Votes being registered for the wrong candidate. Voting machines running out of memory. Election officials searching eBay for outdated notebook computers. These are just a few of the nightmarish scenarios state and local officials face as the country’s voting machines age and break down. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that the expected lifespan of core components in electronic voting machines purchased since 2000 is between 10 and 20 years, and for most systems it is probably closer to 10 than 20. Experts surveyed by the Brennan Center agree that the majority of machines in use today are either “perilously close to or exceed these estimates.”
A closely divided Supreme Court on Tuesday struggled to decide “what kind of democracy people wanted,” as Justice Stephen G. Breyer put it during an argument over the meaning of the constitutional principle of “one person one vote.” The court’s decision in the case, expected by June, has the potential to shift political power from urban areas to rural ones, a move that would provide a big boost to Republican voters in state legislative races in large parts of the nation. The basic question in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone.
Editorials: The public doesn’t support restrictive voter ID laws, but many new ones will be in force in 2016 | Herman Schwartz/Reuters
Defenders of photo ID laws regularly cite public opinion polls that show widespread support for their arguments. Yet these polls reveal no such support, and they prove nothing about this new restrictive legislation because the polls’ questions cover a far broader range of IDs than the actual laws accept as proof of identity. Many of the new laws do not accept a college student ID, for example, or an out-of-state driver’s license; but the polls drawing favorable responses encompass such IDs. As always, the devil is in the details. When Republicans won full control of 21 states in 2010, they promptly adopted measures to restrict and deter voting by minorities, the poor and the young, all key components of the Democratic base. One of the most effective measures requires voters to show one of a restricted set of photo IDs issued by either a state or federal government. Government studies have shown that these laws can prevent or deter significant numbers of poor and minority voters from voting. By 2015, 13 states had adopted what the National Conference of State Legislatures considers a “strict” voter photo ID law, including seven Southern states formerly subject to federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act.
This month marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, which ended a recount of ballots in Florida, and assured the election of Republican George W. Bush over Al Gore as our 43rd president. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that we haven’t had another election meltdown with such stark national ramifications for the past decade and a half, but that’s because we’ve been lucky, not smart. There were lots of lessons we could have learned from the Florida fiasco with its “hanging chad” punch-card ballots and its slew of lawsuits: that our voting technology was quite poor, and in a close election, the margin of error would exceed the margin of victory; that handing political partisans discretion to make choices over how to count and recount the votes can lead to both partisan decision making and lack of confidence by those on the losing side in the fairness of the process; and that in close elections, we can simply count on the loser in a razor-thin race to gracefully accept defeat and move on.
U.S. Supreme Court justices Tuesday weighed a challenge to Arizona’s legislative districts, which claims the maps systematically deprived Republican, non-minority voters of one person, one vote protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, is based on the fact that almost all of Arizona’s Republican-leaning districts are overpopulated, and almost all of the state’s Democratic-leaning districts are underpopulated. A group of 10 Republican voters brought the challenge, claiming these disparities show an intentional attempt to boost Democrats in the state legislature.
Maryland’s top Democrats are looking at legislation that would automatically put every eligible state resident on the voting rolls, abandoning the traditional registration system. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch say they are seriously considering putting their weight behind a “universal voter registration” plan. If a change were approved, Maryland would join a small number of state legislatures, all led by Democrats, that passed laws to register people who did not take the initiative to register. The policy would add hundreds of thousands of voters to rolls here — and faces deep objections from the Maryland Republican Party.
Chris Hudson, a former investigator with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department who unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Sheriff Fred S. Clark in the Nov. 3 election, told supervisors they need to act immediately on replacing the county’s voting machines. Hudson, who came in third in the sheriff’s race in November behind winner Fred Clark and Thomas Logan, voiced concerns during the public comment period of Monday’s board of supervisors meeting about what he described as “a major issue” with the county’s 51 voting machines used in the Nov. 3 election. Filing for an investigation to take place immediately after the election, Hudson said his issue was to address a calibration problem with the machines. “I was advised I had to wait 30 days before the process could start, so the process started Friday,” he told supervisors.
The ink on his thumbnail was supposed to be a fraud-proof deterrent, a sign that he had already voted in Haiti’s critical presidential and legislative elections. But hours after the adviser to Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council cast his ballot in the now disputed Oct. 25 vote, the indelible ink stain was barely visible, more resembling a fading birthmark than an electoral safeguard. Nearly two months after the pivotal balloting and three weeks before the scheduled Dec. 27 presidential runoff, Haiti remains at an impasse. Allegations of ballot tampering, fraudulent tabulations and widespread procedural breakdowns — such as failing ink that led to multiple voting — have fanned a widening chorus of doubt about the credibility of the results.
