With any luck, Colorado next year could join a growing list of states that have taken redistricting for Congress and the legislature out of the hands of partisan activists and their lawyers and put it with nonpartisan experts who draw competitive boundaries acceptable to the fair-minded everywhere. Goodbye gerrymandering — that centuries-old practice of rigging the political game by drawing district lines that guarantee single-party dominance. Every decade after the latest federal census, the two parties in Colorado lock horns in a contest to dominate and distort the redrawing of political maps. To halt this spectacle, a bipartisan group that includes former governors, secretaries of state, and speakers of the House released a ballot proposal this week that would create a 12-person redistricting commission comprised of four Republicans, four Democrats and four unaffiliated members.
Editorials: A Sacramento consultant, the Florida court, and control of Congress | Dan Morain/The Sacramento Bee
Charlie Crist, the ex-Republican, ex-governor and current Democrat from Florida, was working the crowd at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club last week and running for Congress. He didn’t know it, but Sacramento campaign consultant Steve Smith helped open his path to a comeback. I happened to be in the room as the well-tanned politician schmoozed. Political junkie that I am, I introduced myself. Good politician that he is, he treated me like a confidant and dished a little about one of his old rivals, Marco Rubio. Crist was elected Florida governor as a Republican in 2006, lost the U.S. Senate race to Rubio as an independent in 2010, endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, and as a Democrat failed to unseat his successor, the climate change-denying Gov. Rick Scott, last year. Although the election is a year away, Crist is said to be the front-runner in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which encompasses St. Petersburg, where he has a waterfront condo. The reason has everything to do with a topic that Californians have come to know well: redistricting intended to make congressional lines less partisan.
Few countries can match Venezuela’s “revolutionary” government when it comes to perceived venality, corruption, abuse of power and sheer incompetence. But perhaps for not much longer. After 15 years in power, the sorry saga of “chavismo” may be entering its last act. On December 6, Venezuelans will vote in elections to determine the make-up of the country’s unicameral National Assembly. Polls consistently show the opposition with more than 60 per cent support, twice the government’s level. Even after allowing for electoral sleights of hand — such as gerrymandering, use of state resources to coerce state workers to the vote, and the arbitrary imprisonment or disqualification of opposition candidates — such numbers are big enough to deliver the opposition a parliamentary majority. It may even win a supermajority. That is enough, in theory, to change the constitution, devolve powers to the assembly and jump-start a transition.
Editorials: Alaskans should support PFD Voter Initiative to support excercise of fundamental rights | Alaska Dispatch News
While Americans these days are divided about many things, there can be no dispute — nor has there ever been — about the critical importance of voting in our democracy. Ronald Reagan called it “the most sacred right of free men and women” in his 1981 statement urging extension of the Voting Rights Act. And John F. Kennedy, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, noted while “not everyone can serve in our armed forces, there is one way you can indicate your devotion to freedom — by voting.” But before a citizen can vote, he or she must be registered to vote.
Late last month, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said that in the event of a defeat for his party in December’s legislative election, he would “not hand over the revolution.” That outcome, he warned, would force him to govern “with the people in a civil-military union.” That message is disturbing. Mr. Maduro appears to be suggesting that if his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela takes a beating at the ballot box on Dec. 6, as polls predict, he will render the legislative branch toothless. As his support base has dwindled in recent years, Mr. Maduro’s government has arbitrarily prosecuted political opponents and unfairly disqualified opposition leaders from running for office. He gerrymandered voting districts to give his party a leg up and sought to shore up popular support by picking fights with two neighbors, Guyana and Colombia.
Editorials: Courts should halt Kobach’s bid to abuse voters’ rights in Kansas | The Kansas City Star
Kris Kobach recently and clumsily unveiled a new way to complete one’s voter registration in Kansas: Sue the secretary of state. In another questionable move when it comes to voters’ rights, Kobach’s office stepped in to register two Douglas County men who had filed legal action against him earlier this year. The two citizens have challenged the legality of Kobach’s bid to purge them and others from Kansas’ suspended voters list, which once included 36,000 names. Don’t misconstrue Kobach’s actions as a conciliatory move. They are clearly intended to head off a judge’s ruling that could topple one of the secretary of state’s signature efforts to make voting more difficult in Kansas.
