The court’s new term, which starts Monday, will jump right back into high-profile constitutional battles like voting rights, affirmative action and the death penalty, as well as a new attack on public-sector labor unions. And the justices may well agree to take up issues of abortion and contraception again, in cases that could further strip away reproductive rights. The decisions last term showed a court willing to take into account the effects of the law on individual lives. This term, the justices have many opportunities to show that same type of awareness. The legal principle of “one person, one vote” got its fullest expression in the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims, which ruled that state legislative districts must contain roughly equal numbers of people. Before then, district populations varied widely, an intentional practice that gave more power to rural white voters than those in the more diverse cities. While the court has never defined who counts as a person, the vast majority of states count all people who live in a district, even if they are not eligible to vote.
Editorials: Republicans simply out for revenge on Government Accountability Board | Ernst-Ulrich Franzen/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
This is the week that state legislators are expected to start wreaking their revenge on the Government Accountability Board. Plans to replace the agency are in place. A suggested compromise reportedly has fallen on deaf ears. Deals reportedly have been made to move swiftly on legislation, the effect of which most likely would be to pull any semblance of teeth from this watchdog. Of course, Republican legislators pushing this effort say that wouldn’t be the case; that a new agency (perhaps two new agencies) is needed because this one has been too partisan in its oversight of ethics and elections, and that a replacement would be “fair, transparent and accountable to Wisconsinites,” in the words of a spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker. Forgive me if I’m skeptical. And let me add that I have little doubt that more than a few Democrats quietly support this measure simply because no politician really likes a watchdog agency that is doing its job in a truly nonpartisan fashion.
Editorials: The true cost of Voter ID: Everything you need to know about the monumental cost of voter suppression | Sean McElwee/Salon
In my recent report, “Why Voting Matters,” I show the dramatic differences in opinion between voters and nonvoters, and argue that more voter turnout would lead to more progressive policies. One of the most dramatic gaps in opinion is between white voters and non-white nonvoters (shown below). As 2016 approaches, the question of how to mobilize the political power of people of color is increasingly being discussed with the rise of groups like Black Lives Matter. Though it’s clear that voter turnout will not be enough to fully realize political equality, it can have a dramatic influence on policy. In a study released last year, political scientist Jon Rogowski and Sophie Schuit of the Brennan Center for Justice find that members of Congress representing districts covered by the preclearance provision (which was struck down by the Roberts court when it gutted the Voting Rights Act) were more supportive of civil rights legislation.
One of the basic insights of behavioral science is that the format of a choice set—how the options are arranged on a page—can significantly shape our decisions. This is true when ordering a meal at a restaurant, but also at the ballot box, as the design of a paper ballot can influence which candidates we end up voting for. For example, studies led by Jon Krosnick at Stanford University have shown that candidates at the top of the ballot get, on average, about 2 percentage points more votes than they would have if listed farther down. This primacy effect even holds in national elections, when voters are more familiar with the candidates. When the name order of candidates was randomized on the California state ballot in the 2000 election, George W. Bush’s vote total was 9 percentage points higher in districts where his name appeared first versus last, Krosnick says. To deal with this bias, many states have begun randomizing the order of candidates, taking steps to ensure that a cognitive quirk doesn’t determine the winner of the election.
A year after Alabama’s Voter ID took effect, the state announced that Wednesday that it would close 31 drivers license offices, leaving 28 counties without a place to get a license. In Alabama’s Black Belt — disproportionately poor and disproportionately African-American — either 12 or 15 counties (depending on which counties you count in the Black…
When we receive a summons for jury duty, we are required to present ourselves at the court. Should we treat showing up at the polls in elections the same way? Although the idea seems vaguely un-American, it is neither unusual, nor undemocratic, nor unconstitutional. And it would ease the intense partisan polarization that weakens both our capacity for self-government and public trust in our governing institutions. It is easy to dismiss this idea as rooted in a form of coercion that is incompatible with our individualistic and often libertarian political culture. But consider Australia, whose political culture may be as similar to that of the United States as the culture of any other democracy in the world. Alarmed by a decline in voter turnout to less than 60 percent in the early 1920s, Australia adopted a law in 1924 requiring all citizens to present themselves at the polling place on Election Day. (This is often referred to as mandatory voting, although Australian voters are not required to cast marked ballots.)
