James Earl Carter is nearing the end. In an extraordinary press conference last week, the 39th president discussed his impending death from metastasizing liver cancer, with a grace, humor, and wisdom the rest of us can only hope to emulate when our own time comes. Soon will come the eulogies: then, the assessments. Forgive me if I jump the gun with a gust of affection. I’ve been grappling with his 1976 candidacy and presidency for most of my workdays for at least a year now for my next book on Ronald Reagan’s rise to the presidency. I want to loose some thoughts while they are fresh in my mind. … President Carter, concerned that America ranked 21st in voter participation among the world’s democracies, transmitted a package of proposed electoral reforms to Congress. He had studied the problem. Now he was ready to administer a solution. Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that “millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws”—a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.
Facing long odds at retaking the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are pushing hard for redistricting reform as a potential route back into control of the lower chamber. The legislation is not new –– many Democrats, including Pelosi, have been advocating for independent redistricting panels for at least a decade –– nor is it going anywhere in a Congress led by Republicans who are benefitting handsomely under the current process. But Pelosi’s co-sponsorship of this year’s reform proposal marks a rare move for a party leader who seldom lends an official signature to individual bills. Her formal endorsement is both an escalation of support for non-partisan redistricting and an indication that Democratic leaders want to rein in gerrymandering and lay the groundwork for reform heading into the 2016 elections.
America’s voter rolls are so bloated that dozens of counties have more people registered than there are adults living there, according to two new studies released Thursday that the authors said could lead to lawsuits forcing states to clean things up. True the Vote, a Texas group that works for clean elections, counted 136 counties with voter registration rates of more than 100 percent of their adult population. Meanwhile the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm based in Alexandria, used a slightly different methodology and counted 141 counties. And an increasing number are mid- and large-sized ones — the kind that should have enough resources to police their voter rolls, but just aren’t getting to it, said Logan Churchwell, research director for True the Vote.
A bipartisan group of voters added to the list of redistricting lawsuits this week, filing a case in federal court challenging the Fair Districts amendments of the Florida Constitution as unconstitutional. The group, which includes some Alachua-based Republicans who call themselves the “Conservative Coalition for Free Speech and Association,” is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an attempt to invalidate the anti-gerrymandering amendments approved by voters in 2010. Several members of the Alachua coalition fought the release of their private emails in pending redistricting lawsuits, claiming it violates their First Amendment rights. The court ordered the release of a limited number of those documents, which showed that many of them were political operatives engaged in what the court called a “shadow redistricting” process that aimed to influence the Legislature’s drawing of its maps in a way that favored Republicans.
With the Legislature having trouble redrawing new political districts, the job should be given to an independent commission as other states have done, Democrats argue. But Republicans, in charge of the Legislature and whose redistricting efforts have resulted in a legal quagmire, aren’t ready to give up the job. Although such commissions have been used in other states for years, only within the past two redistricting cycles have states pushed for more independence for them. But impartiality can be hard to achieve. “The catch is how you define independent,” said Tim Storey, state legislative elections expert for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Some of these commissions are just as partisan as the Legislature.”
Kansas: Kris Kobach says voter registrations without ‘proof of citizenship’ need to go | The Kansas City Star
More than 30,000 incomplete voter registrations have piled up in Kansas — most waiting for applicants to submit the now-required “proof of citizenship” documents. Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he knows how to fix the problem. He wants a new rule that allows election officials to toss out uncompleted applications after 90 days. The proposal will be the topic of a hearing this week. Simple housekeeping, he says. The wholesale dumping of potential voters, critics say, and for no good reason. Even Hillary Clinton weighed in last week. A tweet from her presidential campaign account called Kobach’s proposal a “purging” and a “targeted attack on voting rights.” Kansas’ rules on voter ID and proof of citizenship championed by the Republican secretary of state have stirred up controversy nationally and close to home. Voting rights groups say the regulations muck up a system that wasn’t broken and, in the process, reduce voter participation.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran was charged Friday in state District Court with fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes related to allegedly converting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to her personal use in 2013 and 2014. At the same time, it appears she was frequenting casinos across the state and withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars at them from accounts in her name. Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas alleged 64 violations in a criminal complaint and information that said Duran shifted money between campaign and personal accounts and withdrew sums at eight casinos. Duran is a Republican in her second term; she was elected in 2010 and re-elected last year. The secretary of state, who oversees elections and campaign finance, has the role of state government ethics regulator.
