Of all the promises Justin Trudeau made before this week’s federal election, the promise to change how Canadians vote may come back to haunt him most. If he ignores it, the Liberal Party leader and soon-to-be-prime minister will be accused of breaking his word. If he keeps it, the majority government he just won may be his last. Trudeau and the Liberals are still celebrating their sweeping victory in Monday’s vote that left them in control of the House of Commons with 184 out of 338 MPs. But in order to carve out that 54 per cent majority in the House of Commons, the Liberals needed only 39.5 per cent of the votes cast. What’s being called a landslide win would look very different if the proportion of votes the Liberals captured translated precisely into the number of seats they hold in Parliament. Were such an electoral system in place, the Liberals would today hold 134 seats in the House of Commons — more than anyone else but far short of the commanding majority they now enjoy. And that, to state the obvious, would mean Trudeau would lead a far more unstable government that would need support from at least one other party to implement even some of the Liberal agenda and would have no guarantee of governing for even two more years, far less four.
Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws were overdue for change after a series of court decisions over the past year. In recent months, the courts have allowed coordination between campaigns and issue groups and allowed individuals to give unlimited amounts of money to political parties. We still question whether those decisions are in the best interest of the public. But state and federal judges have, effectively, rewritten Wisconsin law, and so the law itself should be brought up to date. But legislators and citizens who hold them accountable should take a close look at what Assembly Bill 387 would do. The tinkering will mean even more money in state politics, and the vast majority of it will be given in secret with no public disclosure. In the long run, that erodes trust in government. The campaign finance bill would double the amount that donors can give to candidates. For statewide office, contributors now would be able to give $20,000, and that amount would be adjusted for inflation every five years.
Editorials: ‘One person, one vote’ isn’t broken, and the Supreme Court shouldn’t fix it. | Nathaniel Persily/The Washington Post
Anyone who teaches or writes about election law has one Supreme Court court case that he or she finds outrageous. For some, it is Shelby County v. Holder, the decision striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act. For others, it is Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down regulations of election-related spending by corporations and unions. If the Supreme Court sides with the appellants who seek to redefine the “one person, one vote” rule so that districts may be drawn only around eligible voters, mine will be Evenwel v. Abbott. The case will not receive the attention of the other two, but it represents all that is wrong with constitutional litigation around election law — in particular, the effort to use the courts to achieve anti-minority outcomes that even the majoritarian political process would not tolerate.
Editorials: ‘Equal representation’ should include non-citizens | Richard H. Pildes/The Washington Post
If states’ representation in Congress were tied to their number of eligible voters rather than their total population, Texas would have four fewer House representatives and California six. Both states have millions of non-citizen residents and a disproportionate share of people younger than 18. Fortunately for Texas and California, the principle of political equality written into the Constitution’s 14th Amendment expressly recognizes that a state’s representation in the House should be based on its total population, not the number of its eligible voters alone. “The fundamental principle of representative government is one of equal representation for equal numbers of people,” the Supreme Court has said. But is this “fundamental principle” somehow wrong when states design their own legislatures? In the “one person, one vote” case before the Supreme Court, two voters from Texas argue that it is.
Editorials: The Supreme Court should seize the chance to strike down voter discrimination | Nina Perales/The Washington Post
Texas has a long history of voting discrimination against racial minorities. As Supreme Court rulings invalidated the Texas white primaries in 1944, the poll tax in 1966 and Texas’s system of multi-member state House districts in 1973, Texas turned to redistricting to dilute minority voting strength. The federal Voting Rights Act is the bulwark against unfair redistricting in Texas. Nationwide, the Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and, for certain jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination (including Texas), until 2013 it required federal preapproval of voting-related changes. In every decade since the 1970s, courts or the U.S. Justice Department have relied on the Voting Rights Act to block one or more unjust statewide redistricting plans enacted in Texas.
Egypt’s ongoing parliamentary elections – farcical in every sense, with a turnout so far of only 2 percent – are further proof that Egypt is witnessing the solidification of a quasi-authoritarian system of government, not a democratic revival. Most of Egypt’s new parliamentarians will be wealthy, elite, sympathetic to the nation’s current military president, and vehemently opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which governed Egypt during a brief democratic transition in 2012 and 2013. In short, this will be a rubber stamp parliament, one that will serve as a tool for – rather than a check against – Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Al-Sisi recently passed a new election law that effectively cancels out the influence of Egypt’s political parties. According to the law, nearly 80 percent of parliamentary seats will be allotted to individuals. This individual system, which helped Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak consolidate power in the 1980s and 1990s, privileges wealthy elites with ties to the Egyptian establishment, of which Al-Sisi is a card-carrying member.
