Last year, House Democrats saw ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a possible (if ultimately disappointing) ally in the fight to rewrite the Voting Rights Act for the 21st century. On Tuesday, Cantor’s leadership successor, Kevin McCarthy, might have revealed himself as another important potential friend to the effort. The California Republican echoed at a pen-and-pad briefing what fellow GOP lawmakers have said before: Any revision of the landmark 1965 law has to start in the Judiciary Committee — a disappointing answer for advocates who know Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., is disinclined to tackle the matter. But McCarthy later said he thinks the time has come for an “overall review.” “On a personal level, I’d like to see the debate go forward,” he said. “I’d like to see [us] have the debate in committee. I think everything, when it’s first written and where the world is today, has changed. So just as most of our bills, how do you modernize? An overall review, I think, it’s the right time to do it,” McCarthy continued. “What the outcome can be, I don’t prejudge.”
For the first time in modern history, the leading issue concerning voters in the upcoming presidential election, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, is that “wealthy individuals and corporations will have too much influence over who wins.” Five years after the Supreme Court gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited amounts in political campaigns, voters have had enough. Republican candidates, including Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, and the main Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, all acknowledge the problem, with some tying it to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which unleashed virtually unlimited “independent” political spending. The solution proposed by some, notably Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Graham and Mr. Sanders, is amending the Constitution. It sounds appealing, but anyone who’s serious about reform should not buy it. For a presidential candidate, constitutional reform is fake reform. And no candidate who talks exclusively about amending the Constitution can be considered a credible reformer.
The long-awaited replacement for California’s aging voter registration database has started to deploy, with Sacramento and Orange counties serving as test counties for the VoteCal system that will begin expanding to other counties this fall. All 58 counties will be covered by June 2016 if the process stays on schedule. VoteCal’s debut comes more than a dozen years after the Florida election debacle in the 2000 presidential election prompted Congress to order a revamp of states’ voting procedures with the Help America Vote Act. Since it went live in Sacramento and Orange counties, VoteCal already has helped voting officials identify about 400 seemingly duplicate registrations, said Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters. Reconciling the duplicates, which usually stem from people moving, used to rely on a paper-based system. “That’s a big deal,” Kelley said.
Florida: Legislators set August special session to redraw congressional map, order staff to limit contact | Tampa Bay Times
Florida legislators announced Monday they will convene a 12-day special session starting Aug. 10 to comply with a court order to revise the state’s congressional districts and will take some extraordinary measures to make sure staffers draw an initial base map without consulting anyone but lawyers. The unusual process is a response to the unprecedented situation in which legislators find themselves after the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 to invalidate the state’s congressional map because it was “tainted with unconstitutional intent to favor the Republicans and incumbents.” Now, after spending $8.1 million defending their flawed map in court, the burden of proof shifts to lawmakers to prove that they are following the law.
A mathematician at Wichita State University who wanted to check the accuracy of some Kansas voting machines after finding odd patterns in election returns said she is finding out how difficult it can be to get government officials to turn over public documents. Beth Clarkson, a certified quality engineer with a doctorate in statistics, said her calculations from the November election showed enough patterns to suspect that “some voting systems were being sabotaged.” Sedgwick County election officials refused to allow the computer records to be part of a recount and told her that to get paper recordings of votes, she would have to go to court and fight for them, said Clarkson, who is also the chief statistician for WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research.
North Carolina: Plaintiffs rest case in federal voting rights trial; state attorneys call first witness | Winston-Salem Journal
After two weeks, attorneys representing the N.C. NAACP and other groups rested their case Friday, having called more than 40 witnesses who testified either in court or via video depositions, that North Carolina’s election law is racially discriminatory. Now, it is the state’s turn to present evidence. Attorneys representing North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory called Janet Thornton, an economist, as their first witness. Thomas Farr, one of the attorneys for the state, said they expect to finish presenting evidence by Wednesday. The N.C. NAACP and other groups, including the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing North Carolina and McCrory over House Bill 589, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly in July 2013. McCrory signed the legislation into law in August 2013. The law eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting, got rid of preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds and prohibited out-of-precinct provisional voting, among other provisions.
Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term in office on Friday after the opposition boycotted the vote, a victory that leaves the east African nation politically divided and facing international isolation after months of unrest. Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term plunged Burundi into its biggest crisis since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005. The opposition says Nkurunziza’s bid violated the constitution and could spark another conflict. Major donors United States and the European Union, both critical of Nkurunziza, have threatened measures from cutting aid to imposing sanctions after Burundi went ahead with an election they said could not be free or fair.
In both Virginia and Florida, legislators will meet in special sessions next month to deal with an issue they thought they’d settled years ago — redistricting. Congressional maps in both states have been ruled invalid by the courts. The reasons were different in each case, but each speaks to a trend that is keeping redistricting very much a live issue midway through the decade. Political lines have to be redrawn once every 10 years, following the census. But the fight over them never really stops.
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin Republican, and his Democratic colleague in the House, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, unveiled a pair of bills back in March that got little notice but could go a long way to making the nation’s reapportionment process less partisan. Ribble and Cooper would reduce the authority of state legislatures in the redistricting process, a job that must be done every 10 years after the Census to ensure equal representation in congressional districts. One of the bills would require that states establish independent commissions to do the actual drawing of lines. The other bill would require the states to put all redistricting information online and call for public comment before new district maps are approved. We favor such changes. There is little doubt that leaving the job of drawing district lines to politicians, whether for state or federal seats, opens the door to political mischief.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office all but declared war Thursday on a state agency that is attempting to shine a light on “dark money” contributions. And it’s willing to sue the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to stop the effort. Unless the agency backs down on a proposed rule that would require some campaign committees to reveal their donors, a lawsuit is “inevitable,” state Elections Director Eric Spencer told the five commissioners. Spencer argued that the commission doesn’t have the authority to regulate independent-expenditure committees, which have proliferated since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.
Armed with data showing the fastest growing segment of Florida’s electorate is choosing no party affiliation, a bipartisan group of activists is pushing for a constitutional amendment to open Florida’s closed primary system to all voters. The All Voters Vote amendment will be delivered Wednesday to the Florida Division of Elections with the hope of getting enough signatures to place it on the 2016 ballot. Miami lawyer Gene Stearns, who is leading the effort, said the goal is to encourage elected officials to listen to a broader swath of voters by giving voice to the growing number of Floridians who are written out of the state’s primary election system because they choose not to register with any political party.
Editorials: Democracy Act provides first wave in restructuring of New Jersey voting laws | Richard T. Smith/Star Ledger
Voting is the most fundamental right, and yet the mechanics of registering to vote have not improved very much since the days when we had to crank down our car windows to pay a toll collector. We need to bring the mechanism of registering to vote into the 21st century. Fortunately, the first step in modernizing voting awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. In the 2014 election, New Jersey ranked among the worst in the nation in voter turnout with only 30.4 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. In late June, the N.J. Legislature passed a strong bill, the Democracy Act, which includes voting reforms that have successfully increased voter registration and turnout in other states.
North Carolina: State director: 96,000 might have been denied vote if election law had been in effect | Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina’s election director Kim Strach testified Wednesday that more than 96,000 people who used same-day voter registration in 2012 might not have been able to cast a ballot if the state’s controversial election law had been in effect. She also acknowledged that she could find no evidence of significant fraud in same-day voter registration. House Bill 589, which was signed into law August 2013, eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10, prohibited out-of-precinct provisional voting and got rid of preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds. (Same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting will be allowed in the municipal elections in September because of a federal appeals court ruling).
North Carolina: Rutgers professor testifies in federal that voter fraud is rare | Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina had two verified cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014 out of 35 million votes cast in municipal and presidential elections, an expert testified today in a federal trial over the state’s controversial election law. Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said that voter fraud is rare nationally and in North Carolina. Several groups, including the N.C. NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory over House Bill 589, which state Republican legislators pushed in 2013. McCrory signed the legislation into law in August 2013. The law eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting and reduced the days of early voting, among other changes. State Republican legislators said publicly that they pushed for the changes to ensure the integrity of the voting process and to stamp out the potential for voter fraud.
