Two bills guaranteed to generate controversy advanced from committee to the full Nebraska Legislature Wednesday. Legislative Bill 111 would require most voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. LB 10 would return Nebraska to the winner-takes-all system of awarding electoral college votes in presidential elections. Both advanced on a 7-1 vote from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is dominated by conservative Republicans.
Republican lawmakers in Nevada this week took the first step toward solidifying their hold on a state that looks increasingly up for grabs — if those members are willing to detonate the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb in Carson City. Buried deep within the yearly package of rules that will govern how the state Assembly and Senate will operate, Republicans inserted a provision that would allow them to consider redrawing Nevada’s political boundaries. The new rules, which ordinarily govern mundane legislative procedures, such as parliamentary rules and disclosure reports, passed both chambers on party-line votes. But the threat of redrawn lines that could solidify Republican control may be less about actually implementing new maps and more about forcing Democrats to come to the negotiating table on other issues.
Oregon: Automatic voter registration bill sails through committee; Bill would add 300,000 voters to registry on day one | The Bulletin
The hallmark bill in Secretary of State Kate Brown’s legislative agenda that would automatically register eligible residents to vote is in the fast lane and appears headed quickly through the Legislature after passing out of committee Wednesday. Under Brown’s bill the state would proactively register eligible residents to vote, rather than require voters to register themselves. The move would add 300,000 voters to the state’s rolls on the first day it goes into effect and eventually register virtually every eligible voter. The proposal faced opposition from rural county clerks last session before it failed by a single vote in the Senate. The state’s clerks association is in favor of the proposal this time around, shoring up support outside most Republicans who tried and failed four times Wednesday to change or stop it.
How do you inform people of something that won’t be on the next General Election ballot? That was the question Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea hoped would be answered at a meeting with elected officials and representatives from local boards of canvassers on Friday. She got some answers. While the 2016 elections seem a long way away, Gorbea said she had the meeting to comply with legislation eliminating the party master lever from the ballot. The bill, introduced by Warwick state Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi and approved by the General Assembly last year, calls for elimination of straight party voting as of Jan. 1, 2015. The measure also calls for voter information sessions beginning within a month. State Sen. David Bates introduced the Senate version of the bill. Gorbea agreed it seemed a bit early to get started on educating the public, but then she’s complying with the law.
South Carolina: Report: Disabled voters face barriers at polls across state | The Times and Democrat
Voter registration directors throughout The T&D Region say they’re taking to heart a report released on Tuesday identifying barriers for disabled voters at South Carolina’s polls. “Unequal access for voters with disabilities continues to plague South Carolina. This is not just an issue in a few select precincts. Voters with disabilities face barriers statewide,” said Gloria Prevost, executive director of Protection & Advocacy for People with Disabilities Inc. “The state has a responsibility to uphold the fundamental right of voting access for all citizens,” she said. Last election day, P&A and volunteers completed polling place surveys at 303 polling precincts across the state during the general election. They found widespread problems.
Voting Blogs: The Voter ID Law that No One is Talking About: Why Voting Rights Activists Should Take Notice of Tennessee | State of Elections
With the Supreme Court recently issuing a flurry of orders and stays on the implementation of certain states’ voter ID laws—allowing some to be in effect for the 2014 midterms, but blocking another—there has been no shortage of attention on voting rights developments. While states, such as Texas and North Carolina, are often criticized for having some of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, little scrutiny has been placed on another state’s voter ID requirement that is arguably just as burdensome and theoretically more primed for a constitutional challenge: Tennessee. Despite receiving scant attention from the national media, a recently released study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Tennessee’s three-year old voter ID law has deterred voter turnout, notably among younger voters. According to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the report proves that the state’s voter ID law unfairly suppresses Tennessee residents’ voting rights.
Vermont: Lawmakers consider changing majority rule in elections, could opt to do nothing | Associated Press
A month after state lawmakers had to elect a governor because no one got a majority in November, a key lawmaker said Wednesday that the best solution to the issue may be to do nothing. “We are more seriously looking at whether we need to have a change,” said Sen. Jeanette White, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. “I think a number of people automatically assumed that we had to have a change, but now we’re looking at do we need to have a change.” The panel is considering proposed amendments to the Vermont Constitution, which currently says that if no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote in a general election for governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer, the election goes to the Legislature.
