On Monday, Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., upheld legislation passed in 2013 that imposed far-reaching restrictions on voting across this state, including strict voter-identification requirements. Judge Schroeder justified his decision by claiming that robust turnout in 2014 proved that the law did not suppress the black vote. But in reality, his ruling defended the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century. That attack began almost immediately after a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which weakened Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Section 5 required federal pre-approval of changes to voting laws in places with a history of discrimination, including parts of North Carolina. Within hours of that ruling, lawmakers in Raleigh filed H.B. 589, proposing some of the toughest voting rules in the country. Referring to Shelby, one sponsor expressed his relief that curtailing voting protections could move forward now that the “headache” of the Voting Rights Act had been removed. The Legislature passed the bill, and it was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.
There are 5.8 million Americans who will be barred from voting this year, because their home states deny felons that fundamental right. Lately, there have been efforts to reduce that absurd statistic. In Maryland, the legislature restored voting rights for felons who served their prison sentences by overturning their governor’s veto. And last Friday, by executive order, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored suffrage for more than 200,000 people – a good start toward reinstating full citizenship to 47 percent of the American prison population serving time for non-violent drug offenses. Call it a liberating blast of fresh democracy – even though three states (Florida, Kentucky and Iowa) still bar felons from voting for life. Maine and Vermont occupy the other extreme, allowing felons to vote even as they serve their time. And many states, like New Jersey, restore suffrage only after felons have served their full sentences – including prison time, parole and probation.
After two days of testimony, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed to invalidate the March Arizona presidential preference election. The suit was filed against Secretary of State Michele Reagan and every Arizona county by attorney Michael Kielsky on behalf of a Tucson man named John Brakey, who says his occupation is “election integrity activist.” In their pleadings, they alleged that voter-registration requests were mishandled and the number of polling places in Maricopa County was improperly cut. Hearings Monday and Tuesday were to determine if there was legal cause to go forward with trial. The state and the counties countered that the complaint was neither timely nor adequately prepared. And they questioned whether election law applied to presidential preference elections. Judge David Gass took the matter under advisement but allowed the evidentiary hearing to go forward.
The application form that convicted felons in Iowa must complete to seek restoration of their voting rights in Iowa has been made simpler, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday, but voting rights advocates argue the process is still one of the most burdensome in the country. The streamlined, one-page form reduces the number of questions an applicant must answer from 29 to 13, Branstad said, which makes the process more efficient and convenient. “When individuals commit felonies, it is important that they demonstrate that they have fully satisfied their sentences and have paid their court-imposed financial obligations and be current on restitution if it’s required before receiving their voting rights back,” Branstad said in a statement.
Two bills aimed at making it easier to vote will head into conference committee today at the state Legislature. The legislation would allow residents to automatically register to vote when applying or renewing a driver’s license and would start a vote-by-mail program. The House and Senate each passed versions of the bills. Lawmakers will be tasked with working out the differences. The registration measure, House Bill 401, would give residents the option of registering to vote or updating their voter information while taking care of their license. Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, is a co-sponsor. HB 1653 in its latest form would require the state Office of Elections to start a vote-by-mail program incrementally. Mail ballots currently are limited to absentee voters.
Lawmakers in the Louisiana House refused Wednesday to give felons the right to vote as soon as they exit prison. Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, proposed to let convicted felons register to vote while they are on parole, probation or suspended sentences – but out of jail. Currently, felons have to wait until they finish probation or parole.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton would like formerly imprisoned felons to be able to vote in Minnesota, he said Wednesday. “We should let people who have served their sentences, paid their debt to society, be given their chance to restore their active participation in our … democratic process,” the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said. With his comments, Dayton waded into a debate that has roiled the state and nation. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate approved a measure to allow felons to vote after they served their sentences. Last week, Virginia’s governor used his executive power to restore voting rights to felons who are on supervised release in that state. Other states have also grappled with laws that limit felons ability to vote evening after they have served their prison sentences.
Missouri: Democrats launch filibuster as voter ID brought up again in Senate | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Missouri Senate Democrats launched another talk-a-thon Wednesday night in the Missouri Senate in a bid to stop a proposal that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. The measure advanced in the House early in the legislative session but has been stalled in the Senate. The Republican majority has brought the bill up on the floor in recent weeks, but it paused debate each time as it became clear the two sides wouldn’t reach an agreement. On Wednesday, about 7 p.m., state Sen. Joe Keaveny of St. Louis, the minority floor leader, said Democrats and Republicans were feeling each other out.
