One thing this election cycle has taught us is that although recent court battles and political arguments over voter identification laws, gerrymandering, and the Voting Rights Act tend to grab the headlines, election officials across the political spectrum are improving how well elections actually work by implementing some of the technological improvements the private sector has been using for years. Consumers — in this case, voters — want the convenience, accessibility, and mobility offered by new technologies. This has led to a quiet revolution in red and blue states alike that has made the voting process more accurate, cost-effective, and efficient. After all, we’re accustomed to using our smartphones and laptops to pay bills, book flights, and scan the news. So why not use them to register to vote or find out where to cast a ballot? A great example of this approach is online voter registration. Four years ago, citizens in only eight states, representing 12 percent of eligible voters nationwide, could register online. But as of the end of September 2014 — with registration deadlines rapidly approaching — almost 110 million of the approximately 225 million eligible U.S. voters were living in the 20 states that now offer online registration. This innovation was driven not by political partisans but by professional election administrators; pioneered by Republican election officials in Arizona and then Washington, online voter registration is now offered by states as red as Kansas and Georgia, and as blue as California and Maryland.
A thought experiment in the election’s aftermath: What if, instead of focusing on making it harder for people to vote, we made voting mandatory? Indulge me in a rant against the phantom menace of voter fraud. The efforts to suppress it are barely disguised Republican moves to hold down minority votes that would, presumably, go to Democrats. This year, the Supreme Court allowed a new Texas voter-ID law to proceed despite a lower court judge’s finding that it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax that could disenfranchise 600,000 registered voters, about 4.5 percent of the total. This in low-turnout Texas, with voting participation rates near the bottom of a country with overall anemic turnout. Pivot to Australia, one of 11 countries that have, and enforce, mandatory voting, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the nation most culturally similar to the United States.
Rebel commander Alexander Zakharchenko smiled only slightly on hearing that he had won this weekend’s elections in Donetsk, Ukraine (pictured). The results were never in doubt: Mr Zakharchenko’s nominal opponents openly supported him, and his face was the only one on campaign billboards. Nonetheless, eastern Ukraine’s separatist republics went through the motions of democracy, including inviting international election observers. Those proved hard to find: while Russia has said it will respect the vote, America, the European Union, and the United Nations have all condemned it. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe refused to monitor the elections. The European politicians who did show up to observe were drawn from a smattering of far-right parties, including Hungary’s Jobbik, France’s National Front, and Italy’s Forza, as well as a few far-left ones. While they may not have done much to legitimise the vote, their presence was significant as a marker of Russia’s growing relationship with Europe’s political fringes. The elections in the breakaway pro-Russian regions were marked by armed men standing next to ballot boxes and a disturbing absence of voter rolls. This did not bother the European observers, who pronounced the voting free and fair. Many of them had arrived in Donetsk with luggage bearing “ROV” airline tags, code for the Russian city of Rostov, where they had flown in before crossing the border by car into separatist-held territory. Russia has been courting European fringe parties for years, part of a multi-pronged strategy aimed at “undermining the EU project”, argues Thomas Gomart, a Russia scholar at the French Institute of International Relations.
We don’t need an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote. What we need is a Supreme Court guaranteeing that right through already existing parts of the United States Constitution, such as the right to equal protection. In recent years, the court unfortunately has not read the Constitution to guarantee a vibrant democracy committed to political equality. It effectively struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act; it gave its approval to Indiana’s strict voter identification law; it approved of laws protecting the Democratic and Republican parties from competition; and it rejected efforts to limit money in politics to promote political equality.
Standing in front of a huge David Perdue bus in a hangar at DeKalb Peachtree Airport, Sen. Johnny Isakson begged the crowd to go to the polls. “Tomorrow isn’t just about going to the polls for yourself, it’s about bringing our neighbors and friends,” he said, “Whatever you do from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., you want to get everyone to go out and vote.” This is the typical plea of a campaign in its final stretch. But it also reflects the fundamental and driving dynamics of the Georgia’s election contests. Rapid demographic change has pushed this Southern state from a deep red—which gave 57.9 percent of its votes to George W. Bush—to a reddish purple, where the Democratic Senate candidate—Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn—is neck-and-neck with Republican David Perdue, and the Democratic candidate for governor—Jimmy Carter’s grandson Jason Carter—is close to a win over Nathan Deal, the Republican governor. Compared to 2010, the black share of the electorate is larger (28.8 percent versus 28.2 percent) and the white share smaller (64.2 percent versus 66.3 percent). These look like small shifts, but in a close election, they’re substantial. In an electorate with more black voters, Democrats need significantly fewer white voters to maintain a lead and get to 50 percent. What’s more, these trends are ongoing—the Georgia electorate of 2016 and 2018 will each be less white than the one that preceded it. Tuesday’s races—and the strategies pursued by both campaigns—will set the stage for the next decade of partisan fights in the state.
