Flying under the radar in the red-blue drama of this week’s off-year elections were a series of election-reform laws that passed on both coasts — measures that campaign-finance reform advocates hail as turning points in their movement. In Maine, 55 percent of voters agreed to strengthen their two-decade-old Clean Elections Act by boosting public funding for campaigns and putting in place penalties for those who break campaign finance law. In Seattle, 60 percent of voters put in place a first-in-the-nation “democracy voucher” system. Starting in 2017, citizens will get four $25 vouchers they can hand out to the campaign or campaigns of their choice. (It was modeled off a successful 2014 Tallahassee initiative giving local campaign donors there a $25 tax credit rebate.) Both were framed by supporters as attempts to push back against a 2010 Supreme Court decision, known as Citizens United, and subsequent decisions that allow anyone or any corporation or union to spend as much as they want on elections.
In recent years, as the U.S. Supreme Court has limited its protections of the right to vote, some state courts have stepped in to fill the void. State judges have looked to their state constitutions—which are more explicit in conferring the right to vote—to provide relief from onerous election laws. And, in doing so, they have shown how these documents can be powerful tools to improve America’s democracy. Forty-nine of the 50 state constitutions explicitly grant the right to vote to their citizens (Arizona is the only outlier), and just over half of them also provide further protection to the democratic process by requiring elections to be “free and equal” or “free and open.” Some state courts, such as in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas—and most recently Delaware—have analyzed their state constitutions in an increasingly expansive way, going beyond federal law to protect voting rights.
A last-ditch effort to keep the courts from drawing state Senate districts collapsed Thursday, as senators voted down a plan proposed by the House and a special session called to draw the lines crashed to an end. On a 23-16 vote, the Senate killed the House version of the map (SJR 2-C) and any hope that the Legislature would decide the lines. Nine Republicans bucked their party’s leadership and joined all 14 Democrats in opposing the plan. The redistricting issue will go to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds, who likely will consider maps from the Legislature and voting-rights organizations that sued to overturn the current districts, with Reynolds ultimately recommending a plan to the Florida Supreme Court.
The votes still were being counted late Tuesday at Hamilton County’s board of elections when officials there began to talk about next year. It was not a pleasant conversation. The delays, mistakes and technological glitches that plagued Tuesday’s vote caused headaches for everyone involved in the process. But election officials know that’s nothing compared to the epic migraine they’d get if those errors are repeated next fall, during a presidential election that could hinge on Ohio and Hamilton County. If an election featuring a few statewide issues and local tax levies could bring so much pain, it wasn’t hard for the people in charge of elections here to imagine what would happen if the stakes were higher. Armies of lawyers and political operatives would roll into town. Wolf Blitzer might go live from Fountain Square. It might not be Florida’s hanging chads, but it wouldn’t be pretty. “We’re in a crucial state in a presidential election year and we’ve got to get it right,” said Alex Triantafilou, a board of elections member and the chairman of the county GOP. “There’s no sugarcoating it,” he said of Tuesday’s vote. “Last night was a disaster, and we need to fix it.”
Texas’ political maps won’t change for the 2016 elections, a federal court has ruled in a decision intended to provide certainty for candidates, election officials and voters ahead of the upcoming cycle. A three-judge panel in San Antonio on Friday rejected a motion to temporarily block a set of redistricting maps passed by the Legislature in 2013 for Congress and the Texas House. Litigation on the maps remains pending, as civil rights groups claim they discriminate against minorities. The three-judge panel said it has not reached a final decision and that the current boundaries are being “used on an interim basis only.” However, the court made clear it has no intention to tweak the maps before the upcoming March primaries — a move that will avoid a repeat of 2012 when redistricting map litigation threw the election cycle into disarray and caused the primaries to be delayed from March to May. The ruling eases fears of Texas getting bumped from the “Super Tuesday” slate of March primaries.
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state cannot force political parties to open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, a move that will allow the Utah Republican Party to continue to close its primaries and complicate a potential signature-gathering path to the primary ballot. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer signaled during a hearing last week that he would likely strike down the open-primary provision of SB54, as judges in other districts have repeatedly done. SB54 sought to increase voter participation in primaries by forcing the parties to allow the state’s 610,000 unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in the primary elections. But Nuffer said that encroaches on the party’s First Amendment right to association.
National: Supreme Court appears conflicted on dismissal of gerrymandering case | The Washington Post
The Supreme Court seemed conflicted Wednesday about whether a Maryland man may proceed with his complaint that the redistricting process in the state is unconstitutionally partisan. Some justices were concerned that a single federal district judge had decided on his own to curtail Steve Shapiro’s lawsuit over Maryland’s much-criticized gerrymandered congressional map rather than send it to a special three-judge panel to see whether the complaint had merit. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Shapiro and his co-plaintiffs “want to raise about as important a question as you can imagine. . . . And if they are right, that would affect congressional districts and legislative districts throughout the nation.”
