National: Supreme Court upholds ban on judicial candidates soliciting campaign contributions — even via mass mailings – The Washington Post

In 39 states, judges are popularly elected (or at least voters must decide whether to retain them). This means that judicial candidates — especially ones who aren’t incumbents — have to campaign for office, and those campaigns cost money. Campaigns thus have to raise that money, in contributions from the public. This raises an obvious danger: Judges may well be influenced to rule in favor of those lawyers or litigants who contributed to their campaigns. Even if the judges are trying hard to be honest, and to ignore who helped them and who didn’t, thinking better of your political friends is human nature, and hard to avoid. Such favoritism is even more harmful for judges, who are supposed to be impartial, than for elected officials. And the possibility of such favoritism undermines “public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the nation’s elected judges” (to quote today’s Court decision). Nor does capping the size of contributions (as states may do for all candidates, legislative, executive, or judicial) solve the problem.

Editorials: How Super PACs Can Run Campaigns | New York Times

The 2016 presidential campaign has barely begun, but it is already clear this will be the super contest of the “super PACs” — the fast evolving political money machines that are irresistible to candidates because they can legally raise unlimited money from donors seeking favor and influence. The idea of a super PAC created to support an individual candidate was little more than an experiment four years ago when strategists for Mitt Romney tested its potential after misguided court decisions shattered federal limits on spending on elections. President Obama, after initially denouncing unlimited contributions, used a super PAC in his re-election.

California: Automatic voter registration bill advances | Los Angeles Times

A proposal to automatically register Californians to vote when they get a driver’s license was approved Monday by a state Assembly panel after Secretary of State Alex Padilla noted there are about 6.7 million state residents who are eligible but not registered. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) modeled her bill on a new law in Oregon and said it is needed after the 42% record-low turnout in the November statewide election.

Florida: House approves online voter registration — with a twist | Tampa Bay Times

The Florida House on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a new system of online voter registration, but added a new wrinkle. Over the opposition of county election supervisors, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, added a provision that bounced the bill back to the Senate for another floor vote. Although the House abruptly ended its regular session Tuesday, the Senate will still be considering measures Wednesday. The House vote of 109-9 came a day after the Senate had passed the bill on a 34-3 vote. Grant’s amendment seeks to ensure “data integrity” and requires the state to make a “comprehensive risk assessment” of the online registration system every two years.

National: Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering | USAToday

A group of Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to overhaul and streamline the way the nation’s 435 U.S. House districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts determined by the U.S. Census. “What we see now is too often a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a lead sponsor of legislation she says would create “a more transparent electoral process.”

Editorials: Big Dangers for the Next Election | Elizabeth Drew/The New York Review of Books

While people are wasting their time speculating about who will win the presidency more than a year from now—Can Hillary beat Jeb? Can anybody beat Hillary? Is the GOP nominee going to be Jeb or Walker?—growing dangers to a democratic election, ones that could decide the outcome, are being essentially overlooked. The three dangers are voting restrictions, redistricting, and loose rules on large amounts of money being spent to influence voters. In recent years, we’ve been moving further and further away from a truly democratic election system. The considerable outrage in 2012 over the systematic effort in Republican-dominated states to prevent blacks, Hispanics, students, and the elderly from being able to vote—mainly aimed at limiting the votes of blacks and Hispanics—might have been expected to lead to a serious effort to fix the voting system. But quite the reverse occurred. In fact, in some of the major races in 2014, according to the highly respected Brennan Center for Justice, the difference in the number of votes between the victor and the loser closely mirrored the estimated number of people who had been deprived of the right to vote. And in the North Carolina Senate race, the number of people prevented from voting exceeded the margin between the loser and the winner.

Editorials: From Supreme Court, a mixed blessing on campaign finance limits | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court offered a pleasant surprise this week to those of us worried about the role of money in elections. In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court on Wednesday upheld a rule limiting certain fundraising activities for judicial candidates. But don’t expect Williams-Yulee vs. State Bar to lead to a more widespread return to campaign-finance sanity; the ruling applies only to judicial elections and Roberts isn’t about to concede that free-flowing donations are tainting the political system. First, the good news: Roberts finally found a campaign finance limitation, aside from disclosure, that he was willing to uphold — a true rarity. At issue was a Florida State Bar rule that prevents judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. Lanell Williams-Yulee, who broke the rule by sending out a mailing asking for money, argued that it violated her 1st Amendment right to speak.

Arkansas: Voting equipment OK’d for state bid | Arkansas Online

The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday approved three pieces of voting equipment apiece for Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software and California-based Unisyn Voting Solutions to make them eligible to be purchased by Secretary of State Mark Martin for the state’s 75 counties. With Board Chairman A.J. Kelly abstaining, the seven-member board decided that the voting equipment meets the requirements of state law. The equipment consists of two ballot scanners and an electronic marking device used in combination with the scanners “as a combo voting machine,” for each company, according to board records. These pieces of equipment would allow voters to cast paper ballots or mark their votes on electronic screens.