New York may see an expansion of online voter registration after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ruled Tuesday that the practice is legal. The opinion came in response to questions from Suffolk County officials asking if state law permits the county to implement an online voter registration system. Currently, the state Department of Motor Vehicles offers online voter registration for New Yorkers that uses an electronic signature, but not elsewhere. Schneiderman said his opinion of county online voter registration is a “new era of truly online voter registration,” and he encouraged county elections boards to develop online registration systems.
Civil rights groups and churches opposed to sweeping changes to North Carolina’s election rules said on Tuesday they would ask an appeals court for a reversal after a federal judge upheld provisions they argue will suppress minority votes at the polls in November. The ruling late on Monday was highly anticipated in a presidential election year in a state that had close results for the White House in 2008 and 2012, and it received praise from the voting law’s Republican backers. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem said the state could require voters to show approved photo identification at the polls, one of a number of provisions in the law that challengers have said targets groups of people who typically support Democratic candidates.
Fifteen Republican-controlled states are wading into the contentious court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, arguing in a legal brief that similar laws around the country have already been upheld by the courts. A three-judge panel at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Texas’ law requiring voters to show picture identification at the polls violated parts of the federal Voting Rights Act. However, the court’s full bench has agreed to reconsider the case at a May 24 hearing. Ahead of oral arguments next month, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is leading a coalition of GOP states supporting Texas’ controversial measure. In a recent court filing with, Zoeller’s office argues that a ruling against Texas’ measure could create “uncertainty for States attempting to enforce or enact voter ID laws.” “This, in turn, would leave State voter ID laws in a constant state of flux,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher writes in an amicus brief.
Late Monday, a federal district judge upheld one of the most regressive and restrictive voting laws in the country — a 2013 North Carolina law that eliminated same-day voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds; cut back on early voting by a week; barred counting votes cast outside voters’ home precincts; and required voters to show identification at the polls. State lawmakers said these changes were necessary to reduce fraud and inefficiency in elections — though there is no evidence of voter fraud to combat or inefficiency to cure. The Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Advancement Project, among others, sued on the grounds that the law illegally discriminates against minority voters.
Virginia: McAuliffe rejects GOP leaders’ call for special session on voting rights for felons | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Gov. Terry McAuliffe rejected Republican leaders’ call Tuesday for a special legislative session on the governor’s order restoring voting rights for 206,000 felons, saying the legislature has “no specific role” in the matter. The back-and-forth escalated a constitutional clash that could ultimately land in court as Republicans continue to seek ways to mount a legal challenge to Friday’s sweeping executive action. In a letter to the governor, House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, said McAuliffe, a Democrat, had shown a “flagrant disregard” for the Virginia Constitution. They also called on the governor to release a list of names of all people whose voting and civil rights were restored by Friday’s order, including details about their crimes.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board Director Calls Walker’s Comments On Voter ID Law ‘Disingenuous’ | Wisconsin Public Radio
The director of the Government Accountability Board called Gov. Scott Walker’s recent comments about funding a voter ID public education campaign “disingenuous” on Wednesday. In a 4-2 decision, the board voted Tuesday to ask for money from the state Legislature to fund a statewide campaign to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable at the polls. Walker addressed the funding request on Tuesday, saying that the high turnout during the April 5 primary demonstrates the funding is unnecessary. Moreover, the governor said the state has already spent too much money defending the law in court.
Last Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 people with previous felony convictions. It’s a momentous stroke in both scope and effect; with an eye towards the 2016 races, The New York Times estimated its electoral impact as “small but potentially decisive.” But the significance of McAuliffe’s efforts goes far beyond a single election. It instead marks an exorcism for one of Jim Crow’s last vestiges in Virginia’s state charter—and a reminder of how many of its legal aftereffects still linger today. Many of Jim Crow’s most pernicious aspects were swept away in a Second Reconstruction of sorts during the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. But those efforts had little effect on the criminal-justice system and its role in enforcing white supremacy, both in the South and beyond it. Disenfranchising people with criminal convictions was one of many vote-suppressing tools deployed in the state’s 1902 constitution, which was explicitly drafted and ratified to destroy black political power in the Old Dominion.
