White House hopefuls raking in record amounts of money in the 2016 U.S. presidential race are already being accused by watchdog groups of breaking campaign fundraising laws. But the U.S. Department of Justice is unlikely to prosecute possible violations and halt the funding free-for-all, say current and former department officials. With deadlock in the campaign finance regulator, the Federal Election Commission, watchdog groups are calling on the Justice Department to investigate contenders such as Republican Jeb Bush, who they say has conducted a charade of “non candidacy” to skirt federal election fundraising laws. Bush’s campaign said on Thursday he would announce his White House bid on June 15. Interviews with 11 current and former Justice Department officials indicate the department is unlikely to enforce rules before the November 2016 election, or even after. That means the election could unfold with record money – predictions are for overall campaign chests of more than $5 billion, double the cost of the 2012 election – but little regulation, they said.
Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday accused Republicans including her potential rivals Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Rick Perry of “deliberately trying to stop” young people and minorities — both vital Democratic constituencies — from exercising their right to vote, as she presented an ambitious agenda to make it easier for those groups and other Americans to participate in elections. Speaking at Texas Southern University here in front of her largest crowd yet as a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton accused Republicans generally of enacting state voting laws based on what she called “a phantom epidemic of election fraud” because they are “scared of letting citizens have their say.”
Hillary Clinton called Thursday for sweeping changes to elections and voting laws, arguing that measures including universal voter registration and national early voting are necessary to counteract a tide of laws aimed at making it more difficult for some people to vote. Speaking at Houston’s Texas State University, at a ceremony honoring the late civil rights leader and Democratic Representative Barbara Jordan, Clinton set her sights squarely on some of her potential Republican opponents, who she said are “systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting.” In one of her most powerful and passionate appearances of her campaign thus far, the former secretary of state singled out four current and former governors, whose actions “have undercut [the] fundamental American principle” of the right to vote in their “crusade against voting rights.” Instead of continuing along the same path, she said, “they should stop fear-mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud” and work to make it easier for Americans who want to vote to go to the polls.
The former Florida governor and scion of the modern Republican Party’s most prominent political family revealed on Thursday that he will formally announce his long-expected presidential candidacy on June 15 in Miami. The event comes almost six months to the day after Bush said last December that he was “actively exploring” a campaign and months after it has become clear Bush would, in fact, run. His dodging of that reality had begun to wear thin in recent weeks. On Sunday, pressured about his candidacy by CBS’s Bob Schieffer on his final day hosting Face the Nation, Bush offered up a tepid: “I hope so. I hope, I hope I’m a candidate in the near future.”
A basic fact often gets lost in the propaganda that swirls around voting laws in this country: between one-quarter and one-third of all eligible voters — more than 50 million Americans — are not registered. That alarming statistic is the backdrop to efforts by Republicans in recent years to pass state laws that restrict ballot access, a recent Democratic campaign to push back against those laws, and a bold set of proposals that Hillary Rodham Clinton laid out Thursday afternoon in a speech at Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston. In addition to pushing needed and long-overdue reforms, the speech highlighted the yawning gulf on voting rights between Mrs. Clinton and the Republican candidates for the White House, many of whom have been cynically committed to making voting harder for the most vulnerable citizens. “What part of democracy are they afraid of?” Mrs. Clinton asked.
More than $700,000 of taxpayer money was spent on iPads the Lee County Election Supervisor can’t even use. It turns out they’re not compatible with computers in the elections office. Supervisor Sharon Harrington is asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars more to replace them. The snafu has a lot of taxpayers upset. The big question now is what to do with them. “What are they simply going to do with more than $700,000 in iPads that have already been purchased? I’m not sure if there is a return-to-sender package on that,” said Patrick Nadel of Fort Myers. Nadel is also a financial advisor and calls the purchase of 2,000 non-compatible iPads a poor business decision. “That type of situation can be alleviated with a simple call to an IT department with the question of ‘will this work with what we have,'” said Nadel.
Kane County Clerk John A. Cunningham is rallying colleagues and county officials to amend a newly enacted bill requiring clerks extend the grace period for voter registration to early registration and Election Day at all precincts, which would cost taxpayers $1.9 million. “It puts us in a bind,” Cunningham said Wednesday. “We have been working quite diligently and doing everything in our power to reduce the cost. We are trying to come in the back door and get an amendment,” the clerk said.
