Many might spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday remembering the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march to push for voting equality for black Americans, voting rights advocates note that there have been many major voting rights setbacks in recent years. Currently Internet voting is “a nonstarter,” according to Aviel D. Rubin, technical director of Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute and author of the 2006 book Brave New Ballot. “You can’t control the security of the platform.” The Florida Legislature will not contest a court ruling that redraws all of the state’s 40 state senate districts for the 2016 election cycle. Maryland’s legislature began the process of overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes, with the House upholding legislation that would allow felons to regain the right to vote sooner. The legality of a 2013 North Carolina law requiring identification to vote will be challenged in a trial set to begin in federal court Monday ahead of March U.S. presidential primaries in the state. North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger was served with a lawsuit by seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who claim that recent changes to the state’s voter identification laws infringe on their right to vote. Virginia’s election officials urged the Supreme Court to keep in place a new, judge-selected redistricting plan for this year’s congressional elections, putting the officials at odds with 10 current and former members of the state’s Republican delegation in Congress. Bulgaria’s Parliament approved a resolution on the introduction of electronic voting, while the United States pressed Haiti’s leaders to go ahead with a presidential runoff election, despite a growing chorus of warnings that the vote could lead to an explosion of violence.
Six years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC. It is not a happy anniversary. I remember waiting for the ruling and opening it up on my computer: when I finally read it, I didn’t want to believe that the Court had gone as far as it had and been so careless with our democracy. Citizens United was bad history, bad logic, bad law. It was a major overreach on the part of the Court (the issue hadn’t even been raised initially). In his majority decision that day, Justice Kennedy allowed billionaires and big corporations to spend limitless amounts of money to influence politicians. His description of politics was pretty out of touch. Basically, the Court held that unless there is an explicit, open deal — “here’s $5 million for a vote against banking reform” — there’s no corruption. Nobody with any common sense thinks that huge corporate expenditures don’t corrupt politics, but the Court left common sense behind that day. One good thing came out of it: it has led to an extraordinary, community-by-community grassroots effort to reclaim our democracy.
Counties that purchase new voting equipment from the vendor that the Secretary of State has recommended that everyone should use can qualify for some state aid in getting them. Secretary of State Wayne Williams told county clerks at their annual meeting in Fort Collins this week that he will be able to help pay 50 percent of their costs in training, testing, installing and managing the use of new Dominion voting machines. That’s the Denver-based company that a special panel in Williams’ office determined last month would be the best for all 64 Colorado counties to use as part of a statewide uniform voting system.
Maine: Senate president seeks opinion on whether ranked-choice voting would be constitutional | Portland Press Herald
Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau said Thursday that he’s requesting a legal opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office about whether a citizen-initiated referendum proposal to establish a ranked-choice voting system in Maine violates the state constitution. “It’s the prudent thing to do,” Thibodeau said. “All I know is that we can’t pass legislation in this building without first finding out if it violates the Maine Constitution. This is simply to determine if the Legislature has any role in preventing a citizen referendum that potentially violates the constitution from appearing before voters.” Thibodeau’s move follows a Portland Press Herald report in which a top state election official reiterated her concerns that ranked-choice voting is at odds with a provision in the Maine Constitution that says winners of gubernatorial and State House races are determined by a plurality of votes cast. Ranked-choice voting would swap the traditional plurality system with one that determines a winner after he or she secures a majority of votes cast.
A Missouri Senate committee already has taken testimony on Sen. Will Kraus’ proposal to require voters to show a photo ID when they go to vote at the polls. This week’s House passage of a similar constitutional amendment and enabling legislation bill put those two measures in the Senate as well. And Senate floor leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told reporters Thursday the Senate won’t delay the bills. “Voter ID was one of those things we thought was important to have an early discussion about,” he explained. “It’s something that, I would think, early on we’ll have quite a bit of time for discussion.”
New Hampshire: Clerks expect smooth sailing in first national election under fully-implemented voter ID law | The Keene Sentinel
City and town clerks expect smooth sailing — with maybe a rip current or two — Feb. 9 at the first national election since the full implementation of New Hampshire’s voter ID law. Larger municipalities, including Keene, are looking for volunteers to greet people at the polls to ensure they’re at the right ward and in the correct line — which is based on whether they have a legal form of photo ID and are registered to vote. The goal is efficiency, officials say. For towns, the national primary will mark the first time residents without an ID will have to fill out a voter affidavit and have their picture taken with a Polaroid camera. New Hampshire’s cities, including Keene, were primed during the municipal elections in November about the picture-taking component of the voter ID law enacted in 2012.
