State legislatures are constitutionally obligated to redraw congressional districts every 10 years. But now, with an increased awareness of the potential for unfairness and abuse, voters are starting to push back. Most states make the redistricting decisions themselves, and accusations of gerrymandering – drawing the maps to unfairly preserve majority advantage – are frequent. Since the most recent census in 2010, lawsuits challenging congressional, state Senate or state legislature redistricting maps have been filed in 38 states; there were 37 such challenges following the 2000 round of redistricting. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court considered arguments over whether the Democrat-designed map in Maryland could be reviewed and potentially thrown out by a state panel. At the heart of that dispute is the fact that the state’s political affiliation, currently 54.3 percent Democrat and 25.8 percent Republican, has changed only marginally since Democrats held a 57 percent to 29.7 percent advantage in 2000. And yet Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation has gone from being evenly split between the parties 15 years ago to a 7-1 Democratic advantage now after two rounds of redistricting under Democratic governors and legislatures. One of the districts, which have survived reviews by federal courts, was recently described by a federal judge as resembling “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” “Most people know that Maryland is home to some of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the country,” says Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
When service members take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, they also vow to defend freedom and the right to vote. Voting is essential to maintaining our democratic republic and is accessible to service members through voting assistance programs. The Installation Voting Assistance Office and Federal Voting Assistance Program provide Marines, sailors and family members accessibility to vote in upcoming elections.
Editorials: States Are Falling Short In Providing Voter Access | Brenda Wright and Adam Ambrogi/National Law Journal
Shelley Zelda Small is a 62-year-old Los Angeles resident who believes in voting as a civic duty and has voted in every election since she was 19 years old. So when she moved from Encino, California, to West Hollywood in August 2014, and reported her address change to the Department of Motor Vehicles, she made sure to ask the DMV to update her voter registration as well. But when she arrived at her local polling place last November, she was told she was not on the registration rolls and was turned away – for the first time in her life, Small lost her opportunity to vote. The good news is that, due to a new law approved this last month in California and advocacy by national and California-based voting rights groups, the DMV will be adopting an automated voter registration process that will, in most cases, seamlessly update voter registrations when voters report a move — solving the problem for Small and millions more like her. In mid-November, another state took a major step in the right direction. Alabama, conceding that it had never truly complied with a registration law, settled a case with the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreement made important changes to how the state motor-vehicle agencies support voter registration for eligible Alabama residents. The case is notable because the DOJ has not brought an action against a state under the “motor voter” provision of the National Voter Registration Act since at least 2002. California and Alabama were not alone in needing to improve its registration process. It appears that many states are falling short on their obligations to make voter registration widely accessible at DMVs and other agencies serving the public, according to an extensive investigation by Demos, a public policy group. Potentially tens of millions of eligible voters are being left off the voter rolls as a result.
California: San Francisco sets sights on open source voting by November 2019 | The San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco could have an open-source voting system in place by the November 2019 election, under a plan approved earlier this month by the Elections Commission. The timeline could result in the emergence of San Francisco as the leader of the open-source voting movement in the United States. For supporters of open-source voting, the importance of that point can’t be underscored enough. “San Francisco could help write some U.S. democracy history with its leadership role,” said a Nov. 18 letter to the Elections Commission from Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Open Source Election Technology (OSET) Foundation, a collection of executives from top technology companies like Apple and Facebook. “And the total estimated cost to do so [$8 million] is a fraction of status-quo alternatives.” Open-source voting systems bring a greater level of transparency and accountability by allowing the public to have access to the source codes of the system, which is used to tabulate the votes. A system owned by The City could also save taxpayers money.
An effort is underway to present Colorado voters with a ballot question that would reform the state’s congressional redistricting process. Critics of the proposed initiative worry that it would limit minority voting blocs across the state by prohibiting drawing districts for the purpose of “augmenting … the voting strength of a language or racial minority group.” In all fairness, the proposed language would also prohibit mapping districts for purposes of “diluting” the voting strength of a minority group. Proponents say they have constructed a bipartisan effort ahead of the 2020 census, when the next congressional redistricting process would get underway. After the 2010 census, Republicans and Democrats fought over redrawing Colorado’s seven congressional districts, which created more competitive boundaries, to the ire of some Republicans. The issue was ultimately decided by Colorado courts after maps introduced by the Legislature during the 2011 session never advanced. Lawsuits were filed in Denver District Court, and in November 2011, the court ruled in favor of a Democratic proposal. In December 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the Denver District Court decision.