National: Just How Much Gerrymandering Is Unconstitutional? Wisconsin Plaintiffs Want the Supreme Court to Rule. | National Journal
Every decade, when state legislatures across the country draw districts for themselves and their congressional delegations, some lawmakers violate voters’ constitutional rights by packing members of the minority party into as few districts as possible. At least, that’s what the Supreme Court has hinted at in past rulings, when it wrote that extreme partisan gerrymandering can violate voters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and due process. The problem, the Court wrote in its 2006 League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry decision, is that it can’t strike down gerrymandered maps without some sort of tool to determine exactly when district boundaries are skewed so drastically that they discriminate based on voters’ party affiliations. The winding, snake-like districts often used to illustrate gerrymandering aren’t necessarily signs of ill intent, and it’s often necessary to have some variation in how polarized or competitive districts are. But the Wisconsin-based plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this summer think that they have found the formula that the Court has been waiting for. And if they manage to push their case to the high court and win, the lawsuit’s consequences could extend from Wisconsin across the entire nation.
America’s voting machines are archaic and rundown, a recent study showed, and security experts have warned that voter machines are vulnerable to hacking. Enter Blockchain Technologies Corp, a company that hopes to replace existing proprietary machines with secure, open-source voting machines that use the blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin. … Advocates say blockchain-based elections are transparent and secure. They’ve been tested by the Liberal Alliance in Denmark and the European Pirate Party. And now, Blockchain Technologies Corp. is developing an actual voting machine that will record votes using a blockchain. … However, there’s only so much that blockchain technology can do. “Blockchain technology can provide untamperable audit trails, but it doesn’t solve the hard problem that erroneous or malicious software in the voting machine may cast votes other than how the voter intended, and the voter will never be able to know,” explains Jeremy Epstein, senior computer scientist at SRI International who actively warned about the security of Virginia’s machines.
Voting Blogs: Election Day 2015 had a little bit of everything: glitches, snafus, rats, successful pilots and unsuccessful pilots | electionlineWeekly
“There was no line at the polling place. The line was almost out the door at Starbucks.” — an email from a Kentucky voter to her daughter.
There was snow, there was rain, there were blue skies and warm temperatures. Poll workers overslept, stole voting equipment and didn’t know how to use new technology. Voting machines malfunctioned and ballot-counting machines chugged along. There were new voting systems that worked flawlessly and there were those that didn’t. Turnout out was historically low and turnout was relatively high. Oh and there were rats.
For the second time in three months, the Florida Legislature will turn to the courts to redraw political boundaries needed for next year’s elections after failing to do the job itself, all while running up an $11 million taxpayer tab. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, closed the special session a day early, saying his chamber had reached the end of its efforts for a Senate redistricting plan. “We did everything we could, and now we’ll wait and see what the court does,” Gardiner said. The session’s anti-climatic ending on Thursday came shortly after the Senate rejected a plan for the 40 districts that had been approved by the House. The vote was 23-16.
Georgia: DeKalb County’s LaVista Hills election investigated for tampering | Atlanta Journal Constitution
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and the GBI opened an investigation Thursday into alleged voting irregularities – including a stray voting machine memory card – in the referendum that narrowly defeated the proposed city of LaVista Hills. A DeKalb election supervisor alleged that he found an unsecured memory card Wednesday that contained results from the Briarlake Elementary precinct, according to Channel 2 Action News. It’s unknown whether the votes on the memory card were counted in the precinct’s totals, where voters supported LaVista Hills 378-313.
Kansas: Attorney for Sherman County man facing voter fraud charges seeks to dismiss case | The Wichita Eagle
The attorney for a Sherman County man accused of voter fraud says the case should be dismissed because Secretary of State Kris Kobach is not personally prosecuting it. Kobach’s office charged three people with voter fraud last month after the Legislature made him the only secretary of state in the nation with prosecutorial power. The prosecutions have generated national attention and debate. Lincoln Wilson faces felony charges. He is accused of voting in both Yuma County, Colo., and Sherman County in western Kansas. His lawyer, Jeff Mason, is seeking to have the case dismissed based on his interpretation that “the statute requires that everything be done by Mr. Kobach as secretary of state.”