North Carolina: Redistricting foes return to state Supreme Court as justices weigh Alabama case | Daily Journal
North Carolina’s boundaries for General Assembly and congressional seats were drawn four years ago by Republican legislators and have been used in the past two election cycles, helping bolster GOP electoral gains. Yet the initial litigation that called the role race played in forming the districts discriminatory and illegal remains unresolved. Combined lawsuits filed by election and civil rights groups and Democratic voters are back at the state Supreme Court. Justices will hear arguments Monday whether they should change their majority ruling from eight months ago that upheld the maps now that there’s a new U.S. Supreme Court decision. The nation’s highest court told North Carolina state judges in April to reconsider the case through the lens of its March decision. The U.S. justices found Alabama legislators relied too much on “mechanical” numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which blacks comprised a majority of the population.
In America’s quintessential swing state, aging voting machines and partisan battles are casting doubt over the fairness of the 2016 election. Immediately after the 2004 election, when tens of thousands of Ohioans waited hours to vote, the state enacted a series of reforms that began to address the worst of that year’s nightmares. But now much of that progress is in danger of being undone. The Buckeye State is far from alone. Politicians and advocates are waging similar battles across the country, but the stakes may be highest here, in perhaps the most important of swing states on the national electoral map. With voting laws in flux and funding a for better voting technology a constant struggle nationwide, two central questions remain just 14 months before Election Day: who will be able to vote, and will all their votes be counted accurately? In 2005, Ohio passed a sweeping bill that expanded early and absentee voting, and a series of legal settlements in the following years helped put in place some of the nation’s best electoral practices. But over the past few years, Republicans have been chipping away at many of those changes. GOP leaders say they’re simply trying to guarantee uniformity and prevent voter fraud, but voting rights advocacy groups say the recent changes threaten to bring back problems from the past, and may be driven by an effort to suppress voter turnout.
You can bank online, chat with your friends over the Internet or buy virtually anything online and have it shipped to your door. As of Thursday, you also can register to vote online in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes made the announcement Thursday at the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, flanked by voting advocates and county elections officials. “It will make registering more convenient and accessible for voters, while saving money and time for county voter registration staff,” Mr. Cortes said. As of the end of the day Thursday, 662 applications already had been submitted at register.votesPA.com. The online system will not replace traditional paper registration, officials said, but will supplement it.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the full bench of a federal appeals court to reconsider a ruling that found the state’s strict voter ID law illegally hindered minorities from casting ballots. The state launched its legal salvo in the voter ID court fight with multiple filings late Friday, including a clear signal from Paxton’s office that it will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a complex ruling that was largely interpreted as a narrow win for civil rights groups suing the state. The panel upheld one portion of a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi that found the law obstructed black and Hispanic voters and instructed the lower court to fix what amounted to a violation of the Voting Rights Act. It tossed one ruling that deemed the voter ID law equivalent to a poll tax and rejected another judgment from the lower court that found the law was motivated by racial bias, though the panel ordered the lower court to reconsider that portion of the case.
After another municipal primary in which very few people bothered to vote, more area officials have been talking about the possibility of moving to a by-mail balloting system the next time around. The Aug. 11 primary, which involved city and town council races in four Washington County municipalities, saw historically low voter turnout for some. St. George finished with a turnout of 10.2 percent, while Hurricane was 9.6 percent. Washington City finished comparatively high at 14.8 percent. The town of Virgin, where voters had been primed by a special election in June over a zone change request regarding a proposed RV resort, had by far the highest turnout, with 54 percent.
