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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesotho: Ramaphosa happy as Lesotho election nears | Times LIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorials: The Mystery of Lower Voter Registration for Older Black Voters | Nate Cohn/New York Times

In December, I wrote an article titled “Evidence That the Jim Crow Era Endures for Older Black Voters in the South.” The article, based on voter registration and census data in Georgia, noted that older black voters who reached voting age before the passage of the Voting Rights Act were significantly less likely to be registered to vote compared with whites of similar age and black voters who reached voting age in the years afterward. The implication, I wrote, was that black registration and turnout rates were suppressed by the lingering effects of Jim Crow laws, which disenfranchised African-American voters. The evidence underlying that statement is research suggesting that voting is a habit. Therefore, someone with fewer opportunities to register and vote should be less likely to vote than a similar person who had more opportunities.

Illinois: Voters to be placed in nationwide database | The Southern

At a time when computer systems of major corporations have been under attack by hackers, Illinois is poised to join other states in a first-ever national database of voter registration information. But, despite concerns from scholars and others who monitor online security, state and national officials involved in the Electronic Registration Information Center program say every registered voter’s information will be safe. “We make a pretty good argument that we do more to protect the data than the states do themselves. We follow above normal security protocols,” said John Lindback the executive director of the Washington D.C.-based ERIC program. In one of his final acts as governor, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that put Illinois on track to join other states in the program. The law was just one piece of a larger overhaul of state election law that included changes to absentee voting and ballot counting.

Maryland: Redistricting reform is in spotlight in Maryland – and in bills | Baltimore Sun

Some state lawmakers are hopeful the stars are aligned for Maryland to change the way it draws its political districts — a process that has resulted in some of the most convoluted maps in America. Their hopes were bolstered recently when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan devoted part of his first State of the State address to a call for redistricting reform. “We have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said. “Gerrymandering is a form of political gamesmanship that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices.” Hogan said he would create a commission to study the state’s redistricting system, but some lawmakers are not waiting for its findings. They are proposing bills aimed at taking politics out of a process that has helped Democrats achieve lopsided majorities in the General Assembly and turn the congressional delegation from a 4-4 split in the 1990s to a 7-1 advantage over Republicans.

Maryland: Election Officials Blame Old Technology For Long Results Wait | BethesdaNow

Montgomery County election results were the last in the state to be posted after November’s election, about two hours after Larry Hogan proclaimed victory in the gubernatorial race. Though the delay may have been bothersome primarily to candidates, members of the media and hardcore political junkies, County Council members on Thursday had some stern questions for Board of Elections officials about their vote-recording process. The Board of Elections blamed old technology — analog modems — for the long wait. Of the county’s 227 polling places on Nov. 4, 192 had an analog telephone line and modem card with which to transmit results back to the Board of Education’s headquarters in Gaithersburg.

Missouri: Since 2004, St. Louis Has Purged 25 Percent Of Its Voters | St. Louis Public Radio

Over the past 10 years since it faced two federal lawsuits, the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners has quietly cut 75,000 people off of its voter rolls. That represents more than a quarter of the 281, 316 voters on the city’s rolls in 2004. St. Louis’ voter list now totals 206,349, according to state election records. The city’s Republican elections director, Gary Stoff, says none of the excised voters appears to have been an active voter. He suspects most were people who had moved or died and whose names had simply been languishing on the city’s voter rolls for years. But the reduction in St. Louis’ voter rolls appears to be by far the most dramatic action taken by the 29 Missouri counties – the city of St. Louis is its own county – that were sued 10 years ago by the federal government because they had more people on their voter rolls than their entire voting-age population.

New York: ‘The governor is a governor, not a king,’ argues attorney in hearing to force Cuomo to set special election | SILive.com

The plaintiffs suing to force a special congressional election told a federal judge that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking away the voice of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn on serious national issues. “We’re talking about the disenfranchisement of nearly 750,000 people who will never have a voice in the XL pipeline,” said Staten Island lawyer Ronald Castorina Jr. in a hearing in Brooklyn federal court Friday morning, referring to the national debate over the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. “The governor is a governor, not a king,” Castorina added. Castorina, also a city Board of Elections Republican commissioner, represents six Staten Islanders and two Brooklyn residents who argue that Cuomo is violating their constitutional rights by not setting a special election for former Rep. Michael Grimm’s vacant seat in the 11th Congressional District. Grimm resigned effective Jan. 5. U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein will decide the case.

Oregon: Who will take Kate Brown’s place as Oregon secretary of state? | The Oregonian

Speculation is brewing over who will succeed Kate Brown as Oregon’s next secretary of state when she becomes governor next week, replacing John Kitzhaber. Under the state constitution, Brown has the power to appoint her successor. It’s unknown whom she’ll choose — Brown addressed the media for less than 30 seconds Friday afternoon — but privately, lawmakers are discussing whom they’d like to see fill the post. Three Democrats, like Brown, are considered to be the leading contenders at the Capitol: House Majority Leader Val Hoyle of Eugene, Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum of Portland, and House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland.

