Addressing hundreds of supporters while campaigning in Keene, N.H., last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declared: “Let me tell you a secret: We’re going to win New Hampshire!” He has some reason to feel confident, given that a new poll put him just 10 percentage points behind front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary in the Granite State. But before he pops the champagne corks, I have a secret of my own to share with the senator: He may not qualify for the New Hampshire ballot as a Democrat. To understand why, let’s step back a bit. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set the time of federal elections but not the manner in which political parties choose their nominees. That process is left to the states. The New Hampshire Constitution empowers the legislature to determine the qualifications for those being elected to office (something in which I was closely involved when I chaired the committee with jurisdiction over state election law while a member of the state Senate). Pursuant to that power, state law makes clear that candidates must be registered members of the party on whose ballot line they wish to appear.
Russia’s former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, came up with an interesting idea for turning Russia’s recent economic woes to the country’s advantage: moving up the scheduled 2017 presidential election. The problem with this suggestion — which may have been floated as a trial balloon with the Kremlin’s approval — is that President Vladimir Putin could use it to take Russia further into the past. Kudrin, who built up the international reserves that are now helping Russia ride out a second economic crisis, lost the finance minister’s job in 2011 and has since made liberal statements that went against Putin’s line. The president, however, still counts him among his loyalists. During a carefully choreographed call-in session with voters in April, Kudrin asked the president about creating a new growth model for Russia. In response, Putin called their relationship “very good, practically a friendship,” and said he would stick to the policies Kudrin helped formulate during his tenure: “If you and I failed to envision something, that is probably our fault, and yours, too.”
In what has become a common political tactic in modern Russia, the next round of State Duma elections may be moved up to an earlier date than originally planned. On Monday, a bill proposing that the elections to Russia’s lower house of parliament scheduled for December 2016 be pushed forward to September was submitted for consideration. Russian parliamentary elections have been held in December since 1993. However, Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin recently said that lawmakers should now be elected before budgets are passed later in the fall. Some commentators have noted that the new timing would place campaigning in the middle of the Russian vacation season. Others have suggested that incumbent legislators may favor earlier elections to stay ahead of rising discontent over the recent economic downturn in Russia.
Editorials: Bruce Schneier movie-plot threat contest: Winning entry imagines online voting gone wrong. | Slate
Imagine this: It’s the morning of Election Day, 2020. Americans across the country cast secure, encrypted votes from their smartphones and laptops, electronically choosing their president for the first time in history. Turnout reaches record highs. Live results online show that it’s a close race between the two leading candidates. But by early afternoon, an independent candidate—a sketchy figure with ties to multiple terrorist organizations and no public support whatsoever—mysteriously takes the lead. At 4 p.m., he officially wins the election. The American people rise up in protest: Clearly, hacking, bribery, or other nefarious activity has taken place. However, because the voting software is designed with end-to-end encryption to ensure anonymity, no audit or recount is possible. America’s next president is a terrorist. This is the hypothetical scenario that won Bruce Schneier’s annual online “movie-plot threat” contest by popular vote this past weekend.
Editorials: Thousands of Voters Are Disenfranchised by North Carolina’s Voting Restrictions | Ari Berman/The Nation
A month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions. The Supreme Court refused to block key parts of the law—cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day registration, a prohibition on voting in the wrong precinct—just weeks before the 2014 Election. As a result of the new restrictions, there were lengthy lines and confusion at many polling places, and longtime voters were turned away from the polls. Democracy North Carolina has estimated that “the new voting limitations and polling place problems reduced turnout by at least 30,000 voters in the 2014 election.” In a new report, the group analyzed provisional ballots cast during the 2014 election and concluded that 2,344 rejected ballots would have been counted if the new restrictions were not in place.
Last Tuesday’s Dispatch editorial, “ Clinton off-base on Ohio voting rules,” and the Friday letter “ Clinton did not mention Ohio, Kasich” from Randall Morrison brought attention to the important issue of voter suppression. However, voter suppression is broader and more insidious than the length of early-voting rules. The real “elephant in the room” of representative democracy is gerrymandering, and Ohio represents one of the worst cases in the country. Rigged Ohio House and Senate and U.S. House district lines have resulted in Republicans controlling 12 out of 16 U.S. House seats and huge majorities in the Ohio House and Senate.
