A coalition of voting rights groups on Friday sued a federal elections official who decided that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship. The 224-page complaint filed in federal court, also named in the suit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It was brought by the League of Women Voters, Project Vote, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and others. Their complaint contends the action by executive director Brian Newby will hurt voter registration drives and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote in the presidential primary elections. It seeks a court order immediately blocking the changes to the federal voter registration form. “Voters should not have to face an obstacle course to participate and vote,” Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States said in a news release.
Sometimes, prosperity can be a sign of failure. Take the $292 million pot of taxpayer dollars that politicians are refusing to touch. For years after the public fund for presidential candidates was established in 1974, the biggest worry for its minders at the Federal Election Commission was whether there would be enough money for all the candidates. Now, despite a sharp decline in the number of people participating in the $3 tax return check-off that funds the program (down from a high of 28 percent in 1977 to less than 6 percent last year), the fund has been growing steadily – because candidates don’t want the money anymore. Former president George W. Bush began the exodus from the public finance system in 2000, when he refused to take matching funds for the primaries and caucuses. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first candidate to decline public financing in the general election. This year, only one presidential contender sought and qualified for public financing: Martin O’Malley, who has already dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination. Even Bernie Sanders, who has made limiting the political influence of the wealthy a central tenet of his campaign, has no intention of taking public financing. Under questioning by NBC’s Chuck Todd at a debate in New Hampshire last week, he called the program “a disaster,” adding: “Nobody can become president based on that system.”
The case for birthright citizenship for individuals born in U.S. territories, Tuaua v. United States, could be decided by the Supreme Court. Attorneys filed a petition for writ of certiorari Monday last week requesting that the Supreme Court review the decision of a lower court denying citizenship to people born in American Samoa. “Our goal is for the Supreme Court to recognize that citizenship is a constitutional right, not a mere congressional privilege, for the millions of Americans born in U.S. territories,” Neil Weare, president and founder of We the People Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization for Americans in U.S. territories, told NBC News. In June 2015, the District of Columbia Circuit Court ruled that the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment was “ambiguous” as to whether birthright citizenship was guaranteed in overseas U.S. territories.
After a whisper-thin count left doubts about which Democratic candidate actually won the Iowa caucuses, there are fresh calls for the party to mirror the simple, secret-ballot method that Iowa Republicans use. “It’s worth discussing again, but it’s not as simple as it sounds,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a former Iowa Democratic Party executive director who, after five election cycles, is an expert on the nuts and bolts of the caucuses. Why are Democratic insiders so reluctant to update a voting system panned this week by national political observers as archaic and nonsensical? They blame New Hampshire, the state Iowa party leaders have worked with for decades to make sure Iowa retains the first-in-the-nation caucuses and New Hampshire the first primary.
More than 40,000 recently released Maryland felons will regain the right to vote in time for this year’s election. The legislature on Tuesday narrowly overturned Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill to extend voting rights to felons before they complete probation and parole. The reversal both dealt a political blow to the Republican governor, who lobbied to prevent the bill from becoming law, and set the stage for an estimated 20,000 former inmates to cast ballots in Baltimore’s primary election for mayor and City Council this spring. The issue drew passionate debate from both sides on the proper message to send former inmates rejoining society. The bill was the sixth that Hogan vetoed from last year’s General Assembly, and the sixth the Democratic-controlled legislature reinstated this year. The House of Delegates voted to override Hogan’s veto last month, and on Tuesday, the Senate voted 29-18 to overrule the governor.
North Carolina’s legal fight over its election map rapidly escalated Tuesday with the state asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case in hopes of protecting next month’s primary election. Lawyers for Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials filed the emergency request no more than an hour after a three-judge federal panel refused to delay its order from last week that found two congressional districts, including one that runs through parts of Charlotte, unconstitutional. The judges have ordered the state to redraw the boundary for the 12th and 1st Districts by the end of next week. That’s about a month from the March 15 primary. State lawyers have argued that putting a new voting map in place at this late date will throw the election into disarray. That same argument, written partially in italics to convey the state’s sense of urgency, became the centerpiece of a 183-page motion to Chief Justice John Roberts late Tuesday. “This Court should stay enforcement of the judgment immediately,” the state argued.
