No state comes close to disenfranchising its citizens at the rate Florida does. By doing so, the state extends the iniquities of Jim Crow into the modern era to the detriment of minority and, for the most part, Democratic voters. Now, after years of serving as an anti-democratic model, Florida appears about to see its voters drag it into the 21st century. They should. Of 6.1 million former felons who remain barred from voting across the United States, more than a quarter of them — nearly 1.7 million — are Floridians. It is one of just three states that permanently bars all felons from voting unless their rights are individually restored following an arduous, years-long process. The result: More than 10 percent of voting-age adults, and more than 20 percent of African Americans, have no access to the ballot box in Florida. You read that correctly: 1 in 5 black adults in Florida cannot vote.
Editorials: Vote auditing can ensure integrity of Virginia’s elections | Audrey Malagon/Virginian-Pilot
It’s time for better quality control in our election processes. Virginia’s 94th District in the House of Delegates drew names after disputes over a single ballot’s validity. In the 28th District, many voters were told to vote in the wrong district. A single district can determine party control of the House, affecting health care, taxes and education. Yet how can we be sure the ballots we cast are even read and counted correctly? Mathematics makes checking the integrity of our elections simple and inexpensive, and Virginia should do this more often. My grandmother worked in a syringe factory in my hometown. Her supervisor used to pull a few syringes off the line and inspect them. He didn’t check every syringe, but if the ones he randomly checked looked OK, he was confident that the products going out were the right quality. This idea of random checking isn’t just for factories; we rely on it to make sure smoke detectors will save us in a fire and restaurants won’t make us sick.
Voting rights have been under attack recently. In several states, officials — almost all of them Republican, alas — have tried to reduce voting hours, close polling stations or erect barriers to voting, like strict ID rules. These measures have disproportionately affected minorities. In fact, that has sometimes been the stated goal. But now a counterattack is underway. Not only are civil-rights advocates fighting the various attempts to restrict voting, they’re also pushing for new laws to expand it. One of those efforts took a step forward this week. Organizers in Florida announced that they had gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot this November that would restore voting rights to nearly 1.5 million convicted felons. Today, felon disenfranchisement denies the right to vote to one in five black Floridians — and 10 percent of the state’s total voting population.
Katie Fahey is 28 and lives in a small village just outside Grand Rapids, Mich. She works as a program officer for the Michigan Recycling Coalition. In her spare time, she founded and leads a massive volunteer effort that could end partisan gerrymandering in Michigan. If you doubt that a private citizen can make a difference, meet Fahey. Like many others, Fahey anguished over America’s growing polarization. After the 2016 elections, she resolved to do something. “Nobody trusted the system — on the right, on the left, on the middle,” she said. “I was nervous to go to Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t want another holiday to be ruined by divisiveness.”
Editorials: Are Czechs about to reelect the Trumpiest president in Europe? | Jakub Janda/The Washington Post
Voters in the Czech Republic are preparing for their most important election since 1989. On Jan. 26, they will begin heading to the polls to pick their next president. The winner of the first round of the two-stage election earlier this month was the incumbent Milos Zeman, who is facing a strong runoff challenge from Jiri Drahos, a pro-western centrist and the former head of the Academy of Sciences. As of now, the race is considered too close to call. For Czechs, Zeman needs little introduction. He has spent his first five-year term excoriating migrants and Muslims, whipping up fears of terrorism, and praising President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He is possibly the closest thing to President Trump that we have today in Central Europe – except Zeman took office long before Trump did.
Indiana lawmakers have the perfect opportunity before them to reform the redistricting process, to make for more open and fair elections. A recent federal court ruling should serve as a nudge to take that opportunity. Redistricting reform is long overdue in the Hoosier state, given that the current system — which gives the legislature responsibility for drawing its own legislative and congressional districts — has resulted in maps that make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive. Both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of this system over the years, with the voters, whose role in political process has been reduced, coming up the big losers. Small wonder that the nonpartisan nonprofit FairVote calls redistricting a “blood sport” that allows incumbent politicians to “choose their voters before the voters choose them.”