Alabama officials were taken to the woodshed last week when they reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice on implementation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The law includes a provision called “Motor Voter,” which requires states let anyone applying for or renewing driver’s licenses also register to vote. Alabama leaders have lawlessly ignored that mandate since it passed, but were busted in September, when the DOJ threatened to sue. As the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reported, Principal Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange that the state had failed to comply with Section 5 of the law by not providing registration applications to those seeking licenses. Chastened for the perhaps intentional lapse, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Secretary of State now have to quickly jump through a series of hoops to bring the state into compliance.
Editorials: Rise up, Pennsylvanians! Gerrymandering made a mess of our state | Dennis Jett/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania is in its fifth month without a state budget. Schools and local governments are borrowing money to keep operating and social-service providers are cutting back programs. If Pennsylvanians want to reduce this kind of gridlock in Harrisburg, they should do what Ohio has just done. The budget impasse results from the inability of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican majority in the Legislature to agree on how to finance government. Mr. Wolf wants to increase taxes on the natural-gas industry and the Legislature refuses, even though Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax and among those with the lowest tax burden placed on the industry. This difference of opinion stems from the ideology of the two parties but is greatly exacerbated by the way those who go to Harrisburg are elected. Because of this process, partisan politics trumps the common good and intransigence has become ingrained.
Editorials: Why Upgrading Election Infrastructure Is an Investment in Democracy | Seth Flaxman/Huffington Post
The presidential campaign is now upon us, and with it comes a nearly endless line of candidates and a wave of money that will crash over our democracy like we’ve never before experienced. You will read the now-routine media story of “how much the election costs” and stagger at the hugeness of the numbers. In 2012, presidential and congressional campaigns combined to spend more than $7 billion. The midterms of 2014 posted $3.7 billion all on their own.Yet, it would be wrong to assume these numbers represent the true cost of elections — these sensational numbers are the totals spent to get candidates into office. County, town and state governments pay for running an election, and it’s done on a shoestring budget. Campaigns spend countless time and energy focused on persuading exactly the right number of voters necessary to win. In contrast, election administrators across the country, strive to make our elections work better. They hope to build civic participation year-over-year and to increase voter access while making the process more user-friendly. Election administrators are the stewards of our democracy, and yet their budgets are often an afterthought.
While it may feel like it has been going on forever, the 2016 election is one year from now. The presidency is at stake, of course. Control of the Senate, of state legislatures, and even (theoretically) of the House of Representatives is up in the air. But in basic ways, the very integrity of our electoral system is on the ballot, too, next year. Alarmingly, we don’t even know the basic rules that will be in place — and there is more in flux than in any recent presidential year. One other thing is certain, though: Voters are angry about the state of our democracy. And this is a critical time to yell about it. Start with the vote. We all know that Republican-controlled states passed dozens of new laws since 2011 to make it harder for many Americans to cast a ballot. Hardest hit: the poor, minorities, students, the elderly. These laws often have been delayed or tangled up in court. But 15 states will have new restrictions in effect for the first time in a high-turnout national election. And it is the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the nation’s most effective civil rights law.
New Jersey just had the lowest Election Day turnout in its history – with just one out of five voters bothering to show up – so the governor figures he might as well make it harder for people to vote. His veto of the Democracy Act Monday was another predictable strike in Gov. Christie’s campaign for voter suppression, and he even dusted off some old chestnuts about unreasonable costs and how the bill failed to “ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud.” It’s always amusing when politicians imply that voters cannot be trusted. And it’s special when a politician who spent $12 million on a special election – in a shameless attempt to hide from the electorate – claims he’s looking out for our wallets.
Veterans Day is a painful reminder of inequality for veterans in America’s territories who are disenfranchised because of where they live. In 2013, Luis Segovia was deployed to Afghanistan, a world away from his family in Guam. For him it was a bit of deja-vu; four years earlier he was serving his first tour in Afghanistan. A lot had changed in his life since. He had moved from Chicago to Guam, married the woman of his dreams, and started a family. One thing he hadn’t expected was that a change in zipcode would mean he longer would be able to vote for president. Being denied basic democratic participation is something he could never have imagined in 2005, when he was deployed for 18 months in Iraq. Serving at Forward Operation Base Marez near Mosul, one of his primary missions was providing security for the 2005 Iraqi election. He felt a sense of accomplishment, he could feel history being made.
