The drawing of legislative districts is supposed to be a once-a-decade process, completed shortly after the U.S. Census Bureau provides updated population numbers. But in some states, the map-drawing based on the 2010 count—the most litigious in recent memory—is still dragging on. Courts will likely draw maps for Florida and Virginia after legislators in those states failed to agree on new maps to replace earlier ones thrown out by judges. Alabama may need to redraw its district lines after the Legislative Black Caucus went to court arguing that Republican state legislators drew them to reduce the voice of minority voters. Democrats in Wisconsin are arguing that GOP lawmakers did the same to their voters. And a case in Texas could change the “one man, one vote” standard. Though in some states commissions are responsible for drawing U.S. congressional and state legislative maps, in most it is up to state legislators to do the job.
To the winner goes the attorneys’ fees. That’s often how federal civil litigation works, with hundreds of statutes in the books entitling prevailing plaintiffs fee awards. But not for Shelby County. A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the Alabama county isn’t owed any legal fees from the federal government despite winning its challenge against a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the formula in the act used to identify jurisdictions that historically suppressed minority voters. Those states and voting districts, mostly in the South, were required to seek Washington’s approval before changing election practices. In a 5-4 vote, the high court agreed with the Shelby County that the formula isn’t constitutionally valid because it’s based on decades-old voter-participation data that may not reflect more recent progress. After its Supreme Court victory, Shelby County sought more than $2 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, affirming a lower court, ruled that the federal government had no obligation to pay up.
Kansas: Kris Kobach’s plan to delete more than 30,000 voter registration applications in Kansas draws dissent, praise | Topeka Capital-Journal
The Shawnee County election commissioner and representatives of advocacy groups clashed Wednesday over merits of the Kansas secretary of state’s plan to purge more than 32,000 voter registration applications for failure to document citizenship. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the 2011 law mandating new registrants document citizenship, has been saddled with oversight responsibility of applications held “in suspense” specifically because individuals had yet to provide evidence they were a U.S. citizen. A total of 36,000 applications are in limbo, but nine in 10 are tied to the citizenship requirement. Kobach proposed an administrative rule — not a state law — ordering county election officers to shred all registration applications if not completed within 90 days. Currently, Kansas sets no time limit on the process. … Former Topeka Democratic Rep. Ann Mah, as well as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, Topeka branch of the NAACP, Kansas League of Women Voters and Topeka National Organization for Women, expressed opposition to the policy sought by Kobach. Mah said cancellation of registrations pending in the Election Voter Information System after three months was improper because time required to obtain a birth certificate from another state could take much longer. She said applicants who failed to present citizenship documents could meet requirements to participate in federal — not state — elections, and those individuals shouldn’t be cut off.
Nevada: Appeals court revives lawsuit over voter registration at Nevada welfare, food stamp offices | Associated Press
A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit saying Nevada public assistance offices weren’t doing enough to help low-income clients register to vote. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday overturned a lower court’s move to dismiss the lawsuit over technical issues. The case, which was originally filed by NAACP branches in Reno and Las Vegas and the National Council of La Raza, will be reassigned to a new judge. “We applaud the decision, and we think it’s an important victory for civil rights groups who know how important the vote is,” said National Council of La Raza Vice President Eric Rodriguez, who added that the move was especially important in Nevada, with its growing Hispanic voter bloc and much-watched Senate race. “Efforts to restrict registration and suppress it really run counter to American values.”
Eight months after the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of congressional and legislative voting maps drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011, the maps were back before the court on Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court in April ordered the state court to take another look at the maps in light of a decision on an Alabama redistricting case where the justices found lawmakers in that state relied too much on “mechanical” numerical percentages while drawing legislative districts in which blacks comprised a majority of the population. Those who sued over North Carolina’s maps in 2011 believe the ruling in the Alabama matter is spot on with the boundaries drawn by the General Assembly. They argue that it confirms two dozen legislative districts, along with the majority-black 1st and 12th congressional districts, should be struck down and maps redrawn quickly by the legislature for the 2016 elections.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”
Virginia: U.S. court moves ahead with plan to redraw Virginia congressional maps | The Washington Post
Two days after Virginia lawmakers blew their court-imposed deadline for redrawing the state’s congressional election maps, federal judges on Thursday began to take matters into their own hands. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia set an ambitious schedule for naming an expert to help judges set new district boundaries and accepting suggested maps from legislators. Last year,the court declared Virginia’s congressional map unconstitutional, saying it packs African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere. The court later ordered the General Assembly to adopt a new map by Sept. 1. Congressional Republicans appealed the decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to say if whether it will hear the case.
