As jurisdictions across the country are preparing for 2016’s big election, many are already thinking of the next presidential election—2020 and beyond. This is especially true when it comes to the equipment used for casting and tabulating votes. Voting machines are aging. A September report by the Brennan Center found that 43 states are using some voting machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. Fourteen states are using equipment that is more than 15 years old. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration dubbed this an “impending crisis.” To purchase new equipment, jurisdictions require at least two years lead time before a big election. They need enough time to purchase a system, test new equipment and try it out first in a smaller election. No one wants to change equipment (or procedures) in a big presidential election, if they can help it. Even in so-called off-years, though, it’s tough to find time between elections to adequately prepare for a new voting system. As Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, puts it, “Changing a voting system is like changing tires on a bus… without stopping.” So if election officials need new equipment by 2020, which is true in the majority of jurisdictions in the country, they must start planning now.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Evenwel v. Abbott. The subject of the case is the meaning of the “one person, one vote” rule. The appellants argue that the Constitution requires equality of eligible voters among legislative districts. This argument is unlikely to carry the day – in fact, the appellants may well lose unanimously. Evenwel is still an important case, however, because what the Court says will affect how states draw state legislative districts after the next census and possibly even sooner. The hard question isn’t the disposition of Evenwel but rather its implications for the next case. The “one person, one vote” rule requires that legislative districts be drawn on the basis of population. Where single-member districts are used, each district must be of approximately equal population. In Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that the “one person, one vote” rules applies to state legislative districting. This ended the states’ practice of using districts with very different populations – some with disparities over 40:1 – which generally advantaged rural areas at the expense of urban and suburban areas.
A federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s law that requires voters to present identification before they can cast a ballot was filed Wednesday by Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP. The lawsuit alleges Alabama violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when the state enacted a photo ID law in 2011. Alabama’s secretary of state had estimated that at least 280,000 registered voters would be immediately blocked from voting, the lawsuit states “If the Photo ID Law remains in place, hundreds of thousands more eligible and registered voters will be barred from voting in the years to come,” according to the lawsuit.
With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by the challengers in time for the 2016 election. “Our opinion today — the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment — should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,” the court wrote in a 5-2 decision. The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session. Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked votes from being counted in a unique election that’s considered a major step toward self-governance for Native Hawaiians. The high court granted an injunction requested by a group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians challenging the election. They argue Hawaii residents who don’t have Native Hawaiian ancestry are being excluded from the vote, in violation of their constitutional rights. The order blocks the counting of votes until at least the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issues its ruling. The group suing to stop the election appealed a district court’s ruling allowing voting to proceed. University of California Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen said it’s “very unusual” for the high court to enjoin the counting of votes during an ongoing election. “I can’t think of another instance where the Supreme Court has done that,” Hasen said. “The court has stopped … the recounting of votes, for example most famously in Bush vs. Gore” in the 2000 presidential election.
Ohio House Democrats and some liberal advocacy groups want to put an end to the state’s purging of people from voter-registration rolls just because they move within the state or have not voted for a few years. But Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office says Ohio is following federal law when it clears inactive voters off the rolls. Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, says Ohio is too aggressive in purging people from the voter rolls. It has removed 2 million names over the past five years. Husted’s office said that total includes more than 400,000 deceased voters.
A Canadian woman who recently met Justin Trudeau in London says the prime minister indicated a willingness to review a law disenfranchising long-term expats. In an interview from the U.K., Laura Bailey says she met Trudeau at a reception at the Canadian High Commission on Nov. 25 as he moved through the crowd and shook his hand. “I hope you can reinstate my right to vote in the next election,” Bailey said she told Trudeau. “He said to me, ‘We’ll work on that,’ with a little cutesy smile. Then I took a selfie with him.”
