Get ready voters: It’s time to be confused. Even as Americans start heading to the polls for this year’s presidential primaries, laws remain in flux in a number of states — including North Carolina and Texas, where voter ID requirements are being challenged in court. Now the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with helping to improve the running of elections, has added to the confusion. And unlike most voter ID conflicts — which involve showing identification at the polls — this comes earlier in the process, when residents are first registering to vote. The EAC has been in a long legal battle with Kansas regarding the state’s requirement that residents show proof-of-citizenship when they register to vote — even if they use a federal registration form, administered by the EAC. The federal form — which can be used throughout the United States as an alternative to local voter registration forms — requires individuals to swear that they are citizens, not provide a birth certificate or other document as proof.
A federal court could rule soon on challenges to North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voters, which plaintiffs claim undermines the voting rights of racial minorities under the pretext of combating fraud. A federal appeals court held last year that a similar requirement in Texas violated the Voting Rights Act. But even if these and other judicial rulings roll back photo ID laws and other restrictions that disproportionately burden racial minorities, the real solution lies with Congress. Republicans who control the House and Senate need to look beyond partisan self-interest and join with Democrats to reinstitute the requirement that, in jurisdictions with a recent history of discrimination, the federal government must “pre-clear” changes in election laws that could needlessly make it harder for minorities to vote.
Few recent stories in election policy have taken more twists and turns than the saga of Kansas’ (and other states’) efforts to impose proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal voter registration form. State officials and the EAC have been back and forth on the question numerous times, including two trips to the Supreme Court and several suits in state court. The current state of play is that proof-of-citizenship is unenforceable against voters who use the federal form, and – at least for now, pending appeal – that such requirements cannot be used in Kansas to deny voters a full ballot in state and local elections. That story got a little stranger yesterday with news that the EAC has updated state instructions on the federal form for Kansas (see p. 8) and a few other states to include proof-of-citizenship requirements. New EAC executive director Brian Newby sent letters dated last Friday to several states, including Kansas, who had recently requested that the agency update the instructions. The letter says the requested changes have been made and notes that the EAC is launching an effort to begin “a systematic process with all states to update State-Specific Instructions regularly.” It also asks states to notify the EAC “if any additional State-Specific Instructions are in need of modernization or further calibration with your procedures.”
A provision of Alabama’s voter identification law under fire expands access to the ballot and does not restrict it, the state argued in a filing last week. The measure in question, known as the “positively identify” provision, allows two election officials to give a person without proper identification the chance to vote, if the officials sign an affidavit swearing to the person’s identity. The provision forms the basis of a request to a federal judge from Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP to suspend the state’s photo ID law for the March 1 primary. In a brief filed Jan. 8, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the measure resembled Jim Crow-era voucher provisions “used for decades to discriminate against voters of color by subjecting their right to vote to ‘the passing whim or impulse’ of individual election officials.”
Arizona: On Sidelines Of New Voter Registration/Proof of Citizenship Battle… Which It Started; Could Jump Back Into Fray | Arizona’s Politics
Arizona started the battle over adding a proof of citizenship requirement to the national motor-voter registration forms, going to the U.S. Supreme Court twice over the matter. Today, word came out that the Commission in charge of the national forms was giving in on the issue, kicking off an intra-commission battle which could spread to the states and courts. Arizona is currently on the sidelines, although Secretary of State Michele Reagan could soon join in. Here is the background: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission was a commissioner-less commission for several years, which led to some of the Arizona/Kansas fights with it over the forms. Arizona had passed Prop 200 back in 2004, which required documentation proving citizenship before being registered to vote. That went to the Supreme Court, and Justice Scalia gave the state a road-map on how to navigate through the EAC.
A state House panel on Monday approved a measure that, had it been in effect in 2000, would have meant Al Gore becoming president. The legislation is designed to do an end run around the Electoral College system, which has been in place since the United States was formed. The system assigns electoral votes to each state based on the number of congressional seats. More to the point, the president is elected only when a candidate gets at least half of the 538 votes, regardless of who got more popular votes nationally. Nothing in Arizona’s HB 2456 would change that. Instead, the proposal by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would require the state to enter into deals with other states: Once there is agreement by states totaling 270 electoral votes, each would require its electors to cast their vote for whoever wins the national popular vote.