The smiling faces of two former prime ministers, Anicet-Georges Dologuele and Faustin-Archange Touadera, gaze out from thousands of campaign posters plastered across Central African Republic’s dusty riverside capital Bangui. The specter of a third man, exiled former ruler Francois Bozize, looms just as heavily over the presidential run-off vote on Sunday. With it comes the risk that the vote may change little if anything, no matter who wins it. Central African Republic, a majority Christian country rich in gold, uranium and diamonds but too unstable to mine them profitably, has been torn between Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian “anti-balaka” militias since the rebels ousted Bozize in early 2013. The violence has killed thousands, forced one in five residents to flee and led to de facto partition along ethnic and religious faultlines. Seleka withdrew from Bangui in 2014 and an interim president was named to lead a transition to democracy.
With only a week until national elections in Uganda, a number of human rights advocates are concerned about increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the nation’s leaders. Ugandans were shocked last month when Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura was quoted by a local newspaper saying that if the opposition wanted war, they would give crime preventers — a youth force created to supplement the police — guns. Then, not long after, the secretary-general of the ruling NRM party, Kasule Lumumba, was heard on the radio telling citizens the state will “kill your children” should they protest election results. Although both Kayihura and Lumumba say they were misquoted, many feel the official response to these statements has been inadequate.
National: Groups Decry EAC Executive Director Brian Newby Acting on Citizenship Rule | Associated Press
More than 30 advocacy groups are asking a federal elections official to withdraw changes made to a national form requiring residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. The groups sent a letter Thursday to the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, arguing the impact would be particularly significant because 2016 is a presidential election year when people typically register in greater numbers.
Read the Letter (pdf)
Political candidates have always done everything in their power to target voters. But in the current election cycle, with primary election season officially under way, technology is giving them a lot more power than before. It is at the point where privacy advocates are referring to it as “voter surveillance.” Bruce Schneier, author, blogger and CTO of Resilient Systems, wrote in his recent book “Data and Goliath” that voter surveillance data can cause “unique harms” to the political process due to, “personalized marketing’s capability to discriminate as a way to track voting patterns and better ‘sell’ a candidate or policy position.”
The House voted Wednesday to repeal the state-funded version of the presidential primary, though the move won’t affect this year’s election set for March. House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, sponsored the measure that would repeal the state-funded Presidential Preference Election and reimburse more than $6 million to counties for the costs of administering the 2016 election. The House passed House Bill 2567 on a 37-22 vote Wednesday. The proposal now moves to the Senate. If passed, the repeal would leave the fate of future versions of the Presidential Preference Election to political parties that will need to raise their own funds to hold elections.
Sebastian County is poised to test new voting equipment for the state by letting county voters use it in the March 1 primaries. The Sebastian County Election Commission and county officials unveiled Tuesday the 250 voting machines, 54 tabulators and 94 digital poll books that will be set up in the county’s 41 polling places March 1 and in three early voting sites. Early voting begins Tuesday and runs through Feb. 29. For the past 10 years, voters in Sebastian County have had the option of voting on now-obsolete electronic machines or by paper ballot, Election Commission Chairman David Damron said. Both will be replaced by equipment the Arkansas secretary of state’s office bought from Omaha, Neb.-based Electronic Systems & Software for testing in Sebastian, Boone, Columbia and Garland counties.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney proposed legislation this morning to allow online voter registration in Idaho. Nothing would change about how people vote; just how they register. “The first state that implemented it was Arizona in 2002,” he told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “I looked this morning; currently 30 states plus the District of Columbia are doing some form of online voter registration.” The proposal would include verification through the Idaho Transportation Department’s driver’s license records. “I think it’s a very secure way to do things,” Denney said. “It’s cheaper. Most states have reported savings from 80 cents to a dollar per registration from going online. About half of these registrations in these 30 states are received online.”
The Maryland State Board of Elections announced Thursday, Feb. 4, a change to how the new voting system equipment will be used during early voting for the 2016 presidential primary election. For this election, most early voters will manually make their selections on paper ballots and feed the marked ballots into a digital scanner. Voters with disabilities may use an accessible ballot marking device at each early voting center to make selections independently. With this change, the voting process during early voting will be identical to the Election Day process. … As initially designed, all voters during early voting would have used an accessible ballot-marking device to make selections. The voter would then feed into a digital scanner the ballot printed from the ballot marking device.
