The three federal judges overseeing Virginia’s court-ordered redistricting plan wasted no time taking on their role as congressional district mapmakers. When the General Assembly failed to submit new district map by the Sept. 1 deadline, the panel quickly assumed the task. One of its first steps was to find an independent special master, a legal expert in mapping and demographics to draw up new district boundaries. A special master is commonly appointed in complicated matters in which certain legal expertise is needed. The court also is showing some transparency and openness by allowing citizen groups or individuals to submit proposals.
The betting odds are that the case filed by Stephen M. Shapiro, a former federal employee from Bethesda, won’t make a dent in Maryland’s chronic gerrymandering — the manipulation of district lines in order to benefit the majority party. All past attempts to get the judiciary to intervene have failed. But you have to give Shapiro, who has pursued the issue for a quarter-century, credit for trying. His determination has gotten him not just a day in court but a day (well, actually more like an hour) in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. The court is scheduled to hear a case resulting from Shapiro’s contention that the maps drawn by this state’s Democrats after the 2010 census violate First Amendment rights to free speech.
The Republican presidential primary spectacle is the beginning of a brave new world of electoral anarchy. The same disruptive conditions and forces that are bedeviling Republicans this primary season are likely to discombobulate future Democratic presidential primaries and to morph inevitably into general election anarchy. Anarchy generally means no obedience to authority. In the electoral context, it means no accountable candidate selection process, no constraints on who or how many can run, no pretense of decorum among candidates, no rules for the media, and no party allegiance. Electoral anarchy means that if you have the personal money, the financial backers, the national celebrity and the unbridled gumption to go for it, you can throw your hat in the ring and run for President. There are no accepted, authoritative, intra-party barriers to entry. Electoral anarchy expands exponentially the number of candidates in the presidential primary process. It advantages the most flamboyant candidates and disadvantages the most contemplative in a crowded field. And, it increases the potential for splintering constituencies, spawning multiple independent general election candidates, and alienating the voters necessary to building winning general election coalitions.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”
What if a foreign head of state had the power to handpick our next President? It sounds like the plot of a movie, but it actually might be in the realm of possibility.Most people take our elections for granted. The few who don’t often suspect that one party might be trying to steal votes from the other. But they don’t envision that the theft could be coming from outside US borders.What experts are telling us, though, is that our voting machines are so insecure that all elections, whether at the national, state, or local level, are vulnerable to being attacked by hackers in other countries. … Given that the security at some of our most protected institutions can be breached, and given that US elections pose an enticing target for our adversaries, what would prevent a foreign agent from hacking our ballot boxes? The answer: Not much. Experts indicate that the election systems in place today do not provide the adequate protection that would be able to stop a foreign hacker — a hacker anywhere, in fact — from rigging our races. Even worse, these attacks could go undetected.
James Earl Carter is nearing the end. In an extraordinary press conference last week, the 39th president discussed his impending death from metastasizing liver cancer, with a grace, humor, and wisdom the rest of us can only hope to emulate when our own time comes. Soon will come the eulogies: then, the assessments. Forgive me if I jump the gun with a gust of affection. I’ve been grappling with his 1976 candidacy and presidency for most of my workdays for at least a year now for my next book on Ronald Reagan’s rise to the presidency. I want to loose some thoughts while they are fresh in my mind. … President Carter, concerned that America ranked 21st in voter participation among the world’s democracies, transmitted a package of proposed electoral reforms to Congress. He had studied the problem. Now he was ready to administer a solution. Everyone loved to talk about voter apathy, but the real problem, Carter said, was that “millions of Americans are prevented or discouraged from voting in every election by antiquated and overly restricted voter registration laws”—a fact proven, he pointed out, by record rates of participation in 1976 in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, where voters were allowed to register on election day. So he proposed that election-day registration be adopted universally, tempering concerns that such measures might increase opportunities for fraud by also proposing five years in prison and a $10,000 fine as penalties for electoral fraud.
