The state-by-state push to enact automatic voter registration laws is nearing a tipping point. Or so its supporters hope. Oregon began proactively adding unregistered citizens to its rolls last month. California will soon follow suit under a state law signed last year. Serious efforts to enact similar proposals through legislative action or citizen ballot initiatives are underway in several other states, including Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio. The drive has won endorsements in the last year from President Obama and both Democrats running to succeed him in the White House. Those are all indisputable signs of momentum for an idea now at the core of advocacy efforts to expand access to the ballot box—that state governments should make it easier to vote by simply registering their eligible citizens, rather than forcing them to do it themselves. Yet while the campaign has gained steam, it has also cleaved along party lines in a way that threatens to turn automatic registration into one more partisan flashpoint in the battle over voting laws. “I have met many Democrats that are convinced that Republican are trying to keep their party from voting, and I’ve met many Republicans that are convinced that Democrats are cheating,” said Kim Wyman, the top elections official in Washington state. “And it’s really hard to convince either side otherwise.”
Has there ever been an election like this one? The 2016 race is ferocious, rude, ugly, with parties and coalitions fracturing before our eyes. It’s also the first contest in years where public anger is trained on how government works and not just what it does. The state of democracy is on the ballot. Bernie Sanders denounces the “billionaire class” and demands campaign finance reform. Donald Trump snarls, “Washington is broken” and brags that as a self-funder, he cannot be bought. Hillary Clinton, more muted, rolls out detailed plans for campaign finance changes and automatic voter registration. To add to the intensity, the looming Supreme Court nomination fight will tap public anger over Citizens United, the Court’s most reviled recent decision. All just two years after an election in which voter turnout plunged to its lowest level in seven decades.
North Carolina’s updated congressional districts — redrawn by legislators after federal judges ruled some lines created illegal racial gerrymanders — also are unconstitutional and should be rejected, according to the voters who originally sued to overturn them. Lawyers for David Harris and Christine Bowers — voters who challenged the previous majority black 1st and 12th District boundaries — filed in federal court their objections to boundaries drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly on Feb. 19. They also want the judges to draw new maps themselves. For the map originally drawn in 2011, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued the GOP mapmakers previously packed black voters into the two districts so as to make surrounding areas more white and Republican.
During the last election, Peggy Phillips would have had to drive four hours, round-trip, from her home on the Navajo reservation to the predominantly white city of Monticello to cast her vote in person. That’s because San Juan County had closed all of its polling places and switched to a mail-only voting system ahead of the 2014 general election. But Phillips never received her ballot in the mail in time. Even if she had, she isn’t comfortable voting in English and would have needed help from a translator, since there are usually words on the ballot she doesn’t understand, according to a federal lawsuit she has joined against the county for violating the Voting Rights Act. Phillips was unable to vote that year. Now, she’s one of seven people, along with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, suing San Juan County for violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Their lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court of Utah, claiming that the new voting system “unreasonably hindered” Navajo citizens’ ability to vote on equal terms with white voters. If left unchanged, “these practices will continue to do so in the 2016 election cycle and beyond,” the lawsuit reads.
Social scientists testified for the defense Wednesday in the last day of a trial over the state’s voter identification law, attesting that they could not definitively say that the law was intended to blunt the influence of minority voters. A lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party of Virginia and two voters contends that the law that went into effect in 2013 was enacted by the Republican-controlled state legislature to suppress votes from minorities and youth who are more likely than other voters to support Democrats and tend to be less likely to have a valid photo ID. After the last witness in the more than weeklong trial in Richmond finished testifying Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson directed lawyers for the plaintiffs and the defendants — the Virginia State Board of Elections, the Virginia Department of Elections and officials from those offices — to file memorandums in lieu of making closing arguments. The memos are due March 25 and the rebuttals a week after.
Ireland’s newly elected lawmakers were settling in for a protracted period of negotiations over the formation of a new government Tuesday, as the counting of votes cast Friday was wrapping up. The new legislature, which is known as Dáil Éireann, will meet for the first time on March 10, though there are few signs that a government would be in place by then, or in subsequent weeks. While a number of alignments between parties and independent lawmakers are possible, none seems easy to arrange as long as the two large center-right groupings—Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil—remain reluctant to work together. A second election is possible, though most parties will seek to avoid a contest this year to gain time to rebuild their war chests.