Michigan: Secretary Johnson backs plan to replace election equipment in governor’s budget | UP Matters
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson issued the following statement regarding the governor’s budget proposal announced today that calls for $10 million in state support to help local communities buy new election equipment: “I appreciate Governor Snyder’s commitment to upgrading our state’s aging election equipment. I look forward to working with lawmakers now to win their support for this reasonable plan, and I encourage city and township leaders to offer their support as well. Our election equipment has served us well, but we should act before we start seeing widespread equipment failures as the machines reach the end of their useful life.”
Missouri: No touch-screen voting at April 5 election in St. Louis City and County | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Because of the unusually short gap between the March 15 presidential primary and the April 5 local election, St. Louis and St. Louis County will be able to offer only optical-scan paper balloting for the second vote. Normally both optical-scan and touch-screen devices are available at polling places in the two jurisdictions. But officials with the city and county election boards say the three-week period between elections isn’t long enough to reprogram all the touch-screen machines needed for April and test them again as required by law. “There just physically isn’t time,” said Gary Stoff, Republican director for the city board. Eric Fey, Democratic director for the county board, said far fewer optical scan machines are needed because each one processes ballots cast at several voting stands. So, he said, it takes less time to replace the memory cards in all the optical scan machines than it does to replace ballot information cartridges in the touch-screen machines.
Sabbath-observing Jewish Democrats will be shut out of the party’s February 20 caucus in Nevada. The country’s third primary election is scheduled on a Saturday, at noon. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator, is considered the favorite in Nevada against her insurgent opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, party leaders said they selected the time because they thought it would be most convenient for the largest number of people. “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,” Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party, told the Review-Journal. “Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar.”
By moving up all its primaries from May to March 15, North Carolina thought it would be playing a more pivotal role in this year’s presidential election. But a recent federal court ruling invalidating two of the state’s congressional districts threatens to delay this year’s earlier-than-normal primary and upend elections in which early voting is already under way. A three-judge panel ruled on Feb. 5 that the GOP-legislature relied too heavily on race in 2011 to draw the 1st and 12th Districts. The court gave the state until Feb. 19 to draw new districts, and on Tuesday, the same court denied a request from the state to stay its decision. Lawyers for North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory took their objection to that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, filing an emergency 183-page motion to stay the lower court’s ruling. “Thousands of absentee ballots have been distributed to voters who are filling them out and returning them. Hundreds of those ballots have already been voted and returned,” the state argued.
The future of voter ID in North Carolina ultimately will be resolved by the courts. But pending lawsuits challenging its legality based on alleged racial discrimination haven’t changed the fact the photo identification mandate will begin statewide in three weeks. Starting with the early-voting period March 3, most every registered voter will have to show one of six types of qualifying IDs to cast a ballot in person, up through the March 15 primary election date. State Board of Elections director Kim Strach is confident the state’s first election under the mandate will avoid major troubles, citing training of election officials and a public relations campaign that includes radio and television ads and billboards. Voter guides are going out to more than 4 million households statewide.
North Carolina: DMV says it messed up by rejecting 86-year-old woman seeking voter ID | Charlotte News-Observer
The state DMV commissioner says his agency was wrong to turn away an 86-year-old Asheville woman who applied this week for a photo ID, which she’ll need to vote next month. “We messed that one up,” DMV Commissioner Kelly J. Thomas said in an interview. “We made a mistake. We’re going to try to correct it on Friday.” Reba Miller Bowser moved to North Carolina in 2012. Her son helped her fill out a voter registration application last weekend. He drove her to their local DMV office on Monday for the photo identity card she needs under North Carolina’s 2013 voter ID law. She carried a pile of papers, hoping to satisfy North Carolina’s lengthy documentation requirements for driver’s licenses and ID cards. “It became kind of an exciting thing to do, and we went to the DMV on Monday – and got totally deflated,” said her son, Ed Bowser. In two versions of her 1929 Pennsylvania birth certificate, she was identified as Reba Witmer Miller. She had taken her husband’s surname when they married in 1950, and the name change was reflected on her Social Security and Medicare cards and her expired New Hampshire driver’s license: Reba M. Bowser.
