Don’t expect Congress to shell out any money when it comes to replacing aging voting equipment. That’s what Christy McCormick, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), says her agency is telling state and local election officials, even though a bipartisan presidential commission warned last year of an “impending crisis.” “We’re telling them that, from what we understand, there won’t be any more federal funding coming to help them,” McCormick said in an interview with NPR. And that’s a problem because election officials around the country are worried about breakdowns as voting machines purchased after the 2000 presidential election near the end of their useful lives. Much of the equipment is already outdated. Some officials have even had to resort to sites such as eBay to find spare parts. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that it will cost about $1 billion to buy replacement machines. But state and local budgets are tight. And Congress has shown no sign that it’s willing to foot the bill as it did more than a decade ago, when punch-card voting equipment was replaced nationwide.
In his victory speech after his re-election in 2012, President Obama offered special thanks to those Americans who had stood in long lines to vote — some of whom were still waiting even as he spoke — and then offhandedly added, “by the way, we have to fix that.” The line got big applause, but now, three years later, much of the country is still far from fixing one major cause of the long lines: outdated voting machines and technologies. With the 2016 presidential election just a year away, the vast majority of states are still getting by with old machines that are increasingly likely to fail, crash or produce unreliable results. The software in them, mostly from the 1990s, doesn’t have the capabilities or security measures available today. A study released last month by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly every state uses some machines that are no longer manufactured. And 43 states are using machines that will be at least 10 years old next year, close to the end of their useful lives. A member of the federal Election Assistance Commission told the report’s authors, “We’re getting by with Band-Aids.” The central problem is a lack of money. The report estimates that it will cost at least $1 billion, and probably a good deal more, to upgrade voting systems nationwide. Election officials in 22 states say they need new machines but don’t know where the money will come from. Those states alone represent more than 120 million registered voters, and account for a majority — 324 — of the nation’s 538 electoral votes.
Alabama: Amid voting rights criticism, Alabama partially backs off controversial plan to close driver license offices | The Washington Post
The governor of Alabama has partially reversed a decision to close more than 30 government offices that issue driver licenses and photo IDs, following weeks of criticism by civil rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers who say the action would make it harder for some black residents to get the identification needed to vote. On Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said that instead of fully closing the 31 offices, most in rural communities around the state, the facilities would open once a month to serve residents. The closures are part of service cuts in several agencies to balance the state’s budget, state officials say. Bentley took issue with the implication that his actions were racially motivated. “To suggest the closure of the driver’s license offices is a racial issue is simply not true, and to suggest otherwise should be considered an effort to promote a political agenda,” Bentley said in a statement. The initial reaction to the office closures when first announced indicates that the racially charged debate around voting rights will continue as the parties gear up for the 2016 presidential election.
Colorado: In move to upgrade all machines statewide, new voting machines will be tested next month | Associated Press
Amid national anxiety about aging voting machines, Colorado elections officials are testing four types of new machines in elections next month as they move toward upgrades statewide. The Secretary of State plans to certify one new voting machine next year, putting the state on track to move away from a patchwork of voting machines to a single system. “Much of our equipment in Colorado is old,” Wayne Williams said Monday. “A lot of our systems are so old that they’re based on Microsoft systems that Microsoft no longer supports.” Next month’s off-year election is being used a test run for four different types of machines. Each will be used in a large Front Range county and a smaller rural county. The test counties are Adams, Denver, Douglas, Garfield, Gilpin, Jefferson, Mesa and Teller. The upgrades to newer machines will cost about $10 million to $15 million, with counties picking up the tab. A voting machine will be chosen by 2016, with counties free to upgrade whenever they’re ready.
In a stinging blow to opponents of the state’s anti-gerrymandering amendments, a federal court this week has thrown out a lawsuit filed by two Florida Republican Party officials who claimed the new law violated the constitution because it had a “chilling effect” on their free speech and petition rights. Tim Norris, the Walton County Republican Executive Committee Chairman and Randy Maggard, the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Chairman. sued the Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August, demanding that he not enforce the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution. They made the argument being echoed by many lawmakers that their speech is chilled because, as members of a political party, it will be used to invalidate a map. Hoping to find a venue that was most favorable to them, they filed the case in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola. But in a 16-page opinion, the chief judge of the district, Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who was appointed by George W. Bush, rejected their argument and dismissed the case.
