The Federal Election Commission has not solved the “Super PAC problem,” but then again the Commissioners cannot agree on what the problem is. Others outside the agency are divided in this same way. A number of questions in contemporary campaign finance are like that. Because positions are passionately held, each side is convinced that the other is not merely mistaken but dead wrong, maybe also ill-motivated. Given the chance, proponents and opponents of new rules would like to win however they can. So there is the hope that the Supreme Court can be shifted by a vote toward a more favorable judgment on congressional power to control campaign finance. And proposals are made to strengthen the FEC for a more decisive role. The Brennan Center suggests that the FEC could make strides in the direction if it could be restructured to a) bring an element of nonpartisanship into the choice of Commissioners, by assuring that at least one is unaffiliated with a party and b) add an additional Commissioner to the total to get to an odd number and avoid deadlocks.
San Francisco, home of the tech startup, is trying to show its tech credentials by becoming the first city to use open source software for elections. The proposal to adopt a solution in time for the end of the current contract on January 1, 2017 reappeared at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday when Supervisor Scott Wiener called for a hearing on how the city is progressing with the plan to use standard hardware and open-source software to carry out future balloting. The hope is for the city to develop balloting systems that can compete on reliability and security in time for the November 2019 elections. That plan has been a long time in the making. Back in 2013, a bill was passed by the California Senate and signed by the governor, allowing cities to use public funds to “research and develop a non-proprietary voting system.”
Colorado: Critics worry proposed vote center bill would disenfranchise voters | The Colorado Independent
A proposal to change the availability of voting centers across the state is splitting voting rights groups between those who favor saving money and those who say closing voting centers will disenfranchise voters who need them most. This week’s state Capitol hearing on Senate Bill 16-112 marks the first legislative action on a half-dozen proposals designed to change Colorado’s voting laws in time for this year’s election. Sponsored by Sen. Jack Tate, a Centennial Republican, the bill would change the availability of voting service centers in counties with at least 75,000 voters. Since Colorado went to an all-mail ballot election system in 2013, voters who want to cast their ballots in person no longer do so in their precincts, but at voting service centers maintained by their county. Current law requires one center for each 30,000 voters during the early voting period that starts 15 days before the general election. Each county, regardless of size, must have at least one voting center.
With about 30 percent of eligible voters unregistered, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is asking the General Assembly to enable people to automatically register as Connecticut voters when they do business with the Department of Motor Vehicles. The concept is being promoted nationally by the Brennan Center for Justice as the next step in a movement to provide the same ease in voter registration that is found in modern commerce – in other words, something that can be done quickly, automatically and, preferably, online.
In a major voting rights case, the Iowa Supreme Court will consider whether to relax the state’s lifetime ban on voting by convicted felons. The court said last week it would hear the case, which could clear up longstanding confusion over which of the state’s tens of thousands of former offenders are eligible to vote. American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and other civil rights groups want the court to restore many of their voting rights before the November presidential election, in which Iowa could be a pivotal state. The decision could come this summer. Iowa is one of three states — with Kentucky and Florida — with lifetime voting bans for felons unless their rights are restored by the governor.
The state laws that will bar nearly six million people with felony convictions from voting in this year’s presidential election are the shame of the democratic world. Virtually all disenfranchised Americans would be free to vote were they citizens of countries like Australia, Spain, France, Ireland or Germany. Indeed, many nations around the world view voting rights as so fundamental to citizenship that they bring the ballot box right into prison. By contrast, three quarters of this country’s disenfranchised voters live outside the prison walls: Some have actually completed their sentences, while others are on probation or parole.
New Hampshire: Tablet-Based Ballot System for Blind Voters to Debut During Primary | New Hampshire Public Radio
Voting may be a right for everyone, but for those with vision impairment, casting a ballot privately can be a challenge. New Hampshire election officials are hoping to change that with the rollout of a new accessible voting system, called “one4all,” during Tuesday’s primary. “I believe we’re one of the first if not the first state to fully adapt tablet-based technology,” says David Morgan, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. “It’s a tablet-based system, so there’s a keyboard. There’s a voice entry which is not enabled at this point. And there’s a tablet that is both a touch screen, a voice output, and an enter button so that you can listen to the candidates be scrolled. As you hear the candidate you want, you can press enter, or later on for the fall, enter a voice command.”
