Let’s get two things straight about next year’s presidential election. The first is, quit whining about all those Republican candidates. Seventeen is nothing — there are already at least 459 officially registered presidential candidates. (A couple more could have signed up in the time it took you to read this sentence.) And second, not one more word about how everybody who’s running sounds the same. Are you kidding? You can vote for an anarchist or a socialist or a prohibitionist, a vermin (really, that’s his name, Vermin Supreme) or even a deity. You can vote for a cat. (Slogan: “The time is meeow!”) “We’ve certainly heard from an ample number of candidates from a broad political spectrum,” agrees Christian Hilland, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission. These are determinedly diplomatic words from a guy who spends his days sorting through paperwork filed by candidates whose platforms include stuff like giving every American a free pony and turning Alcatraz Island into a temple of New Age music and light shows.
Earlier this month, when the Center for American Progress Action Fund think tank released a state-by-state assessment of democracy, which looked at citizens’ access to the polls, legislative representation and political influence, most observers weren’t surprised that the Deep South ended up on the bottom rung. The seven-state region that seceded from the Union and formed the heart of the Confederacy was under federal occupation for about a decade after the Civil War, and in the post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow-era laws kept African-Americans from the polls – through lynchings and Klan terrorism if necessary. The South saw more bloodshed when, against armed white resistance, activists tried to register black voters during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. And, from 1965 until last summer, several states in Dixie essentially had to ask permission from the Justice Department before making any substantial changes to its voting laws. Yet one state stood out in the CAP survey: Alabama, the Heart of Dixie and arguably the reddest state in the union, finished dead last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The Alabama Legislature has again tried to tighten up the state’s campaign finance law, following up on earlier efforts that haven’t worked as planned. The Fair Campaign Practices Act, on the books since 1988, has been criticized for lacking teeth and a designated authority for enforcement. With a bill that passed during the regular session, lawmakers gave the state Ethics Commission authority to investigate violations of the act, among other changes. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the bill, based mostly on recommendations from a study committee, “will bring a lot more transparency and accountability to our electoral system.”
Delaware: Court Decides Delaware Donors Must Be Made Public When Campaign Groups Spend Over $500 | International Business Times
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Delaware law compelling groups that spend more than $500 to reveal donors who contributed $100 or more. Delaware Safe Families (DSF), a nonprofit that distributed an “informational” voter guide in the 2014 election, was previously awarded an injunction to avoid complying with the act by a federal judge. “It is the conduct of an organization, rather than an organization’s status with the Internal Revenue Service, that determines whether it makes communications subject to” the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act, Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr. wrote in the unanimous decision.
A Florida Supreme Court ruling last week throwing out congressional maps means districts are less safe for incumbents and the political ground less sure for both major parties, analysts say. Sitting members of Congress don’t know how new districts will affect their re-election chances, and state lawmakers responsible for drawing the maps are unsure how to draft new ones for a third time. Democrats and Republicans will have to grapple with internal tensions brought by redistricting. “Some liken it to musical chairs with high stakes,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political-science professor. The ruling was a sharp rebuke to Republican lawmakers in control of the Legislature, but it also brings to the forefront tension between squabbling factions of the Democratic Party.
Kansas: Statistician battles government to determine whether vote count is flawed | Lawrence Journal World
Wichita State University mathematician Beth Clarkson has seen enough odd patterns in some election returns that she thinks it’s time to check the accuracy of some Kansas voting machines. She’s finding out government officials don’t make such testing easy to do. When Clarkson initially decided to check the accuracy of voting machines, she thought the easy part would be getting the paper records produced by the machines, and the hard part would be conducting the audit. It’s turned out to be just the opposite. “I really did not expect to have a lot of problems getting these (records),” Clarkson said. But Sedgwick County election officials “refused to allow the computer records to be part of a recount. They said that wasn’t allowed.” Instead, Clarkson was told that in order to get the paper recordings of votes, she would have to go to court and fight for them. Earlier this year, Clarkson filed a lawsuit against the Sedgwick County Election Office and Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, asking for access to the paper records that voting machines record each time someone votes. The record does not identify the voter.
