National: Voting rights for minorities threatened, experts say | Gannett

Since 2010, 21 states have restricted voting rights, said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C., office. Proponents of the new laws, which do such things as requiring government-issued photo IDs to vote, say they are designed to combat voter fraud. Opponents point out that documented cases of in-person voter fraud are all but non-existent. The real reason for the new laws, the say, is to make it harder for minorities or poor people to vote. “The move ‘Selma’ has come out, and we’re still in the fight to secure and protect voting rights,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization founded in 1999. “We no longer have poll taxes. But instead, we have voter IDs. We don’t have literacy tests. But we have things like cuts to early voting and cuts to Sunday voting, all which are targeted at communities of color who have gained access to the ballot because of the Voting Rights Act. “We see more subtle attempts to make it harder to vote. It’s just a different page out of the playbook that makes it harder for African Americans to participate,” Browne Dianis said.

Editorials: How To Run For Congress in a District That Doesn’t Exist | Jack Fitzpatrick/National Journal

Andy Tobin has an odd problem. The Arizona Republican thinks he can win a House seat in 2016 after his 2014 bid to unseat a Democratic incumbent fell just short. But as he prepares his next bid, he can’t say for sure what district he’ll run in, or even if, by 2016, the districts he’s currently eyeing will still exist. That’s because the fate of Arizona’s electoral map is currently sitting before the Supreme Court. The court will hear arguments next month in a case that pits Arizona’s Republican-led legislature against a state commission that was assigned to draw its Congressional districts. The commission was created in 2000 in order to stop gerrymandering and create competitive districts, but lawmakers say that process was unconstitutional because the authority to draw districts should belong solely to the state’s elected officials. After the March arguments, the court will likely issue a ruling by the end of its term in late June. And when the ruling comes down, it has the potential to shake up the Congressional map not just in Arizona, but in a host of states (including California) that have looked outside their legislatures for help drawing the boundaries of their Congressional districts.

California: Special interests are at center of L.A. election date debate | Los Angeles Times

As it waits for a City Council vote on new rules for electronic billboards, outdoor advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor has become a major backer of the campaign to change L.A.’s election dates. The company recently gave $25,000 to the campaign for Charter Amendments 1 and 2, the March 3 ballot measures that would align L.A. city and school board races with higher-turnout state and presidential elections. Supporters say the change in election dates, which are backed by council President Herb Wesson and would go into effect in 2020, will diminish the power of special interests by getting more voters to the polls. But records show that, so far, many of those lining up behind the measures — public employee unions, business groups and a handful of private companies — have past or present stakes in City Hall decisions. Denver-based CP Development, which won city approval last year for a downtown high-rise, gave $25,000 to a committee promoting the measures. So did the L.A. County Federation of Labor, which fought a move to scale back city employee pension costs and, more recently, convinced the council to hike the minimum wage at large hotels.

California: Latino activists consider voting rights lawsuit against Orange County | KPCC

Activists in Orange County are considering a voting rights lawsuit after a Latino supervisorial candidate lost a special election last month. Some activist say county district lines split Latino residents and dilute their voting power. This month, Vietnamese American attorney Andrew Do was sworn into office as First District Supervisor after beating career Latino politician Lou Correa in a special election by 43 votes. There are now three Asian American supervisors and two white supervisors. “(Latinos) have no voice in the county government,” said Latino activist Art Montez. “No voice in health care, they have no voice as to what public parks are going to get.

Georgia: Republicans look to cut early voting again | MSNBC

Georgia Republicans look set to significantly cut their state’s early voting period — the latest fallout from the Supreme Court’s crippling of the Voting Rights Act. A legislative committee voted on party lines last week to advance a bill that would shorten Georgia’s early voting period to 12 days, from a current maximum of 21 days. It would also bar counties from offering more than four hours of voting on weekends. The state’s early voting period was already cut dramatically just four years ago. The new move comes after a 2014 election in which 44% of voters — disproportionately minorities — cast their ballot early. Many counties, responding to popular demand, offered Sunday voting for the first time. Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a member of the Democratic legislative leadership, said the scheme is an effort to produce an electorate that’s more favorable to the GOP. “We cannot choose the electorate, the electorate chooses us,” Hugley said. “And it looks like somebody has an idea that they want to choose who is going to make the decisions, based on the patterns of how people vote.”

