National: U.S. Election Official under Fire for “Secretive” Action Imposing Voter Citizenship Requirement in Three States | Associated Press

A federal elections official has decided — without public notice or review from his agency’s commissioners — that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship. The action by the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission is being roundly criticized by voting rights activists, who say the “secretive move” will create additional barriers for potential voters, and one of the agency’s own commissioners, who says it contradicts policy and precedent. The new instructions were posted on the agency’s website, according to EAC’s executive director Brian Newby, who sent letters dated Jan. 29 to the three states that had requested the change. Under the new rule, any resident in those states who registers to vote using the federal form must show citizenship documentation — such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers or passport. In other states, no such documentation is needed to register; voters need only sign a sworn statement. The changes took effect immediately, Newby said, adding that any interested party could request a review from the commission, which is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

National: Ryan backs voting rights bill — but tells black caucus it's out of his hands | The Hill

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering. “He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill. “So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver added. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’ ” Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of the 1965 law.

Iowa: Democratic party altered precinct's caucus results during chaotic night | The Guardian

In the Iowa Democratic party’s chaotic attempt to report caucus results on Monday night, the results in at least one precinct were unilaterally changed by the party as it attempted to deal with the culmination of a rushed and imperfect process overseeing the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. In Grinnell Ward 1, the precinct where elite liberal arts college Grinnell College is located, 19 delegates were awarded to Bernie Sanders and seven were awarded to Hillary Clinton on caucus night. However, the Iowa Democratic party decided to shift one delegate from Sanders to Clinton on the night and did not notify precinct secretary J Pablo Silva that they had done so. Silva only discovered that this happened the next day, when checking the precinct results in other parts of the county. The shift of one delegate at a county convention level would not have significantly affected the ultimate outcome of the caucus, but rather, it raises questions aboutthe Iowa Democratic party’s management of caucus night.

Maryland: State ditches touch screen machines for early voting | Baltimore Sun

Early voters in April’s primary will cast their ballots on paper that will be scanned by a machine — just as election day voters will — after Maryland elections officials on Thursday nixed the use of touch screen machines for early voting. The change was made after elections officials said they realized that many primary contests will feature long lists of candidates that can’t fit on one screen, and some candidates threatened legal action for being stuck on a second or third screen. “The fairest, most viable and reasonable solution is paper ballots,” said Patrick J. Hogan, a former state senator who is vice chairman of the Maryland State Board of Elections. Board members voted 5-0 in favor of the switch to paper ballots for early voting.

North Carolina: Federal court invalidates maps of two congressional districts | News & Observer

A federal court panel ruled late Friday that two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn within two weeks, sparking uncertainty about whether the March primary elections can proceed as planned. An order from a three-judge panel bars elections in North Carolina’s 1st and 12th congressional districts until new maps are approved. Challengers of North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan quickly praised the ruling, while legislators who helped design the maps said they were disappointed and promised a quick appeal. “This ruling by all three judges is a vindication of our challenge to the General Assembly of North Carolina writing racially biased ‘apartheid’ voting districts to disenfranchise the power of the African-vote,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP chapter.

Virginia: Supreme Court rejects GOP petition to block new congressional lines | Washington Post

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Republican members of Congress to put on hold an election map that gives Democrats a chance to pick up a seat in this year’s election. The ruling is the latest in a series of decisions triggered last year by a panel of federal judges who said Virginia’s map illegally packed African American voters into one district at the expense of their influence elsewhere. Last month, the judges sought to change that by imposing a map that increases the number of African American voters, who reliably vote for Democrats, in a district that stretches from Richmond to Norfolk. It is represented by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R).

Central African Republic: Tensions rise as elections draw near | News24

As presidential elections in the Central African Republic (CAR) draw closer, renewed fighting between communities has sparked tensions. With approximately 20% of the country’s population having been displaced due to the conflict, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has stepped up its operations in the central African nation in order to provide much-needed healthcare. Several health centres in the capital of Bangui have suspended their services due to insecurity in the area, leading to many more citizens seeking out MSF’s assistance.

