Kansas: Senate advances bill giving Kobach power to prosecute election crimes | Lawrence Journal World

The Kansas Senate on Tuesday advanced a bill that would give the secretary of state authority to prosecute election crimes. Senate Bill 34 would also amend current election law by establishing new crimes of attempting to vote more than once in an election, and it increases the severity of some other election crimes. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, has asked for prosecutorial powers in the past, but previous Legislatures have not been willing to go along. Currently, election crimes can be prosecuted by the county or district attorney in the county where the alleged crime took place or by the Kansas attorney general.

Maryland: Freshman delegate pushes bill to restore voting rights for felons | The Washington Post

A freshman delegate in the Maryland General Assembly is championing a cause that has deep personal meaning for him: the restoration of full voting rights for ex-offenders. Del. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore), who was arrested on the streets of East Baltimore more times than he can remember, recognizes that he could easily have been among the estimated 40,000 ex-offenders in Maryland who face obstacles to voting. The former teenage drug dealer is the lead House sponsor of a bill that promotes voting rights for former felons who have been prohibited from casting a ballot in Maryland. Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are unable to vote because of felony convictions, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal justice think tank.

Massachusetts: Conservative think tank files suit over campaign finance law | Associated Press

A conservative think tank on Tuesday sued the state over a rule that allows unions and certain other groups to make campaign donations of up to $15,000 while barring businesses from making any direct political donations to candidates. The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute said the lawsuit targets a rule it believes violates the constitutionally protected rights of equal protection and free speech. The institute filed the suit in Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of two Massachusetts businesses — 1A Auto Inc., an auto parts shop in Pepperell, and 126 Self Storage Inc., a self-storage facility in Ashland. It names the head of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Michael Sullivan, as the defendant. “There is no legitimate justification for allowing unions to contribute thousands of dollars to candidates, parties, and political committees, while completely banning any contributions from businesses,” the lawsuit said.

Nebraska: Winner-take-all voting bill faces test in Legislature | Lincoln Journal Star

The bill to move Nebraska to a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system easily survived an assault on Tuesday, but still may not be able to shake loose from the grip of a legislative filibuster. A motion by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha to shelve the bill (LB10) for the remainder of the session was rejected on a 12-30 vote. A subsequent vote to reconsider that action lost on a 15-29 vote. The 15-vote count moved opponents of the bill within two votes of the magic number required to assure a filibuster can be sustained. And a look at the five senators who were either absent or not voting suggested the 17 votes may be there when required.

Utah: Senate Kills Bill to Delay Count My Vote Compromise | Utah Policy

GOP Senate leaders had told UtahPolicy that the SB54 delay bill would die in their body, and, indeed, Sen. Scott Jenkins’ attempt to delay the political party candidate nomination change did die Tuesday. Whether it will pop up again before the Legislature adjourns March 12, either in the Senate or in the House (which already has killed a similar bill) remains to be seen. Sen. Scott Jenkins’ SB43 – which would delay the new dual-track political party candidate primary ballot route until 2018 – died in a 9-19 vote (one absent) after about 30 minutes of debate Tuesday morning. You can see the vote here. No senator who voted for SB54 last year switched and voted to delay it Tuesday. All the no votes came from GOP senators who voted against SB54 last year or are new GOP senators this session.

Australia: No voters prosecuted despite 7000-plus cases of suspected voting fraud in the 2013 federal election | Sydney Morning Herald

Not a single person will be prosecuted for multiple voting at the 2013 federal election – even those who admitted to casting more than one ballot paper. Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was “disturbed” that of the nearly 8000 cases of suspected voting fraud passed to the Australian Federal Police, not a single case has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Of the 7743 suspect cases referred to the AFP, just 65 were investigated and not one will progress to conviction. Mr Rogers told a Senate estimates committee that the file passed to the AFP included voters who had actually admitted to voting at more than one polling station and cases where the offence had been denied but there was supporting evidence that they had.

El Salvador: Campaign Period Closes in El Salvador Elections | teleSUR

Political parties in El Salvador formally wrapped up their campaigns Wednesday ahead of local and legislative elections schedule for March 1, 2015. The close of the campaign period gives three days for the population to decide their vote without the influence of the publicity campaigns of the parties. Electors in Latin America’s smallest country will head to the polls to elect mayors as well as representatives to the country’s Legislative Assembly.