National: With flourish, Trump rejects independent bid if he loses GOP nomination | Los Angeles Times
With his typical showmanship and a hint of the absurd, Donald Trump promised Thursday to forgo an independent bid for the White House if he loses his quest for the Republican nomination, a move that was aimed at easing worries of the party establishment but may only serve to boost his unpredictable, rogue campaign. Standing in the opulent and packed lobby of his Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, Trump held up the document — which was mistakenly dated Aug. 3 instead of Sept. 3. — at a midday news conference and declared he was “pledging allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands.” … Republican Party officials circulated the 70-word pledge to all 17 GOP candidates this week, but the effort was aimed squarely at the one leading the pack in most polls. The billionaire celebrity was the only top-tier candidate who would not publicly promise to rule out an independent bid in the general election when he was asked to do so at the first primary debate last month.
Kansas: Kris Kobach’s proposed voter registration time limit damages rights, speakers say | The Kansas City Star
Voting advocates and others Wednesday spoke out against a new rule proposed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to toss out incomplete voter registrations after 90 days. The rule is unnecessary and would discourage many from even trying to participate in the voting process, they said. One speaker charged that the rule change was politically motivated. But a county election commissioner said the 90-day limit made sense as a matter of efficiency. Kobach didn’t attend the hearing, which was run by state elections director Bryan Caskey. Caskey said there are about 36,000 incomplete registrations on file and about 32,000 of those are missing proof-of-citizenship documents. He said Kobach would consider all public and written testimony before making his decision.
New Jersey: Broad Coalition Calls on Christie to Sign New Jersey Democracy Act Without Delay | PolitickerNJ
With time running out for Governor Christie to take action on the groundbreaking New Jersey Democracy Act, a broad and diverse coalition of advocates are urging Christie to stand with the overwhelming majority of his constituents by signing the bill into law. “New Jerseyans across party lines strongly support modernizing voting laws to make it easier for people to vote and register to vote,” Rob Duffey, Policy and Communications Director for New Jersey Working Families. “Now Governor Christie faces a simple choice. Will he stand with his constituents and modernize voting in New Jersey, or will he cater to Republican primary voters in South Carolina or Arizona that want to roll hard-won voting rights back?” Advocates said that the comprehensive voter modernization bill would reduce barriers to voter registration and voter participation. Its provisions include automatic voter registration, online voter registration, expanded early in-person voting, and census-based language inclusion in voting and ballot materials.
House Speaker Don Tripp said late Wednesday that he will create a special legislative panel to investigate the criminal charges against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a move that marks the first step toward possible impeachment proceedings. The House speaker, a Socorro Republican, did not specify who would be appointed to the House panel, but said it would be made up of either 8 or 10 members, with an equal number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. He also sent a letter to Attorney General Hector Balderas on Wednesday, asking that evidence from the case be made available to the committee. “Given the serious nature of the allegations made by the attorney general against the secretary of state, I believe the appropriate and responsible next step for the House of Representatives is to begin the process of determining whether these charges have merit and rise to the level of impeachment,” Tripp said in a statement.
Lawmakers in the state Senate were surprised when the House voted Wednesday to hold off on agreement with a much-discussed plan to create two primary elections – the presidential primary in March and the statewide races in May. House Republicans who are in the majority are discussing combining all the primary elections into the earlier March 15 date, saying it would save an estimated $4 million to $6 million by not holding a second primary. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said the concern about the extra cost had already been discussed. He speculates that House Republicans have another agenda.
Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvanians have registered to vote online less than a week after the state launched the service, according to state government officials. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes implemented online voter registration on Aug. 27. The Wolf Administration said it reached 4,920 applications by 3 p.m. Wednesday and expected to receive 5,000 by the end of the day.
Ghana’s main opposition New Patriotic Party has petitioned the Electoral Commission to compile a new voter list for next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Some other opposition parties have backed the call for a new voter register, but some civil society groups and the ruling National Democratic Congress say the current voter register compiled in 2012 is credible. Christian Owusu-Parry, the Electoral Commission’s Acting Director of Public Affairs says the electoral body plans to organize a September 22 stakeholder’s workshop. He says parties will be able to present their views before a decision is made about a new voter list.
