National: The U.S. has ‘worst elections of any long-established democracy,’ report finds | The Washington Post

What do Argentina, Costa Rica and Brazil have in common? They all outranked the United States in a comparison of election standards and procedures conducted by the Electoral Integrity Project. The United States ranked 47th worldwide, out of 139 countries. The survey is a measure of dozens of factors, including voter registration, campaign financing rules, election laws, the voting process and vote count. Overall, one in six elections around the world were considered electoral failures. But in general, countries in the Americas and central and eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, were considered to be on the winning side in terms of electoral integrity, with Scandinavian and Western European nations topping the lists. The report was particularly critical of nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Even amid those already low standards, Ethiopia stood out, according to the report. Last May, the country’s ruling party won all seats in parliament “following harassment of opposition parties, censorship of the media and repression of human rights.”

National: U.S. states giving more ex-felons voting rights back | Reuters

Baltimore community organizer Perry Hopkins, 55, is looking forward to stepping into a voting booth for the first time in his life this election season. Hopkins lost his never-exercised right to vote when he was convicted for drug and other offenses. He gained it back last month when Maryland joined a growing list of U.S. states making it easier for ex-convicts to vote. “To have the right to vote now is empowering. I’m stoked,” said Hopkins, who spent a total of 19 years in prison for non-violent crimes, and was one of 40,000 in the state to regain his right to vote from a legislative action. “I plan to vote in every election possible. I’m voting for mayor, I’m voting for city councilman in my district, and, yes, I’m voting for president,” said Hopkins. He hopes to vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Nov. 8. Hopkins is among some 800,000 Americans who have regained the right to vote in the last two decades as about two dozen states have eased restrictions on felons casting ballots, according to the Sentencing Project, a prison reform advocacy group.

Editorials: There’s no good reason voting remains so inaccessible for so many Americans | Cindy Casares/The Guardian

President Barack Obama has said that the reason Texas doesn’t allow online voter registration isn’t because of security issues, but because state elected officials don’t want more people involved in the election process. “It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in a Democracy and that is for you to select who is going to represent you in government,” the president said at SXSW. “It’s done because the folks who are currently governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate.” It’s true. There’s simply no good reason, in this day and age, for us not to be utilizing web technology to make voting accessible to as many eligible Americans as possible – especially in a state like Texas, where voter turnout rate is abysmal. So far, Texas has the second lowest voter turnout during the presidential primary season, with just 21.5% of Texas residents 18 years or older showing up at the polls. And that’s our best turnout yet! (Louisiana has the worst turnout rate this season so far, with just 18% voter participation.)

Alabama: Irregularity prompts Dale County to change voting machine process | Dothan Eagle

Cities and towns in Dale County that believed they rented voting machines from the Dale County Commission for past elections were actually renting those machines from a former county employee, Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship said Tuesday. Blankenship said he will send letters to municipalities in the county addressing changes on how to obtain voting machines for upcoming elections after confusion over how the process was handled before. For the municipal elections this summer, Blankenship said the municipalities will be able to rent the machines from Election Systems & Software (ES & S). The county obtains its machines from ES&S as well. Blankenship said the decision came after discovering that in years past, a former county employee who had access to the county’s voting machines would take vacation from the county job in order to operate a company called Voting Machines Technology, in which municipalities were billed between $200 and $500 for use of the county’s voting machines.

Arizona: Phoenix official backtracks after blaming voters for lines | Associated Press

Bruce Weiss stewed after waiting 2½ hours in line outside a downtown Phoenix polling place, where juice drinks, snacks and circus animal cookies were handed out by citizens hoping to pacify thousands who turned out to cast ballots in Arizona’s presidential primary. The scene was repeated Tuesday as thousands stood in lines that wrapped around sidewalks at churches, community centers and government buildings after the number of places to vote were cut back as a cost-savings measure. Some voters took shelter from the sun under umbrellas. Others brought lawn chairs. Still others gave up and went home. The last voters entered polling spots after midnight. “It’s like a complete, total failure of government,” Weiss said. Waits dragged on as long as five hours in Maricopa County — home to metro Phoenix and 1.2 million voters eligible to cast ballots — but where only 60 polling places were open. By Wednesday, the mayor of Phoenix said the cutbacks were about more than saving money. Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called for a federal investigation into whether election officials illegally put fewer polling locations in poor or minority-heavy areas.

Arizona: Native Americans Struggle To Overcome Barriers Ahead Of Arizona Elections | International Business Times

The Navajo Nation reservation, the largest concentrated population of American Indians in the United States, is tucked into Arizona’s northwest corner. Stretching across 27,000 square miles of mesas, shrubs and sand, the reservation is largely rural, often without internet access, paved roads or street signs. Employment and education rates are far below the national average, and very few people own vehicles. If residents on the reservation ever need to drive to their county seat — say, to register to vote or to cast an early-voting ballot — the journey could easily take them four hours. Ahead of Arizona’s primary on Tuesday, Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have sought to reach out to Native communities and mention Native issues on the campaign trail. This year marks the first presidential election since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of voting discrimination to get pre-approval for new voting laws. While much of the national conversation has been focused on Southern states and laws affecting African-American and Hispanic voters, Native Americans in places like Arizona also are affected by policies that discourage them from voting, which have resulted in some of the lowest voter participation rates of any demographic group in the country.

Missouri: Senate Democrats hope for compromise on voter photo ID proposal | Missourinet

Senate Democrats say Republicans wouldn’t compromise this session on a proposed constitutional amendment involving same-sex marriages, but Minority Leader Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis) hopes they will on proposed voter photo ID legislation. It’s an issue that creates a strong divide between Democrats and Republicans – so much of a divide that Democrats have already threatened a filibuster.“I think that both sides have seen that when you have a controversial bill, it needs to be vetted, it needs to be discussed and there has to be some push and take. With SJR 39, none of that happened,” said Keaveny.

