In less than 40 days, Libya is set to witness the first elections since the ouster of the late Moammar Gahdafi. But are the elections coming too early? Post-conflict elections should mark the pinnacle point in the recovery and reconstruction of Libya. Libyans and the international community look at the election on June 19 as a milestone toward peace and democracy. But some studies show history can paint a gloomy picture of elections held soon after bloody armed struggles, when political institutions may be weak or non-existent. Many believe elections soon after the armed conflict that ended Moammar Gadhafi’s regime would foster the promise of peace and democracy. It would show a democratic transition and effective recontruction, which in turn would assure the international community about the stability of Libya. Elections would also help post-conflict Libya attract much needed foreign assistance and investment to help rebuild the country.
Editorials: Money Unlimited: How John Roberts Orchestrated Citizens United | Jeffrey Toobin/The New Yorker
When Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was first argued before the Supreme Court, on March 24, 2009, it seemed like a case of modest importance. The issue before the Justices was a narrow one. The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law prohibited corporations from running television commercials for or against Presidential candidates for thirty days before primaries. During that period, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, had wanted to run a documentary, as a cable video on demand, called “Hillary: The Movie,” which was critical of Hillary Clinton. The F.E.C. had prohibited the broadcast under McCain-Feingold, and Citizens United had challenged the decision. There did not seem to be a lot riding on the outcome. After all, how many nonprofits wanted to run documentaries about Presidential candidates, using relatively obscure technologies, just before elections? Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., summoned Theodore B. Olson, the lawyer for Citizens United, to the podium. Roberts’s voice bears a flat-vowelled trace of his origins, in Indiana. Unlike his predecessor, William Rehnquist, Roberts rarely shows irritation or frustration on the bench. A well-mannered Midwesterner, he invariably lets one of his colleagues ask the first questions.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the some of us who believe that the corrupting influence of money in American politics is the most important issue facing this nation, and that those who believe like us face a difficult dilemma: neither major party candidate is going to make this his issue for this campaign (indeed, the Obama campaign has just airbrushed his criticism of Citizens United from their webpage). So those of us who think this way must either accept that the issue will go dark for four years at least, or push a third-party candidate who will make this his central issue. I grabbed the second horn of that dilemma, arguing here that supporters of corruption reform should join Americans Elect and endorse a reform candidate. Two obvious choices lead the Americans Elect pack: Buddy Roemer, the four-time congressman and former governor of Louisiana, and David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States. Both, I said, would be important reform candidates. Either could push corruption onto center stage.
On May 4 the Washington Post published what Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo called an “alarming—and darkly ironic” story stating voter registrations have dropped for African-Americans and Latino Americans. WaPo reporter Krissah Thompson wrote in her lead:
The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters.
By some accounts, it was true. Census numbers, which measured between the 2008 presidential and the 2010 midterm elections, showed that the number of African-American registered voters had fallen from about 17.3 million to about 16.1 million nationally. But the Obama campaign and a number of academics disputed the Post’s conclusion that Obama might be in trouble, instead saying the Census’s methodology is flawed and that voter registration among African-Americans and Latino Americans is actually up.
When Americans elect announced last July that it was pouring millions into placing a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, the political world snapped to attention. Barack Obama’s longtime political adviser David Axelrod revealed his concern by publicly criticizing the group, while pundits gushed. “Watch out,” declared New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that Americans Elect might change politics the way the iPod changed music. So far, Americans Elect is looking more like the Zune than the iPod. The group canceled a May 8 online caucus after no candidate met the necessary criterion of 1,000 backers in each of 10 states. More voting scheduled for later this month may also be scratched; it’s possible that Americans Elect won’t nominate a single candidate. That might say more about this well-intentioned effort’s shortcomings than it does about the durability of our two-party system. Founded by a group of political centrists, including former investment banker Peter Ackerman, Americans Elect had a promising plan: “break gridlock” and challenge “special interests” by helping elect a President beholden to no party. It invited people to join online, nominate candidates and ultimately select one through Internet voting. (To be eligible, candidates needed credentials meeting the group’s somewhat subjective criteria.)
