When the Affordable Care Act’s new enrollment season begins next month, people seeking health insurance through the online federal exchange will also be offered something they may not expect: a chance to register to vote. But voting rights groups say the offer — a link to a voter registration form that they can print and mail, deep inside the application for health coverage — does not go far enough. This week, the groups accused the Obama administration of violating federal law by not doing more to ensure opportunities for voter registration through the exchange, HealthCare.gov, which serves 38 states. In a letter to President Obama, the groups said that in contrast, most of the 13 state-based insurance exchanges have worked to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. The act, also known as the “motor voter” law, requires states to offer voter registration to people applying for a driver’s license or public assistance.
One corner of the world of “dark money” just got a little brighter, and it doesn’t bode well for the 2016 election. A recent tax filing by Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, shows that in 2014 the group spent $4.7 million on ads that had one thing in common: touting the legislative accomplishments of Thom Tillis, who was then North Carolina’s speaker of the House. That year, Mr. Tillis also happened to be trying to unseat Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democratic senator. Carolina Rising spent the money in a three-month blitz leading up to Election Day, but we may never learn where these millions came from. The partial disclosure required of 501(c)(4) outfits means that while we do know that 98.7 percent of the group’s revenue came from a single donor and that virtually every penny of it was used to further the cause of Mr. Tillis’s campaign, we don’t know who Carolina Rising’s secret benefactor was.
The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators used the opportunity to point to each other for the chamber’s mistakes. Democrats united against the map, predicting it would be struck down by the court as a violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans. The vote came halfway through the three-week special session the Legislature called to redraw the Senate map after agreeing in July that it had violated the constitutional Fair Districts standards when approving the redistricting map in 2012.
A bipartisan group of former members of Congress and ex-governors is banding together to put a new spin on a long-standing cause: reducing the influence of big money in American elections. The ReFormers Caucus, as the group of more than 100 former officeholders is known, plans to kick off its effort Nov. 5 with an event on Capitol Hill. It’s all part of a push by a group called Issue One to put the spotlight on overhauling the system. Goals include boosting small donations to campaigns, finding ways to restrict political contributions from lobbyists and unmasking secret contributions made to tax-exempt groups that are active in politics.
National: Federal Election Commission Panel Delays a Decision on Spending in ’16 Races | The New York Times
The Federal Election Commission put off a decision Thursday on just how far so-called super PACs — a dominant force so far in the 2016 campaign — can go in raising millions of dollars for politicians. The inaction was not surprising for a commission often gridlocked by partisan divisions. Still, it frustrated Democratic lawyers, who had asked the commission last month for an “emergency” ruling on whether a dozen fund-raising tactics used by super PACs and politicians should be considered legal. A number of the tactics, like having super PACs host lavish fund-raisers for politicians before they actually announce their candidacies, have become common this election season, particularly among Republicans. A super PAC supporting Jeb Bush hosted him at several dozen events earlier this year before he declared himself a candidate, raising more than $100 million to support his now-flagging campaign.
Voting Blogs: Plenty to watch during ‘off-year’ election – U.S. Postal Service may play biggest role in 2015 | electionlineWeekly
While the focus of many Americans — well, at least the American media — seems to be on the election that is still more than year away, elections officials across the country are gearing up for state and local elections next week on November 3. Just because this isn’t the big show 2016 will be doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on as voters in more than half of the states will head to the polls in some capacity on Tuesday. We’ve been watching the news in the months leading up to November 3 and these are some of the stories we think are worth watching. By far, we think the biggest story for the 2015 elections will be voting by mail—whether it’s casting an absentee ballot or a vote-by-mail ballot. In the days leading up to the election, the U.S. Postal Service and elections officials in numerous states have urged voters to get their mail ballots posted even before this newsletter hits your inbox.
As if our state did not look bad enough after the widely criticized decision to close driver license offices, there now comes the report that Alabama faces a lawsuit from the Department of Justice because it is not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act – and never has been. That law, commonly referred to as the “Motor Voter Act,” was enacted in May 1993. Politically, that’s a lifetime ago. Jim Folsom Jr. was governor of Alabama. Bill Clinton was president of the United States. The purpose of the law was simple – to make voter registration easier by allowing people to register when obtaining or renewing driver licenses or when visiting state offices that provide public assistance. It was supposed to be a seamless process; individuals did not have to make a special request for registration. But Alabama has essentially ignored the act in many cases, acting as though it were some sort of optional proposal rather than the law of the land. Thus Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, has warned the state that a lawsuit looms.
Maryland: Redistricting reform commission reaches consensus on new independent process | Maryland Reporter
The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission met Tuesday to craft recommendations for ways to fix gerrymandering in Maryland, focusing on establishing an independent group to redistrict both congressional and legislative districts. The commission hashed out intricate rules to limit partisan influence and ensure the independence of the new panel. The commission will recommend that any new independent commission apply current state standards for legislative districts to congressional redistricting. When drawing congressional boundaries in the current system, Maryland’s governor leads the process, which follows a more general federal standard.
Tired of talking about how Democrats in Illinois rigged the legislative maps to elect more Democrats? Let’s talk about how Republicans in Ohio rigged the legislative maps to elect more Republicans. And about how Ohio voters are trying to fix it. In the 2012 election — the first using new maps based on the 2010 U.S. Census numbers — Republican candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives got 49 percent of the vote and won 60 percent of the seats. Republicans running for Senate got 68 percent of the vote and won 83 percent of the seats. Those maps weren’t drawn to ensure that voters had their say. They were drawn to benefit the politicians who controlled the redistricting process. Using sophisticated software and voter history data, Republicans drew grossly misshapen districts, surrounding their allies with friendly voters and busting up communities to disadvantage their enemies. It worked.
The days of blatant and direct disenfranchisement — literacy tests, poll taxes, etc. — might be in the past, but there are still countless Americans who struggle to have their voices heard on Election Day. Indiana’s prison population, which was near 28,000 people as of July 1, 2015, according to the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC), is one group unable to cast a ballot. Indiana could be considered moderate compared to the rest of the country in terms of voting rights for felons. According to ProCon.org, Indiana is among 13 states (and Washington, D.C.) that restore a felon’s voting rights after the offender has served their full prison term.