The state elections board will ask lawmakers for $250,000 to publicize Wisconsin’s new voter ID requirement in the lead-up to the November election. The co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget panel, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Tuesday that he expects it to “seriously consider” the request. Providing “$250,000, to assure every vote is counted, I don’t think is a problem,” Nygren told the Wisconsin State Journal. The Government Accountability Board approved the request on a 4-2 vote at its regular meeting Tuesday. Judges Harold Froehlich and Timothy Vocke were the dissenting votes.
Remote online voting will have its first experimental introduction starting 2018, Bulgarian lawmakers decided on Wednesday. The emergency session of full Parliament, that has been holding marathon debates and votes since Tuesday to pass a final version of the new Electoral Code, was the first to set a clear timetable for e-voting after the latter was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum last year. A total of three tests will be held throughout 2018, each in a single Bulgarian region. If they prove successful, online voting will be officially introduced as a legitimate means to take part in an election for the 2019 European Parliament vote. By 2018, electoral officials will have to organize at least three simulations of online voting with fictitious parties, coalitions and candidates.
Nearly a quarter of Iran’s parliamentary seats are at stake Friday in an election in which reformists want to consolidate their recent comeback and minimise the clout of hardline lawmakers. The second round run-offs were triggered because no candidate in 68 constituencies managed to win 25 percent of votes cast in the initial nationwide ballot on February 26. Reformists who backed the country’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani made big gains in the first round following Iran’s implementation of a nuclear deal with world powers, which lifted sanctions blamed for long hobbling the economy. Conservative MPs, including vehement opponents of the West who openly criticised the landmark agreement that reined in Iran’s atomic programme, lost dozens of seats.
A leading member of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission said the group wants to improve the administration of next year’s general election. The constitution requires that elections be held August 8, 2017. IEBC officials said they have been engaging with stakeholders to address their concerns in the run-up to the election. Yusuf Nzibo of the IEBC said the commission was working with international partners to help correct some of the challenges the group faced during the 2013 elections.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), via a 4-3 vote, has scrapped the holding of elections in malls because of legal problems that may later put the poll body in a bind. “It will no longer push through,” Chairman Juan Andres Bautista said on Wednesday. “It’s a pity, it’s disturbing. I apologize to our voters.” The commission arrived at the decision after a marathon en banc session on Tuesday. It reversed its earlier 6-1 ruling in favor of mall voting.
The legal issues on mall voting were raised by former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal in a letter to Bautista. Larrazabal pointed out that the Comelec failed to comply with the three basic requirements set by the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) before some clustered precincts can be legally transferred to shopping malls.
A young man poses as a sleazy, bejeweled politician in a white suit, sitting atop a white horse surrounded by hordes of bodyguards while promising jobs and prosperity to the voters. Luka Maksimovic and his friends started out to have fun, but the young pranksters have become a sensation — and have been elected to office — after finishing second in a local vote in a run-down industrial town in central Serbia. The success of the rookie citizens’ group at last weekend’s election in Mladenovac, outside Belgrade, seems to reflect widespread disillusionment with politicians in crisis-stricken Serbia and the desire for new, young faces still untouched by the corruption that has plagued all aspects of the Balkan country’s political scene.
The right-wing Dveri-DSS coalition has accused Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, of pressuring the Election Commission, RIK, to declare that the coalition did not meet the threshold needed to enter parliament – and has warned of street protests. Bosko Obradovic, the president of Dveri, told BIRN that Vucic will try to use RIK’s decision to hold repeat votes in 164 polling stations to manipulate votes and leave DSS-Dveri out of parliament. “If that happens, we will definitely organize street protests,” Obradovic told BIRN. According to the RIK, seven lists crossed the threshold needed to enter the parliament after Sunday’s elections.
Foreigners account for a quarter of the Swiss population, but they can’t vote in elections or referendums. Is this acceptable in a fully-fledged direct democracy? Swiss and German politicians are divided in their opinions.
“Swiss living abroad are also foreigners in their countries of residency. They often have a firm view of what’s happening in Switzerland, and at the same time they take part in political life in their adopted countries,” Walter Leimgruber, President of the Federal Migration Commission, pointed out at a recent event. Leimgruber’s conclusion is that the Swiss living abroad are citizens of two states, and living proof that political engagement is possible in two societies. In his view, they’re a good example of how foreigners can enjoy political participation wherever they live, regardless of nationality. Economic interdependence caused by globalisation, and the fact that 50% of marriages in Switzerland are bi-national, mean “political rights will have to be redefined,” argues Leimgruber, a professor of cultural studies at Basel University.