The sustaining symmetry of democracy is the right to vote. The right gives each individual, if nothing else, the belief that he or she can help shape their life and the destiny of their country. Voting is the potter’s wheel of a vibrant democratic process, it could turn the future toward a different direction, thereby reshaping what once was. Barack Obama and the Democrats swept into office on the promise of progressive ideas and remedies for the then mushrooming financial crisis and social justice inequities that gripped the nation in 2008. While having a majority in congress for two years President Obama shepherded landmark legislation in affordable health care (ACA) for the uninsured, Wall Street reform (Dodd-Frank) which helped to promote progressive culture. This would ultimately lead to declaring DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional, supporting gay marriage as a civil right, and a serious thrust to reform the broken immigration system without having his party having a majority in congress. And in reaction to gun massacres like Sandy Hook, Obama also battled (without success) in tightening the laws on background checks for buying guns — more specifically high-kill capacity, semi-automatic weapons.
For 10 years, the Election Assistance Commission, the bipartisan federal agency created after the 2000 election debacle to help make voting easier and more standardized, has made it clear that prospective voters do not need to prove that they are American citizens before they may register. Anyone registering to vote with the federal voter-registration form, which can be used for both federal and state elections, must already sign a statement swearing that he or she is a citizen. Congress rejected a proposal to require documented proof as well, finding that the threat of criminal prosecution for a false statement was enough to deter fraud. This did not satisfy some states, like Kansas and Arizona, where Republican officials have fought for years to block voting by anyone who cannot come up with a birth certificate or a passport.
Editorials: Kris Kobach offers new, lame defense for his ineptitude on voter ‘fraud’ | Yael T. Abouhalkah/The Kansas City Star
Kris Kobach should be apologizing to former Olathe resident Betty Gaedtke instead of puffing himself up over his pursuit of voter fraud in Kansas. The secretary of state offered a laughable defense Tuesday of his so-far lame pursuit of unlawful voting in the Sunflower State. “Six prosecutions in nine months is actually moving at a pretty good pace, and more will be coming in the months ahead,” he told The Star. Actually, it’s one successful prosecution, one embarrassing total strikeout and four pending cases. Last Friday, Kobach meekly gave up his pursuit of Gaedtke, dismissing all charges against her. That canceled a trial set to start in Johnson County on Monday. Kobach wound up dragging Gaedtke’s name through the mud since last October — when he announced with great fanfare unlawful voting suits against three people, including Gaedtke and her husband.
Editorials: One person, one vote: A case of surprise unanimity at the Supreme Court over voting rights | The Economist
Predicting Supreme Court rulings based on the tenor of oral arguments is notoriously hazardous, but journalists’ hunches are rewarded often enough that they keep on coming. In December, this paper averred that Evenwel v Abbott, a challenge to the way the states draw legislative districts, was a close call that would turn on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, one of the savviest Supreme Court journalists, also came away from the hearing thinking “it’s clear that…the justices will likely break along the usual partisan lines”. So it was a surprise last week when the eight justices—from Sonia Sotomayor on the left to Clarence Thomas on the right—voted unanimously to turn back a complaint about line-drawing that would have strengthened Republican gerrymandering efforts across the country.
We applaud U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for adding her voice of support to voting rights for Americans living in Guam and other U.S. territories. She said citizens in the territories are treated like “second-class citizens” because they can’t vote in presidential elections, aren’t represented in the Senate and only have a nonvoting delegate in Congress. “I just have to say this is absurd,” Warren said at a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. “Four million Americans live on American soil and can only participate in our democracy, but only if they leave home. At their homes — on U.S. soil — all of their representation rights disappear.”
Editorials: Kris Kobach is incompetent in Kansas and a national disgrace, too | Yael T. Abouhalkah/The Kansas City Star
The last week has exposed the incompetence of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach at home and his standing as a national embarrassment as a public official. For a guy who wants to wipe out “voter fraud” — which national experts have shown time and time again does not exist — Kobach appears to be involved in his own fraudulent attempts to prevent people from voting. Right now, Kansas residents are left to wonder who’s minding the shop at the secretary of state’s office as Kobach gallops around the country seeking fortune and fame. There’s so much to cover, but let’s start with this. On Friday, Johnson County court records show Kobach’s office suddenly dismissed misdemeanor counts related to unlawful voting against Betty Gaedtke “without intent to refile.” A jury trial scheduled for Monday was canceled.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach loses a legal fight with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Then a Kobach appointee newly hired to lead the EAC unilaterally does what his former boss wanted. And an agency created by the 2002 Help America Vote Act is cast in the unlikely role of joining Kobach in making it harder for Americans to vote. The sequence of events looks more sketchy in light of documents obtained by the Associated Press. They indicate that the ties to Kobach helped then-Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby get the job last fall as the EAC’s executive director. Once hired, Newby promptly granted Kobach’s renewed request to require that would-be voters in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama provide citizenship documents when they use the national voter registration form. According to AP, Newby had e-mailed Kobach last summer that he was friends with two EAC commissioners and that “I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to.” Newby had further advised Kobach: “I also don’t want you thinking that you can’t count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources.”
