that just holding a hearing subjects the FEC to criticism and ridicule. The agency was acted entirely reasonably in inviting views on what it might do, if anything, in response to the McCutcheon case. So what followed was predictable: the usual strong divisions were expressed and anyone hoping for a clear picture of the problems of campaign finance and how to address them was bound to be disappointed. The FEC is not the culprit here: it only hosted the discussion and is not responsible for its content. It was a hearing. And while additional ridicule has come the agency’s way for inviting public comment, some of which was colorfully off-point, that, too, is no crime: why not give members of the public a chance to come and say what they will about money in politics? Critics cannot have it both ways, complaining one minute that campaign finance is an insider’s game and the public is shut out of it, and then mocking the expression of public sentiment when it is provided for.
State legislators filed two proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. During the 2013 regular session, lawmakers approved legislation requiring photo ID at the polls and overrode a veto by then-Gov. Mike Beebe. But the law, Act 595, was struck down last year by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which said it violated the state constitution by imposing qualifications for voters that went beyond those set forth in the constitution.
Voting Blogs: Denver Elections Division creates app to streamline petition process | electionlineWeekly
Coffee stains, bad penmanship, rips, tears and lots of folds and crinkles. From elections office staff to candidates to campaign volunteers, anyone who has worked an election knows what a mess ballot petitions can be. That’s why the Denver Elections Division has come up with what’s believed to be a first-in-the-nation way to gather signatures that is fast, efficient and coffee stain free. Beginning with the qualifying process for municipal elections this May, the office is test piloting a program that allows candidates to use a tablet and stylus to gather ballot petition signatures. “This cutting edge application has the potential to transform the petition process – providing easier access to the ballot and efficiencies never seen before in this country,” said Denver Clerk & Recorder Debra Johnson. “For years the hallmark of Denver Elections has been innovation and progress – 2015 will be no different. This bold approach has one thing in mind: our customers.” eSign, as the office is calling new application, allows circulators to gather signatures on a tablet that is registered with the Elections Division.
The Hartford City Council has drafted a resolution seeking to remove the city’s three registrars of voters over problems at the polls in November that “resulted in the lack of an accurate vote count, which persists to this day,” according to the draft. Attorney Ross Garber, of Shipman & Goodwin, one of two firms selected to advise city’s investigation into what went wrong Nov. 4, submitted his findings to the city council this week. “The Report of the Committee of Inquiry identified multiple, serious errors, which plagued the administration of the 2014 General Election Hartford and resulted in the disenfranchisement of Hartford voters and the lack of an accurate vote count,” the resolution states. Read the full draft of the resolution
A revised bill that would limit early voting to 12 days passed a key committee vote Wednesday. The House Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9-5 to advance House Bill 194. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, the bill originally would have required every county to be open on the Sunday during the early-voting period. But in an effort to please religious conservatives, the bill now makes Sunday voting optional. Any county choosing not to open the polls on Sunday would be required to allow access to the polls on an additional Saturday.
The House Elections committee voted 8-4 Wednesday to move forward a proposal that would eliminate one-button, straight-ticket voting in the state. The vote fell along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. Under current law, voters can cast their ballots for all of one party’s candidates – Democratic, Republican or Libertarian – with a single click or mark. House Bill 1008 would require voters to choose a candidate specifically for each office. Party identifiers would still be next to each name. Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion – author of the legislation – said in the last election, only one state in the top 10 in terms of voter turnout used straight-ticket voting. In the bottom 10 states – including Indiana – five offer straight-ticket voting.
Editorials: Kansas Secretary Of State Says His Voter Suppression Crusade Is Meant To ‘Protect Immigrants’ | ThinkProgress
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) is headed to Capitol Hill this afternoon to tell lawmakers he fears the President’s action protecting millions of young immigrants and their parents from deportation will lead to a spike in voter fraud. “It’s a very real problem of aliens registering to vote, sometimes unwittingly,” Kobach told ThinkProgress earlier this week. “They go to get a drivers’ license, and the person at the DMV says, ‘Hey, would you like to register to be an organ donor and register to vote?’ So some are given the misimpression by the clerk that they are entitled to register to vote. We have plenty of cases like this. And if you increase the population of people who are not US citizens getting drivers licenses, it necessarily follows that these errors that keep happening would increase as well.” Citing what he calls President’s Obama’s “recent controversial en-mass deferred action,” Kobach is pushing a policy he has advocated since long before the President’s executive order: requiring proof of citizenship for everyone registering to vote, even though Kansas’ and Arizona’s attempts to do this have been ruled illegal. Continuing his argument that undocumented people are “unwittingly” committing felony-level voter fraud, Kobach told ThinkProgress that his policy is really about keeping immigrants safe.