New York State has two big political parties — Democratic and Republican — on its ballot as well as an assortment of smaller parties. That might seem harmless, but in the strange, convoluted netherworld of New York politics, a lot of the minor parties are useless and mysterious. They clog the ballot, warp the debate and confuse the voters. What makes this system especially confounding is that a candidate’s name can appear on two or more ballot lines. Last year, New Yorkers could vote for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the Democratic, Working Families, Independence or Women’s Equality Party. Now, New York Republicans are trying to get rid of the Women’s Equality Party, which favors Democrats.
Editorials: Alaska will gain by providing voter registration with PFD application | Alaska Dispatch News
We live in the digital age. With a few clicks of the mouse or finger taps on a smartphone we have access to a wealth of information that was unimaginable just a few years ago. An entire generation has grown up with the Internet, and it seems like there is an app for everything. You may even be reading this on your smartphone right now. But there is one aspect of our lives that has not embraced the digital transition. And it relates to the most important aspect of our democracy: voting. For some reason, we Alaskans cannot register to vote without printing out a piece of paper and mailing it to the State Division of Elections. It is hard to believe we are still dealing with such an anachronism, especially when we have been able to apply for our annual Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) online, through a secure platform, for a decade (something over 83 percent of Alaskans now do). Fortunately, we can change this.
In Virginia, the incumbent protection racket known as redistricting has ensured that another all-but-meaningless season of state legislative elections has arrived, and with it the predictable response — namely, apathy and wan turnout. That’s fine by the lawmakers who drew the commonwealth’s electoral map, and who evidently prefer that voters ratify the status quo than enjoy a genuine choice at the ballot. In legislative elections in November, a Republican faces a Democrat in just 29 of the 100 races for the House of Delegates. As for those 29, most feature underfunded challengers mounting quixotic races against entrenched incumbents; they are contests in name only. The picture for the state Senate isn’t much better. A Republican faces a Democrat in just 20 of the 40 seats; perhaps a half-dozen races will wind up being genuinely competitive. (In one nominal contest, state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-Williamsburg), a darling of corporate lobbyists, has a war chest approaching $2 million; his Democratic opponent has less than $10,000.) Taking the two chambers together, well over half of incumbents are running unopposed.
For the past six years, Volkswagen has been cheating on the emissions testing for its diesel cars. The cars’ computers were able to detect when they were being tested, and temporarily alter how their engines worked so they looked much cleaner than they actually were. When they weren’t being tested, they belched out 40 times the pollutants. Their CEO has resigned, and the company will face an expensive recall, enormous fines and worse. Cheating on regulatory testing has a long history in corporate America. It happens regularly in automobile emissions control and elsewhere. What’s important in the VW case is that the cheating was preprogrammed into the algorithm that controlled cars’ emissions. Computers allow people to cheat in ways that are new. Because the cheating is encapsulated in software, the malicious actions can happen at a far remove from the testing itself. Because the software is “smart” in ways that normal objects are not, the cheating can be subtler and harder to detect. We’ve already had examples of smartphone manufacturers cheating on processor benchmark testing: detecting when they’re being tested and artificially increasing their performance. We’re going to see this in other industries.
The Supreme Court on Monday afternoon told lawyers involved in a new case on the constitutionality of a congressional election district in Virginia to file new briefs on whether the case can go forward in the Court. In a one-paragraph order issued along with two other procedural orders after the first Conference in advance of the new Term, the Court questioned whether current and former members of the House had a legal right to pursue their appeal. The Court has not yet agreed to hear the case, but it is in a form that would require the Court to act on it if it were properly filed. At the core of the case of Wittman v. Personhuballah is whether a sprawling District 3 was designed unconstitutionally because of the role that race played in drawing its boundaries. The only House district in Virginia with a majority of minority population, it starts north of Richmond and skips various cities on its way southward into the area around Norfolk and Newport News. It is now represented by a black Democrat, Rep. Bobby Scott. Its form has been described as resembling a “grasping claw.”
Poll after poll shows Americans are dissatisfied with government. Last year, Congress’s job approval rating was at a near-record low of just 15 percent. In fact, dissatisfaction with government was named as the most important problem facing the country. And partisan gridlock was the number-one reason why. All this displeasure led to the lowest voter turnout in 72 years for the 2014 midterm election. It may also be why more and more Americans are calling themselves Independents.
For the past six years, Volkswagen has been advertising a lie: “top-notch clean diesel” cars — fuel efficient, powerful and compliant with emissions standards for pollutants. It turns out the cars weren’t so clean. They were cheating. The vehicles used software that cleverly put a lid on emissions during testing, but only then. The rest of the time, the cars spewed up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The federal government even paid up to $51 million in tax subsidies to some car owners on the false assumption of environmental friendliness. … Computational devices that are vulnerable to cheating are not limited to cars. Consider, for example, voting machines. Just a few months ago, the Virginia State Board of Elections finally decertified the use of a touch-screen voting machine called “AVS WinVote.” It turned out that the password was hard-wired to “admin” — a default password so common that it would be among the first three terms any hacker would try. There were no controls on changes that could be made to the database tallying the votes. If the software fraudulently altered election results, there would be virtually no way of detecting the fraud since everything, including the evidence of the tampering, could be erased.
