The federal Election Assistance Commission was formed after the disputed 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and given an innocuous name and a seemingly inoffensive mission: to help state election officials make it easier to vote. In this ideologically riven election season, it turns out, that is not easy at all. The election commission is in federal court this month, essentially accused of trying to suppress voter turnout in this November’s election. The Justice Department, its nominal legal counsel, has declined to defend it. Its case instead is being pleaded by one of the nation’s leading advocates of voting restrictions. The agency’s chairman has disavowed its actions. The quarrel exemplifies how the mere act of voting has become enmeshed in volatile partisan politics. Seventeen states will impose new voting restrictions for November’s presidential election. Many are the object of disputes between those who say they are rooting out voter fraud and those who say the real goal is to keep Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots.
The Supreme Court on Monday endorsed the way Texas draws its legislative districts based on total population and not just eligible voters – the same method used by all 50 states – rejecting a conservative challenge in a case focusing on the legal principle of “one person, one vote.” The eight-justice court unanimously rebuffed the challenge spearheaded by a conservative legal activist that could have shifted influence in state legislative races away from urban areas that tend to be racially diverse and favor Democrats to rural ones predominantly with white voters who often back Republicans. Two of the court’s conservatives, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, concurred only in the judgment and did sign on to the opinion authored by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The court is one justice short following the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, but the unanimous vote suggested his presence would not have substantially affected the outcome.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation over the decisions that led to the chaotic presidential primaries in Arizona’s most populous county, where thousands of voters waited up to five hours to cast ballots and thousands more were barred from participating because of mistakes and confusion over party registration. In a letter dated Friday, Chris Herron, chief of the voting section of the department’s Civil Rights Division, cited “allegations of disproportionate burden in waiting times to vote on election days in some areas with substantial racial or language minority populations” as he outlined a list of requests to the Maricopa County recorder, Helen Purcell. They include the reasons for reducing the number of polling places by 70 percent in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, and the procedures used to log party registration in the rolls. Ms. Purcell has said the cuts were primarily a cost-cutting measure.
Nebraska Republicans cleared a major hurdle Monday in their efforts to reinstate a winner-take-all system in presidential elections, a move that would wipe out any chance of the state splitting its electoral votes as it did for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. Lawmakers voted 32-15 to advance a bill that would end Nebraska’s practice of awarding its votes by congressional district. Nebraska and Maine are the only states where it’s possible to split electoral votes between opposing presidential candidates. Two of Nebraska’s electoral votes are awarded to the statewide winner, while the remaining three are distributed by congressional district. The proposal now headed to a final vote in the Legislature would require Nebraska to award all of its electoral votes in presidential elections to the winner of the state’s popular vote. Last year, supporters fell two votes short of the 33 needed to force an end to legislative debate on the measure. The state split its electoral votes for the first time in 2008, when Obama captured one from the 2nd congressional district in Omaha on his way to the presidency.
Ohio: ACLU sues Secretary of State Jon Husted over removing voters from the rolls | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday is suing Ohio Secretary of State over how state officials remove inactive voters from the rolls. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on behalf of Ohio A. Phillip Randolph Institute and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, argues people are removed from Ohio voter rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also called the “Motor Voter” law. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the state manages its voter rolls in compliance with both federal and state laws and has been complying a 2012 settlement requiring voter rolls to be scrutinized and maintained. “This lawsuit is politically motivated, election-year politics, is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and opens the door for voter fraud in Ohio,” Husted said in a statement.