Illinois: New voter system security questioned | Herald-Review

At a time when computer systems of major corporations have been under attack by hackers, Illinois is poised to join other states in a first-ever national database of voter registration information. But, despite concerns from scholars and others who monitor online security, state and national officials involved in the Electronic Registration Information Center program say every voter’s information will be safe. “We make a pretty good argument that we do more to protect the data than the states do themselves. We follow above-normal security protocols,” said John Lindback, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based program.

Indiana: Two Senate bills would affect voters | Lafayette Journal & Courier

A pair of bills working their way through the Indiana Senate could spell trouble for some voters, Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey contends. Senate Bill 535, authored by Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Bill 466, authored by Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, are two of the more problematic bills at this time, Coffey said. SB 535 would require absentee voters to include their voter ID number on their ballots. Coffey testified against the bill and said no one spoke on its behalf. She said since most people do not know their voter ID number, the state would have to mail that number privately to every voter, which could cost about $3 million, she estimated. The ID numbers are not available online and were recently removed from voter registration postcards due to privacy issues. “Our biggest concern is it will discourage people from voting if that’s the only way they can cast a ballot,” she said.

Maryland: Democrats seek to change Senate vacancy procedure | The Frederick News-Post

Two Democrats in the Maryland Legislature want to change the way U.S. Senate vacancies are filled, and Republicans are crying foul. We understand their distress, but the bill sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate David Moon, both of Montgomery County, is a more democratic and less political method of filling a vacancy should a U.S. senator resign or die before his or her term ends. Current law empowers the governor to appoint a replacement until the next statewide election. That could conceivably mean a full two years in the U.S. Senate for a political appointment, as opposed to someone chosen by voters. But Republicans are understandably irked at the timing of this legislation. If Democrats are so sold on its merits, why was it not introduced during Gov. Martin O’Malley’s eight years at the helm? ”It’s interesting that the first year of a Republican governor, they’re trying to strip powers from him,” state GOP executive director Joe Cluster said in a recent Baltimore Sun story. Both Raskin and Moon argue that the bill will put this power appropriately in the hands of voters.

Editorials: Maryland redistricting reform | Baltimore Sun

Maryland almost certainly will not enact reforms to the way it redraws legislative and congressional districts this year because the most powerful proponent of the idea, Gov. Larry Hogan, isn’t pushing it. He wants a commission to study the issue and provide advice on the best way to remove partisan politics from the process, and given the variety of reforms other states have tried in that vein, his approach makes sense. But he’d better not wait for long, otherwise the unique conditions that make this reform possible will soon evaporate. Many of the Democrats who control Maryland’s General Assembly would probably agree philosophically that district lines should be drawn without party politics in mind, and few would be willing to mount a defense of the state’s Congressional districts, which are generally considered among the nation’s most gerrymandered. But the reason reform efforts have gone nowhere in the past is that the Democratic powers that be viewed them as unilateral disarmament in the face of aggressive gerrymandering in Republican-dominated states. Indeed, a number of Democratic lawmakers have explicitly suggested that Maryland should not enact such reforms unless it could recruit a buddy state dominated by Republicans to make an offsetting switch at the same time. That’s another way of saying it’s never going to happen.

Minnesota: Bill Would Make it Easier for National Guard Members to Vote When Called to Serve | KSTP

Absentee voting procedures available to military members called to service by the president could soon be extended to members of the Minnesota National Guard. There’s currently a difference in absentee voting rights between National Guard members who are called to service by a governor and members called to service by the president. National Guard members called up for federal service can receive their ballot in some circumstances by email and do not need a witness for their absentee ballot.

