After every U.S. census, states redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts to account for changes in population. This sets off a decennial exercise in partisan gamesmanship, with Democrats and Republicans seeking to alter the lines to their advantage. Lawsuits inevitably follow. Since new maps were drawn before the 2012 election, courts have weighed in on them in 22 states. Five years after the census and less than a year away from the 2016 election, five states are still waiting on judges to determine the fate of their districts. Their decisions could help Democrats chip away at the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the most acrimonious redistricting fights in the nation came to an end on Wednesday, when Florida’s Supreme Court replaced the Republican-drawn congressional map with one that shakes up all but three districts in the state.
With the potential for a seismic shift in the political landscape of California and other states hanging in the balance, the U.S. Supreme Court this week takes on a case that will test the framework of the “one person, one vote” principle that has defined political boundaries for generations. The high court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case out of Texas that threatens to upend the way states draw their political districts based on census-driven overall population numbers — and which could alter political influence in states such as California, where mushrooming Latino populations in urban areas, including illegal immigrants and other noncitizens, play a key part in shaping political maps. Conservative groups have challenged the “one person, one vote” premise based on a simple argument that counting overall population, including those ineligible to vote, unfairly diminishes the power of citizens who are eligible to vote. They have urged the Supreme Court to invalidate the current system, which would force states to completely redraw local and state political districts using different factors and perhaps open the door to eventually reconfiguring congressional districts.
Breaking news can be hard to predict, except when it’s tied to a controversial court case. Candidates and consultants spend their time, energy and dollars staying on message — trying to focus voters on winning issues. But breaking news, even something such as a court decision that can be anticipated, often derails those plans by interjecting a subject that wasn’t in the campaign prospectus into the national conversation. It’s far too early to declare which issues will be decisive in the 2016 elections, but a handful of court cases are likely to become news throughout the next year. That would force candidates for president, the Senate, and the House to respond, creating opportunities for them to shine — or to say something controversial, even stupid. Of course these news events could be trumped by bigger breaking news, such as another terrorist attack.
Maryland state lawmakers have taken up legislation to allow felons to vote once they were released from prison. Currently, felons must wait for their parole or probation to run out. Jane Henderson, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and executive director of Communities United, was surprised to learn that the legislation was getting action. She had assumed it would have been difficult to get the legislature to address the matter, let alone pass legislation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it in May, but she is optimistic that the legislature will override him, and soon. “By state constitution, they have to take it up soon when the next session starts in January,” Henderson told the Washington Examiner. “In the Senate, we’re fine. The House voted 82 for it and we need 85 … We’re very close.” If Maryland does approve the bill, the state would be the latest in an accelerating trend. Since 2009, six states have rolled back laws limiting felon voting rights.
Partisan gerrymandering is an offense to democracy. It creates districts that are skewed and uncompetitive, denying voters the ability to elect representatives who fairly reflect their views. But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case in which a small dose of math can help the justices root out these offenses more easily. Redistricting may seem unglamorous, but it comes up repeatedly before the court. Last month, the justices heard a case that could streamline the path by which they receive such complaints. In oral arguments, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed his fear that his court could be flooded with complex redistricting cases. But he needn’t be concerned. Tuesday’s case gives the court a chance to adopt a simple statistical standard for fairness that cuts through the legal morass. In the United States legislative system, district maps must be redrawn every 10 years, after each census, a process that legislators manipulate to gain advantage.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced plans Thursday to offer 6.2 million registered voters a year of free credit and identity theft monitoring services. The announcement came more than two weeks after a massive data breach at the agency exposed those voters’ personal information, including Social Security numbers and birth dates. An agency spokesman said the move is expected to cost $1.2 million, paid by the agency through reserve funds. Kemp said he has contracted with Austin, Texas-based CSID for services that will be available within 10 to 14 business days. Additionally, he said all Georgia voters in the breach whose identity is compromised will be eligible for identity theft restoration services if their identity is compromised over the next year.