Editorials: Racial Gerrymandering and North Carolina’s Tainted 2016 Primary Election | Brentin Mock/CityLab
Voters in North Carolina are caught in a heap of confusion as they approach their state’s March 15 primary election. A federal court ruled on February 5 that congressional district lines drawn in 2011 are invalid because they packed African American voters into two districts without just cause. A three-judge panel for the U.S. District Court in North Carolina has since charged the state’s general assembly with creating new district lines by February 19. Problem is, thousands of ballots have already been mailed out for the upcoming primary, which include both U.S. House and Senate races. Some of those ballots have already been cast under the state’s early absentee voting rules. The state filed an emergency appeal today asking the court to suspend the ruling until after after the primary elections, and is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Virginia: Board of Elections Asks Court To Ignore Pre-1965 Discrimination In Voting Rights Case | TPM
Virginia’s State Board of Elections is asking the court weighing a voting rights case being brought in the state to exclude any evidence of the state’s history of racial discrimination. The board filed a motion Monday to “exclude expert testimony and other evidence of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination,” particularly anything that happened before 1965, when the federal Voting Rights Act was passed. “No one denies Virginia’s troubling history of racial discrimination nor that Virginia was once part of the Confederacy,” the motion said. “However, Virginia’s history as a former Confederate state is simply not relevant to the issue this Court is asked to decide.” The state’s motion focuses on the anticipated testimony of John Douglas Smith, the author of “Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia.” It argues that his testimony should not be admitted because much of his initial report covers Virginia’s pre-1965 history.
The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow Wisconsin residents to register to vote online, putting the state on track to join 30 other states that offer online registration. Though Democrats support online registration, they voted against the measure Tuesday due to provisions eliminating special registration deputies who help voters register in person. Democrats argued the elimination of deputies would hamper voter drives and could disenfranchise students, seniors and low-income voters. “This is sort of a bait-and-switch bill,” said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. “In effect, it doesn’t help with registration — it hurts the whole concept. It reduces opportunities to vote.”
On February 21, some 6.5 million Bolivian voters will decide whether to amend their Constitution to permit a third consecutive presidential term. A “Yes” vote will allow President Evo Morales and Vice-President Alvaro García Linera to run for reelection in 2019 for another 5 years. A “No” vote will require the ruling MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party to select a new slate in 2019. Morales, Bolivia’s longest-serving president, has just completed his first decade in office (2005–2015)—a remarkable achievement in a country which has suffered close to 200 coups. He also has the longest tenure of any incumbent Latin American president, with a current term extending to 2020. The proposed amendment would actually allow him a fourth consecutive term— 20 years in total— counting his first (2005) election, which predates the new Constitution. Morales wants 70% of Bolivian voters to ratify the amendment—though only a plurality is required—to top the 54%, 64%. and 61% mandates he received, respectively, in the 2005, 2009, and 2014 elections. He also won a 2008 “recall” vote by a landslide (67%).
Chad’s President Idriss Deby, in power for more than a quarter of a century, said on Tuesday he would reintroduce constitutional term limits if he won a fifth term in an election slated for April. His campaign promise came amid controversial moves by the leaders of some other African countries including Burundi, Rwanda and Congo Republic who have challenged constitutional term limits to maintain power. Deby seized power in a coup in 1990 and was most recently re-elected in 2011. A referendum in 2005 scrapped constitutional term limits before Deby won a disputed election the following year.
Editorials: Delayed elections in Haiti present opportunity for real change | Jacques Jonassaint/The Hill
The runoff presidential elections in Haiti, originally scheduled for Dec. 27 and then pushed to Jan. 24, have now been postponed indefinitely. A group of eight presidential candidates, supported by many other politicians and civil society groups, refused to participate in the elections due to irregularities in the first round that took place in October. As violent protests mount, Haiti’s electoral council, or CEP, determined it would be too dangerous to hold elections and canceled them without announcing a new date. This is likely for the best, as Haiti can now take the time to prepare more adequately for the elections and take steps to restore the Haitian people’s faith in the process. The United States, the U.N. and the Organization of American States (OAS) have continued to push for elections to take place as soon as possible, operating under the mantra of “bad elections are better than no elections,” but this is not wise; it is far better to have a transitional government for a short period of time than to be stuck with an illegitimate government for five years that does not reflect the will of the Haitian people.
Authorities in Uganda have stepped up harassment and intimidation of independent journalists in the run-up to this month’s election as President Yoweri Museveni seeks to extend his 30-year rule, a press freedom campaigner said on Tuesday. Robert Ssempala, national coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, (HRNJ-U), told Reuters the government was applying special pressure on journalists in rural areas on which Museveni, 71, depends for much of his support. Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers, is running against veteran opposition figure Kizza Besigye and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi on Feb. 18 in what analysts say could be his toughest challenge.