After abysmal voter participation in California’s last election and in Los Angeles County in particular, some state officials want to follow in the footsteps of Oregon and look into creating an automatic voter registration system. Proponents say creating a system that automatically signs up eligible voters instead of requiring them to take the initiative would remove a major barrier to participation and free up resources that could be spent on getting more people interested in voting. That proposal came up Friday at a joint legislative hearing in Los Angeles that focused on increasing voter turnout in Los Angeles County. The county is the largest in the nation and has 4.8 million registered voters. But its turnout was the lowest in the state in last November’s general election. Statewide turnout of registered voters was 42%, but in Los Angeles County only 31% of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout was particularly low among Latino registered voters, at only 23%, and Asian and black voters, at 26%, according to a report by the bipartisan firm Political Data Inc. The number of people eligible to vote — citizens 18 and older — who cast ballots was even lower: 31% statewide and 25% in Los Angeles County.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill swung by City Hall Friday to deliver a citation honoring the fact that New Haven accommodated the most Election Day voter registrations out of any Connecticut municipality, totaling more than 600. “Election Day registration is designed to increase voter participation and the last election was the state’s first big one,” Merrill said as she stood alongside Mayor Toni Harp, City Clerk Michael Smart and staffers from the registrar’s office. “More than 14,000 were able to vote who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, because they had not been on the list for whatever reason, and chose to recognize their right to vote on Election Day.”
If the Kansas Legislature’s proposed bill SB 171 gets passed it would mean local city and school candidates would be required to declare a political party, and there would be primary elections in August followed by the general election in November. Supporters argue fall elections would increase voter turnout and making the elections partisan would tell voters where candidates stand in regards to political platforms. A number of bill proponents testified in Topeka this week at the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee hearing. Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, expressed his support of SB 171.
Minnesota’s first big run with no-excuse absentee voting has some lawmakers setting their sights on a more-expansive form of early balloting for future elections. Legislation moving in the Minnesota Senate would establish an early voting window 15 days before an election when polling places would be open, including on Saturdays. The period would close three days prior to the scheduled election. But the bill faces a tougher course in the House, where a key Republican says his colleagues aren’t inclined to pursue another significant voting change so soon. Last year was the first statewide election where voters could request and cast an absentee ballot without a qualified excuse. In the end, there were 55 percent more absentee ballots cast in 2014 compared with the midterm election of 2010. New Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, said it’s a sign people crave opportunities to vote at their convenience.
If a Minnesota state senator gets his wish, a faceless and nameless force would give political candidates extra reason to sweat at election time. They’d have to compete against “None of the Above,” with the threat of a new election featuring all-new candidates if that option prevails. GOP Sen. Branden Petersen’s proposal is certainly a longshot, even by his own admission. But he’s hoping the bill he introduced last week at least stirs some serious talk and gives frustrated voters an idea to rally around. “This would give people an opportunity to really make a strong statement in rebuke of the present dynamic. It would be an honest check on the two-party system,” said the first-term senator from Andover who at times has clashed openly with his own party. “This gives people a chance to legitimately voice their opinion.” The proposal so far has been met with eye rolls and good-natured pokes.
State Rep. Eliseo Alcon held up his right hand where everyone in the room could see it and squeezed his thumb and forefinger tightly together. It was his demonstration to show exactly how negligible the problem of voter fraud is in New Mexico, in his estimation. Alcon, D-Milan, summed up the objections several groups had expressed Saturday to two proposals that would require voters to present identification documents before casting ballots. Opponents argued that the legislation would chill participation in elections — particularly among women, minority groups and senior citizens — when its aim is to thwart voter fraud, an activity that there’s scant evidence of in the state. “Neither one of these bills do anything but hurt a small percentage of people” who are eligible to vote but don’t possess identification cards with photos, Alcon said. But neither critics of the proposals nor New Mexico’s Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who backed the more rigid of the two plans considered by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, got their way.
A sweeping voter registration bill that could add hundreds of thousands of new voters in Oregon moved a big step closer to law Friday when it was approved by the House on a party-line vote. The “new motor voter bill,” so called because it calls for the state to use drivers’ license data to automatically register voters, is sought by Democrats who see it as a way to help sweep away barriers to voting, particularly among younger and poorer citizens who frequently move. Republicans fiercely argued against House Bill 2177, saying that people should take their own steps to register to vote. In the end, not a single Republican joined Democrats in the 35-24 vote in favor of the bill. Although it wasn’t expressed on the floor, some Republican activists have worried that the bill is aimed at padding the Democratic political advantage in the state.
