Editorials: From Supreme Court, a mixed blessing on campaign finance limits | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court offered a pleasant surprise this week to those of us worried about the role of money in elections. In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court on Wednesday upheld a rule limiting certain fundraising activities for judicial candidates. But don’t expect Williams-Yulee vs. State Bar to lead to a more widespread return to campaign-finance sanity; the ruling applies only to judicial elections and Roberts isn’t about to concede that free-flowing donations are tainting the political system. First, the good news: Roberts finally found a campaign finance limitation, aside from disclosure, that he was willing to uphold — a true rarity. At issue was a Florida State Bar rule that prevents judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. Lanell Williams-Yulee, who broke the rule by sending out a mailing asking for money, argued that it violated her 1st Amendment right to speak.

Editorials: A welcome move toward presidential primaries in Colorado | The Denver Post

As most Colorado voters know, their state has become one of the most highly sought prizes in presidential politics, attracting far more attention (and spending) than its population would seem to warrant. And what was true in the last few election cycles isn’t about to change in 2016. So long as Colorado remains decidedly purple in its outlook, it will stay a key swing state. Unfortunately, the attention occurs only after the parties’ respective candidates are selected. In the run-up to the nominations, Colorado is almost an afterthought both in terms of campaign and national media attention, thanks in large part to this state’s antiquated caucus system.

Editorials: How Record Spending Will Affect 2016 Election | Albert R. Hunt/Bloomberg View

The role of money and politics in the 2016 presidential election is a conundrum. Humongous sums will be spent; the effect on the outcome could be minimal, but in time the flood of cash may produce Watergate-level money scandals. Spending by candidates, parties and outside groups and individuals may approach $10 billion. Both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, if they receive their parties’ nominations, each could spend more than $2 billion, about twice as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each forked out in 2012. With several Supreme Court decisions lifting restrictions — on the misguided premise that money doesn’t buy political influence — the way is open for an orgy of spending by well-heeled interest groups and super rich individuals on both political sides. Even beneficiaries, including Clinton and several top Republican aspirants, say the system is rotten.

Editorials: Will the Courts Finally Block Texas’ Worst-in-the-Nation Voter-ID Law? | Ari Berman/The Nation

The 2014 election in Texas illuminated the burdens of voter-ID laws. Because of the law—the strictest in the country—many longtime voters were turned away from the polls and unable to vote. The Texas voter ID law is once again before a court on Tuesday, when the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will consider whether to uphold a lower-court decision striking down the law as an “unconstitutional poll tax.” The debate over voter ID in Texas is like a bad movie that never ends. A federal district court first blocked the law in 2012, a decision that stood until the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act a year later, freeing states like Texas from having to approve their voting changes with the federal government.

Editorials: Registering to vote online isn’t controversial | The Tampa Tribune

Americans have been casting ballots for the better part of 230 years, and even though the trend has been toward broader eligibility and easier access, the suspicion remains widespread that we still haven’t managed to get it right. This is particularly true in Florida, where — despite having revamped, twice, our entire vote-casting and tabulating process — like a shoeless guest of an unlit hotel room, we keep stubbing our toes. It’s not enough that we continue to endure the stigma of the 2000 presidential election. It’s not often, after all, the leadership of the free world pivots on 537 votes and county elections officials are pressed to decipher the mysteries of dimpled punch-cards. No, more recently and in precincts dominated by voters of color, we have to have hours-long lines and lawyers beseeching courts to keep some voting places open longer than others.

Editorials: Stop the Texas gerrymander | San Antonio Express-News

Texas has a sordid history of gerrymandering, and the state has been called out for it over the years by the Justice Department and federal courts because of discrimination against minority voters. Constitutional amendments are being considered in the Legislature — proposed by Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas — that would bring more equity to the redistricting process. The need is clear. Political realities work against these measures’ approval, but the Legislature should go there as a matter of fairness and democratic principle. Redistricting maps drawn in 2011 based on the 2010 census were no exception to the Texas gerrymandering rule. After legal challenges, these were improved a bit by a San Antonio federal court in 2013. The problem: Those maps were still based on the clearly discriminatory maps drawn two years previous. They do not adequately reflect the more diverse representation that should have occurred; minorities were nearly 90 percent of the increased population that gained Texas four new congressional seats in the last census.