Virginia: Senate panel backs bill to aid older voters, defeats other proposals | Richmond Times Dispatch
In the 2015 legislative session, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee has tried to be nice to older people. But the same might not be said for the young registered voters who attend Virginia’s private high schools, religious schools and military academies — or for people whose form of voter photo identification was issued by one of several of the state’s social services agencies. A week after advancing a bill to allow people 65 and older to vote absentee without providing an excuse — a measure that passed the full Senate on Monday — the committee on Tuesday went a step further and advanced legislation that would allow voters age 75 and older to go to the front of the line at the polls on Election Day.
Senators approved a bill Tuesday that repeals straight party voting, a ballot provision that allows a voter to vote for all candidates from one party instead of considering individual races. Both Democratic and Republican Senators stood to speak on behalf of Senate Bill 249, some saying the elimination of straight ticket voting requires voters to consider each race rather than voting on a partisan basis. “I think it’s fair to say we have benefited from this over the past couple election cycles,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmicahel said, referring to the Republican Party’s take over of the legislature, “but that’s not a reason to continue a process.”
Nigeria’s election body said Wednesday that it may push back the deadline for distributing voter identity cards but denied media reports that the vote itself could be postponed. The spokesman for Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Kayode Idowu, told AFP that the body may allow voter ID cards to be handed out after the current February 8 deadline. However he described media reports about a possible election postponement as “completely false”.
Facebook users in the UK will be reminded to register to vote tomorrow in a bid to increase turnout for the general election. The message, which could be seen by more than 35 million people, is the biggest voter registration campaign to ever take place in the UK. A prompt at the top of Facebook feeds will encourage people to register online with users also able to share the news with friends. A new “life event” on Facebook will tell other users when people have registered to vote. Similar schemes were used to encourage voters in the US and India. In the run-up to polling day Facebook will also be used to target 17-year-olds who turn 18 before the election. The Electoral Commission said the targeted advertising was part of an effort to get more young people on the electoral register.
National: White House seeks $50 million to restore civil rights sites as voting rights anniversary nears | Associated Press
The White House is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by earmarking $50 million to restore key civil rights areas around the nation. The president’s budget includes money for the national historical trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which commemorates in part the “Bloody Sunday” attack by police on civil rights demonstrators. Their march was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma.” The attack helped boost the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned the use of literacy tests, added federal oversight for minority voters and allowed federal prosecutors to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
Many jurisdictions will need to replace their voting systems in the next few years. Commercial voting systems currently in the marketplace are expensive to acquire and maintain and difficult to audit effectively. Elections may be verifiable in principle–if they generate a voter-verifiable paper trail that is curated well–but current systems make it hard or impractical to verify elections in practice.
Recent experience with open-source tabulation systems in risk-limiting audits in California and Colorado, and voting system projects in Los Angeles County, CA, and Travis County, TX, suggest that the US could have voting systems that are accurate, usable, verifiable, efficiently auditable, reliable, secure, modular, and transparent, for a fraction of the cost of systems currently on the market.
The key to reducing costs is to use commodity off-the-shelf hardware, open-source software, and open data standards. Usability and auditability need to be designed into new systems from the start. The US could have the best possible voting systems, instead of just the best voting systems money can buy, if new systems adhere to the Principles enunciated below. (Download PDF)
A former Taylor County voting registrar says every registrar in the state and their oversight agency should face the threat of a lawsuit if they do not process voting applications quickly enough. “Forty-five days is more than enough, in my opinion,” said Patty Bentley, now a state representative and author of a new bill setting that deadline. Her House Bill 130 would allow anyone whose registration is not processed within 45 days to take either the county registrar or the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office to court.
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots continues to press state legislators for more time to implement a new law requiring all county clerks to provide Election Day registration in all precincts by the March 2016 election. She has provided them with a cost study, detailing that it would cost Will County more than $1.3 million to buy electronic equipment, implement the technology and train election judges to provide registration in all 303 precincts. “They should have done a cost study before implementing the law,” she said after presenting her figures to the county board’s finance committee Tuesday.
Kansas: Bills on straight-party voting, removing candidate from ballot headed to full House | Lawrence Journal-World
A House committee advanced two bills Monday that would change the way elections are conducted, despite objections from Democrats that one of the bills would impose significant costs on county governments. House Bill 2104 would provide that candidates could be removed from the ballot only if they die on or before Sept. 1. And in those cases, the party affiliated with that candidate would be required to name a replacement. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had asked for the bill, saying it was a response to controversy in the 2014 election when Democrat Chad Taylor was allowed to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race. Taylor’s withdrawal request did not explicitly state that he would be unable to fulfill the duties of that office if he were elected, as required under current law. The Kansas Supreme Court eventually upheld Taylor’s withdrawal anyway, saying it was enough that he cited the relevant statute in his request. And a three-judge district court panel later ruled that the Democratic Party could not be forced to name another candidate, despite a law saying the party “shall” name a replacement in such cases.
