In a state where everything is big, the 23rd Congressional District that hugs the border with Mexico is a monster: eight and a half hours by car across a stretch of land bigger than any state east of the Mississippi. In 2014, Representative Pete Gallego logged more than 70,000 miles there in his white Chevy Tahoe, campaigning for re-election to the House — and lost by a bare 2,422 votes. So in his bid this year to retake the seat, Mr. Gallego, a Democrat, has made a crucial adjustment to his strategy. “We’re asking people if they have a driver’s license,” he said. “We’re having those basic conversations about IDs at the front end, right at our first meeting with voters.” Since their inception a decade ago, voter identification laws have been the focus of fierce political and social debate. Proponents, largely Republican, argue that the regulations are essential tools to combat election fraud, while critics contend that they are mainly intended to suppress turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies like minorities and students.
With the U.S. knee-deep in what has been an unusual presidential primary season, to say the least, many eligible voters are highly engaged in the process, passionate about their preferred candidates. But when it comes to voting trends, a reality check is in order: Voter turnout in the U.S. during the last midterm election hit the lowest point since the 1940s. In fact, the number of Americans heading to the polls each election has been declining for the last 50 years, which helps explain a concerted push by election officials to deploy technology that simplifies the process of, and increases participation in, elections. Before delving into the current and future state of election technology, let’s summarize how we arrived at this point. Most jurisdictions today are using election technology developed in the 1990s, and the typical voting system is running an operating system that is no longer vendor-supported, no longer has security updates (which couldn’t be applied anyway because of certification requirements) and relies on technology that wasn’t considered “cutting edge” even when it was purchased. All of which begs the question: Why are these outdated systems still in use?
The 2016 Republican presidential campaign has been the definition of an instantaneous digital race, complete with micro-targeted Facebook ads, Twitter tirades and ephemeral Snapchat videos. But the biggest moment of the entire GOP contest, at the party’s national convention in Cleveland, is shaping up to be a decidedly low-tech affair. Senior party officials — worried…
The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have a message for their Republican counterparts, who are leading the blockade on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee: If you care so much about giving America a voice, give us a hearing on voting rights! The nine Democrats on the committee sent a letter Friday to its Republicans leaders — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chair of its subcommittee on the Constitution — demanding a hearing on voting rights, which the committee has not hosted since the GOP took over the Senate. They pointed to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act and the electoral and legal chaos that has ensued since. But they also used the letter to call out the same Republicans for refusing to grant Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing.
Desmond Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, once stood by a set of train tracks, waiting for the train to come. He intended to step in front of the train when it came. It was only by virtue of the train not coming that day that he didn’t. Instead, he walked over the tracks to the other side and began his life again. Meade, a one-time drug addict and convict, graduated law school in 2014. In his role with the FRRC, he’s devoted his energy to helping felons get the right to vote in Florida, which they currently do not have. He attempted to get a ballot initiative, the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, on the 2016 ballot to allow felons to vote, but was unable to get the required number of signatures in time. On Friday, Meade traveled to Washington D.C. to deliver a speech for the Black Youth Vote! event put on by the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation, in which he hoped to inspire young people to vote.
Kansas: Six years in advance, Kansas officials gear up for 2022 redistricting | Lawrence Journal World
Kansas lawmakers won’t have to redraw congressional and legislative district maps for another six years, but state and federal officials aren’t waiting that long to get ready for the process. Officials from the U.S. Census Bureau met Tuesday with staff from the Legislature’s nonpartisan Research Department to review the process they’ll use and get familiar with the types of data and computer software that will be essential in the next round of redistricting. “It’s a long process, so we want to get information out early so folks can start preparing whatever material they need — geographic information; software — so they can start thinking about how they’re going to implement the program when it comes time to actually start redistricting,” said Michael Ratcliffe, the Census Bureau’s assistant division chief for geographic standards in Washington.