Today is the day the nation celebrates the birth of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who is regarded as the leader of the Civil Rights movement. Yet, were he alive, he might be at a loss as to why some key initiatives for which he and his contemporaries had marched and even died are still being debated. Both black and white supporters fought for change, placing their lives in harm’s way. King, himself, ultimately paid the highest price for his advocacy. For example: Voting rights are still under attack. They were severely weakened in an infamous 2013 Supreme Court decision that allowed several states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The Supreme Court is currently torn over whether to allow Ohio to purge people from the voting rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state officials. Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a convincing argument about disenfranchising minorities and the homeless, not to mention being part of a broader effort to effectively suppress voting.
Editorials: Our elections are in danger. Congress must defend them. | Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen/The Washington Post
While the 2016 election may have left our country divided on many issues, it exposed one critical problem that should unite all Americans: Our democratic process is vulnerable to attacks by hostile foreign powers. As our intelligence community unanimously assessed, Russia used social media channels to influence and mislead voters. It also hacked political campaign committees and local elections boards in a brazen attempt to undermine and subvert our elections. There is no reason to think this meddling will be an isolated incident. In fact, we expect the threat will grow in future years. The United States must do everything possible to prevent these attacks in the future — and lay out the consequences well in advance of our next elections. Today, we are introducing bipartisan legislation to do just that.
A few words on the difficulty of voting while black. As we mark what would have been his 89th birthday, it seems fitting to recall that Martin Luther King spoke to that difficulty in a 1957 speech whose words ring relevant 61 years later. “All types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters,” lamented King. As he saw it, neither political party was blameless. He castigated Democrats for capitulating to the rabid racists of their Southern wing — the so-called “Dixiecrats” — and blasted Republicans for caving in to “rightwing reactionary Northerners.” “Both political parties,” he said, “have betrayed the cause of justice.”
North Carolina is a purple state, narrowly electing a Democratic governor in 2016 while giving a slim presidential victory to Republican Donald Trump. But its congressional delegation is not split so evenly. Republicans hold 10 seats and Democratsonly three. Asked why, one GOP state legislator involved in designing district boundaries had a pithy explanation: “Because I don’t believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” North Carolina’s lawmakers made no bones about their intention to divvy up voters so that the GOP would retain a large majority of the state’s congressional delegation no matter which way the political winds blow. And they succeeded. But last week, a federal appeals court ruled the redistricting plan unconstitutional because of its discriminatory purpose and effect. It was the first time a federal court had ever struck down a map because of partisan gerrymandering. Parties in power have practiced this method to entrench themselves for as long as anyone can remember. But modern technology has made it possible for legislators to carry out their mission with nearly infallible results.
Editorials: President Trump is playing politics with the 2020 Census. It could backfire. | Judith Giesberg/The Washington Post
The 2020 Census is set to take place at a time of political turmoil, when Americans are experiencing a crisis in confidence in federal institutions. Unfortunately, the census is likely to exacerbate that crisis, because the Trump administration has enlisted it in the work of maintaining Republican political control. Signs of the administration’s strategy emerged in May, when John Thompson, director of the Census Bureau and a 27-year veteran of the agency, resigned over a congressional budget forecast he said was inadequate. The proposed cuts would undermine efforts to expand access — getting the word out to undercounted communities or experimenting with online responses. Those warning bells rang louder in December when news broke that President Trump would appoint as deputy director Thomas Brunell, a political scientist who has defended Republican gerrymandering tactics in court. Then, two weeks ago, ProPublica reported that administration officials have asked to include a new question about citizenship status — an addition clearly aimed at scaring immigrants away from participating and being counted. This should concern every American.
As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony, and Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are making it nearly impossible to persuade them to restore that right. Now the potential to modernize an archaic practice appears better than ever, and Florida cannot waste this opportunity. Over the next month, it will become clearer whether the most viable path to reform is through a yearslong voter petition drive for a constitutional amendment, the Constitution Revision Commission or the Florida Legislature. The most time-sensitive proposal is a ballot initiative that would ask voters to amend the Florida Constitution so voting rights would be automatically restored for nearly all felons who complete the terms of their sentences, including prison and probation.