Editorials: When it comes to election law, red America and blue America are not at all alike | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times
We already know that Americans’ access to abortion services, healthcare and firearms varies according to where they live. In California, it’s relatively simple for women to obtain an abortion, and in Texas, it’s quite hard; the reverse is true for guns. Some states accepted Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, helping the poor obtain health coverage, and others did not. Increasingly, location also affects how difficult it is to cast a vote. When it comes to election law, red America and blue America are not at all alike. Since 2000, and especially in the last few years, states dominated by Democrats have tended to pass laws that make it easier to register and vote, while states dominated by Republicans have done the opposite. This month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making voter registration automatic for eligible Californians who request a driver’s license or state ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles. California joins liberal Oregon in this endeavor. A number of other blue states are also looking to remove barriers to registration. Where you live should not affect your ability to register and vote in a federal election.
“Colbert Super PAC” exposed the troubling realities of money in politics more effectively than any PSA. But the crippling flaws in our campaign finance system that it was created to highlight have not abated in the years since—in fact, they’ve worsened substantially. The massive $144 million that Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls collectively raised in the third quarter of this year doesn’t include the untold millions funneled into their super PACs by deep-pocketed donors. When those numbers are disclosed in January, they will undoubtedly reveal that the money flowing to shifty outside groups is larger than ever. That is not even to count the funds being raised and spent in this election by candidate-allied nonprofit organizations, whose finances we will see, only in part, after the election is over. A little over a year after the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I appeared on national television to walk Stephen Colbert through the legal intricacies of establishing his super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and his dark money 501(c)(4), Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Shhh. Though my appearances on his show were no more than a few minutes each, during our discussions Stephen demonstrated his uncanny ability to take a complex, nuanced problem and distill it down to the absurd facts at its core. For example, one particularly memorable exchange from my first appearance came after I reminded him of the applicable regulations if he chose to form a PAC.
Editorials: Two states, two competing futures for voting rights in America | Katrina vanden Heuvel/The Washington Post
“The Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy,” declared a rising congressional leader in 2006, “and renewing this landmark law will ensure that each and every citizen can continue to exercise their right to vote without the threat of intimidation or harassment.” Incredibly, that statement of unequivocal support for voting rights came not from a Democrat, but from then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). Of course, while it’s easy to forget now, Boehner was hardly taking a courageous stand; despite a long history of right-wing opposition to the Voting Rights Act, Boehner was merely endorsing a bipartisan reauthorization bill that passed 390 to 33 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Upon signing it, President George W. Bush said, “My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court.” Nearly a decade later, the political landscape for voting rights has changed dramatically. We are now witnessing a clash between two radically opposing visions of American democracy.
Editorials: Keeping the nation safe from mythic illegal voters | Carl P. Leubsdorf/Dallas Morning News
In the 28 months since the Supreme Court decided a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, several states have confirmed critics’ warnings that the decision would prompt new efforts to curb voting, especially by minorities the law sought to protect. In Texas, officials put a strict voter ID law into effect the very day the court ruled. It remains under legal challenge after an appeals court ruling it discriminates against minorities. In North Carolina, a new law reduced early voting and eliminated a program encouraging 18-year-olds to register. But a ham-handed move by Alabama officials recently made the case better than can all the lawyers in the world.
Are Myanmar’s highly anticipated general elections, widely touted as “historic” by diplomats, pundits and media, doomed to fail just like previous polls? A surprise proposal floated this week by the military-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) to postpone the November 8 polls has raised troubling questions about the military-backed quasi-civilian government’s commitment to the electoral process and rang alarm bells in Western capitals invested in a successful democratic transition through the ballot box. On October 13, UEC chairman and 45-year military veteran Tin Aye suggested in a meeting with political parties that the polls be delayed, either nationwide or in select constituencies, due to monsoon rain-induced flooding and landslides. The UEC then backed away from the proposal amid strong resistance from the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition, the main challenger to the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The USDP’s position on the proposal to delay the vote was not immediately clear.
