National: Voting Laws Are Still Up In The Air In These States | Huffington Post

With just about 10 months until Election Day, ongoing courtroom battles over voting restriction have made it so that we still don’t know exactly when, and how, Americans in a number of states will be able to vote. Many of those battles originated with the Supreme Court gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Section 5 had barred states and jurisdictions with a history of racially motivated voting discrimination from enacting changes to their election laws without approval from the federal government or without going to federal court. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court eliminated the most effective part of the landmark 1965 civil rights act. States rushed to pass onerous measures, including requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, eliminating same-day registration and cutting early voting.

National: Is there a federal factor in the voter records leak? | FCW

Lawmakers and the administration have for years been seeking common ground on a federal data breach law to replace the patchwork of state and local rules. But even with such a law in place, Uncle Sam may still have been shut out of any role in policing the recent exposure of a database of 191 million voter records. The trove of personal information, complete with home addresses and telephone numbers, was briefly available on the public-facing web, due to a database configuration error. Privacy advocates and the media scrambled to investigate, but federal agencies were quiet. While voter registration information is public, it is rarely offered up for public consumption in bulk without some strings attached. Some states bar public-facing online voter record databases, while Florida and Ohio, for instance, both run public-facing voter record look-up sites. Ohio’s site returns addresses for name and county searches, while Florida’s requires birthdates and contains a notice that the site is intended for use only by voters attempting to verify their own registration status. Florida’s state government is considering legislation that would exempt voter information from public records rules because of the possible threat of identity theft.

National: How Democratic Are Ballot Initiatives? | The Atlantic

Paul Spencer, a teacher and part-time pecan farmer in Arkansas, drafted a ballot measure for 2016 to reform the state’s campaign-finance laws so his fellow voters could know who paid for election ads on TV. But he and fellow activists there knew they couldn’t do it alone. They sought the help of national election-reform groups because in Arkansas, as in many other states, initiatives can cost millions of dollars to pass. Liberal groups working at the national level are using state ballot initiatives as their weapon of choice for 2016, but given the costs, they’re carefully planning exactly where to push these measures. And Spencer’s Arkansas proposal didn’t make the cut for 2016.

National: Measuring the integrity of elections | The Boston Globe

How do we measure and ensure the integrity of elections? It’s certainly a relevant question as we enter a presidential election year here in the United States, but it’s also important from a global perspective. “Despite the fact that elections have spread worldwide . . . the quality of elections is really bad in many, many places,” according to Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Pippa Norris, who is director of the Electoral Integrity Project. “And that has consequences.” Norris came on the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast just over a year ago to explain why she was drawn to the subject for both theoretical and practical reasons.

Florida: Group challenges inclusion of prisoners in voting districts | Associated Press

A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday in a case that could affect whether prisoners are counted in drawing voting districts in Florida, an issue that affects voting power particularly in rural areas of the state. The American Civil Liberties Union and several Jefferson County residents charge the county used “prison-based gerrymandering” in drawing its five county commission and school board districts, each with about 2,950 residents. The county, with a non-prison population of 13,604 in the 2010 census, counted 1,157 Jefferson Correctional Institute inmates in one district, where they’re more than a third of the population. That gave the eligible voters in the district almost twice the voting power of others in the county, the ACLU says. County residents involved in the lawsuit say it also cut minority voting power.

Georgia: Democrats call for redistricting reform | Atlanta Journal Constitution

Three Democratic lawmakers are pushing to create an independent commission to redraw political lines in the future. Sen. Elena Parent (D – Atlanta), Rep. Pat Gardner (D – Atlanta) and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur) said the legislation would be a fairer way to redraw current legislative and congressional district lines in coming years. “It is time to give the citizens the ability to choose their representatives instead of the representatives choosing their voters,” said Gardner, who is sponsoring both resolutions.

Louisiana: Federal court lets stand lawsuit challenging judicial elections | Houma Today

A challenge to at-large voting in Terrebonne Parish’s state district courts continues after a federal judge struck down the state’s request to dismiss the suit brought by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The state sought to have the suit dismissed under the Eleventh Amendment, which generally prohibits private citizens from bringing suits against states, and by extension state officials in their official capacity. However, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception to the Amendment’s immunity in certain circumstances provided the complaint alleges a violation of federal law. In this case, the Louisiana district court found that because the suit alleges that federal law, the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments of the Constitution, has been violated, the state is precluded from immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

Maryland: Democrats push to use Obamacare as voter registration drive | Washington Times