Having now been forced to cancel two primary ballots in a row due to the American electorate’sutter failure to respond to its spiel, Americans Elect may now be judged by any rational observer of the political scene to be an abject failure, and dead in the water. So what happens now? When Americans Elect’s predecessor, Unity08, failed similarly in 2008 (albeit much earlier in its existence, before a single ‘vote’ had been cast), that organization simply silently evaporated. That was really the only option available to Unity08’s leadership, because it was a worthless property: it was merely a thin web site, with no money behind it, and its founders had scattered to the four winds (many to their next failure, a ‘Draft Bloomberg’ initiative). So its operators simply abandoned it. Like a rusty old Buick up on cinder blocks in a weed-choked vacant lot, its twisted carcass had no significant scrap value.
Faced with Voter ID legislation that would disenfranchise thousands of Virginians, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is in a quandary. He can veto the bill and incur the wrath of fellow Republicans, or sign it and reinforce the GOP’s image of hostility toward young, poor and black voters. Mr. McDonnell is all too aware that the bill, passed by Republican lawmakers despite his warning about legislative overreach, is gratuitous at best. That’s why he sent it back to the General Assembly with amendments that would eliminate its most obnoxious feature: a requirement that ballots cast by voters who lack identification be thrown out unless the voters make a separate trek to local electoral offices to prove their identity. But the General Assembly restored that provision and sent the bill back to Mr. McDonnell, who now faces a decision: Does he want to be known as a partisan street brawler, or as a grown-up who governs with restraint?
Since the beginning of 2011, lawmakers around the country abruptly enacted laws to curb voting rights and tighten registration rules. These measures are fiercely controversial. But lately the debate has taken a surprising turn. Suppressive voting laws have met resistance at the polls and in the courts. This surprisingly emphatic twist is good for our democracy. If the restriction of voting rights can be blocked or blunted, it will give us an opportunity to move forward with bipartisan reforms to our ramshackle registration system. Consider the recent backlash.
In Maine, voters reversed a new law, passed in June 2011, that ended same-day registration. Now voters will be able to register on Election Day in 2012. In Ohio, more than 300,000 citizens signed petitions, enough to temporarily suspend the state’s new law that curbed early voting and force a statewide referendum in November. Now nervous Republicans are close to a deal with Democrats that would repeal the law and restore early voting for the three days before the election. Florida, meanwhile, imposed onerous penalties and paperwork burdens on volunteers who sign up voters. Helping your neighbors participate in our democracy is not something we should restrict, which is why the Brennan Center is leading the fight to challenge this law. We represent the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and other civic groups that have shut down registration drives. The league has won similar lawsuits twice before and now awaits a judge’s ruling, which is expected soon. Even on the contentious issue of requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, the strictest new laws have slammed into legal barriers.
Republicans are waging the most concerted campaign to prevent or discourage citizens from exercising their legitimate voting rights since the Jim Crow days of poll taxes and literacy tests. Four years ago, Democrats expanded American democracy by registering millions of new voters — mostly young people and minorities — and persuading them to show up at the polls. Apparently, the GOP is determined not to let any such thing happen again. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which keeps track of changes in voting laws, 22 statutes and two executive actions aimed at restricting the franchise have been approved in 17 states since the beginning of 2011. By the center’s count, an additional 74 such bills are pending.
Remember standardized testing when you were a kid? You’d fill in those ovals with that Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 until your eyes bugged out. Schools provided “smart snacks” of carrots and apples on testing days. I’m sure you’re good, honest folks, but what a horrible position to put you in. “Oh, I knew this answer, I just forgot.” That’s basically what Anchorage Assembly chair Ernie Hall and the “election commission” appointed by Mayor Dan Sullivan, did this week. They graded their own performance on a debacle of an election and said, “There’s nothing to see, nothing wrong, and we don’t want anyone else to grade us either!”