Editorials: Dumbing Down American Politics: Lawrence Lessig and the Presidency | Thomas E. Mann/Institute of Governmental Studies – UC Berkeley
Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig looks meek — a dead ringer for Mr. Peepers – yet is anything but. Lessig built an impressive career in legal scholarship on the regulation of cyberspace, and the mild-mannered, soft-spoken academic became a cult hero among libertarians fearful of increasing legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the electromagnetic spectrum. But Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?
Burma’s parliamentary election Nov. 8 should have been a moment to anticipate with joy: another step in the nation’s emergence from military rule. But democracy is not strictly about the ballot box. It is also about the process — the nature of the competition for power, and whether that political struggle is free, fair and inclusive of all. By this measure, Burma is falling short. Some of the problems are long-standing. Twenty-five percent of parliament seats are reserved for unelected members of the military. The country’s most popular figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for president by a provision in the constitution, written with her in mind, that the military and its allies recently refused to alter
Editorials: Government Accountability Board – Elections, ethics watchdog just trying to do its job | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
As we suspected, a state audit released last week found no major problems with Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which handles ethics complaints and supervises state elections. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the rhetoric coming from Republicans in the Legislature, some of whom want to gut this government watchdog. Citizens of this state need to send them a strong message: No. The Legislative Audit Bureau, also a nonpartisan agency, looked at nearly 1,900 complaints filed with the board from 2010 to 2013. The audit bureau recommended that the GAB consistently resolve such complaints in a timely manner and that staff provide the board with the names of people who can work as special investigators if needed, The Associated Press reported.
About this time last year, the cost for Texas to defend redistricting maps was around $3.9 million. Add at least $1 million after a federal appeals panel last week awarded that amount to attorneys challenging the maps. According to the opinion, the Texas attorney general’s office’s response to a court order was woefully inadequate. Let’s be clear. We’re talking about the previous administration under now-Gov. Greg Abbott.
Here’s what else is inadequate — the state’s approach to redistricting altogether. But this latest cost adds a different wrinkle. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines of the panel’s decision to conclude the state’s approach on these legal fees involved a degree of incompetence. Texas was appealing a court order last year that it pay legal fees to lawyers who challenged the maps.
It is reasonable for the Labour party to exclude people who oppose its values and aims from the contest to elect a new leader. Conservatives infiltrating the process are committing not mischief but fraud and should be duly ashamed. Hovever, the numbers involved in that kind of chicanery are in all likelihood very small and the controversy around Labour’s vetting process for newly registered “supporters” involves a different phenomenon. Several would-be electors have been excluded on the basis of evidence – some compelling, some flimsy – that they have supported rivals on the left: Greens and fringe socialist groups. Labour is entitled to question these people’s loyalty. Endorsing a different party hardly implies stalwart support. Yet many of those who are being weeded out – or “purged” as they see it – in “Operation Icepick” see themselves as refugees of the anti-Blair left, alienated by the party under recent leaders, seeking a right of return as acolytes of Jeremy Corbyn. This is more a conceptual challenge to Labour than a technical one. The passionate Corbynites who may not have supported Labour in recent years claim nonetheless to be the authentic supporters of the party’s “aims and values” – more so even than the apparatchiks who would seek to exclude them. They challenge the authority of the machine to decide who is entitled to vote in the contest and, in so doing, say they are honouring the spirit of the new rules that offered them a vote at the bargain price of three pounds.
In the 2014 U.S. midterm elections, the Republican and Democratic Party candidates for one of North Carolina’s Senate seats, together with the various political action committees backing and attacking them, spent a combined total of $111-million (U.S.). That’s more than Canada’s three main political parties, including 900-plus candidates, spent in the 2011 federal election. Canada’s system of political finance isn’t perfect, and it has grown slightly worse in the past year. Thanks to the Fair Elections Act, the current election’s spending limits are more than double 2011’s. Canada’s process of figuring out who gets to vote has also become a little less perfect, again courtesy of the Fair Elections Act. But compared to the way elections are run in the United States, Canada’s system is still awfully close to nirvana. Which explains why, if you’re an American hoping to fix what’s wrong with America’s broken democratic process, you end up proposing reforms that look a lot like, well, Canada.
Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later. The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over. And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled. “The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” his timely book published this month. … In fact, Obama’s election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Obama’s political organization had turned out large numbers of young African Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting.
When it turns political, the American arts scene sometimes descends into such heavy-handed didacticism that it can make Ayn Rand seem as frolicsome as P.G. Wodehouse. So it is a delight to report that the Virginia Political Repertory’s production of “Special Session: Redistricting” avoids this trap, and instead delivers keen observations on homo politicus. The script cleverly weaves two seemingly unrelated plot lines: congressional redistricting and judicial appointments. These might seem unlikely topics for compelling drama, but in the deft hands of the cast they become powerful vehicles for exploring the contradictions of contemporary governance and the foibles of the political class.
Editorials: Malaysians risk being cheated out of an election | Ambiga Shreenivasan/The New York Times
Malaysia’s ruling party is facing its greatest crisis of legitimacy yet. Long seen as a modern and moderate Muslim democracy, Malaysia has been riding on its economic growth and good diplomacy for years, and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has led coalition governments for nearly six decades, has been claiming the credit. … The…
America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one—except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers—would know how this was accomplished. Research I have been directing in recent years suggests that Google, Inc., has amassed far more power to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs—than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson. Given that many elections are won by small margins, this gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide. In the United States, half of our presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent, and the 2012 election was won by a margin of only 3.9 percent—well within Google’s control. There are at least three very real scenarios whereby Google—perhaps even without its leaders’ knowledge—could shape or even decide the election next year. Whether or not Google executives see it this way, the employees who constantly adjust the search giant’s algorithms are manipulating people every minute of every day. The adjustments they make increasingly influence our thinking—including, it turns out, our voting preferences.
Editorials: Virginia’s redistricting chaos in black and white | Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman/The Washington Post
The best way to view the chaotic end to Virginia’s special legislative session on congressional redistricting is through the words of French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s famous epigram “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We have been here before, Virginia. In 2011, Republicans and Democrats in Virginia’s General Assembly had their decennial redistricting battle. Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) pushed a plan designed to elect two African Americans out of the state’s 11 congressional districts. Did McEachin gerrymander the districts to get this result? Of course. Republicans, not surprisingly, wanted a plan creating only one African American district. Did the GOP gerrymander its plan? Of course. In the end, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, signed a redistricting plan written by Republicans to help Republicans. Democrats called the plan unfair to them. It was.
The state of Texas, one of the most energetic opponents of a key part of the federal Voting Rights Act, has turned what it was sure was a Supreme Court victory against that law into a legal defeat that will cost it more than $1 million. That was the result of a ruling by a federal appeals court on Tuesday, interpreting what it means when the Justices send a case back to a lower court for a new look. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will translate into a sizable legal bill for Texas to cover what opponents in a major election law case spent for their attorneys’ work. The panel sharply accused the state’s lawyers of failing to obey court rules, echoing an earlier comment by a federal trial court judge that “this matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs.”
When the Republican candidates for president expounded on what they would do for ordinary Americans in their debate this month, they neglected to mention that more than half the money underpinning their campaigns has been coming from just 130 big-spending families and the businesses they run. These families are determined to influence the election with six- and seven-figure checks. The stark, sad truth of modern campaigning is that a small pool of the richest Americans is making the candidates in both parties increasingly dependent on special-interest money. Fewer than 400 of the nation’s most affluent families have supplied almost half of the money raised so far by presidential candidates in both parties, according a survey of federal campaign data by The Times.
