What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.Below are nine more takeaways we’ve learned recently and that legislators might like to know too.
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.”
Editorials: Only Voters Count? Conservatives ask the Supreme Court to restrict states’ rights and overturn precedent. | Richard Hasen/Slate
For the second time in a year, the Supreme Court has agreed to wade into an election case at the urging of conservatives. In both cases it has done so despite the issue appearing to be settled by long-standing precedent. In a case expected to be decided next month, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, conservatives asked the court to bar states from using independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional lines. In a case the court agreed to hear Tuesday, Evenwel v. Abbott, conservatives asked the court to require states to draw their legislative district lines in a particular way: Rather than considering the total population in each district, conservatives argue, the lines should instead divide districts according to the number of people registered or eligible to vote. Most states use total population for drawing districts, which includes noncitizens, children, felons, and others ineligible to vote. In both Supreme Court cases, there is great irony in the fact that they are being brought by conservatives, who usually claim to respect precedents and states’ rights. The challengers are not only asking the court to revisit issues that seemed to be settled by decades-old precedent. If successful, these cases will undermine federalism by limiting states’ rights to design their own political systems.
“One person, one vote” is a deceptively simple promise, but a Texas woman wants to clarify which persons count. On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, a suit that challenges exactly who should be counted as a person when states draw their district boundaries in pursuit of proportional representation.The plaintiffs are challenging the usual method (counting total number of people living in a district) and are asking that states use the total number of eligible voters instead. The trouble is, we don’t have robust statistics on the number of eligible voters. If the Supreme Court were to set new standards for districting, we would need to overhaul the nation’s statistics and surveys.
Editorials: What if congressional districts were drawn based on voters, not total population? | Philip Bump/The Washington Post
A case before the Supreme Court raises an esoteric but important question: Who do politicians represent? Our Amber Phillips has a thorough explanation of the ins-and-outs of the case. But the essential question is whether political districts should be drawn based on the number of people that live in the district, or based on the number of people in that district that can vote. The idea is that in districts where there are a lot of people but not a lot of eligible voters, those voters are more powerful given that they can have a larger effect on the outcome of any given election. It doesn’t take long to see all sorts of questions that the distinction draws. Should we count people who can vote or people who do vote? How does that shift the priorities of the official who wins the right to represent the district?
A joint committee of the legislature reviewed election reforms in Colorado to try to reverse the state’s trend of declining voter participation. A key strategy used in Colorado was to mail ballots to every registered voter whether or not they request it. “You put a ballot in the mailbox of every registered voter and surprise, surprise most of them mail it back,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Blind voters in Alameda County may soon have an easier time voting in privacy after settling a lawsuit requiring better testing and upkeep of audio equipment that allows them to cast push-button secret ballots. The settlement follows a 2013 federal court ruling that applies disability law to the ballot box. The legal advocacy group Disability Rights Advocates announced the three-year settlement Wednesday after approval by county supervisors earlier this month. Prompted by blind voters’ complaints about equipment breakdowns in the 2012 elections, the agreement includes requirements for pre-election testing of each machine, hands-on training of poll workers, and an election day hotline to quickly repair or replace nonfunctioning equipment.
Hawaii may figure prominently when the Supreme Court this fall considers a case where plaintiffs are seeking to have legislative districts drawn based on a count of eligible voters rather than the total number of residents. That’s because for nearly half a century, the Aloha State has had the high court’s permission to ignore transients when drawing its political maps. While the Constitution requires equal population among legislative districts, a principle known as one-person, one-vote, a 1966 opinion said that Hawaii’s “special population problems” justified using registered voters as the baseline. The problem, as Hawaii saw it, was the large concentration of military facilities on Oahu. Counting tens of thousands of service members would distort the electoral maps by awarding legislative seats to military bases.
Clerk Inez Brown could be required to attend training school and have her office’s election work approved by the Genesee County Clerk John Gleason under the provisions of a bill approved today, May 27, by the state House Elections Committee. The substitute bill would allow Flint to have a standard primary election in August despite no mayoral candidates having turned in nominating petitions on time after Brown’s office gave them the wrong filing deadline.
A bill that would allow major political parties to hold a presidential-preference primary election on the last Tuesday of February died in the Nevada Legislature Thursday when it did not receive enough vote to pass the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. The committee voted 6-4 to kill the bill after an amendment was attached that would allow a political party to hold a presidential primary in February – paid for by the state – and leave the rest of the state and local primary election in June.