Editorials: FCC Brings Sunlight to Elections, But the SEC Needs to Help, Too | Ciara Torres-Spelliscy/Huffington Post
2010 was a dark, even apocryphal election during which much of the political spending was from groups who did not reveal themselves. In the 2012 election, we might just have a bit more transparency. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited sums on elections. The case also ruled that transparency rules still apply to political ads. Justice Kennedy wrote, “A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before to-day.” This phrase from the court basically cries out for the political branches to act to bring better disclosure to elections. At long last, at least one federal agency has awakened from its deep slumber to bring the public improved transparency on political spending. It wasn’t the moribund Federal Election Commission (FEC). On April 27, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to place broadcasters’ political files online. This is a big step in the right direction.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Unfortunately, Kent Kaiser’s piece (“Photo ID: An end to ‘same-day’ registration in Minnesota? Not true,” April 17) attempts to distort what is actually lurking in the voter ID constitutional amendment. Under current Minnesota law, this proposed constitutional amendment to change Minnesota’s election system would force every person who registers in the polling place on Election Day to submit a provisional ballot; that is, they would not be allowed to cast a real ballot. This fundamental change is required because the amendment says that “All voters must be subject to substantially equivalent eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.” While most people understandably won’t grasp the implications of this statement when they read the ballot question, an election official understands that immediate eligibility verification is not possible. Practically speaking, for voters who need to update their voting address on Election Day and others doing same-day registration, election judges would have to check multiple databases to verify their name, address, date of birth with the state’s department of public safety, department of health, national death registry and the federal social security office.
Last July Isaac Weix, an apparent Republican, entered the election recall race of state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf as a Democrat to force a primary election for Harsdorf’s Democrat opponent Shelly Moore. Weix’s motivation was that a primary would give Harsdorf more time to campaign for the general recall election. This year recall fever revs up again. More state lawmakers, including Gov. Scott Walker, are facing recall elections. Statewide, six Republicans are running as fake Democrats to force primaries. Walker, too, has a “fake” opponent: Arthur Kohl-Riggs, whose motto is “Less of a joke than Scott Walker,” has collected enough signatures to force a Republican primary. Kohl-Riggs has never been associated with the Republican Party.
Now that the Republican primaries in the U.S. have been decided in favor of Mitt Romney, and Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande are facing off in France, perhaps the most critical presidential ‘primaries’ of all are being fought out in Egypt. Everything is at stake here, arguably not just for Egypt, but for the region and the world. The future of the Arab Spring hangs in the balance, with three possible scenarios: Egypt’s elections return a hardliner Islamist for president, setting it on the path of Ayatollah Iran, confirming the worst fears of the West; or the military re-asserts its role in the power balance, along the lines of traditional Turkish politics; or, in a case of Mubarak redux, an old regime loyalist is brought in to protect the interests of the beleagured business elite.
Despite two centuries of a national history extending the right to vote to ever more Americans, state legislatures have recently passed a flurry of laws that make voting more difficult. Some require government-issued photo identification cards; others are obstructing early voting or restricting voter registration drives. It’s time for Congress to protect the rights citizens of a democracy hold most dear and create the opportunity for greater citizen participation. Members can begin by opening up the voter rolls to the four million Americans covered by the Democracy Restoration Act.
America has had a few episodes of voter registration fraud – people being paid to fake signatures to satisfy voting requirements. Election mischief, like the annual robocalls that remind people to vote on the wrong Tuesday, is much more commonplace. Voting officials also regularly find signs that election machines have been tampered with. In Virginia, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported recently, there’s an ongoing state police investigation into fraud by individual voters, most of them felons who hadn’t had their rights restored but tried to vote anyway. None of these problems would be addressed by the voter ID legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. Last week, the legislature rejected amendments to ease restrictions that, in the governor’s words, seem specifically designed to disenfranchise certain voters.