A change in Illinois law forcing large counties to provide same-day voter registration at polling places is drawing opposition from those charged with implementing it. The law requires same-day registration at all polling places in counties and municipalities with populations of more than 100,000. Illinois had tried same-day voter registration at a few polling places in each county during the November 2014 election. A month later, state legislators passed the law, which became effective June 1. With the exception of the special election to replace congressman Aaron Schock, county clerks are eyeing the change for 2016 elections. But early cost estimates of seven figures have several suburban officials — Democrats and Republicans alike — balking. Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham estimates the cost of same-day registration at $1.8 million. That’s for $16,000 worth of equipment per polling place, plus training two people to register the voter. Kane County had same-day registration at five sites in November 2014; the new law requires same-day registration at 96 more sites in the county. “It’s a real burden,” Cunningham said.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has five days before he must decide whether to sign a bill expanding the power of Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) to prosecute voter fraud cases. If Brownback does sign the legislation, which has already passed both chambers of the state legislature, Kobach would be given the power to prosecute voter fraud cases even when, according to critics, local prosecutors had opted against moving forward with those cases. Kobach is a prominent figure in conservative “voter fraud” circles, loudly declaring that voter fraud is rampant and pushing new laws that have the effect of restricting access to voting, especially among voters who tend to favor Democrats. Voting experts, on the other hand, point to studies that show voter fraud is relatively rare with negligible impact on election outcomes.
A bill to fix Flint’s tangled 2015 election has cleared the state Legislature and is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. Both the state House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday, June 3, approved the legislation, which would allow the city to include the names of mayoral candidates on the August primary ballot even though they missed the April 21 deadline for filing nominating petitions. City Clerk Inez Brown’s office mistakenly told those candidates and candidates for two City Council seats the wrong filing deadline — April 28. Without a change in the law, Flint voters face a write-in-only campaign for mayor in November and no primary election.
The New Hampshire House passed a bill Wednesday that requires people to live in the state for 30 days before they are eligible to vote. It passed largely with support from Republicans. Senators passed the bill along party lines earlier this year, but the House bill further defines the factors that contribute to a person’s domicile, including whether someone pays taxes in New Hampshire, owns a hunting license or has a New Hampshire driver’s license. Currently, a person who is “domiciled” in the state can register and vote on the day of an election. Supporters of the House bill said they want to crack down on “drive by” voting and ensure people voting in New Hampshire elections actually live in the state. “This bill will ensure the people of New Hampshire decide our own elections, not out-of-state voters,” said Republican Rep. William Gannon of Sandown.
North Carolina: As voter ID changes approach, state to hold hearings in Boone, Sylva next week | Carolina Public Press
Voters across the state are getting a crash course in what it will take to cast a ballot in next year’s polls, at a series of hearings hosted this month by the State Board of Elections. The meetings, which kicked off Wednesday in Raleigh and will continue at eight additional locales, are geared at educating poll-goers on how to best anticipate changes that will be implemented in 2016 as a result of the 2013 voter ID legislation approved by the N.C. General Assembly. In particular, the hearings will focus on portions of the law which will require voters to present a government-issued ID bearing a “reasonable resemblance” to the voter, along with the criteria officials will use to determine if an ID is valid.
Hillary Clinton wants to make Oregon the model for her proposal to expand access to the ballot box. On March 16, Oregon became the first state in the nation to make voter registration automatic. The legislation, known as the “Motor Voter” law, will use information collected at the state Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters. Speaking in Houston Thursday, Clinton cited Oregon’s example and said automatic registration should go national. Signing her state’s registration law, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, said, “I challenge every other state in this nation to examine their policies and find ways to ensure that there are as few barriers as possible in the way of a citizen’s right to vote.” Brown introduced in the bill January while Oregon secretary of state, and became Oregon governor the following month.
The state Board of Elections approved use of four additional devices for voting and counting ballots in South Dakota and adopted an assortment of small rule changes Thursday for the 2016 elections. The four types of machines are products from Elections Systems and Software, a company based in Omaha, Neb. They include a basic counting device, a high-speed tabulating device, the company’s version of an AutoMARK machine for persons with disabilities, and the company’s ExpressVote Universal Voting machine that also can be used by persons with disabilities. Election officials from the South Dakota Secretary of State office tested the four machines as required under state law and state regulations. “That was an all-day process and it was very thorough,” Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said.