Maryland Democrats hope to break new ground in the push for universal voter registration, planning to wage a fight in the General Assembly this year to automatically sign up everyone who visits certain state social services agency or buys coverage through the state’s Obamacare exchange. State Sen. Victor Ramirez, Prince George’s County Democrat, and state Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery County Democrat, have already pre-filed automatic registration bills ahead of the legislative session, saying they are trying to cut down on barriers that keep poor people from showing up at the polls on Election Da

North Carolina: Voter ID trial set for Jan. 25 | News & Observer

The federal judge who will preside over the trial about North Carolina’s voter ID law told attorneys in an order this week to be ready to make their arguments on Jan. 25. In a status report filed two days before the end of the year, the NAACP and others challenging the law continue to argue that much confusion remains about what voters will need in order to cast ballots in the March 15 primaries. The arguments come nearly six months after a two-week trial in July at which U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder listened to evidence in support of and in opposition to other elections law changes contained in a 2013 overhaul by the Republican-led General Assembly.

Texas: Group of Hispanic voters seeks docs in Pasadena voting rights suit | Houston Chronicle

A group of Hispanic voters that accuses the city of Pasadena of diluting its voting rights is asking that a political action committee with ties to the mayor turn over records of communications with voters. The PAC — Committee to Keep Pasadena Strong — has received funding from Mayor Johnny Isbell’s campaign coffers. It has been subpoenaed for records of communications with voters about local elections and Hispanic voters between 2013 and 2015, among other records, court documents show.

Utah: What you need to know about Utah’s new election process | KSL

Don’t be surprised if a petitioner knocks on your door in the coming weeks and months — almost 60 candidates have begun the new process to gather signatures to be on the 2016 primary election ballot. Here’s what you need to know about the new election law. SB54, passed in 2014, modified Utah’s primary process and changed how candidates are nominated and political parties are classified. Political parties have to choose which primary election process to follow by either gathering signatures, participating in a party convention or both. Mark Thomas, director of elections with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office, said this process is designed to get more Utahns involved in the voting process. “Time will tell whether this will be something that will hopefully get voters to be more civic-minded, to participate more in elections,” Thomas said.

Virginia: Trump supporters sue Virginia over GOP loyalty pledge | The Washington Post

Three African American pastors who support Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday over a requirement that GOP primary voters sign a statement affirming that they are Republicans — a plan the presidential front-runner has condemned. The plaintiffs say the loyalty pledge will discourage minority voters and those who are poor from casting ballots in Virginia, where voters do not register by party. Signing the vow will create long lines at the polls, imposes “the burden of fear and backlash” and amounts to a literacy test, according to the lawsuit. The Virginia Republican Party recently decided voters who want to help choose the Republican presidential nominee must first sign a statement that says: “My signature below indicates I am a Republican.”

Central African Republic: Election Likely to Go to Runoff | Bloomberg

Central African Republic’s presidential election will probably go to a runoff vote, partial results show, with the two front-runners set to fall short of an outright victory. With about three-quarters of the ballots counted, former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele has won 259,327 votes, while former Premier Faustin-Archange Touadera has secured 228,453, according to the country’s election agency. Full results could be announced at the weekend. There’s “no doubt” that Dologuele and Touadera will go to the second round since 77 percent of the votes have already been tallied, Fernande Sakanoth, a spokesperson with the National Electoral Agency, said on Wednesday. A runoff would be held Jan. 31 if no candidate secures a majority in the first round.

Spain: Rajoy preparing government and Popular Party for fresh elections | El País

With the new year just begun, Spain is facing an unprecedented political situation. “The most likely scenario right now, with a much higher probability rate than any other, is that we are headed towards a new general election,” said one high-ranking official from the Popular Party (PP), which continues to hold the reins of power following an inconclusive election on December 20. Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who has so far failed to secure enough support to get himself reinstated to a second term in office, has ordered his ministers to keep holding meetings and managing day-to-day affairs. The point is to avoid conveying the sense that the Spanish executive is on hold.

Taiwan: Election candidate barred from entering Hong Kong for CNN appearance | Hong Kong Free Press

A candidate in Taiwan’s imminent parliamentary elections has had his Hong Kong visa application denied for a second time after being invited to join a news programme at CNN’s regional headquarters in the city. Huang Kuo-chang, a New Power Party candidate running in next week’s Legislative Yuan polls, posted a message on his Facebook page on Tuesday saying that he was invited by join a CNN programme hosted by anchor Kristie Lu Stout. “I admire this famous CNN anchor, and the theme was meaningful, so I was going to agree to that,” Huang said. “However, the programme would be produced in Hong Kong, and my visa application was denied […] in 2014; I just tried to apply once again, and I was still denied entry.”