Rosanell Eaton, 94, has been a registered voter for more than 70 years. As a black woman growing up in the Jim Crow South, she had to read the preamble of the U.S. Constitution in order to register to vote. Last year, she was forced to make 10 trips to the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and other state offices so she could vote in this year’s elections. That’s because of North Carolina’s new photo ID requirement, which goes into effect this election cycle. According to attorneys with the N.C. NAACP, the new requirement forced Eaton to spend more than 20 hours to obtain a photo ID. Her name was spelled differently on the other forms of identification that she needed for a photo ID. Eaton’s experience will be included in the evidence that attorneys for the state NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others will present during a weeklong trial starting Monday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. The trial is the second one in less than a year that challenges North Carolina’s state elections law that was passed in 2013. The first trial was in July and centered on other provisions of the law, including the reduction of days for early voting from 17 to 10 and the elimination of same-day voter registration.
The latest round in the nationwide battle to defend the historic gains of the civil rights movement opens in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Monday where Republican politicians will be accused of blatantly attempting to discourage African Americans from voting. The local chapter of the NAACP is taking the Republican state governor, Pat McCrory, to court over a new rule that requires citizens who turn up at polling stations either to produce a photo-ID card or give a “reasonable” excuse for lacking one before they can cast a ballot. The NAACP argues that the new law places a burden on voters that is unconstitutional as it overtly discriminates against black citizens who are less likely to have access to such photo identification. “We see this as a fundamental attack on our democracy which we are fighting with everything we have,” said the Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “Extremists in the North Carolina legislature have been working feverishly to keep African Americans, Latino families, students and seniors from the ballot box.” Voting rights promises to be a running cause of friction in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Republican-led states have rushed to introduce restrictions in the wake of the US supreme court’s 2013 decision, Shelby County v Holder, that dramatically weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
North Carolina: Same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting back – for now | Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina voters again have two options for casting ballots in the March primary that were repealed for 2014 elections — at least for now. The General Assembly had stopped allowing people to register to vote and cast ballots on the same day during the early-voting period. And they also decided that the votes of people who went to the wrong precinct on election day would no longer be counted. But those changes were put on hold until a trial court judge rules on challenges that have been filed against them. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling confirmed that delay last April, but it’s gotten more attention recently as the primary nears. Same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were used by more than 100,000 people the last time they were permitted in statewide elections, in November 2012.
Ohio: Cuyahoga County elections officials find 250 ballots should have counted as plan to fix broken voting system stalls | Akron Beacon Journal
Elections officials in Cuyahoga County have discovered that 250 invalidated votes should have counted in Ohio’s last statewide election. But the discovery, which other counties can duplicate for about $500, will not change how Ohio runs the upcoming presidential election without action from state leaders. In a post-election analysis, Sean Webster of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections reviewed roughly 1,500 absentee ballots that arrived after the polls closed on Nov. 2. About 900 lacked postmarks, which would clearly state when the ballots were mailed. Another 563 were postmarked too late. All were tossed out. Statewide, about half of 7,244 late-arriving ballots lacked postmarks. “Proportionally,” Webster said of the same issue in Summit County, “we had significantly fewer ballots that needed thrown out. And we think that’s because we use a smaller envelope.”
South Dakota: Krebs, legislators work to repair election laws after 2015 disarray | The Daily Republic
Secretary of State Shantel Krebs needs some big help fast from the Legislature to have South Dakota’s election laws ready for the June primaries. The House Local Government Committee endorsed five bills Thursday from Krebs and the state Board of Elections. No one testified against any of them. The committee voted 13-0 for each one. Many of the changes are necessary to correct a problem caused by partisan exuberance in the 2015 session.
