Remember all that new voting equipment purchased after the 2000 presidential election, when those discredited punch card machines were tossed out? Now, the newer machines are starting to wear out. Election officials are trying to figure out what to do before there’s another big voting disaster and vendors have lined up to help. During their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, state election officials previewed the latest voting equipment from one of the industry’s big vendors, Election Systems and Software. ES&S expects a huge surge in buying very soon. It hopes its new ExpressVote machine will appeal to those who want convenient voting as well as the security of a paper ballot that’s counted separately. “We’re seeing a buying cycle that’s starting now, and will probably go for the next maybe four or five years,” said Kathy Rogers, a senior vice president at ES&S who used to run elections for the state of Georgia. Rogers says companies have to be more flexible than they were 10 or so years ago. Both the technology and how people vote is changing rapidly. “Some are moving to all vote by mail; some are increasingly becoming early vote sites,” she said. “We have some that have moved as far away from direct record electronics as they possibly can, and then we have others who love that technology.”
“Left Party whip Keith Ellison spoke in Washington today in an attempt to rally centrist support for tighter financial regulation—his liberal coalition has support on the issue from Tea Party leader Steve King, but without more Democrats and Republicans the bill is doomed to fail. Leaders of the Green Party have yet to take a stance on the bill but …”
This might sound absurd in the United States, but it’s not as crazy elsewhere in the world. The American system of government is stable, popular, and backed by the Constitution—and dominated by two political parties. A political system comprised of multiple, smaller parties and shifting coalitions may be unimaginable in America, but it’s the norm in most other democracies. While the United States is one of the world’s oldest democracies, and spreading democracy is a central tenet of the country’s foreign policy, our winner-take-all system itself is among our least-popular exports. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use a form of proportional representation in at least one type of election. What is proportional representation, or PR? It’s a system that aims to gives parties the same percentage of seats as the percentage of votes they receive—and it might be able to end our gerrymandering wars.
Voting Blogs: Survey of the Performance of American Elections helps paint overall picture of voting as experienced by voters | Charles Stewart/electionlineWeekly
The experience of voters is one of those things that hide in plain sight. Despite the fact that more than 100 million voters take part in presidential elections, and around 80 million voters take part in midterm congressional elections, very little is actually known about the experiences voters have when they go to cast a ballot. Do their machines work? Do they wait in long lines? Are they met by competent poll workers? Voters tell each other stories about these things, and sometimes reporters write news accounts about them, but until 2008 no one had ever attempted to ask voters about their experience on Election Day in any comprehensive, systematic way. Thus was born the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), the first (and thus far only) comprehensive national public opinion study of voting from the perspective of the voter. In 2014, with the financial assistance of the Pew Charitable Trusts (which has generously funded the SPAE since its inception), we have been able to study in detail the voting experience at midterm. This report touches on some highlights.
Nebraska: Voter ID legislation abruptly stops despite anticipation for long, heated debate | Associated Press
Efforts to require Nebraska voters to show identification at the polls came to an abrupt halt Wednesday, less than 24 hours after lawmakers began what many expected to be a long, heated debate. Lawmakers voted 25-15 to push the measure to the bottom of the 2015 agenda, meaning it has little chance of returning this year. The move came after numerous amendments were added to the bill, which has faced heavy resistance from lawmakers and civil rights activists who say it would disenfranchise poor and minority voters. Opponents also note that Nebraska has no documented cases of voter fraud. Sen. John Murante of Gretna, one of the bill’s supporters and chairman of the government committee, asked his fellow senators not to “prolong the pain” by sending it back to the committee for reconsideration. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, said the measure was intended to protect the state from voter fraud and included safeguards, such as offering free IDs to poor residents, to prevent disenfranchising voters. But opponents noted that ID cards were costly and didn’t fully protect against fraudulent voting.
The Oregon Legislature’s budget committee, on a party-line vote Friday with multiple political implications, cleared a bill providing for automatic voter registration upon obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. The bill is a top priority for Secretary of State Kate Brown, who is next in line of succession if Gov. John Kitzhaber resigns amid influence-peddling allegations against him and first lady Cylvia Hayes. A couple of hours after the committee vote, Kitzhaber announced his resignation, effective Feb. 18, when Brown will be sworn in as Oregon’s 38th governor. House Bill 2177 went to a vote of the full House with all committee Democrats for it and all Republicans against it. A similar bill failed on a tie vote in the Senate after the House passed it in 2013.
In a unanimous ruling, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has denied an appeal by a group of 24 voters who asked it to bar the use of some types of electronic voting machines. At issue was whether direct-recording electronic voting systems – DREs – which do not produce simultaneous paper records as each vote is cast, violate the state Election Code and the rights of voters. The state has approved six types of DREs for use in Pennsylvania. Most, if not all, midstate counties use electronic voting systems. Pennsylvania’s highest court backed the use of DREs in a 35-page ruling issued this week by Justice Correale F. Stevens. That decision upholds a ruling Commonwealth Court issued in October 2013.
