National: North Carolina voter-ID case could have ramifications across U.S. | The Washington Post

The requirement to present photo identification to cast a ballot went on trial Monday in a closely watched case that will have legal ramifications for voting across the country this presidential election year. Inside a federal courthouse here, attorneys for the Justice Department and the NAACP argued that the law passed by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly intentionally discriminates against African Americans and Latinos, who disproportionately lack one of the required forms of photo identification. “The state should be making it easier for people to engage in the fundamental right to vote, not harder,” Michael Glick, a Washington lawyer representing the NAACP, said in his opening statement. Because the voter-ID requirement will make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote, Glick said, it is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Editorials: Seeking to End Gerrymandering’s Enduring Legacy | Carl Hulse/The New York Times

Buried less than two miles from the Capitol is the man many blame for the toxic partisanship infecting Congress today even though he died 202 years ago. Elbridge Gerry was a patriot, signer of the Declaration of Independence, drafter of the Constitution, House member, governor and vice president under James Madison. Yet he is best known today for the twist on his name that now defines the twisting of legislative boundaries to give one party or candidate an electoral advantage. This “gerrymandering” is seen by many as a root cause of Washington gridlock, a point President Obama underlined anew in his final State of the Union address. Mr. Gerry, as governor of Massachusetts in 1812, signed into law a state legislative map that included an irregularly shaped district obviously drawn to benefit his party. A cartoon in The Boston Gazette archly observed that the map resembled a salamander and added a head, wings and claws to bring it to life. “Better say a gerry-mander,” retorted the waggish opposition newspaper editor Benjamin Russell, who is often credited with coining the exact term. Thus, a lasting element of America’s political lexicon was born. (Mr. Gerry’s name was pronounced with a hard “G” that has been softened in the contemporary use of gerrymander.)

Alabama: Committee working to restore felons’ voting rights | Montgomery Advertiser

In a meeting room in Alabama’s State House on Wednesday afternoon, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a longtime advocate for those who have been incarcerated in the state, looked across the room at Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn and announced, with a laugh, that they were in agreement. That exchange came after several minutes of discussion on the intricacies of imposed court fees, but the conclusion was a microcosm of the meeting of the Voter Disenfranchisement and Restoration of Voting Rights Exploratory Committee – a mishmash of state officials, law enforcement, court workers, legislators and public advocates.

Arizona: House committee OKs bill outlawing early ballot collection | Associated Press

A House committee has passed a measure that would block voter-outreach groups from collecting and dropping off early ballots as the state prepares for the 2016 election season. The proposal would make it a felony for anyone but a family member, roommate, caregiver, postal worker or candidate to collect early ballots from another person in an act sometimes called “ballot harvesting.” The House Elections Committee chaired by Ugenti-Rita passed the measure along party lines in a 4-2 vote Monday. The outcome of the legislation could impact the state’s general and primary elections if the bill is signed into law and enacted before elections take place.

Colorado: Federal funds to help with new voting system costs | Journal Advocate

Logan County Clerk and Recorder Pam Bacon got some welcome news this week while in Fort Collins for the Colorado County Clerks Association three-day winter conference. Wednesday at the conference, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams announced that he has some funding available to help counties with the purchase of new voting equipment in the next two years. According to a press release from Williams’ office, the state will use $850,000 in federal Help America Vote Act funds to cover 50 percent of a county’s costs to train, test, install and manage the project. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is a unit within the Justice Department and the grantor, approved Williams’ decision.

Illinois: Ballot issues likely to delay start of early voting | Bloomington Pantagraph

Early voting for the March 15 primary election is likely to be delayed due to problems getting ballots ready at the state level. Voting set to start Feb. 4 might be pushed as state officials process pending objections against presidential candidates, according to a joint release from the McLean County Clerk’s office and Bloomington Election Commission. “It is possible ballots may be available on or before Feb. 17. If so, we will notify the public immediately by alerting all media sources, as well as posting on our websites,” according to the release.

Iowa: How Jimmy Carter Revolutionized the Iowa Caucuses | The Atlantic

There is a long history of surprise candidates doing well in the Iowa caucuses and defeating the “inevitable” nominees. And this year is no exception. Whether it’s Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, or if it’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, next week, Iowans will get to have the first say. How did this all start? How did the Iowa caucus—a strange election-year event where a small number of Iowans gather in homes, schools, and other civic buildings to announce their support for their candidates—become such a major political touchstone? With a mere 52 delegates, Iowa has nevertheless become a force in presidential campaigns over the last four decades. The caucus, which started in the 1840s, had traditionally fallen in the middle of campaign season. But in 1972, state reforms modernized the process and moved the date from May 20 to January 24, making it the first contest in the election. That’s when a campaign worker named Gary Hart convinced Democrat George McGovern to take the state seriously. But where McGovern took Iowa seriously, it was Jimmy Carter who revolutionized the role that the Hawkeye State would play in presidential politics. Carter turned the Iowa caucus into a major event in 1976 and thereby demonstrated how an upstart campaign could turn a victory in this small state into a stepping-stone for gaining national prominence. When people talk about Carter’s legacy by focusing on his failed presidency or his transformative post-presidency, they forget one of his most lasting actions—his 1976 campaign, which all started in small, rural Iowa.

