National: New Federal Election Commission Head Aims for Calm | Al Jazeera

The Federal Election Commission, tasked with policing what’s expected to be the nation’s most expensive election ever, will drag itself into the New Year perhaps more internally injured than at any point in its 40-year history. It will do so under the leadership of Matthew Petersen, a Republican appointed chairman Thursday in a perfunctory vote by his five commission colleagues. The job switches annually between Republicans and Democrats. But Petersen, a soft-spoken and professorial attorney by trade, says his tenure at the commission’s helm will prove decidedly different than that of Democrat Ann Ravel, the current chairwoman who’s used her office’s meager power — a bully pulpit, mainly — to its maximum. “I’ve learned to take a more low-profile approach,” he told the Center for Public Integrity in an interview earlier this month. “I don’t feel any need to have my face out there any more than it is.”

National: More Than a Dozen States Eye Automatic Voter Registration | The American Prospect

Advocates of automatic voter registration won two legislative battles in Oregon and California this year, and lost another in New Jersey when GOP Governor Chris Christie vetoed automatic registration legislation last month. Now the question is whether 18 states mulling a variety of automatic voter registration bills will approve or reject those proposals. The bills would in one form or another allow government agencies to transfer voter eligibility information to state election officials, who would confirm and register eligible voters, excluding any who chose to remain off the rolls. The push for automatic registration comes at a time when voting rights advocates are contending with state-based initiatives around the country that erect a variety of barriers to the polls. These include voting restrictions in North Carolina that have become the subject of a federal challenge.

Voting Blogs: The Risk of Another Disputed Presidential Election is Higher than Most Think | Ned Foley/Election Law Blog

Throughout American history, there has been an important interplay between institutions and individuals in terms of the capacity to resolve vote-counting disputes in accordance with a basic standard of fairness and integrity. Insofar as the institutions for adjudicating these disputes have been weaker than desirable (in large part because of the oversight at the Founding, as described in the first post), the political system inevitably places greater reliance on the ethical judgments of individual politicians who play critical roles in the handling of these disputes. Conversely, to the extent that institutional improvements occur that increase the capacity for impartial adjudication of these disputes, there is correspondingly less dependence upon the particular character and virtue of individual politicians.

District of Columbia: No Leader, Old Voting Machines: D.C.’s Election Agency Faces Multiple Challenges | WAMU

With only seven months left until D.C. voters cast ballots in the 2016 primary, the agency in charge of running the city’s elections remains without top leadership — and on Wednesday struggled to explain whether it has the money to buy new voting machines it says it needs. The issues were at the forefront of a hearing in a D.C. Council committee, where Council member Kenyan McDuffie expressed frustration with the challenges facing the D.C. Board of Elections as the city enters an election year. “This is too precarious a situation,” McDuffie said. “I remain concerned about the board’s direction.” Some of the issues aren’t new, and in the past have resulted in technical glitches that delayed the reporting of election results — most recently in the April 2014 mayoral primary. But one board-watcher said Wednesday that they may be getting worse.

Florida: Senate redistricting trial ends as judge weighs options | Miami Herald

After eight rulings by the Florida Supreme Court and an admission of guilt by legislators, the Senate redistricting trial ended Thursday with a Tallahassee judge asking the parties to tell him their top choices for a new Senate map. Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds now must decide whether to accept one of four proposals offered by the challengers — a coalition of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals — or a map drawn by Senate staff but never voted on by the Legislature. The challengers said Reynolds should pick one of two maps that create four Hispanic-majority districts in Miami-Dade County, boosting the number of Hispanic-dominated seats from three and opening the door to a Hispanic district dominated by Democrats.

Hawaii: Na’i Aupuni cancels Native Hawaiian election | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Facing a potential court battle that could go on for years, Na‘i Aupuni announced this morning that it will cancel the Native Hawaiian election and proceed to a four-week convention in February. All 196 Hawaiians who ran as candidates will be offered seats as delegates to the convention, or ‘aha, said Na‘i Aupuni President Kuhio Asam. “Our goal has always been to create a path so that Hawaiians can gather and have a serious and much-needed discussion about self-governance,” Asam said at a downtown Honolulu press conference this morning. “We anticipated that the path would have twists and turns and some significant obstacles, but we are committed to proceeding to the ‘aha where this long-overdue conversation can take place,” he said.

Wisconsin: Federal judges leave open challenge to state redistricting | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In a case that could establish a new standard for how courts decide when partisan legislative redistricting crosses the line of constitutionality cleared a major hurdle Thursday. A federal court allowed a lawsuit to proceed that claims that Republican-drawn legislative district maps are unconstitutional. Democrats filed the suit in July, saying the 2012 redistricting plan drawn after the 2010 census so favored Republicans that it violated the civil rights of Democratic voters. Though the plan was crafted by private attorneys and consultants hired by Republican lawmakers, the suit names as defendants the Government Accountability Board, and its executive director, because the board administered elections in the state. The defendants said the issue of partisan gerrymandering is a political one, and the suit should be dismissed because there’s no clear standard for a court to decide the claim.

Central African Republic: Voters in CAR Show Overwhelming Support for New Constitution | VoA News

Voters in the Central African Republic appear to have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution aimed at stopping more than three years of violence between Muslims and Christians. Preliminary results from Sunday’s referendum show 90 percent voting yes. Voting in parts of the country where militias threatened violence, including a Muslim neighborhood in Bangui, was postponed. Those ballots have yet to be counted.

