Go to renew your driver’s license in Oregon, and you will now be signed up to vote automatically. It’s the first state in the country with that sort of law, which is designed to make voting easier, and stands in contrast to the trend seen in the past several years in more conservative states. “It’s really interesting — when we’ve seen restrictions emerging in Republican-leaning states,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida associate who tracks turnout as head of the U.S. Elections Project. “In Democratic-controlled states, we’re seeing laws intended to expand the electorate.” Colorado, for example, like Oregon is all vote-by-mail; Vermont is considering automatic registration, McDonald said, and a Philadelphia politician on Tuesday proposed the same for Pennsylvania. New York and Maryland, meanwhile, have expanded early voting.
They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting. Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote. Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said. “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.”
Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions after their release from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Similar versions of the bill have been introduced in past congressional sessions. “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process,” Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press release issued Wednesday. She urged Congress to pass the bill, arguing that many criminal disfranchisement laws stemmed from the Jim Crow era, with the intent of keeping African-Americans from voting.
The 50TH anniversary commemorations of the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., have come and gone. But one of the principal achievements of the brave marchers still remains compromised. Congress needs to fix the Voting Rights Act, a fact that can’t be ignored now that the politicians have left Selma. The Voting Rights Act subjected a handful of states with notorious records of voting discrimination to “preclearance,” meaning state and local officials had to submit proposed changes in electoral procedures to the Justice Department before implementing them. The results of preclearance and the other provisions of the act were dramatic.
California: Fullerton’s at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans, suit says | Los Angeles Times
Two civil rights groups sued the city of Fullerton on Wednesday, saying the college town’s at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans. In their lawsuit, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A. allege Fullerton’s system for electing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act and blocks large segments of the community — especially Asian Americans — from having a voice in city government. “Almost one in four eligible voters in Fullerton is Asian American, yet despite their sizable numbers, no Asian American currently serves on the City Council,” said Deanna Kitamura, senior staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved legislation Tuesday that would allow Florida voters to register online–but only after the looming 2016 presidential election. The bill (SB 228) would allow Floridians with driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards to submit applications online, using signatures on file with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, as long as the voter’s name and date of birth matched the agency’s records. Otherwise, the system would fill out a form that could be printed and taken to the office of the local supervisor of elections.
Illinois: Election to replace Aaron Schock could be first test for new countywide election commission | Peoria Journal Star
A yet-to-be-formed countywide election commission, approved by voters last fall, was supposed to have nearly a year before its first election. Not anymore. When Aaron Schock announced he was resigning from his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, that triggered a 120-day window for an election to replace the four-term Peoria Republican. And the first election, a primary, will likely occur earlier. Gov. Bruce Rauner must set a date for the elections within five days of Schock’s resignation, which is effective March 31. And it means Peoria County, already facing a possible budget shortfall next year, has to come up with about $150,000 to pay for the special elections.
A San Diego-based company wants the DuPage County Election Commission to rebid a contract for electronic poll books after claiming the agency didn’t give it a fair opportunity to compete for the work. Votec Corp. filed a protest with the county’s procurement office after the election commission decided in November to award Hart InterCivic a nearly $500,000 contract to supply the commission with computerized logs to check in voters at the polls. In its protest, Votec claims the election commission “violated and/or failed to adhere to” its procurement ordinance. “They (Votec) feel that the process was not a truly full and open competition,” said Jim Rome, an attorney representing the company.
The sponsor of a bill to require voters to show photographic identification before receiving their ballots said he will continue to solicit support for his bill despite a 7-5 committee vote against it Wednesday afternoon. Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, said he sponsored LD 197 because of “finger pointing and accusations” he saw going around during a recount last year in the Senate District 25 election in the Falmouth area. “It kind of hurt the integrity of the voting process in Maine,” said Collins. “It really bothered me. … To maintain the integrity of the voting process, showing a personal identification is not a big burden.”
New Mexico: House OKs voter ID bill that was previously blocked in committee | The Santa Fe New Mexican
In the past, it was almost an annual ritual in the New Mexico House of Representatives: Republicans would introduce bills to require most voters to show photo identification at the polls, and Democrats would vote them down in committee. But early Tuesday morning, what would have been impossible before the GOP took control of the House in the last election actually happened: The House passed a voter ID bill. At about 1:30 a.m., after a three-hour debate, the House voted 36-26 along party lines to pass House Bill 340, sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. It now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it is bound to have a tougher time.
North Carolina: Cost to switch to paper ballots in Henderson County triples to $3 million | Times-News
Henderson County commissioners thought they were looking at roughly $1 million to comply with a state law requiring the Board of Elections to switch to paper ballots. The estimated cost of replacing its current touchscreen machines has now jumped to $3 million. During a discussion of the unfunded mandate earlier this month, a majority of commissioners said they nonetheless want to hold off on setting aside any money for new voting machines in the coming 2015-16 fiscal year. “I would just say to you that this is a moving target,” advised County Manager Steve Wyatt. “I have no confidence in these numbers; I had no confidence in the previous numbers. What I am confident is right now, the law says you’ve got to change the machines.”
It is often remarked, “So goes Ohio, so goes the nation,” a common sentiment signifying that Ohio is a bellwether state for national politics. Perhaps it’s time to ask: Where is Ohio going? If you’re Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, you may think Ohio is heading toward rampant voter fraud. Last week, Husted released the results of an exhaustive investigation into non-citizen voting in Ohio, something he considers an “expanding loophole.” But despite the Republican’s alarmist calls, the investigation identified just 145 cases of non-Ohio citizens illegally registered to vote, an amount totaling a miniscule two ten-thousandths of a percent of the 7.7 million registered Ohio voters. Unsurprisingly, a similar investigation released by Husted’s office in 2013 found that only 0.0003 percent of all ballots casted in the state were by non-citizens.