The Voting Rights Act was signed into law 50 years ago to rectify a “clear and simple wrong.” Throughout the Jim Crow South, African Americans were systematically denied their right to vote through tactics like literacy tests and poll taxes. The Voting Rights Act outlawed these and other targeted voting restrictions. It also sought to prevent future violations in particularly problematic regions of the country through Section 5 of the act, which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to submit any proposed changes in voting procedures for “pre-clearance” by the federal government. This pre-clearance safeguard has allowed the Department of Justice to block discriminatory changes to voting laws over 700 times between 1982 and 2006. Unfortunately, this pre-clearance protection was dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, just a day before the court also struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While Section 5 was technically left untouched, with Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority, the court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which determined which jurisdictions would be subject to pre-clearance, was unconstitutional because it relied upon formulas that were out of date. The effect of this ruling essentially stripped the federal government of its ability to block discriminatory voting laws in those places until a new formula is established.
Thomas Paine, the most radical of the nation’s Founders, wrote in 1795: “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Eighty years later, feminist Susan B. Anthony quoted Paine’s exact words to defend herself—and make the case for women’s suffrage—when she was being prosecuted for having persuaded her local poll-keepers in upstate New York to allow her to cast a ballot. And on signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson observed that “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” If only the words spoken by Paine, Anthony, and LBJ were not just moving, but also true. The right to vote has been fundamental to the struggle for freedom, equality, and democracy—and surely, the most defining experience of citizenship is that of casting a ballot at election time. Nonetheless, we should never forget, first, that even if we define democracy simply as universal adult suffrage, the United States has only recently come close to living up to its proclaimed purpose of serving as history’s grand democratic experiment; and second, that even when the right to vote itself has finally been won, it does not mean it has been fully secured. Enfranchisement has neither prevented ruling elites from continuing to exploit and oppress, nor kept them from turning things around and effectively stripping fellow citizens of their hard-won rights—including the right to vote itself.
What could be more patriotic in our narcissistic social-media age than posting a picture of yourself on Facebook with your marked ballot for president? Show off your support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Last week, a federal court in New Hampshire struck down that state’s ban on ballot selfies as a violation of the First Amendment right of free-speech expression. That might seem like a victory for the American Way. But the judge made a huge mistake because without the ballot-selfie ban, we could see the reemergence of the buying and selling of votes — and even potential coercion from employers, union bosses and others.
Did the congressional drafters of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law build within it the seeds for its own destruction? Tucked within the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (the formal name for “McCain-Feingold”) is a provision requiring that certain constitutional challenges to the law be heard by a three-judge court, with direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This special jurisdictional provision makes it much more likely that within the next few years the Supreme Court will strike limits on the amounts people and entities can contribute to the political parties in so-called party soft money. If the court does so, it would be knocking down the second of McCain-Feingold’s two pillars. The court knocked down the first pillar—the limits on corporate and union spending—in the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
When the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965, it was intended to outlaw poll taxes, literacy tests and other attempts by state governments to discourage minorities from voting. Over the past five decades, the law has been almost universally praised as an essential tool to not only ensure fair elections, but also to thwart the marginalization of minorities in America. In recent years, however, the law has come under attack as various state legislatures have chipped away at key provisions. “In theory, everybody’s in favor of the right to vote,” President Obama said recently. “But in practice, we have state legislatures that are deliberately trying to make it harder for people to vote.”
Editorials: PFD voter registration: Let’s make Alaska government work smarter | Alaska Dispatch News
Ever had an old car start to break down? Maybe the filters get clogged and the tires wear down and you find yourself burning money as your gas mileage deteriorates. The brake pads start to squeak, “check engine” lights flicker on, and you begin to notice that ominous clicking sound from what you think is probably the radiator. If you’ve spent at least a couple winters in the 49th state, the chances are good this has happened to you. You’d like to ignore the warnings, but you know if you don’t get under the hood, the problems with the car are only going to get worse, and more expensive. The state of Alaska has a similar problem. Our Division of Elections database is more than 30 years old. Even by Subaru standards, that’s pretty bad.
