The nation’s top political watchdog is so thoroughly mired in a toxic partisan gridlock that the members themselves can barely contain their disdain for each other. But there is no sign of a wholesale change at the Federal Election Commission for what might seem like a bizarre reason: There aren’t enough qualified lawyers in Washington. Five of the six FEC commissioners are currently serving beyond the expiration of their terms; only chairwoman Ann Ravel’s term has yet to expire. But there is little interest from either Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill in finding a new slate of members, one that could perhaps get along better than the current set.
The House of Representatives on Monday defeated a bill that would have made it more difficult for Mainers to create new laws through ballot initiative. The House voted 92-54 to approve the bill, but the margin was short of the two-thirds support required to advance it to the Senate. The proposal would have asked voters if they want to amend the Maine Constitution to require sponsors of ballot campaigns to obtain a percentage of voter signatures from each of Maine’s two congressional districts. The vote on Monday marked the end of a bill that had orginally garnered bipartisan support. The bill received two-thirds support in initial votes in the House and Senate, a margin that would have sent the bill to voters for final ratification.
Massachusetts is now the 21st state to offer online voter registration. Secretary of State William Galvin said Tuesday that residents can use the new system to register to vote, change their address for voting purposes and change party affiliation. He says the system will make it easier to register and vote in next year’s presidential election. “We think it’s removing one more administrative impediment … to registering to vote,” said Galvin, the state’s top elections official.
Just one week after it was introduced, a slightly pared down bill to overhaul New Jersey’s voting system began its legislative journey Monday. The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 6-3 to approve the “Democracy Act” along party lines, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. “We cannot afford to let our democracy sit with diminishing participation at the polls and do nothing about it, because democracy suffers,” said Deborah Cornavaca, legislative director for New Jersey Working Families, a progressive group that has been pushing the measure.
Responding to criticism that legislators sharply weakened the state’s voter ID law last week, House Rules Chairman David Lewis posted a 1,000-word “open letter” Monday defending the changes. The House and Senate quickly approved the changes last week; the legislation is now on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk awaiting action. It would set up a process for voters to use a “reasonable impediment declaration” outlining why they couldn’t provide a photo ID at the polls. Voters could claim one of eight reasons, including a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, or a lack of a birth certificate or other documents to obtain a photo ID. Voters using the form would provide their date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or show a voter registration card to prove their identity.
A law that goes into effect Nov. 1 will permit electronic voter registration in Oklahoma. This is one of several election reform measures introduced in the Legislature this year by Sen. David Holt. Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said lawmakers took initial steps to address what he calls a “civic participation crisis,” but adds that more needs to be done.
For the first time since the Republican Party took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, Congress will hold a hearing on Puerto Rico’s status. Wednesday’s hearing, featuring witnesses representing all of Puerto Rico’s political parties, has been scheduled by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the head of a House Natural Resources subcommittee. It has with authority over the five U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico. In addition to considering the island’s identity as a geo-political unit, the hearing will also focus on Puerto Rico’s severe economic problems. Young has long favored granting statehood to Puerto Rico and cosponsored legislation proposed by Resident Commisioner Pedro Pierluisi that would require a vote on the island within one year on the statehood question.
Because 12 candidates filed to run for office in Centerville, and 10 candidates filed to run in Layton, both Davis cities will be required to host an Aug. 11 municipal primary at a cost of thousands of dollars to the taxpayer, whether those taxpayers take the time to vote or not. “We budgeted right at $50,000 for both (the primary and general election) and you can pretty well split (the cost between the two elections),” Layton City Recorder Thieda Wellman said. “The biggest portion of that goes to (Davis) county,” Wellman said. Davis County will be serving as the administrator for the municipal elections in the various cities. Some cities will be utilizing a vote-by-mail process, while others will remain with a more traditional ballot election.
For 79 days last year, thousands of protesters occupied major roads in Hong Kong in an attempt to force Chinese authorities to grant the territory genuine democracy. They failed. Local leaders and their overlords in Beijing refused to negotiate over an electoral plan that would allow for a popular vote for Hong Kong’s next leader but would limit candidates to nominees approved by the Communist regime. That left opposition representatives in Hong Kong’s legislature with an unappealing choice this month: Sign off on the inadequate reform or block it at the risk of freezing the current, even less democratic, system in place. “To kowtow, or to veto,” was the way opposition leader Alan Leong summed up the dilemma.
Ethiopian opposition parties did not manage to break the rule of Ethiopia’s ruling party last month or receive a significant amount of seats in parliament. It complained of harassment, intimidation and vote-rigging during the May election in which the ruling party probably won all of the parliament seats and another five years in power. The opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party claims the pre-election process was not fair and the election results are not credible. EDP Executive Committee member Wasihun Tesfaye feels there is a deadlock in the current multi-party system, but said the opposition will continue.
France’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is pondering a proposal to introduce an age cap on politicians seeking election after a government-backed report recommended it as a measure to make sure more young people were included in politics. The report made a series of recommendations including lowering the voting age to 16, limiting the number of terms which an official can serve in the houses of parliament to three, and banning politicians over 70 from standing for election. Although youth minister Patrick Kanner is considering the measures insisting they can make a positive difference, the concept of an age cap has provoked accusations of ageism from MPs.
Venezuela will hold legislative elections on 6 December, election officials announced on Monday after months of mounting pressure from local opposition groups and international observers. The South American country’s laws mandate that national assembly balloting be held this year, but elections officials had delayed setting a date, raising concerns the contest would be cancelled. In her announcement, the elections council head, Tibisay Lucena, said the organisation had always intended to set a date and was not reacting to public pressure.
North Carolina Republicans did a startling and uncharacteristic thing last week: In the face of a potentially unfavorable legal outcome, they gutted a bad provision in a bad law. No, it wasn’t the state’s abortion ultrasound law, which finally died last week when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take it up. It also wasn’t the state’s same-sex marriage amendment, which is likely to be gone for good in the next week when those same justices decide on the issue for all states. It was another, very significant law: North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), which would have required voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot beginning in 2016.