Editorials: Why Jeb Bush’s super PAC plan is potentially illegal | Fred Wertheimer/Reuters

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is preparing to push the role of the individual-candidate super PAC to new, brazen heights. The Bush campaign is reportedly planning to reverse the role of Bush’s campaign committee and the “independent” super PAC supporting him – so that the super PAC would essentially become Bush’s campaign committee. The reason for this audacious move is simple: super PACs can be funded with unlimited donations, while a candidate’s campaign is limited to contributions of $2,700 per donor per election. A relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires could pay for Bush’s race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. The only problem is that the Bush scheme, as reported, would be illegal.

Editorials: Jeb Bush is tearing down what little campaign finance law we have left. | Richard Hasen/Slate

Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit on April 17, 2015, in Nashua, New Hampshire.
(Pseudo-non)candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit on April 17, 2015, in Nashua, New Hampshire. In February, the Campaign Legal Center, a group which works on campaign finance reform issues, released a “white paper” contending that many of the leading potential presidential candidates were likely breaking federal law by not declaring their candidacy or setting up a “testing the waters” committee for a presidential election run. Such a declaration, among other things, limits donors to giving only $2,700 to the (would-be) candidate for the presidential primary season. It was an excellent report, but many shrugged off its findings as just one more way in which the campaign finance system has begun to unravel since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Editorials: Presidential candidates talk campaign finance reform | Rex Huppke/Chicago Tribune

Nobody is more passionate about the need for campaign finance reform than a presidential candidate about to campaign using unreformed finances. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said recently, between mouthfuls of money, that we need to “fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all — even if it takes a constitutional amendment.” I suppose that constitutional amendment will be her first order of business as president, following a campaign that will reportedly raise up to $2.5 billion and accept donations from lobbyists and political action committees.

Editorials: New study rebuts John Roberts on Voting Rights Act | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

When the Supreme Court badly weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it described the landmark civil rights law as outdated. The formula that Congress had used back in 1965 to decide which areas of the country should have their voting laws placed under federal supervision no longer matched modern patterns of discrimination, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed. “If Congress had started from scratch in 2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present coverage formula,” Roberts wrote for the majority, explaining why that formula was being struck down. But a comprehensive new study by a renowned historian and expert in voting discrimination suggests what voting rights advocates have been saying all along: that Roberts got it wrong.

Editorials: The Next Era of Campaign-Finance Craziness Is Already Underway | Jim Ruthenberg/New York Times

There may be no political adviser closer to Rand Paul than Jesse Benton. Benton was integral to Paul’s Senate run in 2010 and was a top strategist for both of Ron Paul’s Republican presidential campaigns. When a fellow Kentuckian, Senator Mitch McConnell, needed help with his re-election campaign last year, Rand Paul lent him Benton. Benton also happens to be married to Paul’s niece. So it would have been natural to expect Benton to move into Paul’s campaign headquarters as soon as he declared his candidacy for president. Not going to happen. On April 6, the day before Paul made his formal announcement, National Journal reported that instead, Benton will be running with several others America’s Liberty PAC, the principal Paul-supporting super PAC — the class of technically independent campaign organization that is free to spend as many millions of dollars as it can raise, without all those nettlesome regulations that limit donations to formal presidential campaigns to $5,400 a person.

Editorials: Voting Rights, by the Numbers | New York Times

When the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, its main argument was that the law was outdated. Discrimination against minority voters may have been pervasive in the 1960s when the law was passed, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote, but “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” In this simplistic account, the law was still punishing states and local governments for sins they supposedly stopped committing years ago. The chief justice’s destructive cure for this was to throw out the formula Congress devised in 1965 that required all or parts of 16 states with long histories of overt racial discrimination in voting, most in the South, to get approval from the federal government for any proposed change to their voting laws. This process, known as preclearance, stopped hundreds of discriminatory new laws from taking effect, and deterred lawmakers from introducing countless more. But Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a 5-4 majority, invalidated the formula because “today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.” Well, do they?

