National: Man behind gutting of Voting Rights Act: states may have ‘gone too far’ since decision | The Guardian

To his detractors, Edward Blum is one of the most dangerous men in America, a human wrecking ball on a mission to destroy the landmark achievements of the civil rights era and send the country back to a dark age of discrimination and harassment of minorities – in the workplace, in higher education and at the ballot box. That’s some reputation for a slightly built former stockbroker who answers his own phone, sounds nothing like the bullying demagogues who once held sway over the deep south, and even has some misgivings about the consequences of his actions. If anything, his soft-spoken, self-deprecating, consciously neurotic manner is reminiscent of Woody Allen from his early days in standup. Blum’s impact, though, is beyond question. For more than 20 years, working largely on his own, he has orchestrated lawsuits to challenge and, in some instances, dramatically reverse once sacrosanct legal principles. Case after case that he’s filed – on voting rights, on the drawing of electoral districts, on affirmative action – has made its way to the supreme court, often against the predictions of legal scholars, and found a sympathetic reception from the conservative majority.

Editorials: The Next Big Voting-Rights Fight | Emily Bazelon & Jim Rutenberg/The New York Times

Over the past year, The New York Times Magazine has chronicled the long campaign that led to the Supreme Court’s 2013 nullification of the Voting Rights Act’s most powerful provision — its Section 5 — and the consequences that decision has had for minority voters. As I’ve written in our Disenfranchised series, the gutting of Section 5 facilitated an onslaught of restrictive new laws that made voting disproportionately harder for minorities across the country, marking the biggest setback to minority voting rights in the half-century since President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard a new case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that could also have a significant effect on minority political power — specifically, Hispanic voting power. Evenwel stems from a case first instigated in Texas by the same conservative group — the Project on Fair Representation — that helped bring about the decision gutting Section 5 in 2013. Like all of these big election cases, the issues involved are complicated, which may explain why Evenwel has drawn less media attention than it deserves; it does not reduce easily into sound bites. But the Court’s decision in Evenwel could be among the most important developments in politics in 2016, and well beyond. This series would not be complete for 2015 without a review of the case. My colleague Emily Bazelon and I have done our best to break it down as simply as possible, trading off segments to explain the main legal questions at play, the potential consequences and the likely outcomes. A decision is expected by June of 2016.

California: The Consequences of California’s Top-Two Primary | The Atlantic

In 2009, Abel Maldonado, then a state senator, brought the top-two open primary to California. The change allowed the two leading finishers in a primary to proceed to the general election regardless of party affiliation. It set into motion a system that would reshape the state’s politics. Today, Maldonado is as much vilified as lauded in the state, but he is supremely satisfied with what he did. “You know what, you get a little lazy sometimes, and with a closed primary system, where you keep independents from voting, let me tell you something, you can be lazy,” he told me. “With this open primary, you have to work for the taxpayers.” In an open primary, people vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. But in California, a top-two primary system paved the way for two candidates of the same party to confront one another in the general election. As a result, political parties are no longer guaranteed a spot in the general, nor can they dispense with moderates within their own party in a primary election. Louisiana and Washington are the only two other states that have adopted such a system.

Michigan: Senate GOP faces pressure from Governor, SOS on no-reason absentee |

The Michigan Senate in December broke a pair of bills apart to avoid passing no-reason absentee voting, but now they’re facing calls to pass that bill from Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. HB 4724 would allow voters to go to their local clerk’s office and either vote in person there or take an absentee ballot home without having a reason to vote absentee. Current Michigan law only allows absentee voting if a person falls into one of six categories, including being over age 60 or expecting to be out of town on election day. The bill was introduced in June, but gained traction when it was tie-barred to a bill that banned straight-ticket voting. That action would have meant that neither bill made it into law unless the other one did. However, the Senate broke that tie-bar in a late night session and the House agreed to it.