The City of Chicago’s board of election commissioners Friday filed their response to an ongoing voting rights lawsuit filed by territorial residents. The suit is challenging laws that gives some overseas citizens and military members the ability to participate in federal elections, while others cannot. Neil Weare, an attorney in the case, said the case is also part of a broader effort to raise awareness about the issue of voting rights in the U.S. territories. Weare is a former Guam resident. Six former Illinois residents, all now living in Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed the case in Illinois’ federal cou
A court case in Hawaii related to voting rights and race is similar to a case on Guam, but there are also important differences, an attorney involved with the Guam case said. The U.S. Supreme Court has halted the counting of ballots from a Hawaii election, which was held to select native Hawaiian delegates to draft a document for self-governance. The court has not issued an opinion on the issue, but halted the vote count pending further review. Attorney Christian Adams — one of the attorneys representing Guam resident Arnold Davis, who challenged Guam’s pending political status vote, saying it violates his voting rights — spoke in response to the case in Hawaii.
Republicans’ push to eliminate Michigan’s straight-party voting option may improve the odds of voters being allowed to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. A key lawmaker is pushing for House passage of her “no-reason” absentee bill in the coming week. The legislation would let all voters apply for an absentee application in person at their local clerk’s office without needing an excuse. Under current law, absentee voters must be 60 years or older, be out of town when the polls are open, be an election worker or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration. House Elections Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said her bill would alleviate potential longer lines if voters are prohibited from voting a straight ticket of one party’s candidate with a single mark. The GOP-controlled Senate last month OK’d ending the straight-party option. Lyons’ panel heard testimony on the straight-ticket legislation Thursday but did not vote, a day after moving the no-excuse absentee voting bill to the House floor.
Even the most civic-minded New Yorkers may become exasperated next year when they are asked to vote in four separate elections. This extra burden on voters is yet another sign of the enduring dysfunction in Albany. New York State lawmakers created this problem because it’s easier on the politicians, even though it’s costly and harder on the voters. New York’s presidential primary is set for April 19. Congressional primaries are expected to be held on June 28, and state legislative primaries on Sept. 13, with the general election on Nov. 8. There is no reason the state primary can’t be held on the same day as the congressional primary, thus eliminating the extra election and saving the state $50 million.
In a clash foreshadowing next year’s presidential election, Democrats in the Ohio House and voter activists now want big changes in how voter registration rolls are purged in the state. Experts consider registration the No. 1 factor in determining participation, and a bill unveiled last week by state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat, seeks to stop state officials from removing from the rolls voters who move within the state or who have been inactive. Her bill still would allow purging voters who move out of state and would leave intact the removal process for those who die or request to be removed.
Armenians voted to curb presidential powers in a disputed referendum, official results showed Monday, but the opposition said the reforms aimed to keep President Serzh Sarkisian in power and called for protests. Around two-thirds (63 percent) backed the constitutional changes in Sunday’s referendum, with 32 percent voting against, according to preliminary results from the election commission. Turnout in the referendum stood at 51 percent. However, monitors from the Council of Europe criticised irregularities in the referendum, adding that “too many citizens” saw the reforms as “a means for the current president to remain in power”.
The far-right party of Marine Le Pen was poised to make major gains after the first round of voting in regional French elections on Sunday in the wake of terrorist attacks that traumatized the country last month. When the votes were counted, Ms. Le Pen’s National Front party was pulling far ahead in two of France’s 13 regions and leading in four others. Trailing were the right-leaning parties, including the Republicains, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Even further behind were the Socialists, whose best-known figure is President François Hollande.
The Seychelles will go into a presidential election runoff on Dec. 16 after all the six candidates in the first round failed to secure a 50 percent share of the vote, the chairman of the electoral commission said on Sunday. The Indian Ocean archipelago nation of 115 islands and 93,000 people went to the polls to pick a new president on Dec. 3 in the three-day vote. The incumbent President James Michel, 71, won 47.76 percent of the 62,004 votes that were cast, while his closest challenger, Wavel Ramkalawan, a 54-year old Anglican priest, scored 33.93 percent. “We will have to go into a second round,” said Hendrick Gappy, the chairman of the Seychelles Electoral Commission.
Venezuela’s opposition has won an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections in the oil-rich nation, which is mired in economic turmoil and violent crime. Candidates for the centre-right opposition seized a majority in the national assembly, with most of the results in, marking a major political shift in the country, which set out on a leftist path in 1999 under the late president Hugo Chavez and his project to make Venezuela a model of what he called “21st century socialism”. Five hours after polls closed the electoral commission said that the opposition had won 99 of the 167 seats in the national assembly. The socialist party won 46. Twenty-two additional seats were still undecided.