Just when the right to vote, so cherished and so disputed, seem entrenched around the country, a new chapter in the long-running battle to secure it has opened. That chapter is unfolding in North Carolina, which holds its presidential primaries on March 15. In a matter of weeks, a federal judge in the state will decide whether to uphold or repeal new state requirements for photo identification from citizens who want to vote. The requirements are controversial, as some see them as an effort to curb African-American and Hispanic voting participation just as these groups are becoming a larger portion of the overall voter population. No matter the outcome, the case is likely to be regarded as a harbinger of whether enfranchisement applies to every eligible citizen, or whether it can be circumscribed as it has often been in the country’s past. In recent years, more than a dozen states, including Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin, have adopted new voter identification laws. And Florida and Ohio have curbed early voting.
Ohio is on sound constitutional ground in placing judicial candidates on general election ballots without party labels, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. The ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati dealt a blow to the Ohio Democratic Party and labor organizations that sought to do away with the state’s system of having judicial candidates run with their party affiliation in the primary election, but without it in the general election. “While the plaintiffs argue that Ohio’s electoral system burdens their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the burden is minimal and is outweighed by Ohio’s interest in minimizing partisanship in judicial elections,” wrote Judge John M. Rogers on behalf of a panel of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one Democratic appointee.
Newly introduced legislation seeks to reduce the influence of nomadic recreational-vehicle owners on South Dakota elections. State Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, last week introduced a bill that would essentially forbid the use of a mail-forwarding service as an address for voter registration. “It’s intended to make sure that people that vote in our elections here have at least some connection to South Dakota,” Tieszen said in a recent Journal interview, “and to make sure those people who do not have a connection to South Dakota do not participate in our elections.” The bill targets nomadic recreational-vehicle owners, known as RVers, and others who use mail-forwarding services such as Americas Mailbox near Rapid City, whose address is listed by nearly 3,500 registered voters. Those voters do not actually live at the address but pay the business to help them establish a postal address, forward their mail and sometimes assist with other things including driver licensing, vehicle registration and concealed-weapon permitting.
Controversial changes to voting rules in the Northern Territory have passed Parliament, less than six months before Territorians head to the polls. The changes, which the Opposition Labor Party says are a ploy by the ruling Country Liberals Party (CLP) to remain in power, have seen the introduction of optional preferential voting. Optional preferential voting means voters can number as few as a single box when voting, instead of filling out all preferences. Chief Minister Adam Giles told Parliament this would help combat the high rate of informal votes in remote areas.
Whanganui is getting too committed to being part of a costly online voting trial, according to councillor Rob Vinsen. Mr Vinsen has been a staunch opponent of Whanganui District Council being part of the test, which could happen in this October’s local body elections. While no final decision has been made, the council has put its hat into the ring and been shortlisted as one of eight local authorities to conduct the trial. The Government is expected to announce within days if the trial will go ahead and which councils will take part. Mr Vinsen said mayor Annette Main had given an assurance that councillors would get the chance to vote whether or not to be involved, but he was alarmed to read in the Manawatu Standard that the Palmerston North City Council believes Whanganui is committed to this trial. He said many of his council colleagues saw it as a waste of $75,000, which is the expected cost of the online voting trial.
Charlot Salwai was yesterday elected the new prime minister of Vanuatu following a snap election sparked by a corruption scandal. Mr Salwai, from the Reunification of Movements for Change party, was announced as leader some three weeks after more than 200,000 voters went to the polls. It followed parliament being dissolved in November by President Baldwin Lonsdale when 14 MPs were jailed for bribery. There are 52 members of parliament. The political breakdown came after a period of instability, with four changes of prime minister in the past four years.
With exactly a week to the general election, a Court of Appeal judge has queried what he called a ‘broader’ test for the Supreme Court to annul any contested presidential election. Justice Remmy Kasule wondered why the Parliamentary Elections Act allows court to annul a parliamentary election on a lower test of ‘balance of probabilities’ yet the test of annulling a presidential election has to be to the ‘satisfaction’ of the court, meaning the standard of proof is higher. Alluding to the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections case, Justice Kasule quoted retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki and some other justices who held that the then aggrieved candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, had not proved his case to the satisfaction of the court.