Our politics is awash in cash. Super PACs supporting presidential candidates have banked more than $250 million through June 30—nearly 10 times more than at this point in the 2012 cycle. “Dark money” from anonymous donors is also surging (dark to us, of course; you can bet the candidates know). The political network of Charles and David Koch has said that it plans to spend as much as $900 million in the 2016 election cycle, raised mostly from undisclosed donors. “For that kind of money, you could buy yourself a president,” said Republican strategist Mark McKinnon. “Oh, right,” he added. “That’s the point.” This pollution of our democracy is the product of the Supreme Court’s appalling 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Despite decades of warnings by the elected branches of government about the dangers of corporate political corruption, and despite more than 100 years of settled law, the conservative majority made the fateful finding that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Not stopping there, the justices went on to find that “the appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
Editorials: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | Theodore M. Shaw/The Nation
ne of the martyrs of the civil-rights movement, Vernon Dahmer, lies in a cemetery in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A voting-rights activist and president of the local NAACP chapter, Dahmer was killed when his home was firebombed by Klansmen five months after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Dahmer’s tombstone bears his famous words: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” Like every step along the path to racial justice, including the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state Capitol, the VRA was bought and paid for with blood. Those who fought for it, like Dahmer, understood that it meant a new beginning for democracy, not an end of the need for vigilance.
Editorials: How Automatic Voter Registration Can Transform American Politics | Ari Berman/The Nation
n July 1976, while appearing with civil-rights icon John Lewis, Jimmy Carter proposed automatically registering to vote every eligible American once they turned 18, which he said would “transform, in a beneficial way, the politics of our country.” Carter’s ambitious plan never became law, but 39 years later, states like Oregon and California are embracing automatic voter registration as a bold new voting reform, potentially adding millions of new voters to the rolls. It’s a trend that warrants more attention, especially as the country celebrates National Voter Registration Day today. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and National Voter Registration Act of 1993 enfranchised millions of new voters. After passage of the VRA, for example, the number of black registered voters in the South increased from 31 percent to 73 percent. Despite these landmark laws, 51 million Americans—1 in 4 eligible voters—are still not registered to vote. “Among eligible voters, some 30 percent of African Americans, 40 percent of Hispanics, 45 percent of Asian Americans, and 41 percent of young adults (age 18-24), were not registered to vote in the historic 2008 election,” according to Demos.
This Year could serve as a turning point for the strengthening of voting rights in the modern era. And it’s not only because 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which is in need of protection more than ever as some of its key provisions have come under attack. One piece of good news is that Governor Jerry Brown of California is poised to sign into law a measure that automatically registers all eligible residents to vote when they obtain their driver’s licenses. Earlier this year, Oregon became the first state to enact an automatic voter registration law, and New Jersey’s legislature recently passed a similar bill, which now awaits Governor Chris Christie’s signature. This policy has the potential to drive civic participation to higher levels. Other states should follow their lead.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is right. So is the State Board of Elections, which his office represents. And so are Virginia’s Republican congressmen, who are co-defendants in a suit against the state. All of them either have asked federal judges to post redistricting proposals that might replace the state’s current congressional map, or have signified their assent to the request. Three U.S. District judges will redraw the state’s congressional districts after the General Assembly failed to come up with its own plan by a court-imposed deadline. A number of other interested parties, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and various good-government groups, who are not litigants in the suit have submitted their own maps.
You could be forgiven for not knowing, but Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day—a chance for eligible Americans of all stripes to register to vote. Registration is always a worthwhile goal, but this year, it’s more salient and politically charged than usual. That’s because it comes at a time when, despite record low turnout last fall, the voter registration process has been drawn into the center of a fierce partisan battle over access to the ballot. The more people who vote, the better Democrats do. As a result, with very few exceptions, one party is following a strategy of expanding the electorate, and the other is working to limit it. Officially, National Voter Registration Day has no agenda beyond signing up as many Americans as possible. But the reality is that voter registration, like so much else in today’s charged political climate, has become a subject of intense partisan conflict. That’s because these days, the more people who vote, the better Democrats do. As a result, with very few exceptions, one party is following a strategy of expanding the electorate, and the other is working to limit it.