In a handful of Democratic caucus precincts Monday, a delegate was awarded with a coin toss. It happened in precinct 2-4 in Ames, where supporters of candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton disputed the results after 60 caucus participants apparently disappeared from the proceedings. As a result of the coin toss, Clinton was awarded an additional delegate, meaning she took five of the precinct’s eight, while Sanders received three. Similar situations played out at various precincts across the state, but had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome, in which Clinton won 49.9 percent of statewide delegate equivalents, while Sanders won 49.5 percent. The delegates that were decided by coin flips were delegates to the party’s county conventions, of which there are thousands selected across the state from 1,681 separate precincts. They were not the statewide delegate equivalents that are reported in the final results.
Despite rumors on Twitter to the contrary, by almost all accounts the Microsoft app used to tally unverified caucus votes in Iowa worked exactly as it was supposed to. What broke were the web sites where Republicans and Democrats posted close to real-time information about those votes, which at times crashed under the crush of people eager for news of their candidates. That didn’t surprise Douglas W. Jones, the recording secretary for the Democratic caucus, precinct 4 in Iowa City, Iowa. “In the modern, media-driven world, we’re desperate for results,” he said. His son Nathaniel Douglas, 32, send their caucus results in to the county Democratic party using the app built by Microsoft for the purpose, which he said “worked as advertised.” In precincts where workers didn’t have smart phones, the older updating system of calling in and pressing buttons on a touch-tone phone after inputting a PIN for security was used. “Both systems worked fine,” Douglas said. … At their heart, they are a way for Iowa voters to chose delegates to county, district and state political conventions who will then go on to chose their candidate. That process is heavily scrutinized and has very reliable and very old security baked into it — “it all happens on paper, which we’ve been using for elections going back to Roman times,” said Jones, who is also a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and an expert on online voting systems.
Kansas: Wichita State statistician casts vote for regular auditing of Kansas election returns | Topeka Capital-Journal
A Wichita statistician skeptical of electronic voting security endorsed Tuesday a recommendation by the Kansas secretary of state to allow post-election audits to determine whether mistakes or fraud occurred on Election Day. Elizabeth Clarkson, chief statistician at the National Institute for Aviation Research affiliated with Wichita State University, told the Topeka-Shawnee County League of Women Voters the conversation might be moving in the right direction with Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s proposal to amend state law to enable auditing of ballots. “I’m very pleased to see Kris Kobach propose legislation,” she said. “We do need post-election audits. Without them we don’t have transparency in our voting system.”
An effort to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent offenders who have served their time has, once again, sailed out of committee in the Kentucky House to an uncertain fate. The idea has cleared the full House every year since 2007, but has been repeatedly blocked in the Senate. The legislation would put a proposal on the ballot for a constitutional amendment, for Kentuckians to decide. Rep. Derrick Graham, a Democrat from Frankfort, is a cosponsor of House Bill 70. “These people have paid their debt to society,” says Graham. “We ought to provide them with hope; we ought to provide them with opportunity. We should be forgiving them.”
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch on Monday announced the establishment of five satellite election offices with the potential of more on Indian reservations in Montana for the 2016 elections. This follows a directive issued by McCulloch in October, ordering counties to provide satellite offices to ensure compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act. Satellite offices offer services that are otherwise only available to voters at the county headquarters, namely late registration and in-person absentee voting, which are available in the 29 days preceding the election, officials said.
The Sullivan County Board of Elections will appoint a monitor to review challenges to voter registrations to settle a lawsuit filed by Hasidic Jewish residents in what legal experts call an unprecedented agreement in New York state. A group of 10 Hasidic registered voters from the Catskills village of Bloomingburg sued the Sullivan County Board of Elections in 2015, claiming the board violated the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs alleged the Board of Elections engaged in a “discriminatory campaign to deprive Hasidic Jewish residents of Bloomingburg…of the fundamental right to vote.” U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest approved the settlement Monday.
In the final session of a trial that could yield a crucial decision about a policy that has been disputed for years, a federal judge heard closing arguments on Monday about North Carolina’s voter identification law. The arguments capped a six-day bench trial, before Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court, that included emotional testimony about voting rights and technical analyses of the law’s impact. The outcome will be seen as an important measure of what voting-related laws federal courts might allow states to pursue and enforce. The North Carolina chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. and other plaintiffs argued Monday, as they have for months, that the Republican-controlled General Assembly drafted the voter identification law in 2013 as a surreptitious way to curb the influence of black and Hispanic voters. The N.A.A.C.P. has argued that those voters are less likely to have one of the six accepted forms of identification required and often face more hardship in obtaining them. “They knew that all these provisions, taken individually and together, have racially discriminatory intent,” said Catherine Meza, a lawyer for the United States Justice Department, which joined the N.A.A.C.P. in the litigation.