Haiti: Martelly vows to leave power on Sunday as protests intensify | Reuters

Haiti’s president promised on Thursday to leave power in three days’ time despite having no replacement after a botched election, as opposition protests intensified and politicians squabbled over who should lead an interim government. President Michel Martelly had earlier warned he would not step aside without an established succession plan, enraging protesters who have marched almost daily in the capital Port-au-Prince over the past two weeks. Haiti’s constitution requires Martelly to leave office on Feb. 7, but runoff elections to choose the next president were canceled last month when opposition candidate Jude Celestin threatened to boycott the vote and protests turned violent.

National: Federal agency helps red states make voter registration harder | MSNBC

The director of the federal agency that helps states run elections is under fire for abruptly reversing course and siding with three Republican-led states in their efforts to make vote registration much more difficult. The controversy involves questions of federal policymaking authority that may sound arcane. But at stake are the rights of perhaps thousands of would-be voters as the 2016 elections approach — as well as allegations of improper collusion at the federal level. On Friday, Brian Newby, the new executive director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), wrote in letters to Kansas, Georgia and Alabama officials that the agency had changed the state-specific instructions given to voters in those states to accompany the federal voter registration form that the EAC administers. The new instructions say that would-be voters must present proof of citizenship when they register. Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State, Kris Kobach — an ally of Newby, a former Kansas county election administrator — has for years been pressing the EAC to green-light that change. In 2011, Kobach, a former GOP operative and zealous backer of strict voting and immigration laws, helped pass a state law that required proof of citizenship from those registering to vote. But the EAC had twice rejected Kobach’s request to change the instructions given to Kansas voters on the federal form, saying the change would violate federal voting law, which aims to make registration as easy as possible. In late 2014, a federal court likewise ruled against Kobach.

National: New evidence that voter ID laws ‘skew democracy’ in favor of white Republicans | The Washington Post

Voter fraud is, for all intents and purposes, practically nonexistent. The best available research on the topic, by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, found only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation in an investigation of over 1 billion votes cast. But that hasn’t dampened Republican efforts to pass a spate of strict voter ID laws since 2008. And it hasn’t hurt the public’s overall enthusiasm for those laws, either. But the results of a new working paper from political scientists at University of California, San Diego suggest folks may want to consider. The researchers analyzed turnout in recent elections — between 2008 and 2012 — in states that did and did not implement the strictest form of voter ID laws. They found that these laws consistently and significantly decreased turnout not just among traditionally Democratic-leaning groups, like blacks and Hispanics, but among Republican voters too.

Iowa: Democratic Party Officials Say Recount Impossible in Clinton-Sanders Virtual Tie | Bloomberg Politics

Democratic Party officials in Iowa say they can’t do a recount of Monday’s razor-thin presidential caucus results between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, even if they thought it was appropriate. And both candidates, in their debate later Thursday night, said it was no big deal. Just two-tenths of 1 percent separated Sanders and Clinton in the first nomination contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. The statewide caucus meetings included reports of chaos in precincts and coin flips to decide county delegates, raising questions about the final count’s accuracy . “People physically aligned in groups,” Sam Lau, the communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement. “There are no paper ballots to recount. Monday’s caucuses were a unique event that involved more than 171,000 Iowans and their neighbors at a specific time and place, and thus they cannot be re-created or recounted.”
In other words, there are no hanging chads to recount.

Editorials: Something smells in the Democratic Party | Des Moines Register

Once again the world is laughing at Iowa. Late-night comedians and social media mavens are having a field day with jokes about missing caucusgoers and coin flips. That’s fine. We can take ribbing over our quirky process. But what we can’t stomach is even the whiff of impropriety or error. What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period. Democracy, particularly at the local party level, can be slow, messy and obscure. But the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal reeks of autocracy. The Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to assure the accuracy of the caucus results, beyond a shadow of a doubt. First of all, the results were too close not to do a complete audit of results. Two-tenths of 1 percent separated Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. A caucus should not be confused with an election, but it’s worth noting that much larger margins trigger automatic recounts in other states. Second, too many questions have been raised. Too many accounts have arisen of inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms and other problems. Too many of us, including members of the Register editorial board who were observing caucuses, saw opportunities for error amid Monday night’s chaos.