Editorials: North Carolina’s ‘partisan gerrymander’ could prompt supreme court action | Andrew Gumbel/The Guardian
The last time North Carolina Republicans redrew the state’s 13 congressional districts, they made absolutely no secret of their ambition to rig the system and lock in a 10-3 balance in their favour – regardless of whether they or the Democrats won a majority of the votes in future elections. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” bragged the chair of the redistricting committee in the state general assembly, David Lewis. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” Drastic improvements in mapping technologies and voter information databases meant specialist mapmakers had unprecedented power to manipulate political outcomes, even in a swing state like North Carolina where one would ordinarily expect to see US House and state legislative seats split more or less evenly between the two parties. The instruction from Lewis and his colleagues, according to court documents, was “to create as many districts as possible in which GOP candidates would be able to successfully compete for office”.
Editorials: Honduras’s president suspiciously reversed a loss. Then the U.S. congratulated him. | The Washington Post
As in much of the rest of the world, democracy is on the defensive in Latin America, in part because it has few principled defenders. A simple comparison of two ongoing political crises, in Venezuela and Honduras, illustrates the problem. After Venezuela’s populist anti-American government rigged state gubernatorial elections in October, the United States led a campaign of condemnation and stepped up sanctions. But when Honduras’s rightist pro-American president suspiciously reversed what looked like an upset loss in a presidential election a month later, the Trump administration congratulated him.
On Tuesday, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, ruling it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. State Republicans had drawn district lines with such ruthlessness that they had won ten out of thirteen seats in the 2016 election—77 percent—even though they got only 53 percent of the vote. GOP lawmakers, wrote Judge James Wynn Jr., had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent.” Republicans had openly admitted as much. “Nothing wrong with political gerrymandering,” declared one of the lawmakers leading the process at a 2016 hearing. “It is not illegal.” The GOP is likely to appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court on those grounds. Whether courts are empowered to block partisan gerrymanders—as opposed to gerrymanders involving racial discrimination, which just about everyone agrees are unconstitutional—is a question the justices considered in October when they heard Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s state assembly map. The fate of North Carolina’s map likely hangs on how the court decides Gill. A ruling is expected before the end of June.
If there has been any benefit from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, it’s that it has raised awareness about President Vladimir Putin’s broader threat to democracies in Europe and elsewhere. In the face of complacency from Republicans fearful of what attention to these intrigues might reveal about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a report that appears to be the most comprehensive public accounting of Russia’s war on the West. It drives home the point that the 2016 election, which every American intelligence agency has said involved Russian interference to help elect Donald Trump, is part of a pattern in which Mr. Putin has worked to erode Western institutions and undermine faith in democratic practices.
President Donald Trump’s slapdash commission on election integrity, which he disbanded earlier this week, exists now only in the dustbin of history. But we should not assume that his administration’s attacks on voters of color are over. Beginning during his campaign, Trump has consistently peddled the odious narrative that voters of color are cheaters. During a rally before a nearly all-white audience in rural Pennsylvania, the then-candidate encouraged his supporters to “go down to certain areas” in the state to ensure “other people don’t come in and vote five times.” Many took that to mean African-American voters in places like Philadelphia, a majority-minority city and county that voted overwhelmingly against Trump.
Editorials: I was on Trump’s fraud commission. Its demise was inevitable. | Matt Dunlap/The Washington Post
It didn’t surprise me when I got an email from the White House on Wednesday night that President Trump had moved to dissolve the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The move came without warning, but given how incredibly dysfunctional the process had been from the start, dissolution was inevitable. Twelve days earlier, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that as a member of the commission, I am entitled to share in the work of the commission and to know when and where we were meeting, what communications we were having and what the commission was working on. That shockingly obvious conclusion came only after I filed a lawsuit to get answers to those very basic questions. The demise of the commission was inevitable simply because the voter-fraud vampire hunters on the panel and in the White House prioritized a desired result of the commission’s work above any sense of process. It didn’t matter that evidence of actual voter misconduct is incredibly rare anywhere in the United States; we’ve all heard the ghost stories, and the Trump administration’s solution was to find those ghosts and exorcise them.