North Carolina: Voter ID case will go to trial in January | Winston-Salem Journal

North Carolina’s photo ID requirement will go on trial late this month in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem, a federal judge said in court papers filed Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder signed an order modifying the deadlines for discovery in the case so a trial on the photo ID requirement can begin Jan. 25. The N.C. NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others sued North Carolina in 2013 after state Republican legislators passed a sweeping elections law known as the Voter Information Verification Act. The law eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10 and prohibited county elections officials from counting ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct but right county. The law also included a photo ID requirement.

Virginia: Judges impose new congressional map, redrawing 3rd, 4th Districts | Richmond Times-Dispatch

A three-judge panel in Richmond on Thursday imposed a new Virginia congressional map that could give blacks a chance to elect candidates of their choice in two districts, not just one. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court halts implementation, the reconfiguration will lower the black voting age population in the 3rd District, represented by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Democrat, from 56.3 percent to 45.3 percent. It will raise the black voting age population in the 4th District, represented by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Republican, from 31.3 percent to 40.9 percent. Scott’s district, which meandered from the Richmond area to Newport News, will now be centered in Hampton Roads.

Haiti: It’s official: Haiti presidential runoff in 17 days | Miami Herald

Haiti President Michel Martelly issued a presidential order Wednesday officially scheduling the country’s postponed presidential and partial legislative runoffs for Jan. 24. Martelly’s late night order came a day after the head of the Provisional Electoral Council reversed himself on the impossibility of staging the vote in time for Martelly’s Feb. 7 departure from office, and on the day that two top U.S. envoys arrived in Port-au-Prince to address an unraveling political crisis triggered by the Oct. 25 presidential and legislative elections. This [order] makes sense only if Célestin has agreed to participate in the second round. Robert Fatton, Haiti analyst Ambassador Thomas Shannon, counselor of the Department of State, and Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten, spent the first of two days meeting with key political actors including opposition candidate Jude Célestin. They had hope to convince Célestin to participate in the runoff. “This [order] makes sense only if Célestin has agreed to participate in the second round,” said Robert Fatton, a Haiti analyst and political science professor at the University of Virginia.

Spain: Failed Catalan government makes another Spanish election more likely | Reuters

Catalan far-left party CUP said on Sunday it would not support acting regional head Artur Mas in his bid for another term, forcing new local elections and increasing the likelihood all Spaniards may have to return to the ballot box this year. The drawn-out process of forming a government in Catalonia echoes the political stalemate gripping Spain at a national level following an inconclusive general election two weeks ago. The prospect of new elections in Catalonia, most likely in March, increases the likelihood of a second general election this year as the receding threat of a strong Catalan government seeking a split from Spain will reduce pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) and the opposition Socialists to form a grand coalition to stand up to a separatist Catalan administration.

Voting Blogs: EAC hosts 2016 swing state roundtable | electionlineWeekly

You’ve planned for it, you’ve dreaded it, and now it’s finally here. 2016. There’s no going back and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission kicked things off this week with a roundtable discussion of elections officials from nine of the battleground states. “Even though from the public perspective, it may seem like election season is just beginning, for the election officials, we’ve been preparing for a number of months, even a number of years,” said Moderator Merle King of Kennesaw State University. “The election cycle is the apex. The finish line.” The roundtable was held in the Washington, D.C.-area and streamed live on the Internet. The wide-ranging conversation covered everything from social media to emergency contingency planning to technology to media relations to setting standards.

Alabama: Shelby County seeks legal fees in voting rights victory | Montgomery Advertiser

The Supreme Court decision that nullified a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is more than two years old, but the battle rages on over whether federal officials should pick up the legal tab. Shelby County won the case that freed Alabama and several other states from having to prove in advance that every proposed change to their election procedures wouldn’t discriminate against minority voters. Conservatives hailed the historic decision as a victory for states’ rights, but civil rights groups assailed it, saying it weakens protections for black and Latino voters. After the court’s 2013 ruling, the county’s Washington lawyers filed a $2 million bill and said the losing party in the case — the U.S. Department of Justice – should pay it.

