On June 27, 2013, two days after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of voting discrimination no longer needed to approve their voting changes under the Voting Rights Act, the mayor of Pasadena, Texas, proposed changing the structure of City Council elections so that whites could remain in control. With Latinos close to gaining a majority of seats in the racially divided city of 150,000 outside of Houston, Mayor Johnny Isbell proposed switching from eight City Council districts to six districts and two seats elected citywide—which would give white residents, who turn out in higher numbers, a better shot at electing their preferred candidates. The net effect was that one majority-Latino district was eliminated, and Latinos had three fewer seats on the council. Isbell proposed the change “because the Justice Department can no longer tell us what to do.” Voters narrowly approved the referendum in 2013, even though 99.6 percent of Latinos opposed it.
A group of Republicans trying to loosen campaign contribution limits in Alaska — following key decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years — is appealing a ruling by a federal judge in November that upheld the state’s strict limits. Kevin Clarkson, attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Monday that the ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, an appointee of George W. Bush, came as no surprise. Burgess is bound to follow case law established by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that represents nine Western states, including Alaska, Clarkson said.
New Hampshire: Attorney General seeks high court review of rulings against ‘ballot selfie’ ban | Union Leader
The state Attorney General’s office has officially asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower court rulings striking down a New Hampshire ban on “ballot selfies.” The petition for writ of certiorari, filed two days after Christmas, comes as state legislators are considering a bill to reverse the 2014 law that prohibited a voter from taking a photo of their marked ballot and posting it online. The ban is clearly unconstitutional, as the U.S. District Court found in 2015, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed last September, said Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, the prime sponsor of the bill to wipe the “ballot selfie” ban off the books.
Texas: With Deadline Looming, Pasadena Considers Whether To Appeal Voting Rights Verdict | Houston Public Media
City officials in Pasadena are pondering their options, now that a federal judge has ruled that the city’s method of electing local officials is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ruled late last week that the system discriminates against Latino residents. Up to 2013, Pasadena city council members were all chosen by single-member districts, drawn along geographic lines. Latino-backed candidates held four out of eight seats, and looked close to winning a fifth. Then the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act. Within weeks, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell began promoting a plan to switch to a mix of single-member districts and at-large seats.
Virginia: Lynchburg voters continue to report problems after ballot shortage during special election | News Advance
Lynchburg voters looking to cast their ballots in the special election for the 22nd Senate District today are encountering an unusual snag in the democratic process – voting precincts out of ballots. For voter Leighton Dodd, who said he planned to vote for Democrat Ryant Washington, he told The News & Advance that he tried to vote at 11:30 a.m. at Bedford Hills School precinct, but there were no ballots. When he came back after lunch, around 1 p.m. the precinct had run out again. “To not have enough ballots is ridiculous,” Dodd said as he sat in a line of 30 voters who were waiting for more ballots to be delivered so that they could cast their votes in the special election. Dodd expressed concern that the ballot snafu could affect the election.
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe says he’ll be actively promoting measures in this year’s legislative session aimed at strengthening the state’s ethics rules and making it easier to vote, priorities that will likely face a difficult path forward in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. McAuliffe said Tuesday he also supports legislation to ban lawmakers from using their campaign accounts for personal use, calling the move a necessary complement to a $100 gift cap that lawmakers approved earlier in his term. “There has been a gigantic, gaping hole in our ethics reform here in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said, promising to “lean in” on the issue even though it faces dim prospects.
Wisconsin’s presidential election recount costs will come in almost $2 million less than expected with only one county left to settle its bill. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein paid the state $3.9 million to start the recount but will be reimbursed with a final bill expected at $1.8 million, Wisconsin Elections Commission officials said. Brown County – the last of the state’s 72 counties to tally costs – is expected to have its final bill ready next week. Stein, who held a rally at the state Capitol Jan. 3, said she will use the leftover recount money to fund Count My Vote Wisconsin, an election reform and voting rights organization. Supporters donated money for Stein’s recount requests in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
The Minister of Cults and Religion has agreed to review laws governing the issuance of identification cards to monks which, in its current state, limits their right to vote. After answering questions at the National Assembly’s seventh commission, minister Him Chhem said they will be working on the various issues raised, including the development of the National Buddhist Institution, the expansion of the Buddhist University and the wages of monks. “We understand each other [in the meeting]. I have my report. We will solve the remaining problems gradually. We have measures to solve it,” he briefly said to reporters yesterday without elaborating on any of the issues raised in the assembly.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promoted first-time Burlington MP Karina Gould to cabinet, tasking her with delivering on the Liberals’ troubled promise to reform Canada’s elections. Gould was one of three rookie MPs elevated to cabinet Tuesday, replacing Peterborough MP Maryam Monsef as Minister of Democratic Institutions. In that role, Gould will have the unenviable task of figuring out how to make good on Trudeau’s pledge to replace Canada’s 150-year old first-past-the-post electoral system. It’s a mission that Gould believes in, at least. “Electoral reform is the next step in (an) evolution toward a more inclusive system. We can build a better system that provides a stronger link between the democratic will of Canadians and the election results,” Gould said in the House of Commons last June.
The Supreme Court of Gambia cannot rule on President Yahya Jammeh’s challenge against his electoral defeat until May, according to its chief justice. The ruling casts further doubt on whether a peaceful political transition will happen next week as scheduled. The West African country has been thrust into a political crisis following a December 1 presidential vote, which saw longtime ruler Jammeh losing to opposition leader Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially conceded defeat but later reversed his position, lodging a legal case aimed at annulling the result and triggering new elections. Barrow, a former real estate agent, is scheduled to take office on January 19.
The Knesset Interior Committee unanimously passed a bill on Monday that will allow prisoners to vote in municipal elections while incarcerated. The bill, initiated by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), is similar in its essence to the amendment bill that passed in 1986, which gave prisoners the right to vote in the general – but not municipal – election. The bill now needs to be approved by the Knesset in its first reading. The MKs explained that each citizen holds more weight in municipal elections than they do in national elections, and that the outcome has major implications on their day to day life.