Voters in more than half the states will soon be able to register online, rather than filling out a paper form and sending it in. Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, almost all in the past few years. Seven other states and the District of Columbia are now in the process of doing so. That includes Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last Friday requiring the state to allow online voter registration by 2017. Online voter registration has become so popular because election officials say it’s more efficient than a paper-based system, and cheaper. Voters like it because they can register any time of day from home, said David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “What election officials are finding, is they’re saving a ton of money, because they’re having to process a lot fewer pieces of paper by hand, right before an election, and get that into the system,” he said.
As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Hillary Rodham Clinton will benefit from one rapid-response team working out of a war room in her Brooklyn headquarters — and another one working out of a “super PAC” in Washington. Jeb Bush has hired a campaign manager, press aides and fund-raisers — yet insists he is not running for president, just exploring the possibility of maybe running. And Senator Marco Rubio’s chance of winning his party’s nomination may hinge on the support of an “independent” group financed by a billionaire who has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s past campaigns, paid his salary teaching at a university and employed his wife. With striking speed, the 2016 contenders are exploiting loopholes and regulatory gray areas to transform the way presidential campaigns are organized and paid for. Their “campaigns” are in practice intricate constellations of political committees, super PACs and tax-exempt groups, engineered to avoid fund-raising restrictions imposed on candidates and their parties after the Watergate scandal.
With each election come innovations in ways that the very rich donate and the candidates collect and spend increasingly large amounts of money on campaigns. And with each decision on campaign financing the current Supreme Court’s conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts in the lead, removes some restrictions on money in politics. We are now at the point where, practically speaking, there are no limits on how much money an individual, a corporation, or a labor union can give to a candidate for federal office (though the unions can hardly compete). Today a presidential candidate has to have two things and maybe three before making a serious run: at least one billionaire willing to spend limitless amounts on his or her campaign and a “Super PAC”—a supposedly independent political action committee that accepts large donations that have to be disclosed. The third useful asset is an organization that under the tax code is supposedly “operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” The relevant section of the tax code, 501(c)(4), would appear to be intended for the Sierra Club and the like, not political money. But the IRS rules give the political groups the same protection.
California: US Probes Alleged Voting Rights Violations Involving Disabled Californians | International Business Times
U.S. Justice Department agents are looking into allegations that the state of California and its courts are denying voting rights to residents with intellectual disabilities, according to media reports Wednesday. The Justice Department disclosed a letter sent last week to California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, asking for detailed records on how and why certain residents with disabilities were disqualified from voting, according to the Los Angeles Times. The department is now investigating whether the state’s voting practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The probe was opened after a 2014 complaint by the Disability and Abuse Project, an advocacy group, which alleged widespread abuse of California’s limited conservatorship program, wherein developmentally disabled citizens have an appointed caretaker who has special rights over them.
Florida: Hillary Clinton wants to allow felons to vote. That could mean a lot in a state like Florida. | The Washington Post
While in Iowa on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton mentioned a policy reform that could affect the results of presidential races: Allowing ex-felons to vote. Clinton is not the first 2016 candidate to raise this issue, nor is it the first time that she’s done so. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has repeatedly advocated for restoring voting rights for felons convicted of certain crimes. At several points while she was in the Senate, including shortly after she announced her 2008 candidacy, Clinton introduced the Count Every Vote Act, which would have restored those rights to anyone not currently incarcerated or not on parole or probation for a felony. We’re still early in the 2016 campaign, so it’s hard to know if that’s still the boundary that Clinton sets. As it stands, people who are convicted of felonies but are on parole can or cannot vote depending on where they live, since rules on felon voting differ by state. The Sentencing Project has a handy primer on the differences. In 12 states, those convicted of a felony cannot vote even after having repaid their debt to society — sometimes for certain periods of time, sometimes only for certain felonies. (In two states, Maine and Vermont, there are no restrictions on the voting rights of felons, even if incarcerated.) In total, some 5.8 million people are barred from voting in the United States because of their criminal past, according to the Sentencing Project’s data.
Gov. Larry Hogan took out his veto pen Friday, rejecting a bill that would allow felons to vote as soon as they leave prison rather than waiting to finish parole or probation. The veto, one of several announced by the governor’s office, quickly drew a pledge from the legislation’s sponsor to find the votes to override. “I just think Maryland should be more progressive,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat. She said she needs to line up only a handful of additional votes in each chamber to override Hogan’s veto when the General Assembly returns in January. In a letter to legislative leaders, Hogan said current law that makes felons wait to vote until completing all aspects of their sentence “achieves the proper balance between repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights.” The Republican governor was not available for interviews Friday, aides said.