Requesting help to avoid a “costly and time-consuming legal challenge,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is asking members of the Republican Party of Kentucky to create a presidential caucus in 2016 that would happen well ahead of the May primary election. In a letter dated Feb. 9, Paul told GOP leaders that an earlier presidential preference vote would give Kentuckians “more leverage to be relevant” in the wide-open competition for the Republican presidential nomination. And it could help him win that nomination, he said. “You, as a member of the Kentucky Republican Central Committee, will be the one to decide if you want to help me get an equal chance at the nomination,” Paul wrote.
Two Montgomery County Democratic legislators have introduced legislation that would strip the governor of the power to name a long-term replacement to the U.S. Senate in the event of a vacancy and instead fill the post through a special election. For the next four to eight years, the bill would have the effect of preventing Gov. Larry Hogan from naming a fellow Republican as more than a temporary placeholder if either of Maryland’s two Democratic senators leave office. … Under the legislation, the governor would appoint a temporary senator, who could not run in the special election to fill the vacancy. Unless the next regular election were too close, the special election primary would be held within 90 days of the vacancy.
Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, who represents Seymour and eastern Webster County in the Missouri House of Representatives, admits he has brought his voter I.D. bill before the legislature many times. “If you’ve been on [the Missouri House Elections] Committee in the past, you are not seeing any new information here today,” he said. “This is basically the same bill I’ve been presenting for the last several years.” Dugger, the former Wright County Clerk, presented his bill to the House Elections Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 27, and it was met with significant hostility from lawmakers, interest groups and everyday Missourians. “I’m not exactly speechless, but I am just amazed that you have the chutzpah to keep bringing this back to this committee,” said State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County.
Voting in special elections could be easier for rural Nebraskans under a bill considered Feb. 5 by the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 319, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, would change two aspects of mail-in voting: the population requirement for counties to qualify for holding elections by mail and allowing special elections by mail to include candidate issues. Under current law, counties must have a population of 10,000 people or less to qualify for elections by mail. Currently there are 74 counties in Nebraska with 10,000 people or less. The bill would remove that cap to accommodate counties that have both a metropolitan and rural voter demographic. Sarpy County Election Commissioner Wayne Bena testified in favor of the bill, specifying that it would not require mail-in ballots for special elections but “would allow commissioners from each county to determine the best method for each election.”
Without the satisfying pull of a lever or the little sticker that says “I voted,” mailing in an absentee ballot can leave a voter a little uncertain this his choice will actually count—and Councilman Ben Kallos is looking to change that. Mr. Kallos is introducing legislation today that would require the Board of Elections to provide a secure website through which New Yorkers could track their absentee ballot—from the moment the city receives the request for a ballot until the moment the vote is counted. “The tracking system we’re asking for is something the Board of Elections should have in place for their own internal tracking purposes, and we’re asking them to have it in place not only for themselves but for the general public,” Mr. Kallos told the Observer.
North Carolina: Details on stopping non-US citizens from North Carolina voting released | Greensboro News-Record
A concerted effort by North Carolina officials to prevent non-U.S. citizens from voting in last fall’s elections led to 11 people having their ballots rejected. The State Board of Elections released results of an audit of voter rolls in October that flagged 1,454 registered voters in 81 of the state’s 100 counties as potential non-citizens. Information on the rolls was matched up against data from the state Division of Motor Vehicles and the federal Department of Homeland Security. It’s illegal for a non-citizen to vote or register in North Carolina. More than 2.9 million registered voters voted last fall, or 44 percent of the 6.6 million registered.
North Dakota: After heated debate House committee endorses special election for Senate vacancy | Grand Forks Herald
After a heated exchange Thursday, a North Dakota House committee narrowly endorsed legislation that would force a special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy – a bill Democrats have criticized as a political move to discourage U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp from running for governor in 2016. The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said a possible run for governor by Heitkamp in 2016 “wasn’t the primary reason” for putting House Bill 1181 together, “but it just got me interested in what the process would be.” Heitkamp has been mum on whether she’s considering a run, and her office said Thursday she had no comment.