A committee reviewing election issues in Minnehaha County moved one meeting closer to releasing what its chairman later called “a series of recommendations and critiques,” some of which could require changes made in the state Legislature. Election night issues last November kept the state’s largest county from reporting election results until 14 hours after the polls closed. That followed problems in the 2012 election and issues in last April’s city election. The seven-member committee heard testimony for well over two hours Friday and ended the meeting receiving copies of a draft report that will be examined during the next two weeks. That draft report will not be made public, said Robert Wilson, the county employee assigned to the election review committee. All this effort is designed to prevent what chairman Bruce Danielson described as “heartache and headache and voter frustration” when elections go wrong and people are unsure whether their vote will be counted properly.
House lawmakers passed a bill Friday to slightly expand a pilot program aimed at getting more voters to participate in Utah elections. Utah had one of the nation’s worst turnout rates in the last election. Now some counties have opted to take part in a three-year experiment that allows voters to register and vote on election day. Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Sanpete and Kane counties haves seen more than twelve hundred additional voters cast ballots through the program.
A federal court on Monday gave the Virginia General Assembly more time to redraw the state’s congressional map, which the panel ruled unconstitutional for diluting the influence of African American voters. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia moved the April 1 deadline to either Sept. 1 or 60 days after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending appeal from congressional Republicans, whichever comes first. The ruling favors the approach taken by House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who said Friday that he would not redraw the lines until the appeal was decided. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) disagreed and said last week that “running out the clock” unnecessarily confuses what, he said, should be a straightforward process. “The governor remains ready to work with the General Assembly to pass a fair, nonpartisan congressional map that complies with the court’s standing ruling on this issue,” McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said Monday.
As the Yakima City Council considers whether to appeal a federal judge’s decision changing the city’s elections system, members are confronted with an issue of cost versus conscience. Most have at some point in the 21/2-year case come out opposed to changing the elections system. Yakima voters also rejected a separate redistricting proposal in 2011 brought about by a citizen initiative. Regardless, a federal judge has said the system violates the federal Voting Rights Act and on Tuesday ordered a new system of voting by district that includes two districts with a majority of Latino voters. Even if a majority of the council dislikes that outcome, their options for continuing the fight create potentially enormous financial challenges. It’s not just that the city has already spent $918,314 defending the case, or that the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the case, is expected to seek a sum even greater to cover its legal fees and costs. It’s also a question of where the money to pay for it comes from because the case isn’t covered by the city’s insurance policy.
Canada: Chief electoral officer hopes public remains vigilant over political dirty tricks | Calgary Herald
The upcoming federal election will see tougher rules around the use of robocalls, but Canada’s chief electoral officer hopes greater public awareness will help stamp out improper use of automated calls and other political dirty tricks. Fraudulent robocalls to direct voters to the wrong polling station in the 2011 election in Guelph helped lead to new rules requiring political parties and service providers to register with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) before contacting voters. Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said in an interview that Elections Canada will be watching closely for abuse of any robocalls on election day, set for Oct. 19 under the federal fixed election date law. But he said there are also other potential issues to watch for, including false Facebook and Twitter accounts and the risk of someone hacking into party or Elections Canada computer systems.
The United Arab List expressed disappointment Sunday after the printer of election slips was revealed to be in Karnei Shomron, a settlement in Samaria. “It’s long been clear that the Netanyahu government is the settlement government,” the List’s spokeswoman said. “Are there not enough printers inside the Green Line?” The Central Election Committee confirmed that Israphot Ltd. won the tender to print the slips of paper on which parties’ names and letters representing them are printed and that it is the sole such printer. “They’re Israeli; there’s an Israeli flag there,” a committee spokesman said of the printer.
A House of Lords committee has criticised the plan to transfer power from Westminster to Holyrood to enable 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. The proposal has the backing of all the political parties involved in the Smith Commission. But the House of Lords Constitution Committee said it had concerns about the way the process was being handled and the impact in the rest of the UK. The criticism was dismissed by both the UK and Scottish governments. The UK government said the proposal to give votes to 16 and 17 year olds at Holyrood elections would be fully scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.
Loch Ness has its monster. The Pacific Northwest has Bigfoot. And elections have their own mythic creature, feared though seldom seen, who lurks large in the fevered imaginations of candidates, would-be pundits and some paranoid partisans. It’s the mischief-making crossover voter. In the popular telling, masses of cunning Democrats and Republicans stand ready and eager to wade into the opposition’s primary, itching to cast a calculated ballot for the weakest possible candidate, thence to be defeated in November. That sort of meddling is cited by opponents of so-called open primaries — which allow voters to cast ballots for whomever they please, regardless of party — as a reason to limit participation to those of their political affiliation. It’s also heard now and then as the reason why a certain candidate lost; last year, after the out-of-nowhere defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary, some credited (or blamed) the interference of crossover Democrats, who supposedly targeted the No. 2 House Republican. All of which is a lot of hooey.
