National: Democratic Governors Association Unveils a Plan to Fight Gerrymandering | The New York Times

The Democratic Governors Association is creating a fund dedicated to winning races in states where governors have some control over congressional redistricting, the party’s first step in a long-range campaign to make control of the House more competitive. Billed as “Unrig the Map,” the effort will target 18 of the 35 states in which governors play a role in redistricting, and where new congressional maps could allow Democrats to win House seats that are now drawn in a way to favor Republicans. The fund will be used for governors’ races over the next five years, leading up to the 2020 census. Democratic officials said that they hoped to raise “tens of millions” for the effort and that they believed they could gain as many as 44 House seats if lines were more favorably redrawn in the 18 battleground states. Many of those states still have Republican-controlled legislatures, but with Democratic governors in place they could at least veto the next round of congressional maps and send the disputes to the courts.

National: 50 years after landmark bill signed, voting rights still fiercely debated | USA Today

Fifty years ago, Southern lawmakers tried in vain to stop the Voting Rights Act, calling it an unconstitutional assault on their states’ right to decide who was qualified to cast a ballot. “The bill is tailor-made to Martin Luther King’s demand for Negro control of the political institutions of the South,” Democratic Sen. Allen Ellender of Louisiana, said on the Senate floor in 1965. “Only through such a nefarious piece of legislation could incompetents gain control of the political processes in the South or in the United States.” Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina argued that passing the Voting Rights Act would make Congress “the final resting place of the Constitution and the rule of law. For it is here that they will have been buried with shovels of emotion under piles of expediency,” Thurmond said. As the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act approaches on Aug. 6, the law is considered a landmark achievement in the struggle for civil rights and an inclusive democracy. Bipartisan majorities in Congress repeatedly have renewed it, and it’s credited with transforming the South by giving African-Americans the ability to share in civic life. But shades of the 1965 states’ rights debate have returned to Washington. A 2013 Supreme Court decision tossing out one part of the law has reopened the 50-year-old question over whether federal officials should be able to veto local election laws before they take effect because they might harm minority voters.

National: 67 donors and gusher of cash change 2016 race | Politico

The flood of seven-figure contributions to outside groups supporting presidential candidates — officially reported for the first time Friday — illustrates in stark terms how the unprecedented political buying power of wealthy donors has fundamentally shifted U.S. presidential campaigns. The 67 biggest donors, each of whom gave $1 million or more, donated more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The 67 mega-donors accounted for $128 million in cash to super PACs supporting specific 2016 presidential candidates. In all, POLITICO’s analysis found that 29 super PACS and other big-money non-profits dedicated to the candidates combined to raise $271 million from 9,500 donors, for an average donation of $29,000.

Editorials: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades | Scott LEmieux/The Week

In 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the most crucial enforcement mechanism in the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction. How did we get here? A major New York Times Magazine story by Jim Rutenberg provides an invaluable history of the long battle conservatives have fought against the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that one major player in this movement was John Roberts himself. It’s important to emphasize the spectacular shoddiness of Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County. It fails to make an even remotely coherent argument to justify declaring that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — which used a formula to determine which areas of the country required greater federal oversight of voting practices — is unconstitutional. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly authorizes Congress to pass legislation to address racial discrimination in voting, and the Voting Rights Act does not violate any specific textual provision.

Editorials: Can math solve the congressional districting problem? | Kevin Knudson/The Conversation

Lost amidst the frenzy of coverage of the Supreme Court’s rulings about the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage was a case involving the constitutionality of an independent commission to draw congressional districts in Arizona. Through a ballot measure in 2000, the state amended its constitution to create a nonpartisan group to draw up new districts; the ultimate goal is to reduce gerrymandering. Named for the salamander-shaped district drawn by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812, gerrymandering occurs when a state legislature draws voting district lines in a manner that benefits the ruling party at the expense of the opposition. The goal is to consolidate power for the party in control, making it effectively impossible for the opposition to gain seats. Many state legislatures have engaged in this process recently, prompting grassroots movements advocating independent commissions to draw districts.

Editorials: Does a voting-rights case threaten experimentation? | Michael McGough/Los Angeles Times

Suppose a state adopts a traditional approach to voting – only one day on which voters can cast their ballots at polling places, with limited opportunities for absentee voting. Yet legislators in this state are intrigued by innovations in other states, such as Oregon’s system of voting by mail or Sunday voting, which allows churches to organize “souls to the polls” programs that shepherd parishioners directly from services to a polling place. If this hypothetical state adopts such alternative methods but then finds them unduly expensive or susceptible to fraud, can it repeal them? On first blush, the answer seems obvious: What the legislature can do it can undo. But what if there is evidence that voting by mail or Sunday voting results in a higher turnout of racial minorities? Would doing away with those methods violate the federal Voting Rights Act?