Venezuela’s self-styled socialist experiment faces its toughest test yet this weekend in a parliamentary election held amid crippling inflation and spiralling crime that appear to have turned the tide against the late Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution”. Polls show the opposition stand to win a majority of seats in the country’s unicameral National Assembly but President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s handpicked successor, has said that he would “not hand over the revolution” if the ruling party loses at the polls. Opposition candidates are leading by 25-30% in most races, despite what critics say has been a campaign skewed by government intervention on behalf of ruling party candidates, a lack of access to media and incidents of violence. “Barring some very large election fraud, the opposition will win by a wide margin. The ruling party majority is almost certain to get wiped out,” predicted Michael Henderson, an analyst with Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.
Almost everyone in the voting rights community agrees that the unexpected case challenging long-held assumptions about the concept of “one person, one vote” — which is being heard by the Supreme Court next week — could have devastating consequences. But a point of contention among experts is what threat a more incremental decision poses to the already crippled Voting Rights Act. The case is called Evenwel v. Abbott. It is coming out of Texas, where the challengers are contesting the state legislature’s senate redistricting plan. At issue is whether the use of total population to draw districts — as Texas and other states have near universally done — is unconstitutional. The challengers suggest that some other metric — perhaps one that counts districts by citizens or by eligible voters — is preferable. They say their votes have been diluted because they live in a district that has a higher percentage of eligible voters compared to district that is roughly the same size in total population, but has a lower rate of voter eligibility — in part because of the presence of Latino noncitizens.
Texas was the big winner in the 2010 census when it picked up four congressional seats, due mainly to growth in its Hispanic population. A Supreme Court case being argued Tuesday threatens to diminish Latinos’ clout and benefit white, rural voters. Two voters in Texas are asking the court to order a drastic change in the way Texas and every other state divides their electoral districts. Rather than basing the maps on total population, including non-citizens and children who aren’t old enough to vote, states must count only people who are eligible to vote, the challengers say. They argue that change is needed to carry out the true meaning of the principle of one person, one vote. They claim that taking account of total population can lead to vast differences in the number of voters in particular districts, along with corresponding differences in the power of those voters. A court ruling in their favor would shift more power to rural areas and away from urban districts in which there are large immigrant populations that are ineligible to vote because they are too young or not citizens.
The top federal prosecutor in North Alabama says she is reviewing a lawsuit filed Wednesday by groups challenging Alabama’s law requiring people to present photo identification before they can vote. “We received a copy of the lawsuit … We are certainly reading the lawsuit with great interest,” said U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance. But Vance said it was “too speculative” at this point on whether the U.S. Department of Justice would get involved in the issue. But, she added, “we are acutely concerned with protecting the right to vote.”
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about why legislative districts in Arizona have unequal population — and whether that matters legally. Republican interests as well as two state GOP officials want the justices to conclude that the Independent Redistricting Commission acted illegally when it drew the lines in 2011 for all of the elections for this decade. They point out that some of the 30 districts have more residents than others. That point is not in dispute. Even the commission’s attorneys concede that there is an 8.8 percent difference in population between the largest and smallest. What the high court will consider is the question of whether the move was justified.
Florida: House plan to streamline election dates in Florida counties raises concerns | Florida Times-Union
A proposal introduced in the Florida House intended to increase turnout in municipal elections could lead to substantial changes in when Jacksonville, Baldwin and Beaches voters go to the polls. Rep. Matt Caldwell said he introduced the elections proposal out of concern that too many city officials are being elected by just a small fraction of voters. Caldwell is chairman of State Affairs Committee, which voted Thursday to back the plan requiring municipalities in the same county to hold elections on the same day and preferably in November. Most people know that state and federal elections are held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Caldwell said. “I guarantee you nine out of 10 people are going to say I have no idea” when their municipalities hold elections, he said. He added that statistics bear that out with voter turnout in many city elections hovering around 10-15 percent.
Clerks, advocates for seniors and the disabled, and regular citizens heaped criticism Thursday on a Republican proposal to end straight-party voting in Michigan. The House Elections Committee took about an hour 90 minutes of testimony, but adjourned Thursday evening without voting on Senate Bill 13. State Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, the committee chairwoman, said the committee would continue to take a look at the bills and hopes to move the straight ticket bill along with one that would approve no reason absentee voting. The committee heard testimony Thursday that was overwhelmingly opposed to the change as one that would cause longer lines to vote and that would especially disadvantage black voters. Only East Lansing election lawyer Eric Doster testified in support of the bill, saying it would be beneficial for democracy.