Voting Blogs: DNC Adopts Resolution Calling for ‘Right-to-Vote’ Amendment to the U.S. Constitution | Brad Blog
While Republican state legislatures around the nation have been working to limit access to the polls over recent years, Democrats moved a non-partisan initiative forward over the weekend to help expand — or, at least, to help protect — the franchise for all Americans. At their Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, the Democratic National Committee unanimously voted to adopt a resolution calling for a “Right-to-Vote” Amendment to be added to the U.S. Constitution. According to the resolution, posted in full below, the Democrats are calling for “amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual’s right to vote.” The resolution also calls on “state parties to work with state lawmakers and others to access the need to petition for a statewide referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot (and all states where this is possible), advocating to amend the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual’s right to vote.”
Editorials: California fixed redistricting; will the Supreme Court break it again? | Nicholas Stephanopoulos/LA Times
Californians may not realize it, but one of their best political ideas is under attack. In 2008, voters approved an initiative that created an independent redistricting commission; then in 2010, they expanded its reach to include the state’s congressional districts. The commission, which designed its first maps in 2011, has quickly become a model for the country. Structurally, it shields its members from political pressure. Aesthetically, its districts are compact and respect community boundaries. And electorally, they are competitive and politically balanced compared to the ones they replaced. If Arizona’s commission falls, California’s cannot stand. Both were created by a voter initiative — not by the Legislature. Neither gets legislative approval for their maps. The reason this reform is in jeopardy? Arizona State Legislature vs. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission — set to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2.
Brevard avoided national embarrassment the past few election cycles because you, the taxpayers, have spent more than $3 million on state-of-the-art voting equipment. So where does the county keep all our cutting-edge, computerized gear — upon which democracy itself depends? It is jammed wall-to-wall in what amounts to a really big, old metal shed in west Cocoa. The Election Support Center warehouse, which also stores meticulously arranged ballots, has no smoke alarms or fire-prevention system such as sprinklers. It has no security system. It has holes in its truck-bay door and holes in walls covered by duct tape. The floors are clean, the gear precisely arranged. But insulation dangles from collapsed portions of ceiling over voting machines. Streaks of black gunk line a wall above racks of ballot bags. “It’s mold,” Elections Supervisor Lori Scott says (although it might only be mildew.)
Online voter registration is happening. Twenty states currently have it. Another four have passed authorizing legislation. And the Florida Legislature is considering it this session. “When done right, people have trust in the system. It’s successful,” said Adam Ambrogi, a program director at the Democracy Fund, one of the co-sponsors of the University of Florida’s election forum at the Florida State Conference Center in Tallahassee on Friday. Many among those at the forum were county election supervisors from around the state who wanted to learn more about how effective and safe online registration is, like Mark Andersen of Bay County.
A Senate committee Thursday passed a bill that would restore voting rights to former felony offenders in Minnesota as soon as they’re released from incarceration. Currently an estimated 47,000 Minnesotans who’ve been released from jails or prisons aren’t allowed to vote because they’re on probation. Some went straight to probation and lost their voting privileges for long periods of time. “How can you explain to people that they pay their taxes and they can’t vote?” asked Demetria, one of many who lined up outside the hearing room at the State Capitol.
The Minnesota Senate subcommittee on elections approved legislation Thursday that would allow people to vote beginning 15 days before Election Day. Right now, the state has a no-excuse absentee voting system. The only ways to vote absentee are by mail or by visiting a polling place. But if the absentee ballot is cast in person, the voter has to fill out lots of paperwork and the ballot is kept under lock and key until Election Day. Bill sponsor Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said the process is confusing for voters, because they expect to be able to cast a ballot as easily as they would on Election Day.
The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted to pass one bill related to voter ID, while the more strict version was tabled. However, lawmakers on the panel hinted that portions of the stricter bill will appear in the next version of the legislation that passed. The committee saw two different bills related to voter ID on Saturday in a lengthy hearing. The first—called a compromise bill by sponsors Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque—passed on a party-line 6-5 vote with Republicans in favor. The other, a more strict voter ID bill—was sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad—was tabled on an 8-3 vote, with three Republicans voting against it.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday called a special election in the race to succeed former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm on Staten Island. The special election will be held May 5, Mr. Cuomo said. U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein had ordered Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, to set a date for the election by the end of the week. Mr. Grimm, a Republican who was re-elected in November over Democrat Domenic Recchia, resigned Jan. 5 after pleading guilty to tax fraud related to a restaurant he once owned. The only Republican candidate is Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan. There are a handful of possible Democratic contenders, including Brooklyn City Councilman Vincent Gentile, Brooklyn Assemblyman William Colton and Robert Holst, a Staten Island electrician and a founder of the Middle Class Action Project, an advocacy group. The congressional seat represents all of Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn.