National: New evidence shows election officials are biased against Latino voters | The Washington Post
Voter identification laws are cropping up around the country: 31 states had a voter identification requirement in the 2014 midterms, up from 14 states in 2000. These laws vary widely in the types of identification they accept, even in whether identification is required or merely requested. And many people don’t know whether they need identification to vote, or what type of identification to bring. Opponents argue that these laws disproportionately impact minority voters, who are less likely to have required identification. Our new research in this month’s American Political Science Review shows that minorities face another hurdle: bias in the bureaucracy that implements these laws. Roughly 8,000 local officials – county or municipal clerks and election boards – manage the nation’s election system. These officials train local poll workers, provide information, and interact with constituents with little immediate oversight from state officials.
An attorney retained by the city council said in a written opinion Wednesday that the council has the power to remove elected officials. Allan B. Taylor, a legislative and legal adviser to the council, said he was responding to questions raised about whether the panel has the authority to remove such officials. The council has begun the process of seeking to remove Hartford’s three registrars of voters, following problems on Election Day that caused several polling places to open late. People were unable to vote at as many as 10 polling locations when they opened at 6 a.m. on Election Day because the voter lists were not delivered on time. Voters waited more than an hour at some polling places, and some left without voting, prompting the Democratic Party to seek extended hours. A Superior Court judge eventually ordered that two polling places remain open for an extra half-hour. PDF: Attorney’s Report On Hartford Registrars
Like most political aficionados, Paul Woods looks forward to the excitement of the polls closing and the results pouring in each Election Day. For the past several years, though, Ada County’s results have not poured in. They’ve trickled. Woods had to wait 11 hours after Ada County’s polls closed in the November 2014 election to find out whether he won his race to become an Ada County Highway District commissioner. (He did.) “I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning and they still were not in,” Woods lamented. “I got up at 6 and checked and they were almost done.” Other Idaho counties had tallied ballots and sent election workers home to bed hours before Ada County posted final election results at 7 a.m. In 2012, ballot counting didn’t wrap up until 8 a.m. … Remember Zip disks and Zip drives? That once-cutting-edge computer storage technology fell out of favor around the turn of century. But that bygone technology is still at the heart of Ada County’s election system – and at least part of the reason results take so long.
Sen. Rand Paul is on track to officially jump into the presidential race on April 7, the New York Times reports, citing “people close to” the Kentucky Republican. “Only his family’s doubts could change his mind at this point, said associates of the senator,” according to the Times. While Paul’s entry into what is promising to be a crowded GOP field appears nearly a done deal, the first-term senator has one looming problem ahead: Kentucky law dictates that “no candidate’s name shall appear on any voting machine or absentee ballot more than once.” In other words, by law, Paul wouldn’t be able to compete in both his home state’s GOP presidential primary and Republican Senate primary, which will be held together on the same day in May 2016. Team Paul, meanwhile, has made it clear that their man isn’t willing to give up a second term in the Senate to battle for the GOP presidential nomination. So, game over then? Hardly. “There are avenues available to him, should he decide to run for both offices at the same time,” Doug Stafford, Paul’s top political strategist, told reporters on a conference call in early December. “I don’t think we have abandoned any option, nor have we settled on any option.”
Minnesota: Renewed push to restore felon voting rights clears first hurdle | Minneapolis Star Tribune
A measure to restore voting rights to felons who have been released from incarceration successfully cleared its first committee hurdle Thursday backed by a broad coalition of support. Dozens packed the hearing room in support of the bipartisan bill, authored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, that would change state law to allow conflicted felons to vote immediately after they’re released from prison or the workhouse, rather than when they’ve completed the terms of their probation or parole—a process that can take years, if not decades. Although an effort years in the making–this year’s push has seen new support from conservative and libertarian causes, bolstering GOP support. Walter Hudson, vice chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, said that prison inmates should be denied the right to vote, just as they should be denied a multitude of other rights, but that shouldn’t apply once they are released back into the community, he said. “Participation in the political process conveys a sense of belonging and investment in the community which those seeking reconciliation ought to have,” he said.
Missouri ballot measures would need to be finalized earlier if legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday is signed into law, an effort to save money on reprinting ballots that last year cost the state close to $680,000. The bill, approved 26-8, would set a deadline to change ballot measures about two months before an election, which is two weeks sooner than the generally accepted standard. Current law allows measures to be finalized at any point within 180 days of an election, although absentee and military ballots must go out about six weeks early. The legislation follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in reprinting expenses after a mid-September court ruling that required last-minute changes to the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment to create a limited early, no-excuses-needed voting period.
