National: Where black voters stand 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed | The Washington Post

African Americans have come a long way politically over the past half-century, but disparities remain. In the five decades since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, blacks have made significant strides in registering and turning out to vote, according to a new study. Yet, the policies enacted tend to better represent the interests of white Americans and blacks continue to be underrepresented in elected office. “We’ve gone a long way, but we have a long way to go,” says Zoltan Hajnal, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Hojnal and three other political science professors from across the country coauthored the study, published Tuesday, by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to expanding opportunity for people of color. The report commemorates the 50th anniversary—this Saturday—of the “Bloody Sunday” march, in which Alabama state troopers and deputies brutally attacked a group of people marching from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. Before the year was out, Congress would pass, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson would sign, the Voting Rights Act. Since then, blacks have made significant strides in areas where they were once severely disadvantaged.

National: Money Chase for 2016 Is Wild, Wild West – Bloomberg View

As a result of the different funding vehicles, some candidates are required to limit donations while others are only prohibited from taking checks from certain categories of givers. A few, including Santorum, have organizations that are not bound by contribution caps or public reporting requirements — their trips to Iowa and New Hampshire may be funded by unregulated, anonymous donations. “Nearly every prospective 2016 presidential candidate is raising and spending funds outside the candidate contribution limits, through super-PACs, leadership PACs and other groups,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and author of the organization’s analysis of the presidential campaign free-for-all. “They’re traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire; they’re hiring campaign staff; one has even opened an office in Iowa. They claim they’re not ‘testing the waters,’ but they look soaking wet to me.”

Editorials: Power to the Partisans – The Supreme Court’s conservatives think democracy is overrated. | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate

In the plangent peroration of his dissent in United States v. Windsor, Justice Antonin Scalia bemoaned the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality. The justices had shortchanged democracy, he lamented: “We might have let the People decide.” But as it turns out, Scalia isn’t so fond of letting “the People decide” when those people decide to do something that actually strengthens democracy—like, for instance, drawing fair boundaries for congressional districts. Scalia may not see a constitutional right to marriage, but he definitely sees a constitutional right for partisan state legislatures to entrench their ruling parties’ power to the detriment of democracy. And after arguments on Monday, it seems likely that Scalia’s view will soon become the law of the land. Here are the basic facts behind Monday’s case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative, Proposition 106, that took congressional redistricting out of the state legislature’s hands. For decades the controlling party in the statehouse had used redistricting to put members of its own party in the House of Representatives through partisan gerrymandering. Under Proposition 106, the task of redistricting was put entirely in the hands of an independent commission. The system has worked remarkably well: Thanks to the commission’s redistricting efforts, Arizona’s House seats are consistently competitive.

California: Voters back measures to change Los Angeles election dates | LA Daily News

Los Angeles voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved two measures to change city election dates. Voters will now cast ballots in mayoral, council district, and school board races in even-numbered years, rather than odd-numbered years. The change consolidates city elections with federal and state elections. “It turns out that sometimes, good policy is good politics,” said Fernando Guerra, co-chair of the committee that backed the measures, in a statement. “It’s gratifying that voters supported increased voter participation, and it’s even more gratifying that they did so by such an emphatic margin.”

Iowa: Bill would end straight-party voting in Iowa | The Gazette

Iowa voters would no longer have the option of voting a straight-party ticket under a bill that cleared a House subcommittee on Tuesday. Rep. Robert Bacon, R-Slater, said he supported the change because he is concerned voters who mark a ballot to support all the members of one political party may forget to turn the ballot over and mark nonpartisan candidates seeking local offices or board positions and judges up for retention. Bacon and Rep. Jack Drake, R-Griswold, said they believed removing the straight-ticket option would clean up election provisions in the Iowa code. Bacon said Iowa is one of a dozen states that still offers the voting option, and it appeared the numbers “flip-flop” from election to election, so the change would not benefit one political party of another.

Illinois: State lawmakers tackle election reform | The Daily American

State lawmakers are trying to remedy what they see as a broken election system that takes too long, is too invasive and has too much influence from corporate donors. Both Republicans and Democrats have introduced a group of bills to change ballot procedures, primary dates and campaign finance rules. Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, introduced two of the bills, which would change the primary date for state and federal elections and allow for an open ballot. Drury’s House Bill 193 would change the primary election date to the fourth Tuesday in June. He said he heard complaints from both constituents and lawmakers about the long political process that he sees as flawed.

