Editorials: It’s up to voters to end gerrymandering | The Washington Post

“If we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president,” President Obama said in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Instead of electing a few well-meaning people, the president insisted, “we have to change the system to reflect our better selves,” altering “not just who gets elected, but how they get elected.” Mr. Obama speaks from experience: He promised to be a political change agent in the Oval Office, and, seven years later, the country’s politics are more fractured than when he started. The truth is, as the president also acknowledged Tuesday, “our brand of democracy is hard,” with a certain amount of gridlock built into its system of checks and balances. No magic solution can bridge ideological and cultural rifts. But there are reforms that could help.

Editorials: Can statistics save us from gerrymandering? | Stats.org

The Supreme Court is weighing the question of whether voting districts can be drawn in ways that give an advantage to one party, thereby violating the principle of one person, one vote. In Harris v Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a group of Republican voters argue that the districting commission redrew the boundaries in 2011 such that, as the Tucson Sentinel put it, “almost all of Arizona’s Republican-leaning districts are overpopulated, and almost all of the state’s Democratic-leaning districts are underpopulated.” The US constitution requires every state to reevaluate the boundaries of voting districts after each national census, taken every ten years, and to redraw those boundaries to take into account changes in population. But did Arizona’s redrawing amount to gerrymandering—the deliberate manipulation of voting district boundaries to give Democrats an advantage? Or was the commission simply trying to comply with the Voting Rights Act amendments requiring that districts should be drawn so as to maximize minority voters?

California: Patterson wants politicians who quit mid-term to pay for special elections | Fresno Bee

Assemblyman Jim Patterson is drafting legislation that, had it been law last month, would have required fellow Assemblyman Henry T. Perea to pay Fresno County for the special election to fill his seat. Under the Fresno Republican’s proposal, if an elected official quits during a term to take a private sector job, that politician would be required to use any leftover campaign funds to pay for the special election to fill the seat. Patterson’s bill would also force those politicians to donate any leftover cash, after paying for a special election, to charity – and not to fellow politicians or political causes. “If you are sitting on cash you have raised, I can’t think of a better way to use it than for an election you’ve triggered,” Patterson said.

Florida: Casting ballots twice is not a big problem, voting advocates say, but some want action | Sun Sentinel

A snowbird casts two votes for president — one in Florida and another in his or her home state up North. It’s possible, and election supervisors are looking into reports of it happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties in the 2014 general election. But such double voting represents a minuscule number of the ballots cast in a federal election, voting-rights advocates say, and trying to stop what appears to be an inconsequential problem could result in eligible voters being disenfranchised. The problem isn’t people voting twice. It is people not voting at all, said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “We should be focusing on enfranchising more voters and making it easier for people to vote,” she said.

Kansas: Judge: Kobach had no authority to encumber voting | Associated Press

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has no legal right to bar voters who use a federal form to register from casting ballots in local and state elections, a judge ruled Friday. The summary judgment in Shawnee County District Court came in a lawsuit in which two Kansas voters challenged the so-called “dual registration” system for voters, where those who register to vote using a federal form — which doesn’t require voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship — may only vote in federal races. Voters may only cast ballots in state and local races if they register using the state form, which requires proof of citizenship. The court found the right to vote under current Kansas law is not tied to the method of registration.

Missouri: Voter photo ID bill advances to Missouri House floor | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A Missouri House committee advanced proposals Thursday that would require voters show photo identification at the ballot box — something Democratic members of the committee denounced as a return to racist Jim Crow laws. The House Select Committee on State and Local Governments advanced two measures on 7-3 party-line votes. One would put the question before voters this year in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. If passed, a bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, would dictate how the new rule would be enforced.

North Carolina: Judge refuses to halt voter ID requirement in March election | News & Observer

A federal judge refused Friday to block North Carolina’s photo identification requirement to vote in person from taking effect with the March 15 primary elections. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroder’s ruling denying the preliminary injunction motion of the state NAACP and allied voters likely ensures that voter ID will be implemented for the first time on schedule. A trial on whether the ID law is legal will be held Jan. 25 and last several days. The Republican-led General Assembly passed an elections overhaul law in 2013 containing the mandate but deferred its start until the first election in 2016 to give people time to learn about the requirement and to obtain one of several forms of qualifying ID. The law has been in the courts ever since, including three federal lawsuits that have been consolidated into one case.

