Editorials: Wisconsin Government Accountability Board works; it keeps felons from voting | Thomas H. Barland/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s report on the Government Accountability Board has generated a great deal of discussion, but out of that discourse has come some misinformation that needs to be cleared up. I want to assure the Legislature and the public that the GAB takes illegal voting seriously, and that strong protections are in place to prevent felons from voting in Wisconsin. In the relatively few cases in which felons have voted in recent years, they will not escape prosecution due to delayed felon voting audits by the GAB. Prior to every election, the GAB provided Wisconsin’s 1,852 municipal clerks with a list from the Department of Corrections of felons ineligible to vote. The clerks inactivated the felons’ listings on the Statewide Voter Registration System so that they could not receive an absentee ballot, register to vote late in the clerk’s office or register and vote if they showed up on election day. The GAB routinely followed up to ensure clerks were inactivating those felons.

Editorials: Sri Lanka’s surprise political transition | The Washington Post

Sri Lanka went to the polls on Thursday in a historic election. For the first time since the island became independent in 1948, an incumbent president was voted out of office. Early Friday, bleary-eyed from a night spent flipping between news networks or frantically refreshing Twitter, Sri Lankans struggled to assimilate the news that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had conceded the race. As stunned as everyone else in the capital city of Colombo, my own reaction was to pull up Timur Kuran’s 1991 article on the unpredictability of dramatic political shifts: “Now out of Never.” Neither a defeat nor a concession seemed likely, or even possible, in late November, when Rajapaksa called snap polls two full years ahead of schedule. The move was calculated to renew his mandate before a worsening economy began to eat into his electoral majority. With the main opposition United National Party (UNP) unable to produce a candidate more exciting than their unpopular longtime leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, Rajapaksa expected to coast to an easy victory. His campaign strategy, as always, rested on reminding ethnic Sinhalese voters of his 2009 defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Editorials: What ‘Selma’ Gets Right—and Wrong—About Civil-Rights History | Ari Berman/The Nation

The civil-rights movement has been richly chronicled in books like Taylor Branch’s trilogy on Martin Luther King Jr. and documentaries like Eyes on the Prize. But there have been few equally powerful depictions of the movement in pop culture, which tend to overstate the contribution of white protagonists and turn African-Americans into supporting players in their own struggle (i.e., The Help, Mississippi Burning etc). That’s why the new film Selma is such an important work. The movie is unique in many respects. It movingly captures the dramatic events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It has a great cast, anchored by an unusually nuanced portrayal of King by David Oyelowo. It also boasts a diversity rarely seen in major films, both on screen and behind the camera: as a black woman filmmaker, writer-director Ava DuVernay is, sadly, a rarity in Hollywood. In her hands, Selma skillfully shows the tensions within the civil-rights movement between groups like King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the young activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the many pressures—personal, political and organizational—that King faced at the time.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision continues to echo | Amanda Hollis-Brusky/Los Angeles Times

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission turns 5 this month, but the damage from the Supreme Court’s revolutionary ruling on campaign finance is just beginning to be felt. Scholars and pundits will undoubtedly mark the anniversary with commentary on such issues as the troubling rise of “super PACs” and the proliferation of undisclosed contributions known as “dark money.” The biggest long-term impact, however, is the powerful framing effect the decision has had on other areas of the law. With last year’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the idea that “corporations are people” has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there. The idea that ‘corporations are people’ has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there.

Editorials: The Problem With Greek Democracy | Neophytos Loizides and Iosif Kovras/Wall Street Journal

Once again, Greek politics are a focus of global attention as voters head to the polls for a snap parliamentary election on Jan. 25. Observers are especially interested in the implications for economic policy, but this is also an opportunity to reflect on certain fundamental problems with the structure of Greece’s electoral system that help explain the country’s dysfunctional politics. Greece is the only country in the eurozone where the economic crisis has ignited such a deep political crisis, far worse than in Portugal, Spain or Ireland. Yet the Greek public isn’t naturally prone to polarization. Opinion polls since 2010 show a steady public preference for political cooperation, coalition governments and less frequent elections. Unfortunately, flawed electoral laws open a chasm between voters’ wishes and political outcomes.