Maryland: State may scrap touch-screen machines for early voting, too | The Washington Post

Maryland’s top election official wants to ditch touch-screen machines in favor of paper ballots for early voting before the April primaries because the electronic machines can’t display all candidates on the same screen. Candidates with last names further down the alphabet — including GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Democratic Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen, Republican Senate contender Kathy Szeliga and Democratic House candidate David Trone — may be at a disadvantage because of the format, Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said. In addition, it can be difficult to use the touch screens to navigate between multiple pages of candidates. “It would cause confusion to voters, and it would take them a lot more time to vote,” Lamone said in an interview. The State Board of Elections has called an emergency meeting for Thursday to address the problem.

Maryland: Senate scheduled to vote to overturn veto of felon voting bill | The Washington Post

The Maryland Senate is scoheduled to vote Friday on overturning Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that granted voting rights to felons who are on parole and probation. The vote will be the sixth veto override by the Democratic-controlled legislature, and will send a strong message to Hogan (R) about the power that Democrats, who are still grappling with Hogan’s victory and popularity, continue to wield in the State House. “It’s a huge victory for voting rights, not just in Maryland but in the country,” Jane Henderson, executive director of Communities United, said Thursday, anticipating the override and the bill becoming law. The Senate passed the measure last year with a 29 to 18 vote, a veto-proof majority. The governor vetoed the bill, arguing that former inmates who are released from prison on parole and probation have not finished their sentences and should not be have their right to vote restored until they do.

Michigan: State error prompts voter cancellation notices | The Detroit News

Hundreds of Michigan voters were mistakenly sent “notices of cancellation” last month challenging their voter registration status, according to the Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, which is taking steps to correct the error. Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas told The Detroit News “a few hundred” voters who left Michigan but later returned were flagged in the Interstate Crosscheck system, which 29 states use to identify fraud and clean up their voter rolls. The bureau alerted local clerks on Friday and is preparing to send letters to affected voters telling them to disregard any notices they received. “Nobody has been canceled, and nobody’s voting rights from 2016 would be affected by this,” Thomas said. “In fact, none of these people could have been affected until January 2019 at the earliest.”

New Mexico: Proposal to take redistricting out of lawmakers’ hands clears first hurdle | The Santa Fe New Mexican

It’s a long shot to make the ballot, but a proposal to take away the power of state lawmakers and the governor to redraw legislative districts got off to a successful start Wednesday. The proposed constitutional amendment to create a five-member redistricting commission zipped through the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 9-0 vote. Every 10 years, after the U.S. census, state lawmakers redraw boundaries for districts of the New Mexico Legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Public Regulation Commission. Then the governor reviews the maps and can accept or veto them.

North Carolina: Does voter ID law suppress minority votes? A federal judge will decide. | Los Angeles Times

Coming of age in the Jim Crow South, Rosanell Eaton was one of the first African Americans to register to vote in her rural corner of North Carolina. After riding for two hours to the county courthouse on a mule-drawn wagon, the granddaughter of a slave was forced to take a literacy test—reciting the preamble of the U.S. Constitution—before she could vote. Seventy years later, the 94-year-old is at the center of a new struggle as the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to overturn North Carolina’s voter identification law, which requires most voters to show an approved form of photo ID at the polls. While supporters of the new law, which came into effect January, say it provides a bulwark against potential election fraud and is a minor administrative hassle that applies equally to all, critics contend that it disproportionately burdens African American and Latino voters, and that Republican legislators intentionally drafted it to obstruct minority voting. The six-day trial wrapped up Monday, but U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, an appointee of President George W. Bush, is not expected to hand down a verdict before voters go to the polls for the state’s March 15 presidential primary.

Ohio: 4,100 ballots tossed in 2014-15 for technical errors, lawsuit says | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Nearly 12 percent of absentee and provisional ballots rejected by Ohio elections boards in 2014 and 2015 general elections were bounced for technical issues, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday. Those technical issues — names that don’t exactly match voter records, missing or incorrect dates of birth, improper voter ID or conflicts in voters’ addresses — are the target of a lawsuit. The suit claims that state rules enacted in 2014 violate constitutional rights and disproportionately hurt African-American, Latino and poor voters. In addition to identifying 4,105 ballots disqualified for technical errors, data collected by the plaintiffs show that the rate of disqualification varies widely from county to county. In the 10 largest counties, that rate was as low as 1 percent and as high as 24.8 percent. Unless the boards of elections are able to contact a voter to get a ballot corrected, the voter’s ballot may not be counted and the voter may never know.