California: Has ‘top two’ primary system reduced the state’s dysfunction? | San Diego

California’s political system has long been the focus of tinkerers who want to make it more responsive to the voters. This fixation goes back at least to the Progressive Era, when Gov. Hiram Johnson helped usher in reforms that are still the subject of debate today — the initiative, recall and referendum. The goal, of course, was to give the voting public — rather than special interests and party bosses — a greater say in how the state is governed. One of the more significant recent California electoral reforms to attempt this is the “top two” primary, which was approved by voters (Proposition 14) in 2010 and first implemented in a 2011 special election. Previously, for most races the parties nominated their candidates in a primary election, and then the winners — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, etc. — would face off against each other in the November general election.

California: Voting Needs A Serious Overhaul And Los Angeles Might Have The Solution | Co.Design

If abysmal election participation is any indication, voter experience in the United States desperately demands an overhaul. In 2014, turnout hovered around just 36 percent. Federal and local governments have been experimenting with ways that technology can streamline services, whether it’s obtaining business permits or healthcare. In Los Angeles County, the focus is on a pillar of democracy: voting. Dean Logan is the Los Angeles County Registrar and County Clerk and is leading the local call for a new approach to voting. “We live in a time where technology is changing rapidly and where voters and citizens are used to some level of customization and choice in how they participate in civic activities,” Logan says. “We need a system that caters to these experiences. It needs to be agile, secure, and private but as a core foundation it needs to be adaptable to technological advancements and changes in voter behavior.” In 2014, L.A. County embarked on a $15 million contract with Ideo to take a human-centered approach to the problem. The resulting prototype, which is still in the review stages, centers around reinventing voting from two angles. The first is recasting the entire experience from beginning to end. The second is building new machines that offer the ease and flexibility of touch screen systems with the security of a paper trail.

Florida: Embattled Florida elections chief goes on the defense | Tampa Bay Times

Under fire once again for lapses in oversight of Florida’s voter database and lax communication, Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official says he’ll “over-communicate” in the future. For embattled Secretary of State Ken Detzner, it’s an all-too-familiar refrain as he tries to improve his strained relationships with county election supervisors, who depend on a reliable database as they tabulate votes in Florida elections. In a conference call with the executive committee of the supervisors association Thursday, Detzner spoke from a prepared script and said the addition of new database hardware is ahead of schedule and that he would soon make site visits to counties. “I recognize the need to over-communicate our planning at the department,” Detzner told them, according to a three-page script of his remarks.

Georgia: Judge calls for district election to fill vacant Fayette seat | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A federal judge granted an injunction against Fayette County, requiring the county to use district voting to fill a vacant district seat created by the death of the county’s first black commissioner last month. U.S. District judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. cited in his 36-page decision, the timing of the Sept. 15 special election and that Pota Coston was elected under district voting – a plan he ordered in 2013 – as his reasons for granting the preliminary injunction requested by the NAACP, which has been in three-year legal fight with Fayette over its electoral system.

Michigan: State starts the process of obtaining new voting equipment | MLive

After more than a decade, Michigan voting booths are in line for an upgrade. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced Thursday the state is starting the process of replacing the election equipment that has served the state for more than 10 years in the state’s 4,800 precincts. On Thursday, the state began the process of taking proposals from election equipment vendors. The state is seeking upgraded voting systems that still use a paper ballot. The proposals need to be in by early September. “The voting equipment Michigan voters use each Election Day has served us well over the past decade, but there’s no question it’s starting to show its age,” Johnson said in a statement. “I thank Bureau of Elections staff and local election officials for their efforts to begin the process to replace the equipment before we start to see wide-scale issues with the aging equipment.”

Virginia: Commonwealth secretary reports on voting rights | Roanoke Times

Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney told a mixture of Charlottesville leaders and residents that it was watching his father bounce between jobs all his life that sparked his fight for reforming ex-felon rights restoration. Kicking off a multi-city tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Virginia Organizing and the Charlottesville Alliance for Black Male Achievement hosted Stoney in the city council chambers on Monday night to give a progress report on that fight and to field questions. Stoney, Virginia’s first African-American secretary of the commonwealth, recalled watching his father reel from “bad decisions” he’d made in the past when it came to the finding steady work.