The Republican challenger to Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell on Thursday suffered a setback in her effort to reverse what she says is a change in absentee-ballot rules that gives the incumbent an unfair advantage in next week’s primary. A judge in Stafford County denied Susan Stimpson’s petition for an emergency injunction that would have made it more difficult for Howell and other candidates to collect absentee ballot requests electronically. Stimpson, 43, is taking on Howell, 72, in a race to represent a district including Stafford and Fredericksburg. Howell has been in office for 28 years and at one time helped Stimpson win a seat on the county board of supervisors.
The first batch of Yakima election ballots already could be in the mail by the time the city’s request to halt new elections reaches the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Yakima City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to seek a stay of elections under a court-ordered system that put all seven seats on the ballot in new districts. A federal judge ordered the new system in February, but there was no push for a stay until just last week, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a Texas voting rights case that could undo the judge’s ruling in Yakima. The timing caused some council members to ask why the decision wasn’t made earlier, with one councilman saying it was the city’s own defense attorney who originally discouraged it. Another wondered openly whether the stay was merely an attempt by some to stay in office longer.
Bulgaria’s president on Wednesday proposed a referendum on voting rules to try to restore public trust in the Balkan country’s politicians after years of instability and scandals. The referendum, which if approved would be held alongside local elections in late October, would ask voters to choose whether they want to elect some lawmakers directly rather than from party lists, whether to make voting compulsory and whether to allow electronic voting. Voter frustration, especially with rampant corruption and organised crime, erupted in months of street protests in 2013. The country has had five governments in two years, and the last election, held in October, drew the lowest turnout in 25 years and a particularly fractured parliament. A recent poll by Gallup International showed a small improvement in trust in public institutions since the centre-right GERB government took office. Nevertheless, more than two-thirds of respondents said they do not trust parliament.
Last year, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a rule that barred citizens living abroad for more than five years from voting in federal elections. The government has rightly appealed that decision, while also introducing legislation that will enshrine expats’ voting rights, but with a twist. Expats will get to vote – it will just be really, really hard. So hard, in fact, that many of the 2.8 million expats around the globe may well not bother. Others will try but won’t be able to meet the onerous new requirements in Bill C-50. Under the bill, currently in committee after second reading, Elections Canada will eliminate the international register of electors, the long-established list of expat Canadians eligible to vote federally. In future, expats will have to re-register for each election, and can only do so after the writ is dropped.
The Government is considering extending voting rights to Irish emigrants for three years after they leave the country without holding a referendum on the issue, the Minister for Diaspora Affairs has said. Under existing electoral legislation, Irish citizens are entitled to vote for 18 months after they leave the country, if they intend to return to live in Ireland within that timeframe. Speaking at the first Global Irish Civic Forum at Dublin Castle today, Jimmy Deenihan said there’s a possibility this could be extended to 36 months “without going to the people”.
For high school student Aine Suzuki, the Lower House’s move on Thursday to pass legislation that would reduce the voting age to 18 from the current 20 was akin to a dream come true. The 16-year-old says she has always yearned for the right to vote — so much so that whenever an election is approaching she scours newspapers and TV shows to decide which candidate she would vote for, were she eligible to do so. In only two years — Suzuki said with excitement — her opinion will count at the ballot box. “I hope the lowered voting age will encourage more young people to pay attention to politics and make efforts to get their messages across. Only then can Japan turn into a real democracy,” said Suzuki, who is the youngest member of a pro-democracy youth group called Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs).
Luxembourg could blaze a trail in the EU when it votes Sunday on whether to grant full voting rights to foreigners who make up nearly half of the population, as part of an unprecedented triple referendum. The voters in the tiny but wealthy duchy of 565,000 people will also be asked whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 and whether to limit the mandate of members of the government to 10 years. They will be asked to vote “Jo” or “Nee” in Luxembourgish, “Oui” or “Non” in French and “Ja” or “Nein” in German. The most important issue on the ballot would grant the right to vote to foreigners living in Luxembourg for more than 10n years, including the high number of Europeans, led by the Portuguese who account for 16.4 percent of the population.