From television studios, solemn newspaper columns, websites written with the help of TV news, reports on foreign media and research papers that pretend to be academic an interpretation of what happened this week in Tucumán has emerged: in the north of the country, politics is determined by a patronage system in which unscrupulous politicians take advantage of the needs of the poorest Argentines. These humble members of society, the thinking goes, suddenly find themselves placed in a position between the immorality of selling their vote to those who give them a social welfare plan and lack thought or ability to compare options. So they end up giving their support to leaders who hurt them.
That thesis, generally uttered from a trendy Buenos Aires City neighbourhood, attributes humble Northern voters the same intellectual capacity of a machine. In contrast to this barbarianism, there is a sophisticated, well-informed citizenry which supports candidates based not only on self-interest but also principles. Opposition lawmaker Elisa Carrió has been saying it clearly: “The urban middle classes must save the country’s poor.”
Depending on the party, they love pot, hate Stephen Harper or just want to have fun. Fringe parties are a perennial fixture in Canadian politics, and so far there are more than a dozen registered to run in this fall’s federal election. The best most can hope for is to scrape up a few thousand votes based on a niche platform or protest ballots from disenfranchised electors. So what drives them — and do they add or detract from the democratic process? Sinclair Stevens, the 88-year-old leader of the Progressive Canadian Party, is mobilizing yet another campaign with one sole purpose: to defeat Stephen Harper. “He has an agenda that is just not Canadian,” he told CBC News.
Egypt will hold a long-awaited parliamentary election, starting on Oct. 18-19, the election commission said on Sunday, the final step in a process to bring back democracy that critics say has been tainted by widespread repression. Egypt has been without a parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber, dominated by the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a major accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The election had been due to begin in March but was delayed after a court ruled part of the election law unconstitutional. A second round of voting in the two-phase election will take place on Nov. 22-23, the election commission told a news conference. Voting for Egyptians abroad will take place on Oct. 17-18.
Getting youngsters to vote in next year’s Upper House election may mean coaxing them to be more independent-minded once they leave the nest. And with Japan welcoming 18- and 19-year-olds at ballot boxes next summer, the government is targeting high school students who leave home for university or other reasons to transfer their residence registries, so that they are able to vote in elections. “We want people to vote in the first election held after they turn 18 — and continue to vote in the future,” a senior Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry official said. “Relocating the registry to their current address is the first step.” Japanese citizens are given ballots by municipalities based on their resident registry, and the country’s basic resident register law requires people to transfer their registry when they move.
Aucklanders won’t be able to choose their next council at the click of a mouse. Local Government Associate Minister Louise Upston confirmed that the country’s biggest city wouldn’t feature in a trial of online voting for next year’s local body elections. Officials from the Super City are some of the biggest supporters of a digital voting revolution, but Auckland Council’s catchment has been deemed too big. “A trial that includes all of Auckland and its approximately 1 million electors is simply too large to adequately mitigate these risks,” she said. Stung by a dismal 36 per cent voter turnout in the 2013 elections, Auckland Council has lobbied hard to introduce internet voting. But its campaign has failed. Applications are now only being sought from smaller councils to provide a range of voting systems.
As Saudi Arabia prepares to allow women to vote for the first time, the US marked the 95th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote. The Election Assistance Commission has ruled that states are free to use federal grant money intended to improve how elections are run in order to pay for criminal investigations of potential voter fraud. In Alabama a three-judge federal court today asked plaintiffs if they could draw a new redistricting map that would strike the delicate balance of protecting majority black districts while not using race as the main factor, while a Florida judge said he did not have the authority to resolve the map dispute without the approval of the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled in July that the current redistricting map was unconstitutional. Also this week, a judge in Kansas denied a move by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to quash a lawsuit challenging the state’s two-tier voter registration system and said Kobach has exceeded his authority with the way he runs elections. Pennsylvania has become the latest state to launch an online voter registration application. Canada’s upcoming election will be a test of the Fair Elections Act, the controversial and sweeping legislation that has introduced changes to how Canadians prove they are eligible to vote, the way elections are financed and how voting shenanigans are investigated and Golos, Russia’s only grassroots election-monitoring organization, has been fighting an exhausting battle to prove it does not receive foreign funding.
