National: Democrats stand as Obama calls for redistricting reform | The Hill

President Obama called Tuesday for an end to partisan redistricting, creating one of the biggest applause lines from fellow Democrats in his State of the Union address. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it,” Obama said. Democrats in the chamber stood in response, while Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Republicans remained in their seats.
Obama’s party lost control of the House in his first midterm election, and the Democratic Party’s chances of getting it back are dim in large part because of redistricting. More votes were cast for Democratic House candidates in the 2012 election, for example, but it didn’t help put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back into the Speakership.

Editorials: The Future of Campaign Finance Rests with the Next Supreme Court Appointments | Lawrence Norden/The Atlantic

For the last 10 years, the Supreme Court has engaged in a systematic effort to transform American democracy. Steered by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court loosened restrictions on political advertising by corporations and unions, gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, upheld the rights of states to enact restrictive voting laws, and, in the words of Justice Stephen Breyer, “eviscerate[d] our Nation’s campaign-finance laws.” This year, the Court will decide a voting and redistricting case that could change the lines of virtually every state legislative district in the country. There is no area of the law the Roberts Court has more thoroughly transformed. Almost all of the Court’s major election cases were decided by a 5-4 vote. Of course, on the Court, the majority rules. But it would not take a constitutional amendment or a revolution in legal scholarship to bring this string of decisions to an end. It is extremely likely that the next president will have the opportunity to replace at least one (and very likely more than one) Supreme Court justice, as the previous five presidents have done. One new justice on the Court might be enough to push the law in the opposite direction.

Arizona: Small parties can be left off voter forms | Arizona Daily Star

Republicans and Democrats are going to keep their preferred — and exclusive — spots on Arizona voter registration forms. Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to disturb lower court rulings which upheld a 2011 Arizona law that only the two parties with the highest number of adherents get to be listed on the forms. The justices rebuffed contentions of the Arizona Libertarian Party that the practice is both unfair and illegal. Monday’s ruling is a victory for Republicans who approved the law in what GOP lawmakers admitted was a bid to slow the tide of people not registering with their party. It also exhausts all avenues of appeal for the Libertarians. Until 2011, those registering to vote were given a blank line to insert their preferred party choice.

Kansas: Judge rules Kris Kobach can’t operate two-tier election system in Kansas | The Kansas City Star

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach can’t operate a two-tier voting system that allows him to count only votes cast in federal races for voters who registered using a federal form, a state judge ruled Friday. “There’s just no authority for the way the secretary of state has handled federal form registrants,” said Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which represented plaintiffs in the case. Kobach championed a 2013 Kansas law that requires those registering to vote to provide proof-of-citizenship documents, typically a birth certificate or passport. But the federal registration form only requires a sworn statement from the voter as proof of citizenship. So Kobach decided that for those who use the federal form to register rather than the state form, only their votes for national offices — for president and members of Congress — would be counted. Votes in other races wouldn’t be counted.

North Carolina: Judge denies state NAACP’s request to delay Voter ID trial | Winston-Salem Journal

A federal judge ruled Friday that North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voting will be in effect for the March 15 primary election. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder denied a motion filed by the North Carolina NAACP for a preliminary injunction, saying that the plaintiffs had failed to prove the photo ID would place an undue burdens on blacks and Hispanics and had failed to prove they would likely prevail on the merits of their case in a trial set for Jan. 25. The changes that Republican state legislators made to the photo ID requirement last year, particularly allowing voters without an ID to sign a “reasonable impediment declaration” and then cast a provisional ballot, played a key role in Schroeder’s decision. “When the State did not have a reasonable impediment exception, NAACP Plaintiffs claimed the burden imposed on the socioeconomically disadvantaged was too severe,” he wrote in his decision. “Now that the State has sought to accommodate these voters with the reasonable impediment exception, Plaintiffs claim the exception swallows the rule and that the State need not have a photo ID requirement.”