Vermont: Vermont looks at timing primary to New Hampshire’s, but would have fight on its hands | Daily Journal

Vermont is coveting its neighbor’s primary and New Hampshire is not amused. A Green Mountain State lawmaker is pushing to have Vermont tag along with early-voting New Hampshire, which is traditionally home to the nation’s first primary. The 2016 election will mark a century of New Hampshire running presidential primaries, though it’s really been a feature on the political landscape, bringing the Granite State a quadrennial burst of media attention, hotel and restaurant business and clout in presidential politics since 1952. New Hampshire state law calls for its primary to be held at least seven days before any similar election — caucuses like the ones in Iowa don’t count, since they aren’t primaries. That could be difficult to accomplish in the future if Vermont passes Senate Bill 76.

Editorials: Lawmakers guard their privilege | The Virginian-Pilot

State lawmakers draw the boundaries that define the communities they represent in the House of Delegates and Senate, and those of their counterparts in the U.S. Congress. It’s an arrangement enshrined in Virginia’s constitution, a document adopted in 1971 and reflective of the technical limitations of that era. But as each decade has passed, lawmakers have managed to precisely draw boundaries in a way that tilts elections before they are held. A combination of voting records, population data and sophisticated software has permitted lawmakers and their partisan surrogates to identify and assign voters to districts in proportions that protect incumbents and political power. That explains how eight of Virginia’s 11 congressional races last fall were won by a margin of at least 20 percentage points. Or how, in 2013, barely half of the House of Delegates seats were contested. Or how, in 2011, just six of 40 seats in the state Senate were decided by 10 points or fewer. The winner of most races is determined long before Election Day. The electorally corrupt current system serves solely to preserve political power. It is designed to dilute voters’ voices.

Germany: AfD hopes to hold back SPD absolute majority in Hamburg state election | Deutsche Welle

Lead by Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, the city-state’s Social Democrats, the SPD, hope to defend their 2011 election win. With its bustling port and cluster of media and aerospace companies, the port city state has long been a stronghold for the SPD. According to recent polls, however, repeating their absolute majority success of four years ago will be no easy victory, even if they defeat the conservative CDU. Threatening the absolute majority ruling of the SPD are the smaller parties such as the liberal FDP and right-leaning AfD. Taking advantage of renewed fears over the eurozone and Greece’s new anti-austerity government, euroskeptic AfD could now be in with a chance of winning its first seats in a western German state. The party’s success has thus far been limited to eastern Germany where it currently holds seats in three states.

Indonesia: Voters with disabilities want greater access | The Jakarta Post

Boy Tonggor Siahaan has cast his vote in every election since he was in high school. The 46-year-old has not missed a single legislative, presidential or regional election. … Boy was born with deformities to both of his arms. “I was forced to use my feet. I punch a hole by holding the nail with my feet,” he said. Boy, however, considered himself lucky with his still-functioning arms. “What about those who don’t have limbs at all?” he said. Cases like Boy’s were documented in a study conducted by the General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA), a consortium of civil society organizations and disabled people’s organizations across Southeast Asia. The study was aimed at improving access for disabled people to meet their political rights.

Nigeria: Election Delay Brings Disappointment, Criticism | VoA News

There is mixed reaction to the six-week postponement of Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The vote was delayed by the nation’s Independent National Electoral Commission, primarily because of security concerns in northeastern Nigeria. INEC Chairman Atthiru Jega announced the change a week ago, saying the elections would be held March 28. President Goodluck Jonathan appeared on television to express his disappointment about the postponement but noted that the war against Boko Haram in the northeast was intensifying. Adebowale Adefuye, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, said Wednesday on VOA’s “Straight Talk Africa” that he was confident the election would be aboveboard and honest.

Philippines: Comelec set to open bidding for additional voting machines late February | InterAksyon

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to open later this month the second stage of the public bidding for additional voting machines for the 2016 national and local elections. Based on the notice issued by the Comelec-Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), the remaining eligible bidders both for the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) projects may submit their final technical proposals and their financial proposals on Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. Both Smartmatic-TIM and Indra Sistemas S.A. are still in the running for the OMR project after the first stage of the bidding while Venezuela-based firm is the lone eligible bidder for the DRE contract.