Editorials: Demise of Trump election commission teaches Kansas lessons about Kobach | The Kansas City Star
The demise of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is great news for every American who values a free and fair ballot. President Donald Trump formed the commission last May. He falsely claimed millions of illegal votes cost him a popular vote victory in 2016, and he wanted an investigation to prove it. The commission, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, met just twice. It eventually crumpled under an avalanche of lawsuits, secrecy, poor management and discord. Few will regret the commission’s collapse. This saves the nation from a final report Kobach and others undoubtedly would have used to restrict voter rights in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.
One of the most pressing questions ahead of the 2018 elections is whether the states will be able to guard their voting infrastructure from computer hackers, foreign espionage and other security breaches. Unfortunately, many states may not have enough time to get the assistance they need. State officials and some congressional lawmakers are deeply concerned about long wait times for the Department of Homeland Security’s most thorough security screening. Some states are reporting estimated wait times of up to nine months. The service is an intensive, multiweek probe of the entire system required to run an election. If some of the states that have requested it won’t be able to get it until just weeks before this November’s elections, they won’t be able to fix flaws that could allow cybervandals to hijack everything from election offices’ computer systems to voter registration databases.
Editorials: Trump will still yell about voter fraud, but at least his clownish election commission can’t do any lasting damage | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times
President Trump’s precipitous decision Wednesday to shutter his “election integrity” commission — buried amid a slew of revelations from Michael Wolff’s new tell-all book about the Trump campaign and presidency — is good news for Americans who care about fair elections in the United States. Though Trump’s tweets Thursday about voter fraud and his announcement that he will shift the commission’s investigation to the Department of Homeland Security means he won’t let go of the issue, the greatest immediate danger to voting rights seems to have passed. Trump has long made irresponsible and wildly unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. Before the election, he suggested that there was a great deal of voter impersonation fraud occurring in areas full of poor and minority voters, despite incontrovertible evidence that voter impersonation fraud almost never happens.
Editorials: Trump’s explanation for shutting down his voter fraud commission is just as untrue and partisan | Philip Bump/The Washington Post
President Trump’s efforts to root out voter fraud in the 2016 election were always a charade. Before Election Day, he offered dire warnings in his campaign speeches about voters near Philadelphia (winkwinkwinkwink) and in other places who were voting illegally. His campaign put together a halfhearted poll-watching system, encouraging supporters to blow the whistle on apparent fraudulent activity at the polls. Then, unexpectedly, Trump won Pennsylvania, and his claims of fraud in the Keystone State vanished from his portfolio faster than an Atlantic City casino. Instead, he found new targets: California — a state which, by itself, made up the vote margin by which Trump lost the popular vote — and New Hampshire, a state he narrowly lost. In Michigan, the closest state of the cycle, Trump wasn’t worried about fraud having been a factor; his lawyers declared in a court filing in that state opposing a recount that “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
Even though Doug Jones won a famous statewide victory in last month’s Alabama Senate race, he actually lost — less famously — to Roy Moore in six of the state’s seven congressional districts. That’s right: He carried only the heavily black Seventh Congressional District, into which the Alabama Legislature has jammed almost a third of the state’s African-American population while making sure that the rest of the districts remain safely white and Republican. That’s gerrymandering in the raw. Something equally raw, although less overtly racial, happened in Maryland back in 2011, when the overwhelmingly Democratic State Legislature decided that two Republicans out of Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation was at least one Republican too many. The 2010 census required the state to shrink the majority-Republican Sixth District by 10,000 people in order to restore one-person, one-vote equality among the districts. Seeing its opportunity for some major new line-drawing, the Legislature conducted a population transfer. It moved 66,417 Republican voters out of the district while moving into it 24,460 Democratic voters from safely Democratic adjoining districts, a swing of more than 90,000 votes. And guess what? The 20-year Republican incumbent, Roscoe Bartlett, lost the 2012 election to the Democratic candidate, John Delaney, who has won re-election ever since.