Virginia: Judge denies preliminary injunction to block oath in March 1 GOP primary | Richmond Times-Dispatch

A federal judge in Richmond on Thursday denied a motion by supporters of Donald Trump for a preliminary injunction to block the so-called statement of affiliation in Virginia’s March 1 Republican presidential primary. Later Thursday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion, filed by the three black pastors who brought the suit, seeking an injunction. The rulings mean that unless the plaintiffs win a reprieve in court, or state GOP officials reverse course, anyone who wants to vote in the Republican primary must sign a statement that says: “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”

Haiti: Only 1 presidential candidate campaigning in Haiti | The Washington Post

Campaigning for Haiti’s presidential runoff election kicked off Friday, but it appears there is only one candidate who will actively participate. Government-backed contender Jovenel Moise, a little-known agricultural entrepreneur who led a crowded field of 54 candidates with nearly 33 percent of the vote in the Oct. 25 first round, planned his first rally late Friday afternoon. But the campaign team of the second-place finisher, Jude Celestin, has said he will take part in the Jan. 24 runoff only if sweeping changes recently recommended by a special commission are adopted to improve Haiti’s much-criticized electoral machinery. Celestin told The Miami Herald on Thursday that outgoing President Michel Martelly “will have to do an election with just one candidate.” His phone consistently goes unanswered and his campaign team did not respond to calls Friday. While the Provisional Electoral Council has pledged to improve transparency for the final round, special commission spokesman Rosny Desroches has said he has seen very little progress to improve the process and ease tensions since the panel’s recommendations were released last weekend.

Taiwan: Nationalists suffer historic defeat with election of first female president | Los Angeles Times

Taiwan’s voters handed the long-ruling Nationalists a historic defeat on Saturday, kicking the party of Chiang Kai-shek out of the presidential palace and stripping it and its allies of a parliamentary majority for the first time since the island’s modern political period began in 1949. But even as President-elect Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party proclaimed that a “new era” was dawning on the island of 23 million, the biggest question mark hanging over the incoming administration and legislature was how it would deal with the sensitive subject of relations with mainland China. Tsai, a 59-year-old lawyer-turned-politician with advanced degrees from U.S. and British universities, was elected with 56% of the vote, becoming Taiwan’s first female president and trouncing the Nationalist Party’s Eric Chu, who got just 31%.

National: Could Pop-up Social Spaces at Polls Increase Voter Turnout? | Smithsonian

If you make voting fun, will it encourage people to cast their ballots? And once people are at the polls, can you keep them there, and get them talking about what they want from their local and national politicians? Those were some of the questions that designers at the Long Beach, California-based studio City Fabrick were pondering when they came up with the idea for Placemaking the Vote—their very own “kit for creating temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in historically low voter turnout areas.” While the designers are still figuring out exactly what would go into the kit, they’d likely include lights, shelter, chalk and other supplies for building a gathering place and drawing attention to it. City Fabrick would set up the brightly-colored booths outside of the polling places and provide snacks and comfortable places to sit to encourage voters to stick around and talk.

Editorials: This is actually what America would look like without gerrymandering | Christopher Ingraham/The Washington Post

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called on lawmakers and the public to take a number of steps “to change the system to reflect our better selves” for “a better politics.” The top item on that list was to end partisan gerrymandering: “we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” Obama said. In most states, state legislatures draw the district boundaries that determine how many delegates the state sends to the U.S. Congress, as well as the general partisan make-up of that delegation. State legislatures are partisan beasts, and if one party is in control of the process they can draw boundaries to give themselves a numeric advantage over their opponents in Congress. This process is called gerrymandering.

Voting Blogs: Crowdsourcing election data — a success story | electionlineWeekly

U.S. Vote Foundation’s Election Official Directory (EOD) is a crowd-sourced database with 7,825 extensive records. The “crowd” comprises Local Election Officials (LEOs) across the US who regularly update their jurisdiction contact data. In 2010, the foundation began tracking response rates to update requests that go to LEOs. In the last five years since, the response rate to the update requests doubled from 30 percent to 60 percent. This is a story of dedication in pursuit of an idea and its implementation. Standout states in 2015 were Rhode Island and Michigan. Rhode Island’s Deputy Directory of Elections, Rob Rock, contacted US Vote to ask how his state could reach a 100 percent participation rate for all 39 of its jurisdictions. They teamed on the timing and messaging to the LEOs and the goal was achieved.

Alaska: PFD voter initiative nets needed signatures for ballot | Alaska Public Media

A statewide effort to make it easier for people to vote is culminating this week. On Jan. 14, petitioners submitted tens of thousands of required signatures to the Division of Elections to earn the PFD voter registration initiative a spot on a ballot this fall. The campaign began late last year in Anchorage and snowballed to other communities, including Sitka, Ketchikan, Kotzebue, Bethel and Fairbanks. Overall, the PFD voter ballot initiative – a proposal that automatically registers people to vote at the same time they apply for their yearly payouts—has gained support from some 42,000 Alaskans. That’s nearly double the number it needed to make it on a ballot in case some signatures were invalid. Here’s John-Henry Heckendorn, the Anchorage-based campaign manager for the PFD voter initiative. “We’re confident that by overshooting the required mark by so much we’re going to make it onto the ballot.”

