National: Winning the fight against gerrymandering in the South | Facing South

After the wave of Tea Party victories across the nation turned more state legislatures red in 2010, Republican lawmakers redistricted their states to the party’s benefit. In some cases, Democratic voters — often African-American — were packed into a small number of districts, diluting their political power. Not long ago, Shelby County, Alabama successfully challenged the section of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states and counties with a history of racial voting discrimination to submit any proposed election law changes — including new voting district maps — to the federal government for approval. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder enabled states, most of them in the South, to change voting districts without federal consent.

Editorials: Could the 2016 Election Settle the Voter ID Debate? | Sarah Childress/Frontline

As the 2016 election season officially kicks off next week, beginning with the Iowa caucus on Monday, voters in several states are preparing to cast ballots under stricter laws for the first time. Over the past five years, more than 18 states have passed laws to impose restrictions on voters’ access to the ballot, according to a FRONTLINE analysis of voting laws nationwide. Even as at least six states have expanded access to the ballot, introducing automatic voter registration and online voting, these states have cut early-voting hours, limited felons’ ability to vote and imposed strict voter ID laws. That includes several key swing states, such as North Carolina, which passed a comprehensive voting bill in 2013, and Ohio, which passed a law to reduce early-voting days one year later. The most controversial of these laws are those requiring identification at the polls — usually a photo ID. That’s largely because support is split along partisan lines. Republicans tend to favor them, arguing the laws guard against voter fraud. Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed out that new restrictions are more likely to prevent some voters, in particular African-Americans and Latinos, from casting ballots.

California: Changes to state’s initiative system fail to defuse ballot battles | Los Angeles Times

In a state where direct democracy is considered a birthright, activists have often bypassed legislators and asked voters to write laws at the ballot box. But one year after the enactment of what was hailed as a major electoral reform to encourage compromise between the two lawmaking processes, there’s still skepticism of working inside the world of Sacramento politics. Even from some politicians who work there. “We don’t have the time, in California’s future, to water down critical legislation,” said Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) as he joined organized labor groups last week in submitting voter signatures for a November ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Iowa: Microsoft on the hot seat in Iowa | The Hill

Microsoft volunteered to provide the technology to help tally up the results of Iowa’s caucus, free of charge. Now it will be put to the test Monday night. The contests in both parties are expected to go down to the wire. And the spotlight will be on precinct officials who have been trained on a new Microsoft app, which is meant to cut down on human error and speed up the reporting process. Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Iowa have expressed strong confidence in Microsoft, dismissing late suspicion of corporate influence from the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) early last week. Party officials have said no errors have been spotted in caucus dry runs. But the Sanders campaign has created its own backup reporting system, as has the Hillary Clinton campaign. “It will be interesting to see what happens if and when there are discrepancies between the Microsoft system and either Democratic or Republican campaign tabulations,” Iowa State University professor Mack Shelley said.

Iowa: Election Official Criticizes Cruz Campaign Over Mailer | The New York Times

Iowa’s secretary of state chastised the presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz on Saturday for sending a mailer that he said violated “the spirit of the Iowa caucuses” and misrepresented state election law. The mailer, flagged by a handful of Twitter users and confirmed as authentic by the Cruz campaign, included a warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page. It informed voters they were receiving a notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record,” the flier read. “Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” Below the text was a list of names, letter grades and percentage scores. The secretary of state, Paul D. Pate, called the effort “misleading.”

Editorials: Ted Cruz’s Iowa Mailers Are More Fraudulent Than Everyone Thinks | Ryan Lizza/The New Yorker

… On Saturday, Twitter came alive with pictures from voters in the state who received mailers from the Cruz campaign. At the top of the mailers, in a bold red box, are the words “VOTING VIOLATION.” Below that warning is an explanation:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.

Below that, a chart appears with the names of the recipient of the mailing as well as his neighbors and their voting “grade” and “score.”

… After looking at several mailers posted online, I was more curious about how the Cruz campaign came up with its scores. On all the mailers I saw, every voter listed had only one of three possible scores: fifty-five per cent, sixty-five per cent, or seventy-five per cent, which translate to F, D, and C grades, respectively. Iowans take voting pretty seriously. Why was it that nobody had a higher grade?