Amelia Flores, a high school senior with plans to become an electrical engineer, eagerly filled out a form to register to vote for the first time at the Kansas State Fair last month. But she left the fair without registering, stymied by a state law championed by Republicans who dominate elected offices in Kansas that requires her to provide proof of citizenship. “I think it’s ridiculous and restrictive,” said Ms. Flores, who later received a notice in the mail informing her that she must produce a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship to complete the registration. “A lot of people are working multiple jobs, so they don’t have time to get this stuff done. Some of them don’t have access to their birth certificate.” Ms. Flores, who said she was born in Washington State, unwittingly joined a list of more than 36,000 people in Kansas who have tried to register to vote since the law went into effect in 2013, but then did not complete their registration. This month, under a rule adopted by the Kansas secretary of state’s office, county election officials throughout the state began to cull names from the voters list, removing people who had been on it at least 90 days. Those removed from the list must start the registration process over in order to vote.
Guinea President Alpha Conde has won a second term, the election commission announced Saturday, avoiding a runoff with his closest rival, who vowed to protest the results. “I proclaim that Alpha Conde has been elected president of the republic in the first round,” election commission head Bakary Fofana said Saturday night. Conde received nearly 58 percent of the Oct. 11 vote, while his main opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo, had 31 percent, Fofana said. About 68 percent of the approximately 6 million registered voters took part in the Oct. 11 election, Fofana said. It was only the second democratic presidential contest since Guinea gained independence from France in 1958. Violence marked the run-up to the poll, with at least three people killed, and many worry that street protests in the coming days could lead to deadly confrontations with security forces.
Editorials: How Facebook and Google’s Algorithms Are Affecting Our Political Viewpoints | Megan Anderle/Huffington Post
Plenty of users take what they read online at face value, which some social experiments have proven. The average user often doesn’t check facts or consider whether the source is credible. “You look at a Wikipedia article and assume that it all must be true,” said Christo Wilson, a computer science professor at Northeastern University who researched algorithms and personalization extensively. “Or you search for something on Google and think the results are subjective and correct off the bat.” And then there are algorithms on top of every social network and search engine, providing users with personalized, and ultimately skewed, results. Algorithms are a mystery to researchers.
California: U.S. High Court Turns Aside Constitutional Challenge To California’s ‘Top Two’ Primary Election Law | MetNews
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the ‘Top Two’ primary system approved by California voters in 2010 as Proposition 14. The justices, without comment, denied certiorari in Rubin v. Padilla, 233 Cal.App.4th 1128. The Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom parties challenged the law in Alameda Superior Court, arguing that because only the top two vote-getters in the primary—regardless of party—advance to the general election, smaller parties are normally denied the right of participation in the final contest. In 2012, for example, only three such candidates appeared on general election ballots out of more than 150 contests. The system, the plaintiffs argued, deprives them of equal protection and associational and voting rights under the Constitution, since their candidates will nearly always finish lower than second, even though they meet the state’s definition of a qualified party and often get at least a few percent of the vote. Supporters of the top-two, or “open,” primary—including former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who shepherded the measure through the Legislature—dismissed those arguments and intervened in the litigation.
Florida House and Senate leaders on Wednesday released six staff-drawn base maps that reconfigure the state Senate boundaries which they will offer up to legislators as a starting point for the three-week special session that begins on Monday. That maps, each drawn by adhering to two different sets of standards, were designed to replace the enacted map produced by lawmakers in 2012, which legislative leaders conceded violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution. “We believe each map complies with the relevant legal standards contained in the Florida Constitution and federal law, including the Florida Supreme Court’s recent interpretations,” wrote House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva and Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano in a memo to legislators on Wednesday.
In Kansas, you have to show proof that you are a U.S. citizen to register to vote, and that requirement has held up tens of thousands of registrations and produced an enormous list of would-be voters who are essentially in limbo — all because they haven’t shown a birth certificate or passport. Now Kansas’ top elections official in Kansas wants that list purged, and that’s leading to a fight. Like a lot of people, Cody Keener registered to vote for the first time at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Keener is 21 and comes from a long line of Kansans. So he figured he was set to both drive and vote, but he was wrong. He recently learned that his registration is incomplete because he hasn’t shown proof that he’s a U.S. citizen. “It’s very discouraging to young people,” says Keener. “I’m a full-time student, I work anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week.”
