The Minnesota Legislature is poised to vote on a proposed Constitutional amendment that would replace same-day voter registration with a new election system called provisional voting. Not only would this new system cost local governments tens of millions in new tax dollars, it would delay the reporting of election results while we all waited for 500,000-600,000 provisional ballots to be processed. Since one-third of all provisional ballots nationwide are never counted, this could reduce our overall vote count by up to 200,000, knocking us out of our position as the state with the highest voter turnout in the nation. Given that over half-million Minnesotans normally use same-day registration in big election years, this kind of radical change should not be taken lightly.
The moment that crystallized this nation’s reputation as one of Africa’s established democracies was in the morning after the presidential election 12 years ago. In the neoclassical presidential palace, Senegalese President Abdou Diouf stayed awake all night, counting and recounting the results that showed in no uncertain terms that he had lost. Mr. Diouf could have rigged the election from the start, as his neighbor to the north in Mauritania had the habit of doing. He could have stacked the court in charge of validating the election with supporters, the strategy his neighbor to the south in Ivory Coast would put to good use one day. He could have deployed the army to keep his grasp on power like in nearby Guinea, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau – all of which share a border with Senegal, a nation of 12.4 million on Africa’s western edge. Instead, the 64-year-old president emerged from his office, told his aides to draft a statement conceding defeat and picked up the phone to congratulate the man who had beaten him, Abdoulaye Wade.
The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United in 2010 was shaped by an extreme view of the First Amendment: money equals speech, and independent spending by wealthy organizations and individuals poses no problem to the political system. The court cavalierly dismissed worries that those with big bank accounts — and big megaphones — have an unfair advantage in exerting political power. It simply asserted that “the people have the ultimate influence over elected officials” — as if campaigns were not in the business of influencing and manipulating voters. The flood of money unleashed this election season is a direct consequence of this naïve, damaging view, which has allowed wealthy organizations and individuals to drown out other voices in the campaign. The decision created a controlling precedent for other legal decisions that made so-called super PACs the primary vehicles for unlimited spending from wealthy organizations and individuals. In theory, they operate independently of candidates. In reality, candidates are outsourcing their attack ads to PACs, so financing a PAC is equivalent to financing a campaign.
The time has come for a national conversation about guaranteeing the right to vote—based on one’s legal eligibility, and not the form of ID in their wallet. On March 14, Pennsylvania became the eighth state to toughen voter ID requirements in the past year, following Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. While these voter ID laws take many forms, the most restrictive require voters to obtain a government-issued photo ID to get a ballot on Election Day, which voting rights advocates say could deter several million people who lack birth certificates and other documentation from obtaining the ID and voting. To date, the conversation on voter ID has followed well-worn contours. Legislative advocates for these laws, almost all Republicans, claim that they uphold election “integrity” by curbing voter impersonation fraud. Opponents say the laws are policing a problem that barely exists and that current law enforcement aptly addresses. In addition, the laws intentionally place unfair requirements on specific demographic sectors that lean Democratic, which can ultimately lead to disenfranchisement.
Taking advantage of relaxed campaign finance laws, a cadre of deep-pocketed donors are spending gobs of money to bankroll super PACs, a phenomenon that is reshaping the modern election cycle. It is a select group. The top 100 individual super PAC donors make up just 3.7% of those who have contributed to the new money vehicles, but account for more than 80% of the total money raised, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. And just the top 46 donors have given a total of $67 million, or two-thirds of the $112 million in individual gifts to super PACs this cycle. Membership in this select group requires a $500,000 minimum donation. So who are these folks?
Last year, Republicans introduced legislation in thirty-four states to mandate government-issued photo IDs to cast a ballot. Nine GOP states have passed voter ID laws since the 2010 election, including Pennsylvania earlier last month. Minnesota, another important battleground state, could be next. Last year, Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a bill from the GOP legislature that would have given the state the strictest voter ID law in the nation, prohibiting passports, military IDs and student IDs as valid documentation. Now the legislature is bypassing the governor by approving a constitutional amendment for voter ID that will go on the November ballot. The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the legislation; once agreed upon, the measure will go on the 2012 ballot. If approved by voters, the 2013 legislature will implement the particulars of the law.