Voting Blogs: Automatic voter registration debuts in Oregon | electionlineWeekly

Once again Oregon has found itself on the leading edge of election reform. On January 4 2016, the state became the first in the country to begin automatically registering voters who visit the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to apply for a new or renew a driver’s license or state ID. Since Oregon Motor Voter launched one month ago, the state has added 4,348 voters to the rolls. Under the law, once the voters are registered they receive a Motor Voter card from the Oregon Elections Division and they have three options: Do nothing and remain registered, opt-out, or choose a political party.

Virginia: Elections board officially repeals loyalty pledge at GOP request | The Washington Post

Donald Trump may have come in second in the Iowa caucuses, but the presidential candidate scored a victory in Virginia on Thursday when the state Board of Elections formalized the state GOP’s plans to scrap the loyalty pledge. The board repealed the party’s earlier decision to have voters who want to participate in the March 1 GOP presidential primary sign a statement affirming they were Republicans. Elections officials say the party bowed to pressure from Trump and voters upset by the pledge; the party says it objected to the wording of the statement. Trump put the issue on the national radar in December when he publicly rebuked the state Republican Party on Twitter for making what he called a “suicidal mistake” in requiring the pledge. Some feared the pledge could have put off voters disenchanted with party politics who are attracted to Trump’s un­or­tho­dox candidacy. Activists responded, calling on the party to rescind the pledge in blog posts, letters and an unsuccessful federal lawsuit. On Saturday, the state party held a special meeting, where the governing board reversed its earlier decision to institute the pledge, and unanimously called for its repeal.

Wisconsin: Senate committee approves online voter registration bill | The Capital Times

Wisconsin voters would be able to register online under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate’s elections committee. The proposal originally had bipartisan support, but several Democrats withdrew their names from the bill when they learned it would eliminate special registration deputies, who help voters register in person. Under the bill, the online registration system would be implemented by the 2017 spring primary. It would allow any eligible voter with a current and valid state-issued drivers license or ID card to register online. Online registration would have to be completed 20 days before the election in order to be valid. People who are currently registered to vote would be able to change their address using the same system.

Japan: Abe wants electoral reform reflected in next lower house election | Japan Today

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday it is desirable that the next House of Representatives election be held after implementing proposed electoral system reform aimed at addressing vote weight disparities between constituencies in urban and rural areas. “It is important that such reform be reflected firmly when the next election is held,” Abe said at the lower house Budget Committee. Abe made the comment amid speculation that he may dissolve the lower house for a snap general election to coincide with a House of Councillors election this summer in what would be a “double election.” However, the premier has not ruled out the possibility of dissolving the lower chamber before the proposed reform takes effect.

Niger: Interior minister blames backers of jailed presidential hopeful for violence | AFP

Niger’s interior minister on Thursday accused supporters of jailed presidential candidate Hama Amadou of acts of violence against backers of the incumbent president seeking re-election. “Since the start of the campaign, there have been acts of aggression, violence committed by MODEN activists against supporters of (President) Mahamadou Issoufou and any vehicles with his poster,” Hassoumi Massaoudou told AFP. Issoufou is running for a second term in the February 21 vote in the arid west African country, while his rival Amadou, of the Democratic Movement of Niger (MODEN), remains in prison over allegations of taking part in a baby trafficking scandal.

Uganda: Fears of violence ahead of elections | Deutsche Welle

A local NGO, the Human Rights Network-Uganda (HRINET-U) has issued a report citing cases of members from opposition parties who have gone missing, while others who have been arrested have not been charged or been brought before the courts. The report also says security organizations are believed to be favoring incumbent president Museveni. It sites incidents when Uganda’s main opposition leader and flag bearer of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Kizza Besigye, was twice stopped by police on his way to a campaign rally in Kabale district in south western Uganda. The reason the police gave, was that Besigye intended to disrupt business at a market on his way to his campaign venue. Such incidents have raised concerns whether the electoral process will be free and fair.