Editorials: The Warnings About The Supreme Court’s Dangerous Campaign Finance Ruling Are Now Coming True | Paul Blumenthal/Huffington Post
Presidential candidates from both parties are going to solicit six and seven-figure contributions directly from donors for the first time in a decade, thanks to looser campaign finance rules enacted by the Supreme Court and Congress in recent years. Both parties are pushing wealthy donors to give more than $1 million for the 2016 presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post. Their efforts mark the first $1 million party campaign solicitations since the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act banned individual donors from making “soft money” donations — or unlimited contributions to political parties — in an effort to curtail opportunities for corruption. (Corporations are still banned from making “soft money” donations to parties.) The Supreme Court upheld this ban in 2003. Yet thanks to another Supreme Court ruling a decade later, as well as a congressional decision in 2014 to increase party contribution limits, Hillary Clinton’s campaign will now be able to ask single donors to contribute approximately $1.3 million over the two-year 2016 election cycle — and could potentially raise more. Her Republican rivals could follow her lead.
Editorials: Why Tomorrow May Be the Most Important National Voter Registration Day Ever | Page Gardner/Huffington Post
Ever since we started the Voter Participation Center more than a decade ago, we’ve honored National Voter Registration Day. It’s always been an important day for us, but never more so than this year. That’s because in 2016, for the first time ever, people of color, young Americans and unmarried women will likely cast over half of all the ballots in the presidential election. Think about that. For the first time in our nation’s history, the most diverse electorate ever will enter voting booths on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. They will look more like the real America, and drive their own destinies. But the first step starts tomorrow, with National Voter Registration Day. At the Voter Participation Center, we are dedicated to increasing the civic engagement of unmarried women, people of color and Millennials–the three demographic groups who comprise the Rising American Electorate (RAE), also called the New American Majority. We have helped 2.6 million Americans register to vote in the last decade, and see a direct line between registration and voting. There are about 125 million eligible voters in the RAE, or 57% of the vote-eligible population in this country. A true majority. But as our new research with Lake Research Partners makes clear, we have heavy lifting to do to make sure that the RAE is voting–and registering–in proportion to their share of the population.
Wellington is a town of political junkies and digital hotshots. We are the coolest – and smartest – little capital. So perhaps it was obvious what the Wellington City Council would say about having internet elections here: “Of course.” But in fact the council’s decision is wrong. The risks – hacking, mainly – are too great, and the benefits – internet voting is supposed to boost voter turnout – are small. Software expert Nigel McNie warned councillors against internet voting and cited the problem of the Death Star. It had just one little hole of vulnerability, but it was big enough to let a bomb through. Now of course geeks disagree about the risk from hacking. Some say internet voting can be made safe, or as safe as can be reasonably expected. But everyone knows that no system is guaranteed against hackers.
Editorials: The Impending Crisis of Outdated Voting Technology | Lawrence Norden and Christopher Famighetti/ The Atlantic
The 2016 campaign is already underway, with nearly two dozen candidates vying to be the next president. Americans may have no idea who they will vote for next year, but they are likely confident that when they show up at the polls, their votes will count. And for the vast majority, of course, they will. But with rapidly aging voting technology, the risk of machines failing is greater than it has been in many years. In a close election, the performance of that old equipment will come under a microscope. Fifteen years after a national election trauma in Florida that was caused in significant measure by obsolete voting equipment—including hanging chads and butterfly ballots—it may be hard for many Americans to believe that the U.S. could face such a crisis again. But unless the right precautions are taken today and in the coming months and years, there is a significant risk that the story on Election Day will be less about who won or lost, and more about how voting systems failed. The looming crisis in America’s voting technology was first brought to national attention last year by President Obama’s bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which offered a stern warning about the “widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago.” Over the past 10 months, the Brennan Center, where we work, surveyed more than 100 specialists familiar with voting technology, including machine vendors, independent technology experts, and election officials in all 50 states, to study how widespread this looming crisis really was.
After watching the local and gubernatorial elections in Russia on Sunday, one cannot help wondering: Why bother? Why does the Kremlin need to push the illusion of democracy when the results are predetermined? The only region where an opposition force worthy of the name was allowed to participate — in Kostroma oblast east of Moscow — saw voting marred by bullying and the arrests of anti-Kremlin candidates. No one could figure out why the Democratic Coalition, the only grouping of parties openly critical of President Vladimir Putin, was even allowed to run. All municipal, regional and gubernatorial elections in Russia are held on the same day, and in nearly all of them United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, was victorious. How could it lose when its candidates enjoyed access to unlimited resources and dominated the airwaves while their challengers were vilified as traitors?