Editorials: Don’t Blame The Supreme Court For Citizens United — Blame Congress, The FEC And The IRS | Huffington Post
The two most controversial campaign financing practices of the post-Citizens United era aren’t actually the Supreme Court’s fault. The court’s conservative majority most certainly expected that its 2010 ruling, which granted First Amendment rights to corporations and equated money to speech, would unleash unprecedented amounts of political spending. But when people rail against Citizens United these days, they’re often complaining about two things in particular: the candidate-specific super PACs that implausibly claim to be independent of the candidates they’re backing, and the political slush funds that can accept unlimited secret donations by claiming to be issue-oriented nonprofits. Neither were inevitable byproducts of Citizens United — or a subsequent lower court ruling. They are things that could be fixed either legislatively, administratively, or both. But without a good shove, Congress, the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service all appear unlikely to pursue solutions.
The way elections are supposed to run — the way they were set up to operate — is that the voters elect the office holders, not the other way around. This is the basic premise that supports the challenges against Texas’ redistricting schemes and more recently the state’s voter ID law. What’s happened is that the basic electoral premise has been turned on its head. It’s a layering of two things: some politicians have decided that the end justifies the means, and at the same time they think no one is looking. And that’s only one-fourth correct.
Last week the Department of Justice denied preclearance to Texas’s law requiring voters to present photo identification under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states and jurisdictions with a demonstrated history of passing discriminatory election laws to get approval from the DOJ for any change to laws governing the time, place or manner in which an election is conducted. Within days Texas filed a challenge in federal court arguing that Section 5 is unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott maintains that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Tenth Amendment when it passed the measure. Conservative opponents of civil rights are eager to see that challenge succeed. Writing in National Review—which opposed the civil rights movement—vice chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights and conservative scholar Abigail Thernstrom argues that Section 5 is outdated. National Review’s evolution on the subject is the standard conservative slither on civil rights. First you oppose it. Then, when society has evolved and you look like a bigot, you accept it. Then, as soon as humanly possible, you argue it was necessary at the time but no longer is.
Set aside for a moment your actual opinion of whether Mississippi’s new voter ID laws are a necessary safeguard against voter fraud and consider only the fact that 2012 is year in which an incumbent Democrat is seeking re-election to the White House. Consider, too, that Democratic President Barack Obama appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the U.S. Justice Department, which continues to hold tremendous sway over election law in Mississippi through our state’s undeniable status as a “covered jurisdiction” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “preclearance” by the Justice Department.
Editorials: Pennsylvania voter ID law will make voting difficult for many seniors | Rep. Bob Freeman/mcall.com
Paul Carpenter‘s column of March 14 supporting the new photo voter identification law failed to recognize the hardship this new requirement will place on many voters, particularly senior citizens who don’t have a valid driver’s license. Carpenter stated that under the new legislation “there is no way a legitimate voter can be prevented from obtaining identification or from otherwise verifying that he or she is qualified to vote.” Not true. According to the SeniorLAW Center, 18 percent of senior citizens in Pennsylvania do not have a valid photo ID. Although a free one can now be obtained from a state Transportation Department photo center, many centers are either not served or are poorly served by public transportation. In addition to overcoming the hurdle of not being able to drive to the photo center, these senior citizens will have to present a Social Security card, birth certificate and two documents with their current address to get a photo ID. If they show up at their polling place but do not have a valid, unexpired photo ID, they will not be permitted to vote, despite the fact that they are legitimately registered voters and are known to election workers on sight. They will be offered a provisional ballot but must then obtain the photo ID and present it to the county elections office within six days for their vote to be counted. Doing all of this without a car will be difficult. If they don’t have a copy of their birth certificate or can’t find it, they won’t be able to get the photo ID, in which case their vote won’t be counted. It takes two to four months to process a birth certificate application.
