Civil rights leaders who marched from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965 received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, the highest civilian honor awarded by the US Congress. The honor was accepted by Reverend Frederick D Reese, one of the march’s organizers. It was a triumphant, if frustrated, ceremony, as some of the same congressional leaders who awarded the medal had also failed to pass a renewed voting rights act, after the US supreme court’s recent dismantling of key legislation from 1965. “I am certainly honored to be able to stand here and look into such beautiful faces and recall how good God has been, because he is a good God,” said Reese, when he took the podium. “He brought us from nowhere to somewhere, allowed us to receive the great blessing that this great nation has to offer, and to stand here today to say, ‘Thank you!’” But not at everyone was jubilant. The award was prefaced with a press conference, which called for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
A federal judge has turned down a request to block a federal official’s move allowing three states to enforce proof-of-citizenship requirements for people attempting to register as voters. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon declined to issue the temporary restraining order civil rights and voting rights groups sought to block approval of changes the states of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia obtained recently to a federal form that can be used in lieu of state voter registration applications. “Given that the registration deadlines for the Alabama and Georgia primaries and for the Kansas Republican Caucus had already passed at the time this TRO motion was filed…and that the effects of [the federal] actions on the ongoing registration process for the Kansas Democratic Caucus and plaintiffs’ rights and efforts thereto are uncertain at best, plaintiffs have not demonstrated they will suffer irreparable harm before the hearing on their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” Leon wrote in a four-page order issued Tuesday afternoon.
This article was originally published in Communications of the ACM on February 24, 2016.
California, home of an underabundance of rain and an overabundance of ballot initiatives, may be confronted with one or two initiatives on this November’s ballot that, if passed by the voters, will mandate the establishment of Internet voting in the state.
A total of three such initiatives are under consideration so far. The first, poorly written and probably a long shot, represents one of the hazards of the initiative process: anyone can pay the fees and submit any crazy idea for a new law. But the other two are closely related, with the same sponsor and largely identical content. We expect only one of those two will go forward. Since they represent the most significant concern, for the rest of this blog we discuss only them.
The two initiatives, numbered 15-0117 and 15-0118, can be found at the CA Attorney General’s site. They are carefully drafted to avoid ever using the terms “Internet voting” or “online voting” or “email” or “web,” etc. Instead, they refer throughout to “secure electronic submission of vote by mail ballots.” Presumably, this is in part because the computer and elections security communities have managed to give “Internet voting” a bad name.
District of Columbia: Why D.C.’s troubled election board couldn’t get a grip on its finances | The Washington Post
The acting chair of the District’s troubled Board of Elections told the D.C. Council that she had no idea her agency had federal funds to spend on new voting equipment — even as it sought city money for that purpose — because board members are only “volunteers.” In fact, the federal government gave the District $18 million to upgrade its election process, and the board spent nearly $15 million of it, according to expenditure reports filed with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. But acting chair Deborah Nichols told the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee that board members asked for city funds for voting machines at the same time her agency spent millions of federal dollars on other election-related needs because they were in the dark about finances. She said board members “are not even considered part-time” and rely on the agency’s executive director for information.
A bill to require photo ID at the polls passed one last test Wednesday before heading to the Senate floor — where St. Louis Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat, has vowed to lead a filibuster to stop it. The Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee unanimously approved the bill, though its two Democratic members were absent. It would cost an estimated $16.6 million to advertise the new law and pay for the IDs and underlying source documents needed to acquire them. The Missouri Secretary of State’s office estimates that about 225,000 Missourians are registered to vote but don’t have a photo ID. This year’s proposal comes in two parts. The first would put the question on the ballot in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. If passed, another bill that needs to win passage of its own would dictate how the law would be enforced.
Nevada: Hijinks, Confusion and Allegations of Voter Fraud Dominate Republican Caucuses in Nevada | VICE News
Donald Trump has won the Nevada caucuses, but not without a lot of headaches for voters and overwhelmed caucus chairs. Massive crowds, volunteer captains who failed to show up, and alleged double-voting lent a circus-like atmosphere to some of the caucus locations Tuesday night and will potentially undermine Nevada’s results. Richard Schlueter, who balloted for Trump on Tuesday, said that when he arrived at Palo Verde High School in east Las Vegas to vote the crowd was still so dense he had trouble finding the table that had been set up to accept and count ballots. Once he finally located it, Schlueter discovered that the precinct captain who was supposed to be in charge hadn’t turned up and that “some lady” had assumed the seat instead and began checking the IDs of voters who crowded around the table. “This caucus is a chaotic thing,” said Schlueter, a retired nuclear submarine engineer. “We don’t know who’s who, who’s voting for what. Some precinct captains are very good and very serious about their precincts, but mine didn’t even bother to show.”