Today is Veterans Day, and Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin will no doubt be thanking us for our service and telling us how important we are and how much they honor us. But their words ring hollow because they won’t even let us use our Veterans Administration ID card as a valid proof of identity when we try to go vote in the next election. This is part and parcel of their overall scheme to make it much more difficult for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites to vote under the new Voter ID law they passed. I served in the U.S. Navy. I have a DD 214 card issued by the Navy on my discharge to prove I served and was discharged honorably. I also have a photo ID issued by the U.S. Veterans Administration. I had to show the DD 214 to get the ID. It is good enough to prove to a U.S. government agency that I am a veteran and entitled to use VA services. But it’s not good enough for those Republican legislators to prove I am who I am so I can vote. Why isn’t a VA ID card a valid proof of existence?
The vast majority of democratic countries in the world offer the right to vote to their citizens living abroad. Ireland is an exception to what is now the norm. Political rights are a central component of modern citizenship, and voting is a significant right in modern democracies and assumed to be enjoyed by all citizens, on a formally equal basis. Dismissing fears of a “hypothetical mass invasion of electors from abroad”, for instance, a 1999 Council of Europe report argued that “the issue has nothing to do with the number of people concerned, but is essentially a matter of fundamental, inalienable human rights”. The call for the introduction of voting rights for disenfranchised overseas citizens is growing louder. The Irish Government is now in danger of a case being taken against it at the European Court of Justice, challenging the restriction on voting rights and thereby forcing the State to act. Why has Ireland had such a chequered record on this issue?
On Tuesday, Seattle voters advanced the city’s reputation for progressivism when they approved a bold and unusual campaign finance reform plan. The plan will draw on real estate taxes to give every registered voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on candidates in the next city elections. The 10-year, $30 million experiment in taxpayer subsidized elections was approved by a 20 percent margin in an initiative that supporters said was a reaction to the ability of affluent donors to dominate campaigns. Under the plan, every voter will receive four $25 vouchers in every election cycle to be used only as campaign contributions to candidates in city races.
In recent years, as the U.S. Supreme Court has limited its protections of the right to vote, some state courts have stepped in to fill the void. State judges have looked to their state constitutions—which are more explicit in conferring the right to vote—to provide relief from onerous election laws. And, in doing so, they have shown how these documents can be powerful tools to improve America’s democracy. Forty-nine of the 50 state constitutions explicitly grant the right to vote to their citizens (Arizona is the only outlier), and just over half of them also provide further protection to the democratic process by requiring elections to be “free and equal” or “free and open.” Some state courts, such as in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas—and most recently Delaware—have analyzed their state constitutions in an increasingly expansive way, going beyond federal law to protect voting rights.
In three days, Myanmar will hold its first democratic national election in 25 years — a historic moment for a country that has transformed itself from a military dictatorship, isolated from the West, to a quasi-civilian government embraced by the Obama administration for its progress toward democracy. Along the way, the government wrote a new constitution, freed more than 1,000 political prisoners and released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from years of house arrest. In a much smaller by-election in 2012, she won a seat in parliament. But this is not a truly free and fair vote. Of the 664 seats in parliament, a quarter are reserved for military officials. The constitution also states that no president may have a spouse or children who are foreign citizens, a provision widely considered to be aimed at preventing Suu Kyi from becoming president. She is the widow of a British national and has two sons with foreign passports. If her party were to win a majority, she could not be chosen as president. (The president is selected by the parliament.)
Not enough people vote. It’s a perennial source of concern in American politics. There’s no shortage of reforms designed to address the problem, but one idea that seems particularly promising, at least in theory, is compulsory voting. It would produce much higher turnout for the obvious reason that it requires people to vote. It’s long been dismissed, though, as an impossible pipe dream, unlikely to ever happen in the United States. But if reformers were to start at the municipal level, they could set into motion forces that might lead to its nationwide adoption. Start with some statistics: In years with presidential elections, voter turnout peaks at just above 60 percent. In off-year elections, turnout dips to 40 percent or less. In November 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters went to the polls—the lowest share in more than 70 years. Participation this paltry calls into question the political system’s legitimacy. It also hints that election outcomes might be quite different if more people bothered to show up.