California: State’s independent redistricting panel is at risk | The Orange County Register

Last November, California elected many new legislators due in large part to California’s independent redistricting commission and its creation of competitive districts, resulting in legislators who will be more accountable to their constituents. As a result of Proposition 11 in 2008 and Prop. 20 in 2010, California politicians can no longer draw their own legislative or congressional districts, which in the past has virtually guaranteed re-election. This new accountability has created a powerful incentive for legislators to work together to deliver for their district and not just for themselves. But the tremendous success of California’s independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is under threat. Like California, Arizona voters used their initiative process to authorize state and congressional redistricting by an independent commission. And now, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a lawsuit that contends the Constitution permits only legislative bodies, not independent commissions, to draw congressional districts.

Colorado: To Primary or to Caucus? | Pacific Standard

Colorado legislators are considering holding a presidential primary in 2016, even though the state has been holding caucuses for the past few presidential cycles. This is actually a pretty big deal—very different people show up for these different events, and very different candidates tend to win them. Primaries are how most state parties seek to nominate presidents, and indeed it’s how party nominations for most offices are made in this country. That’s how most Americans think of the presidential party nomination process: The candidates campaign, and party voters all show up on one day to cast a secret ballot, just as they would in a general election.

Editorials: A welcome move toward presidential primaries in Colorado | The Denver Post

As most Colorado voters know, their state has become one of the most highly sought prizes in presidential politics, attracting far more attention (and spending) than its population would seem to warrant. And what was true in the last few election cycles isn’t about to change in 2016. So long as Colorado remains decidedly purple in its outlook, it will stay a key swing state. Unfortunately, the attention occurs only after the parties’ respective candidates are selected. In the run-up to the nominations, Colorado is almost an afterthought both in terms of campaign and national media attention, thanks in large part to this state’s antiquated caucus system.

Minnesota: How a bill does not become law: behind the mysterious death of a bipartisan measure to restore felon voting rights | MinnPost

If political insiders ever want to know why so much of the public cares so little for the machinations of our current system, you could do worse than point to the tortured path of the “restore the vote” bill currently before the Minnesota Legislature. On one side of the issue, you have Rep. Tony Cornish, a lawman and gun rights advocate who represents Vernon Center in the Minnesota House and co-author of the bill, which would restore voting rights to felons who have completed their time behind bars but are still on probationary status. On the other side of the issue? Also Rep. Tony Cornish — the one who’s the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee and who refuses to let his committee hear the bill he helped write. Ah, politics.

New Hampshire: Potential roadblock for Bernie Sanders rises in New Hampshire | CNN

Sen. Bernie Sanders is a political independent, who proudly calls himself a socialist. As he declared his presidential candidacy Thursday, he pledged to run on the Democratic ticket. He could hit an early roadblock in New Hampshire — not with Hillary Clinton, but William Gardner, who has guarded the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary for four decades as Secretary of State. He said he isn’t sure whether Sanders meets the state’s requirement to be on the presidential ballot. “If they’re going to run in the primary, they have to be a registered member of the party,” Gardner told CNN. “Our declaration of candidacy form that they have to fill out says ‘I am a registered member of the party.'”

North Carolina: Lawmakers tell state Supreme Court no need to hurry in redistricting case | NC Policy Watch

In papers filed with the state Supreme Court yesterday, lawmakers told the justices there was no reason to expedite proceedings in the North Carolina redistricting case, Dickson v. Rucho, sent back here last week by the U.S. Supreme Court — at least not within the time frame that challengers to the state’s redistricting plan want. That order by the nation’s highest court came on the heels of its earlier decision in a similar case out of Alabama, in which the justices held that the Voting Rights Act required lawmakers to assess whether minorities had the ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice and to draw voting lines in order to facilitate that goal — not, as Alabama had done, to achieve specific numerical minority percentages. North Carolina lawmakers operated under the same mistaken premise when designing the state’s 2011 plan, according to challengers.

Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico seizes on 2016 election to push its case with candidates | The Guardian

For a small Caribbean island barely half the size of Connecticut, Puerto Rico seems to be assuming outsized importance in the race for the White House. A flying visit this week from the former Florida governor Jeb Bush – who appears ever closer to announcing his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination – placed the US territory and its electorate of 2.4 million at the heart of his push to win back Hispanic voters. Bush, who speaks Spanish fluently and who has a Mexican wife, told supporters at public appearances in San Juan and Bayamón about the party’s need to reconnect with the Latino vote.

Virginia: Evidence fight points to secret redistricting talks in Virginia | Daily Press

Virginia House Republicans are fighting to keep hundreds of pages of documents secret as attorneys for Democratic groups push for full access, hoping to find something useful in an ongoing lawsuit over state election maps. The lawsuit targets 12 districts in the House of Delegates, and it follows the same argument that invalidated Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District earlier this year: That the General Assembly’s Republican majority focused on race as it drew maps, packing minority voters into a handful of districts and diluting their voting power in neighboring ones.

