As Iowa voters headed to their caucus sites Monday, 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sat in the first row of a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem, N.C., to witness the closing arguments of a trial challenging North Carolina’s new voter identification law. Eaton, who is African American and grew up in the Jim Crow South, had to recite the preamble to the Constitution from memory to register to vote. She had been participating in elections for 70 years when North Carolina passed its strict voter ID law in 2013. Lawyers for the North Carolina NAACP played a videotaped deposition during the trial of Eaton recounting how the names on her driver’s license and voter registration card did not match. To get her paperwork in order, Eaton had to make 11 trips to different state agencies in 2015, totaling more than 200 miles and 20 hours. “I’m disgusted,” Eaton told the Raleigh News & Observer as she left the courtroom. North Carolina is one of 16 states that have new voting restrictions in place since the last presidential contest, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, accounting for 178 electoral votes, including in crucial swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.
Republican lawmakers approved a measure Thursday that would make felons out of people who return the early ballots of others to the polls. The 34-23 House vote, with every Democrat present opposed, was propelled by arguments that the current system is ripe for fraud. Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, also voted against the measure. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, cited testimony from Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne who spoke during a prior attempt to enact this provision. She told lawmakers there have been situations where individuals claiming to be county election workers have gone door-to-door trying to pick up ballots. “This is a problem,” he said.
Facing a busy election year, Ada County said a year ago that it would ditch its antiquated voting equipment and get a new voting system in place for the 2016 presidential election. The county has been using outdated, hard-to-find Zip disks and Zip drives, dot-matrix printers and temperamental counting machines to tally and track vote tabulation. “The risks were becoming exceedingly high for a failure on election night,” said Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane. For the March 8 Republican presidential primary, Ada County will debut a state-of-art replacement, the first equipment of its kind to be used in Idaho. Voters will not notice much difference when they vote. They still will receive a paper ballot and use a pen or pencil to fill in a box indicating their selection. The biggest change will be how and where the county counts ballots. Ada County has been using a central counting system. When Election Day polls closed at 8 p.m., workers from nearly 140 polling places scurried to deliver ballots to the central election office for counting. Most ballots arrived about the same time, but then sat and waited to be fed into counting machines.
Kansas Republicans and Democrats are preparing for March 5 presidential caucuses amid questions about voter registration rules and with several thousand potential voters who have tried to register unable to cast a ballot in the 2016 elections because they haven’t provided proof of citizenship. Participation rules for the party caucuses differ significantly from each other, and from voting at the polls later this year, because the parties themselves set the rules. The Kansas secretary of state’s office has no say in how the state parties set up the process for choosing their presidential nominee.
The General Assembly paused Thursday to honor former state senator and civil rights activist Georgia Davis Powers, whose body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. But the memorial service didn’t prevent the two chambers from passing a couple of bills that they’ve previously passed but failed to secure approval from the other chamber. The Democratic House passed House Bill 70 that would place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters that, if approved, would automatically restore the voting rights of ex-felons convicted of non-violent, non-sexual crimes after completion of their sentences. It was an issue which two years ago brought Powers to the Capitol where she urged lawmakers to pass the measure, then sponsored by Lexington attorney and state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw who has since retired from the General Assembly.
Observant Jews and Seventh-day Adventists who want to caucus with Nevada Democrats on Feb. 20 are out of luck. The party’s noon caucus falls squarely in the middle of a Saturday, a sacred day of rest and worship for both faiths. Jewish clergy said the timing of the caucus disenfranchises those who want to participate and pointed out that other high-profile early-state caucuses and primaries don’t fall on a Saturday. A party spokesman said the big event is set for that day and time to maximize participation. “Saturday at 11 a.m. is the best time to increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada to participate in our First in the West caucuses,” said Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party. “Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar.”
North Carolina: Questions abound after judges invalidate 2 congressional districts | The Charlotte Observer
The day after a panel of federal judges invalidated two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts, state elections officials were working on a Saturday afternoon to encourage voters with absentee ballots to vote the full ballot anyway. Kim Strach, executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, and Josh Lawson, general counsel for the board, said Saturday that they did not want voters who received the 8,611 absentee ballots sent out for the March 15 primary elections to lose an opportunity to vote. “The number one message we want to get out is we want voters to continue voting,” Strach said Saturday afternoon. Late on Friday, a three-judge panel ruled that North Carolina’s 1st and 12th congressional districts were racial gerrymanders and ordered them redrawn by Feb. 19. Though the ruling halts elections in those districts until new maps are approved, questions remained on Saturday about what that would mean for other congressional races on the primary ballots.
A recent directive to Ohio’s county boards of elections by Secretary of State Jon Husted, Ohio’s chief election officer, should reduce the possibility that mailed-in absentee ballots might not get counted because of confusion or questions over postmarks. During the 2015 general election, an unusually large number of absentee ballots were not counted in Summit County and other counties because they lacked a postmark. Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections must count absentee ballots returned by mail for up to ten days after Election Day. But such ballots must have been postmarked no later than the day before Election Day. Trouble is, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily postmark envelopes much larger than a No. 10, or “letter size,” envelope. And some elections boards use bigger courtesy-reply envelopes. Meanwhile, it’s been unclear whether barcodes the post office adds during mail-sorting or Postage Validated Imprint (PVI) postage — imprinted, label-like postage, sold at post office counters and kiosks — are postmarks. PVI postage and barcodes include dates (although a scanner is needed to read barcodes).
