“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” President Obama told a crowd in Cleveland Wednesday. He even mused about the idea of making voting mandatory. That’s not going to happen any time soon. But in the wake of record low voter turnout in last fall’s midterm elections, a movement is growing in Washington and around the country to dismantle a set of restrictions that keep nearly 6 million Americans from the polls: felon disenfranchisement laws. Many state restrictions on felon voting were imposed in the wake of Reconstruction, as the South looked for ways to suppress black political power. But now, the falling crime rates of the last two decades have prompted a broader reassessment of tough-on-crime policies. Meanwhile, the ongoing Republican-led assault on voting has triggered a backlash that aims to expand, rather than contract, voting rights. On Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), backed by an array of civil- and voting-rights groups, introduced a bill that would restore voting rights for federal elections to Americans with past criminal convictions upon their release from incarceration. That came on the heels of a similar but more limited bill introduced last month by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would apply only to non-violent offenders. Neither measure is likely to get much traction in the Republican-controlled Congress. But in the states, there has been plenty of movement lately.
Editorials: Is Oregon’s Automatic Voter Registration Law A Step Toward Universal Voting? | Russell Berman/The Atlantic
“I forgot to register.” It’s one of the frequently cited reasons that people give every year for not voting in America, as well as a convenient excuse that the state of Oregon this week took it away from its citizens. Under a law signed Monday by new Governor Kate Brown, any eligible Oregonian with a driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote and will receive a ballot by mail weeks before Election Day. The measure is the first of its kind in the nation, and state officials project it will add 300,000 people to a voter roll that now numbers about 2.2 million. Oregon has long been an early adopter of new voting methods, having shifted to an entirely vote-by-mail system in 1998. Passage of the law, which was supported by Democrats, marks a rare recent win for proponents of expanded access to the ballot box at a time when states are moving toward more restrictive measures. The U.S. has an embarrassingly low rate of voter participation, setting it apart from other democracies in the developed world; just over one-third of eligible voters showed up in 2014, and even in the relatively high turnout election of 2008, the participation rate was only 64 percent. Yet the debate over the Oregon “motor voter” law was contentious, and it hinged on a key question: How far should the government go to encourage citizens to register and vote?
Voting Blogs: Special elections continue to pile up: Some states and localities are looking for ways to decrease the numbers | electionlineWeekly
Mid-Tuesday afternoon while much of America was either enjoying St. Patrick’s Day, Twitter suddenly blew up with the news that Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock (R-18th District) announced his resignation. While the journalists and political gadfly’s on social media made light of the resignation or talked about its impact on politics, all electionline could think was of those poor elections administrators and volunteers in Illinois. Now some of those elections officials are going to have conduct a special election to replace Schock on top of previously planned spring elections and for some, on top of other special elections. “In a year when state revenues are almost certain to decrease, the increased cost of an unanticipated and unbudgeted election is particularly difficult,” Peoria County Administrator Lori Curtis Luther told the Peoria Journal Star. This will be the third special Congressional election in Illinois in the last years. For Peoria elections officials, the special election creates a whole different set of issues in addition to funding. Last year, voters approved a measure to create a countywide election commission, which was supposed to have almost a full year to get up and running before its first election, now they need to scramble. Last year, voters approved a measure to create a countywide election commission, which was supposed to have almost a full year to get up and running before its first election, now they need to scramble.
Sixteen-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be sentenced to life in prison. Now, some want the right to vote, too. On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos will attempt to make that happen by introducing a measure that would extend the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. Avalos and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill in them lifelong voting habits at a time when turnout is low. Detractors call the measure foolhardy at best and at worst a political ploy by progressives to try and win more votes from young people, who tend to lean liberal in their voting. “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote,” Avalos said.
The legislative proposal to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system was trapped Tuesday by a successful filibuster and essentially blocked from further consideration this session. A motion to break the filibuster fell two senators short of acquiring the 33 votes required to break the filibuster, failing on a 31-18 vote. Four senators who are Republicans joined all 13 senators who are Democrats and Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, the sole registered independent, in voting against the cloture vote to end debate.
This week, Oregon became the first state to adopt automatic voter registration. If you’re an Oregonian over 18, and if you’ve dealt with the state’s Driver and Motor Vehicles Division since 2013, you’ll get a notice in the mail letting you know you’re registered to vote. Then, unless you opt out within three weeks, you’ll automatically receive a ballot 20 days before every election. (Oregon has all-mail voting.) Almost immediately, 300,000 more voters — a big chunk of the estimated 800,000 state residents who are eligible but still unregistered — are likely to be signed up. It’s fitting that Oregon passed its law just after the 50th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, voting rights march. Too often people assume that the U.S. has solved its voting-rights problem, and see Selma as no more than an occasion for pride and celebration. The truth is that voting rights remain a work in progress. Oregon’s new law points to a simple, inexpensive and promising way forward.