California: VoteCal Reaches Key Milestone | Times Publishing Group

Thirty-eight California counties, home to 68% of California’s total population, have now successfully deployed VoteCal, the voter registration database that will ultimately serve the entire state. Los Angeles, Glenn, Fresno, Kern, and Napa counties all deployed VoteCal December 14. VoteCal will replace the existing 58 county voter registration databases throughout the state. Gail Pellerin, Santa Cruz County Clerk said, “I think it is a good system. We go live (online in Santa Cruz County) in February (2016). Los Angeles is definitely the big test!”

Georgia: Fractious Fayette voting fight comes to an end | Atlanta Journal Constitution

A fractious political chapter in Fayette County came to an exhaustive end late Thursday night. County commissioners followed on the heels of the school board’s decision earlier this week to accept a settlement to end a 2011 lawsuit with the NAACP and a group of black residents who said the county’s at-large voting system kept blacks from getting elected to top county posts. County leaders fought hard during the last four and a half years to preserve the nearly 200-year-old at-large system but in the end grudgingly gave into a plan that calls for creating four districts and one at-large seat. It is a compromise from the map the county uses now which has five districts. The agreement, hammered out during two months of court-ordered mediation, must now get the blessing of the Georgia General Assembly. The county has until Jan. 25 to notify the Georgia General Assembly redraw the map created in the settlement.

Illinois: Automatic voter registration bill could simplify process for many in Illinois, supporters say | The State Journal-Register

State senators and advocacy groups on Wednesday pushed for a bill to allow for automatic voter registration, which would simplify the registration process for more than 2 million unregistered Illinois voters. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is sponsoring Senate Bill 2134, which would automatically register voters once they apply for or renew a driver’s license or state ID. Illinois currently uses an opt-in system where citizens are asked whether they want to register to vote when renewing or updating a license or state ID. If they do, they must prove their eligibility, which completes their application to register once it is combined with other provided materials. The secretary of state’s office then sends the information to the appropriate county clerk or election authority.

Maryland: Over 40,000 Ex-Offenders In Maryland Could Regain Their Voting Rights | Huffington Post

Over 40,000 people with past felony convictions who are on probation or parole will have their voting rights restored if a veto override attempt is successful in Maryland legislature next week. In Maryland, someone with a past felony conviction is barred from voting until he or she finishes their probation or parole. Legislation sent to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk last spring would have changed that, by allowing people to vote once they’ve left prison. Hogan, who is immensely popular in the state, vetoed the legislation, setting up a fight with Democrats, who control both legislative chambers. On Wednesday, the Democrats’ leadership signaled that they would vote to override Hogan’s veto next Tuesday or Wednesday. If the veto override succeeds, Maryland will join the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow all people with felony convictions who have left prison to vote in elections.

Mississippi: Ex-state senator questions election process in 2 counties | Associated Press

Former state Sen. Melanie Sojourner testified Wednesday it was a “great concern” to her that Adams County officials stored absentee ballots and other records in cardboard boxes after the November election. She also argued that her loss in that election should be overturned because she believes poll workers improperly assisted some voters at the Bude precinct in Franklin County. Sojourner testified on the opening day of a hearing being held by a five-member Senate committee that’s considering her complaints about the District 37 race in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties.

New York: Cuomo pitches early voting before elections, automatic registration of drivers |

Republicans and Democrats often disagree when it comes to efforts to expand voter participation and protect against voter fraud. So it’s no shocker that Onondaga County’s two elections commissioners are taking opposite sides on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to allow people to vote up to 12 days before Election Days and to automatically register people as voters when they obtain or renew a driver’s license. In his proposed state budget on Wednesday, Cuomo pointed out that New York’s voter turnout rate was the 44th lowest of 50 states in the 2012 presidential election. He noted that 37 other states allow voters to cast ballots in person early, before Election Day, to encourage people to vote when its convenient for them to get to the polls.