Mississippi: Timing is everything in calling special election | Jackson Clarion-Ledger

A few Republicans are getting a little antsy over when Gov. Phil Byrant will call a special election to fill the congressional seat held by the late-U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee. Several people have said Bryant was originally thinking of setting the election for Aug. 4, which coincides with primary elections for state races. That would make some fiscal sense in that it would save a little money holding all the elections at the same time. However, that idea is not being met with fanfare because more than one state elected official is looking at running for the seat. Nobody likes the idea of running for two offices simultaneously.

Missouri: Lawmakers seek voting reforms | St. Joseph News-Press

Two St. Joseph legislators have crafted proposals this session that would alter voting procedures such as those designated for absentee balloting. Rep. Pat Conway, D-St. Joseph, has written a bill that would allow any registered voter eligible to participate in a particular election to do so by absentee ballot without being required to state a reason. Under Mr. Conway’s plan, an application for an absentee ballot instead would need to state whether the voter is incapacitated or confined due to illness or physical disability. People who are primarily responsible for the physical care of an incapacitated or confined person also would fall under the definition.

New Mexico: Teen voting bill lives another day | The Santa Fe New Mexican

The bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in school board elections rose from the dead Monday, advancing after a turnabout by a handful of Republican legislators. Members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted 7-2 to move the bill forward without recommendation. Only a minute before, the committee had voted 5-4 along party lines against the bill. All of the committee’s Republican members opposed giving it a favorable recommendation. But then Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, rescued the bill. She suggested that it be sent on to the Judiciary Committee without any recommendation.

New York: Cuomo attorneys argue against special-election suit | Capital New York

Attorneys for Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued in court filings last week that a lawsuit seeking to compel the governor to call a special election to replace former congressman Michael Grimm represented an “extraordinary and drastic remedy” for a nonexistent problem. The suit, brought by Ronald Castorina Jr., who serves as the Republican commissioner for Staten Island on the city’s Board of Elections, claims that Cuomo has a “mandatory and not discretionary” duty to call a special election once a seat becomes vacant, and that not doing so is a “continuous and ongoing” failure that the court must address. Grimm resigned from Congress in early January after pleading guilty to federal tax fraud. Cuomo’s lawyers argue that federal and state law places the ability to call a special election at the discretion of the governor, and that a month is not a long enough time to constitute a breach of that duty.

Editorials: Oregon registration bill removes barriers to voting | Albany Democrat-Herald

An automatic voter-registration proposal pending in the Oregon Legislature that would add roughly 300,000 voters to the rolls next year appears to be on the fast track to passage. Under the bill from Secretary of State (soon to be governor) Kate Brown, the state would collect data from Driver and Motor Vehicle Services and use that information to automatically register voters. Prospective voters would be given at least three weeks to decide whether they wanted to opt out of registering, or whether they wanted to register with any particular party. If they failed to register with a party, they would be added to the rolls as an unaffiliated voter.

Germany: Angela Merkel’s conservatives suffer worst election result since WWII | Telegraph

Germany’s rapidly rising Eurosceptics have dealt a fresh embarrassing blow to Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats party in state elections in Hamburg. Alternative for Germany (AfD), which wants to force crisis-hit countries such as Greece out of the single currency, looked likely to win its first seats in a west German parliament. The AfD vote was hovering just above the 5 per cent threshold needed to win seats in parliament in initial projections based on a partial vote count. The AfD made significant gains from Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats, who saw their share of the vote fall by a projected 5.9 per cent in one of their worst results in recent times.

Israel: Arab voters attract greater attention than in previous Knesset elections | Jerusalem Post

Some political pundits are forecasting that the Arab representation in the Knesset will be greater than ever before, not only because of the joint Arab list, but also because there are Arabs on the lists of other parties. And, if the High Court ratifies the disqualification of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from running in the next elections, the ruling may well provoke Arab voters to come out in far greater numbers to vote for the Arab list, which could result in more mandates than anticipated. Most of the country’s major media outlets are now watching political developments in the Arab sector more closely than in the past and are reporting on them with greater frequency.

