“I had a college degree, a decade of experience, and the only job I could get was making $8 an hour at the local convenience store in my neighborhood,” Maine state Rep. Diane Russell (D) said in January, recalling her unlikely path to public office. “I have no business being in politics. I was not groomed for this. But thanks to public financing, I have a voice. And thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.” Russell was speaking at an event on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling that set off an avalanche of money in politics. After her state’s “clean elections” system propelled Russell into office in 2008, she quickly became a force in Maine politics. Her progressive record of defending voting rights and workers, for example, led the Nation to recognize her as its “Most Valuable State Representative” in 2011.
The Senate gave initial approval to a bill on Tuesday that increases the number of signatures third-party candidates need to run for office. The proposal by J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is one in a series of piecemeal legislation similar to a sweeping Arizona election law that the Legislature abandoned last year after opponents took steps to repeal it. House Bill 2608 allows candidates to gather signatures from their own party, independents and parties not represented on a ballot. It also expands the signature requirements to include a minimum number of these so-called “qualified voters.”
Florida: Plan to replace Florida’s “obsolete” voter registration system set for July | Herald Tribune
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner verified to the State Senate on Monday that his office is working to “refresh” the state’s glitch-prone voter registration system by July, averting potential problems that could have threatened the 2016 presidential election cycle. Detzner said his office has already ordered the new computer hardware and expects it to be delivered next month. He said his office is on course to have the new voter system up and operating by July. Two weeks ago the Herald-Tribune reported that statewide county supervisors of elections have become increasingly vocal about their concerns over the current Florida Voter Registration System, which has been prone to crashing – sometimes for days at a time. The voting system is a statewide database that is used to check in voters to ensure their eligibility to cast a ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Tuesday that could make voting by mail the norm in Hawaii. The panel passed HB 124, which aims to boost Hawaii’s low voter turnout and increase participation in elections. It would start with smaller counties and gradually build so all voters get ballots in the mail. The current system allows people to sign up to vote by mail or they can vote in person during the two weeks before Election Day. “It’s a very complicated operation,” said Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters. “This would smooth out the operation.”
New York: Federal judge cites Albany County redistricting failure; legal fees could top $1M | Times Union
Albany County diluted minority voting power in its 2011 redistricting plan, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a decision that temporarily freezes this year’s legislative elections until a new plan is drafted. Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn’s 81-page decision orders the county to submit an amended map of its 39 legislative districts within three weeks -— a timetable aimed at minimizing disruption to an election calendar that begins in June. The defeat marks the third straight time the county will be forced to alter its political lines amid a challenge under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act — a landmark piece of legislation aimed at protecting the franchise of minority voters. “With rare exceptions, there is not yet an equal, fair opportunity for minority-preferred candidates to be elected on a county level absent special circumstances,” Kahn wrote, calling the county’s entire redistricting process “questionable.”
Editorials: Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted proposes reasonable strategy to prevent voter fraud | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A recent review by Secretary of State Jon Husted found 145 non-citizens were registered to vote in Ohio, and that 27 may have voted. (Seven were in Cuyahoga County.) A 2013 Husted review found another 291 aliens registered to vote; 17 had voted. That total of 44 voting aliens equals less than 0.0006 percent of Ohio’s 7.7 million voters. Husted is asking non-citizens who are registered to vote, but who’ve not voted, to remove themselves from the rolls. Illegal voting is a crime that can bar someone from naturalization. Husted said asking non-voting aliens to cancel their registrations can protect them from inadvertently disqualifying themselves from future citizenship by voting.
After years of doing just about all it could to restrict voting, the Oklahoma Legislature is now trying to encourage it. Historically low voter turnout last year prompted lawmakers to come forward this session with dozens of election reform proposals. About a half-dozen remain in play. The proposals range from increasing the number of absentee ballots a notary public can notarize to an 80-percent reduction in the number of signatures needed for a political party to gain access to the ballot. Others include consolidating elections, online registration and a permanent absentee ballot list. All are Republican bills, and in most cases survived their first floor votes with little opposition.
Other states allow voters to register online, permit pre-Election Day voting, and provide for no-excuse absentee ballots. Pennsylvania allows none of those but that efforts are afoot that could change that as soon as this summer. Acting Secretary of State Pedro Cortes told the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday the administration will be in a position to roll out some form of online voter registration within four months “if it meets with your approval.” According to Pew Charitable Trust, 20 states have online voter registration systems and four others have passed legislation to authorize it as a more convenient way to get more people on the state voter rolls.