A House bill is aiming to repeal a law that bans people from taking selfies with their ballots. The law was modified last year and prohibits voters from taking pictures of their ballots and sharing them online. Supporters of the law said sharing that information could influence other voters. But the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and a number of citizens are challenging it, saying it’s a violation of the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Attorney Dan Hynes testified in favor of the bill Tuesday and brought along a photo he took with the ballot he cast in the last election. “I would like the attorney general to prosecute me so I can contest this law in court and hopefully go up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court,” Hynes said. “This law is unconstitutional.”
Lawmakers from both parties Tuesday renewed their effort to take politics out of one of their most politically charged jobs – redistricting. And advocates say they’re optimistic despite the continued opposition of leaders in the state Senate, where earlier efforts have died. “Realistically it’s an uphill battle,” said Jane Pinsky, director of the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. “We hope that the legislators will … not remain confident that just because they’re in charge now or just because they were in charge 10 years ago that they’re going to be in charge in 2020.” Legislative and congressional districts currently are drawn every 10 years by legislators. As a result, critics say those districts typically favor the party in power, result in less competition and therefore fewer moderates who have to answer to a broader constituency. Last year nearly half of the state’s 170 legislative seats were uncontested.
The Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates has intervened in a federal lawsuit that alleges his chamber’s legislative districts were gerrymandered to dilute African-American influence. Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and the House of Delegates will now be defending in court the map they drew in 2011 against a lawsuit filed by a group of Virginia citizens against the state Board of Elections and Department of Elections. Judge David J. Novak granted Howell’s motion Tuesday. “The speaker has an obligation to ensure that the House is represented in court,” spokesman Matt Moran said. Any legal fees will be paid out of the House budget at Howell’s discretion.
The bill that would end straight-ticket voting in West Virginia will get a final vote from the state Senate Tuesday before moving to the state House of Delegates for consideration during the ongoing Regular Legislative Session. George Carenbauer, a former state Democratic Party chair, said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline” it’s long past time for the change. “I’m all in favor of things that make it easier and more accessible for people to vote, but I also think the voter has a responsibility to really know what he or she is doing when they go into the voting booth,” he said.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, today alleged massive tampering of electronic voting machines or EVMs to favour the BJP. The BJP linked his allegation to the funding scandal; AAP has been accused by a group of its former supporters of accepting Rs. 50 lakh from four companies that have no credible finances and appear to be fronts for money laundering. Mr Kejriwal tweeted today that during an inspection in the Delhi Cantonment area on Monday, four machines were found doctored in a way that the result always showed BJP, no matter what party the voters chose.
Nigeria: Continued Boko Haram insurgency prompts fears of Valentine’s Day massacre when country heads to polls | The Independent
Nigeria’s commercial hub is in the middle of election fever. The country heads to the polls on Valentine’s Day amid a Boko Haram insurgency wreaking havoc throughout the north-east. The security situation deteriorated further this week when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a rally in Gombe, a city in the north-east, a few minutes after President Goodluck Jonathan had left. The presidential convoy was parked 200 metres from the explosion on Monday. One person was killed and 18 others were injured. At the same time, Nigerian soldiers and vigilante groups were trying to repel the Islamist militants’ advance on the northern city of Maiduguri. Boko Haram fighters initially tried to capture Maiduguri a week ago, but were resisted by Nigerian troops.
Nigeria: Elections in the Time of Boko Haram Violence, Displacement and Religious Tensions | International Business Times
As Nigeria prepares to go to the polls to elect its new president on 14 February, in what is seen as the first election contested by two rival parties, millions of Nigerians may not be able to cast their votes after all. A suicide bomb attack in a north-east Nigeria school killed at least 47 and injured 79 others as students had gathered for a morning assembly on Monday. Flaring Boko Haram violence in the northern states has left many towns ravaged, thousands dead and millions displaced. Over the last weekend, the group launched a heavy attack on Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeast Nigeria, as it seeks to build an Islamist state in the region. But it is not just the ruthless terror group that has posed a grave threat to the elections; the religious north-south divide, a seemingly ill-prepared election commission and plain logistics could be just as explosive.
