In 1960, a town of 38 residents in Vermont elected the same number of representatives—one—as Burlington, population 33,000. In Georgia, house districts contained between 1,876 and 185,422 constituents. In California, more than 6 million residents of Los Angeles County elected just one state senator, as did 14,294 inhabitants of three counties on the eastern slope of the Sierra. Legislative malapportionment produced staggering inequality in virtually every state in the union. It was to address this situation that the Supreme Court established “one person, one vote” as a bedrock of American democracy. Now, for the first time since that era, the “reapportionment revolution” is under threat. This fall, in Evenwel v. Abbott, the Court will weigh whether or not “one person, one vote” allows states to base apportionments on all persons living within a given district, or whether the phrase really means “one voter, one vote” and requires states to count only voters for the purposes of representation. A ruling in favor of the challengers, who claim the weight of their votes has been diluted because Texas counts all persons, threatens to undermine one of the great achievements of 20th-century American democracy.
To highlight what they say is a fresh attack on equal rights, U.S. civil rights campaigners are marching 1,385 kilometers from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. After starting at the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge, the “40-day-and-40-night” march is to end September 15. To mark the start of the so-called “America’s Journey for Justice” Reverend Theresa Dear told the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper, “We are doing something of biblical proportions.” More than 200 supporters are taking part in the first leg of a march that will be about 16 times the 54-mile distance covered by voting rights activists in 1965.
House Republican leaders are slamming the brakes on voting rights legislation, insisting that any movement on the issue go through a key Republican committee chairman who opposes the proposal. House Democrats are pressing hard on GOP leaders to bring the new voter protections directly to the floor. That would sidestep consideration in the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has rejected a bipartisan proposal to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of that law. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders say the bill must go through Judiciary. “Speaker Boehner has said that he believes that the Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy. That’s why we reauthorized the law for 25 years in 2006,” a Boehner spokesperson said Friday in an email. “He also believes that if members want to change the law, those discussions will have to begin at the Judiciary Committee.”
National: New ‘super PACs’ help 2016 mega-donors customize their political clout | Los Angeles Times
For discerning, super-wealthy donors looking for a distinctive way to advertise clout, the 2016 presidential election offers a new perk — their own specially tailored “super PAC.” Political professionals working on behalf of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both Republicans, have set up multiple super PACs with nearly identical names, all in the interest of catering to the wishes of the well-heeled, particularly the moguls willing to write seven-figure checks. The idea is to convince these donors they will have a measure of control over how their money is spent. “Whether they have $5,000 or $5 million, they want to be able to participate in the process and give their thoughts and ideas,” said Austin Barbour, main strategist for the three super PACs backing Perry — all bearing the name Opportunity and Freedom.
Editorials: Why Republicans Should Worry About Restrictive Voting Laws | Jim Rutenberg/The New York Times
When The Times released its joint poll with CBS on race last week, its most eye-catching finding was that a majority of Americans have a negative view of race relations, a sharp reversal of expectations following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. But deeper in the results was a telling data point relating to the recent proliferation of state laws and policies having to do with access to voting, the topic of the cover story I wrote for this week’s magazine. One question in the poll asked respondents whether they believed laws and policies that restrict absentee and early voting — overwhelmingly championed by Republicans — were devised to save money or to make it harder for minorities to vote. Nearly 80 percent of the black respondents who had an opinion on the new voting rules said they were devised to make it harder for minorities to vote; only about 20 percent of them said the changes were devised to save money. Among whites who had an opinion on the new rules and regulations, the split was fairly even: 45 percent said the rules were to save money, while 46 percent said they were to make it harder for minorities to vote. (Whites were more likely than blacks to say they had not heard enough to have an opinion, at 53 percent compared with 40 percent.)
If we can bank and shop online, why can’t we also vote online? This once-common refrain — I certainly used to ask the question — has been answered in recent years by revelations that hackers have penetrated some of our largest financial institutions, retailers, entertainment studios and, of course, the federal government. We can do our banking and shopping online because, as Lawrence Livermore computer scientist David Jefferson said earlier this year, “Financial losses in e-commerce can be insured or absorbed, but no such amelioration is possible in an election. And, of course, the stakes are generally much higher in a public election than in an e-commerce system.” Jefferson’s view that online voting — and especially e-mail — is extremely vulnerable to being hacked, intercepted or manipulated is shared by many experts, including those at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Since 2008, Florida has exhibited the political equivalent of a split personality, with a Democratic president twice winning the state even as Republicans racked up large majorities in the Legislature and congressional delegation. Among the explanations for the state’s alternating political personas: Experts say it is one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, with an array of oddly shaped political districts that — evidence now shows — often were designed to maximize partisan advantage. Now two blockbuster court cases — and a pair of constitutional amendments that paved the way for them — are earning Florida a new reputation as a state on the leading edge of efforts to rein in political gamesmanship in drawing legislative districts.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach and election officials in Sedgwick County should welcome an audit that would compare election results reported by voting machines in that county with the paper backup that records each ballot cast on the machines. If these election officials are concerned with protecting the accuracy and integrity of Kansas elections, they should want to know for sure whether the voting machines they are using are accurately recording the votes being cast. That’s why it’s hard to understand why the election officials are forcing a Wichita State University mathematician to go to court to obtain the paper records that would allow her to audit the performance of the voting machines. Beth Clarkson, the WSU mathematician, said her statistical analysis revealed patterns in the November 2014 voting that raised suspicions that “some voting systems were being sabotaged.” It’s possible that there are other explanations for the patterns, she said, which is why she wanted to compare the results produced by the voting machines with the paper records.