North Carolina: Elections board called out for confusing the public on voter ID | Facing South

“You can vote with or without a North Carolina driver’s license or other photo ID.” That was the refrain that Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, returned to again and again during a press conference held this week to clarify state voter ID rules for the upcoming election. His group has accused the state elections board of distributing misleading information about the ID requirement. “We are deeply, deeply concerned with the message that’s going out from our State Board of Elections,” Barber said. “What we’ve seen happening is at best disingenuous, and at worst a cynical attempt to further suppress the vote.” The controversy goes back to 2013, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision weakening the Voting Rights Act enabled the North Carolina legislature to pass a restrictive voting law that among other things required citizens to show one of several approved photo IDs before being allowed to vote. The NAACP and other civil rights groups sued the state over the law’s constitutionality, with the federal trial on the ID requirements set to start on Jan. 25 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Editorials: Ohio House should OK online registration | The Columbus Dispatch

Secretary of State Jon Husted has been vigilant about maintaining the integrity of Ohio’s voter rolls. He has followed a reasonable course based on understanding and common sense, and hasn’t been swayed by partisan sniping, either from within his own Republican Party or from the other side of the aisle. So the strong backing of both Husted and the Ohio Senate should assure members of the Ohio House that allowing online voter registration is a sound and reasonable idea. It only would make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote and would, if anything, make data that are already stored online easier to cross-check for errors and fraud. “Online registration can boost participation while improving efficiency, ensuring accuracy and preventing fraud at the same time,” Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, told a House committee last week.

Utah: SB54 election law’s legality questioned over one signature limit clause | Standard Examiner

When legislators passed Senate Bill 54 almost two years ago, a process that allows dual ballot paths for candidates — signature gathering and caucus nomination — it was a compromise designed to end a petition effort from Count My Vote that, had it passed, would have ended caucuses. Before the bill was finalized, the lieutenant governor’s office asked for a clarification on some aspects, said Mark Thomas, Utah director of elections for the lieutenant governor’s office. One of the clarifications that legislators added late was a so-called “exclusivity clause.” It fixed a one-signature-for-one-candidate rule. That means if Candidate A gets a signature from Voter A, then Candidate B cannot use Voter A’s signature for his petition. This clause has fueled even more controversy over a Utah elections law change that has already divided the state Republican Party. Its harshest critics suggest the clause could make SB54 illegal. A larger number of detractors think the Legislature needs to go back and undo the exclusivity clause.

Virginia: Judge refuses to block Virginia GOP primary loyalty pledge | Associated Press

Donald Trump supporters have lost the first round in their battle to prevent the Republican Party from requiring voters to sign a statement of GOP affiliation before casting ballots in Virginia’s presidential primary. U.S. District Judge Hannah M. Lauck refused Thursday to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the plan, clearing the way for Virginia election officials to finish mailing absentee ballots by Saturday’s deadline. As it now stands, Virginians voting in person in the March 1 GOP primary also will have to complete a form stating: “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.” Three black pastors who support Trump claim in a lawsuit that the “loyalty oath” violates their civil and free-speech rights. Those claims remain to be decided, although time is running short. No trial date has been scheduled.

China: As Taiwan Election Nears, Mainland Media Plays Down Politics | The New York Times

On Saturday, voters in Taiwan will go to the polls to elect a new president. Interest in Communist-ruled China, which claims the island as its own territory, is great, yet one word is almost entirely missing from the voluminous debate over the event: “president.” Instead, reports in the state-run news media and even in somewhat freer online discussion forums are riddled with euphemisms: “The big election.” “The leader’s election.” “The Taiwan-area election.” Where the phrase “presidential election” does appear, it is invariably encased in quotation marks, as if it were not quite legitimate. China and Taiwan have been estranged since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists retreated to the island after their defeat in the Chinese civil war in 1949 to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Beijing continues to regard Taiwan as a province awaiting reunification with the mainland and has threatened force should the island move toward formal independence. Many Chinese state news outlets have largely focused on the mechanics of the Taiwan elections. (In addition to a president, Taiwan voters will be choosing a legislature. Or “legislature,” as the Chinese state news media renders it.)