New Jersey voters might have to wait a little longer for updated election laws if Gov. Chris Christie’s statements on a reform bill translate into a veto. Christie has spoken critically of the reform package, cast by Democrats as a major overhaul of the state’s 20th-century election system. The Democrat-led statehouse sent Christie the bill just as he formally begins his run for the Republican presidential nomination and as a debate simmers between the political parties over reforming state election laws. Republican lawmakers across the country are aiming to crack down on fraud and impose identification requirements and Democrats are seeking to automate registration and expand election rolls. For Christie, talking tough on the issue might give him an opportunity to demonstrate his conservative credentials, experts say, as the New Jersey Legislation contrasts with what Republican legislators in some states — like neighboring Pennsylvania — have pursued. Pennsylvania’s GOP-led Legislature passed legislation requiring photo identification at the polls, but it was struck down by a court.
North Carolina: Black votes matter: the North Carolina electors who say new law is unfair | The Guardian
When Sandra Beatty goes somewhere and does something, it’s because she really wants to – five years after losing her vision and both her feet to diabetes, any errand is an ordeal. So when on 31 October, with the help of her 31-year-old daughter, she got out of her first-floor apartment, and climbed into the passenger seat of her friend’s Chevrolet Tahoe, it was because she planned to do one of what she considers her most important tasks: going to vote. It was not until weeks later, when Beatty got a call from the nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice that she learned her ballot had been thrown out. “It hurt. It hurt because I thought I was doing something. I – I thought I was making some kind of progress and doing something. And it didn’t count,” Beatty said. Beatty made that statement in a deposition videotaped in May. It is one of several testimonies included in a lawsuit with national voting rights implications, brought by several voting rights groups and the federal Justice Department against North Carolina’s governor and electoral officials. In the trial, which began on Monday, the plaintiffs argue that the 2013 voting law revisions “unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters”, in violation of the constitution and the landmark civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is participating in the suit.
Editorials: Another civil rights struggle in the Carolinas over voting | Ruth Marcus/The Washington Post
For all the understandable attention devoted to removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds, a civil rights struggle with far more practical consequences is playing out one state away. In a trial that just began in a federal courthouse in North Carolina last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and civil rights organizations are challenging a state law that limited the days for early voting, ended same-day registration and barred voters who turned up at the wrong precinct. The case presents the stark question: 50 years after its passage, does the Voting Rights Act retain any teeth? Two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a central aspect of the law, the “pre-clearance” provision requiring nine states and political subdivisions, mostly in the South, to submit proposed changes in voting procedures for federal approval.
Ohio Republicans spent more than half a million dollars on a successful bid to keep Libertarian Party gubernatorial* candidate Charlie Earl off the state ballot last year. The GOP initially balked at the accusation that they had engaged in any dirty dealings to thwart Earl’s candidacy. Then, in a federal lawsuit filed by the Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO), District Judge Michael H. Watson found that it was “obvious” that “operatives or supporters of the Ohio Republican Party” had indeed hired a “dupe” to bring about Earl’s electoral demise. Unfortunately, the dupe—Gregory Felsoci, an LPO member who filed a formal complaint with the secretary of state’s office challenging signatures the party collected—did have a point, the judge decided: Earl’s petition circulators had not disclosed that they were being paid by the LPO.
Last week saw two developments that bring hope for a stronger democracy in Ohio: the kickoff of a bipartisan campaign for a constitutional amendment to reform how Ohio’s Statehouse districts are drawn, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opens up a chance to reform the drawing of districts for Congress, as well. At the moment, Ohio’s state and national political districts are the handiwork of majority Republicans, and they’re a masterpiece of gerrymandering, drawn to produce as many Republican-dominated districts as possible. Despite the fact that Ohio voters are about evenly split and have chosen the Democrat in the past two presidential elections, Republicans have won 12 of its 16 U.S. House seats and control the state legislature by a two-thirds margin. Democrats have done the same when they’ve had the opportunity to control the process.