Kazakhstan: Kazakh leader calls snap presidential poll on April 26 | Reuters

Kazakhstan’s leader Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday called an early presidential election for April 26, in a move expected to extend his 26-year rule by another five. Nicknamed “Papa” and allowed by law to serve as many terms as he wants, the veteran president is poised to win another term in office easily, although he said he had not yet decided whether to run. Nazarbayev’s re-election would end speculation about his possible successor, a question watched closely by investors. “In the interests of the people, taking into account their appeal to me and their united will … I made a decision and signed a decree to call an early presidential election on April 26, 2015,” television channels showed Nazarbayev saying.

Philippines: Supreme Court orders Comelec, Smartmatic-TIM to answer IBP raps vs P268.8-M contract | Inquirer

The Supreme Court has ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) to answer the allegations raised by a national organization of lawyers that the P268.8-million contract for the diagnostic of all the 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan voting machines (PCOS) is void for lack of public bidding. “The court required respondents (Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM) to comment within a non-extendible period of 10 days on the petition…,” high court’s Information Chief Theodore Te said at a press conference. Te clarified that the high court has not acted on the prayer for a restraining order filed by IBP. IBP, in its petition said Comelec Resolution No. 9922, which approved the contract, is null and void because it violated Republic Act No. 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act.

National: EAC Selects Officers & Accredits Voting System Test Lab | EAC

Members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) met Tuesday. This meeting marked the first time the Commission was able to meet with a quorum of Commissioners in four years. The Commission addressed a variety of pressing issues at the meeting. These issues included the accreditation of a new voting system test laboratory; consideration of possible updates to the standards used to test voting systems; and updates to the EAC’s voting system testing program manuals. Additionally, Commissioner Christy McCormick was selected to chair the Commission and Commissioner Thomas Hicks was selected as vice-chair. “After four years without Commissioners, the EAC has a great deal of work to do,” said Chair McCormick. “Today we took important steps in helping support state and local election officials as they continue to cope with aging voting equipment and limited funds. All three Commissioners recognize that we must operate with a sense of urgency,” Vice-Chair Hicks added.“The Commission does not have the luxury of time; we have already heard from our stakeholders that they expect us to act quickly to address many of the outstanding issues from over the last four years.”

Editorials: How Dark Money Is Distorting Politics and Undermining Democracy | Bruce Freed & Karl Sandstrom/ Fiscal Times

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and subsequent court rulings deregulating political spending have greatly increased the influence of corporate special interests. Today, corporations are among the leading underwriters of Washington politics and a dominant force shaping its policy-making. Long gone are the days when unions and government could balance the impact of corporations. At the same time, a large swath of political spending has gone underground. Prior to Citizens United, election spending by companies, unions and individuals was subject to limits and carried out with disclosure of donors. Post-Citizens United, the limits are gone for corporations. Donor secrecy reigns. Corporations can spend to influence elections directly, or indirectly through trade associations or so-called “social welfare” organizations as long as these groups don’t coordinate with a political candidate. The result is significant growth in “dark money” influence.

Voting Blogs: Is it Possible to Be In Favor of a Right-to-Vote Amendment but Against Amending the Constitution? Yes. | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog

The DNC Executive Committee has just endorsed the idea that we should amend the Constitution to add a right to vote. I’m entirely in favor of a constitutional right to vote. But I’m against amending the Constitution to add it. There are excellent scholars and organizations in favor of amendment, including Jaimie Raskin, Alex Keyssar, the Advancement Project, and FairVote. But I remain skeptical and have a new paper explaining why I fear that the amendment game is not worth the candle. There are two stages for ensuring a robust right to vote: (1) amending the Constitution, and (2) enforcing that amendment. As to the first stage, if an amendment enshrining the right to vote looks anything like its cognates in the Constitution, it will be thinly described, maddeningly vague, and pushed forward by self-interested politicians. If the amendment takes this form, the benefits reformers and academics assert we’ll reap are anything but automatic. Once a vague guarantee is embedded in the Constitution (Stage 1), reformers will still have to turn to legislators and courts to get something done (Stage 2).