A federal appeals court has rejected a request by a tax-exempt organization to overrule a judge’s order that it must reveal certain information about itself in the group’s lawsuit challenging Montana’s election laws. Montanans for Community Development had asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling that it must answer questions or disclose documents about the group’s formation, operations, advertising and communications with candidates and other groups. The 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday that the group had not shown the case warrants the appeals court’s intervention.
In 2008, in the wake of a legislative caucus scandal and partisan rulings by the state’s Elections Board, Wisconsin announced the formation of a new non-partisan ethics and elections agency. The Government Accountability Board (GAB), formed from the merger of the Elections Board and Wisconsin’s Ethics Board, was intended to provide an independent body capable of investigating criminal and civil violations of the state’s ethics and election laws free from the partisan and financial pitfalls that wracked its predecessors. On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers held a hearing on a bill to scrap the GAB and replace it with a system similar to the one it replaced. Board members of the resulting Ethics and Elections Commissions would be appointed by state legislative leaders from both parties and the governor. The gubernatorial appointees to the Elections board would be former local election clerks. The proposed bill would also reverse the changes to the funding rules that were considered key to the GAB when it was formed.
Election fever is palpable on the crumbling streets of Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and colonial-era capital. Caravans of National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters tour the streets daily on rickshaws and converted pickup trucks, festooned with the party’s iconic red bunting and fighting peacock motif. Posters are flourished of the NLD’s talismanic leader, and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet a deep anxiety undercuts the electoral exuberance in this impoverished Southeast Asian nation, which is officially now known as Myanmar. It is poised to escape a half-century of military dictatorship, but many fear the rug will be pulled from under at any moment — illustrated by the fatalistic reaction to Tuesday’s announcement by the Union Election Commission (UEC) that the long-awaited polls may be postponed because of widespread flooding and landslides.
Christie Leblanc has lived at exactly the same address in Aylmer, Q.C. since 2002. She has voted in four federal elections since then, and received valid voter information cards at her doorstep every time. This year however, Leblanc not only failed to receive her voter card — when she called Elections Canada, she found herself registered at an address she hasn’t lived in for 25 years. “It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” she told National Observer after going through a lengthy process to have her information corrected. “It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.” The local representative she spoke with told her that Elections Canada has had “a lot of problems” with registration in Quebec, particularly with rural ridings. When National Observer called Elections Canada however, media advisor Francine Bastien told a different story. She said Quebec has not experienced an unusual influx of complaints about voter registration, certainly not more than any other province.
Next week’s parliamentary elections are supposed to move Egypt closer to democracy and end a situation in which Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, first as the country’s strongman then as an elected president, has governed for more than two years with few apparent checks and balances. But with almost no effective opposition expected to run or make a mark, critics and analysts say the 596-seat legislature will be little more than a rubber stamp, leaving the former military chief free to power ahead with a high-octane, one-man campaign to revive the economy and influence the region while curbing opposition at home. The staggered vote, starting next week and continuing through December, will give Egypt its first elected legislature in more than three years. The resulting chamber will also signal the completion of the third and final stage of a political road map announced by el-Sissi himself when, as military chief, he led the July 2013 ouster of the nation’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, following a wave of mass protests against Morsi’s rule.
Even before the vote, the scales were widely seen to be tipped in favor of the incumbent. The presence of President Alpha Condé in the national news media dwarfed that of his rivals, while the trademark yellow of his Rally of the Guinean People party dominated the potholed streets of the city center, on posters and billboards firmly reminding voters who was in charge. As one diplomat at the French Embassy put it, “He held all the cards.” All seven opposition candidates have gone further, condemning the vote held on Sunday as fraudulent. The president’s main rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, pulled himself out of contention on Wednesday, and opposition supporters have clashed with the police, all before final results have been announced. “I have no president,” shouted one protester during a standoff.
Swiss voters will go to the polls on Sunday in a parliamentary election dominated by immigration and asylum concerns that could eventually lead to a shakeup of the multi-party government. In the wake of a controversial 2014 referendum to clamp down on newcomers from the neighboring European Union and with the continent now facing its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, voters are likely to reward parties to the “right,” according to a poll for Swiss broadcaster SRG. Migration concerns are set to even dwarf worries about the economy, which has narrowly skirted a recession brought on by the strong currency.