After years of hearing Secretary of State Kris Kobach complain about the state’s lack of prosecutions for voter fraud, most Kansans probably were expecting a more dramatic start to the secretary’s own prosecution efforts. Having obtained the authority earlier this year to prosecute such cases on his own, Kobach kicked off his anti-fraud campaign last week by filing charges against three people who allegedly voted both in Kansas and another state during the same election cycle. All three people apparently are U.S. citizens, so the prosecution has nothing to do with the state’s new proof-of citizenship law. It’s a matter of people either mistakenly or intentionally voting in two different states in a single election. Either way, according to the law, they have committed a crime, and Kansas is now seeking to hold them accountable.
Editorials: Dismantling the Government Accountability Board weakens government | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
It appears the state Assembly will take up this week the bill aimed at wreaking Republican revenge on the Government Accountability Board, replacing it with a system that doesn’t work particularly well on the federal level and hasn’t worked well in Wisconsin in the past. This attack on the nonpartisan watchdog agency that supervises state elections and conducts investigations into ethics violations reeks of payback partisanship. Under it, and other measures, legislators would like to set themselves up as the sole arbiters of transparency and accountability. That’s not how our system of government is supposed to work. It is similar to the underhanded attempt to gut the state’s open records law on the Fourth of July weekend by this same crew of legislators led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. And it deserves the same kind of fate: an overwhelming demand from angry citizens to kill the bill.
Editorials: Supreme Court continues record of hostility to minor parties and independent candidates | Richard Winger/The Hill
Among the 50 most populous countries, the United States and Nigeria are the only nations in the world with exactly two political parties represented in the national legislative body. (For a list of the 50 most populous countries and the number of parties represented in their legislative bodies, click here.) Election laws and debate practices in the United States make it extremely difficult, almost impossible, for the voters to launch a new major party. Consequently, in election after election, there is no realistic chance for a new party to displace either the Republican or Democratic Parties. This state of affairs is partly because the U.S. Supreme Court, for the last 23 years, has fostered the status quo and upheld laws that protect the two major parties from competition. Starting in June 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear every case filed by minor party or independent candidates against restrictive laws that bar them from the ballot or debates or otherwise injure them, with only a single exception: a case from Georgia in which Libertarian Party candidates challenged the state law requiring all candidates for state office to be tested for illegal drugs. Setting aside that exception, there are now 54 examples when minor parties and independent candidates asked for help from the court, and were refused, during the period from 1992 to the present. (To see a list of such instances that occurred before 2012, click here.)
In Alabama, without an ID, you can’t vote. Yet Governor Bentley’s administration announced plans this month to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including in every single county where African Americans make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. The closings would make getting driver’s licenses and personal identification cards much harder for many African Americans. That would make voting much harder, too. As many Alabamians have said in recent days, that’s just dead wrong. Governor Bentley is insisting that the closings had nothing to do with race, but the facts tell a different story. Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and John Lewis bled, it’s hard to believe Americans are still forced to fight for their right to vote—especially in places where the civil rights movement fought so hard all those years ago. The parallels are inescapable: Alabama is living through a blast from the Jim Crow past.
In a bold move last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that automatically registers Californians to vote when they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards. California now joins Oregon in moving toward a more robust and inclusive electoral process by reaching out to voters through their motor vehicle departments. Will New Jersey be next? Regrettably, that’s doubtful, even as a bill to reform statewide voting procedures languishes on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. At the end of June, the state Senate passed the New Jersey Democracy Act, a package of measures designed to broaden citizen participation through expanded early-voting opportunities, online voter registration and automatic voter registration at Motor Vehicle Commission offices.
In his victory speech after his re-election in 2012, President Obama offered special thanks to those Americans who had stood in long lines to vote — some of whom were still waiting even as he spoke — and then offhandedly added, “by the way, we have to fix that.” The line got big applause, but now, three years later, much of the country is still far from fixing one major cause of the long lines: outdated voting machines and technologies. With the 2016 presidential election just a year away, the vast majority of states are still getting by with old machines that are increasingly likely to fail, crash or produce unreliable results. The software in them, mostly from the 1990s, doesn’t have the capabilities or security measures available today. A study released last month by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly every state uses some machines that are no longer manufactured. And 43 states are using machines that will be at least 10 years old next year, close to the end of their useful lives. A member of the federal Election Assistance Commission told the report’s authors, “We’re getting by with Band-Aids.” The central problem is a lack of money. The report estimates that it will cost at least $1 billion, and probably a good deal more, to upgrade voting systems nationwide. Election officials in 22 states say they need new machines but don’t know where the money will come from. Those states alone represent more than 120 million registered voters, and account for a majority — 324 — of the nation’s 538 electoral votes.