Wisconsin: Dane County Board, Madison City Council call on UW to make student ID cards voter friendly | The Cap Times
Jenna Roberg is from Minnesota, but the UW-Madison graduate student in social work has come to care a lot about her adopted community, she says. And that means she wants to vote here. As Roberg sees it, voting where she is living and attending school is part and parcel with the university’s vaunted Wisconsin Idea — taking the knowledge of the university beyond campus and into the community. That’s why Roberg, a member of the Student Vote Coalition, is among UW-Madison students who will speak Thursday in support of a Dane County Board resolution calling on UW-Madison to alter student identification cards to put them in compliance with state Voter ID laws. “It’s the right thing to do to make voting as easy and accessible as possible,” Roberg said. “The administration should do everything in its power to support students to have access to voting.”
Croatia moved closer to holding a new election on Thursday when parliament convened for the first time after an inconclusive vote on Nov. 8 and its speaker-elect turned down the job after failing to win cross-party support. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic held an unsuccessful first round of talks last week on forming a coalition cabinet as the minority party that holds the balance of power could not decide which party to back. She set the next round for Dec. 7. The opposition conservative HDZ party won 59 seats in the 151-seat parliament, three seats more than the incumbent Social Democrats-led centre-left coalition. Reformist newcomers “Most”, Croatian for “bridge”, has 19 seats. Whoever wins the support of at least 76 deputies will become prime-minister designate.
Eurosceptic EU member Denmark voted in a referendum on Thursday to reject a government proposal to adopt the bloc’s justice rules, amid concerns over handing more power to Brussels. The ‘No’ side received 53.1 percent of votes, while the ‘Yes’ camp garnered 46.9 percent, final results showed. Voter turnout stood at 72 percent. “It is a clear no… I have full respect for the Danes’ decision,” Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said at a press conference. The ‘No’ side was led by the eurosceptic, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP), which argued that dropping the country’s exemptions on EU justice rules—which it negotiated with Brussels in 1993 as a condition for accepting the Maastricht Treaty—would hand too much power to Brussels and could result in more immigration.
The National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment Thursday to lift Ecuador’s presidential term limits as violent street protests escalated against what many demonstrators deemed a power grab by President Rafael Correa. Part of a package of amendments, the measure will permit the leftist Correa to run for the office indefinitely beginning in 2021. His current term ends in 2017 and he has said he does not intend to run at that time. Analysts have called Correa’s decision a shrewd political move considering Ecuador’s current economic woes.
The Seychelles began voting in a presidential election Thursday, with remote islanders the first to cast ballots in a race that sees incumbent James Michel facing a serious challenge for the first time after two terms in office. Voters on the tiny far-flung rocky island of D’Arros, some 255 kilometres (160 miles) southwest of the main island Mahe, were among the first to vote in the three-day poll, election officials said. The tourism-dependent Indian Ocean archipelago, a former British colony, is made up of 115 islands, some as many as 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Mahe. “We have received confirmation that D’Arros has finished voting, and the plane is returning back to Mahe,” said Charles Morin, the chief electoral officer.
Polarized Venezuela heads to the polls this weekend with a punishing recession forecast to rock the ruling Socialists and propel an optimistic opposition to its first legislative majority in 16 years. Founded by the late Hugo Chavez, the Socialists’ long mighty “Chavismo” movement is facing public ire over shortages of goods from medicines to milk and the world’s worst inflation under his successor, President Nicolas Maduro. Defeat for “Chavismo” at Sunday’s vote would give the opposition a major platform to combat Maduro and deal a further blow to Latin America’s left after Argentina swung to the right in last month’s presidential election won by Mauricio Macri. If the opposition coalition wins a majority in Venezuela’s 167-seat National Assembly, it hopes to reduce the Socialists’ hegemony and tackle what it deems mismanagement, corruption and authoritarianism during their nearly 17-year rule.