Excited to participate in the presidential election, more than 22,000 people in Kansas applied to register to vote in a three-week period in February just days before the state presidential caucuses. It was a reassuring display of democracy — except that two-thirds of that group remain officially held “in suspense,” unregistered and unable to vote. This is because they have not met the draconian requirement of the state law, approved by the Republican Legislature, that they provide a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers. This electoral limbo amounts to crude voter suppression, and no one seems certain whether all qualified citizens in Kansas will be allowed to vote in the primary election in August for state offices and in the November general election. Court challenges are underway, with the American Civil Liberties Union documenting what it calls the “chaos” wrought by the state law. It stands contrary to federal law, which allows people to register when they get a driver’s license or state ID and attest, under criminal threat of perjury, that they are citizens.
Missouri: House task force issues report on botched St. Louis County election | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A Missouri House task force investigating the issues that led to a chaotic April 5 municipal election has come up with a legislative agenda to address the ongoing problems plaguing residents seeking to cast a vote in St. Louis County. The proposals referred to House Speaker Todd Richardson include a recommendation that residency no longer be a qualification for leadership of the St. Louis County Board of Elections. Removing a requirement that the two directors atop the election authority reside in the county would open the door for a “nationwide search … for those critical positions,” Rep. Shamed Dogan said in a letter delivered to Richardson’s office Thursday afternoon.
Editorials: Voter ID bill could sink Legislature’s last weeks, to no good end | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For at least 10 years, the Republican-dominated Missouri Legislature has been trying to pass a law requiring voters to present photo identification before casting ballots. They actually succeeded in 2006, but the state Supreme Court threw out the voter ID law before it could take effect. The issue is back again this year, having passed the House only to run into a series of Democratic filibusters in the Senate. The eight Senate Democrats should stand firm. Senate Republicans should be honest: House Bill 1631 basically solves a problem that doesn’t exist — voter impersonation fraud — and would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters. Higher courts may well declare it unconstitutional. That being the case, the Senate’s Republican leaders must decide if they want to take the extreme step of shutting down debate to pass an unnecessary, punitive and highly partisan law that would deny some 200,000 Missourians their right to take part in the democratic process.
The Supreme Court on Friday left in place a strict voter identification law in Texas, while leaving open the possibility that it would intercede if the appeals court considering a challenge to the law did not act promptly. “The court recognizes the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections in November 2016,” the Supreme Court’s brief, unsigned order said, adding that “an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this court by filing an appropriate application” if the appeals court did not act by July 20. The Texas law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification like a Texas driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport. In a 2014 dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the law “replaced the previously existing voter identification requirements with the strictest regime in the country.” Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the law is racially discriminatory.
The Supreme Court refused Friday to block Texas’ photo ID law, the strictest in the nation, from remaining in effect for now, but it left open the possibility of doing so this summer if a lower court challenge remains unresolved. Civil rights groups who say the law discriminates against black and Hispanic voters had argued that it should be blocked because it was struck down by a federal court in 2014, and no higher court has yet to overturn that ruling. It was the second time the high court had refused to block the photo ID law. In October 2014, the justices allowed Texas to enforce it in its pending November elections. That order was not signed, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a six-page dissent, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Virginia: Elections board adopts new voter registration form on party-line vote | Richmond Times-Dispatch
This year’s impending presidential election loomed large in a party-line vote by the State Board of Elections on Thursday to overhaul Virginia’s voter registration form to make it easier for Virginians to vote. In a 2-1 vote , the board adopted changes to the form, despite objections by local registrars who said they were blindsided when the proposed new form and revised regulations were posted at the beginning of this week. “This is not ready in any way, shape or form for prime time,” said Stafford County Registrar Greg Riddlemoser. He called it “foolishness” to adopt a new form just before a presidential election expected to increase voter turnout and registrars’ workload.