Many Americans believe that someone, somewhere in Washington, must be in charge of tracking who is and who isn’t a citizen of the United States. Apparently, so does the U.S. Supreme Court, which just accepted a voting rights case that turns on the government’s ability to count the number of citizens in each voting district. But despite all the talk these days about government and Big Data, the justices, like the rest of us, might be surprised to learn that the most basic information as to who is an American citizen cannot actually be found in any publicly available government data set — anywhere. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, poses a question: whether the Constitution’s long-standing “one person, one vote” principle requires equal numbers of voters per district instead of equal numbers of people, as is current practice. Most commentary on the case has focused on its implications for political parties and racial groups. But focusing on the politics, or even on the merits of the constitutional argument, ultimately distracts from a much bigger problem: The data necessary to draw districts with equal numbers of eligible voters does not exist. We have no national citizen database that tells us how many citizens live in each district around the country.
Nevada is keeping its caucuses for selecting presidential nominees, disappointing supporters of several Republican presidential contenders who had hoped to shift the early-voting state to a system of primaries. Caucuses are considered favorable to candidates who have a network of highly motivated activists, and in Nevada they are seen as especially favoring Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul because of his family’s support in the state Republican party. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval backed legislation to change to a primary, but the bill never came up for a vote before the Legislature adjourned Monday night. It was the subject of frantic horse-trading and lobbying in the state capitol in Carson City until the final minutes of the session. “I would’ve liked to have seen that get through, but it didn’t,” he told The Associated Press. “I think that would’ve attracted candidates to our state. I don’t know if it will be the same if it is a caucus.”
With the stroke of the governor’s pen on Monday, Vermont became the 14th state to allow same-day voter registration. Proponents say the measure will help improve low turnout rates in Vermont elections. Critics though say it could make it easier to sabotage the democratic process. Secretary of State Jim Condos fielded calls from two town clerks last Election Day, each with the same urgent question: “I’ve got two people who just walked into my office to sign up to vote, can they vote on Tuesday?” Condos says regrettably, the clerks had a statutory duty to turn the would-be voters away. And he says the episode underscores the importance of the same-day voter registration bill signed into law by Gov. Shumlin on Monday. “Simply put, this is a voters’ rights bill,” Condos said.
A federal court on Friday concluded for the second time that Virginia’s congressional boundaries are unconstitutional because state lawmakers packed black voters into one district in order to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents. In a 2-1 ruling, a judicial panel ordered the General Assembly to draw new boundaries by Sept. 1 to correct the flawed 2012 redistricting plan. The court first struck down the plan in October, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered reconsideration in light of a ruling in an Alabama redistricting case.The judges in Virginia again ruled that race was the predominant factor — not just one of many considerations — in crafting the plan, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A liberal group and a voting rights organization have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a host of changes Republicans have made to Wisconsin’s election laws, alleging the provisions burden black people, Latinos and Democratic-leaning voters. One Wisconsin Institute, Inc., and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund along with a half-dozen voters filed the lawsuit Friday in Madison against the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections. The lawsuit says a number of provisions that have become law since Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2011 violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment and the equal protection clause.
Burundi’s opposition parties and civil society groups said they welcome Wednesday’s announcement by the electoral commission to postpone Friday’s parliamentary election. They maintain that President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contentious decision to seek a third term, which has sparked weeks of violent protests, is non-negotiable. Leaders of the East Africa Community have asked Bujumbura to postpone the elections. A spokesman for Nkurunziza said Wednesday the electoral commission is considering a new timetable. Innocent Muhozi, general manager of the independent Renaissance radio television network, said the third term bid is one of many issues the opposition and organizers of the protests want to highlight during the next round of talks. The opposition has agreed to resume the dialogue with the government.
Mexico is not burning, the country’s Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio assured citizens last month in response to pre-election violence that saw at least three candidates murdered by mid-May. But flaming government buildings and a mounting body count have defied Osorio in the run-up to Sunday’s midterm elections, in which 500 congressional seats and nine governorships are at play. Since Osorio’s declaration, at least four more candidates from various political parties have been gunned down as dozens of criminal gangs coerce candidates in a battle to control local terrain and drug-trafficking routes. At least 20 additional candidates have been intimidated out of the running. The drug-fueled violence has coalesced in recent days with violent protests in Mexico’s southern states, as teachers opposed to education reform, joined by parents of the missing 43 students in Guerrero state, have blocked highways, sabotaged would-be voting stations and burned thousands of ballots. “These are the dirtiest elections since the advent of democracy in Mexico,” Raúl Benítez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Reuters this week.