Wisconsin: Status quo likely won’t last at Government Accountability Board, putting elections, ethics oversight in flux | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board was created in the wake of scandal, meant to be an independent overseer of elected officials and those who influence them. Eight years later — after playing controversial roles in the 2012 recall elections and an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — the board has made enemies of many of the elected officials it was founded to regulate. Now, the board is on course for a sweeping overhaul — or perhaps for extinction. Some fear the coming changes could leave Wisconsin with weakened oversight of those in power at the Capitol. They also could mean the state will have untested elections oversight in 2016, the first presidential election year in which a photo ID requirement for voting is expected to be in place. But critics of the GAB say change is needed because its purported impartiality is a farce. Gov. Scott Walker said last month that the board should be replaced. Walker was speaking just after the state Supreme Court halted an investigation into coordination between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups — an investigation in which the GAB played a key role. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has signaled the Assembly will take up a bill this fall to overhaul or replace the board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

Editorials: John Doe Decision – After Doe investigations, a chance for sensible reform | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

A 4-2 state Supreme Court decision last month ended a controversial investigation into coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election campaign and conservative groups and left a broad swath of Wisconsin’s long-standing campaign finance law unconstitutional. The court’s decision halted the second of two criminal investigations into Walker led by Milwaukee County prosecutors using the state’s powerful “John Doe” statutes. The first led to the convictions of six Walker aides, associates or appointees but the second was stalled by litigation for more than a year amid bitter complaints from conservatives about prosecutors’ tactics and theory of law. Even if the final chapter of these investigations is now at hand, many questions remain. Among the most important: Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?

Editorials: Canadian ex-pat voting law built for another era | Darren Thorne/Toronto Star

Recently over a million Canadians lost their ability to vote. This was the result of an Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Frank V. Canada, which held that Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years would no longer have the right to vote. The decision restored sections of a 22-year-old law previously struck down as unconstitutional. The court’s majority essentially decided that the exclusion of non-residents was ultimately permissible as it reinforced a “social contract” dictating that those who vote should be those subject to the resulting laws. Since few Canadian laws are enforced outside of our borders, the court reasoned that the limitation on the voting rights of the non-residents was justifiable.

Haiti: Dissing The Diaspora: Why Can’t Haitian Expats Vote In Haitian Elections This Sunday? | WLRN

Five years ago today, Wyclef Jean – the Haitian-American hip-hop superstar whose 2004 hit song mused, “If I was President” – revealed in an interview with me that he was actually running for President. Of Haiti. Whether Jean would have been a good pwezidan is certainly debatable. But what made his candidacy most significant – especially in the wake of Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake – was the prospect of finally seeing a real bridge built between Haiti and its large diaspora. “I’m the only man who can stand in the middle and get the diaspora and Haiti’s elite families to cooperate,” Jean told me. And yet Haiti’s elite families hardly seemed ready to welcome Jean into the presidential palace. Three weeks after he entered the 2010 presidential race, Haiti’s election commission disqualified him because it said he didn’t meet constitutional residency requirements. This despite the fact that Jean was born in Haiti and hadn’t ditched his Haitian citizenship. As a result, many Haitian-Americans said his ejection was typical of how Haiti treats the Haitian diaspora.

Kyrgyzstan: Parliament Gets Ready for Election Season | The Diplomat

As of August 2, 34 political parties have declared their intention to run in Kyrgyzstan’s October 4 parliamentary elections. Kyrgyzstan’s 120-member parliament, called the Jogorku Kengesh, is one of the most dynamic in a region more often associated with pre-determined elections and rubber-stamp parliaments. The election campaign doesn’t begin–by law–until September 4. But it’s not difficult to imagine what will be up for discussion. The last parliamentary election took place six months after the 2010 revolution ousted then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Though the OSCE identified a few irregularities in that election, they reported that it “constituted a further consolidation of the democratic process.”

Singapore: The lines in the sand – redefining the GRC system | The Online Citizen

Equal and fair citizenship is a concept which originated from the political doctrine of Aristotle, undergoing permutations in that it does not necessarily pertain to individuals possessing a direct involvement in governance; instead, it embodies an amalgamation of rights accorded to citizens within legislation which exists as the basis and framework for ensuring vibrant socio-political activity. As an applied principle, this means that policies created with the intent of upholding equal opportunity and fair participation should not disenfranchise any community within society. With the General Elections just around the corner, there has been an increased focus on policies that many consider contentious. Prevailing concerns revolve around the seemingly self-serving redrawing of the boundaries which define constituencies across the island-state by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), whose members occupy a distinct majority of seats in parliament, and the framework within which voting ensues, with emphasis on the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system. Typically, the lines that demarcate Singapore’s constituencies are modified every four years just before General Elections are due, at the advice of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC). Members of this entity are appointed by the Prime Minister and collaborate with the Elections Department, which operates under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Tanzania: Remain impartial for free, fair elections – electoral bodies urged | Daily News

Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) such as the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), the judiciary and media should not be partisan, but remain neutral to lay ground for free and fair elections. “Elections require strong and resilient institutions. To ensure organisation and management of elections do not degenerate into chaos, violence, fraud and other unintended consequences, all stakeholders need to be contented with legitimacy of the electoral process,” a senior official with a UN agency has said. Mr Alvaro Rodriguez, the UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said this in Dar es Salaam yesterday, at the Judges’ Sensitisation Workshop on the Electoral Process in Tanzania, an event which brought together 46 Judges of the Appeals Court of Tanzania and Judges of the High Court on the Mainland.