Editorials: In the fight for Puerto Rican statehood, is San Juan the new Selma? | Julio Ricardo Varela/Quartz
Leave it to a British comic to school us all on the least talked-about race problem in America—well, except the millions of Americans living in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. John Oliver’s recent viral video about the Insular Cases, and their role in this country’s ugly racial past entertained and shocked a lot of Americans, just hours after President Obama told a crowd gathered in Selma that “our work is never done.” Oliver’s wit, framed around Obama’s words, created a perfect storm of discovery. Though, you would think, in 2015, this wouldn’t seem so surprising—yes, the American government was blatantly racist toward peoples conquered as spoils of war. But anyone from non-state territories like the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, or Puerto Rico—especially, Puerto Rico—could have told you that. The problem was no one was really listening until Oliver gave the Insular Cases comedic street cred.
The Senate will take up a same day voter registration bill this week. S.29 would allow a town clerk to add a registrant’s name to the voter checklist during regular business hours on Election Day. Under the legislation, eligible voters could fill out a registration form, and the presiding officer at the polls would inform them if they were approved to vote. The Senate Government Operations Committee passed the bill in a 3-2. Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, and Christopher Bray, D-Addison, voted for the bill. Sens. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, opposed it.
Virginia is certainly no stranger to statewide recounts. It’s had two in the last ten years and the nail-biter senatorial race on November 4th almost increased that number to three. For a key swing state with a trend toward close elections, Virginia’s recount laws could become a deciding factor in national politics. The birth of Virginia’s current recount laws come from the 1978 senatorial race between former Virginia Attorney General Andrew P. Miller and former Virginia Senator John Warner. Senator John Warner won the seat by 0.39% of the total vote. Andrew Miller immediately filed a recount petition, but the law on the books required the losing candidate to fund the entire recount. Miller was forced to concede after failing to raise the $80,000 necessary to go forward. If a former state attorney general was unable to raise the money, it was implausible to assume that anyone else could, so the Virginia legislature enacted the current law that requires localities to bear the costs if the margin of loss is less than 0.5%.
Australia: NSW iVote security flaw may have affected thousands of votes: Researchers | Computerworld
Kazakhstan’s decision to hold early presidential elections in April, a year ahead of time, comes at a time of turmoil for the country. Generally considered a success story of the post-Soviet space, Kazakhstan faces a number of simultaneous storms, ranging from the declining oil price and fallout of sanctions on Russia to the general geopolitical instability resulting from the Russian-Ukraine war and uncertainty concerning Afghanistan’s future. Against this background, the decision to hold the election a year ahead of time raises the question whether Kazakhstan’s prized stability is in question. Any decision to hold early elections could seem to provide the incumbent with an added advantage and leave potential challengers scrambling to mobilize for an election they did not expect. Incumbency provides an important advantage in any country, and clearly, an incumbent president is at an advantageous position in planning for an election only two months away. This is no doubt the reason why incumbents in many countries have made the practice commonplace. In Israel, early elections were held in 2012 and another is scheduled for 2015. The United Kingdom, of course, has institutionalized the practice, and there, a Prime Minister is expected to call elections at the time that is most suitable for his party.
The Luxembourg consultative referendum scheduled for June 7 is expected to come with a price tag of around 1.3 million euros, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has confirmed. In answer to a parliamentary question by ADR MP Roy Reding, Bettel said that he could not give an exact figure at this point in time. Especially the costs for the communes, such as letters to residents and staffing voting booths, are only estimated at one million euros.
The Nigerian federal high court in Lagos has barred the military from deploying around polling stations during March 28 national elections, the lawyer for the parliamentarian who brought the case said on Tuesday. Opposition leader Femi Gbajabiamila argued a deployment would violate the constitution, lawyer Ijeoma Njemanze said, amid opposition fears that soldiers may intimidate voters or tamper with ballot boxes. The ruling, made on Monday by Justice Ibrahim Buba, does not affect troops already dispatched to northeast Nigeria, where Islamists have waged a six-year insurgency, she added.
United Kingdom: Security bug in Australia’s online voting system throws doubt on Britain’s digital election goal | Information Age
Britain’s hopes of enabling online voting in general elections by 2020 have faced a dose of reality after a security vulnerability in an Australian system was exposed. The iVote system was introduced for the New South Wales (NSW) State Election in 2011 for voters who are more than 20 kilometres from a polling station, and has also been used in subsequent state by-elections. But its use in NSW’s state election this month has faced intense scrutiny after researchers discovered a major security hole that could allow a hacker to read and manipulate votes. With 66,000 online votes already cast by the time Vanessa Teague and J. Alex Halderman, of the University of Melbourne and University of Michigan respectively, disclosed their revelation, the legitimacy of the entire election has been called into doubt.
The Zambian government plans to introduce electronic voting (e-voting) system in next year’s presidential and general elections. Zambian president Edgar Lungu said, however, that there is need to educate people on the importance of e-voting system to avoid conflict with stakeholders as government considers upgrading its voting method. The Zambian president said they are already in discussion with funding agencies regarding e-voting in the Southern African country, but added that stakeholders had to agree on the system before it is introduced.