Editorials: Michigan: Where voters pay for their disenfranchisement | Curtis Hertel Jr./Detroit Free Press

Our system of government is set up to advocate for the will of the majority, while also protecting the fundamental rights of the minority. That isn’t happening in Michigan. On the last day of session, Republicans rammed Senate Bill 571, a 53-page bill, through the Legislature with zero committee review and zero public input. This bill, SB 571, not only increases corporate influence and money over elections, but also silences school districts, local governments and even librarians from educating the public about local millages and bond proposals. Regardless of the fact that some Republicans have admitted that they never read the bill and probably do not support it, Gov. Rick Snyder signed it into law anyway.

Montana: State to use corruption ruling to defend contribution caps | Associated Press

A second Montana judge has ruled there was corruption in the state’s 2010 Republican primary elections, with candidates pledging loyalty to a national anti-union group’s cause in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal and unreported corporate campaign contributions. State officials plan to use the two judicial rulings as evidence in their defense of Montana’s limits on how much political donors may contribute to a candidate’s campaign. A federal lawsuit seeking to strike down those limits is pending after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that states must prove “quid pro quo corruption” — or the appearance of it — to justify capping contributions.

Nebraska: Lawmaker: Engage youth voters by legalizing ‘ballot selfies’ | Omaha World Herald

Nikola Jordan for years has snapped a “ballot selfie” at the polling place and posted it on social media. Even before advanced smartphones and Facebook’s popularity, she’d take a handheld camera into the polling place and pose with her ballot. “I think voting is really exciting and being part of the democratic process is really exciting,” the 32-year-old Omaha woman said. Current state law, however, prohibits sharing a picture of a completed ballot with other people, which could include posting such a photo on Facebook or Instagram. A measure introduced Thursday in the State Legislature would protect ballot selfies by allowing a voter to photograph and share his or her ballot.

New Jersey: Democrats’ redistricting plan draws flak | Philadelphia Inquirer

Independent experts and Republicans on Thursday assailed a proposed constitutional amendment that they said would make New Jersey’s legislative elections less competitive and help cement a Democratic majority for years to come. Democrats are fast-tracking the amendment, which would require voter approval, through the Legislature for a likely vote next week, in hope of getting the question on November’s ballot. Democrats control the Senate, 24-16, and, based on November’s elections, will expand their majority next week in the Assembly to 52-28.

Rhode Island: Deadline nears on whether elections chief gets to keep job | Providence Journal

The fate of embattled Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Kando hung in the balance Wednesday evening as the board met in closed session just 48 hours away from Kando’s potential dismissal. Last September, the board took an unusual step. It voted to fire Kando in 120 days — a timeline that concludes Friday — unless the longtime director drastically improved all areas of his job performance, including the broad requirement that he “understand the role of the executive director.” The board could, as it did once before, vote to undo the pending termination or put it off until a later date.

Utah: Bill would eliminate voting for only one political party in Utah | fox13now

The Utah State Legislature will be deciding whether to eliminate “straight-ticket” voting, where you can choose to only vote for candidates from one political party on an entire ballot. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, is sponsoring a bill that would end that, calling it “outdated.” “They can still go through the ballot and vote for every Republican, every Green Party and every Democrat,” she told FOX 13. “But they’re going to have to look at every single name to do that.” Rep. Arent claims straight-ticket voting causes confusion for voters and some key issues get skipped because they’re not tied to a party affiliation.

Virginia: Judges pick new congressional map for Virginia | Associated Press

A federal court has picked a new congressional map for Virginia that significantly changes the racial makeup of two districts, but could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. A three-judge panel on Thursday ordered the state to implement a new redistricting map for the 2016 election. The move comes after the panel concluded for a second time last year that legislators in 2012 illegally packed black voters into the 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democrat Bobby Scott. The judges initially ordered the General Assembly to redraw the lines, but when lawmakers balked, the judges hired an expert to help them do it themselves.