Guatemala: President quits, jailed pending hearing on corruption charges days before election | Reuters
Guatemala’s Otto Perez resigned as president and was jailed on Thursday while a judge weighs charging him in a corruption scandal that gutted his government and plunged the country into a political crisis days before a presidential election. In an emergency session, Congress approved Perez’s resignation after the retired general quit overnight. Former vice president Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in as president to fill out the remaining months of Perez’s term. Tens of thousands of protesters had flooded the streets of the capital and other cities in recent weeks, calling for Perez to step down over allegations he was involved in a customs racket. Celebrations over Perez’s resignation erupted in a plaza of the capital on Thursday, as the country prepared for presidential and congressional elections on Sunday.
Volunteers were knocking on doors in the residential neighbourhood of Agdal in Rabat on Wednesday to drum up votes amid a political malaise that has gripped the country in recent years. The volunteers were members of the Democratic Leftist Federation, a coalition of groups headed by Nabila Mounib, leader of the Unified Socialist Party, running a campaign called “vivre ensemble”, or live together. “We abandoned politics because we didn’t trust anyone any more and we didn’t think elections could make a difference,” said Fouzia El Hamidi, 60, a member of the federation who wore a white shirt bearing the image of the yellow envelope symbol that represented the coalition. “We are running a campaign of transparency and honesty.” On Friday, Moroccans go to the polls to choose among 300,000 candidates from 36 parties for their local representatives. Among the frontrunners are the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which leads the country’s coalition government, and the Authenticity and Modernity Party, a group close to King Mohammed VI.
According to the 2014 census, about 2 million Myanmar are living abroad, with about 70 percent in Thailand. However, the number is thought to be much higher, with 2-3 million in Thailand alone. And not all those who have registered will get the right to vote. UEC chair U Tin Aye said the commission is checking applications, known as “Form 15”, and comparing them with the voter lists back in Myanmar to determine eligibility. “We will be issuing the final voter list for the whole country on September 14,” U Tin Aye said. “This list will determine who has the right to vote.” Officials did not clarify where the Form 15 supplicants had submitted their applications from. The Myanmar Times called the Myanmar embassies in Thailand and Malaysia multiple times to ask how many people had filed applications but there was no answer.
An election lawyer urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec), on Sunday, to scrap plans of employing Internet voting technology for overseas absentee voting (OAV) in the May 2016 balloting in the absence of clear-cut rules on such a scheme. Laywer Romulo Macalintal said for the May 9 elections in next year, the Comelec should just stick to the existing mode of voting for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) since some provisions of the Overseas Voting Act of 2013 were vague. “Definitely, the election body should wait for clearer provisions of the law allowing Internet voting and its mechanisms,” Macalintal told reporters, citing that under the law, the Comelec has been merely allowed “to explore” Internet-based technology for OAV.
A recent government decision to deny nine cantons the ability to offer e-voting for the upcoming federal elections has come under fire. Critics say it threatens the broader use of electronic voting in the future. In a press release last month, the government said an audit of the electronic voting system developed by American company Unisys revealed major security flaws in the protection of voting secrecy. The machine was proposed by a consortium of nine cantons to be used in the upcoming elections. The government’s decision means that despite significant progress in introducing e-voting to Switzerland in recent years, just four of 13 cantons that applied to offer e-voting during the October parliamentary elections have been authorised to do so. Critics of the decision say that a large majority of the 142,000 Swiss abroad registered to vote will now not be able to do so by electronic means. “The government’s decision is not only incomprehensible, but it is also likely to call into question the people’s confidence in the credibility of e-voting,” says Peter Grünenfelder, chancellor of Aargau and president of the consortium of nine cantons based in the Zurich region that were refused access to electronic voting. Grünenfelder believes that by rejecting the use of the American-developed technology, the government is hoping to support publicly developed e-voting systems, such as the one used by Geneva, rather than private ones. However, government spokesman André Simonazzi rejects this hypothesis and says the cantons have had 18 months to ensure the electronic voting system met the required security conditions. “In the area of protecting voting secrecy in particular, some serious deficiencies were noted,” Simonazzi said. “In the case of a cyber-attack, hackers would have been able to reveal the electors’ vote, which is not tolerable in a democracy.”
Labour members and supporters have begun protesting to the party about their lack of ballot papers with less than a week to go before the leadership election closes. The party initially promised that 99.9% of its electorate would have received ballot papers by 28 August, but it is now refusing to disclose how many of the 554,000 have been sent out. A initial batch of 340,000 was dispatched on 14 August, and a second batch of 170,000 voters should have received their ballots between 21-26 August. That would have left a final batch to receive their voting instructions by email by Friday 28 August. However, with just four and a half working days until the ballot closes at midday next Thursday, many have taken to social media to complain to the party about worries that they could be disenfranchised in the contest.