Since America’s founding, the franchise has been dramatically expanded in waves: first, universal suffrage for all men (first, through the abolition of property ownership requirements for white men, then the 15th Amendment) then the expansion of suffrage to women and finally the Voting Rights Act, which abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the franchise is still under fire, from racially biased voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement, as well as our complex registration system. Automatic voter registration and the abolition of voter ID laws could be part of the next wave of the slow march to true democracy. Recently, Hillary Clinton called out Republicans for their strategy of suppressing the vote and then called for automatic voting registration. While many pundits quickly chalked this up to an attempt to revive “the Obama coalition,” in fact, Clinton has been pushing for democracy reforms since before “the Obama coalition” existed. In 2005 she and Senator Barbara Boxer put forward the “Count Every Vote Act.” The law would have made same-day registration the law of the land, expanded early voting and made election day a holiday. In addition, Clinton has been fighting against felon disenfranchisement, though Rand Paul, who has a penchant for receiving praise for things he hasn’t done, has recently been garnering credit for his talk on the subject.
The era of the neighborhood polling place with its paper voter rolls and rickety booths isn’t quite over, but it is well on its way out in California. No tears will be shed here: It’s high time the state entered the 21st century. That’s the opinion of new Secretary of State Alex Padilla as well. Last week he unveiled his second proposal to encourage voter participation in California: a plan to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter and to encourage counties to set up voting centers for their voters to use, regardless of precinct, up to 10 days before election day.
Voter turnout is so abysmal in California that something has to change. So while it may not be the ultimate or perfect solution, legislators ought to seriously consider Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s proposal to overhaul how Californians vote. Padilla does not envision a statewide edict. Instead under Senate Bill 450, counties would be allowed to use a new election system starting in 2018. If all goes well, it could be expanded.
It has come to this: The chairman of the Federal Election Commission and a fellow Democratic commissioner have filed a petition asking their own agency to do its job. Don’t hold your breath. It’s not news that the campaign finance system is out of control. It’s not news that the FEC has watched, haplessly, as candidates and their super PACs have made a mockery of individual contribution limits and as a torrent of unreported “dark money” sweeps through a system premised on disclosure. The conventional narrative places the blame on the Supreme Court and its 2010 Citizens United ruling, which, along with subsequent decisions, paved the way to unlimited independent expenditures by corporations and bands of wealthy individuals (via super PACs).
The United States is notorious for having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the industrialized democratic world, and there is no shortage of proposals for increasing it. President Obama recently floated the idea of compulsory voting. Hillary Clinton, running to succeed him, has a plan for national automatic voter registration and expanded early voting. To the extent that Democrats are targeting actual discrimination against African Americans and other minorities, more power to them, and shame on those Republicans who would raise obstacles to turnout in a purported fight against phantom fraud. As for substantially increasing overall participation rates, however, there’s only so much that can be achieved through measures like those Obama and Clinton recommend. If we really wanted people to vote more, we would have to ask them to vote less. One of political science’s better-established findings is that “the frequency of elections has a strongly negative influence on turnout,” as Arend Lijphart of the University of California at San Diego put it in a 1997 article.
In fall 2010, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach held a press conference alleging that dead people were voting in the state. He singled out Alfred K. Brewer as a possible zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found the 78-year-old working in his front yard. “I don’t think this is heaven, not when I’m raking leaves,” Brewer said. Since his election in 2010, Kobach has been the leading crusader behind the myth of voter fraud, making headline-grabbing claims about the prevalence of such fraud with little evidence to back it up. Now he’s about to become a lot more powerful. On Monday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill giving Kobach’s office the power to prosecute voter-fraud cases if county prosecutors decline to do so and upgrading such charges from misdemeanors to felonies. Voters could be charged with a felony for mistakenly showing up at the wrong polling place. No other secretary of state in the country has such sweeping prosecutorial power, says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Editorials: You can transfer your paycheck, fill out your taxes and control airplanes online. Why can’t you vote? | Bangor Daily News
You can transfer your life’s earnings between bank accounts online. You can apply for a credit card and file your tax returns online. If you’re an air traffic controller, you probably use a Web-based system to direct the planes — and people’s lives — above you. So what’s the deal with voting? Why can’t you use your phone or computer to cast your ballot remotely? Experts don’t have faith in the ability of the Internet to maintain what’s needed in a voting system: keeping your vote secret, preventing coercion, verifying your identity, allowing you to vote only once, and recording your vote correctly. If not now, though, will the option to vote online be available in the future? … Skeptics of online voting are of course concerned about security breaches. Could a third party hack into the system and interfere with an election’s results? What about the potential for violations of voter privacy?