A thought experiment: Suppose the 50th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala. — Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge — had fallen on March 7, 2013 rather than the week before last. Eight days before my imaginary anniversary, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. Four months later, the 5-to-4 decision in that case cut the heart out of the very victory that the Selma marchers had sacrificed to achieve, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Would the court really have had the nerve to do it, with the memories of the march’s veterans still echoing for the world to hear and with President Obama making perhaps the best speech of his presidency? In the full glare of that public spotlight, would there really have been no member of the Shelby County majority who might have found his way (yes, the five were all men) to a different result?
Voting Blogs: Voting Laws Are Disabling The Disabled: Easy Nationwide Fixes To Re-Enfranchise Voters With Disabilities | State of Elections
Laws affecting voter participation are a current hot topic in the news. Voter identification, early voting, or redistricting laws are all working their way through the legal system almost certainly on their way to the Supreme Court (if they have not reached the high court already). There are mixed opinions on what these laws do. Supporters insist that the laws protect the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. Opponents vehemently argue that the laws are simply pretense for stopping poor and minority voters from exercising their rights at the polls. However, one group of minority voters, voters with disabilities, are severely impacted by election administration laws regarding the accessibility of elections. Their story has been largely ignored in the sound-byte thrusts and parries of the politicos and pundits.
A new state law that would extend to cities the absentee voter system currently in place for military overseas who want to vote in state and federal elections, passed committee on Wednesday. State Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said the bill passed through the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously and will go to the Senate floor next. There’s no fiscal impact to the state and Garcia said he isn’t sure when the Senate will take up the bill. Garcia said the bill will help extend some deadlines for municipal elections so ballots can be mailed to military personnel and state department employees overseas who want to participate in local elections.
Henderson Assemblyman Lynn Stewart says he has to show his driver’s license to get on an airplane, to withdraw cash at the bank or to make a purchase with a credit card. The same requirement should be in place when Nevadans exercise one of their most precious constitutional rights by voting, the Republican lawmaker said Tuesday in what became a contentious, two-hour debate over the need for such a measure. Stewart said it is just one more security measure to ensure that someone who casts a vote is who he says he is. Stewart and Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, R-Sparks, supported the measures, Assembly Bills 253 and 266, in a hearing before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. No action was taken on the measures. The bills would provide for a free voter ID card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles if an individual did not have the required identification. But the controversial issue showed the fundamental differences of opinion that individuals have on the issue. The hearing also got heated at times among members of the committee and with witnesses.
After a full day of discussion yesterday, lawmakers placed one of three bills aimed at reforming Guam’s voter registration laws into the voting file. Freshman Sen. Mary Camacho Torres’ measure, Bill 23-33, proposes implementing a voter registration portal on the Guam Election Commission’s website, giving island residents another means to register. The Republican senator from Santa Rita said it’s important for Guam to keep up with evolving technology. “The bill is intended to modernize Guam’s voter registration, … this whole idea of modernizing is really the wave of today and tomorrow,” Torres said. Torres stressed that if the bill is passed, the option for residents who want to register in person with a registrar will still exist.
Legislation that would create an online voter registration system for Iowa residents passed the Senate Thursday, but it’s unclear whether it will advance in the House. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 26-20 Thursday along party lines for the bill. That tends to show what kind of support it might get in the Republican-led House. The legislation would allow people to register to vote online through the secretary of state’s website if they have an Iowa driver’s license number, a state-issued identification card number or a Social Security number. When a registration is completed online, officials at a county auditor’s office are expected to verify the information before mailing a voter card.
Trying to assist the presidential aspirations of Sen. Rand Paul, (R-Ky.), the Kentucky GOP has taken a bold move. Under current law, Paul could not run for both reelection and the Republican presidential nomination. In order to create a work-around to this problem, the state party has made a one-time only move from a primary to a caucus system. This innovative approach is troubling on a number of levels, but the biggest one is clearly that the state GOP would be promoting the confusing and relatively undemocratic caucus system. Paul isn’t the first candidate to face this particular problem. Numerous states ban candidates from seeking two offices at once. In 1960, Texas changed its law to help Lyndon Johnson (D) run for both the Senate and the presidency at one time, a change that helped Lloyd Bentsen (D) when he ran for the VP position in 1988. There have been other recent attempts to change these laws, including in Indiana for Gov. Mike Pence (R) and even in Arkansas for newly elected Sen. Tom Cotton (R). Some states have no barriers to seeking two offices at once, and candidates have taken advantage of these rules on the VP level – notably Joe Lieberman (D) in 2000 in Connecticut, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in 2012. Both lost their races, as did Bentsen, but kept their seats in Congress.
Massachusetts: State partially settles lawsuit over voter registration for welfare recipients | MassLive
The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance has settled a 2012 lawsuit with voting rights organizations by agreeing to distribute voter registration forms to people applying for public assistance, to help people complete the forms and to provide oversight to ensure that public assistance workers abide by the requirements of a federal voting rights law. The Department of Transitional Assistance will also pay $675,000 in attorneys’ fees to the voting rights organizations. “We hope that this will make a huge improvement in the voting and registration opportunities for low-income Massachusetts citizens,” said Catherine Flanagan, senior election counsel for the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote and one of the lawyers trying the case. “The administration is pleased this matter was settled appropriately,” said Elizabeth Guyton, press secretary for Gov. Charlie Baker.