National: US Justice Department eyes voting rights changes for American Indians, Alaska Natives | Associated Press
The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking legislation that would require state and local election officials to work with American Indian tribes to locate at least one polling place on or near each tribe’s land. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the changes are needed because “significant and unnecessary barriers” exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives who want to cast ballots. American Indians sometimes have to travel great distances to vote, face language barriers and, in places like Alaska, do not have the same amount of time to vote as others. The Justice Department outlined its proposal in letters Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, after a year of consultation with tribes on voting access.
Political tensions intensified on Thursday at the Federal Election Commission, as a Republican commissioner charged that conservative groups were the focus of agency reviews into possible impropriety far more than liberal ones. On a commission deeply divided already along party lines, Democrats quickly dismissed the charge as baseless. Lee E. Goodman, one of three Republican commissioners, said at a public meeting that he tallied up the political leanings of groups investigated by the agency for possible campaign violations and found what he said was a system tilted to inquiries of conservative groups.
In November 1963, Evelyn Butts, a seamstress and mother of three from Norfolk, Virginia,filed the first lawsuit in federal court challenging her state’s $1.50 poll tax. Annie Harper, a retired domestic worker from Fairfax County, filed a companion suit five months later. In March 1966, the Supreme Court overruled two previous decisions and overturned Virginia’s poll tax, stating that economic status could not be an obstacle to casting a ballot. “Fee payments or wealth, like race, creed, or color, are unrelated to the citizen’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process,” wrote Justice William Douglas in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections. “We conclude that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.”
Voting Blogs: The FEC, the Big Issues, and Getting Right a Few Basics-Like Disclosure | More Soft Money Hard Law
Public Citizen has concluded that the Federal Election Commission is failing. Its shortcomings are “dramatic and uncharacteristic”, because they range across the entire field of their responsibilities in conducting audits; enforcing the law through investigations, settlements and lawsuits; and issuing regulations and advisory opinions. The Public Citizen analysis is statistical and focuses on vote deadlocks. The FEC is indeed disagreeing a great deal—about that, there is no doubt. But is the agency failing or is the old regulatory model collapsing under the pressure of changing law and political practice? Public Citizen cannot answer this question because it is looking at agency performance in the aggregate. It is unable, for example, to explain what might be happening in particular cases, or why deadlocks are occurring across various agency functions. There are certainly instances where the vote for enforcement is as suspect as a vote against it. The result is still deadlock but the reasons for it are not quite what Public Citizen implies. Nonetheless, it being assumed that matters could not have gotten this bad without dereliction of duty somewhere, the FEC takes the blame. It is expected to take up the big issues, such as those involving “coordination” or “dark money”, which are precisely the issues over which disagreement is certain to arise. And so around and around it goes.
Phillips County election commissioners Tuesday came up with a “realistic” solution regarding holding a countywide and a Marvell special election on the same day. According to an e-mail exchange between Election Commission Chairman Allen Martin and Election Coordinator Johnny Broome, the company from which the county obtains its election day, ES&S, believes the early voting and Marvell media can be “re-burned” allowing the county special election and Marvell special election to be held the same day, July 14.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether California illegally denied voting rights to people with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and other intellectual or developmental disabilities, officials said Wednesday. The agency disclosed the probe in a May 15 letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the California Supreme Court, in which investigators sought detailed records on how certain voters with disabilities are disqualified, an explanation of the rationale behind it and an account of how frequently it is happening.
Kansas: Bill to give Kobach prosecutorial power receives early House approval in close vote | Topeka Capital-Journal
Secretary of State Kris Kobach would have new powers to prosecute election crimes under legislation given initial approval Wednesday in a razor-thin House vote. The House gave an early OK to Senate Bill 34 in a 63-57 vote. If the House now approves the bill in a final vote it will go to Gov. Sam Brownback. But the outcome of the final vote — which requires 63 votes — seems far from certain. Multiple Democrats voted in favor of the bill in a failed effort to use a procedural maneuver to later kill the bill. At least two Republicans who would likely vote in favor of the bill were absent. Kobach has sought the power to prosecute for some time. He fought his re-election campaign against Democrat Jean Schodorf portraying himself as tough on voter fraud. The bill also would upgrade penalties for several voting offenses to felonies from misdemeanors.
A Republican candidate for Missouri secretary of state on Thursday filed an initiative petition that would allow the Legislature to require voters to present photo identification at the polls. St. Louis attorney Jay Ashcroft filed the proposed constitutional amendment with the secretary of state’s office to permit a photo ID requirement. Republican supporters, including Ashcroft’s opponent in the GOP primary Sen. Will Kraus, have pushed to amend the state’s constitution since the Missouri Supreme Court declared photo ID requirements unconstitutional in 2006. Supporters of requiring photo ID at the polls say it would prevent in-person voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections. But Democratic opponents say the measure would make it harder for minorities, women and the poor to vote.