Editorials: Why should some Native Americans have to drive 163 miles to vote? | Natalie Landreth/The Guardian
Imagine if, in the 2016 elections, you had to drive 104 miles (167 km) to your nearest polling station, like National Congress of American Indians research found those people living in the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada do, or 163 miles (262 km), like residents of the Goshute Reservation in Utah do. Or imagine if you had to take a plane flight to the nearest polling place because you cannot get to it by road, which was the case for several Native communities in 2008, when the state of Alaska attempted a “district realignment” to eliminate polling places in their villages. That’s just half the trip. In those circumstances, can you really be said to be enjoying full voting rights? Consider, too, that many reservations do not have access to early voting, so they will have just one day on which to make that astonishingly long journey. You can imagine the line at that polling place: either it will be very long because everyone is forced to go on that same day, or very short because not many people could afford an entire day off work to vote – that is if they even have a car and a driver’s license.
The authorities have bumped up State Duma elections from December to September 2016 as nonchalantly as if they were merely doing a routine oil change on their car. It is obvious to everyone that the Kremlin administration made this decision, reasoning that the ruling authorities could achieve a stronger win in September before everyone has returned from summer vacation than in cold and gloomy December. The shorter time frame will make it more difficult for the opposition to mount a serious campaign, and the traditionally low voter turnout in fall will work to the advantage of the authorities, who can more easily mobilize their administrative resources. Many political analysts maintain that the ruling authorities will also benefit from the fact that half of the Duma deputies come from single-seat districts. According to the rules, such candidates are not required to state their party affiliation.
Imagine This: Next year, the Supreme Court accepts a campaign finance case for review and reverses its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which struck down a ban on independent electoral spending by corporations and unions. Many Americans would cheer, in the mistaken belief that the reversal would limit — if not end — the influence of super PACs. They’d be sorely disappointed. Super PACs are not dependent on corporate funding. They’re primarily funded by super-rich individuals, whose right to devote unlimited amounts of their own money on independent expenditures (those not involving direct contributions to candidates) was confirmed by the Court in 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo. As the Brennan Center, a fierce critic of the Citizens United ruling, has acknowledged, “the singular focus on the decision’s empowerment of for-profit corporations to spend in (and perhaps dominate) our elections may be misplaced.”
Editorials: Hillary Clinton is politicizing voting rights: The Democratic frontrunner is destroying the chance for election reform by blaming all Republicans. | Richard Hasen/Slate
Hillary Clinton spoke at Texas Southern University last week, where she put forward some good and provocative ideas for improving our elections. She wants Congress to fix the part of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. She wants to expand early voting periods nationally to at least 20 days. And most provocatively, she advocates automatic universal voter registration across the country, including a program to automatically register high school students to vote before their 18th birthdays. But the partisan way she’s framed the issue—by blaming Republicans for all the voting problems—makes it less likely these changes will actually be implemented should she be elected president. Instead, she’s offering red meat to her supporters while alienating the allies she would need to get any reforms enacted.
Hillary Clinton’s call for universal automatic voter registration is a major positive development in the voting wars. She puts the national Democratic Party squarely behind Oregon’s recent innovative registration law. As Cass Sunstein says at View, Americans don’t need to register with the government to be entitled to other rights; voting shouldn’t be any different. It’s pretty simple: If we want everyone to participate, then voting should be easy. Voter registration in the U.S. is a real, and unnecessary, hurdle. That’s no coincidence: Registration was originally set up around the turn of the previous century in part by those concerned that the wrong kinds of people (mostly recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe) would vote. There are plenty of ideas to make voting easier, but removing registration as a hurdle is the big one, on both a practical and theoretical level.