Vermont: Campaign finance battles continue in court | Burlington Free Press

Sixteen months after Progressive/Democrat Dean Corren lost his bid for lieutenant governor, he and the Attorney General’s Office still are embroiled in a double-barreled court fight over whether Corren violated Vermont’s campaign finance law. The case may turn on whether an email blast urging support for a candidate counts as an electioneering communication and therefore a political contribution, or, because it involves the use of computers and mailing lists, is exempt from the types of contributions that need to be reported to the secretary of state. The dust-up started in October 2014, when the Vermont Democratic Party sent out an email to 19,000 recipients inviting them to a series of rallies for the party’s candidates, including Corren, a former legislator from Burlington.

Virginia: Supreme Court Skeptical of Virginia Congressman’s Claim of Right to Favorable Voting Map | Wall Street Journal

A Virginia congressman’s claim that he has a legal right to a district designed to re-elect him ran into skepticism at the Supreme Court on Monday. The court at an oral argument was examining a claim by Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.) that a lower court order voiding Virginia’s congressional map for violating the Voting Rights Act had in turn harmed his chance of re-election. Last year, a special three-judge federal court in Richmond, Va., found the state legislature’s congressional map was a racial gerrymander that illegally concentrated black voters into a single district, diminishing their political power elsewhere in the state. When the legislature failed to draw a new map addressing those findings, the Richmond-based court adopted a new map that swapped black and white voters in adjacent districts, increasing the Democratic population of Mr. Forbes’s congressional district to 60% from 48%.

Utah: GOP’s online voting experiment has some hiccups | The Salt Lake Tribune

About one-fourth of 40,000 who applied were rejected, because they couldn’t verify their party membership, Republican chairman says. The Utah Republican Party’s first foray into online voting in Tuesday’s presidential caucus was not without snags, with voters stymied by long waits and confused by the registration process. Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said about 90 percent of the calls from people having problems with the online voting system were from people who thought they had registered to vote online, but either couldn’t be approved because their membership in the party couldn’t be verified or they had misplaced the personal identification number (PIN) that was emailed to them. Evans said about 40,000 applied to vote online but 10,000 of those were rejected because their records couldn’t be verified. Many didn’t realize they had been denied until they tried to vote Tuesday.

Benin: Businessman takes insurmountable lead in Benin presidential poll | Reuters

Benin’s prime minister conceded defeat to businessman Patrice Talon on Monday as preliminary results from a presidential run-off election gave the cotton magnate an insurmountable lead, paving the way for a peaceful transition of power. Talon faced off against Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou on Sunday in a poll to decide which of the two would replace President Thomas Boni Yayi, who is stepping down after serving two terms in office. The election was seen as reinforcing the democratic credentials of Benin, a bastion of stability in a troubled region where military coups are a regular occurrence and polls are often marred by violence. Preliminary results from the electoral commission put Talon ahead with 65 percent of votes, while Zinzou had 35 percent. Only votes from abroad were yet to be counted, the commission said.

Congo: Republic of Congo Awaits Vote Results Amid Telecom Blackout | VoA News

Vote counting is underway in the Republic of Congo but information is scarce, as the government has blocked all phone and internet use in the country. President Denis Sassou Nguesso is widely expected to win another term in office. The Republic of Congo held elections Sunday cut off from the world. Hours before the vote, the government of the Central African nation called on phone and Internet carriers to shut down service for 48 hours. Amnesty International denounces the move. “Shutting down communication networks is unjustified and it’s an attack on media freedom. Authorities must ensure that everyone is able to carry out its work without fear, without harassment,” said Illaria Allegrozzi.

Senegal: Sall Maneuvers for Re-Election in Senegal With Term-Limit Referendum Win | World Politics Review

March 20, a day some analysts dubbed “Africa’s Super Sunday,” included a referendum in Senegal on the question of whether to reduce presidential terms from seven to five years. By the next day, both the press and the government were projecting a sweeping victory for the “yes” camp. The divisions surrounding the vote may seem strange at first: President Macky Sall and his supporters favored the reduction, while opposition parties opposed it. Sall emerges from the referendum battle politically strengthened. He can put a nagging controversy behind him, and he positions himself to approach the next election on his own terms. The issue of presidential term limits looms large across Africa, but it has unusual parameters in Senegal. Elsewhere, the issue centers on the question of term limits, while in Senegal there has been controversy about both limits and length. Sall’s predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, was elected to a seven-year term in 2000, but a new constitution in 2001 reduced the length of subsequent presidential terms to five years. Wade was re-elected in 2007, and the following year Senegal’s National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment reverting to seven-year presidential terms. Wade then went back on an earlier pledge and ran again in 2012, claiming that the constitutionally imposed two-term limit, passed in 2001, did not apply to his first term. That controversy was settled at the ballot box rather than in the courts, with Sall’s victory, but the issue of term length has lingered in Senegal.

United Kingdom: EU referendum: Historic vote on Britain’s future will cost UK taxpayers £142m | International Business Times

The historic referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU will cost British taxpayers’ more than £142m ($200m, €179m), according to the Conservative government. Cabinet Office minister John Penrose said the total cost for the 23 June ballot had been discussed and agreed with the Electoral Commission. “This includes the expenses incurred by Counting Officers in running the poll, grants to the designated lead campaign organisations, the delivery by Royal Mail of campaign mailings from those organisations, and the cost of the central count,” the Tory MP informed parliament on 23 March.