Glenn Grothman pretty much said on Tuesday what everyone already knew: The state’s voter ID law, which requires voters to bring a photo ID to the polls, was all about power. It had nothing to do with voter fraud, of which there has been virtually none that a photo ID would stop. It had everything to do with boosting Republican odds at the polls. Asked by Charles Benson of WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) about GOP prospects this fall, the congressman said, “Well, I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up, and now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.” And why is that? It’s because the Republican thinking (and the Democratic fear) was that it might help suppress voting by minorities and students, who often vote for Democrats. That’s certainly what a Republican legislative aide thought after a closed meeting in 2011, where voter ID was being discussed by legislators, including Grothman: “I was in the closed Senate Republican caucus when the final round of multiple voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters,” Todd Allbaugh wrote in a Facebook post. He reiterated those charges in a powerful interview with MSNBC Thursday night.
Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, was expected to win a fourth term in office in an election that began on Friday, although some opposition candidates openly doubted the integrity of the vote. Guelleh, who won the last election in 2011 with almost 80 percent of the vote, has overseen Djibouti’s economic rise as it seeks to position itself as an international port. “I am confident of the final victory,” he said after casting his vote. But a leading opposition candidate said he would not accept the election result after some voters were expelled from polling stations. “It’s part of the diet of the strategy to destabilize us,” Omar Elmi Khaireh told Reuters.
A cyber-attack on the website of the Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec) has resulted in personally identifiable information (PII) of roughly 55 million people being leaked online. While there are no exact details on the number of affected people, it appears that hackers managed to grab the entire voter database, which includes information on the 54.36 million registered voters for the 2016 elections in the Philippines. Information on voters abroad also leaked, along with other sensitive data. Should the data in this leak prove genuine, it would make the breach one of the largest so far this year, on par with the recent hack of a database apparently containing details of almost 50 million Turkish citizens, which determined Turkey’s authorities to launch a probe into the incident. It would also be the largest breach after the Office of Personnel Management attack last year.
What makes a crime infamous in the eyes of the law? That’s a question currently being considered by the Iowa Supreme Court as the justices make a decision that could impact about 57,000 felons in Iowa who are currently banned from voting. On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks about the Griffin v. Pate case with law expert Tony Gaughan of Drake University, Jamie Ross, a rehabilitated felon from Norwalk, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. Pate says the Iowa Supreme Court should not be determining who can and cannot vote, but instead it should be left to lawmakers to decide which crimes should bar someone from voting, as the legislature determines which crimes are felonies.
Election officials around the country are nervously planning how to avoid long lines at the polls this year, after voters waited for hours at some Wisconsin sites earlier this week. That came after voters in Maricopa County, Ariz., had to wait up to five hours last month, in part because the county cut back on the number of polling sites. Those delays led to raucous protests at the state capital and a voting rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. This year’s unusually large voter turnout in the primaries has caught a lot of people by surprise, according to Tammy Patrick of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “I think most election administrators worry about this, and are staying awake at night thinking about it,” she said.
National: Republicans keep admitting that voter ID helps them win, for some reason | The Washington Post
Voter ID laws have swept across the United States in recent years, following big GOP gains in the 2010 and 2014 elections. With Republicans now more powerful in the states than they’ve been since the Great Depression, it has been a priority for them from coast to coast. The stated purpose of these laws, of course, has always been that they prevent voter fraud; you need to have ID to verify your identity for other things, after all, so why not voting? And polls generally show a strong majority of Americans agree. But as any voter ID opponent will tell you, there are so few cases of documented voter fraud that it’s not clear there’s actually an ill that’s being cured. Instead, Democrats allege that these laws are clearly aimed at disenfranchising minority voters, in particular, because they are less likely to have the proper IDs. And minority voters, of course, heavily favor the Democratic Party.
Everyone knows that the waiting is the hardest part and with work, family and other responsibilities many voters don’t have time to wait in the lines they are sometimes greeted with during high profile elections or peak voting hours. Election administrators too admit that they lose sleep worrying about election-day lines and from resource allocation to polling place relocation, work hard to make sure that if there are lines, they are as short as possible. One county in Texas has done something about election day lines with the Voter Line Wait app. In 2009 Collin County became part of Texas’ vote center pilot program and have been a successful addition to the county’s elections arsenal.