Spain: Spain gears up for most uncertain election in 40 years | Reuters

Spain faces its most uncertain national election in 40 years on Sunday with newcomer parties poised for big gains against the traditionally dominant conservatives and socialists, complicating efforts to form a stable government. The ballot will mark the end of the established two-party system that has held sway since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended in 1975, ushering in an untested and potentially volatile era of consensus politics. It will also offer the latest snapshot of the willingness of European electorates to abandon the mainstream center-right and center-left, following significant gains by populist parties since October in elections in France and Portugal. Opinion polls show the governing conservative People’s Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will win Sunday’s vote but fall well short of an absolute majority.

Voting Blogs: The Great Dissenter in Plessy Anticipated the Role for Federal Courts Embraced in Bush v. Gore—But Will the Court Repeat that Role Next Time and, If Not, What Then? | Ned Foley/Election Law Blog

In the 1900s, even as state courts increasingly became the forum for resolving a major vote-counting dispute (as described in the previous post), there still was no role for the federal judiciary in these cases. That was because of Taylor v. Beckham, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1900 growing out of Kentucky’s 1899 gubernatorial election—the one involving the assassination of a candidate because of the dispute over the counting of ballots (as also mentioned in the previous post). Taylor ruled that the federal judiciary was powerless to protect the integrity of a state’s electoral process, even in a case of demonstrated outright ballot-box stuffing.

Alaska: Trial set in lawsuit challenging campaign contribution limits | Associated Press

A federal judge has set an April trial date in a case that could affect state campaign contributions limits in Alaska. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess said the trial is estimated to take five days. It is scheduled to start April 25, about four months before the state’s primary elections. An Anchorage state Republican party district and others are suing leaders of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, challenging the constitutionality of certain campaign contribution limits.

California: Lawsuit: San Mateo County absentee voting system excludes blind voters | San Jose Mercury News

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday challenges San Mateo County’s absentee voting system for excluding blind and visually impaired residents by relying on paper ballots. San Mateo County, like nearly every other California county, has no alternative for people who cannot read a paper ballot. Other jurisdictions outside the state have offered electronic ballots with screen-reading technology. California is behind the curve because the secretary of state hasn’t certified an absentee voting process for the blind, said Michael Nunez, a litigation associate who works for Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, the San Francisco firm that filed the lawsuit. Counties can’t use a voting system in local elections without state certification.

Wisconsin: Federal judge dismisses voter ID challenge | Associated Press

Wisconsin’s requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls has survived another legal challenge after a federal judge Thursday dismissed portions of a wide-ranging lawsuit alleging the mandate burdens the right to vote. One Wisconsin Institute Inc., a liberal group; Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, a voting rights organization; and a half-dozen individual voters filed the lawsuit in June. They argued a number of provisions Republicans have added to state election law since they took over the Legislature in 2011, most prominently the photo ID requirement, violate the federal Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment and the equal protection clause. U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued an order saying he has granted the state’s motion to dismiss the portion of the lawsuit challenging the voter ID requirements. He said the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already upheld the mandate in a separate case in October 2014. But he added he’s not convinced that the requirement promotes any confidence in the electoral process. He also rejected another section of the lawsuit alleging that statutory changes impermissibly favor voters who move to Wisconsin from out of state.

Canada: Did Justin Trudeau rule out one potential plan for electoral reform? | Macleans

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to study electoral reform, but comments on the topic this week raised questions about whether he has already ruled out one version of it. Trudeau told the Canadian Press on Wednesday that he doesn’t like the idea of “disconnecting any MPs from specific groups of citizens or geographic location.” “The fact that every single politician needs to earn the trust of a specific group of constituents who cover the broad range of Canadian public opinion strengthens our democracy,” Trudeau said in a long interview with CP’s Ottawa bureau.

Haiti: Opposition rejects Martelly’s election commission | Miami Herald

Haiti’s opposition and Senate have rejected a newly formed electoral commission, saying the President Michel Martelly-created body fails to respond to demands of Haitians seeking an inquiry into the Oct. 25 first round presidential vote. Nor does the commission, they say, resolve the post-electoral impasse that has been holding up a presidential runoff. “It doesn’t correspond to what the society has been asking, to what the candidates have been asking; nor does it assure the credibility of the process,” said Senator Jocelerme Privert. “I believe all actors have to begin to think about what’s in the best interest of the nation — peace, security, stability in the first days of 2016. This commission will not provide any of that.” A coalition of eight presidential candidates, dubbed the G8, also issued a statement about the commission, calling it a “cosmetic solution” to the crisis. Members said “it is inconceivable and unacceptable” that the country’s embattled Provisional Electoral Council and executive would work together to force such a solution on them without consulting them.

New Zealand: Online voting trial slammed as ‘ego trip’ | Wanganui Chronicle

Wanganui might be one of the eight councils in line to trial online voting in next October’s local body elections but it is not a given that it will participate. The Government still has to give final approval for the trial and that is not expected until February 5. A number of Whanganui District councillors still have misgivings about being in the trial. Mayor Annette Main told the council’s meeting this week that when the Government make its final decision that would be the time when the council could decide if it wanted to take part.

Philippines: Comelec restores Precinct Count Optical Scan safety features | The Manila Times

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will reactivate three of the four security features of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting machines that were deactivated during the 2010 and 2013 elections. “All those features are there but as to whether we will enable the features, chances are [we will reactivate] at least three out of four,” Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said on Tuesday. The four security features are the ballot verification or ultra violet detectors, the source code review, the digital signature and the voter verified paper audit trail.

Rwanda: Rwandans vote on constitution changes to let Kagame extend rule | Reuters

Rwandans voted on Friday in a referendum on changing the constitution that would allow President Paul Kagame to extend his term in office, possibly until 2034, despite criticism of such an amendment by the United States and other Western donors. Kagame would be able to run again after his second mandate ends under the changes, which are expected to pass. Kagame, 58, has been president since 2000 but effectively in control since his rebel force marched into Kigali in 1994 to end a genocide.