Editorials: Ohio shows pathway to reform redistricting in North Carolina |Lee Mortimer/NewsObserver.com

The lopsided 2014 election results leave little reason to expect Republicans and Democrats to work together in the upcoming General Assembly session. Republicans are riding high after retaining veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats believe that the GOP’s super-majority control is undeserved and that gerrymandered elections unfairly pushed them to the sidelines. Ironically, agreement may be attainable on the very issue that has most divided the parties – redistricting. That is, if they can take a cue from what Republicans and Democrats recently achieved in Ohio.

Editorials: For 2016, bring back Colorado’s presidential primary | The Denver Post

Two political scientists at Colorado College made the case in The Sunday Denver Post that lawmakers should open up the next presidential primary in this state to wider voter participation. But Thomas E. Cronin and Robert D. Loevy aren’t just lonely voices in the wilderness in this belief. Others have raised similar questions over the years about the wisdom of relying on a low-turnout caucus system to select the parties’ presidential favorites. Indeed, a group known as Colorado Open Voting is hoping to reform the caucus system this year through legislation, according to spokesman Curtis Hubbard — if sponsors can be found at the Capitol. Let’s hope lawmakers step up and a resulting bill reflects some of the principles espoused by Cronin and Loevy. The present system in which a relatively small slice of activists attend local caucuses to determine the presidential candidate that each party supports has the effect of limiting both public interest and participation — as well as the influence of Colorado in the presidential selection process.

Editorials: Fairer approach: Take redistricting job off legislators’ hands | Journal Gazette

Partisan redistricting makes a mockery of the basic principles of democracy. In the session that begins today, the Indiana legislature has the opportunity – actually, the obligation – to take its thumb off the scales of voter equality. Changing demographics rapidly make congressional and legislative districts obsolete. Redistricting, which occurs at the beginning of each decade just after the national census is completed, is a necessity for democracy to function. But in Indiana, the legislature draws up its own legislative voting districts, as well as congressional districts. There are provisions for a redistricting commission, but they never come into play as long as both the House and Senate can agree on new maps within a set time. This has never been a good procedure, but it can be made to work when one party controls each of the two legislative chambers. Both parties, though, have used the system to create unfair advantages over the years. In the redistricting at the beginning of this decade, the GOP did a masterful job of controlling the process. Republicans held both houses, and they took the opportunity to move more Democrats into heavily Democratic districts and more Republicans into districts that had been fairly even.

Editorials: ‘Selma’ and Real-World Voter Intimidation | Brent Staples/New York Times

Northerners who went south at the start of the civil rights movement were stunned to find localities where African-Americans represented an overwhelming majority of the population – but not a single black person could be found on the county voting rolls or in the jury pool. The new movie “Selma,” which focuses on the civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, vividly illustrates the system of intimidation and misdirection that made this possible.

Editorials: How to get more Angelenos to the ballot box | Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles’ budget for 2014-15 tops $8.1 billion, which is bigger than the budgets of about a dozen states. In the coming months, the city must grapple with some serious questions, many related to how to spend that money, such as the funding of pensions; hiring and retention of police officers, firefighters, city attorneys and other city employees; building and maintaining our city’s infrastructure; and alleviating traffic. Dismal voter turnout numbers create a system in which we have a ‘voting class’ that makes the decisions for the rest of the city’s constituents. So it is more than a little distressing that so few bother to take part in our government by voting. Less than one quarter of registered voters showed up in the May 2013 municipal election. That was an election with a competitive race for mayor. Even fewer showed up — 17.9% — in the 2009 mayoral election when incumbent Antonio Villaraigosa ran against largely unknown challengers. The city has about 1.8 million registered voters, 47% of the city’s residents. It is worth noting that these voters are not reflective of the makeup of the city. Registered voters are older, whiter, better educated and typically wealthier. Unregistered residents fall into two categories: those who cannot vote (because they are underage, not citizens or felons) and those who do not want to.

Editorials: Vermont: Time for a modern election | Tom Koch/Times Argus

When I announced my retirement from the Legislature after 22 years, a surprising number of people asked me to continue writing “Scribblings.” I have considered those requests, and I have decided to make the effort. How long it will last and how frequently I will write remains to be seen. There is a vast difference between writing with inside knowledge of the doings on the hill and looking at things as the outsider I have become. However, realizing the futility of trying to keep my mouth shut when issues arise, I will occasionally get to work on the keyboard. The following is my first effort. But first, may I wish each and every one of you the best for the new year. On Thursday, Vermont will hold an election for governor. Only 180 people will be eligible to vote. Because no candidate received a majority of votes for governor Nov. 4, the Vermont Constitution declares that there has been “no election,” and it falls to the members of the General Assembly, meeting together in joint session, with each member having one vote, to elect the next governor. They must choose from among the three candidates for governor who received the greatest number of votes Nov. 4 — in this case Peter Shumlin, Scott Milne and Dan Feliciano.