North Carolina: Voters file lawsuit challenging state’s latest redistricting | Greensboro News & Record
A group of voters from throughout North Carolina have filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the state’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered in violation of the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit is only the latest legal action challenging a 2011 redistricting. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the N.C. Supreme Court to take another look at how the legislative districts were drawn. The state Supreme Court in December had ruled in favor of the current legislative districts in a lawsuit that was originally filed in Wake County Superior Court.
The right for Virgin Islanders to vote for president of the United States is gaining advocates through a new project. “We the People Project” is a nonprofit organization that fights to achieve equal rights and representation for residents of U.S. territories. Around 50 locals interested in equal voting rights for U.S. citizens living in the Virgin Islands attended an informational meeting Wednesday. Neil Weare, president and founder of “We the People Project,” said people in the territories want full rights. “They should not be treated like second-class citizens. It’s time to move beyond a 115-year-old doctrine. Together we can make the argument that where you live shouldn’t make a difference in your voting rights.”
Utah: Mailing It In: Salt Lake City is switching to a vote-by-mail system for this year’s municipal race |Salt Lake City Weekly
Stay home on Election Day, if you prefer. This year, Salt Lake City is using a hybrid system of voting for the mayoral and district primaries, as well as general elections. The new structure combines a pure vote-by-mail system that mails ballots to all registered voters while operating at fewer physical polling locations than a traditional election. Following a trend set by other municipalities in Utah—and throughout the country—emphasizing vote-by-mail, Salt Lake City will operate only four polling locations for those who still choose to vote in person. Salt Lake County is conducting the election for the city and opted not to operate traditional polls in Salt Lake City a traditional system anyway, because of the decrepit state of the county’s voting machines. The Salt Lake County Clerk’s office will also oversee the elections for all other cities in the county, with the exception of Taylorsville and West Valley City (which declined vote-by-mail and will instead use a consolidated system, with fewer polling locations).
States may cap political donors’ campaign contributions only if they can show that those limits are preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. The ruling by a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a Montana case could make it more difficult for states to defend their restrictions on the amount of money that individual donors give candidates in state elections. States can limit contributions if they have a legitimate interest in doing so. But proving that state interest has changed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case that said corporations can spend unlimited amounts in elections, a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
The Republican challenger to Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell on Wednesday sued the state over what she says is a change in absentee-ballot rules that gives the speaker an unfair advantage ahead of next month’s primary. Susan Stimpson, a former Stafford County supervisor and onetime Howell protege, filed suit in Stafford County Circuit Court against the state Board of Elections. The lawsuit is part of a bitter Republican primary contest between Howell, a 28-year incumbent, and Stimpson in the Fredericksburg-area district. She has accused Howell of favoring tax-and-spend policies out of line with conservative principles, while he has trumpeted his connection to the district and leadership of the Republican House supermajority.
Yakima will file a legal brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a case that could upend the city’s new elections system, but it narrowly voted against asking for a partial stay in the upcoming elections. The City Council on Wednesday unanimously asked its attorneys to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in Evenwel v. Abbott, a Texas case that seeks to define the “one person, one vote” principle. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case sometime in the next year.
The Catholic Church in Burundi has criticized upcoming elections, while the European Union’s election observers are downing tools until the situation improves. Fair elections are “impossible,” the opposition claims. The European Union suspended its observer mission in Burundi on Thursday because of the crackdown on the opposition and the media, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Thursday. The team, which the EU sent to Burundi over a month ago, can no longer fulfill its role of helping with “peaceful, credible and fair” elections, according to the EU’s top diplomat. “The election process continues to be seriously marred by restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators, a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society and lack of confidence in the election authorities,” Mogherini said in a statement.
Denmark: Prime Minister calls general election, saying voters must have say on spending | The Guardian
Denmark’s Social Democratic prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has announced that parliamentary elections will be held on 18 June. She said the minority government, whose term ends in September, would not resign before the election, but that it was time for voters to have their say on its policies. “It’s the right time to ask Danes whether we should keep the course or if we want experiments by [the opposition],” Thorning-Schmidt told a news conference on Wednesday. The opposition centre-right bloc, led by former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has a four-percentage-point lead in recent opinion polls. However, Thorning-Schmidt is ahead of Rasmussen in other polls when it comes to credibility.