A special session to redraw Virginia’s congressional districts could give Gov. Terry McAuliffe the power to hold out for a new map that turns at least one additional seat to the Democrats. McAuliffe plans to call an Aug. 17 special session to redraw Virginia’s congressional districts by Sept. 1 to comply with an order by federal judges who say legislators packed too many blacks into the 3rd District. “The governor has a lot of leverage here,” said Robert D. Holsworth, a former professor and dean at Virginia Commonwealth University who led then-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s redistricting advisory panel in 2011. “The real issue is how much sacrifice he will exact from the Republicans.”
Last-ditch talks between Burundi’s government and opposition aimed at resolving a major political crisis over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial re-election bid appear to be headed for failure, sources close to the negotiations said. The closed-door talks, mediated by regional power Uganda, began earlier in the day but quickly descended into an acrimonious exchange with no sign of any consensus on how to end months of turmoil in the central African nation.
Despite widespread international condemnation, bitter opposition within his own country and the threat of violent revolt, President Pierre Nkurunziza struck a defiant tone at a campaign rally Friday on a mountaintop near where government forces recently battled rebels. “The attempt of armed groups to destabilize the country did not last as long as the morning dew,” he said in his speech in Cibitoke, a province in the northwest near the border with Rwanda, citing the governing party’s victory in parliamentary elections as proof of widespread support, though the opposition boycotted the vote. “The people in all the provinces, all the counties, all the hills and all the fields, went to vote,” he said. “You have done well. And now tell each other what is ahead and that you will have to do even more.”
An Ontario Superior Court justice has rejected a bid for an injunction to suspend voter identification provisions of the Fair Elections Act, despite acknowledging the risk eligible Canadians will be denied the vote in the next federal election. Lawyers for the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians had argued that the law, passed by the Conservative government in 2014, was an act of voter suppression, and could prevent as many as 250,000 voters — those least likely to vote for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government — from voting in the Oct. 19 election. They had argued that the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, had gone on record saying he would be willing to replace the 28 million voter information cards (VICs) already printed with the words “Please note that this card is not a piece of ID,” if the injunction had been allowed.
What voters will decide on Oct. 19 is beyond the Conservatives’ control. But one thing is firmly in their grasp: when to drop the writs that will take them to the polls. Exactly what day Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit the Governor General to make the formal request to dissolve Parliament and call the election has been the source of weeks of political speculation. And with good reason: it’s ultimately a political calculus of the Conservatives’ own devising. Although a law passed in 2007 set a fixed election date for Parliament, it didn’t set a fixed length on how long the election campaign could be, only how short — no less than 37 days long including the day it begins. Fast forward to 2014 and the introduction and subsequent passage of the contentious Fair Elections Act, which among other things changed the rules around campaign finance. In short, the longer the campaign, the more everyone can spend.
Taiwan is poised to elect its first female leader after the two largest political parties nominated women to contest next January’s presidential election. Hung Hsiu-chu, 67, a former teacher whose fiery style has earned her the nickname “Little Hot Pepper”, was officially selected on Sunday as the candidate for the ruling Nationalist party (KMT). She will compete against Tsai Ing-wen, 58, the candidate nominated by the opposition Democratic Progressive party (DPP) in April. Tsai, currently the party’s chairwoman, is a trained lawyer who studied at Cornell University and the London School of Economics before forging a career in academia and politics back home.
The Ukrainian parliament on Friday voted to call local elections across the country in October, but not in the rebel-occupied east. The Kiev government has had no control over parts of eastern Ukraine since separatist rebels began fighting government forces in April 2014, a conflict that has since claimed more than 6,400 lives. An armistice signed in February by Ukraine, Russia and the Russia-backed rebels called for local elections in eastern rebel-held areas as one step toward a comprehensive cease-fire, which has not been achieved yet. The bill passed Friday by the Rada said regional elections for mayors and local lawmakers will not be held in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia, or in rebel-held eastern districts because of the security situation and because Ukrainian officials simply have no access to those areas.