Like many in Iowa, Jacki O’Donnell is an avid political enthusiast. She was prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic caucus. Unfortunately, she had to leave before party business began. O’Donnell was in a back brace after fracturing her vertebrae, and sitting in a metal folding chair for hours while caucus-goers deliberated proved too much. Thus, she became one of thousands of U.S. citizens with disabilities unable to participate fully in the caucus process. Thirteen states use the caucus system to select 10 percent of Democratic and 15 percent of Republican delegates, who in turn vote for their party’s presidential nominee. Caucuses are the quintessential places of public accommodation. Everyone affiliated with a political party is expressly invited to attend and participate. But, whereas voters in a primary cast a secret ballot and then leave, caucus-goers cluster to listen to people speak about their chosen candidate. Attendees then vote for delegates who will carry their wishes to the national party convention.
A crowning achievement of the historic March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, was pushing through the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recognizing the history of racist attempts to prevent black people from voting, that federal law forced a number of Southern states and districts to adhere to federal guidelines allowing citizens access to the polls. But in 2013, the Supreme Court effectively gutted many of these protections. As a result, states are finding new ways to stop more and more people—especially African-Americans and other likely Democratic voters—from reaching the polls. Several states are requiring government-issued photo IDs—like driver’s licenses—to vote even though there’s no evidence of the voter fraud this is supposed to prevent. But there’s plenty of evidence that these ID measures depress voting, especially among communities of color, young voters and lower-income Americans.
It’s become an accepted truth of modern politics that Republican electoral prospects go up as the number of voters goes down. Conservatives have known this for a long time, which helps explain their intensifying efforts to make it harder to vote, or to eliminate large numbers of people from political representation entirely. On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected one of the more extreme attempts — a lawsuit from Texas that aimed to reverse longstanding practice and require that only eligible voters be counted in the drawing of state legislative districts.
West Virginia doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Oregon or California. The Mountain State is nestled in Appalachia, while the Beaver and the Golden states are on the Pacific coast, and would take about 35 hours to reach if you drove nonstop from Charleston, W.Va. They have different industries, vastly different heritages and wildly different demographic makeups – California is one of the most diverse states in the country, while West Virginia is one of the least. They also diverge politically: President Obama only took 35 percent of the vote in West Virginia during his successful 2012 re-election bid, while comfortably winning California and Oregon by 60 percent and 54 percent, respectively. West Virginia will almost certainly remain red in this year’s presidential contest, while it would take a seismic shift of epic proportions for either Oregon or California to take on a reddish hue.
Editorials: Bromance between Kris Kobach and Brian Newby leads to attack on voting rights | The Kansas City Star
The essential voting rights of Americans are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and multiple laws across the land. But all of this means little to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and other Republicans who want to trample on those rights and keep legal immigrants, poor people and others out of the voting booth. Because laws can be changed. The Constitution can be skirted. New rules can be imposed from on high when like-minded people are in the right place. Which brings us to Brian Newby, the recently departed leader of the Johnson County Election Office. Late last year he accepted the job as the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a nonpartisan office that’s supposed to help make voting more accessible and promote good election practices throughout the country. Shortly after taking that work, Newby abruptly decided that people in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia could not register to vote by using a national form — one that doesn’t require providing proof of U.S. citizenship.
The first page in any handbook for creating a government regulatory commission would lay out something fairly obvious: There has to be an odd number of members. Anything else could wind up looking a little like the current post-Scalia Supreme Court, which has issued several rulings that haven’t settled anything at all because the justices have evenly split. Decisions with any actual staying power must wait until another member is confirmed and ties can be broken. What if the regulatory commission’s membership is effectively controlled by the two biggest political parties, with each faction holding half the seats? And what if the commission’s job is to enforce campaign finance laws? Then it’s not really a regulatory and enforcement commission at all, but simply another arena for the eternal duel between Republicans and Democrats. As if we didn’t already have enough of those. And what if one of those parties just doesn’t like or respect the laws that the commission is supposed to enforce, and therefore won’t enforce them?