With Greek elections looming, the country’s mainstream political forces are melting down and splintering into smaller, more radical factions, all of which are vowing to deliver Greece from its EU bailout terms. In his campaign kickoff speech on April 19, Greek socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos described the state of Greek politics as “rudderless”. “This political dead end will multiply and deepen the economic and social crisis,” he said. Venizelos was holding up the specter of ungovernability, which currently haunts Greek politics, to deter voters from punitive action at the ballot box. More than four in ten voters say they are going to the polls to punish socialists and conservatives for their mismanagement of the economy in previous years, rather than to elect the best possible government.
After Minnesota took eight excruciating months to decide that Al Franken had beaten Norm Coleman in the 2008 U.S. Senate race, followed by the close (but not nearly as close as Coleman-Franken) 2010 gubernatorial race which resulted in a recount and raised the possibility that no winner would be sworn in on inauguration day, Minnesotans may feel a little cursed, a little shell-shocked and occasionally wondering what the rest of the country thinks is wrong with us election-wise. Those two experiences do suggest that – contrary to its national reputation as a solid blue state – Minnesota is very evenly divided politically in state races. But to those who understand the law and mechanics of elections, the two recounts also showed the Minnesota is a national model in the nuts and bolts of running elections and, when the elections are very close, running recounts that that inspire trust. At least that was the overwhelming sense of a panel of election experts that met yesterday at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School.
Within weeks, Mali has plunged from being a sovereign democracy to a fractured territory without a state, occupied by competing rebel groups in the north while politicians and coup leaders in the south jostle for control of the capital Bamako. There is no sign the broken nation can be put back together soon – raising concerns among neighbours and Western powers of the emergence of a lawless “rogue state” exploited by al Qaeda and criminals. “We have never been in such a dire situation at any other time in our history,” said Mahmoud Dicko, influential head of the Islamic High Council in the poor former French colony once seen as a poster child for electoral democracy in West Africa. There is no state and two-thirds of the country is out of control,” he said of the seizure by a mix of Islamists and Tuareg-led separatists of the northern desert territory one-and-a-half-times the size of France.
Russian lawmakers approved legislation on Wednesday that will revive elections of regional leaders, but Kremlin opponents said the bill will give President-elect Vladimir Putin and his allies too much power over who is allowed to run. Putin abolished elections of provincial leaders as part of what critics called a rollback of democracy during his 2000-2008 presidency, appointing them instead to give him greater control over far-flung corners of the world’s biggest country. Restoring regional elections is part of a bid to please Russians fed up with their lack of political power and appease foes who staged the biggest opposition protests of Putin’s 12-year rule in recent months. But the bill, passed by a narrow margin in the lower house of parliament where the ruling United Russia party has a slim majority, requires candidates to have support from local legislators or government officials to run.
Since the beginning of 2011, states across the country have passed new laws restricting the right to vote. From voter ID to curbs on early voting and registration drives, these controversial measures could make it harder for millions of Americans to vote this year, including a disproportionate number of minority, young, and elderly voters. The photo ID law passed by Texas, for example, could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot, including a disproportionate number of minorities, as the data shows. Voting rights advocates are fighting these laws in the courts, but in addition to these direct attacks on the franchise, opponents are now threatening a cornerstone of American civil rights law — the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to combat discrimination in voting. It has successfully protected voters against decades of discriminatory measures that had disenfranchised African Americans, Latinos, and many other Americans. The VRA was even reauthorized in 2006 with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, and it was signed by President George W. Bush. Elected officials in both parties recognized the VRA is still needed because discrimination against minority voters continues to this day. For example, in recent years, the Justice Department forced Texas to stop discriminatory actions against voters at historically black colleges and universities.