Editorials: Will fairer districts mean longer Ohio legislative terms? | Benjamin Lanka/Cincinnati Inquirer

Ohio lawmakers coalesced at the last minute to approve a deal that could make its legislative maps fairer and more competitive — and could open the way to examine letting those legislators serve longer in office. With redistricting reform headed to Ohio voters in 2015, many legislators believe now is the time to review the state’s term limit restrictions. Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, helped lead the redistricting effort, which he said had to happen to begin even examining term limits. “Without a fairer system, some legislators were more reluctant to deal with extending terms,” he said. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission has begun discussions on the issue, Executive Director Steven Hollon said. He said a few presentations were given on term limits and that it was mentioned as a topic that could be tackled in 2015, but no definitive plans have yet been created.

Editorials: Reforms would make it easier to vote in Pennsylvania | Daily Local

Pennsylvania state government behind the times? Let’s count the ways. We can list failure to privatize liquor sales and a system so far behind that visitors are amazed at the hoops we jump through to buy beer, wine and spirits. Go up the scale in intensity and we encounter an outdated property tax system for funding schools, and a public pension system racking up a $50 billion liability shortfall. Our lawmakers choose denial over solutions. Twice a year, we encounter another area in which the Commonwealth falls woefully short — ease of voting. Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has failed to adopt practices made possible in the internet age that make it easy for people to register and to vote. Instead of making the process more customer-friendly, Republicans two years ago used their majority in the House to push through even stricter requirements for voter ID. The new law which required a state-issued photo ID for all voters was challenged and struck down in Commonwealth Court. Now, some legislators are hoping to enact some meaningful reform and get Pennsylvania voter services out of the past. PAIndependent reported last week that a number of proposals are in the works to make voting more user-friendly.

Editorials: Mandatory Voting, Killing Electoral College Would Diversify Electorate | Stephen Wolf/The New Republic

The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, over white police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, brought attention to a curious disparity. While two-thirds of the St. Louis suburb was black, its local government was almost entirely white. One culprit was simple: voter turnout. In the preceding local election, 6 percent of black voters cast ballots, compared to 17 percent of white voters, narrowly yielding a white-majority electorate. The resulting racial disparities on the city council were as predictable as they were dire. Two generations after the 1965 Voting Rights Act and other Great Society reforms, America’s electoral system still suffers from the legacy of Jim Crow: Our political officials and public policies don’t represent the diversity and interests of the country’s large and growing share of non-white citizens. Improving voter turnout is the most obvious solution to this problem, but doing so will require uncharacteristic boldness from our politicians. One of the biggest structural factors keeping turnout low is that the majority of cities nationwide—Ferguson included—hold elections at times that don’t coincide with federal or state elections. Since non-white voters skip non-presidential elections in higher numbers than white voters, moving local and state elections to the quadrennial presidential cycle would painlessly, efficiently increase turnout and produce a more representative electorate across the ballot. As a bonus, holding fewer elections would save money.

Editorials: A GOP attack on the Government Accountability Board | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Republicans in Wisconsin have been out to get the Government Accountability Board for a while now — and some of them believe a recent audit of the state’s unique ethics and elections agency may provide an opening. Let’s hope not. The non-partisan GAB, run by retired judges, remains the best model for supervising partisan elections and ethical behavior. The idea of handing those tasks back to the very partisans being supervised, as was the case in the past, is ridiculous. That said, the report by the Legislative Audit Bureau should be taken seriously by the GAB and its longtime executive Kevin Kennedy. The report, released last week, found that officials sometimes waited years to review whether felons had voted and did not promptly audit electronic voting equipment. The board also failed to impose late fees on candidates and political groups that hadn’t file timely campaign finance reports. Those lapses should be corrected. But here’s something else that should be corrected — the GAB’s budget. It’s been squeezed in each of the last three budgets.