As Florida legislators struggled last week to draw a congressional district map that meets a court mandate, it became clear that what they would end up with would be far from perfect. “Bring me a redistricting commission or something, for goodness sakes,” exclaimed Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, as lawmakers convened for the second special session to revise a congressional redistricting plan that had been rejected by the court. “Bring me something that works!” Redistricting reformers thought they had found a better way when they persuaded 63 percent of Florida’s voters in 2010 to approve the “Fair District” amendments to the Florida Constitution that outlawed gerrymandering and banned lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. But taking politics out of the most political of acts turned out not to be so easy.
Editorials: Virginia’s ‘Back to the Future’ voting registration debate | Peter Galuszka/The Washington Post
It seems so “Back to the Future.” For several years, Virginia’s Republican politicians and some Democrats have been raising the specter of massive voting fraud that needs to be corrected by tougher voter-identification requirements. The fears are centered upon undocumented aliens somehow gaming the voter-registration system so they can twist elections in their favor. An even more frightening reason is to push African Americans living in Virginia and several other Southern states back to where they were before theVoting Rights Act of 1965 protected them from abusive vetting tactics when they tried to register to vote.
A recent paper published by Smartmatic, a vendor of voting systems, caught my attention. The first thing is that it’s published by Springer, which typically publishes peer-reviewed articles – which this is not. This is a marketing piece. It’s disturbing that a respected imprint like Springer would get into the business of publishing vendor white papers. There’s no disclaimer that it’s not a peer-reviewed piece, or any other indication that it doesn’t follow Springer’s historical standards. The second, and more important issue, is that the article could not possibly have passed peer review, given some of its claims. I won’t go into the controversies around voting systems (a nice summary of some of those issues can be found on the OSET blog), but rather focus on some of the security metrics claims.
Editorials: Going Postal: How All-Mail Voting Thwarts Navajo Voters | Stephanie Woodard/In These Times
All-mail-in voting has arrived in the red-rock bluffs and canyons of San Juan County, Utah, which overlaps the Navajo Nation’s reservation. In 2014, the county sent voters mail-in ballots for the general election, while closing local precincts in the shadow of Red Mesa’s ruddy flat-topped butte; in Monument Valley, the fabled location for John Ford Westerns; and in other towns and hamlets. Just one polling place remained open, in the county seat, Monticello, in the predominantly white northern portion of the county. Also gone were 20-some election judges and translators who had provided voting help and federally mandated language assistance to non-English-speaking Navajos. Just one part-time official interpreter was left to cover about 8,000 square miles—an area nearly the size of Massachusetts. As states and counties around the nation increasingly offer voters convenient ways to cast a ballot—early voting, in-person absentee voting, vote-by-mail—Native people find themselves shut out, according to an In These Times story,“The Missing Native Vote.” Since 2012, Natives have sued three times in federal court to obtain in-person absentee voting on reservations, claiming that offering this option only in distant, off-reservation county seats means they do not have voting rights that are equal to that of non-Natives. The Department of Justice has proposed legislation to remedy this problem, according to a Rural America In These Times article.
Editorials: Texas Voter ID law is discriminatory, un-American and needs to be amended | Raúl A. Reyes/Fox News Latino
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal appeals court judges in Texas last week ruled against the state’s Voter ID law. They agreed that the law violated the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, because it disproportionately impacted Latino and African-American voters. In response, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement, “Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State.” Texas’ Voter ID law is a solution in search of a problem. While in theory it fights voter fraud, in reality it has disenfranchised thousands of minority voters. Texas’ Voter ID law deserves to be amended or dismantled so that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot box. True, these days a valid ID is necessary to board a plane or to buy alcohol. But travelling or buying beer is not a constitutional right; voting is.