North Carolina: NC board, NAACP deliver conflicting messages on voter ID | News & Observer

The state NAACP wants voters to know that there are ways to cast a ballot this year even without photo identification, but the State Board of Elections is worried that the group’s message is misleading. The state law requiring a photo ID, which goes into effect this year, allows voters without an ID to cast provisional ballots after they sign “reasonable impediment” forms saying why they couldn’t get one. The Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said in an interview that the Board of Elections’ education campaign, which stresses that voters should bring IDs, sends “clouded, unclear messages” because it buries information about the “reasonable impediment declaration.” “Our lawyers are deeply concerned that they have, at best, misdirected the voters because they are not saying what the law says,” Barber said. Barber and other NAACP representatives held a news conference this week to publicize its views. “You can vote with or without a photo ID,” he said.

Ohio: Husted says he’s intent on finding fix to absentee-ballot postmark issues | The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said he isn’t sure the U.S. Postal Service has a solution to the postmark issues that plagued absentee ballots during last year’s general election. Speaking at the Ohio Association of Election Officials Convention at the Hilton Downtown Columbus on Wednesday, he said it was partially up to election workers to figure out a solution to the problem. “We don’t need to look at blame. We need to look at a way forward,” Husted said. Ohio voter law allows absentee ballots to be counted if their postmark date falls before Election Day, even if the ballots don’t arrive until after. In November, 1,523 ballots were not counted because the U.S. Post Office did not postmark them. “My priority is to ensure voters who follow the law that their votes will be counted,” said Husted, a Republican.

Virginia: Lawmakers Ask Supreme Court to Stop Virginia Redistricting Plan | Roll Call

Ten current and former Republican members of Congress asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to stop a new, judge-selected redistricting plan in Virginia or risk the state having to postpone congressional elections. A lawyer for Reps. Rob Wittman, Robert W. Goodlatte, J. Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Scott Rigell, Robert Hurt, Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock, as well as former members of Congress Eric Cantor and Frank R. Wolf, filed the petition. The lawmakers’ warned the justices of “electoral chaos,” “mass voter confusion” and “the postponement of congressional general elections until after the nationwide November 8 Election Day in this presidential year” if the Supreme Court doesn’t step in. The petition went to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the justice assigned to handle such requests from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes Virginia. He can act on it alone or take it to the full court.

Central African Republic: Final Provisional Results for Legislative Polls Announced – UN Mission |

The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) today reported that the final provisional results for the legislative elections have been announced by the Autorité Nationale des Elections (ANE), with 21 candidates, including three women, being elected by an absolute majority during the first round. “A second round of the legislative elections will be held in 113 constituencies,” noted UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters in New York. The UN has played a major role in seeking to restore peace in the Central African Republic, with military and police units from the 11,000-strong MINUSCA joining soldiers from the French Sangaris force and local security teams last 30 December at polling stations to ensure a peaceful vote.

Niger: Presidential candidate declares himself political prisoner | Reuters

Hama Amadou, a major opposition figure in Niger and a presidential candidate, has declared himself a political prisoner, his lawyer said on Wednesday, meaning he is now likely to spend time leading up to the February polls in jail. Amadou was one of 15 candidates approved by the constitutional court to stand in presidential elections. His lawyer, speaking on a private television station, said Amadou made the decision after the appeals court turned down his plea to be released. “We will not seek an appeal. We will no longer ask for conditional release,” said Souley Oumarou, the candidate’s lawyer. “Our client considers this no longer to be a judicial affair, but a political affair.”

Taiwan: Upcoming vote is attracting election tourists | Los Angeles Times

Chen Erdong, a 28-year-old telecommunications engineer from mainland China, has visited Taiwan twice in the last two months, but it’s not the usual tourist sites such as the National Palace Museum or Sun Moon Lake that have him so intrigued. Instead, he’s been checking out novelties such as street parades packed with flag-waving partisans, noisy political debate shows on TV and campaign swag stamped with the photos and cartoon likenesses of candidates vying to become Taiwan’s next leaders. On Saturday, Taiwanese voters will pick a new president and parliament, something people in communist-run mainland China cannot do. “For me, it’s most important to know what the Taiwan public is feeling,” said Chen, who added he has taken every opportunity to broach politics with salespeople, travel guides and hotel owners. “If you understand the election results, you can figure out people’s attitude toward the mainland.” Taiwan’s elections, he added circumspectly, might be able to “open the eyes” of mainland Chinese.