FEC Commissioner Weintraub believes that she has hit upon a regulatory maneuver to stop publicly traded corporations from making independent expenditures, or unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees. At a time when newspaper editorialists carry on with attacks on the Commission as “worse than useless,” the Commissioner seems determined to prod the FEC to face the major “money in politics” issues of the day. This is her theory: foreign nationals cannot make contributions or independent expenditures, which means that the FEC could establish that no corporation with foreign nationals as shareholders could engage in this political spending. The rule would not bring about this result outright: it would require a corporation to “certify” that it was not making contributions or independent expenditures with these funds. As a practical matter, corporations with foreign national shareholders could not risk making the certification and would forgo this political spending. The Commissioner plans to direct lawyers to produce proposals that she and her colleagues can consider in a future rulemaking.
Inside a federal courtroom in Washington earlier this year, the presiding judge peered down in disbelief as a Justice Department official told him that the Obama administration would not defend a tiny elections agency but was instead siding with civil rights groups suing the government. “Unprecedented,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said from the bench. “I’ve never heard of it in all my years as a lawyer.” From the back of the packed courtroom emerged someone else to argue for the federal agency: a tall, clean-cut figure in a dark suit, carrying a sheaf of papers, who had traveled more than 1,000 miles that day to make his case. “Your honor, Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state,” he told the judge. He went on to defend the actions of the director of the elections agency who had single-handedly rewritten voter registration rules, prompting an immediate challenge from civil rights groups.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach loses a legal fight with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Then a Kobach appointee newly hired to lead the EAC unilaterally does what his former boss wanted. And an agency created by the 2002 Help America Vote Act is cast in the unlikely role of joining Kobach in making it harder for Americans to vote. The sequence of events looks more sketchy in light of documents obtained by the Associated Press. They indicate that the ties to Kobach helped then-Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby get the job last fall as the EAC’s executive director. Once hired, Newby promptly granted Kobach’s renewed request to require that would-be voters in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama provide citizenship documents when they use the national voter registration form. According to AP, Newby had e-mailed Kobach last summer that he was friends with two EAC commissioners and that “I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to.” Newby had further advised Kobach: “I also don’t want you thinking that you can’t count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources.”
Missouri: Another scrambled election has Missouri and St. Louis County officials searching for answers | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Ballot shortages, delayed vote tabulations and faulty polling equipment resulted in a botched municipal election Tuesday that has everyone from Gov. Jay Nixon to the voting public denouncing the agency responsible for the fiasco: the St. Louis County Board of Elections. The polls had yet to close before Nixon, Secretary of State Jason Kander, County Executive Steve Stenger and countless voters delivered a verdict on the performance of an agency that managed to deliver incorrect ballots or no ballots at all to more than 60 precincts spread across the county. Stenger said Tuesday during the voting problems, “That board really needs to get its act together.” He said the situation “is completely unacceptable because it affects every resident in St. Louis County.”
Wisconsin: Statements about voter ID law renew controversy about GOP motivation | Wisconsin State Journal
Two separate comments about the state’s now fully operational voter ID law this week set off a tempest about why Republicans passed the law in the first place. On election night, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman told a Milwaukee TV reporter that Republican presidential nominee has a chance of winning Wisconsin this year partly because “photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference.” Former GOP Senate aide Todd Allbaugh says he left the Republican Party because of its position on voter ID. Then on Wednesday, Todd Allbaugh, a former aide to Sen. Dale Schultz and U.S. Rep. Scott Klug, wrote on Facebook that the voter ID law was “the last straw” for why he left the Republican Party.