The ruling socialists’ approach has paid off for the time being. Their candidate, incumbent Prime Minister Victor Ponta, won the first round of voting. Whether his roughly ten percent head start will be enough for the second round is doubtful, however. Klaus Johannis, the ethnic German candidate for the liberal alliance, has a real chance of moving into the presidential palace, and not just in numbers. What matters now is who gets the votes of the 12 candidates from the first round. It’s just as crucial whether the largest political group – the non-voters – will exercise their democratic right in two weeks’ time. For the first round, about half of Romania’s eligible voters chose to stay at home. Just like five years ago, it might be expatriate Romanians yet again who end up tipping the scales. In 2009, a clear majority voted for outgoing President Traian Basescu – to the great chagrin of the Socialists, who cried election fraud. This time, however, the Socialist government appears to have made sure that situation won’t be repeated. After hours of standing in line, thousands of Romanians hoping to cast their ballot in West Europe had to return home without having voted. Not enough polling stations had been set up for the estimated two to three million Romanians who live and work abroad. Disastrous planning permitted voting at nothing but a snail’s pace. When the polling stations closed right on schedule, many thousands still waiting to vote were turned away. In a European democracy, that’s not what fair elections look like.
During this 2014 midterm election season, mainstream and social media have inundated voters with tales of schemes and skulduggery. Whatever the result of Tuesday’s election, many will believe that the process was rigged, the outcome is fraudulent, and they were cheated. The pattern of conspiracy theories is unfortunate but familiar. How pervasive is the belief that American elections will be swayed by improper means? Very. In 2012 we conducted surveys to gauge what Americans thought about the integrity of the system. Just before the election, we asked a national sample of respondents about the likelihood of voter fraud if their preferred presidential candidate did not win. About 50% said fraud would have been very or somewhat likely. When asked if someone was using “dirty tricks” in the election, about 85% believed that some candidate, campaign or political group was. These sentiments are not driven by members of one party or the other: Near equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats (between 40% and 50%) said fraud would be very or somewhat likely. Each side believes that if they lose, cheating is to blame, and they believe it about equally. Nobody likes losing, but it appears hard for about half the country to accept that they lost fair and square.
By Tuesday night about 90 million Americans will have cast ballots in an election that’s almost certain to create greater partisan divisions, increase gridlock and render governance of our complex nation even more difficult. Ninety million sounds like a lot, but that means that less than 40 percent of the electorate will bother to vote, even though candidates, advocacy groups and shadowy “super PACs” will have spent more than $1 billion to air more than two million ads to influence the election. There was a time when midterm elections made sense — at our nation’s founding, the Constitution represented a new form of republican government, and it was important for at least one body of Congress to be closely accountable to the people. But especially at a time when Americans’ confidence in the ability of their government to address pressing concerns is at a record low, two-year House terms no longer make any sense. We should get rid of federal midterm elections entirely. There are few offices, at any level of government, with two-year terms. Here in Durham, we elect members of the school board and the county sheriff to terms that are double that length. Moreover, Twitter, ubiquitous video cameras, 24-hour cable news and a host of other technologies provide a level of hyper-accountability the framers could not possibly have imagined. In the modern age, we do not need an election every two years to communicate voters’ desires to their elected officials. But the two-year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American politics.