Editorials: Hosemann’s ideas fine but incomplete | The Greenwood Commonwealth

Delbert Hosemann is back at it, trying to convince the Mississippi Legislature that there is still much work to be done to bring Mississippi’s voting procedures into the 21st century while also taking steps to reduce the potential for fraud or dirty tricks. The secretary of state, now beginning his third term, did an admirable job implementing voter ID, an oversold and overemotional issue that distracted this state from addressing where its biggest problem with voter fraud lies — absentee ballots. Hosemann’s newest proposals don’t tackle absentee-ballot fraud head-on either, although his pitch for allowing voters to cast their ballots in person at the courthouse for up to 21 days before Election Day should reduce the number of absentee ballots cast overall. Still, if you are a candidate inclined to cheat, you’re going to use mail-in absentee ballots anyway, since the fraud becomes much harder to catch that way. Even with that said, though, allowing no-excuse early voting is a good idea that should, if nothing else, increase voter turnout. It certainly eliminates one of the main excuses of people who don’t get to the polls. … A glaring omission in what is otherwise a good package of proposals is Hosemann’s silence on a disturbing trend in this state to eliminate the paper trail on voting. More than three-fourths of the 77 counties in Mississippi with touch-screen voting machines have disconnected their external printers, by which voters could previously verify on paper that their vote has been accurately recorded.

Nebraska: New redistricting plan relies on citizens commission | Lincoln Journal Star

Sens. John Murante and Heath Mello have reached substantial agreement on a congressional and legislative redistricting proposal designed to distance state senators from the partisanship that tends to shape those decisions. Their proposal, agreed to after almost two years of give-and-take discussions, would create a nine-member citizens commission that would recommend redistricting plans to the nonpartisan Legislature after at least four public hearings throughout the state. The process would begin with base maps submitted to the commission by the legislative research office and end with legislative approval or disapproval of the plans recommended by the commission. However, in separate interviews with the two senators, it appeared that they might not be on the same page yet on one essential ingredient of the plan.

North Carolina: Federal trial on voter ID expected to wrap up Monday | Winston-Salem Journal

Closing arguments in a closely watched federal trial on North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voting will be Monday. Friday marked the first full day of evidence from attorneys defending state elections officials, state Republican legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory over the voter ID requirement that went into effect this year. The requirement is part of the state’s Voter Information Verification Act that legislators passed and McCrory signed into law in 2013. The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others filed a federal lawsuit over the provisions of the law, alleging that they are unconstitutional and violate the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The plaintiffs allege two things: that the law — including the photo ID requirement — puts undue burdens on black and Hispanic voters, and that state Republican legislators had discriminatory intent in passing the legislation.

North Carolina: Closing arguments set in voter ID trial | News & Observer

For the past week, attorneys arguing for and against North Carolina’s new voter ID law at the federal trial in Winston-Salem have raised and knocked down the specter of voter fraud. The rule – that North Carolina voters show one of six photo identification cards before casting a ballot – was adopted in 2013. Republicans who had won control that year of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office touted the elections law overhaul as a way to preserve the integrity of one person, one vote.

Editorials: North Carolina’s voter ID shenanigans | The Washington Post

As a legal proposition, it’s difficult to prove that a government policy was devised with the deliberate intent of racial discrimination. But make no mistake: North Carolina’s highly restrictive voting rights law, enacted in 2013, is meant to suppress votes, in particular votes cast by minorities for Democrats. Even the federal judge who refused to suspend implementation of the law’s obnoxious voter ID rules acknowledged it was “highly suspect” that the GOP-dominated legislature had excluded public-assistance IDs from among acceptable forms of identification at the polls; they are disproportionately held by African Americans, who vote heavily for Democrats. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder has not yet ruled on the merits of the overall law or the voter ID part of it, which is being separately challenged by the NAACP and other groups. Nonetheless, in refusing to immediately suspend the voter ID requirements, he cited the state’s own estimate that roughly 5 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, about 218,000 people, appeared to lack suitable photo IDs when they voted in 2014, before the law was fully implemented.