The criminal trial of John Edwards has accomplished what seemed impossible for a former presidential candidate who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife: elicit sympathy. Legal – not moral — reasoning has propelled the rush to his defense, and it’s been a vociferous pushback. A cadre of influential campaign finance experts has argued that federal prosecutors might be unfairly targeting Edwards over the nearly $1 million, drawn from the coffers of two wealthy donors, spent to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 presidential campaign. Their bottom line: The legality surrounding the payments is a gray area at best, and criminal, rather than civil, punishment could establish a dangerous precedent that risks increasing future political prosecutions. But as the trial began on Monday, a group of longtime campaign law observers suggested that dismissal of the case could have huge implications for federal regulation of how campaigns are financed. If the prosecution is unsuccessful and the Federal Election Commission takes no follow-up action, they say that the verdict could open yet another floodgate for well-heeled donors to wield influence over political candidates in a system already awash in money.
I recently visited Russia, where a mild-mannered historian from the city of Astrakhan, Oleg Shein, is on a hunger strike protesting a stolen mayoral election he believes he won. But as Russia starves for free and fair elections, Republicans across the United States are starving our democracy — and too few have noticed. And their furious assault on voting rights is no less destructive to democracy than the vote-rigging we deplore in Russia. Over the past year, Republican legislators in 34 states have proposed legislation that would drastically restrict voting for an estimated 5 million eligible voters. Seven states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo ID — which more than one in 10 Americans lacks — and dozens of others have eliminated early voting, disenfranchised ex-felons or limited the ability of civic organizations to register voters. The consequences are clear in Texas, for example, where you can now register to vote with a handgun license but not a college ID.
This past week, the decision by the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) to shut down its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the task force that refined and promoted strict photo ID legislation that has been popping up in state legislatures over the past two years, was a significant victory for voting rights advocates. However, the damage is already done. Strict voter photo ID laws will be in place in several states this election, potentially disenfranchising millions if they don’t get the ID they need to vote. While several voting rights groups are fighting to get these laws overturned in the courts, organizers and community groups on the ground are stepping up to make sure that voters will have the IDs they need to be able to vote. Already, in Tennessee and Wisconsin, community groups and statewide organizations have developed programs to identify voters that lack a photo ID and to help them get the ID they need to vote.
New state laws designed to fight voter fraud could reduce the number of Americans signing up to vote in this year’s presidential election by hundreds of thousands, a potential problem for President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. Voting laws passed by Republican-led legislatures in a dozen states during the past year have sharply restricted voter-registration drives that typically target young, low-income, African-American and Hispanic voters – groups that have backed the Democratic president by wide margins. A further 16 states are considering bills that would end voter registration on election days, impose a range of limits on groups that register voters and make it more difficult for people to sign up, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. The new laws – many of which include measures requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls – could carve into Obama’s potential support in Florida, Ohio and a few other politically divided states likely to be crucial in the November 6 election, analysts say.
We are about to have the worst presidential campaign money can buy. The Supreme Court’s dreadful Citizens United decision and a somnolent Federal Election Commission will allow hundreds of millions of dollars from a small number of very wealthy people and interests to inundate our airwaves with often vicious advertisements for which no candidate will be accountable. One would like to think that the court will eventually admit the folly of its 2010 ruling and reverse it. But we can’t wait that long. And out of this dreary landscape, hope is blossoming in the state of New York. There’s irony here, since New York is where a lot of the big national money is coming from. No matter. The state is considering a campaign finance law that would repair some of the Citizens United damage, and in a way the Supreme Court wouldn’t be able to touch.
