This is a fragile moment for the nation. The integrity of democratic institutions is under assault from without and within, and basic standards of honesty and decency in public life are corroding. If you are horrified at what is happening in Washington and in many states, you can march in the streets, you can go to town halls and demand more from your representatives, you can share the latest outrageous news on your social media feed — all worthwhile activities. But none of it matters if you don’t go out and vote. It’s a perennial conundrum for the world’s oldest democracy: Why do so many Americans fail to go to the polls? Some abstainers think that they’re registering a protest against the awful choices. They’re fooling themselves. Nonvoters aren’t protesting anything; they’re just putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote. We’ve seen recently what can happen when people choose instead to take their protest to the ballot box. We saw it in Virginia in November. We saw it, to our astonishment, in Alabama in December. We may see it this week in western Pennsylvania. Voting matters.
Hong Kong residents voted Sunday in by-elections that give opposition supporters the chance to recapture lost ground in a contest measuring voters’ appetite for democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese city. The vote pitted pro-Beijing loyalists against opposition candidates competing for four seats in the city’s semi-democratic legislature. They’re among six seats left empty when a group of lawmakers were expelled following a 2016 controversy over their oaths, which they used to defy China. The ejected members included two advocating Hong Kong’s independence, something Chinese President Xi Jinping has called a “red line.”
In 2015, the Brennan Center for Justice conducted a major study on voting machine security that found most states were relying on dangerously outdated hardware and software, leaving them vulnerable to hackers while doing little to provide for accurate post-election auditing. On March 8, 2018, the center released an update to that report and found that not much has changed. Jurisdictions in 41 states are using voting systems at least a decade out of date going into the 2018 elections, barely an improvement from the 2015 study, when 44 states reported long-obsolete voting tech. The number of states in which election officials said they must replace voting equipment by 2020 actually increased, from 31 in 2015 to 33 in 2018.
National: Trump wants new authority over polling places. Top election officials say no | The Boston Globe
President Trump would be able to dispatch Secret Service agents to polling places nationwide during a federal election, a vast expansion of executive authority, if a provision in a Homeland Security reauthorization bill remains intact. The rider has prompted outrage from more than a dozen top elections officials around the country, including Secretary of State William F. Galvin of Massachusetts, a Democrat, who says he is worried that it could be used to intimidate voters and said there is “no basis” for providing Trump with this new authority. “This is worthy of a Third World country,” said Galvin in an interview. “I’m not going to tolerate people showing up to our polling places. I would not want to have federal agents showing up in largely Hispanic areas.” “The potential for mischief here is enormous,” Galvin added. The provision alarming him and others is a rider attached to legislation that would re-authorize the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation already cleared the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.
Democrats took their first official steps Saturday to reduce the power of unpledged delegates in presidential primaries, with the Democratic National Committee voting to “revise the role and reduce the perceived influence” of superdelegates before the next election. That vote, which is likely to reduce the number of superdelegates by at least half, came after 21 months of debate that began at the party’s 2016 convention in Philadelphia. Saturday’s discussion found a party determined to move past the 2016 primaries between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in large part by reducing the power of the party’s establishment to pick a nominee. “These are changes that I’m confident that people all over this country want to see,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the party’s deputy chairman and one of few Democratic members of Congress who backed Sanders for president. “I’m prepared to tell you that as a member of Congress, I don’t need more power than anybody else.”
With crucial midterm elections coming up later this year, Republicans continue to use a landmark Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to clamp down on voting rights and access. John M. Gore, appointed by President Donald Trump as acting head of the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, has a history of defending Republican redistricting plans in Virginia, South Carolina, New York and Florida. One of Gore’s first moves in his new role was to drop part of a lawsuit challenging the Texas voter ID requirements that help keep minorities from voting. Such restrictions have become more common since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Thirty-four states now have voter ID laws.
A 7-month-old law that requires Arkansas voters to show a government-endorsed photo identification to ensure that their ballot is counted goes before a judge today for the first test of its legality. Longtime Pulaski County poll worker Barry Haas, represented by Little Rock attorney Jeff Priebe, has asked Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray to block continued enforcement of Act 633 of 2017 until a trial that would determine whether the provision is legal. To prevail, Haas will have to show that the identification law violates the state constitution and that his legal arguments are likely going to prevail at that yet-to-be-scheduled trial. He sued the secretary of state and the state Board of Election last month, challenging the legality of the law. Gray is scheduled to hear arguments at 9:45 a.m.
Iowa: Voter ID law rolls out during Polk County sales tax vote, causes confusion | Des Monies Register
James Sasek headed to his polling place Tuesday evening with two goals. He wanted to vote in Polk County’s sales tax election and he wanted to test the effectiveness of Iowa’s new voter ID law. Sasek cast his ballot, but only after 10 minutes of negotiating with poll workers who were unsure how to handle a voter unable or unwilling to present identification, he said. Polk County’s sales tax vote Tuesday was the “soft rollout” of the state’s voter ID law that will eventually require Iowans to present an accepted form of identification before casting a ballot. The law does not go into effect until 2019, but county auditors are testing the system this year. Voters on Tuesday were asked to present an ID. Those who could not were supposed to sign an oath verifying their identity and receive a regular ballot.