Editorials: Florida’s system for restoring felons’ voting rights broken | Mark Schneider/Palm Beach Post
The Palm Beach Post has done well to inform local residents that one in 10 of their fellow Floridians is barred from the voting booth by a felony conviction. What remains less known is how broken the system for restoring voting rights has become. In Florida, both serious crimes and less serious ones, like altering a lottery card or molesting a stone crab trap, take away your voting rights for life. We are one of a very few states with this provision in our constitution, and we’re the state with by far the greatest number of felons disfranchised — 1.5 million. Our constitution does provide a way to get your voting rights back — executive clemency — but this system is overburdened. As a result of policy changes put in place in 2011, felons now have to wait five to seven years before they can apply to have their rights restored, and that’s after they have completed their sentence, their terms of supervision and any restitution requirements. When they do apply, however, many are going to have to wait a very, very long time.
Ukrainians are still scared, terrorized by the war; for that reason alone, the vote should not be considered valid. Just last week, the self-proclaimed leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics used this excuse to discredit Ukraine’s internationally accepted parliamentary elections. And yet, these hypocritical separatists have just held their own election – right in the middle of a war zone, Kalashnikovs at the ready and with backing from Moscow. These were pseudo-elections, with the winners already fixed well in advance. Pro-Ukrainian parties and candidates were not allowed to take part in the so-called presidential and parliamentary elections. In Donetsk, even pro-Russian communists were barred from the electoral list, despite the city being one of its strongholds. In the Donetsk region, only two parties took part: Donetsk Republic and Free Donbass. Both groups have only one goal in mind: secession from Ukraine. And now they have secured, along with separatist groups in Luhansk, their uncompromising course.
Two articles about young people in search of an education caught my attention last week. Both appeared in The Times on the same day. One celebrated the improbable journey of a young man “from a Rwandan dump to the halls of Harvard.” Justus Uwayesu, photographed in front of the iconic John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard, didn’t run as the other children did when a American charity worker approached them more than a decade ago as they scavenged for food. “I want to go to school,” the boy told his American rescuer. This fall, he enrolled as a freshman at Harvard. The other story reported the intervention of New York State officials in a scandalous situation in suburban school districts in the New York City area. Faced with an influx of undocumented Central American children whom immigration authorities have released to live with relatives or other sponsors, school districts in the region seem to be doing their best to keep these kids out of school.
Editorials: This is what it’s like to try to get a Voter ID when you’re disabled, poor or don’t drive | The Washington Post
What’s the big deal about getting an ID? You need one, after all, to participate in society in all kinds of other ways — to drive, to get married, to buy beer. Surely the requirement to show an ID on Election Day can’t be that burdensome. This is a common defense of Voter ID laws like the kind now on the books in Texas, ostensibly meant to curb voter fraud. But it glosses over the reality of life for some voters, who may struggle to get around because of disabilities, who may lack the seemingly small sums necessary to pay for documentation, who may not have the flexible scheduling to visit a government office twice, or three times, or more. Small obstacles like these are magnified in the frantic days leading up to the election — and add to this the confusion that ensues when people who have voted for years are suddenly told at their familiar polling places they don’t have what they need this time.
Editorials: Methodological challenges affect study of non-citizens’ voting | Michael Tesler/The Washington Post
A recent Monkey Cage piece by political scientists Jesse Richman and David Earnest, which suggested that non-citizen voting could decide the 2014 Election, received considerable media attention over the weekend. In particular, columns such as Breitbart.com’s “Study: Voting by Non-Citizens Tips Balance for Democrats” and the National Review’s “Jaw-Dropping Study Claims Large Numbers of Non-Citizens Vote in U.S” cited results from the authors’ forthcoming Electoral Studies article to confirm conservatives’ worst fears about voter fraud in the United States. A number of academics and commentators have already expressedskepticism about the paper’s assumptions and conclusions, though. In aseries of tweets, New York Times columnist Nate Cohn focused his criticism on Richman et al’s use of Cooperative Congressional Election Study data to make inferences about the non-citizen voting population. That critique has some merit, too. The 2008 and 2010 CCES surveyed large opt-in Internet samples constructed by the polling firm YouGov to be nationally representative of the adult citizen population. Consequently, the assumption that non-citizens, who volunteered to take online surveys administered in English about American politics, would somehow be representative of the entire non-citizen population seems tenuous at best.