A coalition of groups working to restore the voting rights of convicted felons is growing concerned about the prospect of passing a bill this session. Legislation allowing felons to vote once they’re out of jail, rather than waiting until they’re off probation, is poised for a floor vote in the Minnesota Senate. But it does not yet have a scheduled hearing in the House. The committee deadline is Friday. During a news conference Wednesday, Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference said the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support.
For more than a decade, voting rights advocates have been on the defensive. They’ve resisted one effort after another to restrict access to the polls, efforts that got new life following the Florida election fiasco of 2000, when a large black turnout almost (or maybe did) put Al Gore over the top in the Sunshine State, and that reached full force following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Between the 2010 and 2012 elections alone, governors signed into law 23 bills that imposed constraints on voting, including requiring photo ID at the polls and curtailing same-day registration and early voting. While there have been defensive victories here and there, the resistance has been futile in many states and not helped by the Supreme Court, which in 2008 ruled in favor of voter ID laws and in 2013 gutted key elements of the Voting Rights Act. But now, at least in one state, the voting rights camp is on the offensive, and it’s hard to overstate what a pivotal turn that represents in the nation’s long-running voting wars. Oregon’s new governor, Kate Brown, the former secretary of state who took over following the resignation of her fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, has made headlines for being the nation’s first openly bisexual governor, but the bill she signed Monday is far more significant.
Sarah Green remembers feeling like she didn’t belong in her own state after discovering that Tennessee’s constitution bars people who don’t believe in God from holding public office. “It was one of the things that made me realize how unwelcome it could be for an atheist, especially in the South,” Green said. “It pretty much informed my decision to stay closeted, if you will, for almost 15 years.” The 30-year-old Hermitage woman came out as an atheist almost a year ago and is adding her voice to a national push to take provisions that discriminate against the nonreligious off the books. The effort is spearheaded by Openly Secular, which issued a report late last year finding that eight states, including Tennessee, had similar language in their constitutions.
Washington: Yakima County begins plans for redistricting despite city’s ongoing legal fight | Yakima Herald Republic
The city of Yakima hasn’t thrown in the towel yet on its legal fight with the ACLU, but county elections officials said Wednesday they are moving ahead with implementation of a court-ordered redistricting plan for the city. Yakima County Auditor Charles Ross said the decision was made Wednesday after consulting with the county’s attorneys. Ross, whose office oversees municipal and county elections, said updating the information in the county’s voter registration system would take about three days and will likely begin next week. “Our position is we’re going to implement the judge’s order,” Ross said.
Minor parties are threatening legal action after being omitted from the “above-the-line” section of the electronic ballot for the New South Wales election. About 19,000 votes were received before the NSW Electoral Commission realised the Animal Justice Party and the Outdoor Recreation Party had been left off the top section. In a preferential system, it is a major concern. Voters who do not wish to number their preferences can take the easy option and just write “1” next to the party they favour – above the line.
I was looking forward to being in Nigeria this weekend, writing a preview for the presidential elections at the end of the month. Not the way every Telegraph reader might want to spend their weekend, I grant you, but by foreign correspondents’ standards, it’s a Premier League fixture. The contest will decide who rules West Africa’s most important country, and in the wake of last year’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, the wider world will be following it in a way they never used to. Sadly, if it’s on-the-ground reportage you want, don’t come to me. Or The Times or Channel 4 News. Or any of the 20-odd other British media outlets that have asked for press visas to cover the elections, and whose applications still languish in a pile at the Nigerian High Commission in London. (Fee £300, non-returnable.)
Russia proposed a UN Security Council draft resolution Thursday asking Kiev to “immediately start consultations” with pro-Russian separatists on elections within their eastern Ukraine strongholds. The Russian text cites a paragraph from a February peace accord, which “provides for discussion and agreement on questions related to local elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.”
A political party accidentally left off online versions of ballot papers has indicated it could take court action after the New South Wales election. The iVote online voting system was suspended for much of yesterday after the NSW Electoral Commission was alerted to the error by the Outdoor Recreation Party’s Peter Whelan. The system is available to voters who are vision impaired, have reading difficulties, live more than 20 kilometres from a polling station or will be out of the state on election day. Mr Whelan said he was shocked when he logged on to the website yesterday. Despite his party having drawn a sought-after Group B “above the line” position on the Upper House ballot paper, it did not appear there on the electronic version. The Animal Justice party, which drew Group C on the ballot, was also omitted.
Guinea’s opposition withdrew its lawmakers from parliament Wednesday and said it would no longer recognise the election commission in protest over the timetable for presidential elections. The vote is due to be held in the Ebola-hit nation on October 11, the commission said last week, following doubts over its timing. “We decided yesterday… to suspend our participation in the work of the National Assembly and withdraw our 49 lawmakers until further notice and no longer recognise the national independent election commission,” said opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo. The opposition has accused President Alpha Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone elections and of refusing to enter into a dialogue over the timetable. More than 10,000 people have died of Ebola, almost all in west Africa, since it emerged in Guinea in December 2013.