California: Federal judge rejects challenge to L.A. council’s 2012 redistricting | Los Angeles Times

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a three-year-old legal challenge to the boundaries drawn for Los Angeles’ 15 City Council districts, saying she found no evidence that race was the predominant factor in creating the new maps. U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said lawyers for the city provided “undisputed evidence” that the boundaries approved by the council achieved “traditional non-racial redistricting” goals, such as keeping distinct communities and neighborhood councils in the same district. The ruling delivered a major victory to council President Herb Wesson, who presided over the once-a-decade redistricting process and is now seeking a third term in Tuesday’s election. The decision also dealt a blow to a group of Koreatown residents who argued that the map-making process diluted the neighborhood’s voting power and unlawfully divided it into multiple districts.

Florida: Rick Scott cuts state losses in long voting fight | Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t like to lose. But he lost an important court case dealing with voting rights and last week he decided to cut his losses, along with those of Florida taxpayers who have footed the bill for more than 2 ½ years. Scott dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state’s efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits “systematic” removals less than 90 days before a federal election. And he issued a statement that signaled a new willingness to work with county elections supervisors, who opposed the purge. “Florida is in an excellent position to conduct fair elections,” Scott’s statement said. “I am confident that the 2016 presidential election cycle will put Florida’s election system in a positive light thanks to the improvements made by our supervisors of elections, the Legislature and the Department of State.” As a result, Scott is facing criticism from the right.

Iowa: Legislative panel aims to make online voter registration available to more Iowans | The Gazette

A Senate legislative panel Tuesday began work on a measure designed to make online voter registration available to more Iowans beyond the upgrade being planned by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is working on a system with the state Department of Transportation that will offer the electronic registration option to anyone with a valid Iowa driver’s license or a state-issued identification card. However, Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, leader of a Senate State Government subcommittee, said Senate Study Bill 1152 would expand the online registration option to eligible voters who do not have access to a computer or face other challenges. He estimated that represented 7 percent to 9 percent of eligible Iowa voters.

Kansas: Senate edges closer to handing prosecutorial power to Kobach on voter fraud | Topeka Capital-Journal

A majority in the Senate deflected opposition from Democrats on Tuesday to legislation granting authority to prosecute alleged crimes of voter fraud with the office of the state’s Republican secretary of state. The bill given first-round approval on a voice vote in the GOP-dominated chamber has been long-sought by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who expressed discontent with work by county prosecutors in addressing election misconduct. Senate Bill 34 would vest power to prosecute election crimes in district or county attorneys across the state, the Kansas Attorney General Office as well as the Secretary of State’s Office. In addition, the measure headed to a final vote Wednesday would elevate the state’s penalty for a series of voting offenses to felonies rather than misdemeanors.

Kentucky: House passes Secretary Grimes’ elections initiatives | Floyd County Times

On Monday, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed legislation based on Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ recommendations to modernize voter registration in Kentucky. House Bill 214, a bill to allow voters to register to vote and update their voter registration electronically, passed 92-3. House Bill 212, which would allow in-person absentee voting on the basis of age, disability or illness, previously passed unanimously. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville). Grimes has pursued the use of technology to protect the right to vote since being elected, successfully seeking in 2013 legislation to permit electronic voter registration for military and overseas voters. In 2014 she oversaw the implementation of the military and overseas voting portal, which has been praised nationally by voters and local election officials alike for how easy and convenient it is to use. Grimes also held roundtable discussions with elected officials and citizens around the state to discuss expanding electronic voter registration to all voters.

Kentucky: Judge throws out election results in 2014 Magoffin judge-executive race | Lexington Herald-Leader

There were so many violations of election rules in last November’s election for Magoffin County judge-executive that the results must be thrown out, a judge has ruled. Circuit Judge John David Preston declared the office vacant, creating a question about Judge-Executive Charles “Doc” Hardin’s status. Hardin, a Democrat seeking a third consecutive term, defeated Republican challenger John P. Montgomery by 28 votes in the disputed election, 3,281 to 3,253. On Saturday, one of Hardin’s attorneys, James L. Deckard, said Hardin is disappointed with the ruling and will appeal. In Preston’s decision, he cited a raft of improprieties, including a lack of required information on applications for absentee ballots; precinct officers failing to document how they identified voters and improperly helping people vote; and residents casting early ballots at the county clerk’s office when there was no Republican election commissioner present as required.