Editorials: A vote of confidence | Miami Herald

Online voting registration is an idea whose time has come. And why not? It’s favored by all 67 election supervisors in the state, most legislators and the League of Women Voters. Currently, Florida law says those registering to vote must mail or deliver a paper registration form to an elections office, or they can apply when getting a driver’s license at the Division of Motor Vehicles. After confirming eligibility to vote, the elections office then must manually transfer prospective voters’ information into its computer database — not a very nimble process. If Floridians could register online, the information could more easily and more accurately be transferred. But the idea is getting a lot of pushback from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who also is the state’s elections chief. In the past two weeks, Mr. Detzner has testified before two state Senate committees. Each time, he offered up dire consequences for online voter registration.

Editorials: Virginia lawmakers should have listened to the governor on voting machines | Richmond Times-Dispatch

In late December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the state should shell out $28 million to buy new voting machines for every locality in the commonwealth. The Republican-controlled General Assembly said no. That money sure would come in handy now, wouldn’t it? Last week, the State Board of Elections decreed that voting machines used by more than two dozen localities — including Richmond, Henrico and Fairfax — could no longer be used. The WinVote machines, some of which don’t work well because of age, are vulnerable to hacking. Quite vulnerable, apparently. The decision leaves localities scrambling to scrape up nearly $7 million so they can replace hundreds of machines before the June 9 primaries. Primaries tend to be low-turnout affairs, but you never know who might show up, so localities will have to open — and, for those affected, re-equip — all the precinct polling places in contested districts.

Editorials: AVS WinVote: The Worst Voting Machine in America | Jeremy Epstein/Slate

On April 14, the Virginia State Board of Elections voted to immediately decertify use of the AVS WinVote touch-screen Direct Recording Electronic voting machine. That means that the machine, which the Washington Post says was used by “dozens of local governments” in Virginia, can’t be used any more, though the commonwealth is holding primaries in just two months. The move comes in light of a report that shows just how shoddy and insecure voting machines can be. As one of my colleagues taught me, BLUF—bottom line up front: If an election was held using the AVS WinVote, and it wasn’t hacked, it was only because no one tried. The vulnerabilities were so severe, and so trivial to exploit, that anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded. A hacker wouldn’t have needed to be in the polling place—he could have been within a few hundred feet (say, in the parking lot) and or within a half-mile if he used a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can. Further, there are no logs or other records that would indicate if such a thing ever happened, so if an election was hacked any time in the past, we will never know.

Editorials: Europe will watch Finland’s election closely—perhaps for the wrong reasons | The Economist

For a useful corrective to the notion that only sunny optimism can win elections, Charlemagne recommends a visit to Finland. Like sauna-goers vigorously lashing themselves with birch branches, Finnish politicians are lining up to talk their homeland down in the run-up to the general election on April 19th. Juha Sipila, leader of the Centre Party and the most likely next prime minister, talks freely of the need to slash public spending. Antti Rinne, the finance minister and head of the Social Democrats, laments Finland’s dire export performance. The biggest dose of gloom, though, comes from Alex Stubb, the centre-right prime minister. Mr Stubb claims to be an “eternal optimist”, but says that Finland has had a “lost decade” and admits that the coalition he has led since June 2014 has often been a failure.

Editorials: Decertifying the worst voting machine in the US | Jeremy Epstein/Freedom to Tinker

On Apr 14 2015, the Virginia State Board of Elections immediately decertified use of the AVS WinVote touchscreen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine. This seems pretty minor, but it received a tremendous amount of pushback from some local election officials. In this post, I’ll explain how we got to that point, and what the problems were. As one of my colleagues taught me, BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. If an election was held using the AVS WinVote, and it wasn’t hacked, it was only because no one tried. The vulnerabilities were so severe, and so trivial to exploit, that anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded. They didn’t need to be in the polling place – within a few hundred feet (e.g., in the parking lot) is easy, and within a half mile with a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can. Further, there are no logs or other records that would indicate if such a thing ever happened, so if an election was hacked any time in the past, we will never know.

Editorials: Hillary Clinton has been outspoken on voting rights | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

If Hillary Clinton is to succeed in her second quest for the presidency, she’ll need to at least come close to matching President Obama’s performance with the groups that made up his most enthusiastic base: minorities and young voters. So over the next year and a half, expect to see Clinton continue to denounce the wave of restrictive voting rules that has often targeted non-whites and students. Already, the former secretary of state—sometimes criticized by progressives as overly cautious—has been relatively outspoken on the subject of voting rights. In a forceful 2013 speech to the American Bar Association (ABA), Clinton slammed the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling that year weakening the Voting Rights Act (VRA), called on Congress to fix the landmark law and urged the Obama administration to step up enforcement of voting rights cases.

