The federal agency that helps states improve their election systems is warning that aging voting machines could create problems in next year’s presidential election. Many of the machines were purchased more than a decade ago, according to the Election Assistance Commission. “It’s a big concern not just for us, but (for) state and local officials who are running these elections,” said Christy McCormick, new chairwoman of the independent, bipartisan commission. “Hopefully, they can prevent any major problems in 2016, but it’s going to be a challenge.” It’s one of several issues the EAC plans to highlight as it ramps up operations after four years without enough commissioners for a quorum. The commission held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss its plans, and recently kicked off a listening tour to hear from local election officials and advocates. Commissioners will visit New Orleans next week. “It’s like our moment to be able to reinvigorate the commission and figure out what our stakeholders need from us going forward,” McCormick said.
The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments that it’s unconstitutional for a state to isolate its legislature from the redistricting process, citing the federal constitution’s Election Clause. And if the court sides with the plaintiffs, it could upend political districts and election laws from coast to coast before 2016. Hundreds of congressional districts might have to be redrawn before the next election — and several other election laws could be at stake — depending on how broadly the high court rules in a much anticipated case brought by the GOP-controlled Arizona Legislature against the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. The Legislature is claiming that the Constitution — which states that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof” — prohibits voters from taking the redistricting process out of the political arena.
The Internal Revenue Service says it won’t come out with new proposed rules for so-called dark money groups until late spring at the earliest, increasing the likelihood that no changes will take effect before the 2016 elections. These groups 2014 social welfare nonprofits that can engage in politics, but do not have to disclose their donors 2014 have become a major force in elections, pouring at least $257 million into the 2012 elections. The Wesleyan Media Project estimates that dark money paid for almost half the TV ads aired in the 2014 Senate races. The IRS originally issued a draft version of the rules for dark money groups more than a year ago, but withdrew them for revisions after receiving intense criticism from both ends of the political spectrum.
Editorials: Fifty Years After Bloody Sunday in Selma, Everything and Nothing Has Changed | Ari Berman/The Nation
Congress can’t agree on much these days, but on February 11, the House unanimously passed a resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal—the body’s highest honor—to the foot soldiers of the 1965 voting-rights movement in Selma, Alabama. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s first black Congresswoman, who grew up in Selma. Sewell was born on January 1, 1965, a day before Martin Luther King Jr. arrived in Selma to kick off the demonstrations that would result in passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) eight months later. On February 15, 2015, Sewell returned to Selma, which she now represents, to honor the “unsung heroes” of the voting-rights movement at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the red brick headquarters for Selma’s civil-rights activists in 1965, taking the pulpit where King once preached. The film Selma has brought renewed attention to the dramatic protests of 1965. Tens of thousands of people, including President Obama, will converge on the city on March 7, the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 marchers, including John Lewis, now a Congressman, were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers.
From time to time, at least since 1898, the people in America’s states have decided to take government into their own hands, withdrawing it from elected politicians when the voters think they have done the job badly, or not at all. “Direct democracy” has cycles of popularity, and may be in a new one now, as political polarization spreads worry that elected lawmakers think party first and public good second. The Supreme Court looks into such a reclaiming of people power next week. No act of government is more partisan these days, it seems, than the redistricting process — that is, the drawing of new election district boundaries, usually to take account of population growth or shifts as measured in each national census. When Republicans are in power, they craft districts in their favor, and the Democrats do exactly the same when they hold power. As a result, fewer districts are actually competitive at election time. The Supreme Court has been asked several times to put some limits on “partisan gerrymandering,” but has refused each time. Now, the Court confronts an alternative approach in Arizona — a state that has been making regular use of “direct democracy” since even before it was admitted to the Union in 1912. From statehood until 2000, the state legislature had the authority under the state constitution to draw congressional district boundaries, subject to the governor’s veto.