Ten weeks after a general election produced an unprecedented deadlock in parliament, efforts to form a government in Spain are entering a critical phase. Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez will start the countdown to a fresh ballot when he asks lawmakers to let him lead the next government in a vote on Wednesday. The legislature will then have another two months to find a prime minister before a new election is triggered. With just 90 lawmakers in the 350-seat chamber, and another 40 from his pro-market ally Ciudadanos, he’s almost certain to be rejected at the first attempt. Still, Sanchez is betting that his attempts to find a way out of the impasse will win him credit with voters and put pressure on Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party and anti-austerity group Podemos to drop their opposition. Sanchez aims to make the PP and Podemos look like obstacles to the Socialists’ efforts to take the country forward, according to Kiko Llaneras, a Madrid-based polling analyst at the research group Politikon. “Nobody wants to go to elections but if it has to happen everyone wants to go with the best possible political message,” said Llaneras. “The polls after the confidence votes will be a key test.”
Campaign-finance reform advocates hold out zero hope that the current Congress will overhaul the rules, but they have nevertheless unveiled a plan that sketches out their ideal vision for tightening up federal election law enforcement. On Tuesday, Senator Tom Udall, of New Mexico, introduced a bill that would kill the Federal Election Commission and replace it with a new agency that is “empowered to crack down on campaign finance violations,” according to a statement. A cadre of pro-reform advocacy groups is now calling on other senators to support the legislation, dubbed the Federal Election Administration Act. “The Federal Election Commission is a failed, dysfunctional agency that does not enforce or properly interpret the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the groups wrote in a letter to U.S. senators this week. “As a result, campaigns, political operatives, parties and independent spenders know they can operate with impunity and without consequences for campaign-finance violations. This has created the modern political equivalent of the Wild West without a sheriff.”
The first presidential election in more than half a century without the protections of the Voting Rights Act kicks into even higher gear over the next 12 days. And voters in several of the states with upcoming contests could face barriers to the polls. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio are all among the states that hold primaries or caucuses between Saturday and March 15, and all have new voting restrictions in place. Nominating contests tend to attract fewer voters, and a more engaged crowd, than the general election, so the immediate impact may be limited. But what happens could offer warning signs about problems that could arise on a much larger scale in November. Already, voting restrictions and administrative snafus in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, among other states, appear to have disenfranchised would-be voters.
Ted Cruz, tagged as “Canadian” by a needling Donald Trump since the GOP race tightened in January, rejects any idea of being ineligible to be U.S. president. While Trump hasn’t followed up on his threat to sue Calgary-born Cruz over what he says is the Texas senator not meeting the constitutional requirement of being a “natural-born citizen,” plenty of other people have. Trump has warned that Democrats will disrupt the electoral process by suing if Cruz is the nominee. And that’s caused Cruz a bit of trouble. He has had to lawyer up to fight the more than half-dozen lawsuits around the country, some in federal court, some in state court. A Cook County, Ill., judge tossed one of the suits Tuesday, not over the citizenship issue but over a technicality of how the papers were served.
Editorials: America should make room for third-party candidates | Peter Ackerman and Larry Diamond/The Washington Post
The prospect of a White House run by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has reignited a critical debate about whether it’s possible for an independent to be elected president of the United States. Consider this paradox: Two of the leading 2016 presidential candidates — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — have no history of loyalty to either major party. Yet both decided to run in the party primaries — Trump as a Republican, Sanders as a Democrat — while pledging to support their the party’s winner should they not win the nomination. That these two very different candidates came to similar conclusions helps illustrate why there is so much dissatisfaction with our nation’s political system. As billionaires, people such as Trump and Bloomberg can self-fund an independent campaign, but without adequate liquid resources, all other qualified candidates have no way to mount a serious bid for the U.S. presidency outside the two major parties. This is the product of collusion between operatives from the Democratic and Republican parties who, through the design of hidden rules, jealously guard their duopoly.