Editorials: Fifty years after Selma, Americans in US territories cannot vote | Marianas Variety

In his speech last month commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, President Obama described the right to vote as the “foundation stone of our democracy.” For Americans living in the U.S. territories, these stirring words ring hollow. Nearly 4 million Americans call Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa home – a combined population greater than 22 states. We represent those Americans in the U.S. House, but cannot vote for their interests on the House floor. Our constituents are denied representation in the U.S. Senate. And they are barred from the general election for president and vice president. Thus, when the presidential vote is tabulated in 2016, it will be as if the 4 million Americans we represent do not exist.

Editorials: How to shine a light on dark money | Lawrence Norden and Daniel Weiner/MSNBC

The 2016 campaign is just beginning, but we already know that hundreds of millions of secret dollars will be spent over the next 18 months. A few years ago, this tide of “dark money” would have been unimaginable. Today, it represents one of the biggest threats to our democracy. President Obama has spoken out against the rise of dark money, but has done little else to combat it. With a hostile Supreme Court and Congress, many have assumed this is the best he can do – but that’s just not true. In fact, the president has the power to strike a major blow against dark money in our elections now, without congressional approval, and without running afoul of Supreme Court precedent. He can issue an executive order to expose secret political spending by federal contractors. The only question is whether he will follow through.

Editorials: On the Trail of Super PAC Money | New York Times

Two developments caught the attention of the political fund-raising world last week. First is the eye-popping amount of presidential campaign money Senator Ted Cruz’s supporters reported raising in just a week — $31 million in big checks from affluent conservatives. This bonanza offers further evidence that the 2016 election has already become a runaway race of “super PACs” allowed to raise unlimited funds from uber-rich donors out to reap political influence.

Editorials: Keep Shining the Light on ‘Dark Money’ | Robert Bauer and Samuel Issacharoff/Politico

The money hunt for the 2016 election cycle is in full swing, and there is no surer sign of it than the first complaints recently filed by reform organizations. While, as in the past, there is intense interest in the likelihood of record-breaking sums and innovative spending strategies, this year, perhaps more than in the past, attention has turned to transparency. “Dark money” is dominating the campaign finance lexicon. Current conversations on this topic have a Groundhog Day quality, and it seems that they are stuck between the dreary and the dreadful. Part of the problem is that nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court limited the objective of campaign finance regulation to the prevention of corruption or its appearance, and decades of debate ensued about what is and what is not corruption. And all this in the service of identifying when candidates and political parties come under the “undue influence” of money.

Editorials: Same-day voter registration will transform Delaware | Chris Bullock/Delaware Voice

Today, voting rights in America – and therefore, our civil rights – stand at a critical crossroads. As we await reauthorization by Congress of the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures across the country have rolled back critical voting rights provisions. Sadly, too many of today’s battles elicit a sense of déjà vu, harkening back to Civil Rights struggles that many of us believed that our nation had fought and moved past. In this troubling climate, I am proud to say Delaware is a bright spot: State Sen. Margaret Rose Henry is planning to introduce a new voting rights bill that will make it easier for all Delawareans to participate in our great democracy.

Editorials: Changing Residency Standards Attack Student Voters | Robert M. Brandon/Huffington Post

A new effort on voter suppression has been seen in recent months: attacks on student voting by making it harder to determine residency for voting purposes. Proposed legislation in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Indiana that would limit student voting rights through amended residency standards has met varied results. At the center of the issue is the definition of residency for voter registration purposes. It seems straightforward that a person who lives in a state and considers that place her residence should be able to register to vote there. The reality, however, can be more complicated. Most states have residency standards for voting that often differ from residency for other purposes within the state, such as paying taxes or registering a motor vehicle. Whatever residency standards exist for these latter obligations, most states allow students, people working in temporary jobs, and active duty military stationed in the state to vote if they have a physical presence in the state, a place they call home, in which they have a present intent to stay. Some states, however, in an effort to discourage young voters, are trying to change these generally accepted standards.

