Like hundreds of thousands of other Virginians, I’ve been casting ballots for over a decade using Winvote voting machines. I now have physical proof of how catastrophically insecure those machines are. It’s a tiny key that opens the plastic door hiding the USB port on every Winvote terminal. This keepsake came my way at an eye-opening presentation about voting-machine security at this past Tuesday’s Usenix Security Symposium in Washington. Jeremy Epstein, a security scientist with SRI International, has spent years investigating the weaknesses of these and other electronic voting systems. But even he didn’t know how bad Winvote terminals were untilthis past April.
Did the congressional drafters of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law build within it the seeds for its own destruction? Tucked within the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (the formal name for “McCain-Feingold”) is a provision requiring that certain constitutional challenges to the law be heard by a three-judge court, with direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This special jurisdictional provision makes it much more likely that within the next few years the Supreme Court will strike limits on the amounts people and entities can contribute to the political parties in so-called party soft money. If the court does so, it would be knocking down the second of McCain-Feingold’s two pillars. The court knocked down the first pillar—the limits on corporate and union spending—in the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
When the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965, it was intended to outlaw poll taxes, literacy tests and other attempts by state governments to discourage minorities from voting. Over the past five decades, the law has been almost universally praised as an essential tool to not only ensure fair elections, but also to thwart the marginalization of minorities in America. In recent years, however, the law has come under attack as various state legislatures have chipped away at key provisions. “In theory, everybody’s in favor of the right to vote,” President Obama said recently. “But in practice, we have state legislatures that are deliberately trying to make it harder for people to vote.”
Editorials: PFD voter registration: Let’s make Alaska government work smarter | Alaska Dispatch News
Ever had an old car start to break down? Maybe the filters get clogged and the tires wear down and you find yourself burning money as your gas mileage deteriorates. The brake pads start to squeak, “check engine” lights flicker on, and you begin to notice that ominous clicking sound from what you think is probably the radiator. If you’ve spent at least a couple winters in the 49th state, the chances are good this has happened to you. You’d like to ignore the warnings, but you know if you don’t get under the hood, the problems with the car are only going to get worse, and more expensive. The state of Alaska has a similar problem. Our Division of Elections database is more than 30 years old. Even by Subaru standards, that’s pretty bad.
During a hotly contested race this year to replace Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, three apartment rental companies that listed the same chief executive and same address in state records each contributed the maximum donation allowed to candidate Carolyn Ramsay. Such a cluster of giving can trigger the suspicion of watchdog groups and city investigators, because if the money is coming from the same business owners, it can exceed legal limits on donations from one source. Campaign finance experts say the key question is whether the money is coming from the same source. But the answer is unclear. Publicly available campaign and business records don’t spell out who owns the companies. The companies’ chief executive did not respond to repeated emails, phone calls and letters seeking information on the firms and the donations.
As Florida legislators struggled last week to draw a congressional district map that meets a court mandate, it became clear what they would end up with would be far from perfect. “Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes,” exclaimed state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as lawmakers convened for the second special session to revise a congressional redistricting plan already rejected by the court. “Bring me something that works!” Redistricting reformers thought they had found a better way when they persuaded 63 percent of Florida’s voters in 2010 to approve the “Fair District” amendments to the Florida Constitution that outlawed gerrymandering and banned lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts favoring or disfavoring incumbents or political parties. Taking politics out of the most political of acts turned out not to be so easy.
Florida: New boundaries for Corrine Brown district highlight conflict between federal protections, state anti-gerrymandering law | Florida Times-Union
Of eight congressional districts the Florida Supreme Court required the Legislature to fix, none is more controversial than U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s District 5. None of the others will change more than this district, which winds south to Orlando but the court says should stretch west to Tallahassee. District 5 and its twists and turns have also been the focus of numerous legal challenges dating back to the 1990s, and those challenges are likely to continue long after new maps are approved this week. Ending the kind of gerrymandering that defines District 5 was the focus of the Fair Districts Amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2010. But legal experts and lawmakers say there is a catch: Compact districts make it harder to create the type of coalition minorities need to elect one of their own to Congress, an effort protected under the federal Voting Rights Act.
As Florida legislators struggled last week to draw a congressional district map that meets a court mandate, it became clear that what they would end up with would be far from perfect. “Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes,” exclaimed Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as lawmakers convened for the second special session to revise a congressional redistricting plan that had been rejected by the court. “Bring me something that works!” Redistricting reformers thought they had found a better way when they persuaded 63 percent of Florida’s voters in 2010 to approve the “Fair District” amendments to the Florida Constitution that outlawed gerrymandering and banned lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. But taking politics out of the most political of acts turned out not to be so easy.
Four Native Hawaiians and two non-Hawaiians filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu seeking to block a “race-based” and “viewpoint-based” election planned this fall as a step toward establishing a sovereign Hawaiian government. The lawsuit, which was filed against the state of Hawaii, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and other “agents of the state,” argues that the election violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by using race and political qualifications to determine voter eligibility. The Native Hawaiian Roll Commission recently published a list of 95,000 Native Hawaiians eligible to vote for delegates later this year to a governance aha, or constitutional convention to be held next year. The election is being overseen by an independent group, Na‘i Aupuni, which is funded by OHA grants through the Akamai Foundation.