North Carolina: Legislature ‘intentionally passed’ discriminatory voter ID law, lawyer says | The Guardian
The North Carolina legislature “intentionally passed a law that would discriminate against African Americans and Latinos”, an attorney told a federal judge on Monday in a case that could have broad implications for the 2016 election. The federal court in Winston Salem heard closing arguments in a trial over the state’s newly implemented voter identification law. The rule, which went into effect on 1 January, requires citizens to show state-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. The challenge to the law, led by the state chapters of the NAACP and League of Women Voters as well as the US Department of Justice, argued that the requirements were racially discriminatory to black and Latino citizens who are less likely to have photo ID or the means to acquire it. North Carolina is just one of 15 states where restrictive new voting laws will go into effect for the 2016 election and are forecast to disproportionately disenfranchise black and Latino Americans. The proceedings were the latest in the convoluted legal battle that has been unfolding in North Carolina since the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 589 in July 2013. As well as mandating voter ID, the law significantly shortened the window for early voting, prevented citizens from voting outside their district, ended the preregistration of 17-year-olds, and stopped same-day registration, where voters register on the same day they cast a ballot.
Virginia: House panel defeats redistricting bills; Senate panel advances party registration | The Daily Progress
A House of Delegates subcommittee on Tuesday scrapped a series of bills aimed at nonpartisan redistricting. The five measures were defeated 4-3 in a bloc vote in a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections panel. Del. Mark J. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, who called for the vote, has said that action on redistricting is premature and that even independent commissions to draw districts require politicians to make appointments. Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, which is pushing for nonpartisan redistricting after the 2020 census, criticized the vote. “This morning was Groundhog Day all over again in the Virginia General Assembly when the members of the House Elections Subcommittee voted to kill five of the most significant redistricting reform bills in recent Virginia history,” he said in a statement.
Virginia: State spent more than $62,000 on voting oath Republicans now want scrapped | Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Virginia Department of Elections spent more than $62,000 to print and mail the controversial loyalty oath requested by the Republican Party of Virginia, according to a state official. At nearly $53,000, the largest expense was printing the nearly 3 million forms containing the so-called statement of affiliation, which could be shelved for the March 1 primary after a Republican party committee voted over the weekend to ask the state not to implement the oath. The State Board of Elections has called a special meeting for Thursday morning to discuss the Republicans’ request to stop the oath.
For years, South Australia’s Liberal MPs have complained they would be in government if not for unfair electoral boundaries. But a special panel has been told there’s virtually nothing the state’s electoral commission can do to prevent voters being handed the “wrong” result. The Liberals have languished in opposition since 2002 despite winning a majority of the two-party preferred vote on three occasions. University of Adelaide political scientist Clem Macintyre has pinned the blame on factors beyond the electoral commission’s scope, such as conservative independent MPs siding with Labor.
Cameroon’s Prime Minister, Philemon Yang backed by one hundred stalwarts of his native Northwest province has asked President Paul Biya to hold early presidential elections, APA can report. The motion of support and deference published Monday justified this position by the desire to see no less than the leader of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) completing large development projects launched over the past two years, ending the militant insurgency in the Far North and rebellions in Central African Republic border. The appeal comes after similar arguments relayed by the state-owned media.
Haiti’s opposition on Tuesday rejected a proposal by outgoing President Michel Martelly to form a temporary government to organize elections, after a run-off presidential vote was canceled last month amid violence and allegations of fraud. Martelly, who heads Haiti’s government, is due to leave office on Sunday. A Jan. 24 run-off to choose his successor was canceled after sometimes violent protests erupted against what the opposition said was fraud in the first round. Under a proposal drawn up by Martelly and parliamentary leaders, Prime Minister Evans Paul would resign and be replaced by a candidate to be approved by parliament, government-allied lawmaker Gary Bodeau said.
Opposition and ruling party MPs clashed in Serbia’s parliament on Tuesday about potential wrongdoings in the forthcoming parliamentary elections broadly scheduled for late April. Zoran Zivkovic, president of the opposition New Party, said that his party, like most citizens in Serbia, feared electoral fraud. “We thought the period of election frauds ended on October 2000 [with the fall of Slobodan Milosevic] but election theft was already registered in the local elections… and new symptoms of the same disease are obvious,” Zivkovic said.