Editorials: Will Ted Cruz Super-PACs Usher in New Frontier of Donor Influence? | Bloomberg

The four super-PACs preparing to give a $31 million boost to the presidential hopes of Texas Senator Ted Cruz represent the latest twist in the infiltration of big money in politics—and a way for wealthy donors to have an even more direct say in how their money is spent. One of the constellation of committees first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg appears to be underwritten by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer and his family. Campaign lawyers said the arrangement is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. “It’s something to watch,” said Jason Abel of Steptoe & Johnson, who is not involved with the super-PACs. Abel and other lawyers speculated that multiple committees, all of which are named some form of “Keep the Promise,” were created to satisfy the whims of individual donors.

Editorials: To Get Ahead in Congress: Skip Governing, Raise Money | Trevor Potter and Meredith McGehee/Politico

When Congress returns from recess next week, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who resigned after Politico raised questions about his mileage reimbursements, will not return with it. Before Schock becomes a footnote in history, it’s worth reflecting on how he represents everything wrong with the way Congress raises money. The dismissals of Schock as simply a “show horse, not a work horse,” to use the old phrase, misses the more interesting—and disturbing—story. The rise and fall of Schock embodies the reality of the current campaign finance system. Members are now valued by the Leadership and fellow Members because of their fundraising prowess, not their legislating abilities. Aaron Schock will only be missed in Congress for his ability to raise significant amounts of money for himself and his party. Known for connecting himself and others with big donors, he had little time to do any of the things he was elected to do by his constituents in Peoria, nor paid to do by all of us taxpayers.

Editorials: Canada’s Fair Elections Act not so fair | Winnipeg Free Press

According to the Council of Canadians, there were 100,000 Canadians who got the chance to vote in 2011 because someone vouched for them. And there were 400,000 Canadians who used voter-information cards to gain access to the ballot box. The council claims that with amendments put in place by Stephen Harper’s government through the Fair Elections Act, those votes could be in jeopardy. The new act does not allow for individuals to vouch for more than one person and it also prohibits the use of voter-information cards.

Editorials: Aaron Schock can make it up to taxpayers by paying for special election | Phil Luciano/Journal Star

Finally, there’s good news for Aaron Schock. He can fulfill his wish to try to square things with his congressional district. And he can do it in the most sincere way possible politically: by putting his money where his mouth is. Schock can use his campaign cash — about $3.3 million — to cover the costs of special elections for his replacement. That’s the opinion of a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. … He has no obligation toward the special elections. Taxpayers get stuck with those surprise bills. How much? Hard to say. The 18th Congressional District has 21 separate voting entities: 19 counties, plus the cities of Peoria and Bloomington. Each will bear the expense of a primary election and general election this summer. Peoria County (not including the city) is looking at perhaps $150,000 in added costs. McLean County, which likely has the largest population base in the district, might have to pay $293,000 — and that doesn’t even include Bloomington.

Editorials: Which Companies Are Buying the Election? | New York Times

Midway into a three-and-a-half-hour congressional hearing this week featuring Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, none of the legislators had bothered to ask if or when her agency would require that corporations disclose their political spending. The bipartisan silence testified to the growing importance to both parties of anonymous campaign donations. With each passing year since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to secretive political giving, politicians appear to value so-called dark money more and value disclosure of unnamed donors less.

Editorials: The court’s signal to North Carolina | The Charlotte Observer

North Carolina lawmakers now have one more reason to revisit the state’s discriminatory legislative and congressional maps: The U.S. Supreme Court seems inclined to eventually make them do so. The Court ruled 5-4 last week that Alabama wrongly packs black voters into too few legislative districts, diluting their votes. It’s a decision that might be instructive to N.C. Republicans, who like Democrats before them have drawn legislative districts that give their party the best chance of staying in power. Republicans, however, have taken the tactic to a new level of distastefulness, and the state’s 2011 map is being challenged on similar grounds as the Alabama case. The N.C. challenge is pending before the Supreme Court. In Alabama, like North Carolina, lawmakers have insisted that their districts are lawful. In fact, Alabama’s attorneys argued to the Supreme Court that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required those who drew the voting maps to maintain certain percentages of black voters in majority black districts. That, attorneys said, forced lawmakers to cluster minorities into fewer districts.