Editorials: Bringing real democracy to Illinois, one step at a time | Chicago Sun-Times

This month, the Illinois General Assembly passed a sweeping voting rights bill that brings our state’s antiquated election system into the 21st century. The landmark legislation means voting will now be a simple, high-integrity process, so all eligible Illinoisans have a voice in our democracy. Yet the bigger story is what the success of SB 172 portends for Illinois’ rising reform movement. The bill never would made it through the legislature without strong support from the diverse, nonpartisan Just Vote coalition, which mobilized people across the state to help move the common-sense election reform package forward. Just Vote represents a unique approach to political reform. In the past, good government groups often fell short because they failed to bring young people and communities of color to the table, or (worse) intentionally excluded them.

Editorials: Keep Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board nonpartisan | Appleton Post-Crescent

The state’s Government Accountability Board is being targeted by the top leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has said the board is “dysfunctional, unresponsive and totally undemocratic” and Executive Director Kevin Kennedy is an “embarrassment.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said of the board, “I just don’t think they’re an independent voice at all.” Both Vos and Fitzgerald said they want the Legislature to make changes to the GAB. And both said they’d consider returning to having the board members appointed by political parties. “If we can create a system that has partisan makeup where decisions can be made, of course I’m open to that,” Vos said. Fitzgerald said a partisan-appointed board “seems to strike more of a balance than what we’re up against now.”

Editorials: The Uniquely Awful Role of Sheldon Adelson in the Israeli Election | Gershom Gorenberg/American Prospect

As the contest for who will lead the nation takes shape, the classic right-wing charge of pervasive, hostile media bias was splashed in giant tabloid type across the front page of the daily Israel Hayom last Friday. The headline read: “Netanyahu: The Media is Campaigning to Bring the Left to Power.”  The Friday edition of an Israeli paper is the equivalent of a thick Sunday edition in America; print newspapers are still very popular in Israel, and Israel Hayom is one of the two most popular papers. You might just sense a contradiction here: The most-read headline of the week in one of the country’s most influential news sources carried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that the media is deliberately trying to take power from him and give it to the left. The irony certainly wasn’t intentional. The undeclared purpose of Israel Hayom is to promote Bibi Netanyahu. “Newspaper” in Hebrew is iton; Israel Hayom has gained the nickname Bibiton. A vast army of people wearing red overalls hand it out for free everyday, everywhere in Israel. For the newspaper’s owner, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, making money isn’t the goal.

Editorials: Los Angeles Seeks Increase in Voter Turnout | Dan Walters/Sacramento Bee

In the six weeks since the Nov. 4 election, much has been said about its extraordinarily low, record-shattering voter turnout. Scarcely 42 percent of California’s 17.8 million registered voters, and just 31 percent of its 24.3 million potentially eligible voters, actually cast ballots. It resulted, one could say, from the perfect calm – no hot statewide candidate races or blood-boiling ballot measures to spur voters into doing their civic duties. Nevertheless, it also continued a decades-long slide in California’s voter turnout, which is one of the nation’s lowest, and generated some political palaver about what might be done to raise it to more respectable levels. … Herb Wesson, a former speaker of the state Assembly who now is president of the Los Angeles City Council, has made raising local voter turnout a personal cause, saying it’s a civil rights matter.

Editorials: Ohio’s redistricting breakthrough | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

For over a decade, Ohio has been the nation’s most fiercely contested swing state, and its politics are as polarized as anywhere in the country. And yet, lawmakers from both parties somehow came together last week to approve a widely-praised plan aimed at making the state’s redistricting system fairer and less partisan. The state Senate voted 32-1 Friday in favor of the plan. If it passes a final vote in the House, as expected, it will go before voters next fall. The breakthrough comes amid growing, nationwide concern that rampant partisan gerrymandering threatens the legitimacy and responsiveness of our democracy, producing a shrinking number of competitive races and a House of Representatives whose partisan alignment is badly out of whack with voters’ preferences. So, can Ohio offer the rest of the country any lessons? Perhaps, but there certainly aren’t any magic bullets.