Although absentee ballots are still arriving from overseas and provisional ballots are still being verified, for voters, depending on where they lived and which party they voted for, Super Tuesday, was indeed super in some places, in others, it was just meh. And for elections officials, who no doubt think every election is super, Tuesday’s contests in the nine states holding primaries (Alaska-GOP, America Samoa-Dems, Colorado and Minnesota all held caucuses), were a mixed bag as well with some jurisdictions registering few if any problems and others being forced to apologize for long lines and delayed results.
A House committee rejected a measure Wednesday to require Coloradans to show a picture identification card if they are registering to vote immediately before an election. Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who introduced HB1111, said it makes sense to require photo IDs to guard against anyone from fraudulently casting a ballot, especially that close to an election. But opponents of the idea, which has been a controversial one nationwide, said such a requirement only serves to turn people away from the polls because not everyone has a photo identification card, and oftentimes it takes some time to get one.
Days into the 2016 legislative session, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan named redistricting reform as one of his top priorities, saying that Maryland is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Thursday, his bill to accomplish that goal was scrutinized by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. The bill, sponsored by House and Senate leadership at the request of the governor, requires an amendment to the Maryland Constitution and the creation of a commission to draw up new General Assembly and Congressional districts. General Assembly districts would be equally divided among population, with no more than a 2 percent change in population in any district, under the bill.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would require Mississippi politicians to itemize campaign spending done with a credit card instead of just listing a lump-sum payment to the card company as many have been doing for years on their public reports. But the chances of further campaign-finance reform appear slim for this legislative session. A continuing Clarion-Ledger special report, “Public Office/Private Gain,” has shown Mississippi politicians spend campaign money on clothes, groceries, trips out of state, cars, apartments, home improvements, payments to their own companies and to themselves and many other personal expenses prohibited in other states and in federal campaigns. For many, campaign accounts appear to have become a second income, funded by lobbyists and special interests doing business with the state.
Mississippi voters could register online and vote in person ahead of elections under a bill moving forward in the Legislature. House members voted Thursday to pass three bills that would rewrite Mississippi’s election laws, a proposal pushed by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. The package moves to the Senate for more work. Similar Senate legislation died when the body didn’t take it up Thursday before a deadline for actio
On March 3, a new Draft Electoral Code of Armenia was adopted at a cabinet sitting by the Armenian Government. Chief of Armenian Government Staff Davit Harutyunyan presented the Draft and announced that the final version of the document will be prepared through active political debates to be conducted until June 1. “The focus of the key discussions should be transferred to the political field, and for that reason some discussions are proposed to be held at the National Assembly. The adoption of the Code signals the launch of public discussion phase to be held at the National Assembly,” Harutyunyan sajd. Two major innovations were introduced into the new Code. One provision states that the Head of local self-government bodies in Gyumri, Vanadzor communities shall be elected directly by electors like in Yerevan City. “This is the first step and I think the list will expand and we will move toward strengthening of the role of political forces in the communities,” Harutyunyan added.
Canada: Financial fears prompt Halifax to seek back-up for electronic voting in 2016 elections | Metro News
Halifax Regional Municipality is looking for a back-up company to handle telephone and electronic voting in the next municipal election after fears that the company that holds the contract is financially unstable. A tender posted online Thursday seeks bids from companies that could administer telephone and e-voting for October’s 2016 municipal and school board elections, and any special elections after that till April 2020. But the winning bidder’s services will only be needed if the company that already has a standing offer — Dartmouth-based Intelivote — is unable to do the job.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved a new list of the Central Election Commission (CEC) members which did not include the commission’s current chairman Vladimir Churov, the RBC news agency reported Thursday. The decree was posted Thursday by the Kremlin press service and appointed five members — Alexander Kanev, Vasily Likhachev, Ella Pamfilova, Yevgeny Shevchenko, Boris Ebzeev — to the commission. Churov’s position will most likely be given to human rights ombudswoman Ella Pamfilova, according to several unidentified sources of the TASS news agency, RBC reported.
Serbia’s government asked the president on Thursday to dissolve parliament and call an early election after Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he needed a fresh mandate to pursue reforms and complete talks on joining the European Union. President Tomislav Nikolic is expected to set the parliamentary election for April 24, two years after the last poll. The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is well ahead in opinion polls, putting Vucic on track to win a second term. Once an ultra-nationalist disciple of the “Greater Serbia” ideology that fueled the wars of federal Yugoslavia’s bloody disintegration in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European modernizer.