Support for reforming the way the state’s political maps are drawn is getting bi-partisan support in the State House. A bill to make those changes has 63 co-sponsors, but that far from guarantees it will be passed. The bill is the third attempt by the House since 2011 to put the responsibility for drawing congressional maps in the hands of a non-partisan panel. That power now lies with the lawmakers themselves, which many observers see as a conflict of interest. Jane Pinsky is director of the non-partisan group End Gerrymandering Now. She says she’s encouraged that so many have signed on to the House Bill, but says it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Ohio: Online voter registration would save money, reduce errors, Ohio officials say | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohioans would be able to register to vote online under legislation being considered at the Ohio Statehouse. Sen. Frank LaRose, a Copley Republican, introduced a bill Wednesday requiring the secretary of state to set up an online voter registration system as an option to filling out paper forms. LaRose’s bill has Republican and Democratic cosponsors. Similar legislation was introduced last week in the House by Rep. Michael Stinziano, a Columbus Democrat. LaRose and Stinziano introduced online registration bills last year. “Online voter registration will improve the accuracy of our voter records, reduce the potential for fraud and protect voter privacy, all while reducing costs to the taxpayer,” LaRose said in a statement. “Most importantly, online registration will be more convenient for Ohio’s citizens, thus increasing citizens’ access to the ballot box, which is a victory for good government and a victory for democracy.”
The speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates said Friday that he will not redraw congressional district lines while appeals are pending in a federal court case that deemed the map unconstitutional for diluting the influence of African American voters. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia last year ordered the Virginia General Assembly to remake the map by April 1, but congressional Republicans quickly appealed the ruling. House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said initiating the redistricting process could create confusion if the Supreme Court reverses the lower court. “The Virginia House of Delegates fully intends to exercise its legal right to attempt to remedy any legal flaw ultimately found by the courts with respect to the current congressional districts,” Howell said in a statement Friday. “However, we believe it would be inappropriate to act before the defendants have fully litigated this case. We are confident that a stay will be granted.”
Washington: Ruling bars state from treating free legal advice as a campaign contribution | The News Tribune
Free legal advice to a recall campaign isn’t a campaign contribution — neither is free legal advice in pursuit of that argument, and state campaign finance regulators can’t claim otherwise. That idea, the heart of a ruling issued Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, appears to end a four-year battle between backers of a 2011 county recall campaign and the state Public Disclosure Commission that has climbed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and back. It also adds a footnote to the stormy tenure of ex-Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam, the target of an unsuccessful recall effort in 2011. “The court correctly recognized that pro bono representation in civil rights cases cannot constitutionally be treated as political contribution,” said Bill Maurer, managing attorney in the Washington branch of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public interest law firm. The institute is one of the parties in the case.
The Australian Electoral Commission appears to be taking tentative steps towards having electronic vote scanning and counting at the next general election. The Commission has called for requests for expressions of interest (REI) for companies to provide advice on ballot paper scanning and counting technology to use in the House of Representatives ballot in the 2016 general election but the technology would not be used widely, instead being run as a pilot project in a handful of polling booths. The REI is at pains to point out: “this is not a request for tender. The AEC intends to initiate a multi-stage procurement process for the required services. “The AEC would appreciate advice from the market regarding the minimum number of tabulators to provide a reasonable (cost effective) pilot.”
Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros returned to the polls Sunday in the second round of a parliamentary election seen as a test for former leader Abdallah Sambi, a Muslim populist preparing a comeback. Minor incidents were reported during the vote, the results of which will give an indication of Sambi’s support ahead of next year’s presidential election. Fist fights broke out at two polling stations in the capital Moroni on Grande Comore island, between supporters of Sambi’s Juwa party and members of another party, an AFP reporter witnessed. In another district, shops owned by people from Anjouan — another of the three islands making up Comoros, which is Sambi’s home island — were defaced with graffiti.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Lesotho says a cross section of citizens will participate in planned advance voting on Saturday ahead of the February 28 general election. Lesotho’s electoral law stipulates that security forces, nurses, media houses, embassy officials and officers from the electoral commission who will be on duty on election day, are permitted to vote ahead of a scheduled general election. Tuoe Hantsi, spokesman for the electoral body, says the IEC is ready to administer a transparent and credible election. “The [IEC] is so ready. All is in place. The materials have been sent to the stations where the voting is going to take place. The main one on the 28th,” said Hantsi. “The politicians all stakeholders are now together and would see to it that we are having a successful election on the 28th.”