Utahns are going to get their turn next month to vote in the Republican and Democratic presidential nomination race, but not in a traditional primary election. This year, Utah is using the political party-run caucuses being held on March 22 to determine which candidates will get the state’s support at party nominating conventions this summer. Both Republicans and Democrats attending neighborhood caucus meetings that evening can cast their ballots in the presidential race. Republicans also have the option of voting online in the presidential race. The 2015 Legislature decided not to fund a $3 million presidential primary after the Utah GOP — amid the ongoing battle over changes lawmakers made to the overall candidate nomination process — announced it was holding a presidential caucus.
Months after Washington state saw record low voter turnout, several lawmakers and Secretary of State Kim Wyman say they want to help increase engagement with automatic voter registration for some. Two measures, SB 6379 and HB 2682, would automatically register people who aren’t on the voter rolls but already have or apply for an enhanced driver’s license or commercial driver’s licenses. Those who receive social services that verify citizenship or get health insurance through the state health exchange also would be automatically registered. The measure would take effect Jan 1. 2017, and be retroactive so that unregistered voters who already have the specialized driver licenses or benefits would have their information sent to the secretary of state’s office, which would notify them that they can opt out. If the potential voter doesn’t respond, he or she will be automatically registered within 60 days.
Washington: State Voting Rights Act passes House: Will Senate ever vote on it? | Seattle Post Intelligencer
The Washington Voting Rights Act is designed to open up democracy in local government, but it has been shut down for three years in the Washington State Senate. On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled House of Representative passed the WVRA for the fourth consecutive year, on a party line 50-47 vote. It now goes to the Republican-run Senate, where in past years the Rules Committee has refused a floor vote. The legislation gives counties, cities and towns the authority to negotiate election changes, specifically to move from at-large voting to a system of districts. (Seattle moved to district voting last year for seven of its nine City Council seats.) The legislation is prompted by Eastern Washington counties in which the population is now 30-50 percent Hispanic, but where at-large voting has kept the growing minority from winning council and school board seats.
Voting Blogs: Wisconsin Wants You to Register to Vote—Unless You're Poor, or a Person of Color | Project Vote
Partisan lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing a voter registration bill that is a thinly veiled attack on voter registration drives and the rising American electorate. SB295—just approved by the state Senate Elections Committee in a party-line vote—is being sold as an “online voter registration” bill, as it would make Wisconsin the latest state where citizens can register to vote over the Internet. Project Vote strongly supports online registration, but it is a convenience, not a cure-all: unless it is implemented hand-in-hand with other registration options and protections, it can make existing inequalities in the electorate even worse. And these Wisconsin lawmakers, while offering online registration with one hand, are quietly taking those other options away with the other. SB295 would implement online registration, but only for people who have Internet access and a valid, up-to-date ID through the DMV. Studies have proven that this leaves out a large percentage of the population, particularly young people, older people, poor people, persons with disabilities, and disproportionate numbers of people of color.
Algeria’s parliament was expected to adopt a package of constitutional reforms on Sunday that authorities said will strengthen democracy, but opponents doubt it will bring real change. Parliamentary group leaders on Wednesday began considering the package, which is to be voted on by the lower and upper houses in full, rather than amendment-by-amendment. The reforms are meant to address longstanding public grievances in the North African nation, and possibly to prepare for a smooth transition amid concerns over the health of 78-year-old leader Abdul Aziz Bouteflika.
The electoral campaign has started in Comoros on Sunday ahead of the country’s presidential election to be held next-month. Twenty-five candidates out of 28 have been cleared to run in the first round of the presidential elections in the Indian Ocean archipelago. The first round of voting will take place on February 21, with the top three candidates to face off in a second round on April 18. Former president Azali Assoumani, who launched his presidential campaign in Moroni, reminded citizens that electoral fraud has caused untold suffering in many countries across Africa.
Top Haitian leaders negotiated an agreement to install a short-term provisional government less than 24 hours before President Michel Martelly was scheduled to step down, an official with the Organization of American States and local authorities announced Saturday. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, special OAS mission leader Ronald Sanders said the interim president will be elected by Parliament for a term of up to 120 days. He said Prime Minister Evans Paul will remain in his position until lawmakers are able to confirm a prime minister by consensus in upcoming days. The caretaker government will ensure a new Provisional Electoral Council is in place to conclude an election cycle that began last year. The plan calls for a presidential and legislative runoff to be held on April 24, with a newly elected president to be installed on May 14 for a five-year term. “The country now has an opportunity for a fresh start,” Sanders said, adding that Parliament would invite nominations for an interim president soon.
Jeremy Corbyn has been told to put Labour on an election footing due to concerns a snap general election could be called later this year. Shadow defence minister Toby Perkins said Labour had to be prepared for David Cameron to quit after the EU referendum, even if he is on the winning side. Writing on the LabourList website, Perkins warned: “If Labour is confronted with a general election whilst intellectually and organisationally underprepared, divided and underresourced, we would be hurtling towards catastrophe.” He said that although under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act the next election was not due until 2020, if a new Tory leader called for an early ballot Labour would have to agree. “The prospect of the prime minister standing down in the event of a vote to leave has been often mooted,” he wrote.