Togo’s presidential election will be held in mid-April, a minister said Tuesday, clarifying a constitutional court ruling on the date of the vote. The cabinet is expected to set the date based on proposals from the national election commission, the minister for territorial administration, Gilbert Balawa, told AFP. A statement from Togo’s constitutional court on Monday was interpreted to mean that voting had to take place no later than March 5, a timeline that opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre said was “materially impossible to respect”. But on Tuesday, the court issued a second statement to clarify that in fact only the date of the election had to be set by March 5.
The Electoral Commission has launched an ambitious drive to persuade 100,000 British expats to join the UK voting register ahead of the general election on May 7. However, pro-democracy campaigners say Britons abroad are annoyed with politicians at home over topics such as frozen pensions and winter fuel payments being cut – so they may not heed the call. Only 15,849 of the estimated 5.5 million Britons overseas were signed up to vote in UK elections as of March 2014, according to the commission. The last recruitment drive – aimed at adding 25,000 expats to the voters’ roll in the weeks before the European and local elections last May – fell flat. Only 7,079 signed up.
A ticket to a political party fundraiser could cost as much $100,200 in the 2016 election cycle, following a routine increase in Federal Election Commission contribution caps and last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down the overall limit on individuals’ political contributions. Under new FEC limits, which are adjusted for inflation in odd-numbered years, individuals can give up to $5,400 to candidates—$2,700 for their primary campaigns, and another $2,700 for the general election—and up to $33,400 per year to national party committees in the 2016 cycle. Previously, the limit was $2,600 to candidates and $32,400 to national party committees per year. In April 2014, the Supreme Court threw out the $123,200 cap on what individuals could give to federal candidates and political committees over a two-year election cycle, saying the limits infringed on First Amendment free-speech rights.
Del Mar can conduct an online poll of residents today, a state judge ruled Friday, rejecting a claim that it’s an illegal election through an unapproved process. The advisory election, or poll, will ask voters to choose one of three plans for a new Civic Center, also known as the City Hall/Town Hall Project. Only Del Mar voters will be allowed to vote. A resident sued the city on Jan. 29, claiming the voting system “has not been certified by the California Secretary of State,” and that the City Council did not give final approval for it until its Jan. 20 meeting.
When politicians tinker with the laws governing their own elections, one should view their proposals with a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude. Almost always, the politicians proclaim that they are acting in the public interest to make elections fairer. And almost always, election law changes would improve the politicians’ chances of holding their offices or advancing up the political food chain. The most obvious example of the syndrome is redistricting – altering the boundaries of legislative, congressional, city council, county supervisor or school trustee districts to comply with population shifts. Self-serving gerrymanders had become so common in California that the state’s voters finally shifted the power over legislative and congressional districts from the Legislature to an independent commission.
Enraged by political maneuvering that resulted in moderate Republican John Hambrick being elected speaker-designate of the state Assembly, Nevada conservatives are preparing a recall petition to kick Hambrick out of office. If this recall came to pass, Nevada would be following other states — in the past 21 years, five states have had legislative leaders face recall elections. But the tea party types should not hold their collective breath — because of the quirks of Nevada law, a recall is much harder to get on the ballot in the Silver State than in many other places in the United States. Using recall elections to target legislative leaders has been a popular, bipartisan undertaking in recent years. It started in 1994, when California Senate President Pro Tempore David Roberti, a Democrat who was already term-limited, faced a recall over his support for gun control legislation. Roberti easily survived the recall, although he lost the Democratic primary for state treasurer. California also got to see a recall used the next year against Doris Allen, a Republican and an independent, who was briefly made speaker after she switched her vote to support the Democrats retaining control of the Assembly. Allen stepped down from the speakership before the recall, and then was trounced in the ensuing election.
Republicans in 2011 carved North Carolina into new districts from which public officials are elected, creating 170 areas for state lawmakers and 13 for members of Congress in a required effort to maintain balanced populations. Democrats and left-leaning groups complained that the new maps intentionally deflated their candidates’ chances in the state and federal elections, but courts have upheld the redistricting effort — which is necessary after every Census — as fair, legal and based on sound methodologies. But there’s a reinvigorated movement among officials and policy groups with ties to both political parties who say they’re sick of gerrymandering, or at least of the public skepticism that comes when politicians handle how the voting areas are drawn.