About 12 percent of people who worked the polls in Franklin County on Election Day last fall never cast their own ballot. Does that matter? It does in Hamilton County, where The Cincinnati Enquirer reported this week that about 100 poll workers were fired for not voting in 2013 or 2014. That made us ask what happens here, and this is what we found: The percentage of local poll workers who didn’t vote in the last four elections has declined since the primary election in 2013. That year, 577 of the 2,219 eligible poll workers (26 percent) did not cast ballots. It has gotten better since, with about 17 percent of poll workers not casting ballots in the general election that year, and 18 percent of poll workers not casting ballots in last year’s primary election. In November, 367 of 3,001 poll workers did not vote. So will they the get fired for it? No.
Augusto Pinochet left the scene as Chile’s dictator 25 years ago, but the electoral system he bequeathed has governed politics ever since. Under the country’s unique “binominal” system, each parliamentary constituency has two seats; the winning candidate takes one and in most cases the runner-up takes the other. This has reserved nearly all the seats in parliament for two big coalitions, the centre-left New Majority (to which the president, Michelle Bachelet, belongs) and the centre-right Alliance. The system has brought Chile stability at the expense of diversity. It kept small parties out of parliament unless they joined one of the two big coalitions, and ruled out landslide victories by either side. Moreover, it has tended to over-represent the Alliance at the expense of New Majority. Rural areas, which had supported Pinochet, were given more weight than their populations warranted.
Democratic Republic of Congo’s election commission has set Nov. 27, 2016, for presidential and legislative elections, an election official said on Thursday, satisfying a key demand of the political opposition and international donors. President Joseph Kabila, who has held power since his father’s assassination in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011, is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term. But critics say he intends to cling to power beyond the end of his mandate next year. Kabila has refused to comment on his future, saying it is a distraction from his political agenda. A government spokesman has said that the president intends to respect the constitution.
Nigeria’s electoral commission has delayed the Presidential election, which was to occur this Saturday, by six weeks in order for the military to launch an operation to secure the northeast from Boko Haram and guarantee the safety of voters in the region. President Goodluck Jonathan, whose government is undeniably corrupt and who could well lose the election to his challenger, the former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, stands to benefit from the postponement. It’s true that people in the northeast would find it difficult to vote: more than a million and a half of them have fled their homes, while others are living under Boko Haram occupation or have been warned by the Islamist terrorists not to participate in the election. It’s also true that Boko Haram’s insurgency began almost six years ago. If the government can neutralize the group in just six weeks, what has taken so long?
Firebrand Arab MP Haneen Zuabi, a regular critic of Israel’s right-wing government, was banned Thursday from standing in next month’s general election. The elections committee gave no reason for the disqualification, reported on its website, but Zuabi’s lawyer Hassan Jabareen said it was because she was deemed “hostile to the Jewish state.” The committee also banned extreme right winger Baruch Marzel, a follower of radical rabbi Meir Kahane, assassinated in 1990. A member of the leftwing Arab-Israeli Balad party, the 45-year-old Zuabi was also banned ahead of the 2013 election in a move overturned by the Supreme Court. The country’s top tribunal must also rule in this case.
The six-week delay in Nigeria’s presidential election has raised red flags both in the international community and among local political and civil rights groups, with many concerned about the independence of the country’s electoral commission and whether the military hierarchy had too much say in the matter. President Goodluck Jonathan and his chief rival, former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, are facing off in what is probably the tightest presidential contest in the history of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its economic powerhouse, so any change like moving back election day is seen as suspicious and a possible game-changer. Many international observers had already arrived in the country and foreign journalists were struggling to obtain visas when Nigeria’s electoral commission announced Saturday it was postponing the Feb. 14 presidential and legislative elections until March 28.
“I was in prison on the day of an election. I posted a mocked-up ballot paper into the wing postbox. It was utterly pointless of course, but I was just looking to make a point,” an anonymous former inmate told the Guardian. Despite finding yet again that the UK continues to violate prisoners’ rights to participate in elections, the European court of human rights (ECHR) declined to order compensation to 1,015 UK prisoners on Tuesday. “I broadly agree with ECHR’s ruling: can you really ever put a monetary value on the loss of this human right? “It troubles me. You would hope that the fact it’s illegal would put pressure on the government to address it, but I feel the right wing are just using this to show how out of touch the European Court is,” he said.
The rights of UK prisoners were breached when they were prevented from voting in elections, European judges have again ruled. The case was brought by inmates who were in prison during various elections between 2009 and 2011. This is the fourth time the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the UK’s blanket ban on giving convicted prisoners the vote. The court has called for a change in the law but this has not happened. Both the previous Labour government and current coalition have failed to legislate – although various proposals have been debated in an attempt to end the long-running row with the Strasbourg court. This latest case concerned 1,015 prisoners, a grouping of long-standing prisoner voting cases, and the court ruled there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – right to a free election.