Haiti: Election panel says boycott will not stop presidential vote | Reuters

Haiti’s runoff presidential election will take place on Jan. 24, even though the opposition candidate insists he will boycott the vote because of his lack of faith in the process, the president of the Caribbean nation’s electoral council said on Sunday. Pierre-Louis Opont said the electoral council was busy preparing the runoff contest between ruling party candidate Jovenel Moise and opposition challenger Jude Celestin, who stated on Thursday that he would not take part. “I can confirm that as I talk to you today we have two candidates in the race and their names are Jovenel Moise and Jude Celestin,” Opont told Reuters in an interview. “Their names are already on the ballot and the election will take place as scheduled,” Opont said. He said the deadline for a candidate to withdraw had already passed.

Niger: Council Poll Peaceful but Marred By Low Turn-Out of Voters | allAfrica.com

The Saturday local government council election for chairmen and councilors in all the 25 local government councils in Niger state was generally peaceful but not without pockets of violence basically due to insufficient electoral materials by the Niger State Independent Electoral Commission (NSIEC). While there were well pronounced turn-out of voters for the election which has so far claimed a life and scores of others injured in Bida, others such as farmers and artisans went about their day’s businesses claiming that, ‘the government cannot feed us’. Accreditation started well as early as 8am in most places but soon became rowdy in some areas when voters discovered particularly that ballot papers provided by NSIEC is not in commensuration with the number of registered voters in the affected polling units.

Philippines: More than 50,000 vote machines undelivered | The Manila Times

Some 45,000 out of the 97,519 vote counting machines (VCMs) that will be used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the coming synchronized local and national polls have arrived in the country. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez on Friday disclosed that of the number, 20,944 units had been delivered to the Comelec’s warehouse in Santa Rosa, Laguna, while the remaining 24,000 were still awaiting release by the Bureau of Customs (BoC). According to Jimenez, full delivery that accounts for the remaining 52,575 machines would be made by the end of the month as agreed upon by the Comelec and technology provider Smartmatic Corp. He explained that the voting machines would undergo hardware testing before they are accepted by the poll body to ensure that they are functional.

Serbia: Premier Wins Party Support to Call Early Election | Bloomberg

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won his party’s approval to call elections two years before his term ends to change the make-up of the ruling coalition and carry out unpopular reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Vucic, whose party controls 135 seats in the 250-member parliament, is using early elections as a political tool for the second time since his Progressive Party first rose to power in 2012. The party initiated a snap ballot in 2014, elevating him to the head of the government. “My decision is to have elections,”

Taiwan: After the election, constitutional crisis looms in Taiwan | The Straits Times

The resounding landslide win of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen has not only successfully swept her into the presidential office, but also promised change as well. However, Ms Tsai and the newly elected legislature must address a solution to the political limbo that awaits them on the other side. A political limbo could occur as this is the first political party transition of the DPP holding both the presidency and legislative majority since the combined presidential-legislative elections began in 2012, resulting in a gridlocked government. This is due to how the new president is sworn into office on May 20, four months after Election Day. In the meantime, President Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang (KMT) would continue to rule, opposed to the newly elected president and legislature. The question is whether or not Mr Ma goes back on his previous promises to support a system where the Cabinet would be determined by the majority party.

Uganda: Biometric Verification Machines for to be Used in Uganda Elections | VoA News

Uganda’s electoral commission plans to meet next week with representatives of the country’s eight presidential candidates, political parties and stakeholders to explain its decision to use a biometric system to verify voters in the February 18 general election. This would be the first time that the electoral body employs a biometric system, which uses human body characteristics to confirm a person’s identity. Jotham Taremwa, a spokesman for the electoral commission, says the deployment of the biometric verification mechanism at all polling stations across the country will significantly boost the credibility of the presidential, legislative and local elections. The commission has begun training its officers in how to use the system.