For all the early excitement stirred by the presidential primary contests, a greater test of democracy than the candidates’ cut-and-thrust will be voter participation, a vital statistic which dropped from 62.3 percent in 2008 to 57.5 percent in the last presidential election. In part because of a welter of obstructionist state laws, more than 90 million Americans did not bother or care to vote in 2012. The Democratic-majority Legislature in California, the most populous state, has just taken a major step toward resisting this alarming trend by approving a system of automatic voter registration for any citizen who obtains or updates a California driver’s license. Modeled on Oregon’s excellent “motor-voter” program, the new system cannot help but increase democratic participation.
Editorials: The 14th amendment and the Voting Rights Act are under attack because it is essential for racial justice | Flavia Jimenez/The Guardian
he 14th amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are two of the most important civil rights protections in our nation. The 14th amendment has been cited in more litigation than any other amendment – including landmark cases such as Brown v Board of Education. But recent racist attacks on these civil rights policies show that they are still vulnerable to erosion even after all these years. After the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision, extremists have now set their sights on policies, such as the 14th Amendment, that offer protection to communities of color. Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and endowed all such citizens with the rights of due process and equal protection of the law. The amendment was passed explicitly to clarify the citizenship of the millions of African-Americans emancipated from slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment. Overnight, the law redefined who was considered an American c
Only 42 percent of eligible Californians voted in the last federal election. That was above the national turnout, 36.4 percent, but nothing to brag about. So good for California, which is joining Oregon in taking an obvious step toward encouraging turnout: automatic voter registration. This year Oregon lawmakers decided that people getting driver’s licenses or state ID cards will be registered to vote unless they opt out. No one has to go on the voter list, in other words, but the default setting is registration. The law also makes it easier to keep voter rolls updated, as people must keep the information on their driver’s licenses current. State officials expect to automatically register a large fraction of the 800,000 unregistered eligible voters. Next to California, though, Oregon’s numbers seem measly. The Golden State has nearly 7 million unregistered eligible voters and no less of a driving culture. California’s Senate wants to reach many of them with a bill it passed last week adopting Oregon’s basic system.
Introduced in February 2014, the Conservative-backed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-25), which aims to crack down on voter fraud, is now a fully enacted bill that raises major red flags for its disenfranchising effects. With the federal elections coming up in October of this year, many Canadians are questioning if this is actually the most effective method to ensure secure voting. The motivation behind the act seems fair enough, at face value. However, the implementation methods detailed in the bill have many damaging side effects, including the disenfranchisement of multiple vulnerable voting blocks, potentially giving the Conservative Party an unfair advantage in the upcoming federal election. The objective of this act, according to the Canadian government, is to crack down on voter fraud. One of the central tactics it employs is changing the documents required to demonstrate voter eligibility. In April 2014, Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre claimed that “in a 21st century democracy, where people are required to produce ID to drive a car […] it is common sense to expect people to show ID to demonstrate who they are when they vote.”
The General Assembly’s secret haggling months past the deadline for a state budget frustrates school officials, teachers and state employees and could upset thousands more depending on how much new policy ends up in the new spending plan. But what really ought to outrage the public is that the leaders of the General Assembly have little reason to care about how the public feels. The legislative redistricting maps passed in 2011 after Republicans took control of the General Assembly were so aggressively gerrymandered it would take a pitch-fork rebellion by voters to end the GOP majority. How safe are the seats? Consider what happened in the 2014 General Assembly election. For 170 legislative seats, 78 had only one candidate. Of the 92 remaining races, fewer than 10 were competitive. In the end, three seats switched parties. Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, along with former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot have led a statewide drive to have district lines drawn every 10 years by an independent commission or nonpartisan legislative staff. The proposal has gone nowhere in the General Assembly despite broad public support for an end to having politicians choose their voters.“Everywhere you go virtually everybody favors ending gerrymandering,” Meeker said last week. “It’s not even close. It’s 4 or 5 to 1.”
For most people, the 1963 March on Washington brings to mind the phrase “I have a dream.” Four simple words became the music that turned Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech into one of history’s greatest. But despite their elegance, they actually are not my favorite part of the speech. I love the beginning, where King defines the need for a civil rights movement in the first place. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” King said. “. . . Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ “But,” King added, “we refuse to believe . . . that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” In this statement King speaks to the heart of black idealism and identifies the core of the American civil rights movement of the past 50 years. This vision of simple justice affirms that the rights and privileges of citizenship should not be reserved for some but should be available to all.