Are political centrists in America without a political home? Do we need a third-party presidential candidate to represent those socially progressive, fiscally austere voters who find our two parties too extreme? There’s no disputing that the Republican Party continues to move rightward at warp speed. Virtually every GOP elected official who’s been in office for more than a couple of years has had to repudiate previously mainstream Republican positions (such as creating a health insurance system with an individual mandate, an idea cooked up by a right-wing think tank) to keep today’s more rabid Republican activists from challenging them in party primaries or caucuses. Such longtime conservative stalwarts as Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana could lose their party’s renomination this spring from just such challenges. In this year’s GOP presidential primaries, each of the four candidates has attacked the others only from the right. Logic suggests that every GOP candidate cannot be to the right of every other GOP candidate, but if that’s what this year’s Republican base demands — and it is — then logic be damned: Everyone is running to the right.
The 2012 congressional-redistricting cycle following the 2010 census is just about over and done with. And it seems likely to make much less difference than many of us expected. Redistricting is when state legislatures, governors, and commissions draw new lines for congressional districts, after the 435 seats in the U.S. House are reapportioned according to a statutory formula into which are plugged the figures from the 2010 census. I predicted that this cycle, like the 2002 cycle, would produce significant gains for Republicans. Their success in electing governors and legislators in 2010 gave them control in big states like Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina. And voters in Democratic California approved a ballot measure turning redistricting over to a nonpartisan commission. But the Republican gain turns out to be modest to nonexistent. Charlie Cook’s Cook Political Report estimates the net Republican gain from redistricting at exactly one state. My own estimates track with Cook’s in just about every state and come up with a one-seat Republican gain.
Last week, thousands of people participated in a re-enactment of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, which was directly responsible for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The recent march culminated with a rally at the state capitol. “We didn’t come to commemorate what happened 47 years ago. We came to continue what happened 47 years ago,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network was a principal organiser of the march. Martin Luther King III told the crowd his father would have opposed voter photo-ID laws being passed or considered in many states. “I think my father would be greatly disappointed in our nation,” he said. Republicans allege that in-person voter fraud is on the up and up. Yet there’s simply no evidence – or plausible motive – for suspecting that individual voters pose a threat to our democracy. In fact, many of these new measures contribute to the further disenfranchisement of minority groups, while leaving the door open to the potential abuse of electronic vote counts.
Voting in Pennsylvania’s April 24 primary and in the Nov. 6 presidential election just got complicated, thanks to Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law Wednesday, after the House followed the Senate, both controlled by Republicans, and approved the bill 104-88. Three Republican senators had voted against the bill on March 8: Sen. Jane Earll of Fairview, Sen. Mary Jo White of Franklin and Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of suburban Philadelphia. As with most political issues today, the rhetoric is heated about whether voter fraud is a legitimate, widespread worry and whether strict new ID requirements will discourage citizens from exercising their right to vote.
Editorials: How Voter ID Laws Are Being Used to Disenfranchise Minorities and the Poor | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
First, let’s call it what it is. The burgeoning battles over state redistricting and voter ID laws — and the larger fight over a key part of the Voting Rights Act itself — are all cynical expressions of the concerns many conservatives (of both parties) have about the future of the American electorate. The Republican lawmakers who are leading the fight for the restrictive legislation say they are doing so in the name of stopping election fraud — and, really, who’s in favor of election fraud? But the larger purpose and effect of the laws is to disenfranchise Hispanic voters, other minorities, and the poor — most of whom, let’s also be clear, vote for Democrats. Jonathan Chait, in a smart recent New York magazine piece titled “2012 or Never,” offered some numbers supporting the theory. “Every year,” Chait wrote, “the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point — meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country.” This explains, for example, why Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona are turning purple instead of staying red. “By 2020,” Chait writes, “nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, “nonwhites will outnumber whites.”
The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reconsider its disastrous Citizens United decision. The justices should take it. The damaging effects of unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections — honestly examined — should cause the court to overturn or, at the very least, limit that ruling. On Friday, the justices granted a stay of a Montana state court ruling that upheld a state anticorruption campaign finance law. The stay gives the parties in the Montana case time to file papers to seek Supreme Court review. In supporting the stay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ ” She was quoting Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United, in which he claimed that expenditures might result in “influence over or access to elected officials” but would not “corrupt” them.