Independents are eligible to run in all states for the first time in June 7 elections. In the border state of Nuevo León, a candidate known as ‘El Bronco’ is energizing voters fed up with scandal-ridden parties. Standing next to a sign that counts down to June 7, Mexico’s election day, campaign worker Pablo Livas says he has been “wishing for another option” in politics for more than a decade. “We haven’t had the government we deserve,” he says. But today, a quick glance at Mr. Livas’s baseball cap reveals his new sense of hope. It reads simply: “I am El Bronco.” Mr. Livas is one of dozens of volunteers bustling around a former car dealership off a tree-lined square in Monterrey this week, intent on hawking Mexico’s newest model in political candidates: the independent.
In some of the most socially conservative regions of Pakistan this weekend’s local government elections will be men-only affairs. Local politicians and elders say parties contesting elections for district and village council seats in Hangu and parts of Malakand, districts of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have struck deals barring women from voting. There are fears of similar arrangements across KP, a province bordering Afghanistan where many Pashtun communities observe purdah traditions so strict that many female candidates do not publish photographs on election posters.
Trinidad and Tobago: Independent Liberal Party chairman: Warner can run in the election | Trinidad Express
Chairman of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) Rekha Ramjit yesterday said the party’s political leader, Jack Warner, is eligible to run in the upcoming general election as a candidate. Ramjit said based on the criteria as laid out by the Constitution, Warner is “of good character, and has not been convicted of a criminal offence”. Ramjit told the Express in a telephone interview: “He is certainly eligible to run as a candidate. The constitution of Trinidad and Tobago which deals with the criteria for representatives is very, very clear.
As Turkey prepares for June elections, the government’s 13-year hold on power is facing a new threat: diminishing faith in its long-trusted economic management. Since coming to power on the heels of a financial crisis, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has dominated Turkey’s political landscape, winning six consecutive elections. Even after a spate of protests and corruption scandals, it scored a convincing victory in local ballots last year. But hit by a combination of stagnating economic growth, weakening investor confidence and concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, the AKP is entering an election with a majority of voters saying the economy is poorly run. That is emerging as a real risk to Mr. Erdogan’s continued political ambitions.
A bill that would allow major political parties to hold a presidential-preference primary election on the last Tuesday of February passed the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on Thursday — a day after the same committee voted against the measure. The committee voted in favor of the SB421 by a 6-4 margin Thursday on its second and final try. The bill now probably goes to the Assembly floor, although an undetermined fiscal note is now attached to the bill. The bill was amended by the Assembly committee so that only the presidential-preference primary would be held in February. The bill that was approved by the state Senate would have moved all state and local primaries to February to be held in conjunction with the presidential primary. Under the Senate version, the state and local primary elections would have also moved to February so the presidential-preference primary would not cost taxpayers extra money.
Facing a new state mandate, Appomattox County is preparing to replace its voting machines, but hopes to spread out the cost and minimize the unexpected hit to its budget. Appomattox and 29 other localities — including Lynchburg and Nelson County — have to replace their touchscreen voting machines this year after the model was decertified by the State Board of Elections. The decertification decision, made last month amid growing concerns about security flaws in the wireless machines, caught local election officials by surprise. But after meeting with state officials for more detailed briefings on the concerns, local officials said they understand and support the decision. “I feel like the State Board of Elections answered the questions we had, and they chose the right path,” said Mary Turner, secretary of the Appomattox County Electoral Board.
Burundi: New blow to Nkurunziza as top Burundi election official flees; may be a ‘catastrophe’ | AFP
Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid to stand for a third term in office suffered a new blow on Saturday after it emerged a top a election official had fled the country. Sources said the election commission’s vice president, Spes Caritas Ndironkeye, jetted out of the crisis-hit central African nation late Friday, leaving behind a resignation letter and preparations for next week’s parliamentary elections in disarray. A second election board member is also thought to have fled, reflecting mounting unease with the country’s power structure over Nkurunziza’s attempt to stay put despite worsening civil unrest. Human Rights Watch said Burundi has been gripped by “pervasive fear”, while the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention think tank, said Burundi was headed back into conflict unless the president backed down.
United Kingdom: EU referendum voting rights will not be extended to all UK citizens living abroad | The Guardian
The government has ruled out extending the right to vote in the upcoming EU referendum to all British citizens living abroad, despite a promise made by the Conservative party chairman that it would. The EU referendum bill, which will be announced after the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, will make clear that the franchise – the people eligible to vote – will be the same as in general elections, which is adults from the age of 18, Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, and British citizens who have lived abroad for less than 15 years.
The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear a case that will answer a long-contested question about a bedrock principle of the American political system: the meaning of “one person one vote.” The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans. The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.