Editorials: How Facebook and Google’s Algorithms Are Affecting Our Political Viewpoints | Megan Anderle/Huffington Post
Plenty of users take what they read online at face value, which some social experiments have proven. The average user often doesn’t check facts or consider whether the source is credible. “You look at a Wikipedia article and assume that it all must be true,” said Christo Wilson, a computer science professor at Northeastern University who researched algorithms and personalization extensively. “Or you search for something on Google and think the results are subjective and correct off the bat.” And then there are algorithms on top of every social network and search engine, providing users with personalized, and ultimately skewed, results. Algorithms are a mystery to researchers.
On Sept. 30, Alabama announced plans to shutter nearly half its driver’s license offices, citing budget constraints. The decision came a year after the state implemented a new ID requirement to vote, purportedly to protect against voter fraud. At least half a million Alabamans, or 20 percent of the state’s registered voters, lack a driver’s license or alternative DMV-issued ID. As with the restrictive ID law, civil rights advocates say the closure of 31 DMV offices — disproportionately affecting poor, rural communities where black people make up a large share of the population — narrows access to IDs and, as a result, will disfranchise black voters. State officials insist that their decision was not race based. Irrespective of intent, the move will suppress black votes. The closures target communities that lack easy access to public transportation. Nearly 14 percent of black families do not own a vehicle, while only 4 percent of families are without private transportation. Of the 10 counties with the highest percentages of black residents, only two will have DMV offices. Unsurprisingly, the DMV closures affect 53 percent of the 15 counties that voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and the five counties that voted most heavily Democratic in that election. Meanwhile, 40 offices will remain open in the 55 counties that are predominantly white.
Editorials: Process of redrawing 3rd Congressional District evidence of Virginia’s need for reform | Daily Press
Considering Virginia’s checkered approach to issues of openness and transparency, we probably should have expected that redrawing the 3rd Congressional District would be a process shrouded in secrecy. But the requirements included in a federal court order governing the participants in that effort, even by the commonwealth’s standards, are astounding. As readers know, the 3rd District has been the subject to a lengthy court battle over whether Republican lawmakers illegally packed it with minority voters in an effort to diminish their strength and limit their influence in neighboring districts. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has twice ruled the boundaries invalid, and ordered the General Assembly to redraw the district. However, a bit of deft legislative maneuvering in August threw the issue back to the courts. The District Court then selected Bernard Grofman, a professor of political science at the University of California Irvine, as a “special master” to draw new district boundaries. He is being assisted by three members of the General Assembly’s Division of Legislative Services.
In recent weeks Alabama has been in the news for passing a strict voter-ID law and then closing 31 DMV locations, particularly in majority-black counties where civil rights activists like Jimmie Lee Jackson and Jonathan Daniels died fighting for voting rights. This from the state that was the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act and currently ranks last in the nation in voter access. Over the weekend California moved in a dramatically different direction, becoming the second state–following Oregon–to automatically register citizens who request a driver’s license or state ID from the DMV unless they opt out. The law could add 6 million unregistered voters to the rolls, which would be the largest voter-registration drive in state history. Unlike Alabama, California is using the power of the government to bring millions of new voters into the political process– treating the vote as a fundamental right, rather than a special privilege.
A state with Alabama’s ugly racial history and vote suppression legacy should try hard to act like it’s better than that now. But our state government has made Alabama appear to the world as if we aren’t even trying. Looking at the implications of closing driver’s license offices in the Black Belt, we don’t buy the promises to mitigate the ill effects with other governmental remedy. We don’t buy the claims that race and poverty have nothing to do with this. But even if they were valid, the damage to Alabama’s image and reputation is as undeniable as it was foreseeable and avoidable. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and this is wrong on the facts. It’s also wrong because the economic damage done to Alabama — tourists who will bypass us, investors and job creators who will go elsewhere to avoid the taint — more than offsets the claimed benefit, the dubious economic argument that lies behind these decisions.
Maryland’s process for redistricting both at the State and Federal levels has been difficult for many to understand. If it is determined by the Governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission that reform is necessary, then I hope that the following suggestions prove useful to you in your deliberations. The last sentence above is a critical first step. I believe that you must first determine whether reform is necessary or possible. Many would argue, on both sides of the political aisle, the system is broken beyond repair and reform is a foregone conclusion. That may very well be, but I would challenge you to actually make such a determination through careful analysis, and a review of the potential solutions.