Editorials: Virginia Reinstates Voting Rights to Violent Felons—What States Will Be Next? | Pacific Standard
In a landmark executive order signed last week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 former felons, including violent offenders. Until now, former inmates needed to apply before they could re-gain the right to vote. Now, ex-convicts who have completed their parole requirements are automatically able to register to vote without a special petition. The ruling carries special weight among black communities—25 percent of African Americans living in Virginia who were barred from voting based on their past convictions will now get to vote. “Wow, this is incredible, I finally feel like a full human being.” Although McAuliffe has long been advocating for broader voting rights, the decision still came as a surprise to many. In fact, the New Virginia Majority, a community organization that focuses on civic engagement, have been working since 2007 to restore voting rights for ex-felons.
In Uganda, heated controversy still surrounds President Museveni’s re-election with just over 60 percent of the vote two months ago. At a press conference on February 20, the European Union election observation mission presented its preliminary report on how the election had been conducted. The controversy surrounding the race, and the claim by the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) that the polls had been rigged, ensured a charged atmosphere. But despite finding that the number of votes it counted did not correspond to the official results in 20 percent of observed polling stations, the mission refused to answer a question about whether the elections were “free and fair.” Instead, they pulled their punches, directing the audience to read the report “and draw their own conclusions.” International election observation missions — when small teams of foreign nationals are sent to watch over elections under the auspices of groups such as the European Union, African Union and the Carter Center — are intended to deter foul play and ensure free and fair polls. In practice, these monitors are not generally known for toughness or frank criticism.
The Comoros constitutional court on Saturday ordered a partial re-run of the country’s April 10 presidential ballot due to “irregularities”, a decision that could reverse the close election result. In a court ruling, president of the Constitutional Court Loutfi Soulaimane asked newly-elected leader Azali Assoumani and elections minister Mohamed el-Had Abbasto to take steps to re-run the second-round poll in 13 constituencies by May 15. The repeat vote could throw into the question the entire election result because of the narrow margin by which former coup leader Assoumani won, according to provisional results.
Iranian moderates and reformists who support last year’s landmark nuclear deal have won the largest number of seats in parliament following runoff elections, marking a shift away from hard-liners and boosting moderate President Hassan Rouhani as he looks to secure a second term in office. The results released Saturday on state television failed to give the moderate-reformist camp an outright majority in the 290-seat chamber, however. They will now likely try to attract support from dozens of independent lawmakers whose political leanings vary depending on the issue at hand. There were 68 seats being contested in runoff elections held Friday in 55 constituencies around the country. Residents in the capital, Tehran, did not take part in the second-round balloting because moderates won all 30 seats there outright in first-round voting in February.
Serbian opposition groups on Friday alleged electoral “fraud” at weekend polls after the latest results showed a far-right coalition has been excluded from parliament. The leaders of four groups from across the political spectrum called a protest for Saturday to be held in front of the Electoral Commission in Belgrade. With 99.45 percent of ballots counted, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has won nearly 50 percent of the vote, giving it at least 138 seats in the 250-member parliament.
Foreigners can’t vote in Switzerland yet account for a quarter of the Swiss population. Should this change or do voting rights need to be ‘earned’, as one Swiss politician said? 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.
United Kingdom: Second Scottish independence vote not yet on table, says Nicola Sturgeon | The Guardian
Nicola Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum will be “off the table” until there is a clear majority in favour of a fresh vote, as she faced a barrage of attacks from her rivals. The Scottish National party leader was accused of misleading voters by breaking her pledges to respect the result of the 2014 vote, coming under sustained pressure from Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats over her planned drive this summer to build support for a new referendum. During a frequently ill-tempered debate televised by the BBC, the last before Thursday’s Holyrood election, the leaders clashed over the future of defence ship-building jobs on the Clyde, whose safety had been guaranteed during the referendum, and over health spending. But the clash over independence drew the loudest cheers from the audience. Sturgeon was accused by Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, of “trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Scotland” by resurrecting the chances of a further referendum in the SNP’s manifesto for Thursday’s Scottish parliament election.