Maryland: Rockville election will use new voting machines | Gazette.Net

Rockville will be a guinea pig for Maryland’s new voting machines, but city officials say they’re comfortable the new machines won’t cause problems in the city’s November election. There may be other municipalities that use the new machines in their elections this year, but Rockville will be at least one of the first jurisdictions in the state to use them, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections. The state Board of Public Works in December awarded a $28.14 million contract to Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., for more than 3,100 machines to scan ballots and count votes.

Missouri: House passes voter ID bills | Northwest Missourian

The Missouri House of Representatives once again passed legislation regarding voter identification. Over the past several years, the House has attempted to implement new laws to combat voter fraud but have been struck down by the Missouri Senate and the Missouri Supreme court. The Missouri legislature first must amend the constitution to allow for a voter identification law to be passed. House Bill 30 will implement voter identification restrictions. Just last year a similar bill was presented, House Bill 1073, but faced scrutiny from Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Vermont: Brattleboro weighs voting rights for 16- and 17-year olds | Sentinel Source

Everyone who votes in today’s elections in Brattleboro will be at least 18 years old. But that could change if voters pass a ballot measure to extend the right to vote in town elections to 16- and 17-year-olds. Supporters say pushing the voting age down two years would improve voter turnout and bring the right to vote in line with other privileges, such as a driver’s license, at age 16. “It’s part of a way of enlivening the electorate here,” Kurt Daims, the Brattleboro resident who submitted the ballot item, said Monday. “We want to propose this as a way to make the younger people grow an attachment to their town.” Daims described restricting voting rights to people who are 18 and older as a violation of basic rights.

Editorials: Wisconsin legislators should end gerrymandering for good | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a closely watched case testing Arizona’s nonpartisan redistricting commission. At issue here is how far the people may go to prevent partisans from carving up their states to maximum advantage. We hope the court recognizes the right of the people to adopt smarter, less partisan means to redraw district boundaries every 10 years. More than a dozen states now use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines — and all of them are at risk in this case. Wisconsin still relies on legislators to do the job, though it has flirted with a different model that stands a better chance of withstanding constitutional scrutiny. Senate Bill 58, which was introduced last Friday, would adopt a model pioneered by Iowa. The bill would take the task of redrawing political maps away from the partisans in the Legislature and give the job to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. But unlike the independent commission model, legislative approval would be required. We urge legislators to get behind this idea. The 2011 redistricting process, which was run by Republicans, cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 million and left voters with no competitive House districts and very few in either the state Assembly or state Senate.

Australia: ‘Frankly, we don’t do it very well’: Australia Electoral Commission forced to change over WA poll | Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian Electoral Commission will outsource the storage of millions of used ballot papers, conceding its warehouse security and logistics chain is not up to task. The AEC has been forced to overhaul its processes after bungling the 2013 Senate election in Western Australia in which nearly 1400 voting papers were lost, causing the High Court to order a new poll at a cost of $23 million. Former Australia Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty called the AEC’s handling of the election a “disaster” and the-then electoral commissioner Ed Killesteyn later resigned. On Wednesday, new commissioner Tom Rogers told a parliamentary committee that the AEC would “completely outsource” its warehouse and logistics, including the transport of ballot papers to 8000 polling stations. “Frankly, we don’t do it very well,” he told the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

Egypt: Court defers parliamentary election: judicial sources | Reuters

An Egyptian court on Tuesday deferred a long-awaited parliamentary election due in March indefinitely after another court declared the election law’s provision on voting districts as unconstitutional, judicial sources said. Egypt has been without a parliament since June 2012, when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber, reversing a major accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. This delay prolongs a period in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has wielded sole legislative authority and slows Egypt’s progress towards democracy since its first freely elected president was ousted by the army in 2013.

El Salvador: Still no results in El Salvador elections following Sunday’s vote | The Tico Times

Election authorities in El Salvador decided to skip the customary preliminary vote count and proceed straight to the final count after a series of technical mishaps. Meanwhile, candidates from both the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the main opposition party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), have declared victories in key mayoral and legislative races. The delays are fueling suspicions and stoking harsh criticism toward the country’s voting authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribune (TSE).