It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy. A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around. Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county. What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.
Ion Sancho has long been one of the most-outspoken elections officials in Florida. But after overseeing this fall’s voting in Leon County, he will step down after nearly three decades as an elections supervisor. A familiar figure to those who have followed Florida’s frequent election controversies, Sancho often was quoted in The New York Times, Washington Post and other media outlets. He generally argued that elections officials hadn’t gone far enough in preserving the sanctity of the vote, and he sometimes sparred with state elections officials. He is perhaps best known for challenging the security of certain voting machines, for which some vendors refused to sell their machines to him. Sancho’s zeal for accurate voting springs from his own candidacy in a botched election, a 1986 race for the Leon County Commission in which thousands of people were unable to cast ballots. Two years later, Sancho ran for supervisor of elections and won. Retiring after seven terms, he plans to write a book on the 2000 election.
The legal fight over Florida’s drawing of its 27 Congressional districts is not quite over yet. An attorney for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, argued in federal court Friday that the districts that the Florida Supreme Court ordered the state to enact late last year violate the federal Voting Rights Act. William Sheppard said the state is diluting the voting power of minority communities that were previously in Brown’s Congressional district by allowing the maps to go into effect in the November elections. Sheppard is asking the court for an injunction to stop the 2016 elections for Congress with the newly redrawn 5th Congressional district, which runs from Jacksonville west to Tallahassee. Sheppard wants the court to continue to allow Brown to run in the current 5th Congressional District. That district currently runs from Jacksonville and meanders 140 miles south to Orlando.
Despite the fact that Hawaii has two official languages, only one of them is offered on voters’ ballots. English and Hawaiian are the state’s official languages, and lawmakers are pushing a bill to offer both on ballots. Right now, English, Japanese, Cantonese and Ilocano must be offered on ballots in some counties. “I thought it was a little silly that we don’t already have the Hawaiian language on the ballot – it’s an official language,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the bill.
With two weeks remaining in Maryland’s three-month legislative session, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis have stopped just short of extending a Bronx cheer to Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal for nonpartisan redistricting reform. Never mind that the plan from Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is enormously popular with state residents. It foresees a constitutional amendment that would shift control of the redistricting process from self-interested elected lawmakers, who treat it exclusively as an incumbent-protection racket. In its place would be established an independent, nine-member panel that would draw district voting maps without regard to voting history or partisan leanings. According to a recent Goucher College poll, that idea enjoys deep and wide support in Maryland. It is favored by large majorities of Democrats and Republicans; men and women; blacks and whites; young and old. Indeed, almost no other issue in the state elicits such one-sidedly favorable reaction. Practically the only Marylanders who overwhelmingly oppose Mr. Hogan’s blueprint are Democrats in the General Assembly.
Editorials: Maryland can’t act alone to end gerrymandering | Rob Richie and Austin Plier/The Washington Post
Maryland is popularly recognized as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, and at least four bills designed to curb gerrymandering were introduced this legislative session, including ones backed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and by legislative leaders. But one bill stood out as an innovative approach that could establish Maryland as a true reform leader. Change certainly is needed. Maryland’s obviously manipulated congressional districts have produced results that skew in favor of Democrats. Only one of eight seats is held by a Republican, and white male Democrats hold five seats in a state where they make up about a sixth of the voting population. No district is likely to be competitive in November. But if Maryland acts alone, it will exacerbate the national skew toward Republicans. FairVote projects that Democrats would need some 55 percent of the vote to win a House majority this year. In 2012, Democrats won the popular vote in House races, but Republicans still had a 33-seat advantage. Many have called for a national solution to gerrymandering, but Maryland does not have to wait. Legislators have a moral obligation to voters to find a state-based solution when one is available. Their best option is SB 762, the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation. Unlike other redistricting reform bills, the Potomac Compact would end a national standoff on redistricting reform by proposing an interstate compact that gives state negotiators the ability to use electoral systems to make such compacts work — for voters and for partisans.
Editorials: How North Carolina Is Discriminating Against Voters at the Polls | Ari Berman/The Nation
The five-hour lines to vote in Phoenix’s Maricopa County on March 22 have become the prime example of election dysfunction in the 2016 primary. But a week before the debacle in Arizona, there were widespread problems at the polls in North Carolina, which has become ground zero in the fight for voting rights. Voters faced new barriers in these states because the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and allowed jurisdictions with a long history of voting discrimination to implement new voting restrictions without federal approval. On March 15, Alberta Currie, an 82-year-old African-American woman, went to vote with her daughter in North Carolina’s presidential primary. Currie, a great-granddaughter of a slave, first voted in 1956, when white voters were allowed to cut in front of black voters in line and many eligible black voters couldn’t vote at all. North Carolina’s new voter-ID law was in place for the first time and 218,000 registered voters, who are disproportionately African-American, lacked an acceptable form of government-issued ID required to vote. Currie was one of them. She no longer drives and only has an expired license from Virginia. She cannot get a state photo ID in North Carolina because she was born at home to a midwife in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate. She is the lead plaintiff in a legal challenge to the state’s voter-ID law, and her story of trying to cast a ballot in North Carolina shows how harmful these new voting restrictions can be.
