National: For government’s top lawyer on voting rights, presidential election has begun | The Washington Post

The Justice Department has brought on a well-respected election law professor to oversee its voting section and lead the department’s battles over voting rights during this presidential election year. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has begun serving as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division at a critical time, with Justice Department lawyers litigating several voting-rights cases across the country. Levitt will hold the position, which does not require Senate confirmation, until next January. Levitt, 41, takes charge as the Justice Department awaits high-profile court decisions on voting rights in North Carolina and Texas. The presidential election this year will be the first since a divided Supreme Court invalidated a critical component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, more restrictive voting laws will be in effect in 15 states for the first time in a race for the White House. “The biggest change since the last presidential election is unquestionably the Supreme Court’s decision [on voting rights],” Levitt said in an interview in his fifth-floor office at Justice Department headquarters.

National: Obama’s State of the Union pledge to push for bipartisan redistricting reform was a late add | Los Angeles Times

President Obama used his last State of the Union address to push for national voting reforms and went off script to specifically call for bipartisan groups to draw new congressional districts instead of lawmakers. “I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” he said before veering from his prepared remarks to add: “Let a bipartisan group do it.” In recent days, aides to the president had said he was concerned about gerrymandering, the flood of money in politics and other barriers to voter participation.

National: Republican Party begins preparing for contested convention | Associated Press

The Republican National Committee has started preparing for a contested national convention, which would follow the primary season should no GOP candidate for president win enough delegates to secure the party’s nomination. While calling the need for such plans ultimately unlikely, several GOP leaders at the party’s winter meeting in South Carolina told The Associated Press on Wednesday that such preliminary planning is nonetheless actively underway. They stressed it had little to do with concerns about the candidacy of billionaire businessman Donald Trump, describing the early work instead as a necessary contingency given the deeply divided Republican field. With less than three weeks to go before the Feb. 1 leadoff Iowa caucuses, there are still a dozen major Republican candidates in the race. “Certainly, management of the committee has been working on the eventuality, because we’d be wrong not to,” said Bruce Ash, chairman of the RNC’s rules committee. “We don’t know, or we don’t think there’s going to be a contested convention, but if there is, obviously everybody needs to know what all those logistics are going to look like.”

National: Can Google steal elections? Researchers say yes (in theory) | The Charlotte Observer

When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he’ll mention an array of programs and people. And all across America, fingers will start flying on computer keyboards as millions of curious viewers go to Google or Bing or Yahoo in search of more detail on those programs and people. It’s the way we make sense of the world around us in the Internet age. Everything’s on the web; just look it up and you’ll be enlightened, right? Not necessarily, say the authors of a 2015 study into the ways search engines can influence voter behavior, and perhaps even the outcomes of elections. Depending on how the search engine results are displayed, or if they are manipulated, you could end up misguided rather than enlightened.

Editorials: How to end American plutocracy | Rick Hasen/New York Daily News

Forty years ago this month, the Supreme Court decided Buckley vs. Valeo, a case that has distorted our thinking and talking about money in politics for nearly two generations and that has taken this country down a perilous path on campaign finance. We should no longer mince words about the consequences for our representative government. Buckley and its offspring Citizens United, which turns six this month, are leading us to plutocracy, a country in which those with the greatest wealth have a much better chance to influence elections and public policy than the rest of us. Yet despite that bleak assessment, there’s some cause for hope. Although SuperPACs and mega-donors shelling out donations topping a whopping $100 million have emerged from the Supreme Court’s troubling decisions, a narrow opportunity for change is coming — provided we can change the way we think about the danger of big money in politics.

Voting Blogs: Exposing California’s Deceptive New ‘Internet Voting’ Ballot Initiative Scheme | Brad Blog

On today’s BradCast, we expose a dangerous, deceptive new scheme to hoax California voters into allowing Internet Voting across the entire state. …First I explain the newly proposed California ballot initiative describing itself as the “Election Data Security & Military Ballot Access Act”. The initiative is nothing of the sort. It is little more than a very well-financed and completely deceptive scam to force Internet Voting into the Golden State by describing it as something other than it is. Rather than use the words “Internet Voting” or even “Internet” in any way, the 46-page initiative describes the proposed, dishonest new scheme as “electronically delivered vote-by-mail”! Who’s behind it? We still don’t know. But it was submitted recently to the state Attorney General by the high-priced Sacramento law firm of Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP and needs to be, at the very least, retitled before it ends up on the state ballot.

Georgia: Fayette voting rights battle could be nearing an end | Atlanta Journal Constitution

A nearly five-year-old legal fight that has caused political and racial rifts in Fayette County may be coming to an end. The county school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to settle its part in a legal dispute with the NAACP and a group of black residents over how county government leaders are elected. The school board agreed to settle and adopt a new district map that calls for four voting districts and one at-large district, an obvious compromise toward the county’s ongoing push to bring back at-large voting. The county currently has five election districts. “This compromise settlement is in the best interest of the school system and the public,” the school board said in a prepared statement. “It allows for the continuation of some at-large seats, and eliminates the school district’s potential exposure to payment of over $1 million of attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs’ lawyers if the case were litigated further, which would have led to more appeals.”

North Carolina: NAACP: Postpone voter ID trial until after primaries | Winston-Salem Journal

The N.C. NAACP is asking a federal judge to postpone a trial on the state’s photo ID requirement until after the March 15 primary, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The trial is set to start Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. The state NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others sued North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory in 2013 after state Republican legislators passed a controversial sweeping elections law known as the Voter Information Verification Act. Part of that law required people to show a photo ID this year when they cast their ballots.