Pennsylvania: Texas consultant to Rand Paul loses election law challenge | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A federal judge has denied a temporary restraining order to a Texas man challenging Pennsylvania election law and seeking to circulate petitions for Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul. Texas resident Trent Pool, and his firm Benezet Consulting, LLC, allege that their First Amendment right to circulate nominating petitions for the April primary election ballot is unconstitutionally limited by three provisions in Pennsylvania election law.

Virginia: GOP drops plan for loyalty pledge, but maybe too late for some voters | The Washington Post

Virginia’s Republican Party on Saturday scrapped plans to use a party loyalty pledge in the March 1 GOP presidential primary, sending elections officials scrambling because absentee voting was already underway. “We unanimously voted to rescind it,” John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said after a meeting of the State Central Committee. In September, the party decided to require voters to sign a “statement of intent” before taking part in the primary. That idea, which has been proposed several times in recent years, caused controversy in Virginia, one of about 14 states that hold “open primary” elections in which voters do not register by party. Supporters have said that the measure would cut down on Democrats who want to make mischief by voting in GOP primaries.

Virginia: U.S. Supreme Court sets March 21 arguments in redistricting case | Richmond Times-Dispatch

The U.S. Supreme Court has set arguments for Monday, March 21, in Virginia’s congressional redistricting case. The high court is taking up an appeal by Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation. They are challenging rulings by a three-judge panel that in 2012 state legislators unconstitutionally packed too many additional African-Americans into the majority-minority 3rd District, represented by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, thereby diluting their influence in adjacent districts.

Canada: Candidate changes name to appear as ‘none of the above’ on by-election ballot | Daily Mail

Canadians will be able to vote for ‘none of the above’ in an upcoming by-election after a candidate legally changed his name. Father-of-two Sheldon Bergson paid $137 to officially change his name to Above Znoneofthe in time for an Ontario election on February 11. As names on the ballot papers are listed alphabetically by their surname first, he will appear underneath the list of other candidates, as Znoneofthe Above. The candidate explained that he had changed his name to try and offer fed up voters an alternative to the main parties.

Haiti: Growing crisis as election chief resigns | AFP

The chairman of Haiti’s electoral council has submitted his resignation to President Michel Martelly, a week after presidential and legislative elections were indefinitely delayed. Pierre-Louis Opont said in a letter dated Thursday that events beyond his control had “prevented me from carrying out my mission, which was to conduct elections meant to permit Parliament to return on January 11, 2016 and an elected president to be installed on February 7, 2016.” Opont’s resignation, following that of four of nine other members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), renders the panel impotent.

Niger: Election campaigns kick off ahead of February poll | AfricaNews

Niger’s political aspirants officially launched their campaigns on midnight Saturday. Banners, posters and party colours have emerged in the country’s capital Niamey, where campaigns for the first round of presidential elections on February 21st opened, without Hama Amadou, a local favorite, who has been in prison for more than two months now. Giant billboards bearing a potrait of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is seeking a second term dot the city. Other candidates have also erected massive posters for their campaigns, like Amadou Boubacar Cissé, the country’s former Minister of Planning and Seini Oumarou, a former prime minister and a leading oppossition politician, who lost in the second round against Mr. Issoufou in 2011.

Uganda: ‘Whistleblower’ general arrested weeks before presidential election | The Guardian

The Ugandan military has detained a general who is a long-time critic of veteran leader Yoweri Museveni, in a move likely to raise tensions in the country in the weeks leading up to a presidential election. David Sejusa, who in 2013 alleged officials were plotting to kill anyone who stood in the way of Museveni transferring power to his son, is is being detained at a military barracks in the capital Kampala and his home was surrounded by military police, his lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi said. Museveni, who is seeking to extend his 30-year rule, is facing perhaps his toughest challenge yet ahead of the 18 February vote, which pits him against long-time opposition leader Kizza Besigye and his ally-turned-rival, Amama Mbabazi.

United Kingdom: Electoral register loses estimated 800,000 people | The Guardian

An estimated 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the government introduced changes to the system, with students in university towns at highest risk of being disenfranchised, the Guardian has learned. Labour says it fears that the missing sections of the electorate are predominantly its supporters after the government moved from registration of electors by household to asking individuals to sign up, citing fears of fraud and error. The estimated number of voters registered in December – the first figure under the new individual electoral registration system – is lower than in the previous year, with just months to go before May’s local, assembly and mayoral elections.