Voters in Brattleboro, Vt., will be asked this week to lower the voting age for local elections to 16, a move that some say could place the town on the cutting edge in a world where teenage political maturity may be vastly increasing thanks to online social interaction. In Brattleboro on Tuesday the Selectboard will ask voters to decide on a ballot item that would let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in local elections, according to The Associated Press. Vermont’s current voting age of 18 wouldn’t alter for state and federal elections. The proposal by Brattleboro resident Kurt Daims would lower the minimum age by two years for town elections. The Selectboard’s chair said last October that such an amendment to the Town Charter would ultimately require approval of the Vermont legislature.
Editorials: This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see | Christopher Ingraham/The Washington Post
Gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party — is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above — adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend — and wonder no more. Suppose we have a very tiny state of fifty people. Thirty of them belong to the Blue Party, and 20 belong to the Red Party. And just our luck, they all live in a nice even grid with the Blues on one side of the state and the Reds on the other. Now, let’s say we need to divide this state into five districts. Each district will send one representative to the House to represent the people. Ideally, we want the representation to be proportional: if 60 percent of our residents are Blue and 40 percent are Red, those five seats should be divvied up the same way.
Arkansas: County election officials raise concerns about 3 state bills | Nortwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
A handful of bills working through General Assembly committees could change how and when voters participate in primary, special and general elections, officials said last week. One bill would lump all special and school district elections to either May or November instead of throughout the year. Another would push the presidential candidate primaries back two months into March. A third bill would cut down early voting from two weeks before an election to just one. Benton and Washington county election officials said the proposals could make elections more difficult to hold and could confuse voters. “We want to do the best job that we possibly can,” said Russell Anzalone, chairman of the Benton County Election Commission. “To us, the commissioners, it’s all about the voter.”
California: Correa Concedes Supervisor’s Race But Says He Will Pursue Evidence of Voter Fraud | Los Alamitos-Seal Beach, CA Patch
Former state Sen. Lou Correa raised multiple questions about mistakes and possible fraud in his narrow loss to Andrew Do for Orange County supervisor, but he said it would be too costly to try to overturn the results in a court. Correa, who lost to Do by 43 votes in the Jan. 27 special election, praised Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley, despite the questions. “Inevitiably, some mistakes will be made, and we found that to have been the case in this election.” Correa said. “But that does not detract from the consistently commendable job that the registrar’s office performs in conducting this and other elections in Orange County.”
When you go to the polls on election day, you can either vote in each individual race or cast a ballot for all of the members of one political party. It’s called straight-ticket voting and fewer than a dozen states allow it. Hoosier lawmakers are considering putting an end to the practice. A framed poster hanging on the wall of the Marion County Democratic Headquarters in Indianapolis prominently features a rooster – the symbol that represents the Democratic Party on Indiana’s ballots. “They were posters that were placed at the precincts on the walls outside of the precincts to remind voters to vote straight party,” Marion County Democratic Chairman Joel Miller says. Basically check a box and all your votes go to either Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians in every race. A proposed bill in the Statehouse could soon make that poster an artifact. House Bill 1008, recently passed by the Indiana House, would eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state.
A stack of bills aimed at cleaning up Maine’s Clean Election finance law holds the potential to rankle political leaders on both sides of the aisle. State Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said he knows leadership is displeased with his efforts to stop candidates who are seeking state office from also running political action committees that can filter money back to a political party, which in turn can use it to support a candidate or oppose a rival. According to Chenette and others, the practice creates a virtual black hole in Maine’s campaign finance law, allowing candidates the cover of their party when attacking opponents. State law also allows candidates who are running publicly funded campaigns, under the state’s Clean Election law, to separately manage so-called “leadership PACs” and collect private donations from industry lobbyists and others.