Wednesday marks the 95th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. At the same time, one of the last countries to deny women the vote is preparing to open its polls: this December, women will vote in Saudi Arabia for the first time. This achievement, like the ones that came before it, wasn’t handed to Saudi women, who have been pressuring their government for years. Around the world, women have only won suffrage because they’ve demanded it. “There’s no other movement for women’s rights that’s as international as votes for women,” says Ellen DuBois, distinguished professor of history and gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. A century ago, American women were deep into their own chapter of the movement—and closing in on victory. The first international votes for women came sporadically during the 19th century. Women in Sweden and Scotland won some local voting rights, and Great Britain opened local elections—but only to unmarried women who also owned property. Then, in 1893, women in New Zealand won the full right to vote.
National: Election Assistance Commission says state’s can use federal election grants to pay for voter fraud investigation | Associated Press
States are free to use federal grant money intended to improve how elections are run in order to pay for criminal investigations of potential voter fraud, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has ruled. The commission’s opinion is a relief to election officials in Iowa, who will not have to pay back $240,000 in federal money that was used for a voter fraud investigation that ended last year. But critics of Iowa’s investigation said they were surprised that the commission found that Help America Vote Act funding could be used for such a purpose, and worried that other states could follow suit. “It seems like a real stretch,” said Tom Courtney, an Iowa Democratic state senator who asked the commission’s inspector general to investigate the spending nearly three years ago. “But now with this ruling in their pocket, Iowa and other states might say, ‘all right.’ ” Months before the 2012 presidential election, then-Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz reached an agreement to pay the salary and expenses of a full-time Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent for two years to look into “instances of potential criminal activity” related to voting and elections. The investigation led to charges against 10 non-U.S. citizens and 16 ex-felons accused of casting ballots despite not having voting rights.
A three-judge federal court today asked plaintiffs who claim Alabama’s legislative districts are racially gerrymandered if they could draw a new plan that would strike the delicate balance of protecting majority black districts while not using race as the main factor. Presiding Judge Bill Pryor called that the “$64,000 question” during today’s hearing in the technical, complex case sent back to the three-judge court by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case concerns Alabama’s 140 legislative districts, redrawn by a Republican-led Legislature in 2012, as is done after after 10-year census. The plan was used in last year’s elections.
A Leon County judge on Tuesday postponed a decision about Florida’s still incomplete congressional redistricting map after Republican legislative leaders failed to agree on how to redraw the boundaries. During a hearing, Judge Terry P. Lewis of Florida’s Second Circuit Court said he did not have the authority to resolve the map dispute without the approval of the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled in July that the current redistricting map was unconstitutional. The judge said he would send a request for guidance to the State Supreme Court on Wednesday.
A Topeka judge has denied a move by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to quash a lawsuit challenging the state’s two-tier voter registration system and said Kobach has exceeded his authority with the way he runs elections. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas and Missouri, called the ruling a “great day for voting rights and a great day for Kansas.” The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of voters who have been frozen out of state and local elections because they registered to vote using federal registration forms and didn’t provide proof-of-citizenship documents required by Kansas law.
On Thursday, Gov. Wolf and Secretary of State Pedro Cortés announced that PA has become the latest state to launch an online voter registration application. Hosted by the Department of State, the form is now available for use by eligible citizens at register.votesPA.com. “Online Voter Registration is about making the voting experience more convenient and more accessible,” Governor Wolf said in a statement on Thursday. “It is about giving citizens an easier way to exercise their right to vote and establishing a clearer connection between the political system and the citizens. Online voter registration is secure, it improves accuracy and will reduce costs for counties by cutting down on time-consuming data entry.” Online voter registration is available in 22 other states. In five additional states and the District of Columbia, OVR has been approved and is awaiting implementation. According to Secretary Cortés, the trend towards OVR is only natural in an increasingly digital world.