A challenge to how Republican lawmakers drew legislative districts in 2011 is heading to trial in May. A panel of three federal judges unanimously ruled Thursday they should decide whether the maps were drawn correctly after holding a trial, rather than based on legal briefs that have already been filed. The ruling is a victory for the 12 Democrats who brought the case on the theory Republicans had violated their voting rights by drawing legislative districts that are so favorable to the GOP. Those bringing the case hope to set a standard that could be used around the country to determine when politicians — whether Republicans or Democrats — go too far in drawing maps to help them. Republicans won control of Wisconsin in 2010 and the next year drew new maps that greatly favored them. Lawmakers have to draw new maps every 10 years to account for changes in population, and the party in power has the ability to set lines that help them.
Djibouti: Presidential Election 2016: Guide To Candidates, Key Issues, Rules And Results | International Business Times
Under the baking hot sun in Djibouti’s capital, campaign posters of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh line the buildings and supporters clad in the ruling coalition’s colors parade the streets looking to win over voters ahead of Friday’s national election. With a divided opposition and no strong challenger, Guelleh is widely expected to extend his 17-year grip on power in the Horn of Africa nation yet again. Guelleh, who is nicknamed IOG, has been in power since 1999 and is seeking a fourth term Friday. He won the last presidential election five years ago with 80 percent of the vote, after Parliament amended the constitution to get rid of term limits in 2010. Guelleh, 68, is Djibouti’s second president since it gained independence from France in 1977. He was the handpicked successor of his uncle and the country’s first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who died in 2006. Supporters of Guelleh’s ruling coalition, the Union for the Presidential Majority, are confident of an easy victory on Friday. “We are optimistic, especially when we see that the opposition party is straggling,” Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf recently told Agence France-Presse.
Sixty Haitian-American leaders and diaspora organizations are calling on the Obama administration to end its staunch opposition to a recount in Haiti’s disputed presidential elections, charging that it is undermining democracy in the Caribbean nation. The letter, addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, comes a day after provisional President Jocelerme Privert announced that he will soon form an independent verification commission to look into allegations of ballot tampering and multiple vote-buying in the Oct. 25 presidential first round. Privert said the commission is “indispensable” to political stability and putting confidence back in the interrupted electoral process.
Iceland’s president has refused a request from the country’s embattled prime minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, to dissolve parliament and call snap elections until he has had time to consult all of the country’s political parties. As the island’s political crisis deepened on Tuesday, its president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, flew back early from a US visit to sound out party representatives in parliament, where the leftwing opposition has presented a motion of no confidence in Gunnlaugsson’s centre-right coalition government. Further mass protests were planned in Reykjavik for later on Tuesday as pressure mounted on the prime minister to resign following revelations in the leaked Panama Papers that his wife owned a secretive offshore investment company with multi-million pound claims on Iceland’s failed banks.
Football fans are familiar with the occasional match in which the referee changes the course of the game by mistakenly sending off players and awarding a dubious penalty or two. Peruvians are discovering, to their bemusement, that the referee can determine who wins in politics, too. On April 10th they will go to the polls to choose a new president. Two names, those of Julio Guzmán and César Acuña, will not be on the ballot, although polls promised them almost a quarter of the vote between them. However, barely a month before the election and after weeks of legal gyrations, the electoral authority disqualified them. Mr Guzmán, who had a good chance of reaching and winning the probable run-off ballot and thus becoming president, was thrown out because the small party which had adopted him changed its procedure for choosing its candidate without informing the electoral authorities beforehand. Mr Acuña was expelled for handing out a total of around $4,400 during a couple of campaign stops.
United Kingdom: Election watchdog opposes Cameron’s pro-EU mailshots for 23m homes | International Business Times
The UK’s electoral watchdog has expressed its discontent over David Cameron’s decision to spend £9.3m ($13.1m) of taxpayers’ money on 23 million ‘remain’ leaflets ahead of the EU referendum. “We don’t think the government should have done it, but it’s not illegal,” a spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission told IBTimes UK. The 14-page documents will be sent to homes across Britain in a bid to drum-up support for a ‘remain’ vote ahead of the 23 June ballot. The move has enraged Eurosceptics, who have questioned the fairness of the initiative.