A new Republican majority in Carson City will aim to make Nevada the latest state to require voters to show identification at the polls, opening a new front in the voting wars that have angered Democrats and minority groups. Proponents of voter identification laws say those laws help prevent fraud at the polls. The Nevada version would enforce strict requirements on what types of identification are acceptable, including only state- and federally-issued forms of identification. College identifications would not be acceptable. Voters without an accepted form of ID would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which would not be counted until they show proper identification at a county or city clerk’s office.
State Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R. Albuquerque, can envision a future where New Mexicans use their fingerprints to prove their identity in order to vote. In a Senate Memorial introduced Wednesday, Payne asks the secretary of state to study the advantages of using iris scans, thumbprints and other biometric measures to prevent potential voter fraud in state elections. “The state-of-the-art technology is here. Anyone who watches the NCIS TV drama series can tell you that modern technology is commonly used for authentication purposes,” Payne said in a statement.
Any chance of progress on a constitutional amendment or legislation changing the way Virginia draws its congressional and legislative boundaries is all but dead in the General Assembly session. Thirteen of the 14 bills and proposed constitutional amendments addressing the creation of a redistricting commission, including a number aimed at a nonpartisan approach, failed to pass both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. While the Senate passed four redistricting measures on its own, three of them — in addition to 10 similar bills and resolutions filed by members of the House — were killed or left to die in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. The lone remaining piece of redistricting legislation — Senate Joint Resolution 284, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier — is headed to almost certain demise Friday morning in a P&E subcommittee.
Gov. Bob McDonnell expedited the restoration of voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has built on the precedent. The state Senate has taken the next step. The chamber has given first approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to make restoration automatic. Nonviolent felons would not need to apply for it. Section 1 of Article II in the Virginia Constitution describes qualifications of voters. The amendment adds the italicized language to the text: “In elections by the people, the qualifications of voters shall be as follows: Each voter shall be a citizen of the United States, shall be eighteen years of age, shall fulfill the residence requirements set forth in this section, and shall be registered to vote pursuant to this article. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.
On Feb. 17, a short while after the Supreme Court heard arguments against disqualifying Knesset member Haneen Zoabi from running on the United Arab list, participants at the annual Israel Democracy Conference heard arguments from the television anchor Lucy Aharish in favor of Zoabi’s disqualification from the Knesset race. “Zoabi should demonstrate responsibility toward the Arab society and not incite with harsh words, which provoke Israeli society against its Arab neighbors,” said the successful Arab-Israeli journalist. “The minute you know what your words can do to an entire society, to 20% of this state, you will learn how to talk,” Aharish lashed out. “I am a proud Arab living in this state,” she continued, visibly agitated. “I do not apologize for being an Arab. I do not apologize for being a Muslim.” According to the platform of the party headed by Avigdor Liberman, the foreign minister of Aharish’s state, however, had she chosen to live in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm or in one of the villages of the Triangle in the north, even an apology would not have saved her from being separated from her country.
In the first few months after Lesotho’s crisis in August, much of the blame was pinned on the aggression of the country’s military commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. But now, just days before the kingdom’s February 28 election aimed at resolving the impasse, there are indications that Prime Minister Tom Thabane may have an entire rogue military on his hands. The August 30 coup attempt saw Lesotho Defence Force soldiers chase Thabane from his official residence across the South African border. Simultaneously, troops attacked three police stations, killing one officer and injuring nine others. For South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the lead mediator in the crisis for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a crowning achievement came in November when he exiled Kamoli from Lesotho.
A senior official of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has refuted reports that the use of card readers to authenticate voters is unconstitutional. Both the 1999 constitution and the Electoral Act of 2010 stipulate that “electronic voting is prohibited for now.” Critics say those laws are also meant to cover the use of electronic readers to check voter registration cards. But Nick Dazang, INEC’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs said critics are misunderstanding the measures. “The card reader we are deploying for the elections is meant only for accrediting voters before they vote,” said Dazang. “Electronic voting means using a machine to vote. And in the instance of the card reader, the only thing it does is to accredit and authenticate the voter and then verify the voter as the genuine voter of the Permanent Voter Card [PVC] that we are using for the election.”
The official organization of Philippine lawyers has requested the Supreme Court (SC) to stop a P268.8-million ($6.08-million) deal to repair, refurbish, and maintain voting machines for the 2016 elections. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) recently petitioned the SC to declare the deal between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and technology provider Smartmatic-TIM illegal. The IBP explained that the Comelec awarded the P268.8-million contract to Smartmatic without public bidding. In a 28-page petition, the IBP said Comelec Resolution 9922, which mandated the contract, is null and void. According to the petition, the contract violates Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.