After an Upshot article about strategic voting — “You Say You Loathe Ted Cruz? You Still Might Want to Vote for Him”— one reader had a question: “How about the idea of being honest with your vote? Isn’t this strategy another form of telling a lie?” Perhaps Canada can offer neighborly advice, after recently living through a national debate over the ethics of voting for someone other than your first choice, as a means to an end. An article in The National Post set the scene last October. “As a Canada obsessed with strategic voting prepared to go to the polls, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May appeared on television to plead with voters to stop: ‘That’s slaughtering us; it’s disastrous. In a democracy, you should cast your ballot for what you want.’ ”
During my 10 years in the Wisconsin State Legislature, I spent significant time in Milwaukee’s majority black neighborhoods. I listened as constituents described obstructions to their constitutional right to vote. In those days I came to believe that we needed a strong Voting Rights Act. Our credibility as elected officials depends on the fairness of our elections. So after joining Congress, I supported the law’s reauthorization in 1982, and, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I led successful efforts to reauthorize it in 2006. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of this most recent authorization. If Congress doesn’t act soon, 2016 will be the first time since 1964 that the United States will elect a president without the full protections of the law. Modernizing the act to address the Supreme Court’s concerns should be one of Congress’s highest priorities.
Editorials: Arizona Becomes Ground Zero in Fight Over Secret Political Spending | Justin Miller/The American Prospect
Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature voted Tuesday to dismantle the state’s strict campaign-finance disclosure rules, a move critics say will unleash a flood of undisclosed political spending in an election already increasingly dominated by “dark” money. The fight over the Arizona bill, which could be signed into law as early as this week, has pitted good government activists against deep-pocketed corporate donors and political groups underwritten by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. It also spotlights a growing national debate over secret political spending, which is on pace to hit record levels in 2016. Federal enforcement agencies, most notably the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, have done virtually nothing to police politically active tax-exempt groups that operate outside the disclosure rules. That’s prompted some states, including California, Montana, and Delaware, to pursue tougher political disclosure rules on their own.
No matter how disappointing or alarming the election results in Slovakia are, make no mistake, they cannot be treated as a real surprise. There are very few parallels, if any, between the rise of Marine Le Pen, UKIP, and AfD in Western Europe and the rise of far-right extremists in Slovakia. The root causes of…
Imagine the worst case scenario. It is Wednesday, Nov. 9, the day after the election, and we do not yet know the winner of the presidential race. Worse still, the outcome will turn on a ballot-counting dispute in one state. A lawsuit is filed, and the courts are enmeshed in an election law contest. It’s Bush v. Gore round two: Trump v. Clinton. The case reaches the Supreme Court. Do we want to take the chance of having an even number of justices deciding that dispute, hoping that the court will not deadlock 4-4? A post-election case that reaches the Supreme Court will necessarily come from a lower court. The rule, in the case of a Supreme Court tie, is that the lower court’s decision is affirmed, without a precedential opinion. So if Trump v. Clinton does reach the Supreme Court, and if the vote is a tie, then a lower court – say an elected state supreme court in a battleground state – would essentially decide the presidential election.
Opposition politicians are right to call the election on March 20 in the Republic of Congo an “electoral holdup.” President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who has ruled the country for 32 of the past 37 years, did everything in his power to ensure he would be elected again, including ordering a cellphone and Internet blackout as voters headed to the polls — apparently an attempt to prevent information from circulating on voter turnout and possible fraud. Official results gave Mr. Sassou-Nguesso over 60 percent of the vote. The opposition complained of widespread fraud, the American State Department expressed “concerns about the credibility of the process” and the European Union lamented “a foreseeable lack of independence and transparency in the elections.”
During the Democratic presidential caucus in Nevada last month, the issue of language assistance in elections came up front and center — and it was not pretty. Fingers pointed in all directions about what actually happened and who was to blame, but what is clear is that there were caucus participants who needed assistance in Spanish to fully understand the process and their options and that they did not receive this essential help. This incident highlights how important language assistance in the political process is and why more must be done to ensure that language needs are being accommodated. Today in the United States, one in five people speak a language other than English at home, and of that population who are 15 or older 42 percent report having some difficulty with the English language. Despite the increases in the eligible voting populations of Latinos and Asian-Americans in recent decades, according to the Pew Research Center there continues to be a 15-20 percent gap in voting participation rates between those voters and whites. While a variety of factors can contribute to a voter’s inability to participate in the election process, in many communities language barriers are a huge obstacle.