US Virgin Islands: Bill To Create One Board Of Elections For Entire Territory Moves Ahead | Virgin Islands Consortium
A bill sponsored by Senator Kenneth Gittens, who has been working for many months to reform the territory’s election process, was narrowly approved by members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, which Mr. Gittens chairs, albeit with some opposition and not before an amendment was added to the measure. Bill no. 31-0267 would amend Virgin Islands Code to merge all three board of elections — St. Croix District board, St. Thomas District board and the Joint Board of Elections — into one system that would simply be called the Board of Elections; and would govern the entire territory. The details of the measure, however, caused some concern at the hearing, held at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Hall here on Wednesday, including from St. Croix District Board Member Raymond Williams, who said some parts of the measure may be unconstitutional.
Virginia: Attorney General asks Supreme Court to uphold new congressional districts | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Attorney General Mark R. Herring is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a Republican request for a stay to block implementation of Virginia’s new congressional map. Herring’s office, defending the State Board of Elections, says that the harm to Virginians of restoring the old 3rd District, which a three-judge panel has found unconstitutional, and ordering November elections in Virginia’s old districts outweighs any harm the new map poses to Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation. Even if Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-4th, or another Republican in Virginia’s congressional delegation “could show irreparable injury” as a result of the new congressional boundaries, any such injury would be outweighed by the public interest and the injury to the plaintiffs and other Virginia voters, lawyers for the Attorney General’s Office write in response to the GOP motion.
West Virginia: State Supreme Court Rules Republican Will Be Appointed to Senate | West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Republicans will maintain their majority in the state Senate after the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued an order Friday morning. The order calls on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to appoint a Republican to replace former Sen. Daniel Hall who resigned this month. Hall was a member of the GOP when he resigned the seat, but was elected to the chamber as a Democrat. He switched party affiliations after midterm elections in 2014, giving Republicans an 18-16 majority in the Senate.
Haiti has called off its presidential election just two days before it was due to take place over concerns of escalating violence sparked by the opposition candidate’s refusal to take part in a vote he said was riddled with fraud. The Provisional Electoral Council decided to postpone the runoff because there is “too much violence throughout the country,” council president Pierre-Louis Opont said at a news conference. In recent days, a number of election offices across the impoverished nation have been burned and the capital has been rocked by violent opposition protests calling for a halt to the vote. The council did not set a new date for the vote. It also did not say whether an interim government would take power after 7 February, when president Michel Martelly is required to leave office under the Constitution, or if he would remain until a replacement is elected.
THE Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) says the Government has already spent $250 million on activities related to a general election that has not yet been held, and that a significant portion of those funds have gone down the drain. Opposition-nominated ECJ Commissioner, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson made the claim yesterday during the debate on a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act (2015) to reform the way political parties are financed. He told the Upper House that: “We fully recognise that the prime minister has the constitutional right to call an election whenever she decides to do so within the constitutional limit (and) the electoral commission takes signals from what is said publicly and privately submitted a budget for an election which was anticipated to be held before the end of 2015. As a result, monies were presented to the Electoral Commission and from the sum presented so far, $250 million has been spent. A significant portion of that money has been lost because it has been used for training of workers, rental (of property) and so on.”
A centre-right candidate has recorded an emphatic victory in Portugal’s presidential election, collecting more than half of the vote against nine rivals as voters picked a counterweight to Portugal’s centre-left Socialist government. With 98% of the votes counted, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a veteran politician and law professor, won 52.4% of the vote share on Sunday to capture the mostly ceremonial post. His nearest rival had less than half of that and his opponents conceded quickly. Rebelo de Sousa will move into the head of state’s riverside pink palace in Lisbon on 9 March, replacing Anibal Cavaco Silva, who has served the maximum of two five-year terms.
Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairman Jecha Salim Jecha has announced the date for a rerun of Zanzibar election as March 20 despite resistance from the main opposition Civic United Front, which insists that it will boycott such a poll. Mr Jecha said the decision was reached by ZEC in its meeting on January 21. “I call on leaders of political parties and the general public to continue to observe peace during this reparation time, on the voting day, during tallying and on the day a winner will be declared,” said Mr Jecha in a televised announcement.
More than 200,000 voters across Vanuatu have cast their ballots in a snap election that international observers have described as successful despite challenges in the lead-up to the polls. The country’s Parliament was dissolved in November by President Baldwin Lonsdale after 14 MPs, including a former prime minister, were jailed for bribery. The political breakdown in Port Vila followed a period of instability with four changes of prime ministers in the past four years. A total of 264 candidates are vying for 53 seats, with foreign election observers remaining in Vanuatu until Monda