For the second time in three months, the Obama administration has blocked a state law pushed by Republicans that, using the pretext of a nearly nonexistent problem of voting fraud, discriminates against minority voters by establishing more stringent voter ID rules. Memo to Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell: You might be next. In December, the Justice Department moved against South Carolina, saying its new law would suppress turnout among African American voters, who are more likely than other voters to lack identification. On Monday, the department blocked Texas from enforcing a similar measure requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls, which federal officials said would disproportionately affect Hispanic voters.
On March 7, 1963, civil rights activists were brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march, for advocating for the right to vote. This week, forty-seven years later, today’s civil rights leaders retraced the march from Selma to Montgomery, protesting what NAACP President Ben Jealous calls “the greatest attack on voting rights since segregation.” Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.
Editorials: Impossible dance – Voting Rights Act conflicts with Alaska law and history | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments today in the lawsuit concerning the new election districts. There is much with which to sympathize in the petitions filed by both sides in the dispute. Some of the new boundaries are odd, but it was extremely difficult to avoid such oddities. One thing is clear — much of the dispute could have been avoided if Alaska were not subject to the Voting Rights Act, the federal law intended to prevent states from institutionalizing racial discrimination in their election procedures. The petitions before the court today are filled with arguments about whether the Voting Rights Act forced the Alaska Redistricting Board to draw the election boundaries in the fashion it did or, if not, then in some even less rational fashion.
Here’s hoping that expected legal challenges of a requirement that Pennsylvania voters show photo identification at the polls will occur before the ink is dry on Gov. Corbett’s signature on legislation racing through Harrisburg. A Wisconsin judge has halted implementation of that state’s voter identification law before its April primary, responding to an NAACP lawsuit that contends voters without driver’s licenses are “disproportionately elderly, indigent, or members of a racial minority.” Likewise, the Republican proposal in Pennsylvania is nothing more than a new form of a poll tax, similar to those imposed to turn away black voters in the old, segregated South. So-called voter-ID rules would hit the old, young, poor, and minority voters the hardest — a slice of the electorate least likely to have government-issued identification of the type required under the measure approved Wednesday by the state Senate. The fact that this group of voters disproportionately leans toward Democratic candidates, particularly in Philadelphia and other urban areas, uncovers the voter-ID proposal for what it is — a blatant bid for a GOP advantage at the polls.
On Monday, the Justice Department blocked implementation of Texas’ new voter identification law. Texas said the law is a necessary measure to prevent voter fraud. Justice responded that the law is unnecessary and will have a disproportionate impact on Hispanic voters who are less likely to have identification. The issue is heading to federal court, and it could well be the U.S. Supreme Court that weighs in, just months after it intervened in Texas’s redistricting dispute. So who’s right? As I explain in The Fraudulent Fraud Squad sneak preview of my forthcoming book The Voting Wars, Republican claims of a serious problem with voter impersonation are bogus. Many Republican legislators and political operatives support voter ID laws for two purposes: first, to depress Democratic turnout, and second to gin up the Republican base. But Democrats and those on the left sometimes inflate the potential negative effect of voter identification and other laws on voter turnout, especially among poor and minority voters. Just as Republicans use the scare of voter ID laws as a wedge issue to boost Republican turnout, Democrats use the scare of voter suppression to boost Democratic turnout.
Editorials: Iran’s Parliamentary Vote: The Beginning of the End of Ahmadinejad | Angie Ahmadi/Huffington Post
Last Friday, Iran held its first elections since the controversial 2009 presidential contest, after which millions of voters poured into streets of Tehran. Unrest following the announced re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in mass detention, torture and the death of many protesters. It also led to the near-elimination of pro-reform political forces in the Islamic Republic. For this very reason, the parliamentary vote last week should be viewed as an unrepresentative sham — nothing more than a selection process amongst the ruling conservative elite. As the dispute between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad runs deeper, this election is widely interpreted as a battle between these two political heavyweights. With the ballot boxes now counted, the outcome categorically declares Khamenei as the winner — as was broadly anticipated. But placing Iran’s future policy trajectory in its proper context requires caution against reaching hasty conclusions. The results clearly show that candidates openly associated with Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie failed to enter the parliament. However, the Islamic Revolution Durability Front, backed by ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and fairly close to Ahmadinejad, performed relatively well, thereby lessening the possibility of a solid opposition to the president emerging in the new parliament.