Alabama is one of many states with unnecessary voter ID laws, voter-suppression policies passed on the pretext of preventing virtually nonexistent forms of voter fraud. Last month, the state government made things even worse. Its new budget will make it harder to get a driver’s license in Alabama, particularly in majority-black, poor and rural areas. After an initial round of uproar, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) tried to scale back and downplay the toxic interaction between these two policies. But it is too little, too late: Unless state leaders fully reverse both, they will be guilty of eroding the fundamental principle of one person, one vote, and they will deserve condemnation. State examiners used to issue driver’s licenses in satellite offices around the state. Under the new budget, 31 of these satellite offices were slated to close. After a national outcry, Mr. Bentley partially reversed that plan, promising that state workers will travel into remote counties once a month. That’s better than never, but it is still a massive reduction in access.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s redistricting commission may have been doomed from the start — its intent to reduce or eliminate gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts running at odds with the intent of the Democratic majority within the General Assembly to keep that particular weapon in their political arsenal. But at least opponents should have the decency to offer intellectually honest critiques. Sen. Joan Carter Conway’s complaint voiced during Tuesday’s meeting of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, as reported by the Capital News Service, failed to meet that standard. To put it in a nutshell, Senator Conway, a commission member, said a proposed nine-member panel that would be created to draw legislative boundaries — a group chosen at random from applicants vetted by randomly-selected state judges and with balance given to party affiliation so that no one party would dominate — would be “as far from independent” as legislators are. Really? To paraphrase a popular NFL pregame show, “Come on, ma’am.”
A bill that has passed the Assembly and could be considered by the state Senate as early as Tuesday would make it much harder for citizens to learn the background of who is financing candidates’ campaigns and codify a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision allowing candidates to work closely with issue groups that don’t have to disclose where they get their money. The Republican legislation would also allow unions and corporations to give money to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders. And wealthy donors would be free to give as much as they wanted to those entities, which could then pass them on to candidates. As passed by the Assembly, the bill includes a provision championed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) that would end a requirement that donors disclose where they work, making it harder for the public to know when companies are investing heavily in certain politicians.
Editorials: Lowering voting age to 16 just one step to restore public trust in politics | Judith Bessant/The Age
Labor leader Bill Shorten announced he plans to reduce the voting age to 16 if elected. He offers three arguments for this.
One relates to consistency and fairness. If young people have the right and capacity to join the armed services, pay taxes or make their own choices about medical treatment, then why can’t they vote? His second argument is that the young are disengaged politically and from civic life generally. This seems to rely on the stereotype of narcissistic young people (the me generation) who are too self-absorbed to become responsible citizens. He also thinks lowering the voting age to 16 will help to “correct democracy’s participation problem”. Much of the criticism of this plan points to Shorten’s deficiencies. While Shorten is generally proving to be an ineffectual leader, his plan to lower the voting age to 16 should be supported. For a society to be considered democratic as many people as possible ought to be able to vote. There is an old ethical and democratic principle that says for any policy, law, or decision to be legitimate everyone affected by it ought to have a say about its adoption.
Editorials: Wisconsin legislature should reject secrecy bill | Daniel I. Weiner and Brent Ferguson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that would dramatically reduce voters’ ability to know which corporations, unions and wealthy individuals are funding state campaigns. The Senate is expected to vote on a companion bill (SB 292) shortly. Supporters of the measure say these changes are required by recent court decisions. Don’t believe it. If passed, SB 292 would radically change the law, not comply with it. As we explained in a letter to legislators this week, the Senate should vote it down.