Editorials: The New York Times’ Disingenuous Campaign Against Citizens United | Wendy Kaminer/The Atlantic
Like Fox News, The New York Times has a First Amendment right to spread misinformation about important public issues, and it is exercising that right in its campaign against the Citizens United ruling. In news stories, as well as columns, it has repeatedly mischaracterized Citizens United, explicitly or implicitly blaming it for allowing unlimited “super PAC” contributions from mega-rich individuals. In fact, Citizens United enabled corporations and unions to use general treasury funds for independent political expenditures; it did not expand or address the longstanding, individual rights of the rich to support independent groups. And, as recent reports have made clear, individual donors, not corporations, are the primary funders of super PACs. When I first focused on the inaccurate reference to Citizens United in a front-page story about Sheldon Adelson, I assumed it was a more or less honest if negligent mistake. (And I still don’t blame columnists for misconceptions about a complicated case that are gleaned from news stories and apparently shared by their editors.) But mistakes aboutCitizens United are beginning to look more like propaganda, because even after being alerted to its misstatements, theTimes has continued to repeat them. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams wrote to the editors pointing out mischaracterizations of Citizens United in two news stories, but instead of publishing corrections, the Times published Abrams’ letter on the editorial page, effectively framing a factual error as a difference of opinion. Since then the error has reappeared: A February 21 post by Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal attributes Sheldon Adelson’s ability to influence the election to Citizens United. “Thanks to Citizens United, unlimited contributions to third-party groups are legal,” Rosenthal asserts.
Court watchers say a Texas case could trigger the dismantling of a decades-old civil rights law. Steven Shapiro, the American Civil Liberties Union’s national legal director, is to speak in Houston today, analyzing recent trends by the nation’s highest court. Texas is among nine mostly southern states with a history of discrimination which are required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act to get federal clearance before changing election rules. That’s why a new Texas voter-photo-ID law is on hold: It failed to win the Justice Department’s blessing. The state is now suing, and the case is likely to head to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The court has dropped some hints that it’s prepared to rethink the whole issue. I would like to believe that the court will not strike down what I think has been the single most successful civil rights law in American history, but I think people are appropriately anxious.”
There’s one key that always fits Washington’s locks: a big campaign check. President Obama boasts about the many small donors who propelled him to office, but it’s the biggest givers who find the White House doors smoothly swinging open. Mitt Romney has tried to appeal to those in the middle class, but they’re not invited to the retreats with those who give him $50,000. And, despite decades of money abuses and scandal, neither presidential candidate has shown any interest in reforming the system. As Mike McIntire and Michael Luo reported in The Times on Sunday, big donors to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party are far more likely to be welcomed at the White House than those who gave smaller gifts. Two-thirds of the president’s biggest fund-raisers in 2008 visited the White House at least once, as did three-fourths of those who gave $100,000 or more. Reinforcing the appearance that money is being traded for access, many donors made their contributions in close proximity to their visits. Joe Kiani, the chairman and chief executive of the Masimo Corporation, a medical device company, gave the maximum of $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund, which benefits the president’s campaign and the Democratic Party, just as he was attending a series of meetings with White House officials. At the time, his industry was lobbying to repeal a tax on medical devices.
Hours after dropping out of the presidential race this month, Rick Santorum fired off an e-mail to supporters asking for “one more” contribution: “I am planning to do everything in my power to bring a change about in the White House,” he wrote. “But our campaign has debt, and I cannot be free to focus on helping defeat [Barack Obama] with this burden.” Santorum maintains his campaign is less than $1 million in debt, and his adviser John Brabender says, “We feel good that in short order we’ll be able to wrap things up.” Yet if history is any indication, the candidate may be living with the financial legacy of his failed candidacy for a long time. Running for president is exhausting and all-consuming. Putting an end to a presidential campaign can be a nightmare that lasts years. There are employees, consultants, lawyers, and ad makers clamoring to be paid, ad buys to cancel, contracts and legal disputes to settle, office space, computers, phones, and furniture around the country to unload, and a staggering pile of disclosure forms and other paperwork to complete before the Federal Election Commission will certify that a campaign is officially over. “I would often say to people: Imagine starting a $100 million business from zero, building it up, running it, and then bringing it back down to zero all within nine months or a year’s time,” says Joe Stoltz, the FEC’s former director of auditing. “You don’t see many businesses come and go that quickly. It’s not easy.”