Britain’s lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday against reducing the voting age for a referendum on EU membership, blocking a move that might have boosted the campaign to stay in the 28-member bloc. Members of parliament voted 303 to 253 to reject a move by the upper chamber, the House of Lords, to lower the voting age to 16 from 18 for the referendum which Prime Minister David Cameron has promised by the end of 2017. The Lords is now unlikely to be able to force through the change after the Commons speaker invoked “financial privilege”, which means that by convention the upper house should not overturn the lower house’s decision.
Some people think it’s unfair to have more eligible voters in one legislative district than in another — that basing things solely on total population is the wrong way to draw political maps. But that’s only one way the lines might be seen to slight a particular group of Texans. The question stems from a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court this week challenging the current maps for Texas Senate elections. The plaintiffs argue that those maps — drawn to put approximately the same number of people in every district — put them at a disadvantage by including unequal numbers of eligible voters in each district.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday will debate whether to rewrite the rules for legislative redistricting—in a way that would further strengthen Republicans’ dominance in state politics. State legislative districts are apportioned under the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” And, for decades, states have taken that to mean that each district should contain roughly the same number of people. But the challengers in the case before the high court Tuesday say that’s not the right interpretation. They say districts should be apportioned with equal numbers of eligible voters, rather than total residents. If the challengers succeed, the case could usher in a redistricting revolution—and big gains for the GOP. Densely populated urban areas tend to lean Democratic, and also to contain more people who aren’t eligible or registered to vote. If state legislative districts were redrawn to equalize the number of eligible voters, rather than the number of total residents, inner cities’ political power would likely be diluted into more conservative suburbs.
On its face, the constitutional doctrine of “one person one vote” seems about as clear as they come: no one’s vote should count more than anyone else’s. In practice this means all state legislative districts must contain roughly equal numbers of people. The court has never defined who counts as a “person,” but most states count all people living in the district, not only those eligible to vote. This issue was before the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a dangerous lawsuit from Texas that could upend the widely accepted method of drawing district lines that is based on the number of people, not voters. Through a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s, the justices developed the one-person-one-vote doctrine in response to persistent abuses of the line-drawing process by white legislators, who diluted the political power of cities that have large populations of African-Americans and other minorities.
Republicans and Democrats appear to be moving closer to agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment about how the state’s congressional districts are drawn. The issue is whether it’s better to continue to allow the legislature to draw the maps — which often wind up in court — or create a bipartisan, independent commission. Since it was announced last month, the discussions have been slowed by long-held distrust between the parties and questions about ulterior motives and overemphasizing or diminishing minority voting strength.
Michigan: “Citizens United” bill latest in long line of elections proposals riling Democrats | Michigan Radio
The Michigan Senate has approved campaign finance legislation that would write the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling into state law. The court ruled that the First Amendment allows unrestricted independent political spending by outside groups. Democrats say the bill not only codifies “Citizens United” – it expands it. “This bill firmly points Michigan in the wrong direction towards a future of dark money and convoluted electoral processes,” said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, in an uncharacteristically impassioned speech on the Senate floor.
Updates are a cornerstone of modern life. Computers and smartphones require regular software updates. When people experience significant life events — graduation, a new job, a move, getting married or having a child — one of the first things they do is update their social-media profiles. Just as we update our operating systems and social-media profiles, we should regularly update our public policies so that they meet the needs of today’s citizens. In the general election last month, fewer than a quarter of Pennsylvania’s registered voters turned out to vote. With few high-profile races on the ballot, this low turnout is not surprising. But, even in our most recent presidential election year, Pennsylvania ranked 29th among the 50 states in voter participation. It’s clear from these numbers that our system is overdue for an update.
New Jersey: Bill to Permit Overseas & Military Voters to Vote Using Internet Advances | PolitickerNJ
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Wayne DeAngelo, Joseph Lagana and Joe Danielsen to permit overseas and military voters to vote using the Internet was released Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. “Every vote counts, but they especially must count for those protecting our freedom in the military,” said Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “This is a common sense, 21st century bill.”