Critics of the congressional redistricting process that took place in 2011, and who successfully sued to overturn it on the basis of racial gerrymandering, on Monday filed a brief in federal court saying they don’t like the new map, either. The plaintiffs asked the three-judge panel of the federal court that ordered the map redrawn to establish an expedited schedule to determine if the new map, approved by the General Assembly on Friday, is valid under constitutional considerations. They ask that the court make that determination by March 18. “The map adopted by the General Assembly has been subject to considerable criticism, and plaintiffs share those deep concerns,” the brief they filed Monday says. “Their preliminary analysis of the new plan suggests that it is no more appropriate than the version struck down by the court. It is critical that the citizens of North Carolina vote in constitutional districts in the upcoming primary, now scheduled for June, and every election thereafter.”
A Virginia law requiring voters to show photo identification went on trial in federal court on Monday, challenged by Democratic Party activists who allege it throws up barriers to voting by minorities and the poor. Lawyers defending the 2013 Virginia law said it prevented voter fraud. The trial in U.S. District Court is one of several voting rights legal battles as Democrats and Republicans square off before November’s presidential and congressional elections. The Democratic Party of Virginia and two party activists are suing the Virginia State Board of Elections and want Judge Henry Hudson to strike down the law.
Iran: Early Results Show Reformists and Moderates Drawing Votes in Iran Elections | The New York Times
Preliminary results released Saturday in Iran indicated that reformist and moderate candidates were set to expand their influence after two important elections, state news media quoted the Interior Ministry as saying. More than 30 million Iranians voted Friday in the two elections, one for a new Parliament and the other for an influential clerical council. The elections were the first since the completion of an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program that included the lifting of economic sanctions against the country, a deal supported by the reformist camp and opposed by hard-liners. Voter turnout for the two contests exceeded 60 percent, according to the Interior Ministry. The reformist and moderate list of candidates for the 290-member Parliament appeared to be headed for victory in the Tehran area, according to preliminary results announced by election officials and reported by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran News Network. Representatives from Tehran, the capital, control 30 seats in Parliament and generally determine the political direction of the body.
A government in Ireland is unlikely to be formed in time for the annual St Patrick’s Day meeting of Irish premier and US president in Washington DC, with the Republic’s election on course to produce a hung parliament. Fine Gael, the main party in the outgoing coalition, is set to lose up to 20 seats as voters wreaked revenge on its coalition government with Labour that brought in austerity measures. Ireland has been fighting to plug the gap in the nation’s finances and meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund, which had bailed it out from bankruptcy. Its economy has the current highest growth rate in the EU (7%) and falling unemployment. Former Labour leader and ex-deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, said his party’s disastrous performance – down from 33 seats in the 2011 election to under 10 – was a result of it being prepared to take hard decisions during its time in office.
Switzerland votes in a referendum Sunday on whether foreigner citizens who commit two minor offences, like traffic violations, in the space of 10 years should be automatically deported. Switzerland faces ‘difficult talks’ with EU after immigration referendum. The referendum asks whether any foreign national found guilty of two lower-level infractions, including fighting, money laundering, giving false testimony and indecent exposure, should be expelled. The vote comes at a time when many European countries are hardening their attitudes to migrants after more than a million arrived on the continent last year. A quarter of the people living in Switzerland have a foreign passport, the majority of them from European countries.
National: It’s a Presidential Election Year: Do You Know Where Your Voter Records Are? | The Canvass
One of the secrets of the election world is how readily available voter data can be—and it’s been making headlines lately. In late 2015, information such as name, address, party, and voting history relating to approximately 191 million voters was published online. And recently, the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz came under fire for a mailer in Iowa that used voter data to assign grades to voters and compared them to neighbors to motivate turnout. Voter records have always been public information, but now it’s being used in new ways. Here are some key facts you need to know about the privacy (or lack of privacy) of voter information. All 50 states and the District of Columbia provide access to voter information, according to the U.S. Elections Projectrun by Dr. Michael McDonald at the University of Florida; but as with everything related to elections there are 51 different variations on what information is provided, who can access it, and how much it costs to get it.