It’s bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Ariz. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy. A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around. Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county. What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state.
With two weeks remaining in Maryland’s three-month legislative session, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis have stopped just short of extending a Bronx cheer to Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal for nonpartisan redistricting reform. Never mind that the plan from Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is enormously popular with state residents. It foresees a constitutional amendment that would shift control of the redistricting process from self-interested elected lawmakers, who treat it exclusively as an incumbent-protection racket. In its place would be established an independent, nine-member panel that would draw district voting maps without regard to voting history or partisan leanings. According to a recent Goucher College poll, that idea enjoys deep and wide support in Maryland. It is favored by large majorities of Democrats and Republicans; men and women; blacks and whites; young and old. Indeed, almost no other issue in the state elicits such one-sidedly favorable reaction. Practically the only Marylanders who overwhelmingly oppose Mr. Hogan’s blueprint are Democrats in the General Assembly.
Editorials: Maryland can’t act alone to end gerrymandering | Rob Richie and Austin Plier/The Washington Post
Maryland is popularly recognized as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, and at least four bills designed to curb gerrymandering were introduced this legislative session, including ones backed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and by legislative leaders. But one bill stood out as an innovative approach that could establish Maryland as a true reform leader. Change certainly is needed. Maryland’s obviously manipulated congressional districts have produced results that skew in favor of Democrats. Only one of eight seats is held by a Republican, and white male Democrats hold five seats in a state where they make up about a sixth of the voting population. No district is likely to be competitive in November. But if Maryland acts alone, it will exacerbate the national skew toward Republicans. FairVote projects that Democrats would need some 55 percent of the vote to win a House majority this year. In 2012, Democrats won the popular vote in House races, but Republicans still had a 33-seat advantage. Many have called for a national solution to gerrymandering, but Maryland does not have to wait. Legislators have a moral obligation to voters to find a state-based solution when one is available. Their best option is SB 762, the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation. Unlike other redistricting reform bills, the Potomac Compact would end a national standoff on redistricting reform by proposing an interstate compact that gives state negotiators the ability to use electoral systems to make such compacts work — for voters and for partisans.
Editorials: How North Carolina Is Discriminating Against Voters at the Polls | Ari Berman/The Nation
The five-hour lines to vote in Phoenix’s Maricopa County on March 22 have become the prime example of election dysfunction in the 2016 primary. But a week before the debacle in Arizona, there were widespread problems at the polls in North Carolina, which has become ground zero in the fight for voting rights. Voters faced new barriers in these states because the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and allowed jurisdictions with a long history of voting discrimination to implement new voting restrictions without federal approval. On March 15, Alberta Currie, an 82-year-old African-American woman, went to vote with her daughter in North Carolina’s presidential primary. Currie, a great-granddaughter of a slave, first voted in 1956, when white voters were allowed to cut in front of black voters in line and many eligible black voters couldn’t vote at all. North Carolina’s new voter-ID law was in place for the first time and 218,000 registered voters, who are disproportionately African-American, lacked an acceptable form of government-issued ID required to vote. Currie was one of them. She no longer drives and only has an expired license from Virginia. She cannot get a state photo ID in North Carolina because she was born at home to a midwife in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate. She is the lead plaintiff in a legal challenge to the state’s voter-ID law, and her story of trying to cast a ballot in North Carolina shows how harmful these new voting restrictions can be.
It was bad enough that some Arizona voters had to stand in line for up to five hours after the polls closed in their state’s primary election. Then it got worse: When asked who was to blame, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell replied, “The voters for getting in line, maybe us for not having enough polling places.” An election official blaming voters is appalling. These people were heroes of democracy, performing their civic duty despite losing their evening to bureaucratic incompetence. The real blame lies with sweeping failures across local, state and federal governments. That includes Purcell. Her job is to run a smooth election, yet she reduced the number of polling places in Maricopa County from more than 200 in the 2012 primary to 60 this year. It’s not hard to understand how this caused longer lines. Purcell made herself an easy scapegoat, but she’s far from the only one. There are deeper problems to address if we are to fix this crisis. We chronically underfund elections. Faced with budget shortfalls, Purcell hoped to persuade more voters to use an inexpensive mail ballot. She could then reduce the number of costly polling locations without creating long lines. She should have known this was a false hope. The 2016 primaries have been generating record turnout in Republican races and higher than usual Democratic turnout as well.