Editorials: A Chance to Close Sri Lanka’s One-Family Show | Razeen Sally/Wall Street Journal

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa called a snap election last month in Sri Lanka, it appeared he would cruise to a third term. But a hitherto feeble and divided opposition has since rallied behind a common presidential candidate for the Jan. 8 vote. Only a month ago, Maithripala Sirisena was a cabinet minister and general-secretary of the ruling party. Now suddenly Sri Lanka could be at a turning point after almost a decade of Rajapaksa rule. The president is campaigning on his economic record after comprehensively defeating the Tamil Tigers in 2009. And on the surface, Sri Lanka looks a lot better off for his leadership. After a quarter-century of civil war, people can go about their daily lives without fear. Roads, bridges, railways and power projects have come to fruition. Colombo and many other towns have been beautified. Tourism has bounced back, with postwar arrivals hitting all-time highs. But this surface reality is deceptive. Things have gone terribly wrong with Sri Lanka’s politics, ethnic relations, economy and foreign policy.

Editorials: Would A ‘Top-2’ Primary Election Help Reduce Gridlock? | Greg Giroux/Bloomberg

Some ideas offered to curb the partisan gridlock that envelops Congress involve changing how voters select the candidates who appear on the November general-election ballots. One proposal is to eliminate separate party primaries–registered Democrats voting for Democrats, and registered Republicans voting for Republicans—and adopt a so-called “Top-2” primary, under which candidates of all partisan stripes would run on a single ballot. Then the top two vote-getters in the primary would advance to the November election, regardless of their party preference. This system, the idea goes, would produce less ideologically rigid representatives because the entire electorate would be eligible to participate, and candidates would have an incentive to reach out to a larger swath of voters. It might also increase voter participation. There’s very limited evidence to determine its rate of success or failure.

Editorials: Arizona election law is broken, but fixing it is easy | The Arizona Republic

Arizona election law lies broken and in disarray after a federal judge’s decision. But it can be fixed easily. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg found that Arizona’s definition of a political committee is “vague, overbroad and consequently unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment.” With the definition tossed out, the rest of campaign law tumbles. You can’t place reporting requirements, contribution limits or deadlines on committees that no longer legally exist. That creates the potential for an election in which people can contribute as much as they want to candidates and issues, with nothing revealed to voters. That runs counter to a generation of law and policy that holds that transparency protects against corruption.

Editorials: Our View: Long Island ballot recount triggered hasty claims of fraud | The Portland Press Herald

It had all the makings of the rarest of rare events – a political scandal in Maine. The recount in a hotly contested state Senate race with a razor-thin winning margin found that there were more ballots cast than voters who showed up to cast them in the small town of Long Island. The disputed votes were enough to snatch victory from Democrat Cathy Breen and give it to Republican Cathy Manchester, the last indignity of an election that had many of them for Democrats. Critics wanted a thorough investigation. Some wanted to see subpoenas issued, voters canvassed, ballots dusted for fingerprints. They wanted an inquiry that got to the bottom of the controversy, not just some quickie review. And they got part of their wish. The committee did get to the bottom of the controversy Tuesday, but it certainly didn’t take very long. It turns out all the panel had to do was open the box of ballots and look inside.

Editorials: As another early voting measure comes around, expect more Christie amnesia | Star-Ledger

Another early voting bill has passed through the Senate, and though it is likely to face the same grim fate as its progenitors once it reaches the governor’s desk, its necessity has never been more apparent. The lesson derived from a recent report by the Constitutional Rights Clinic at the Rutgers School of Law is watertight: Opening polling sites for days or weeks before Election Day would revitalize civic interest, increase turnout, and prevent the chaos that can result from weather emergencies. Speaking of which, the study specifically cites the Keystone Kop choreography of Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, calling the measures she took that year “illegal, insecure, and confusing,” and asserting that her unauthorized executive decisions “unilaterally altered New Jersey election law.”

Editorials: Sweden’s government: That was quick | The Economist

It was supposed to be the Swedish Social Democrats’ triumphant return. But two months after forming a minority coalition government with the Greens, Stefan Lofven, the Social Democratic leader, has been forced to step down as prime minister. The four-party centre-right opposition alliance enlisted the support of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats to vote down his budget, pushing through a budget of its own instead. Mr Lofven might have let the other parties try to form a new government. But instead he plans to call an “extra” election on March 22nd. Such high political drama is rare in Sweden, where advance negotiations before parliamentary votes normally mean the budget passes with little fuss. The only previous special election was in 1958. Social Democratic-led governments, in particular, have usually sat out their four-year terms in an orderly fashion. But Sweden has never before had to contend with a far-right party that enjoys as much support as the Sweden Democrats. The party is the third-largest in parliament. Without its backing, neither the centre-right alliance nor a coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and the small Left party commands a majority. Worse, a new election could see the Sweden Democrats grow stronger, although the absence on sick leave of their leader, Jimmie Akesson, may count against them.