Canada: Dartmouth phone/Internet voting firm fights ACOA claim | The Chronicle Herald

The judicial stage is set for a dispute between Dean Smith’s Intelivote Systems Inc. and a $1.3-million claim filed by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Smith’s Dartmouth company claims the amount sought by ACOA represents portions of “non-repayable amounts” it received from the federal agency in four instalments in recent years, according to documents reviewed Thursday at Nova Scotia Supreme Court. A defence filed by Intelivote on Dec. 21 denies an assertion by ACOA the company has ceased operations and, as a result, owes the agency the $1.3 million. “The defendant has become insolvent, resulting in an event of default as defined in the terms and conditions of the agreements,” according to a statement of claim filed by ACOA.

Central African Republic: Candidates now mostly support vote count: U.N. | Reuters

Almost all of the 30 candidates running for president of Central African Republic now support the election despite calls this week by 20 of them for the vote count to be stopped, the U.N. peacekeeping mission said on Wednesday. About 77 percent of votes have been counted in the Dec. 30 election that is hoped will mark the end of three years of conflict in which thousands have died. Two former prime ministers are in the lead, according to election authorities, and will likely contest a run-off election on Jan. 31.

Haiti: Elections Date Finally Set  | Latin One

The postponed presidential and legislative runoffs and elections in Haiti have finally been given a new date. According to Miami Herald, it is now set to take place on January 24, 2016. Head of the Provisional Electoral Council Pierre-Louis Opont shared the date in a letter to President Michel Martelly after the nine-member council meeting was finally dismissed. Just the day before, Opont told Martelly that it was impossible to organize the elections for January 17, and so the final date could be staged to guarantee the handover of power from one president to another in time to meet the imposed deadline for February 7.

Editorials: It’s time in 2016 to grant Irish abroad the right to vote | The Irish Times

So it has begun. The Centennial Year: 40 State-sponsored events, hundreds of local commemorations, events in New York and Washington DC and countless other places where the Irish diaspora has gathered. After a shaky start, the Government has righted itself and come forward with a thoughtful and comprehensive programme that culminates in a series of Easter anniversary events and a major national conference on the future of the Republic 100 years on. Countless books will be published, and historians will be in demand on talk shows as Irish people take a long look back of what they have made of the Republic. Everything thing seems well in hand to celebrate how far we have come, except for the reality that one million Irish emigrants are effectively non-citizens of this Republic. They can’t vote.

Niger: Electoral register tidied ahead of February vote | Reuters

Niger has completed changes to its electoral register recommended by the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), the body said on Thursday, removing a major source of tension ahead of elections next month. President Mahamadou Issoufou is seeking another mandate as head of the historically turbulent, uranium-producing West African country on Feb. 21. He is the favorite to win but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive ahead of the polls. The OIF, an organization representing French-speaking nations tasked with overseeing the voter list, had previously recommended the removal of around 300 ‘ghost’ polling stations and 25,000 voters counted twice.

Taiwan: A Tsai is just a Tsai | The Economist

Undeterred by the rain, the crowd leaps to its feet shouting “We’re going to win” in Taiwanese as their presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, begins her stump speech. Some rattle piggy banks to show that their party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), relies on, and serves, the little guy—as opposed to the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), backed by businesses and fat cats and one of the world’s richest political institutions. Taiwan’s voters go to the polls on January 16th in what is likely to prove a momentous election both for the domestic politics on the island and for its relations with the Communist government in China that claims sovereignty over it. Eight years of uneasy truce across the Taiwan Strait are coming to an end. Since taking office in 2008, the outgoing president, Ma Ying-jeou, has engineered the deepest rapprochement between Taiwan and China ever seen, signing an unprecedented 23 pacts with the mainland, including a partial free-trade agreement. It culminated in an unprecedented meeting in November between Mr Ma and Xi Jinping, China’s president, in Singapore. But if the rapprochement under Mr Ma was a test of whether closer ties would help China’s long-term goal of peaceful unification, it failed.