Editorials: Kris Kobach’s pursuit of ‘double voters’ in Kansas is hollow | Steve Rose/Kansas City Star
While all eyes were focused last week on the Kansas budget, without fanfare a new law was passed and sent to the governor to sign that turns Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office into the voter fraud police, as well as the state’s attorney general. Lawmakers and the governor took away the power from county district attorneys. This is important because, alas, Kobach got what he wanted and can now go after “criminals” who vote twice and throw the book at them. There’s just one little hitch. To pull off his grandstand play, Kobach will only be able to rustle up a tiny number of offenders. Kobach claims he will go after 100 or so double-voting offenders from the 2014 election. The truth is, it is too soon to know much about the 2014 race. It takes a while for another state to match its voting database with that of Kansas to see whether someone did, indeed, vote in one state and then another. For example, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe does not yet have that 2014 election information and doesn’t expect it for quite some time.
A basic fact often gets lost in the propaganda that swirls around voting laws in this country: between one-quarter and one-third of all eligible voters — more than 50 million Americans — are not registered. That alarming statistic is the backdrop to efforts by Republicans in recent years to pass state laws that restrict ballot access, a recent Democratic campaign to push back against those laws, and a bold set of proposals that Hillary Rodham Clinton laid out Thursday afternoon in a speech at Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston. In addition to pushing needed and long-overdue reforms, the speech highlighted the yawning gulf on voting rights between Mrs. Clinton and the Republican candidates for the White House, many of whom have been cynically committed to making voting harder for the most vulnerable citizens. “What part of democracy are they afraid of?” Mrs. Clinton asked.
Last year, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a rule that barred citizens living abroad for more than five years from voting in federal elections. The government has rightly appealed that decision, while also introducing legislation that will enshrine expats’ voting rights, but with a twist. Expats will get to vote – it will just be really, really hard. So hard, in fact, that many of the 2.8 million expats around the globe may well not bother. Others will try but won’t be able to meet the onerous new requirements in Bill C-50. Under the bill, currently in committee after second reading, Elections Canada will eliminate the international register of electors, the long-established list of expat Canadians eligible to vote federally. In future, expats will have to re-register for each election, and can only do so after the writ is dropped.
Many Americans believe that someone, somewhere in Washington, must be in charge of tracking who is and who isn’t a citizen of the United States. Apparently, so does the U.S. Supreme Court, which just accepted a voting rights case that turns on the government’s ability to count the number of citizens in each voting district. But despite all the talk these days about government and Big Data, the justices, like the rest of us, might be surprised to learn that the most basic information as to who is an American citizen cannot actually be found in any publicly available government data set — anywhere. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, poses a question: whether the Constitution’s long-standing “one person, one vote” principle requires equal numbers of voters per district instead of equal numbers of people, as is current practice. Most commentary on the case has focused on its implications for political parties and racial groups. But focusing on the politics, or even on the merits of the constitutional argument, ultimately distracts from a much bigger problem: The data necessary to draw districts with equal numbers of eligible voters does not exist. We have no national citizen database that tells us how many citizens live in each district around the country.
Partisan, legislative redistricting, since the dawn of the Republic, has been the bane good-government advocates. Districts drawn to benefit incumbents and the party in power are a disservice to citizens and voters and undermine confidence in the political process. We’ve long advocated Virginia should adopt a nonpartisan — or at least bipartisan — redistricting process, giving the job of redrawing districts for the Virginia Senate, House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives to an independent commission.
The costs of partisan redistricting are high, as we alluded to earlier. Few races are competitive in the general election. Oftentimes, the incumbent faces only token opposition, if he faces any opponent at all. With no robust discussion of the issues pertinent to the particular race, voter turnout is usually on the low side. The public’s cynicism toward politics only increases, leading to a further downward spiral of confidence and indifference. But then there are also the very real monetary costs of partisan redistricting gone bad. And those are costs the taxpayers usually wind up shouldering.