Editorials: Turkey’s election means turning from democracy towards autocracy | Yavuz Baydar/The Guardian
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once more managed to fight through to victory. With a landslide in Sunday’s elections, he now impose his will more resolutely than ever before, making certain that the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) extends its writ over the country another four years. He gambled, crossed many lines, and won. He has now the half of the national vote on his side to argue for legitimacy and perhaps even as carte blanche to extend his rule into autocracy. This was a result that a very few had predicted. Most pollsters had tipped the AKP gaining around 44% of the vote, short of being able to form a government on its own. So for the AKP to come away with the scale of the victory it was a shock. The other conundrum was whether the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy party (HDP) would fall below the critical 10% threshold (to enter parliament). It managed to score above that the relief of many who had been concerned that the Kurdish movement out of parliament would destabilise Turkey further.
One corner of the world of “dark money” just got a little brighter, and it doesn’t bode well for the 2016 election. A recent tax filing by Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, shows that in 2014 the group spent $4.7 million on ads that had one thing in common: touting the legislative accomplishments of Thom Tillis, who was then North Carolina’s speaker of the House. That year, Mr. Tillis also happened to be trying to unseat Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democratic senator. Carolina Rising spent the money in a three-month blitz leading up to Election Day, but we may never learn where these millions came from. The partial disclosure required of 501(c)(4) outfits means that while we do know that 98.7 percent of the group’s revenue came from a single donor and that virtually every penny of it was used to further the cause of Mr. Tillis’s campaign, we don’t know who Carolina Rising’s secret benefactor was.
As if our state did not look bad enough after the widely criticized decision to close driver license offices, there now comes the report that Alabama faces a lawsuit from the Department of Justice because it is not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act – and never has been. That law, commonly referred to as the “Motor Voter Act,” was enacted in May 1993. Politically, that’s a lifetime ago. Jim Folsom Jr. was governor of Alabama. Bill Clinton was president of the United States. The purpose of the law was simple – to make voter registration easier by allowing people to register when obtaining or renewing driver licenses or when visiting state offices that provide public assistance. It was supposed to be a seamless process; individuals did not have to make a special request for registration. But Alabama has essentially ignored the act in many cases, acting as though it were some sort of optional proposal rather than the law of the land. Thus Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, has warned the state that a lawsuit looms.
Tired of talking about how Democrats in Illinois rigged the legislative maps to elect more Democrats? Let’s talk about how Republicans in Ohio rigged the legislative maps to elect more Republicans. And about how Ohio voters are trying to fix it. In the 2012 election — the first using new maps based on the 2010 U.S. Census numbers — Republican candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives got 49 percent of the vote and won 60 percent of the seats. Republicans running for Senate got 68 percent of the vote and won 83 percent of the seats. Those maps weren’t drawn to ensure that voters had their say. They were drawn to benefit the politicians who controlled the redistricting process. Using sophisticated software and voter history data, Republicans drew grossly misshapen districts, surrounding their allies with friendly voters and busting up communities to disadvantage their enemies. It worked.
Only weeks after giving up on his lackluster presidential campaign in the face of national indifference, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is back to making mischief in his home state. Last Friday, Mr. Walker signed a bill to protect public officials like himself from an effective and well-established tool for rooting out political corruption. The tool, known as the John Doe law, lets prosecutors conduct secret investigations into possible crimes by executing search warrants and compelling people to testify. It is essentially a grand jury proceeding, with a judge rather than jurors deciding whether there is enough evidence for an indictment. Mr. Walker has been a target of two John Doe investigations in recent years.
Editorials: In face of voter ID laws, younger generation must get involved | Michael Sainato/The Hill
The right to vote is one of the most frequently cited constitutional right in the Constitution itself; appearing five separate times total, including four individual amendments enacted to protect it. Since African-American men were granted the right to vote in 1870, and the passage of women’s suffrage in 1920, many states have used arbitrary methods to deter certain blocks of voters from the polls. Poll taxes, literacy tests and complicated voter registration were commonplace up until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that abolished these practices. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 invalidated a key component of the Voting Rights Act, giving nine Southern states the power to change their election laws without federal approval. Today, the impetuous transgressions against the right to vote from which the Voting Rights Act was enacted to protect Americans are being undermined by voter ID laws that are in currently being enforced in 32 states, 17 of those requiring photo identification. It is no coincidence that the year many voter restriction laws were put into place, 2014, voter turnout for the elections that year were the lowest in any election cycle since World War II.