Kris Kobach used as an expert witness in a voting rights trial Friday a controversial scholar who wanted to block Democrats and mainstream Republicans from serving on a presidential commission. Hans von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has written a book on voter fraud, testified in support of a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship. It was the fourth day of the federal trial in Kansas City, Kan. Von Spakovsky contended that other methods of identifying non-citizens on the voter rolls, such as comparing the voter rolls against the list of driver’s licenses for legal immigrants, are insufficient because they would not be able to identify illegal immigrants. He also said that the threat of prosecution for voter fraud does not do enough to deter non-citizen voting “because we basically have an honor system” in U.S. elections.
For a public employee with a full-time job, Kris Kobach has an enviable amount of free time. Elected Kansas secretary of state in 2010, he traveled the country advising right-wing politicians on the best ways to chase undocumented immigrants from their states. After the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Kobach kept his day job in Kansas while leading Trump’s voter-fraud commission, a political Hindenburg that self-combusted in January after having conspicuously compiled no evidence whatsoever to justify its existence. This week, Kobach, who is frequently away from his office running for governor, is in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, where he has opted to represent his office in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters and individuals.
Pennsylvania: Federal judges hear arguments in congressional map fight: Should they block new map? | Philadelphia Inquirer
A panel of federal judges, asked by GOP lawmakers to block the new Pennsylvania congressional map, on Friday questioned whether it should wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to act on a similar request and if blocking the map would further disrupt an already tumultuous election cycle. The three judges — Chief U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Judge Kent A. Jordan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and District Judge Jerome B. Simandle for the District of New Jersey — were equally aggressive Friday in questioning both sides in the case during four hours of testimony. They said they would release a decision soon. A group of eight congressmen and two state Senate leaders, all Republicans, are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the congressional map imposed last month by the state high court, arguing that the court stole power that the Constitution gives to state lawmakers.
Utah: No Republican candidates on the Utah ballot this year? It’s a possibility after planned fix falters. | The Salt Lake Tribune
Imagine this year’s ballot with no Utah candidates listed as Republicans. Or, alternatively, the ballot listing only those Republicans who gathered signatures, while others who went through the GOP convention are shut out. Republicans say those scenarios are a growing possibility now that the Legislature failed to pass a bill designed to fix problems caused by a recent bylaw change adopted by the Republican State Central Committee. The fix-it bill, HB485, passed the House. It was on the Senate calendar awaiting action Thursday night when the Legislature adjourned as required at midnight — so it died. Now, “I think there’s certainly a cloud over this election,” Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, sponsor of the bill, said Friday.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp will try to claw back lost seats as polls opened early Sunday in controversial by-elections that have exposed the heart of the city’s political divide. The vote comes as China signals a harder line against any challenges to its sovereignty, with high-profile young candidate Agnes Chow barred from standing because her party promotes self-determination for the semi-autonomous city. Beijing has become increasingly incensed at the emergence of activists advocating independence and sees calls for self-determination as part of a splittist push. The by-election was triggered after Beijing forced the disqualification of six rebel lawmakers who had swept to victory in citywide elections in 2016.
President Xi Jinping set China on course to follow his hard-line authoritarian rule far into the future on Sunday, when the national legislature lifted the presidential term limit and gave constitutional backing to expanding the reach of the Communist Party. Under the red-starred dome of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, nearly 3,000 delegates of the National People’s Congress, the party-controlled legislature, voted almost unanimously to approve an amendment to the Constitution to abolish the term limit on the presidency, opening the way for Mr. Xi to rule indefinitely. The amendment was among a set of 21 constitutional changes approved by the congress, which included passages added to the Constitution to salute Mr. Xi and his drive to entrench party supremacy.
Cuba votes for a new National Assembly on Sunday, March 11 a key step in a process leading to the election of a new president, the first in nearly 60 years from outside the Castro family. The new members of the National Assembly will be tasked with choosing a successor to 86-year-old President Raul Castro when he steps down next month. Raul took over in 2006 from his ailing brother Fidel, who had governed since seizing power during the 1959 revolution. Eight million Cubans are expected to turn out to ratify 605 candidates for an equal number of seats in the Assembly, a process shorn of suspense and unique to the Communist-run Caribbean island nation.
Colombian voters turned to right-wing parties critical of the country’s peace deal with the main leftist rebels and knocked the current president’s party down in congressional elections, raising questions about the future of the accord. Sunday’s vote was seen as a barometer for a fiercely contested presidential election in May. It was also the first time former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, competed politically since disarming under the 2016 peace deal to end a half century of conflict. As expected, support for their radical agenda was soundly rejected, with FARC candidates getting less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. That means their political party will get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord.
In the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, political activists are raffling a car, while in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, the prize is an iPhone X. In Berdsk, the best selfie will be plastered across a billboard. The catch? To qualify for a chance to win, Russians must turn out to vote. There is little doubt that Vladimir Putin will win a fourth term as president in the election next Sunday, making him the first Kremlin leader since Stalin to serve two decades in power. But in an uncontested political field, the Kremlin is worried about turnout. And with concerns that Putin’s appeal alone may not be enough to get out the vote, officials across the country are experimenting with raffles, competitions and the occasional referendum – like one in Volgograd that asks voters whether they want to change time zones – all in an effort to ensure Putin wins with greater support than in 2012.
Rival supporters clashed in Freetown on Saturday after early results from Sierre Leone’s presidential election indicated a runoff would be needed with no candidate set to secure the 55% required to win outright. With incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma standing down after two terms, his All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara was just leading Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), based on 25% of returns from the National Electoral Commission (NEC). The NEC gave former foreign minister Kamara a near 45% share of the vote so far against 42% for former general Bio in Wednesday’s poll.