North Carolina: Judge rules against Greensboro City Council redistricting law | Greensboro News & Record
A federal judge ruled for the city Thursday, granting a permanent injunction against a new state law that remakes the City Council. That means the law will not go into effect for this City Council election cycle. Its ultimate fate will be decided at a future trial to take place before the 2017 election. Judge Catherine Eagles heard arguments for nearly two hours in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro before making a ruling. “It appears … that the new statute deprives Greensboro voters, alone among municipal voters in the state, of the right to change the city’s municipal government by referendum … without a rational basis,” Eagles wrote in her order Thursday. “The plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm should the 2015 election go forward under the new law.”
Virginia Democrats say their congressional map can’t get any worse. In a state President Barack Obama carried twice, their party holds just three seats in the 11-member delegation. With a new round of redistricting coming up next month, the question now is which districts get rougher for Republicans. A federal district court has given Virginia until Sept. 1 to redraw the lines of Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott’s 3rd District, which it has twice ruled is unconstitutionally packed with blacks. The district runs along the James River between Richmond and Hampton Roads and is currently 57 percent black, according to 2013 census data. Democrats expect to pick up at least one seat from a wider distribution of black voters, which means one of the eight Republicans may be in for a tougher re-election.
The European Union is ready to impose sanctions on Burundians failing to help end the Central African nation’s crisis, the EU’s foreign policy chief said on Thursday, following elections that Brussels and Washington say were not credible. Facing its worst political crisis since the end of civil war in 2005, Burundi is awaiting the results of Tuesday’s vote in which President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term, breaking the two-term limit agreed in a peace deal a decade ago. “The European Union is preparing … to adopt, if necessary, targeted restrictive measures against those whose actions led to acts of violence, repression and serious human rights abuses or hinder the search for a political solution,” Mogherini said in a statement.
Ottawa-based advocacy group Democracy Watch announced it will launch a private prosecution against the Conservative Party for its role in the 2011 robocalls scandal, which misled some Canadians to go to wrong polling stations in key ridings. The group decided to take action after government lawyers refused to press charges. At time of writing, Democracy Watch is focusing legal efforts on one individual in at Conservative Party Headquarters who booked calls that gave voters across the country incorrect polling station locations, even after Elections Canada warned all political parties not to engage in such activities during the 2011 campaign.
There are over 32 million names of eligible voters on Myanmar’s preliminary voter list as of July 22, including citizens who have left the country, according to the Union Election Commission (UEC). “I’ve found over 32 million names on the list,” UEC Chairman Tin Aye said at a press conference in Yangon. “There are [Myanmar] expatriates among the 32 million names. Wherever they are, they will be in the voter list. Therefore, they can vote in the upcoming election. For those who go abroad with the permission of the government, they can submit Form No 15, and we will send ballots to them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will assist in this,” he said.
Thailand: Military government rolls out ‘electronic’ voting machine for constitution poll | Cocoanuts Bangkok
Ratchathewi will be the first district in Thailand to use an electronic voting machine created by the government to prepare for a possible public referendum on Thailand’s latest draft constitution. The Election Commission of Thailand said it is ready to install the prototype machines at two polling stations in Ratchathewi where they will serve about 1,600 voters, according to Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn. The voting on the draft constitution could happen in January, and the organization will take the opportunity to test the machines for future elections. The plan is to roll them out nationwide for future, hypothetical elections.
More than a million Canadian expatriates are out of luck if they had plans to vote in their home country’s general election on 19 October, thanks to an appeals court ruling. An Ontario Appeals Court ruling issued Monday overturned an earlier victory for two Canadian expatriates who challenged a law barring citizens who have lived outside the country for over five years from voting in Canadian federal elections. That 2014 victory temporarily restored right to cast a ballot to the roughly 1.4 million Canadians of voting age who have lived abroad for five or more years. Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, both currently living in the US, brought the challenge to the election law after learning they weren’t eligible to vote in the 2011 general election.