Michigan: Bill could remove limits on absentee voting | The Michigan Daily

A bill proposed in the Michigan state legislature could make voting easier for University students. Earlier this month, several state senators sponsored a bill that would allow first-time voters in the state of Michigan to vote by absentee ballot or mail. The bill has been sent to the Senate’s Committee on Elections and Government Reform for review. Currently, first-time voters in Michigan are required to vote in person unless disabled, older than 60 or temporarily residing overseas. Proponents of the new legislation said the current law presents a problem for many University students, who are living in Ann Arbor during their first election and cannot return to their hometown to vote in person.

North Dakota: House passes bill requiring special election for U.S. Senate vacancies | Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota House backed legislation Tuesday that would require a special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, a bill Democrats have panned as an attempt to dissuade U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp from running for governor in 2016. Representatives voted 67-25 to pass House Bill 1181 after debate over whether the same special-election process applies to U.S. House vacancies. The bill would require the governor to call a special election within 95 days of when a Senate vacancy occurs, unless the vacancy occurs within 95 days of the end of the Senate term, in which case the seat would be filled in the next regular election.

Utah: Amendment advances to overturn ‘Count My Vote’ compromise | The Salt Lake Tribune

The Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to a constitutional amendment that could overturn a new law to change how parties choose their nominees. The Senate voted 17-12 to send SJR2 to a final vote later this week — but that was three votes short of the two-thirds majority (20 of 29 members) that it would need eventually to pass and be sent to the House, and perhaps eventually to voters for a decision. Its sponsor, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said the amendment would ask voters “the question: should a party’s rights be infringed upon.” He said the amendment says “parties should be able to decide under their own terms and circumstances how their candidate goes to a ballot.”

Bulgaria: President resumes campaign for referendum on electoral system | The Sofia Globe

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev is to send Parliament a request for the holding of a referendum on the country’s electoral system – formally resuming a campaign that was defeated in the previous parliament. Plevneliev tabled a request in the now-departed 42nd National Assembly for a referendum on issues including compulsory voting, electronic voting and a majoritarian element to the electoral system, but this was blocked by the then-ruling axis of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Movement for Rights and Freedoms. In an interview published by mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa, Plevneliev was reported to have confirmed that his proposal was similar to the one he had made previously, to hold the referendum simultaneously with scheduled elections – in the case of 2015, the municipal elections to be held in the autumn.

Canada: Edmonton executive committee to petition the province to allow online voting | Edmonton Sun

Future elections are one step closer to including e-ballots as Edmonton’s executive committee voted Tuesday to petition the province to allow online voting. A brief report was brought to the committee at the request of Coun. Andrew Knack outlining what it would take for the city to include internet voting for future elections. “There’s no foolproof system,” admitted Knack, a proponent of online voting, in response to concerns raised about the potential threats that web-based elections may pose. Computer programmer Chris Cates voiced those concerns to the committee. “I see the Internet as full of risks,” Cates said. “In the long run, something is going to happen.” He referred to issues that were found in the online voting that the Alberta PC Party used when choosing Jim Prentice to lead them as an example of what can go wrong and warned that one person could seriously jeopardize the system. He added a recount would be relatively impossible because no paper ballots would be available to count.,

Comoros: Observers Declare Comoros Legislative Election Free, Transparent | Bloomberg

International observers monitoring the second round of legislative elections in the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros declared the vote free and transparent. Voting held on Sunday on the archipelago took place in an atmosphere of “transparency, freedom and serenity,” Samuel Azu’u Fonkam, head of the observer mission sent by the International Francophonie Organization, told reporters in the capital, Moroni. Municipal elections took place alongside the vote for legislators.

Tanzania: Biometric voter registration kicks off in Tanzania | World Bulletin

Tanzania’s electoral commission on Monday began to register voters through the biometric voter registration (BVR) system for an upcoming constitutional referendum. “Registration starts today at Njombe region and we are going to carry the activity for seven days before moving to another region,” Damian Lubuva, chief of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), told The Anadolu Agency by phone. Lubuva said the electoral body has faced some challenges while implementing the exercise. “BVR kits we are using sometimes fail to work as it was expected,” he said. “Our experts are on the field making sure all are going well as planned.”

California: Officials seek ways to boost Los Angeles County’s voter turnout | Los Angeles Times

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.

Connecticut: State praises New Haven’s same-day voter registration | New Haven Register

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.”

Kansas: Election bill draws debate | Butler County Times Gazette

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: Push to expand early voting in Minnesota faces hurdles | Pioneer Press

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.

Minnesota: State senator wants ‘none of the above’ on ballot | Associated Press

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.