In its last meeting of the year, the Salt Lake City Council followed through on its campaign-finance-reform pledge by slashing contribution limits. In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the council cut maximum contributions to a mayoral candidate from $7,500 to $3,500. It also reduced maximum donations to council candidates from $1,500 to $750. Those limits apply to individuals, corporations, nonprofits and unions. The caps apply only to Salt Lake City. Utah state law contains no limits on campaign contributions. Tuesday was the last meeting for council members Luke Garrott and Kyle LaMalfa, who will leave office Jan. 4. Garrott has long been an advocate for reducing money in politics.
One passerby on the streets of Bangui, capital of Central African Republic (CAR), said he knew nothing of the new draft constitution which is to be put to the vote in a referendum on Sunday (13.12.2015). “How we are we supposed to vote?,” he asked. Another man was equally bewildered. “I know nothing about a campaign for a referendum. But every Central African should find out what’s at stake,” he said. One of the reasons for the uncertainty over the new constitution is that several versions of it are circulating on the Internet. Most Central Africans don’t know exactly what they will be asked to decide upon.
Protesters have streamed into the capital’s streets in recent weeks in sometimes violent rallies to back opposition demands for an independent recount of the first round of Haiti’s presidential vote and immediate changes to an electoral council. That fervor isn’t shared by many in this impoverished country, however, and analysts worry widespread voter apathy is threatening the latest attempt to shore up Haiti’s fragile democracy. The malaise during this year’s three-round electoral cycle is occurring while nearly all public offices are up for grabs. Food vendor Minouche Jean didn’t vote in the first round of the presidential election in late October and won’t cast a ballot in the runoff that is scheduled for Dec. 27. She has no interest in a process that seems to matter so little in her daily life.
New Zealand: Possible new flag features fern and stars, with 2nd vote to be held in March | Associated Press
New Zealanders know what their new potential national flag will look like, except that they’re not quite set on the color. In a postal ballot, New Zealanders chose from among five designs, and both their favorites feature the country’s iconic silver fern next to the stars that make up the Southern Cross constellation. The only difference is, one flag is black and the other is red. Preliminary results released Friday showed the black option narrowly leading the red in a race that’s too close to call since not all votes have been counted. The winner will be announced Tuesday. Whichever flag wins will then be pitted head-to-head against the current flag in a second vote to be held in March.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) inspected the Smartmatic production facility in Taiwan, where voting machines for next year’s polls are being produced. The Comelec was accompanied by members of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and members of the media. Smartmatic first won the bid for the lease purchase of 23,000 machines in June, and another contract for 70,977 vote-counting machines (VCMs) in September. On December, the Comelec made a repeat order for another 3,000 machines to Smartmatic to ensure that the machine-to-voter ratio will be kept at 1:800.
Rwanda’s electoral commission says it is ready to hold next week’s national referendum that could allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third seven-year term in 2017. After that, he could also be eligible to run for two additional five-year terms. Kagame, 58, has ruled Rwanda since his army ended the 1994 genocide and ousted Hutu extremists from power. The referendum dates are December 17 for the diaspora and December 18 for Rwandans inside the country. Charles Munyaneza, executive secretary of the National Electoral Commission, said more than four million Rwandan voters requested the referendum, and the commission is only trying to fulfill its mandate to deliver a free and fair electoral process.
Seychelles: Observers Say Vote ‘Peaceful, Orderly,’ but Long Lines, Register Should Be Improved | allAfrica.com
The two Seychellois observer missions that monitored the first round of the presidential elections this month say some residents could not cast ballots because of problems with the vote register. The problems with the voter rolls resulted in some registered voters being turned away, “impacting the fairness and credibility of the current voters’ roll,” Jules Hoareau, deputy chief of mission for the Association for Rights Information and Democracy, said at a news conference Wednesday. That analysis echoed a report released Monday from Citizens for Democracy Watch Seychelles. “Some voters were unable to cast their ballot because their names did not appear on the voters’ register or on the approved supplementary list of voters in special voting stations,” said Eline Moise, CDWS’ chairwoman.
Saudi Arabian women voted for the first time on Saturday in local council elections and also stood as candidates, a step hailed by some activists in the Islamic patriarchy as a historic change, but by others as merely symbolic. “As a first step it is a great achievement. Now we feel we are part of society, that we contribute,” said Sara Ahmed, 30, a physiotherapist entering a polling station in north Riyadh. “We talk a lot about it, it’s a historic day for us.” The election, which follows men-only polls in 2005 and 2011, is for two thirds of seats on councils that previously had only advisory powers, but will now have a limited decision making role in local government. This incremental expansion of voting rights has spurred some Saudis to hope the Al Saud ruling family, which appoints the national government, will eventually carry out further reforms to open up the political system.