A Maryland task force proposed Tuesday that the state allow an independent panel to draw the state’s voting districts, widely cited as some of the most gerrymandered in the nation. The proposals, approved 9 to 1 by a commission appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), will go to Maryland lawmakers as they prepare for the next legislative session to begin in January. “These reforms would put Maryland in the front ranks of redistricting reform and establish an independent, balanced approach to creating congressional and state legislative districts,” the task force said in a report released Tuesday.
New Hampshire: Federal Investigation of Concord Raises Questions About Voting Accessibility in N.H. | New Hampshire Public Radio
The federal government is investigating the City of Concord for not providing accessible voting machines for people with certain disabilities during local elections. The city may have violated federal law. Guy Woodland used his cane to find his way into a voting booth in Concord Tuesday morning. Woodland is blind. “I have a non-valid driver’s license,” he told a poll worker, “which you’re probably happy to know.” Here’s how Woodland would like to vote: on his own, with no help. As it is though, he walks into the voting booth with a poll worker. Woodland dictates his voting choices, and the poll worker, who is sworn to secrecy, fills in the bubbles. That’s despite technology – sitting on a shelf in New Hampshire – that would allow Woodland to vote without any help.
What happens on Election Day in a town where nobody runs for office? People can still fill out a write-in candidate, but what if there are only two people to choose from and they’re also the only two registered voters? Spencer Mountain in Gaston County hasn’t had a town government or a single voter in the last four years, but on Tuesday the only two people living there wrote themselves in on the ballot. “They’ve not had city council meetings, they’ve not had a mayor, they’ve had nothing, so it’s quite interesting,” said Adam Ragan. “It’s an interesting situation.”
Ohio: Voting machine glitches delay Portage County election results until Wednesday | Akron Beacon Journal
It took 12 hours before the Portage County Board of Elections could post results from Tuesday’s elections because of a “computer server” issue. Four in-house technicians and several state and national technicians via telephone from Dominion (the machine vendor and support company) got things working again. “Some of the candidates called to see what was happening and to confirm results this morning,” said Board of Elections Director Faith Lyon. “This has never happened before. The final unofficial results were available by 7 a.m. [Wednesday]. She said there were no glitches in the system during a test run on Friday, prior to Election Day. But on Tuesday night, there were problems.
The election went very badly. As a poll worker, I know that better than anybody. Really. It was awful. Because of this, they decided to keep the polls open late (“Problems, delays keep the polls open” Nov. 4). That was not a good idea. It fixed nothing. Many of the problems were blamed on the new technology. But that wasn’t the real issue, per se. I hear some locations gave up on the new machines and reverted to paper because they couldn’t get the printers hooked up. But that’s human error and inadequate training. The training was, indeed, inadequate. Only about half the poll workers – the precinct managers and deputies – were trained on the complete setup. It was assumed the regular precinct officials wouldn’t need to know.
Utah: Election dispute likely headed back to court, unless lawmakers intervene | The Salt Lake Tribune
A clash between the head of Utah’s Republican Party and Republican elections officials over who can seek the party’s nomination for office appears likely to end up back in court if the Legislature doesn’t settle the matter in a special session first. Utah GOP Chairman James Evans contends that party officials have figured out a way to only allow its candidates to be nominated through party conventions — essentially gutting sweeping elections reforms the Legislature enacted in 2014 that allowed candidates to skip conventions and gather signatures on petitions if they want to seek office. But Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the top elections officials in his office disagree. They argue that Evans and the GOP agreed in an August letter to the state to comply with SB54, and that includes allowing candidates to seek the party’s nomination through the signature-gathering route.
Virginia: 122 legislators sought re-election Tuesday; they all won | Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Politics
A total of 122 Virginia legislators sought re-election Tuesday. Not a one was defeated. The Virginia Public Access Project said it is the first such clean sweep for incumbents since it started tracking Virginia’s legislative elections in 1995. “In modern times, it is apparently unprecedented,” added Larry Sabato, a veteran political analyst at the University of Virginia. Analysts cited several factors in the incumbents’ overwhelming dominance, but one topped the list — carefully drawn district boundaries. The result boils down to three words — “gerrymandering, gerrymandering, gerrymandering,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington.
Wisconsin: Senate GOP tight-lipped as campaign finance, GAB bills near Friday extraordinary session | Wisconsin State Journal
Senate Republican leaders are keeping a tight wrap on forthcoming changes to bills splitting the state’s elections and ethics agency and rewriting campaign finance law — both of which appear headed for a Senate vote Friday in a so-called “extraordinary session.” The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, signaled Tuesday that changes will be offered to the bills in extraordinary session, since Thursday marks the end of lawmakers’ scheduled period to convene. Proponents of the bills have said it’s important to pass them this fall, in advance of the 2016 election cycle. Fitzgerald said Wednesday the Senate has the votes to pass the ethics and elections bill.