Kazakhstan: Ruling party wants to extend Nazarbayev’s 26-year reign | Reuters

The ruling party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Monday it wanted the veteran leader to extend his term in an early election this year, in a sign the oil-rich nation’s elite sees no apparent successor after his 26-year grip on power. The 74-year-old former steel worker, popularly nicknamed “Papa”, has ruled his vast Central Asian nation of 17 million with a strong hand since 1989 when he became the head of the local Communist Party. His Nur Otan party published a statement in support of a “people’s initiative” aired at the weekend by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, which he also chairs, to hold a snap election this year and extend his rule by another five years. “We believe the initiative on holding an early presidential election is the most correct decision in full compliance with the interests of the nation and the people,” the Nur Otan party said in a statement posted on its website ( The president’s office could not be reached for comments.

Lesotho: Ramaphosa happy as Lesotho election nears | Times LIVE

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was happy with preparations ahead of Lesotho’s elections scheduled for February 28, his spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said on his return to South Africa on Saturday. Ramaphosa was visiting in his capacity as SA Development Community-appointed facilitator after an attempted coup in August which led to prime minister Tom Thabane fleeing for South Africa. Mamoepa said the latest visit included meetings with King Letsie III, representatives of the coalition government namely Thabane of the All Basuthu Convention (ABC), deputy prime minister Mothejoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and minister of gender and youth, sports and recreation Thesele Maseribane of the Basutho Nationa Party . Besides the coalition partners, he also met representatives of the non-governmental organisation sector, church leaders, and chiefs of security agencies the Lesotho Defence Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.

New Zealand: Push for online voting trial in Auckland | Radio New Zealand News

Election Services managing director Dale Ofsoske said he was worried about turnout levels. He said there was a significant drop in voters in local elections, from 51 percent in 2010, to just under 35 percent in 2013. As part of the effort to counter that, some local authorities will trial online voting next year. Auckland Council wants to test the system on voters with disabilities and voters living overseas. But Mr Ofsoske said Auckland had effectively been excluded because – in a Cabinet paper released in December 2014 – it was told it could not test only part of an electorate but that its whole electorate was too big to test.

Read the cabinet paper on online voting in local elections (PDF, 1MB)

Nigeria: Nigerians Relocate to Avoid Possible Election Violence | VoA News

In northeast Nigeria, insurgent group Boko Haram group has distributed leaflets warning people to boycott the March 28 nationwide elections. But that is not the only threat to security, People are moving their families away from sites of possible tension around the country and are preparing for unrest once results are announced. From the Niger Delta to far northeast, the pre-election period has become a time of migration for some Nigerians. VOA met several on the streets of Kaduna. “My wife has been pestering me for the past three months,” said a man. “Even today, she called me to say ‘Are we ready to move to a safer ground?’” “Nobody wants to die for nothing. I myself, I am planning to relocate to the southern part of Kaduna where I will not be hearing sounds of war, drums of crisis, burning of tires and teargas, and all those kind of things,” said a woman.

Tajikistan: Dirty Tricks Discredit Opposition Ahead of Tajikistan’s “Vote” | Transitions Online

Less than a month before elections to Tajikistan’s rubber-stamp parliament, members of the embattled opposition say the authoritarian-minded government is resorting to new tactics and old – sex tapes and arrests – to discredit them. A flurry of allegations about alleged sexual impropriety among members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has surfaced on social media and state television in recent months. Meanwhile, another opposition group has seen several members arrested on what supporters call spurious charges. For longtime observers, the harassment in the run-up to the 1 March parliamentary elections is an unsurprising attempt to discredit opponents of President Imomali Rakhmon. In its most recent report on Tajikistan, Freedom House ranked the country’s electoral process a 6.75 out of 7, with 7 representing the farthest a country can be from democracy. The Central Asian state has never held an election judged free and fair by independent observers, though it regularly goes through the motions of holding polls. Eight parties, several of them loyal to the president, will field candidates in the elections next month.