Michigan would join a small group of states that conduct all voting by mail under a potential 2016 ballot proposal. Let’s Vote Michigan, a ballot committee formed by Jackie Pierce of Pellston, is one of three groups going before the Board of State Canvassers on Thursday seeking pre-approval to begin circulating petitions. The proposal was inspired by low turnout in recent Michigan elections, according to Pierce, who pointed to increased participation rates in states with voting-by-mail. “I live in Northern Michigan, and sometimes in November, you never know if you can even make it to the polls,” she said. “Seeing the low voter turnout concerned me, so I started talking to people. Since then, we’ve had meetings around the state, and everybody seems to think it’s a good idea.”
A federal trial that may help shape voting rights protections across the country in the 2016 elections and beyond came to a close here Friday, with the Department of Justice and civil rights groups charging that North Carolina deliberately sought to suppress black voting with a new election law, while the state defended its right to set election rules and said it treated all races equally. “African-Americans were on the verge of having real influence in the state of North Carolina,” Bert Russ, a lawyer with the Justice Department, said of the expanded voting procedures that were curtailed in a Republican-sponsored 2013 law. “The legislature stepped in and took away” the methods that drove this progress, he said, in “a troubling mixture of race and politics.” But a lawyer for the state argued that North Carolina had the right to set its election policies, and that the black voter turnout in 2014, under the new rules, was actually higher than before. The lawyer, Thomas A. Farr, accused the plaintiffs of trying to protect “practices that their political allies prefer.”
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder interrupted attorneys numerous times with questions during closing arguments Friday at the North Carolina voting rights trial. The federal judge is presiding over a nationally-watched case that could test the breadth of protections for African-Americans with claims of voter disenfranchisement two years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The NAACP, League of Women Voters, the U.S. Justice Department and others contend that four parts of the 2013 overhaul to North Carolina’s election laws are intended to disenfranchise black, Hispanic and young voters.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada called a federal election on Sunday, hoping to maintain his Conservative Party’s decade-long hold on power despite questions about its ethics and a struggling economy. By law, Mr. Harper had to hold a vote in October. But he broke with Canadian political tradition by formally opening the campaign in the middle of summer during what is a holiday weekend in most of the country. The move appeared designed to give the Conservative Party an edge in campaign spending. The campaign period before the vote on Oct. 19 will be the longest since Canadians all began voting on a single day in 1874. On Sunday, Mr. Harper said that the state of the economy, which his opponents view as his weakness, was the key reason to re-elect his government.
The party of Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected bids by 17 members of Myanmar’s respected “88 generation” to join its ranks and contest November’s election, a controversial omission of a group that was expected to galvanise its bid to dominate the ballot. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party selected only one member of the popular crop of activists, who suffered years of persecution after leading nationwide student protests in 1988 that were brutally crushed by the ruling military. Their rebellion mushroomed into a pro-democracy uprising that thrust Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San, into Myanmar’s political spotlight.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Saturday declared a failure of the second bidding for the refurbishment of the 81,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines it owns after the lone bidder was found ineligible for submitting a noncompliant bid. In a resolution, Comelec special bids and awards committee 2 (SBAC 2) declared the joint venture of Dermalog, Avante and Stone of David ineligible. It then declared a failure of bidding for the “supply and delivery of the refurbishment (with systems upgrade) of the existing PCOS machines, its consumables and ballots for the May 9, 2016, national, local and ARMM elections.”
Catalonia is poised to call on Monday an early regional election that will serve as a proxy vote on independence from the rest of Spain, raising tensions with the central government in Madrid. If an alliance of pro-secession parties wins a majority, they will aim to split from Spain within 18 months, despite Madrid’s opposition, Mas has said. The regional government has already started setting up institutions of state, which would swing into gear if the pro-independence camp wins. “We are ready,” Mas repeatedly says during public appearances. Last week, Catalan officials presented plans for a future Catalan tax agency and adopted a decree paving the way for a public credit institution to be turned into a Catalan central bank.