The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for February 9-15 2015

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced legislation that would restore some of the enforcement provisions removed from the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013. In a Slate column, Alec McGillis commented on this week’s Federal Election Commission hearing. New research by the California Journal of Politics & Policy, found no evidence…

National: Lawmakers Push New Longshot Bid to Rewrite Voting Rights Act | Roll Call

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner fell short in his 2014 efforts to convince GOP leadership to take up his Voting Rights Amendment Act, but the Wisconsin Republican is ready to take another stab at passing a rewrite of the historic law. But there’s little indication this year will be any different. For Sensenbrenner and his fellow co-sponsors of the legislation introduced Wednesday, many of the same obstacles remain — along with a few new ones. On the surface, it would seem the time has never been better — nor the political pressures greater — for the Republican-controlled House to take action. The VRA’s 50th anniversary this summer has the landmark civil rights legislation back in the spotlight almost two years after the Supreme Court, challenging lawmakers to update the law for the 21st century, struck down the enforcement section of the act. Sensenbrenner chose to drop his bill on the same day the House considered legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to the “foot soldiers” of 1965’s bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

Editorials: Open Mic Disaster: The FEC held a hearing that revealed almost everything that’s wrong with American democracy. | Alec McGillis/Slate

Woe, to be the Federal Election Commission in the age of the Koch brothers. The agency charged with safeguarding the integrity of American democracy has, in recent years, been hit again and again by other branches of the federal government further flooding the political system with money from a small coterie of ultrawealthy donors. There was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which made it possible for corporations, unions, and nonprofit groups to spend directly on elections. There was the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling last year, which, while keeping in place caps on how much an individual could give directly to a candidate or political committee, eliminated the aggregate limits on how much he could give combined. And just two months ago, Congress slipped into the big must-pass spending bill a further expansion of the sums a wealthy donor could give to party committees. The FEC is about as effective as a middle-school hall monitor at a Roman bacchanal.

California: Top-two primary system hasn’t worked as proponents promised | Los Angeles Times

Reinvention is part of California’s credo, the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to make of themselves and their lives what they will — and do it over again, if they’re not happy the first time. Second chances, surgical alterations, artificial enhancement — the only limits are wealth and the imagination. That extends not just to the body beautiful but the body politic. After years of partisan squabbling, massive budget deficits and general haplessness in Sacramento, voters grew fed up and decided it was time for a government makeover. One result was Proposition 14, passed in June 2010 and intended to help bring a new breed of more accommodating, less ideological lawmaker to the state capital. (The proposition also covered congressional and U.S. Senate contests, for good measure.) It was supposed to work like this: Candidates would run in a free-for-all primary with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff, regardless of party affiliation. Absent the need to appease the most puritanical elements of the major parties, the thinking went, candidates would broaden their appeal to the many voters in the middle. Voila! A more harmonious, pragmatic and productive Legislature. (Fixing Washington’s scabrous culture would, presumably, take longer.) Has it worked? In short, no, not yet.

District of Columbia: D.C., other cities debate whether legal immigrants should have voting rights | The Washington Post

David Nolan and Helen Searls are a professional couple in the District, active in their children’s school and local civic associations. As taxpayers and longtime residents, they feel they have a duty to be involved in public life. But as legal immigrants who have not become U.S. citizens, they have no right to vote — even in local elections. “It’s frustrating at election time to have no say in what’s happening,” said the British-born Searls, 54, who works at a media company. “Washington has people from all over the world. If they are engaged and participating in public issues, it benefits the city.” Searls and Nolan are among 54,000 immigrants in the District — and about 12 million nationwide — who have been granted green cards that allow them to remain in the United States permanently. Most are sponsored by relatives or employers. They pay taxes and serve in the armed forces. Yet in all but a handful of localities, they have no voting rights. Last month, for the third time in a decade, a bill was introduced in the D.C. Council to allow legal immigrants to vote locally. The measure has little chance of passage, but it is illustrative of a growing movement to expand local voting rights to noncitizens that has spawned similar proposals in several dozen communities across the country.

Kansas: Prosecutors question Kobach claims of voter fraud in Kansas | Associated Press

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect behind some of the nation’s strictest voter ID requirements, is asking lawmakers to give him the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers. The state’s top federal prosecutor, however, says Kobach has not sent any cases his way. Some county prosecutors say cases that have been referred did not justify prosecution. The conservative Republican publicly chastised Kansas-based U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom late last year, telling Topeka television station WIBW he had referred voter fraud cases to Grissom and that Grissom didn’t “know what he’s talking about” when he said voter fraud doesn’t exist in Kansas. But in a Nov. 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, the prosecutor responded that his office received no such referrals from Kobach, and chided the secretary of state for his statements. “Going forward, if your office determines there has been an act of voter fraud please forward the matter to me for investigation and prosecution,” Grissom wrote. “Until then, so we can avoid misstatements of facts for the future, for the record, we have received no voter fraud cases from your office in over four and a half years. And, I can assure you, I do know what I’m talking about.” Grissom told the AP last week that Kobach never replied to his letter.