Election season is in full swing. This year, it is not a presidential election to which I am referring, of course—both parties’ candidates and the initial GOP debates to the contrary—but on Nov. 3, registered voters 18 and older can go to the polls to elect Virginia Senate and House of Delegates seats throughout our commonwealth. Of course, not all of the eligible registered voters will participate in what is perhaps our most holy of democratic traditions. Some may be turned away for not having the correct photo ID—a potential impediment not required in recent decades in Virginia, before last year’s elections. Virginia legislators, it seems, must spend much of their time away from Richmond looking under their beds for practically nonexistent fraudulent voters, thereby disenfranchising many of whom they perceive as the “wrong” voters.
Barely one year after Alabama’s voter-ID law went into effect, officials are planning to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including those in every county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. It’s ostensibly a cost-cutting effort, but coupled with the voter-ID law, these closings will make it even more difficult for many of the state’s most vulnerable voters to get one of the most common forms of identification now required to cast a vote. Like voter-ID laws elsewhere, Alabama’s version requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls. The rationale is that these laws are necessary to stop voter fraud. The problem is that in-person fraud — the only kind that voter-ID laws could conceivably prevent — almost never happens. Still, these laws have proliferated around the country, nearly always enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures at the expense of minorities, the poor and other groups who tend to vote Democratic.
To promote democracy around the world, the United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually in developing nations. But when it comes to the mechanics of democracy itself in the United States, some don’t even want to pony up $9.6 million. That’s the budget for the obscure, 25-employee Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Created by Congress in 2002, the bipartisan EAC is meant to be a resource for states and localities on election administration. That means everything from designing ballots, to procedures and manuals on election administration, to maintaining voting machines. And lest anyone believe that this is the big hand of the federal government reaching down to something controlled by states and counties, all the EAC does is set guidelines and advise. It does not enforce laws.
t an event in Iowa today, Jeb Bush was asked whether he believed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) should be reauthorized by the Congress following the gutting of one of its most important provisions by the Supreme Court in 2013. Bush responded: “If it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting, exponentially better improvement, and I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places.” Bush is wrong on multiple counts.
Americans tend to replace their smartphones every two or three years. By contrast, most Americans use voting machines that are at least a decade old and based on engineering and designs from the 1990s. The perils of ignoring the latter may not be apparent until the electoral system is suddenly wracked by mishaps — think of Florida, circa 2000. Unfortunately, the likelihood of major dysfunction grows as voting machines age. It’s fair to blame Washington for a portion of the mess and assume it won’t play a critical role in the solution. Determined to avoid a reprise of the Florida mishap, Congress allocated funds and mandated the purchase of new equipment in 2002. Then, with the mandates still in place, lawmakers turned off the funding spigot, leaving state and local governments to take up the slack. In next year’s presidential election, some voting machines in 43 states will be at least a decade old and dangerously close to the end of their expected lifespan, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. In 14 states, some voters will encounter machines that are 15 or more years old, meaning they pre-date Facebook and the widespread use of flat-screen televisions.
Last May, I shared in an extraordinary moment. I had the privilege, together with many leaders from across Africa, of bearing witness to the first peaceful, democratic transition of power between two parties in Nigeria. I traveled to Lagos earlier this year to emphasize that for the United States, Nigeria is an increasingly important strategic partner with a critical role to play in the security and prosperity of the region. I also said that it was imperative that these elections set a new standard for democracy across the continent. There is no question that this is a decisive moment for democracy in Africa. Later this month, four countries – Guinea, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic – are scheduled to hold presidential elections, and soon after we hope to see elections in Burkina Faso. People across Africa must seize this opportunity to make their voices heard; and leaders across the continent must listen. The challenges are real. For decades, poverty, famine, war, and authoritarian leadership have held back an era of African prosperity and stability. These and other challenges should not be underestimated, but neither should we ignore the gains that are being made.
A year ago the Iowa Supreme Court issued a splintered decision on Iowans’ constitutional voting rights that left an important question for a future case. Such a case appears headed to the court, and it could restore this fundamental right to thousands of Iowans. Iowa is one of just three states — including Kentucky and Florida — that permanently disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters with a record of a felony conviction. Convicted felons in Iowa must apply to the governor for restoration of voting rights after completing their sentences. Few go to the trouble, however, which is understandable given the intimidating bureaucratic process. As a result, these Iowans are forever denied a right that is fundamental in a free society even after they have paid their debt to that society. That is wrong, but a fix will not be easy.