Editorials: What happened in Arizona wasn’t an accident: When states make voting impossible, it’s for a very clear reason | Bob Cesca/Salon
Once again, an American election was unnecessarily thwarted by long lines and not enough ballots. To say there’s no excuse for such nonsense, especially in a nation that prides itself on its representative democracy and, yes, its exceptionalism, is understating the problem. This time around, it happened during the Arizona primary where countless voters were forced to stand in lines for hours, while others were told they weren’t registered in the first place. In Maricopa County alone, election officials infuriatingly reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent. Such a drastic reduction meant there was only one polling place per 21,000 residents of the highly populated Phoenix metroplex. Officials including County Recorder Helen Purcell (a Republican) said the cutbacks were due to budgetary concerns. Uh-huh. Of course, I doubt members of either party who were forced to wait in five-hour lines would’ve minded the additional expense to facilitate our most basic right as Americans. Elsewhere, independent voters who switched their registration to the Democratic Party were allegedly told they hadn’t registered at all, forcing them to sit out the closed primary.
Editorials: There’s no good reason voting remains so inaccessible for so many Americans | Cindy Casares/The Guardian
President Barack Obama has said that the reason Texas doesn’t allow online voter registration isn’t because of security issues, but because state elected officials don’t want more people involved in the election process. “It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in a Democracy and that is for you to select who is going to represent you in government,” the president said at SXSW. “It’s done because the folks who are currently governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate.” It’s true. There’s simply no good reason, in this day and age, for us not to be utilizing web technology to make voting accessible to as many eligible Americans as possible – especially in a state like Texas, where voter turnout rate is abysmal. So far, Texas has the second lowest voter turnout during the presidential primary season, with just 21.5% of Texas residents 18 years or older showing up at the polls. And that’s our best turnout yet! (Louisiana has the worst turnout rate this season so far, with just 18% voter participation.)
Editorials: America’s disturbing voter-turnout crisis: How inequality extends to polling place – and why that makes our country less fair | Sean McElwee/Salon
Automatic voter registration isn’t the sexiest way to start a political revolution, but it may be the most effective. The United States lags behind the rest of the rich world in turnout, but it leads the rich world in disparity in turnout across income and education levels, which has profound effects on policy. This so-called “turnout skew” further biases policy towards the rich, even more than it already would be because of the structural advantages the rich enjoy. Bolstering turnout could lead to a self-reinforcing feedback loop in the opposite direction. As I’ve shown, turnout in the United States is dramatically skewed by class, race and age, in both midterm and presidential elections. The class divides in U.S. turnout are dramatic when compared with other countries (see chart). These divides lead to turnout that is overwhelmingly anti-redistribution, and biases the political system toward policies that favor the wealthy.
Who’s rigging our elections? Ask Republicans and they’ll insist that Democrats promote voter fraud through early balloting, same-day registration and lax oversight that encourages illegal immigrants to vote. Nonsense, Democrats will say. It’s the GOP that’s trying to disenfranchise young, poor and minority voters by requiring picture IDs at polling places and bringing court cases intended to eliminate federal oversight of voting practices in many Southern states. As Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, reminds us in “The Fight to Vote,” such disputes are not new: Voter eligibility and qualifications have been at the heart of the struggle for American democracy from its outset. After the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvanians debated for 14 years over who should be able to vote, with opponents of universal suffrage like Benjamin Rush deriding it as “a mobocracy.” The book is an engaging, concise history of American voting practices, and despite a heavily partisan treatment of today’s “voting wars,” it offers many useful reforms that advocates on both sides of the aisle should consider.
Editorials: The electoral college could still stop Trump, even if he wins the popular vote | Derek T. Muller/The Washington Post
Donald Trump will be the GOP’s presidential nominee. Within the party, talk of a brokered Republican National Convention or even a supporting a third-party candidate has circulated among those hoping to stop him from becoming the next president, leaving Trump antagonists across the spectrum to ponder whether there’s any fail-safe left, after November, to stop a Trump administration from becoming a reality. There is. The electoral college. If they choose, state legislators can appoint presidential electors themselves this November, rather than leaving the matter of apportioning electoral college votes by popular vote. Then, via their chosen electors, legislatures could elect any presidential candidate they prefer. Remember, Americans don’t directly elect the president. The electoral college does: Slates of electors pledged to support presidential and vice presidential candidates are voted upon in each state every four years. Each state, and the District of Columbia, is apportioned at least three of the 538 electors, allocated by the total number of U.S. senators and House members each state has. In December, these electors will gather in their respective states and cast votes for president and vice president. And in January, Congress counts these votes, determines if a candidate has achieved a majority — at least 270 votes — and then certifies a winner.