Bangladesh: Australia, Canada want quick probe into poll irregularities | Financial Express

Australia and Canada called on Thursday on the Election Commission and all responsible authorities to swiftly and impartially investigate the reports of irregularities and violence, and ensure that individuals found to have broken the law are held to account, reports UNB. In a joint statement, Australian High Commissioner Greg Wilcock and Canadian High Commissioner Benoît-Pierre Laramée expressed their concern about the many reports of ‘electoral irregularities’ and ‘violence’ during the City Corporation elections in Dhaka and Chittagong on April 28.

Togo: Opposition rejects Gnassingbe’s election victory | Reuters

Togo’s main opposition challenger on Wednesday rejected the results of the country’s presidential election after incumbent Faure Gnassingbe was declared the winner, reviving fears of a post-election violence. Jean-Pierre Fabre said results announced by the election commission late on Tuesday were fraudulent and did not match those from polling stations compiled by his party. “The results from local electoral commissions where there were no major issues showed that we won by a large margin,” Fabre told journalists.

United Kingdom: British expats feel neglected, but will it show at the ballot box? | The Conversation

In elections that are too close to call, every vote counts. With a likely low margin between the two main parties in the UK election, the vote of British expats may suddenly become more important than before. Indeed, David Cameron declared at the end of 2014 that the expat vote “could hold the key to the election”. And yet, you’d have to be listening very hard to spot a single reference to expat voters in this election campaign. It’s not hard to figure out why. Historically, British citizens living abroad have always had very low rates of registration and participation, and they still do; Sam Gyimah, minister for the constitution, has claimed in parliament that overseas electors are some of the least represented on the electoral register. As a result, politicians have generally been able to comfortably ignore expats altogether. Only recently have they starting to pay more attention – and it’s still not much.

United Kingdom: The North Koreans voting in their first democratic election – in Britain | The Guardian

Millions of people will be voting for the first time when Britain goes to the polls next week, but none of them have quite the same story to tell as 72-year-old Park Seong-cheo. Park is a North Korean defector living in London who received his British citizenship two months ago in time for the election. He says that because of the language barrier he is relying on South Korean television for most of his news about the campaigns. “The concept of voting is unfamiliar to me,” says Park, who has lived in the UK for eight years. Another first-time democratic voter Jihyun Park says she has been taken back by the variety of policies in the campaign manifestos. She has been following the TV debates and says her personal priorities are refugees and tuition fees. Her eldest son is set to go to university next year.

Ohio: Photo voter ID bill again pushed by Ohio lawmakers | Cleveland Plain Dealer

A group of conservative Ohio House members said Wednesday they will again try to pass a bill to require voters to present photo identification at the polls. The proposed legislation would require Ohio residents to present a driver’s license, state ID card, passport, or military ID to vote, whether the address on the card is current or not. Currently, state voters can use a number of other forms of ID without a photo, including a utility bill or a bank statement. Ohioans who claim a religious exemption, such as the Amish, would be allowed to vote provisionally under the bill, said Rep. Andrew Brenner, a Delaware County Republican who says he’ll introduce the measure in the next few days.

Texas: Racial discrimination claims land Texas voter ID law in federal court | Associated Press

Supporters and opponents of a Texas law requiring specific forms of photo identification for voters faced close questioning in a federal appeals court on Tuesday on whether the law was meant to discriminate against minorities and whether there are ways to remedy it. The US Justice Department and others oppose the law as an unconstitutional burden on minority voters. The state of Texas says the law was aimed at preventing fraud and is appealing a federal district judge’s ruling last October that struck down the law. Judge Catharina Haynes, one of three judges hearing the Texas case at the fifth US circuit court of appeals, suggested in questioning that the matter should perhaps be sent back to the district court for further consideration. She noted that the Texas legislature currently has several bills that that could broaden the number and types of ID voters could use to cast ballots.

Togo: Early election results give president lead; rival cries foul | Reuters

Togo’s main opposition candidate complained on Monday of widespread irregularities in Saturday’s presidential election and called for the announcement of results to be halted. Results issued earlier on Monday from six of 42 voting districts put President Faure Gnassingbe ahead with 64 percent of the vote and his nearest rival, Jean-Pierre Fabre, on 33 percent. The remaining votes were shared between the three other candidates. Gnassingbe is widely favoured to win a third term, extending his family’s long hold on leadership. He has held power Togo since 2005, when his father died after 38 years in charge. No more results had been issued by early evening.

United Kingdom: Security concerns prevent UK adopting electronic voting for the General Election | Mirror

As the country readies itself to trek down to the polling stations on May 7, some voters are questioning why they can’t simply cast their vote online. After all, many of us handle our banking, tax returns and bill paying online, so why shouldn’t we be able to cast a vote over the internet as well? Parts of the process have already made the transition to a digital environment. In preparation for next month’s election, the Electoral Commission launched an online registration scheme allowing all of us to quickly and efficiently register to vote. And putting the service online meant that many more people used it. According to the Electoral Commission’s statistics, over one million applications were made on the site over the first three-and-a-half weeks. But registering to vote and actually putting the mark next to your party of choice are two different things.