Here is a novel notion: Why not make democracy easy? Why not take the trouble out of registering to vote—and out of voting? It can be done. Other countries, where voter turnout is dramatically higher than in the United States, craft their laws to encourage voting. Unfortunately, politics gets in the way of voting-friendly elections in the United States. At least in most states. It is no secret that these have not been easy times for the cause of voting rights. An activist majority on the US Supreme Court has invalidated key sections of the Voting Rights Act, and the traditional defenders of the franchise—Congressmen John Conyers, D-Michigan, and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin—are struggling to renew the bipartisan coalition in support of robust protection for free and fair elections.
Voting Blogs: Texas Post-Election Report Indicates Systemic Election Issues | Texas Election Law Blog
After the November 2014 general election, Battleground Texas used the data from its Election Day voter hotline to summarize and describe the problems that voters faced in the election. That public report is available as a .pdf file through Battleground Texas. You can read the report here. Among other things, the report finds that (1) the statewide voter registration list is riddled with errors (and the fact that the statewide database went down on Election Day was frustrating), (2) compared to the experience in other states, provisional ballots in Texas are used disproportionately in response to registration problems, (3) The Texas Department of Public Safety has a deserved reputation for particularly poor handling of “motor voter” registrations, a responsibility of the state agency that administers drivers’ license issuance and renewal as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act, and (4) voting systems in Texas are showing their age – equipment is breaking down, touchscreens are getting misaligned, and the availability of back-up machines is declining.
Voting machines and other election technology in the clerk’s office will be the subject of the first of three audits to be conducted soon by the Salt Lake County auditor. The County Council instructed Auditor Scott Tingley to begin the performance audit of the clerk’s election apparatus because the time is approaching when the existing system will have to be replaced — and the council hopes this review will shape future decisions about whether to replace current machines or switch to mail-in balloting or something else. The election machines also represent a good starting point, Tingley said, because he estimates this audit will take two to three months. Meanwhile, his teams can work on two longer audits — a three- to six-month evaluation of health services at the county jail, and a nine- to 12-month review of the county’s Day Reporting Center, which oversees individuals who have been sent to jail for a misdemeanor but are responsible enough to serve part of their sentences in the community.
Washington: Yakima will ask federal judge to reconsider ruling on voting districts | Yakima Herald Republic
The Yakima City Council will ask a federal judge to reconsider his decision in the city’s voting rights case with the American Civil Liberties Union, a move that will reset the clock on an appeal and give members more time to weigh their options. The decision was made Tuesday night during the council’s regular meeting. The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Rick Ensey absent. U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice of Spokane will have to respond to the motion to reconsider, which some people even in Yakima city government expect to be denied. However, it would give the city a new 30-day window to file an appeal after Rice responds to the motion. The city’s attorneys were expected to file the motion before midnight Tuesday.
As has been well-reported, Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential and provincial council elections were marred by extensive technical difficulties — unconfirmed numbers of eligible voters, inadequate security, vague district and village boundaries, and interference from military and civilian government officials. Yet they also took a heavy financial toll on the system. According to the Joint Task Force on Election Assistance, the direct cost of the first round of voting proved to be especially high — approximately $109 million — for a country that falls amongst the poorest in the world. The task force noted that the average cost per voter (of the 13.5 million who voted) was $8.08. While this figure is lower than the global average for stable and post-conflict democracies ($8.41 per voter), it is much higher than states that have established efficient voting systems ($4.01 per voter).
Australia: New South Wales poll result could be challenged after parties are left off electronic ballot paper | The Guardian
The result of the upper house election in New South Wales could be contested after 19,000 early voters cast their votes on electronic ballot papers that left off the names of two of the parties above the line. The Animal Justice party and Outdoor Recreation party were left out on the electronic voting site iVote. About 19,000 people cast their vote before the error was noticed, but the NSW Electoral Commission has declared their votes will still be valid. Online voting was suspended for about five hours on Tuesday when the error was discovered.
Mousa Abu Maria’s vote will be counted in today’s Israeli elections — but he won’t step foot in a polling station. Instead, the 36-year-old Palestinian activist has asked an Israeli to cast a ballot for the party he thinks will fight for Palestinian rights: the Joint List, the preferred choice among many Palestinian citizens of the state. “Palestine is still under Israeli occupation; that should mean I have the right to vote. I don’t have my own country and Israel still controls everything. Israel has control of our life,” Abu Maria, who lives in the West Bank town of Beit Ommar and does not hold Israeli citizenship, told the Star. Ofer Neiman, an Israeli freelance translator who lives in Jerusalem, is casting his ballot for Abu Maria. He said he chose to give his vote in protest of what he views as undemocratic elections.
Segun Agbaje, the Ondo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has revealed that the commission would not go back on the use of three different coded colors for the 2015 general elections to be held March 28 and April 11. The three colors, red, green and black, are meant for use in next week’s presidential, House of Representatives and Senate elections. Mr. Agbaje made the disclosures today at a stakeholders’ forum in Akure, the Ondo State capital. He explained that the innovation was part of the commission’s efforts to avoid rigging and stressful sorting of ballots papers after the conclusion of voting.