A North Carolina state judge has declined for now to strike down or uphold photo identification requirements to vote in person starting in 2016 — keeping the path clear for a summer trial in a lawsuit. In a ruling provided Friday to case attorneys, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan denied a motion by voters and advocacy groups who sued and believe the voter ID mandate is unconstitutional because legislators created another qualification to cast a ballot. But Morgan also refused to accept all the arguments of attorneys representing the state and State Board of Elections to throw out the lawsuit. With the refusals for “judgment on the pleadings” — meaning arguments with essentially no additional evidence — Morgan is indicating factual issues between the court opponents must be resolved. A trial already had been set for July 13.
The West Virginia Senate has approved legislation aimed at blocking U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin from handpicking his successor if he runs for governor in 2016. The measure approved Sunday on an 18-14 vote would require special elections, not appointments, in cases like Manchin’s. Currently, if Manchin reclaims his old job, the Democrat will have served enough of his Senate term that he, as governor, could name the next senator to serve through 2018.
While it was a success in Greater Sudbury last October, online voting is still years away at the federal level, says Canada’s chief electoral officer. Marc Mayrand, who was in Sudbury on Sunday getting local election workers ready for this year’s federal election, said there are still too many issues with online voting for it to be done on a scale as big as a national vote. “The technology is there,” Mayrand said. “But there’s still issues around security (and) verification … Hackers are getting ever more sophisticated. And there are also concerns around transparency.” There’s also worry about switching from a system where election officials personally witness people voting, to one where voters use a PIN number to cast a ballot at home, or wherever they happen to be.
Egypt’s electoral commission said on March 1 it was preparing a new timetable for parliamentary polls, delaying the March 21 vote after a court ruled parts of the election law unconstitutional. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered that the law be redrafted within a month and asked that “legal measures be undertaken to avoid delaying” the election, his office said. Egypt’s constitutional court ruled that sections of the law dividing the electoral districts were unconstitutional. The electoral commission said in a statement the section of the law deemed unconstitutional will be revised and then “there will be a new timetable for the procedures” for the election.
Salvadorans go to the polls on Sunday to elect new legislators and local officials in a tight contest between the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN, and the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, for control of the Legislative Assembly. Voters in El Salvador will also elect 262 new mayors, some 3,000 municipal council members and 20 country representatives for the Central American Parliament. For the first time, voters will be able to select individual candidates from any party rather than being forced to vote for a single party with an established list of candidates. Voters can still opt to simply choose a party.
Estonians voted Sunday in an election marked by jitters over a militarily resurgent Russia and a popular pro-Kremlin party, with the security conscious centre-left coalition tipped for a return to power. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have galvanised the European Union, including this eurozone member of 1.3 million people, a quarter of whom are ethnic Russian. Military manoeuvres by Moscow on Estonia’s border days ahead of the vote further stoked deep concerns in Europe that the Kremlin could attempt to destabilise countries that were in its orbit during Soviet times. NATO is countering the moves by boosting defences on its eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centres in six formerly communist members of the Alliance, including one in Estonia.
In Africa’s year of elections, with democracy in retreat in many parts of the continent, Lesotho is a pygmy beside giants like Nigeria and other larger nations facing votes. But many observers are watching the small mountain nation as it heads to the polls Saturday, one of just a handful of African countries that in the past has seen a peaceful democratic handover of power from one party to another. Lesotho’s democratic credentials are in question after an attempted coup in August forced Prime Minister Tom Thabane to flee the country. Saturday’s balloting is supposed to resolve the crisis, if friction between political opponents and rival branches of the security forces doesn’t derail the process. Among the other countries facing elections this year are Sudan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mali, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Guinea, Central African Republic, Togo and Mauritius.
Tajikistan’s veteran President Imomali Rakhmon looked set on Monday to dominate parliament for another five years after his party took a strong lead in an election Western observers said was stacked in his favor. The central election commission, announcing first results from Sunday’s general election, said on Monday his People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan had won 65.2 percent of the party list votes, which account for about one-third of the seats in the lower house of parliament. No information was available yet on results from direct mandate constituencies, which make up the rest of the 63-seat lower house, but observers expect Rakhmon loyalists to win most of those races as well.