Editorials: Husted voting rights case: The Supreme Court has a chance to redeem itself | Karen Hobert Flynn/The Washington Post
Nearly 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and nearly 66 million cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. But the votes for Trump and Clinton fell well short of the number cast for no one at all; more than 95 million eligible Americans just didn’t vote. Some of those nonvoters probably just didn’t like Trump or Clinton or any of their minor-party challengers. Some were ill or disabled or out of the country or couldn’t get away from work to vote. Some had no way to get to the registrar’s office before the registration deadline or to the polls on Election Day. And, sad to say, some didn’t vote because they’ve given up on politics and government. Whatever their reasons, the nonvoters had the same right to vote — guaranteed by our Constitution — as the people who voted. But because they didn’t vote, millions of Americans now face the loss of that right at the hands of state officials who ought to be protecting it.
Editorials: Liberia’s presidential election is a milestone for democracy in Africa | K. Riva Levinson/The Hill
On Friday, the 29th of December, Liberia’s National Elections Commission declared George Weah the 25th president of the Republic of Liberia. The 51-year old, former soccer superstar, the only African to receive the sport’s highest honor, the Ballon d’Or, was swept into office by the country’s youthful population with 61.5 percent of the vote, beating the incumbent vice president. It was an achievement not just for the opposition politician on the presidential ballot for the third and decisive time, but also a democratic milestone for Africa’s oldest republic. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s post-conflict leader, and the first woman elected to lead an African nation, will be stepping down, honoring the constitution after serving two six-year terms. The election marks Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head-of-state to another in decades. Not since 1944, will a Liberian president take the oath of office in the presence of his (or her) predecessor.
Editorials: The Republicans’ Fake Investigations | Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch/The New York Times
A generation ago, Republicans sought to protect President Richard Nixon by urging the Senate Watergate committee to look at supposed wrongdoing by Democrats in previous elections. The committee chairman, Sam Ervin, a Democrat, said that would be “as foolish as the man who went bear hunting and stopped to chase rabbits.” Today, amid a growing criminal inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, congressional Republicans are again chasing rabbits. We know because we’re their favorite quarry.
Everyone remembers that the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes in Florida. Far fewer remember another important number from the state that year — 620,000, the Floridians who were barred from voting because state records showed, correctly or not, they had been convicted of a felony. It didn’t matter whether their crime was murder or driving with a suspended license, nor whether they had fully served their sentence. In Florida, the voting ban is entrenched in the Constitution, and it’s for life. Today, Florida disenfranchises almost 1.5 million of its citizens, more than 11 states’ populations and roughly a quarter of the more than six million Americans who are unable to vote because of a criminal record.
I wear a lot of hats as the Montpelier, Vermont City Clerk, and in my capacity as election administrator for the state Capital for six years now, it should come as no surprise that a frequent topic of conversation has been the security of our elections systems. In an attempt to respond to concerns expressed by my constituents, I decided to brush off my IT credentials (I have served as a network and database administrator for political parties and non-profits in the past ) to get a first-hand sense of the threats rather than just tacking to the winds of either the doomsayers or the nothing-to-see-here crowds. Now a CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) and looking at security for the first time from the outside in, I can respond with a smidge more authority on the question “should we be worried?” The answer is yes and no.
Virginia’s House of Delegates 94th District captured America’s attention last week after a dramatic saga of vote counts and recounts culminated in a perfectly tied election. Both three-term Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds received 11,608 votes, a rare feat that had electoral enthusiasts across the country ecstatic about democracy in action. On the surface, this race is a testament to the power of the American electoral system. A historically important election came down to a single citizen’s vote, and yet every citizen was an essential part of the outcome. The symmetry somehow implies harmony, evoking images of Smalltown, USA, where politics exist in perfect balance. But this bizarre fluke of democracy is no reason to celebrate. This outcome should leave Americans feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Editorials: Russia never stopped its cyberattacks on the United States | Michael Morell and Mike Rogers/The Washington Post
Every first-year international-relations student learns about the importance of deterrence: It prevented a Soviet invasion of Western Europe during the height of the Cold War. It prevented North Korea from invading South Korea in the same time frame. Today, it keeps Iran from starting a hot war in the Middle East or other nations from initiating cyberattacks against our infrastructure. And yet, the United States has failed to establish deterrence in the aftermath of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. We know we failed because Russia continues to aggressively employ the most significant aspect of its 2016 tool kit: the use of social media as a platform to disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation. There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day. This should alarm everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.