Editorials: The Pernicious Effects of Gerrymandering | Norm Ornstein/NationalJournal

Almost invariably, whenever I speak about our polarized politics, the first or second question I get is about redistricting. Most Americans who know that our political system is not working the way it is supposed to don’t know what specifically is wrong. But gerrymandering is something that clearly stands out for many. That is true even for Bill Clinton, who spoke about polarization and dysfunction at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative and singled out gerrymandering as a prime cause. The reality, as research has shown, is that the problem is more complicated than that. The “big sort,” in journalist Bill Bishop’s term, where Americans increasingly concentrate in areas where they are surrounded by like-minded people, is a major factor in the skewing, and the homogeneity, of districts. Other partisan residential patterns, including the fact that Democrats tend to live in more high-density urban areas, while Republicans tend to cluster in suburban and rural enclaves, matter. And the Senate, which represents states, not districts, is almost as polarized as the House. (Indeed, according to the National Journal voting records for the last Congress, it is more polarized—there was no overlap between the parties, meaning that the most conservative Democratic senator was to the left of the most liberal Republican senator.) Senate primaries, just like House ones, skew heavily toward each party’s base, and senators respond. And the permanent campaign pushes lawmakers to stick with their team, even if some of the team’s votes go against an individual member’s more moderate or bipartisan grain.

Editorials: Moldova’s election: Slouching towards Europe | The Economist

The election in Moldova on November 30th was as dirty as could be. Pro-European parties accused the Russian intelligence services of illegally funding their opponents. Just before the poll, the courts banned one pro-Russian party for receiving money from abroad, a move its supporters called abusing the judiciary for political ends. In all probability both claims are true. Many voters would agree with Igor Botan, a political analyst, that the choice was between “pro-Europe crooks and pro-Russia crooks”. Ultimately, three pro-Europe parties won a narrow majority in parliament. Now they must deliver on promises to adopt European Union regulations, made in an association agreement signed in June. EU leaders’ renewed attention to Moldova, prompted by the war in neighbouring Ukraine, should provide some incentive. Just before the election, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, wrote to Iurie Leanca, Moldova’s prime minister, and mentioned the country’s “perspective of membership” of the EU.

Editorials: New Florida voting map tough to unravel | Joe Brown/The Tampa Tribune

Recently released documents related to the decennial redistricting process in Florida show that the firm in charge, Data Targeting, made a concerted effort to benefit the state’s Republican Party and keep it all out of the sunshine. One email even made note of the need to converse over the phone instead of by email. I’m not surprised. Back in July, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that Republican operatives “made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting.” The 538 pages of records show that’s exactly what happened. While redistricting always has been a kind of behind-closed-doors process, what was different this time around was Florida’s Fair Districts amendment passed by 63 percent of voters. Not only were the state’s open-government laws violated, the amendment states in part that “congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.” The next step is up to the Florida Supreme Court. The groups that filed the original challenge will argue that the revised map approved by Judge Lewis after last summer’s special legislative session doesn’t fix the many violations of the amendment. Oral arguments are set for March 4.

Editorials: Federal Judge Strikes a Blow Against Dark Money — But Will It Hold? | Daniel I. Weiner/Brennan Center for Justice

On Tuesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the federal district court in Washington, D.C. handed transparency advocates a victory, when she (again) struck down a deeply flawed Federal Election Commission (FEC) rule that has helped to fuel the explosion of “dark money” — political spending from unknown sources — in U.S. elections. Judge Jackson has the law and common sense on her side, but the ultimate impact of her ruling remains to be seen. The rule at issue governs “electioneering communications” (ECs) — broadcast, cable or satellite communications referring to a clearly identified federal candidate during the run-up to an election. Such ads do not explicitly advocate a candidate’s election or defeat, but the vast majority plainly are election-related. Voters deserve to know who is paying for this advocacy, and what they want from the government. Praise for a candidate from your regional chamber of commerce, for instance, merits different scrutiny than praise from a big oil company in another state. Criticism from a local veteran’s group is not the same as criticism from a faraway defense contractor.