Louisiana: Judge rejects Houma candidate’s effort to run as both Democrat and Republican | Houma Today
A Terrebonne Parish judge dismissed the case of a local candidate for state representative who sought to be listed as both a Democrat and Republican on the ballot this fall. Houma attorney Damon Baldone is seeking the House District 52 seat, which covers Bayou Cane, Gray, part of Houma and the Lafourche side of Bayou Blue.
There’s more than a little novelty to a political candidate who doesn’t spend a dime, doesn’t campaign, and doesn’t even vote for himself to win the gubernatorial nomination of a major party — as Terry truck driver and newly-minted Mississippi Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Robert Gray has discovered. Gray unexpectedly and rather easily dispatched the state Democratic Party establishment-backed candidate Vicki Slater and Dr. Valerie Short on the way to winning his party’s nomination without a runoff. After the brief “who is Robert Gray?” reaction came a torrent of political conspiracy theories as to why Gray emerged from political anonymity to win the Democratic nomination.
Depositions were under way last week in a voting rights case that could indirectly cost taxpayers in Sioux Falls and other South Dakota communities hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Jackson County was sued last year by four Native Americans after the county refused to establish an in-person absentee polling place in Wanblee. County officials last year argued they didn’t have the money to establish an absentee polling place in both Wanblee, which is 96 percent Indian, along with an existing polling place at the county seat in Kadoka, which is 95 percent white. But the money argument ceased to exist after the state agreed to make federal Help America Vote Act funds available for counties to establish satellite polling places for federal elections. The funds are available for counties with large impoverished populations that live farther away than other residents from county seats or other satellite polling places.
US Virgin Islands: Joint Elections Board: Voting Machine Software Changes will Eliminate ‘Confusion’ Next Election | St. Croix Source
Changes approved Friday for software currently used in the territory’s voting could help prevent some of the confusion seen during the 2014 general election or, according to some Joint Board of Elections members, help make the situation worse. Among other things, voters last year were concerned that Elections officials were hand-counting party ballots in an effort to make sure they were not spoiled. At the time, board members said they did not agree with how the machines tallied ballots that had the party symbol selected and changes approved by the Joint Board during a Friday meeting on St. Thomas will ensure that: the software in the voting machines must be designed to keep ballots consistent with any party symbol selected by a voter (meaning that ballots will either be all Democratic or all Republican once a certain party is chosen);
State lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Monday for what’s expected to be a contentious fight over congressional redistricting and a Virginia Supreme Court appointment. The fate of the governor’s high court selection is all but certain, but the final look at what Virginia’s new congressional boundaries will look like is less clear. Republican leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly plan to elect Rossie D. Alston Jr. Monday as a new justice on the Virginia Supreme Court. His election will remove Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s new appointment to the high court, Justice Jane Marum Roush, who took her spot on the bench at the beginning of this month. The judge fight has been all about politics, as both sides say Roush is a qualified candidate.
Editorials: Virginia’s ‘Back to the Future’ voting registration debate | Peter Galuszka/The Washington Post
It seems so “Back to the Future.” For several years, Virginia’s Republican politicians and some Democrats have been raising the specter of massive voting fraud that needs to be corrected by tougher voter-identification requirements. The fears are centered upon undocumented aliens somehow gaming the voter-registration system so they can twist elections in their favor. An even more frightening reason is to push African Americans living in Virginia and several other Southern states back to where they were before theVoting Rights Act of 1965 protected them from abusive vetting tactics when they tried to register to vote.
Voters will have to wait until after polling day to have their say on same-sex marriage after Tony Abbott definitively ruled out holding a people’s vote in conjunction with the next federal election. On Sunday, he ruled out holding a public poll at the same time as the federal election. “I think the people should be able to consider this in its own right,” Abbott told reporters in Brisbane. “Millions of people in our community have strong views one way or another on this and why shouldn’t we be able to debate this and decide this in its own right without being distracted by the sorts of arguments which you inevitably get during an election campaign?”
In a tight election campaign there’s no telling what will separate the winners from the losers on voting day. A key policy announcement, an embarrassing gaffe or an impressive debate performance can end up making all the difference. But according to a new U.S. study, there’s an untapped force that has the potential to be just as decisive as any of those: Internet search rankings. Research published this month in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that search engine results could have a powerful effect on how people vote. It determined that if search rankings were manipulated to allow a preferred candidate to dominate the top results, it could shift voting preferences of undecided voters by at least 20 per cent.
Voters lined up to vote in a national election Monday that will decide whether former president Mahinda Rajapaksa can stage a comeback and how fast the country moves forward with postwar reconciliation as well as economic and political revamping. Polling stations in the Indian Ocean island nation opened at 7 a.m. for Sri Lankans to choose 225 members of Parliament. Police said voting was going smoothly and there had been no major incidents as of the middle of the day. Around 75,000 police have been dispatched to ensure nothing interfered with the poll. Mr. Rajapaksa is seeking a return to power after he was ousted in presidential elections in January. The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, and his supporters accused Mr. Rajapaksa of abusing his power and building an authoritarian regime controlled by his family, which the former president denies.