Croatia’s ruling Social Democrats can claim success on the two biggest issues facing the country – Europe’s migration crisis and a sluggish economy just climbing out of recession – but it faces a tough fight to retain power in an election on Sunday. A compassionate stand on migrants and signs of economic growth have helped Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and the Social Democrats regain ground. Recent public opinion polls show it still trails the conservative HDZ party, though. Faced with tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East traversing Croatia since mid-September, Milanovic’s government has largely tried to accommodate them, aside from short-lived bans on border crossings from Serbia. It clashed publicly with Hungary and Slovenia over the flow of people, many of them refugees from war, through the Balkan peninsula to western Europe.
Ruling party candidate Jovenel Moïse and former government executive Jude Célestin led voting in Haiti’s Oct. 25 presidential election and will face each other in a run-off next month, according to official results announced on Thursday. The winner will succeed President Michel Martelly next February at the head of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Moïse, representing the…
On Sunday, more than 30 million voters across Myanmar can cast their ballots in the country’s first relatively free elections in 25 years. The nationwide vote is a milestone in the Southeast Asian nation’s transformation from isolated military dictatorship to a more open society, seeking to attract foreign investment and tourists. Moreover, it will be a crucial test of the popularity of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and democracy icon who is believed to be the country’s most popular politician. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held under house arrest for 15 years during military rule, hopes a strong victory at the polls could finally give her party political power even though she is barred from becoming president. Here is a brief guide to some of the ins and outs of the election.
In three days, Myanmar will hold its first democratic national election in 25 years — a historic moment for a country that has transformed itself from a military dictatorship, isolated from the West, to a quasi-civilian government embraced by the Obama administration for its progress toward democracy. Along the way, the government wrote a new constitution, freed more than 1,000 political prisoners and released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from years of house arrest. In a much smaller by-election in 2012, she won a seat in parliament. But this is not a truly free and fair vote. Of the 664 seats in parliament, a quarter are reserved for military officials. The constitution also states that no president may have a spouse or children who are foreign citizens, a provision widely considered to be aimed at preventing Suu Kyi from becoming president. She is the widow of a British national and has two sons with foreign passports. If her party were to win a majority, she could not be chosen as president. (The president is selected by the parliament.)
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi joined more than 30 million Myanmar citizens voting Sunday in the nation’s most important election in 25 years. What comes next may test the military’s willingness to share power with the democracy campaigner who missed the past two national polls because she was under house arrest. Suu Kyi, who is barred by the constitution from becoming president, was greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters when she arrived to vote before 9 a.m. at a school in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. Dressed in red, the color of her National League for Democracy party, she emerged minutes later with a finger dyed by purple ink, before being ushered through a crush of reporters without making any comments.
Tanzania: In Zanzibar, democracy, peace and unity are at stake after annulled elections | The Washington Post
Tanzania held its fifth multi-party elections Oct. 25. Ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution) will retain the presidency, with candidate John Magufuli winning 58.5 percent of the vote. Elections in Tanzania, though, are made up of two sets of elections. In addition to voting for Tanzanian presidential and parliamentary offices, the semiautonomous archipelago Zanzibar has its own president, legislature and electoral body — the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC). While pre-election polls showed that CCM was likely to stay in power in Tanzania’s mainland, signs pointed to a potential opposition victory in Zanzibar. Observers initially praised the elections as the smoothest in Zanzibar’s tumultuous history, but there was a sharp turn Wednesday morning. ZEC Chairman Jecha Salum Jecha unilaterally announced that Zanzibar’s elections would be annulled. The headline for this post draws from a statement by the Commonwealth observer team shortly after the results were annulled, pleading for a speedy resolution because “democracy, peace and unity in Zanzibar are at stake.” As rumors spread and tensions rise, this post sheds light on the events leading up to the announcement to annul Zanzibar’s election and the aftermat
Turkey’s Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to an unexpected victory in elections on Sunday, returning the country to single-party rule in an outcome that will boost the power of President Tayyip Erdogan but may sharpen deep social divisions. With almost all ballots counted, the AKP had taken just shy of 50 percent of the votes, comfortably enough to control a majority in the 550-seat parliament and a far higher margin of victory than even party insiders had expected. Erdogan said the outcome was a vote for stability, and a message to Kurdish insurgents in the country’s restive southeast that violence could not coexist with democracy. Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu tweeted simply “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to god), before emerging from his family home in the central Anatolian city of Konya to briefly address crowds of cheering supporters.