Republican congressional leaders joined with their Democratic colleagues this week in a rare show of bipartisan unity to present the Congressional Gold Medal — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to the “foot soldiers” who took part in historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965 demanding voting rights for black Americans. Those nonviolent protests and the official violence that met them helped secure passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, a landmark law banning racial discrimination in elections. But that law was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling in a case out of Alabama, a decision that effectively ended the requirement that states with a history of voter discrimination — mostly in the South — get Department of Justice preclearance for changes to election laws. Now two bills have been introduced in Congress to restore that provision of the Voting Rights Act — but they’re being blocked by some of the same Republican leaders who helped honor the voting rights marchers.
National: Civil rights groups concerned restrictive laws will keep minorities from casting votes | Associated Press
With less than a week to go before “Super Tuesday,” a coalition of civil rights groups is working to make sure that everyone eligible can cast a vote. Election Protection, which represents more than 100 civil rights organizations across the U.S., is concerned with the recent surge of restrictive voting laws in some states following the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a Voting Rights Act provision. “We’ve come to see a lot of stress when it comes to accessing the ballot box,” Kristen Clarke, the executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a conference call Wednesday. “This is the first election in 40 years without the Voting Rights Act.”
State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give some Hawaii felons and prisoners the right to vote. Supporters say the loss of voting rights disproportionately affects minorities, who often experience higher rates of incarceration. They say losing the right to vote undermines the democratic process. “It makes a lot of sense when you think why people commit crimes in the first place,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the bill. “They feel like they’re not a part of the system.”
Opponents say people who commit serious crimes may not be trustworthy, and losing the right to vote is an added punishment.
A Maryland Senate committee recently heard testimony on automatic voter registration, a reform that would register eligible citizens to vote when they do business with the Motor Vehicle Administration and certain social services agencies. Proponents say Maryland could dramatically boost its registration rate by half a million people. If Maryland enacts automatic registration, it would become the first state to extend the reform beyond offices that issue driver’s licenses. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Roger Manno (SB 350) and Del. Eric Luedtke (HB 1007), would put the responsibility on the government to sign up eligible individuals unless they opt out. A hearing on the House bill is set for March 3 in the Ways and Means Committee. Maryland would be at the forefront of a growing trend: overall, legislators in 25 states as well as the District of Columbia have similar legislation pending. Last year, Oregon and California became the first two states in the country to enact this reform.
Mississippi’s top elections official said Thursday that he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a state court order telling him to add another candidate to the March 8 Democratic presidential primary ballot. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he intends to file his appeal with the nation’s highest court Friday and he did not know whether it would receive rapid consideration. The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Hosemann to list Chicago businessman Willie Wilson as a Democratic presidential primary candidate. Justices overturned the state Democratic Party’s rejection of Wilson’s petition to run. They also overturned a trial court judge’s decision that had supported the party’s decision.
In 2008, for the first time in 44 years, red-state Nebraska awarded one of its Electoral College votes to the Democratic presidential candidate, and aghast Republican Party leaders decided they wouldn’t let it happen again. They redrew the state’s political lines so the congressional district that favored Barack Obama and included the state’s largest black community would take in more Republican voters. Then they pushed the change through the Legislature despite Democrats’ complaints. The doctoring worked: When Obama ran for re-election, the new district went to Republican Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin. In most states, that would be the end of the story — a naked but predictable case of gerrymandering for political advantage. But in Nebraska, a state with a different slant on partisanship, the episode didn’t sit well.
What a mess in North Carolina.” That’s a direct quote from Richard L. Hasen, a law professor and voting-rights expert. But you certainly don’t have to be an expert to know that, less than a month before the March 15 election, the state’s congressional-elections process is, at best, veiled in uncertainty. Here’s what we know: After the 2010 Census, the N.C. General Assembly redrew the state’s congressional districts, passing the new plan in 2011. In 2013, several state residents filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. Board of Elections alleging that congressional Districts 1 and 12 had been drawn in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. On Feb. 5, a three-judge panel from U.S. District Court sided with the plaintiffs. The ruling said that in drawing the districts, there was “strong evidence that race was the only non-negotiable criterion and that traditional redistricting principles were subordinated to race.”