If you thought you couldn’t escape the onslaught of political ads in 2012, just wait until 2016. This election cycle, campaigns are expected to fully embrace mobile advertising as a way to target voters anytime, anywhere. For the first time, spending on political ads for digital media is expected to top $1 billion, rivaling the estimated amounts campaigns spend on telemarketing and radio, according to a report released this month by the research firm Borrell Associates. That’s still just a fraction of the total $11.4 billion Borrell estimates will be poured into political advertising in 2016. But it’s a big increase since 2012, when spending on digital political ads was just $159 million.
Ethics problems can be serious trouble for any politician, but party strategists often use Federal Election Committee complaints to play games with the opposition, because the allegation has a slim chance of being ruled on before Election Day. “Everyone knows both sides file complaints to get press hits,” one campaign strategist said anonymously in order to speak candidly. For example, in July a former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director now with an outside group, American Democracy Legal Fund, filed an FEC complaint concerning compensation GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin received after his 2010 race. Subsequently, Roll Call wrote a story, “Group Files FEC Complaint Against Johnson.” And a couple of days later, the DSCC sent out an email with the subject line, “Busted: FEC Complaint Filed Against Ron Johnson For Shady Corporate Fundraising Scheme,” that linked to the story. Whether the accusation is true is beside the point. The accusers know simply filing a complaint will generate media attention and cast doubt onto the accused.
Editorials: Dumbing Down American Politics: Lawrence Lessig and the Presidency | Thomas E. Mann/Institute of Governmental Studies – UC Berkeley
Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig looks meek — a dead ringer for Mr. Peepers – yet is anything but. Lessig built an impressive career in legal scholarship on the regulation of cyberspace, and the mild-mannered, soft-spoken academic became a cult hero among libertarians fearful of increasing legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the electromagnetic spectrum. But Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?
There is an intense tug-of-war in this nation between those who want to make it easier and those who want to make it more difficult to vote. The simplistic, and largely accurate, narrative is that Democrats want more people to vote and Republicans want fewer. Each side has a high-minded argument: Democrats want to encourage citizen participation in the process; Republicans want to discourage fraud. But let there be no mistake: In each case, principle dovetails neatly with party interest. Democrats tend to gain from higher turnout; Republican voters are likely to be overrepresented when turnout is lower. In many corners of the nation, the trend is clearly favoring voter suppression, especially after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminated the nearly half-century-old requirement that areas with a history of discriminatory voting practices — concentrated in the South — would be required to gain federal or court permission before making any changes in their voting procedures.
State Sen. Sharon Runner’s bill that would give the governor discretion to cancel often costly special elections when only one candidate qualifies for the ballot passed through an Assembly elections committee this week, Runner’s office announced. Senate Bill 49 passed out of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee on Monday and will head next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill’s latest movement through the state legislature follows its passing in a Senate committee in June and the Senate floor in July. In introducing SB 49 in May, Runner, R-Lancaster, made good on a campaign promise to push for changes to single-contender special elections in which the lone contender can simply be appointed.
Maryland: Redistricting Reform Commission holds first meeting with just 10 weeks to act | Maryland Reporter
Gov. Larry Hogan’s 11-member Redistricting Reform Commission, created on Aug. 6 by executive order, met for first time near the State House Thursday where they outlined their first steps to reform the process of drawing Maryland’s congressional and legislative district lines. In order to combat Maryland’s A+ grade in gerrymandering, an unlucky subject to be excelling at, the commission plans to hold four to five “regional summits,” or public hearings, over the next two months. The final outcome will be a report outlining voters concerns with redistricting, due to the governor and General Assembly leaders by Nov. 3, less than 10 weeks from now. The commission will have to produce a quick turnaround with a “fairly aggressive” schedule, according to the governor’s office. In addition to the report, the commission is tasked with recommending a constitutional amendment on congressional and legislative redistricting to be introduced during the Maryland General Assembly’s next legislative session.