Florida: Election supervisors urging Florida Supreme Court to decide on new district lines | First Coast News
It’s a debate that’s been going on for more than a year. Now, election supervisors say they, along with you, the voters, are at the mercy of the courts as they wait for the new congressional district lines to be drawn. The redistricting could affect where you vote and who you’re voting for. “It affects the candidates right now: not knowing who their constituency is and those things will flush themselves out as it goes through the court process,” said Clay County Supervisor of Elections and soon to be President of the Supervisors Association, Chris Chambliss.
Showing some skepticism that an election now taking place in Hawaii is a purely private matter, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on Friday temporarily blocked the ballot-counting after all the votes are in on Monday. The order was not a final action, hinting that there could be other orders within coming days. The balloting on a proposal to begin the process toward setting up a new nation of “native Hawaiians” within the state of Hawaii actually began on November 1, and concludes on November 30. Only “native Hawaiians” can vote. The challengers, contending that the election is an official election that is race-based and thus violates the Constitution, had not asked that the balloting be stopped, and Kennedy’s order does not do so. The state of Hawaii, with strong support from the federal Department of the Interior, favors a plan to create a new entity, something like an Indian tribe, that would give those who can show Hawaiian ancestry the right of self-determination, leading to the status of a sovereign nation.
Kansas: Kobach, public await actions by two courts on proof of citizenship law | Lawrence Journal World
Two separate courts are expected to act soon on lawsuits challenging a controversial state law requiring new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. Since the law took effect in 2013, more than 32,000 Kansans have had their registrations placed “in suspense” because they failed to provide the required citizenship proof. And now, under a new regulation by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, state and county election officers are actively purging the suspense voter list of any applications that have been pending for more than 90 days. On Dec. 4, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., will hold a hearing in a case seeking to block election officials from doing tha
Four Republicans and one Democrat in the House will hear the appeal of Mark Tullos, who lost a drawing of straws to Rep. Bo Eaton after the two tied in the Nov. 3 election. A spokesman for House Speaker Philip Gunn said the committee could meet as early as this week. Gunn selected the five members from each of the state’s old five congressional districts, as required by state law. The five committee members are state Reps. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce; Linda Coleman, D-Mount Bayou; Mark Baker, R-Brandon; Bill Denny, R-Jackson; and Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach. Nathan Wells, Gunn’s chief of staff, said Monday the speaker won’t make any comments about the election challenge, with the committee having to decide the outcome. “I don’t know the exact time line, but I would expect them to meet very soon,” Wells said.
The recent dismal voter turnouts in New York are fostering a slew of ideas to encourage people to exercise what should be their cherished right. Just 29 percent of those eligible cast ballots during the 2014 statewide races, ranking it second to last for turnout among the 50 states, according to the group Nonprofit VOTE. The most recent presidential election turnout was the lowest since 1940, according to the U.S. Election Project. A new plan would turn the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November each year into a school holiday. But suspending education on Election Day, a measure that is being pushed by a couple of state lawmakers, is hardly a remedy for the problem of low turnout. It’s not the presence of young people in school buildings that is keeping would-be voters away. Many real obstacles, ranging from sloppy record-keeping to arcane rules and regulations, are a big cause. The most challenging hurdle may be voter apathy, fueled by an acrimonious political climate.
A lawsuit that contends age discrimination was written into Tennessee’s voter identification law because it does not allow use of student IDs has stalled as a federal judge considers whether it is a valid case. Lawyers for a group of students and those for the state disagree on how to interpret the 44-year-old constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age to 18, and what impact that has on Tennessee’s law. The students say the state law, which prohibits using student identification cards to vote, is unconstitutional. Lawyers in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office asked the federal judge to dismiss the case, saying the students did not make a valid claim and their interpretation of the amendment was wrong.
The Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from lawyers for former Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and others seeking $360,000 in legal fees after challenging state redistricting plans. The justices on Monday let stand a federal appeals court ruling that said the lawyers were not entitled to fees. A three-judge district court blocked the state’s redistricting plan ahead of the 2012 elections after Davis and voting rights groups challenged it. But in a separate case, the Supreme Court later eliminated the Justice Department’s ability under the Voting Rights Act to identify and stop potentially discriminatory voting laws before they take effect.
Electoral fraud has been pervasive in Nigeria since it returned to civilian rule in 1999. This year, to prevent tampering with ballots on the way to the capital, poll workers nationwide used technology from a Spanish software maker called Scytl to scan the tallies and transmit them electronically. Despite predictions of violence, voters elected an opposition candidate—removing an incumbent from office for the first time—in a process Human Rights Watch described as “mostly peaceful.” Governments in 42 countries are using software from Scytl (rhymes with “title”) to bring elements of their elections online, from registering voters to consolidating results. “If you look at the way elections are being run in most countries, it’s still the same way they used to be run 50 years ago,” says Chief Executive Officer Pere Vallès. Using Scytl’s technology, he says, a country can more easily stop fraud and announce winners “in a few hours instead of a few days.” … Many election watchdogs say software isn’t yet secure enough to be trusted, and they’re concerned that Scytl and its competitors haven’t developed a way for third parties to independently verify results. “Murphy’s Law says something is going to go wrong in pretty much every election,” says Pamela Smith, the president of election watchdog Verified Voting in Carlsbad, Calif. “Transmitting actual votes is too high-risk for using online technology.” No current online system has “the level of security and transparency needed for mainstream elections,” according to a July report prepared for the U.S. Vote Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded absentee voting.
Roch Marc Kabore, the former prime minister of Burkina Faso, has been named the winner of the nation’s first presidential election since a coup earlier this year. Kabore, who served under ousted president Blaise Compaore, will become the country’s first new leader in decades, the Independent National Electoral Commission said on Tuesday. His victory represents a pivotal moment for the west African nation, which has been ruled by leaders who came to power in coups for most of its history since independence from France in 1960. Kabore was also president of the National Assembly under Compaore, who was toppled by an uprising in October 2014 after 27 years in power. He broke with Compaore early last year and formed an opposition party.
Pope Francis on Sunday said he hoped upcoming elections in the Central African Republic will enable the conflict-wracked country to peacefully begin a “new chapter” as he arrived in the capital Bangui. “It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on a new chapter of its history,” Francis said as he flew in from Uganda on the most dangerous leg of his three-nation Africa tour.
Concerns over Haiti’s disputed presidential elections widened Monday when Catholic bishops and a group of pastors joined an alliance of opposition presidential candidates in demanding an inquiry into the vote. The alliance of eight candidates, led by second-place finisher Jude Célestin and dubbed the G8, reiterated its demand for an independent commission to verify the Oct. 25 presidential vote amid allegations the balloting was tainted by “massive” fraud and irregularities on behalf of frontrunner Jovenel Moise, the government-backed candidate, and his party. The group in a signed communique issued late Sunday also is demanding sweeping changes in the police hierarchy and electoral system ahead of next month’s planned presidential runoff. Should those changes not occur, they said, they will be left with no other choice but to force a transition government to oversee new elections in Haiti.
U.S. officials and Latin American leaders are awaiting Venezuela’s parliamentary elections this weekend with trepidation, worried that instead of defusing the country’s deep tensions, the vote could instead detonate a new crisis. With Venezuela’s petroleum-based economy projected to contract 10 percent this year and citizens suffering chronic shortages of basic goods, the ruling socialist party is expected to lose control of the legislature for the first time since the late Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998. Such a defeat would be an unprecedented blow to the movement known as “Chavismo” that rose to power by electoral means yet views its uninterrupted rule as part of a “revolution” that dismisses, at least rhetorically, democratic norms such as alternating power and divided government. Defiant statements by President Nicolás Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials have offered few assurances to those looking for signs that the government is ready to compromise with the opposition. An opposition candidate in central Venezuela was slain by a gunman Wednesday at a rally, an ominous sign to many of what may be in store on Election Day.