The Utah Senate passed a resolution Wednesday that calls upon Congress to repeal the 17th Amendment, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Such a proposal would result in U.S. senators being appointed by state legislatures instead of being elected by popular vote. The 17th Amendment, allowing for the popular election of U.S. senators, was passed in 1913. According to the language of SJR2, this “resulted in the increased power of the federal government over the individual states.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Alvin Jackson, R-Highland, told the Tribune, “This is about restoring power back to the states.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia and two other plaintiffs may wrap up their case today challenging Virginia’s 2013 law requiring photo voter identification as an attempt to curb minority voting.
Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University and author of “White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement,” testified Thursday that he concludes after study that the intent of the Virginia law was discriminatory. Among other things, Lichtman said the white share of the voting electorate in the state steadily declined in the 10 years leading up to the 2012 election when Democrats, for the first time since 1948, won consecutive presidential elections in Virginia. The Republican base in Virginia is heavily white, while the Democrats count heavily on African-Americans and other minorities and things are trending against the Republicans, said Lichtman, who has testified in more than 80 voting rights cases, at times for Republicans. “It’s race — this is the most fundamental divide politically. That’s what really matters between Republicans and Democrats,” he said.
The first announced appointee to a new state elections commission is an attorney specializing in injury and election law: Ann S. Jacobs of Milwaukee. Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse announced the appointment Wednesday. The new elections commission is poised to assume some of the duties of the Government Accountability Board, which is on course to be abolished by a newly enacted law. Jacobs is founder of Jacobs Injury Law in Milwaukee, according to her LinkedIn page. Jacobs also has a background in election law, according to her resume, provided to the Wisconsin State Journal by Shilling’s office. She is training director for Wisconsin Election Protection, a voting rights group, and has lectured and written articles on election law for the state and Milwaukee bar associations.
Nineteen of the 25 candidates in the presidential elections in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros on Thursday challenged the results of the weekend vote and demanded a recount. The candidates threatened to block the election run-off if their demands for new counting are not met. “We need to conduct a re-count,” Ibrahima Hissani, spokesman for the 19 dissenters, told a new conference. “There will be no second round before the recount.” Among those disputing the results is a former president, Colonel Azali Assoumani, who came third in Sunday’s vote and has secured a place in the second round due in April.
Iranians headed to the polls Friday in national elections that conservatives are once again expected to dominate parliament and other government bodies, constraining the ability of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s pragmatist president, to push through reforms. The election once had the potential to be pivotal until almost every would-be candidate advocating reform was barred from running. But with only a limited number of moderates and reformers on the ballot, analysts say the election is unlikely to foreshadow a history-making moment of change in Iran. The election — the first since a nuclear deal lifted most of the international sanctions that had hobbled economic growth — is being closely watched nevertheless. “Our enemies have their covetous eyes trained on Iran,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, according to state TV. “People are advised to vote with discretion and foresight and disappoint the enemies.”
Politicians issued their final appeals for support Thursday on the eve of Ireland’s election, a contest that could produce a hung parliament and political instability in Europe’s main success story for austerity. Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton shared a pot of tea at a Dublin restaurant as they asked voters to keep their 5-year-old coalition government intact. Polls consistently suggest they’ll lose their majority position in parliament and will need more allies to remain in office. Kenny and Burton have struggled during the past three weeks of door-to-door campaigning to win credit for Ireland’s unexpectedly rapid rebound from a 2010 international bailout, the crisis that brought them to power five years ago.
Jamaica’s opposition narrowly won a general election on Thursday, with its message of deep tax cuts and massive job creation winning over voters weary of years of tough IMF-mandated austerity measures. The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) led by Andrew Holness had won 33 of the 63 seats with almost all votes counted, according to the electoral council website. Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller’s party took 30 seats. The sound of airhorns filled the JLP’s headquarters in Kingston as a jubilant crowd of supporters in the party’s signature green waved flags and partied to dancehall music, including a song called “Bye bye Portia, bye bye”.
A European Union mission urged Uganda on Thursday to release detailed results from last week’s presidential election, which extended President Yoweri Museveni’s 30-year rule but which the opposition has called fraudulent. Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared Museveni, 71 and in power since 1986, the winner of the Feb. 18 vote with about 60 percent of the vote. The EU’s Election Observation Mission statement was released soon after an aide to Kizza Besigye, the main challenger, said Besigye had been arrested for the sixth time in about a week. Besigye, who challenged Museveni in three previous elections, was also blocked from leaving his house on Wednesday, when local elections were held across Uganda. Human rights groups say they have been blocked from meeting with him.