Efforts to verify Dane County’s voting-machine output were still in their childhood for the 2015 elections. The Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team conducted efficient, effective and routine citizens’ audits that met nationally accepted standards for transparency, but because we hadn’t yet found a professional statistician willing to work for free, they didn’t meet validity standards. And Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell wasn’t even trying to conceive an official process — he was on record that verification was “unnecessary and possibly contrary to statutes.” Since then, the citizens’ audit process has grown to adolescence. A civic-minded statistician volunteered, and our March 12 public audit of the February election verified with 99 percent confidence that voting machines identified the correct Supreme Court primary winner. About 30 public observers were satisfied they could see every vote; they even participated in randomly selecting nine precincts at the start of the event. We also examined a suspicious result in one Madison precinct, where the voting machine saw no votes on 1.26 percent of the ballots, compared to only 0.14 percent among other machines. The public count satisfied everyone present that the machine total was accurate. An observer who knows registration requirements explained that a large elderly housing complex may explain the blank ballots, because homebound “permanent absentee” voters can maintain that status only as long as they return a ballot in every election. As for official audits, McDonell’s office may just have given birth to a county audit process! If you dig into the Dane County website, you can find a recent report of his close-to-the-vest efforts, beginning in December 2015, to devise his own system for verifying voting-machine output.
Wisconsin: Judges hear arguments in gerrymandering lawsuit, decision to come later | Wisconsin State Journal
A panel of three federal judges heard arguments Wednesday on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of Democrats who say that the 2011 redistricting of state legislative boundaries was an extreme and illegal partisan gerrymander. Lawyers for the state Department of Justice, which is defending the 2011 redistricting plan, argued that a plan put forth by the group fails to show that the redistricting plan was unconstitutional. No decisions were issued Wednesday, and federal Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, the senior judge on the panel, said the arguments and other material would be considered by the panel before it issues a written decision.
Afghanistan’s top electoral official has resigned, potentially complicating efforts to organise parliamentary elections for this northern autumn. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, who has repeatedly accused the government of meddling in the electoral process, stepped down two years after himself being accused of failing to prevent fraud in a bitterly disputed presidential ballot. A spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, which Mr Nuristani chaired, said he had resigned in the “national interest”, declining to comment further. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accepted his resignation, the presidential palace said on its Twitter feed.
Don’t pay a deposit on renting a BBQ for your July 2 election day fund-raising sausage sizzle just yet. Listening to comments from some of the independents in the Senate, one might think the whole early sitting is all about them, getting rid of them if they don’t support the government’s union clean-up legislation. Obviously these independents seek to cast themselves as victims, as the badgered and the blackmailed. That’s not how I see it. The people of Australia elected this government. Governments can’t be dictators for three years; the Senate is there as a house of review. The increased size of the House of Representatives and thus of the Senate makes the likelihood of either major party having control of the upper house remote (because the proportion of votes, or quota, needed to get elected is reduced and it is therefore easier for minor candidates to win a spot). Thus there is a creative tension between the two houses. Any opposition can use the independents to cause havoc.
Candidates from the ruling party in the Democratic Republic of Congo were elected on Saturday as governors and deputy governors in 14 of the nation’s 21 newly drawn provinces. The ruling coalition, known as the Presidential Majority, won in all but five of the new provinces, said the Independent National Electoral Commission, or CENI, in a statement e-mailed from the capital, Kinshasa. The vote in Sud Ubangui province was delayed and in Nord Ubangui province extended to a second round runoff, CENI said. The indirect ballot, in which governors and deputy governors are elected by provincial assemblies, was due to be held in October but was delayed. The vote is part of a series of about a dozen elections originally scheduled to take place between October 2015 and November 2016, culminating in a planned vote for a new president.
The US embassy in Macedonia has dismissed claims made in the pro-government newspaper, Vest, that the US is hoping former prime minister and ruling party leader Gruevski will win the early elections in June. “The United States Government does not endorse candidates in other countries’ elections. Macedonia is no exception,” the embassy wrote to former Vest editor Goran Mihajlovski, who was dismissed from the paper in December. The daily, now run by a new editorial team, on Wednesday wrote a text called “Gruevski favored by one of the most Circulated US Newspapers” with a subtitle reading: “Washington has its fingers in the Macedonian election race.” The text cites a column in The Washington Times, written by Jason Katz, a public relations professional and a principal of TSG, LLC, a strategic communications, political and policy consultancy.
National: After Citizens United Got Halfway There, This Lawsuit Aims To Finish The Job | International Business Times
A case now working its way through federal court has the potential to fully dismantle the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law of 2002, finishing the job the Supreme Court started when its 2010 Citizens United decision loosed a tidal wave of outside money on the American electoral system. That case, Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC, is currently before the District Court for the District of Columbia, but it could be on its way up to the Supreme Court. On Friday, three campaign reform groups filed a joint amicus brief warning of “extraordinarily far-reaching negative consequences” if the district court rules in favor of the plaintiffs. “The return to the era of soft money would be complete,” wrote attorneys representing the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen in the brief. “Soft money” is a colloquial term for the unregulated contributions that political parties could legally collect prior to the passage of the McCain-Feingold bill. Although there continue to be strict limits on how much individual donors can give to particular campaigns, before 2002 there was no cap on the amount that could be given to a party for general purposes. Parties would use their virtually unlimited soft money to produce “issue ads,” including attack ads, that were ostensibly not connected to particular campaigns.