Editorials: The Numbers Don’t Lie – If you aren’t sure Citizens United gave rise to the super PACs, just follow the money | Slate Magazine
Most of what you hear about Citizens United v. FEC is negative. By opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections and to allow for the creation of super PACs, the Supreme Court has made a campaign finance system that was already flooded with money much worse. But Citizens United obviously has its defenders, and they have advanced a number of arguments to try to blunt criticism of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision: The public actually learns from the flood of negative advertising coming from these super PACs; super PACS increase competition; The Supreme Court’sCitizens United decision didn’t create super PACs, so stop blaming the court for the flood of dollars and the negative campaign ads they buy.
This last argument has recently gained a lot of traction, and has been made by First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, his son the legal commentator Dan Abrams (who accused the media of “shameful, inexcusable conduct” in describing the Citizens United-super PAC connection), columnist George Will, and the Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer. The argument goes like this: The Supreme Court back in 1976 held that individuals had a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums on elections. And before Citizens United, rich individuals like George Soros gave large sums of money to so-called “527 organizations” (named after an obscure section of the tax code) with innocuous names like “Americans Coming Together.” These 527 organizations were just like super PACs, so there’s nothing new here.
Imagine a game in which you fix the rules, choose the players, hold a veto over the results and, yet, go on to cheat. This is what happened last Friday with the ninth set of legislative elections in the Islamic Republic in Iran. As always, the regime decided who was allowed to stand and who was not. Then, the task of running the exercise was given to the Ministry of the Interior rather than an independent election commission as is the norm all over the world. No need to say, the results could be changed or canceled by the Council of the Custodians, the mullah-dominated organ of the regime. So, with such a configuration, why cheat?
Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud, the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country. All of which makes Connecticut’s current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this—making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people can do it from home. Another measure would increasing penalties for voter intimidation. According to officials, the efforts are much-needed to increase turnout.
Once Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman dropped out of the Republican presidential nomination contest, their South Carolina and Florida backers who cast ballots early, including many military voters living overseas, essentially wasted their votes. They voted for candidates who didn’t want their support. Florida and South Carolina voters are not alone. Several upcoming primary states allow “no excuse required” absentee voting, meaning a far higher percentage of votes are now cast early. More than a quarter of Florida’s 400,000 absentee ballots had already been returned before Perry and Huntsman withdrew, and in 2008 nearly two-thirds of all Tennessee ballots were cast early. If you add in other states, more than a million voters have received ballots with the names of Perry, Huntsman and fellow candidate dropouts Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Although many “early voters” cast ballots close to Election Day, that option isn’t available to service personnel whose ballot may need to traverse 10,000 miles.
University of Wisconsin political scientist Ken Mayer is one of the most serious and responsible analysts of the politics of the state. Widely respected as fair player, whose work is well regarded by members of both major political parties, Mayer is someone conservatives and liberals listen to for reasoned comment on the political processes of the state. So when Mayer talks about the challenges raised by Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, we should all take him seriously. In testimony this week before Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan, Mayer estimated that roughly 220,000 potential voters would be unable to cast ballots in coming elections because of the new voter identification measure.
On Friday, a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Montana law, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, that bans corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns. Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court, in a separate case from the state courts, issued a temporary order preventing Montana from enforcing that law. These cases and others in the country show how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has upended important state campaign spending laws. As the Montana Supreme Court has said on this question, “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”
I know the elections are awhile away, but with all of this campaign coverage I think it is plausible to discuss a controversy during election time. Remember the Presidential Election of 2000? Yes, the one that led to the Supreme Court Case of Bush v. Gore. I’m talking about the dreaded Electoral College. According to a Gallup Poll, 62% of Americans would favor Direct Popular Vote over the Electoral College . However, our current system of election isn’t all that bad…and it’s a lot better than the alternative. The Electoral College has performed its function for over 200 years and in over 50 presidential elections. It ensures that the President of the United States has both sufficient popular support to govern, and that his popular support is sufficiently distributed throughout the country to enable him to govern effectively.