The state’s Elections Commission dismissed a complaint May 21 alleging that Republican Gov. John Kasich’s re-election campaign played a role in getting a Libertarian candidate bumped from last year’s gubernatorial ballot. Attorneys for Libertarian Charlie Earl argued that Kasich’s campaign and GOP consultant Terry Casey conspired in a successful protest that disqualified Earl from the 2014 governor’s race and that Casey’s resulting legal bills constitute an unreported in-kind contribution to the campaign. They sought a $720,000 fine against Kasich’s team. The elections panel ruled otherwise. Members voted 5-2 to dismiss the complaint, finding that Earl lacked the evidence to show a coordinated effort.
Some revolutions start with a shot and others take time to build. In Texas, a slow-building revolution is moving one county at a time to switch the largest state in the lower 48 to a vote center system instead of the traditional precinct-based polling places. Since beginning a pilot program of vote centers nearly a decade ago just over 10 percent of the state’s 200+ counties used vote centers in the most recent statewide election and more are petitioning to make the move. While not willing to call the pilot an outright success because of the still small sample of counties using the system, the secretary of state’s report to the 84th Legislature on the program said anecdotally, vote centers do make easier for voters and elections officials alike.
Two protesters in Burundi were shot dead Thursday, said the Red Cross, as pitched battles in the capital escalated between police and demonstrators opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Meanwhile, the United Nations said dialogue among the government, opposition parties and religious organizations resumed Thursday, facilitated by the U.N. envoy to Burundi, Said Djinnit. A protester from the capital’s Ngagara neighborhood was shot dead and another was killed in the Musaga district, Red Cross spokesman Alexis Manirakiza said. Thirteen people were wounded in clashes, he said. Protesters have disregarded several orders by Nkurunziza banning the demonstrations.
Irish voters are set make history as the republic becomes the first nation to ask its electorate to legalise gay marriage after a hard-fought and occasionally rancorous battle between conservative and liberal Ireland. More than 3m voters are invited to cast ballots over 15 hours in Ireland’s 43 constituencies, with the historic result to follow on Saturday. Though some 20 other countries worldwide have already legalised gay marriage, Ireland would be the first to do so through a referendum. The move would mark the culmination of an improbable journey in a country in which homosexual acts were still illegal as recently as 1993.
Pakistan: ECP backtracking from Electronic Voting Machines, voting rights for overseas Pakistanis | The Express Tribune
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems to be backtracking on its plans to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), at least for the next general elections scheduled in 2018. Having proposed the adoption of electronic voting machines in its second-five year reforms program for transparency in voting, officials of the poll body on Wednesday told a parliamentary committee that there were various “technical issues” that would bar the electoral body from introducing EVMs in next general elections. Many countries, including neighbouring India have been successfully using EVMs for decades. Earlier the officials of the ECP had blamed lack of legislation as impediment in implementing the proposal as it would require the law to be amended to make the voting process constitutional. The ECP had announced that it would go for voting through electronic machines in next general elections due in 2018. However, at a time when the proposal was about to be realised, it was the ECP who backed out.
Senior ruling-party politicians are throwing their weight behind a proposal to move Russia’s next parliamentary elections up three months to September 2016, a shift that could put opposition candidates at a further disadvantage by relegating the campaign to vacation season. Sergei Naryshkin, leader of parliament’s lower chamber and a member of President Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, on Thursday called the rescheduling proposal “possible and even wise,” according to the Interfax news agency. The reason he gave was that budgets are passed in the fall and it would make more sense to elect new lawmakers beforehand.
The legislature’s Constitutional Amendment Committee yesterday reviewed draft proposals calling for a voting age of 18. Outside the Legislative Yuan complex in Taipei, social groups accused the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) of hijacking the voting age amendment draft by tying it to such draft proposals as absentee voting and the legislature’s power to approve the premiership. The committee’s second review yesterday fiercely debated proposals to lower the voting age. Whether the voting age should be lowered to 18 was not the stumbling block, but the procedure for reviewing amendment proposals and whether the committee should first achieve resolutions over the issue blocked progress.
Ireland has voted by a huge majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world. Some 62% of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society. Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre.
Editorials: Why Poland’s presidential election may shake up the European Union | Ola Cichowlas/Reuters
On Sunday, Poland votes on a president. Warsaw has long been as island of stability in an increasingly volatile Central and Eastern Europe. But this presidential race is exposing the cracks in the country’s ruling elite and paving the way for what could likely be more unexpected results in the autumn parliamentary elections. The results of the first round of the presidential election came as a shock for the country’s ruling elite — and for all Europe. President Bronislaw Komorowski had been expected to win going away but he was suddenly confronting a tougher-than expected runoff. He had a week to persuade Poles to re-elect him as his party — and the European Union — begin to worry. The results suggested growing fatigue with Civic Platform, the party that has ruled Poland for almost a decade. The problem, however, is that there is no sensible alternative to it.