Montana: Group discusses ‘motor voter law’ claims | Great Falls Tribune

Nearly a dozen people met Thursday to discuss allegations that Montana is failing to fully comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, setting the stage for more meetings and further discussion, officials said. In a Dec. 18 letter, a group claims Montana has not fully complied with sections that establish clear voter registration obligations on the Motor Vehicles Department, which is overseen by the Department of Justice, and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

North Carolina: Arguments Over North Carolina Voter ID Law Begin in Federal Court | The New York Times

The bitter dispute about North Carolina’s elections laws returned to a federal courtroom here on Monday as the state’s voter identification requirement went on trial. The week’s proceedings will affect election practices in North Carolina, a state that has been closely contested in recent years and where voting rules could play a part in deciding tight elections, from local races to the 15 electoral votes for president. Court rulings here could also provide an early glimpse at how the federal courts might examine balloting laws in the wake of the United States Supreme Court decision that, in 2013, upended a significant component of the Voting Rights Act. “The North Carolina litigation is the leading litigation in the post-Shelby world,” said Edward B. Foley, an elections law expert at Ohio State University, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Alabama, v. Holder. “It’s the test case, the battleground case more than any other.” The trial about North Carolina’s identification standard, which requires voters to produce one of six accepted credentials or to submit a provisional ballot, is included in a broader challenge of the election law changes that the state’s Republican-dominated legislature first approved in 2013. Then, as now, supporters of the alterations to voting procedures described them as safeguards against potential fraud, but critics condemned them as thinly veiled efforts to throw up barriers, particularly to black and Hispanic voters.

North Carolina: Professor questions legislators’ claims that Voter ID law aimed to prevent fraud | News & Observer

A Wisconsin political science professor told a federal judge Monday that if North Carolina legislators were worried about voter fraud, he thought they would have focused more attention on the process for casting absentee ballots. Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature that shepherded the state’s new voter ID requirement into law have touted the measure as one necessary to prevent voter fraud and preserve the integrity of elections. Barry Burden, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, testified as a witness for voters and organizations challenging the voter ID law. His research focuses on election administration, voting behavior and civic engagement. The director of the Wisconsin university’s newly created Elections Research Center, offered his opinions on the first day of a federal trial about whether it is lawful to require N.C. voters to present photo identification to cast a ballot in local, state and national elections.

Oklahoma: Legislation filed to clarify voting state’s rights law | Tulsa World

Legislation intended to clarify state law pertaining to restoration of a convict’s voting rights has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, filed House Bill 2277 for consideration during the second regular session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature, which convenes Feb. 1. HB 2277 provides that anyone convicted of a felony could register to vote upon having “fully served” his/her sentence, “including any term of incarceration, parole or supervision,” or after completing a probationary period imposed by a judge.

Haiti: After election collapse, Haiti edges toward interim government | Reuters

President Michel Martelly is determined to leave office on the first day of Haiti’s carnival in two weeks even though he has no replacement, the prime minister said on Monday, making it likely an interim government will guide the country to elections. Haiti was due to choose Martelly’s replacement last Sunday, but the two-man race was postponed indefinitely after opposition candidate Jude Celestin refused to participate over alleged fraud that sparked protests and violence. “It is clear that we won’t have elections before the departure of President Michel Martelly scheduled for Feb. 7,” Prime Minister Evans Paul said.

Portugal: Voters Pick Center-Right President | The New York Times

Portugal’s voters elected a veteran center-right politician and television commentator as their new president on Sunday, two months after a Socialist administration took office following inconclusive parliamentary elections. The new president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, won 52 percent of the votes, with 98 percent counted. He entered the contest as the clear favorite against nine other candidates, which also helped increase his chances by fracturing the left-wing electorate. His closest rival, António Sampaio da Nóvoa, won just under 23 percent of the votes.

Vanuatu: Election winners confident of forming government | Radio New Zealand

A newly-elected MP for Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, says he is confident the multi-party bloc he is part of will get the numbers needed to form the next government. Kenneth Natapei, the son of the recently-deceased former Prime Minister Edward Natapei, was elected to one of the town’s six seats in snap elections on Friday. His Vanua’aku party has entered into a bloc with several other parties, including the Graon mo Jastis Pati and National United Party, to try to gain the majority needed to form a government and make constitutional changes hoped to end years of political instability. Mr Natapei says the bloc needs to win the support of some independent MPs to form a government, but he is confident that will happen and that it will last a full term.