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.
Minnesota: Secretary of State Simon sides with court: no need for ‘ballot selfie’ ban | Pioneer Press
It’s a distinctly 21st Century spin on an age-old practice: excited voters mark up their ballot on Election Day — then pull out a smartphone to take and a picture of their exercise in democracy and post it to social media. These so-called “ballot selfies” are also at the nexus of a legal debate as some states try to curtail the practice but a federal judge defends it. “It’s a fascinating debate,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state’s election supervisor. “You really better have a good reason before you clamp down on political speech.” Under Minnesota law, ballot selfies are legal — though showing a ballot to someone else in the polling place is not. If a Minnesota voter shows their ballot to someone else in the polling place, the ballot is supposed to be invalidated. The voter can receive a new ballot unless the ballot display is judged to be “clearly intentional.”
I have lived in this town almost as long as the courthouse columns and have never seen the like. Gerrymandering has produced exactly the opposite outcome envisioned by the cartographers. The drama is playing out on Business Loop 70, where contiguous business interests have spent time and money concocting a community improvement district like the one encompassing downtown. Moreover, they have engaged former downtown guru Carrie Gartner as their director, the one person in the world with the most experience designing and creating a CID district in Columbia, Missouri. According to state law, a CID board draws boundaries and property owners in the area decide whether to ask the city to establish the district with power to enact sales taxes. If no residents live within the district boundaries, the vote to establish the sales tax is left to property owners. Property assessments already have been approved by business interests in the district. Both special taxes must be ratified by the city council. Gartner & Co. drew their district lines very carefully to include all the interested business interests and no nearby residents. But they made a mistake, failing to exclude a lone dwelling located on the Mizzou North campus where University of Missouri student Jen Henderson lives. Henderson is a registered voter and says she is skeptical of the district. If she follows through with a “no” vote, the district idea is dead.
Ohio: Supporters of Issue 1 say redistricting change to promote ‘fair elections’ | The Columbus Dispatch
In the past two elections, 100 percent of Ohio congressional races and 98 percent of legislative contests were won by the political party favored when the district lines were drawn in 2011. In 2014, Ohio Republican congressional candidates got 57 percent of all votes cast but won 75 percent of the seats. Republican candidates for the Ohio House got 57 percent of the vote and won nearly two-thirds of the seats. “Ohio elections will continue to be entirely predictable until we change how these maps are drawn,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which put together the data. “We can fix this. We can fix it this year.”
Now that the General Assembly punted on re-doing the map of Virginia’s Congressional districts, the efforts of federal judges to fix matters looks likely to boost Democrats’ hopes for a larger share of the state’s 11 member delegation in the House of Representatives, says Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. How, though, is the question. A panel of U.S. District Court judges has ruled that the General Assembly had packed too many minority voters into the Norfolk-to-Richmond district that sends Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, to Congress. It told the General Assembly to redo the map by Sept. 1, but that ain’t happening. Kondik thinks if the judges draw a new map, they’d mostly likely move some African American voters into the districts represented by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, or Rep Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake. That could make both those districts more competitive.
Burma’s parliamentary election Nov. 8 should have been a moment to anticipate with joy: another step in the nation’s emergence from military rule. But democracy is not strictly about the ballot box. It is also about the process — the nature of the competition for power, and whether that political struggle is free, fair and inclusive of all. By this measure, Burma is falling short. Some of the problems are long-standing. Twenty-five percent of parliament seats are reserved for unelected members of the military. The country’s most popular figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for president by a provision in the constitution, written with her in mind, that the military and its allies recently refused to alter
For Haifa al-Hababi, candidacy in Saudi’s upcoming municipal elections – which are the first polls in the conservative kingdom’s history where women can run – has everything to do with setting a precedent. “I work with a lot of Saudi female students,” said Hababi, who is an architecture professor at Prince Sultan University in the capital Riyadh. “I’d like to run to give them more opportunities. By running, I’m setting myself as a role model and example for these girls’ fathers that they can do anything they want in the future.” On December 12, women will be able to register to vote and run for office in the municipal elections – a legacy from the reign of the late King Abdullah, who died in January this year.
The Mayor of Haaspalu constituency here, Mr Umas Sukles, has appealed to Tanzanians to ensure the October 25 general election is held in a democratic manner for the good of the nation. He made the call here when addressing Tanzanian journalists touring the country. “There is also need for Tanzanian politicians to accept election results once they are defeated,” he said, adding that the majority of politicians have tendencies of not wanting to be out of government leadership even once they have been defeated in elections.
Jeremy Corbyn will consider campaigning to give prisoners the right to vote if he becomes Labour leader. The Labour leadership candidate said he would follow demands by the European Court of Human Rights to allow convicted criminals the right to vote in British elections. The court has ruled four times that Britain should lift its ban on prisoner votes but Parliament has refused to give way over the issue. The 66-year-old left-wing politician supports the principle of overturning the historic ban on jailed convicts voting because he thinks it will help rehabilitate them. MPs voted in 2011 to keep the ban on prisoner voting, despite the tough stance adopted by the European judges since 2005.
The marathon election campaign will be a test of more than voters’ patience and attention span. It 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. It puts more money in the pockets of political parties for a longer campaign, while capping how much third parties can spend on election advertising. To its boosters, the changes are a necessary update, motivated in part by the need to guard against voting fraud. … However, critics of the legislation fear some of the changes will leave people in some particular groups — such as students, the homeless and First Nations — unable to vote. Critics argue that many of the changes were deliberately designed to skew the advantage in favour of the Conservatives on Election Day. “There’s no question it will have an impact in the current election,” said Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians.
Russia: Can Russia’s only independent election monitor survive Kremlin pressure? | Christian Science Monitor
Golos, Russia’s only grassroots election-monitoring organization, has been fighting an exhausting battle to prove it does not receive foreign funding. Otherwise, it would have to self-describe as a “foreign agent” – a term that connotes “spy” in Russian. But even though the organization has won some significant court victories, including a Constitutional Court order to lift the onerous label they were saddled with, Golos seems no closer to fielding its usual teams of observers when Russia’s next cycle of elections kicks off, with regional polls in October. Now, members of Golos and other nongovernmental organizations in similar conflict with the government are asking: Are there any terms under which the Kremlin will allow such a group to do its appointed job? “The basic problem is that authorities are not happy with what Golos does,” says Andrei Buzin, an analyst with Golos. “It’s this type of activity, making conclusions, publishing results, that they just don’t like.”