North Carolina: Voting may take longer without straight-party option | Greensboro News & Record

Last week, Michigan became the latest state to eliminate straight-party voting. The action was contentious because it was political. “The vast majority of clerks around the state and Democrats in the Legislature opposed the bill because they feel it will create confusion at the polls and dramatically lengthen lines at polling precincts, especially in urban areas where hours-long waits are already not unusual,” the Detroit Free Press reported. North Carolina has gone that route, but without much fuss … so far. A barely noticed provision on page 38 of a 49-page election reform bill passed in 2013 eliminated straight-party voting (SPV). More attention was paid to changes in early voting and the requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls. Although there was no question about the legality of killing SPV, the move was politically risky. Voting for all the Democrats or all the Republicans on the ballot in a single stroke had been a hugely popular convenience for many decades in North Carolina.

Rhode Island: Board of Elections: Kando keeps job, with conditions | Providence Journal

Robert Kando, the $143,131 executive director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, must enroll in management classes and will face a 15-day unpaid suspension from his post. The seven-member board met behind closed doors for 45 minutes Monday to determine Kando’s fate, concluding — at least for now — a months-long saga concerning Kando’s job performance. Kando, who has been executive director since 2005, was due to be terminated on Tuesday, unless the board took alternate action. The board voted 5 to 0 with one abstention Monday to nullify the pending termination, issue the temporary suspension beginning Feb. 1 and require Kando to enroll in three semesters of management classes at an educational facility of his choice. At the conclusion of three semesters, the board will review Kando’s performance and his relationship with the board. Kando will not be allowed to take vacation time during his suspension.

Virginia: Democrats Get Access to Docs in Voter I.D. Case | Courthouse News Service

Democrats challenging Virginia’s new voter photo I.D. law can inspect correspondence between lawmakers and lobbyists and others, a federal judge ruled. The law, signed by former Governor Bob McDonnell in 2013, requires all voters to provide photo I.D. at the polls. Lawmakers who supported the law claimed it helped prevent fraud in elections. But black and Latino Democrats, as well as voting rights activists Barbara Lee and Gonzalo Aida, claimed in court that the law is nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to keep young people and minorities from participating in elections.

Central African Republic: Two presidential candidates call for vote recount | Reuters

Two losing candidates in Central African Republic’s presidential race demanded on Tuesday a manual recount of ballots cast in last month’s first-round vote, saying that widespread irregularities undermined the credibility of the results. The election appears set to head to a second round after provisional results showed two ex-prime ministers – Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera – in the lead but neither winning an outright majority. Observers have praised the mainly peaceful nature of the Dec. 30 polls, which many hope will help put an end to years of deadly inter-religious bloodshed. However, Andre Kolingba and Martin Ziguele, who finished third and fourth and are both members of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Transition (AFDT) political platform, are disputing the result.

Niger: Electoral Commission ready for local govt polls | The Nation

The Niger State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC) has said that it will employ the use of the Card Readers used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the last general election. The commission also disclosed that the machinery for the conduct of the January 16 local government elections in the 25 local government councils in the state have been put in place. Disclosing this to reporters in Minna, the state capital, its Public Relations Officer, Mohammed Ali, said about 14,000 staff and 3,185 ad-hoc staff are being trained to operate the card readers.

Serbia: Premier Seeks Snap Ballot to Lock In Public Support | Bloomberg

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will ask his party to authorize him to call early parliamentary elections two years before his term ends as he maintains a strong lead in opinion polls despite growing criticism of his policies. The ruling Progressive Party’s board is scheduled to meet Jan. 17 to “discuss the political situation,” it said in an e-mailed statement in Belgrade on Wednesday. The prime minister wants approval to initiate elections before his party’s congress on Feb. 13, with the actual ballot to be held later. Vucic’s party, together with some small political groups, controls 135 seats in the 250-member parliament.

Taiwan: What to Expect in Taiwan Elections | The New York Times

Voters in Taiwan are expected to make history again when they go to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president and legislature. China’s authoritarian government claims Taiwan as part of its territory, so any time the self-governing island holds an election, the world tends to pay attention. Taiwan held its first direct presidential election only 20 years ago. China’s president, by contrast, is selected by the governing Communist Party, not elected by the public. Tsai Ing-wen, the chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, is widely expected to become Taiwan’s first female president. Her party has traditionally favored formal independence for the island, so Beijing will not be pleased if she wins. Ms. Tsai, however, has pledged to maintain the cross-strait status quo. A victory for Ms. Tsai would be only the second time the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, has lost the presidency since Chiang Kai-shek’s forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Taiwan: A historic election of firsts | The Globe and Mail

The onlookers are greying professors and teenaged students, a publisher of banned books, a sportswear salesman and more than a few people intent on undermining the Chinese Communist Party. They have flown to Taiwan on the eve of an election set to dethrone a party that has cultivated warmer ties with Beijing, and elevate instead a party with a history of seeking independence from China – led by a woman who, if polls are to be believed, will become the first female leader of a Chinese nation in modern history. For the Hong Kong activists and Canadian Taiwanese amid the foreign spectators, Taiwan’s Saturday ballot marks a chance to witness history and get swept up in the boisterousness of a campaign, but also to draw inspiration. Taiwan is the only mature democracy in the Chinese world, and for those seeking the same elsewhere, it offers as vision of what is possible.