In a pair of cases decided in 1964, the Supreme Court of the United States famously established the “one person, one vote” test, which held that all congressional districts must have the same number of people, as must all state legislative districts. The consequences of those decisions were both immediate and far-reaching. A wave of mid-decade redistricting swept the country, as virtually every congressional and legislative district had to be, at a minimum, tweaked to account for population discrepancies. Rural districts in particular lost representation, while the depopulation of urban centers helped usher in the rise of the suburbs in Congress. Last week, the Supreme Court shocked watchers by agreeing to hear a case that could have consequences of a similar magnitude. In 1966, in a follow-up to the Reynolds v. Sims decision, the court had held that states did not necessarily need to use persons as the basis for their representation schemes. Since then the court has at times been asked to adopt various different metrics. It generally resisted these entreaties, although Justice Clarence Thomas has, at times, urged the court to take up these cases.
“Equality of representation in the legislature is a first principle of liberty,”John Adams wrote in 1776. Most Americans would agree. But does “equality of representation” mean equal numbers of people—or equal numbers of voters? That question is raised by the Court’s decision Monday to hear the case of Evenwel v. Abbott. Evenwel is a challenge to the Texas Legislature’s plan for state Senate districts. The appellants are registered voters from Senate districts that have significantly more eligible voters than some others. The legislature’s districts vary from each other in raw population by less than 10 percent; but in their “citizen voting-age population,” or CVAP, the variation can be as high as 50 percent.
Editorials: In Supreme Court redistricting case, it’s the ‘whole number of persons’ | Bruce Ackerman, Ian Ayres/Los Angeles Times
The Supreme Court agreed to take a case this week that will shape the future of American politics. Although the Warren court’s famous “one person, one vote” mandate requires states to draw up election districts with roughly equal populations, the court is only now going to determine the relevant population that must be counted. It has two basic options. It can stick with what most states do now and require each district to contain an equal number of inhabitants: This will favor urban Democratic areas with many immigrants and children. Or it can instead insist that districts include an equal number of eligible voters, and thereby favor rural Republican regions. While the new case, Evenwel vs. Abbott, deals with state and local districting, its logic will predictably control reapportionment for the House of Representatives in 2020, with major consequences for states such as California, New York and Texas.
What is the logic behind state laws that deny the vote to people who have been convicted of a felony, even after they are released from prison? The short and easy answer is: there isn’t any. For a longer, nonsensical answer, ask Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who on May 22 thwarted strong majorities in both houses of the state legislature to veto a bill that would have restored voting rights to about 40,000 Maryland residents currently on probation or parole.
When I cast my first ballot, I voted on a paper ballot for Daniel R. McLeod, who was elected attorney general and served for the next 24 years. At that time, voting machines in South Carolina were limited to several urban counties. As I recall, election security consisted of a padlocked plywood ballot box, the key to which was attached to a modest chain connected to the padlock. I did not give much thought to the mechanics of elections, or how the poll managers tabulated the election results from the paper ballots cast. Though no election is perfectly conducted, most of us engage in faith-based voting, meaning that we as voters have faith that, for the most part, our election procedures work properly. We have faith that when we cast our ballots, our votes are recorded as intended. Sometimes, we must stop to examine that faith. Recently, I viewed a documentary film titled “I Voted?” by filmmaker Jason Grant Smith. His film opened my eyes to our systemic voting challenges.
Editorials: Lowering the voting age to 16 would be good for Australian democracy | Sydney Morning Herald
Momentum is building around the world to lower the voting age to 16 years. A similar shift occurred in the 1970s when the age was reduced from 21 to 18. Some nations have already made the shift, with voting in national or local elections occurring at age 16 in Austria, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the Philippines, Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil and Ecuador. Others are in the process of debating this. At the recent British election, the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats committed to lowering the voting age to 16. This followed the successful experiment of granting 16-year-olds the right to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. It is expected that the vote will soon be extended to them generally for elections to the Scottish Parliament.
Five decades after the Supreme Court ruled that legislative districts must be drawn on the basis of “one person, one vote,” the justices have agreed to consider a claim that representation should reflect the number of eligible voters in a district, not the overall population. They should reject such a radical interpretation, which would undermine the principle that legislators must be attentive to the needs of all of the people living in the areas they represent. That includes children and the noncitizens who in many parts of this country — including Southern California — form a significant and productive part of the population.