A week from Tuesday, voters will choose an entirely new House of Representatives, a third of the U.S. Senate and the governors of 36 states. Lamentably, many qualified voters will stay home, some out of apathy or disillusionment but others because they lack the right sort of identification. In Texas, thanks to an outrageous order by the Supreme Court, voters will have to display a photo ID under a law that a lower court judge concluded was a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos, who disproportionately lack such identification. Welcome to the new world of voter suppression, the culmination of a sustained effort by mostly Republican state legislators to make it harder for Americans to exercise the most basic right afforded to citizens in a democracy. It’s an effort whose effect, if not its intent, has been to reduce the participation at the ballot box by groups that historically have been the victims of discrimination. It has been abetted by a Supreme Court that blithely gutted an important section of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act and by a Congress that has been to slow to undo the damage caused by the court.
One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson. Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term. It wasn’t all that long ago when, in North Carolina, judicial races were publicly financed. If a candidate spent more than $100,000, it was unusual. Ads mainly consisted of judicial candidates promising to be fair. Any money the candidates raised was almost entirely local. This ad in North Carolina, however, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics. And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.
Two years ago this week New Jersey was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, which left 8.2 million households without power in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The storm killed 34 people in New Jersey. Power outages throughout the state affected 2.4 million homes and businesses. The storm displaced roughly 61,000 families in New Jersey; 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 22,000 housing units were rendered uninhabitable. Even today, not all New Jersey residents left homeless by Sandy have been able to return to their homes. In response to Sandy, which hit only eight days before the 2012 presidential election, Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, the state’s head election official, implemented five emergency voting measures, ostensibly to help people vote. As detailed in the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Rights Clinic’s report: “A Perfect Storm: Voting in New Jersey in the Wake of Superstorm Sandy,” published last week, the state’s emergency measures were misguided and illegal, and left millions of votes vulnerable to manipulation.
The movement in a number of states including Wisconsin to require voters to prove eligibility by presenting a photo of themselves when they try to vote has placed an undue burden on the right to vote. Wisconsin’s statute permits voters to use only a Wisconsin driver’s license or Wisconsin state card, a military or tribal ID card, a passport, a naturalization certificate if issued within two years, a student ID (so long as it contains the student’s signature, the card’s expiration date and proof that the student really is enrolled in a school), or an unexpired receipt from a driver’s license/ID application. Wisconsin does not recognize military veteran IDs, student ID cards without a signature and other government-issued IDs. A recent national survey found that millions of American citizens do not have readily available documentary proof of citizenship. Many more — primarily women — do not have proof of citizenship with their current name. The survey also showed that millions of American citizens do not have government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Finally, the survey demonstrated that certain groups — primarily poor, elderly and minority citizens — are less likely to possess these forms of documentation than the general population. … Consider the effect of strict voter ID laws on lawful turnout. The panel opinion does not discuss the cost of obtaining a photo ID. It assumes the cost is negligible. That’s an easy assumption for federal judges to make, since we are given photo IDs by court security free of charge. And we have upper-middle-class salaries.
Early voting began on Monday in Texas and Wisconsin. As a result of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas residents will need a particular form of identification to vote; Wisconsinites can vote without one. On Saturday, the Supreme Court issued an order, in response to an emergency request from the Justice Department and various civil-rights groups, that permits Texas to enforce a voter-I.D. law that had been struck down twice by lower courts. The Texas law had previously been found to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racist discrimination, because it requires that voters in the state obtain one of seven types of identification that are not held by many African-Americans and Hispanics. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent for the Court, which Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor signed. Ginsburg called the conditions under which elections in Texas will now take place “the strictest regime in the country.” She argued that the rigidity of Texas’s law distinguished it from Wisconsin’s law. “For example, Wisconsin’s law permits a photo ID from an in-state four-year college and one from a federally recognized Indian tribe,” Ginsburg wrote. “Texas, under Senate Bill 14, accepts neither.” The court’s tone was a contrast from earlier this month, when it stopped Wisconsin from implementing its voter-I.D. law because of the proximity of the upcoming election. The rationale had little, if anything, to do with the plaintiffs’ argument that certain communities of voters—the poor, the elderly, the African-Americans, the Latinos—were being disproportionately burdened in trying to obtain the proper form of identification. There are at least two lines of logic that the Court is using to address the set of voting-rights cases that it has reviewed leading up to November’s election. One, as exhibited in Wisconsin, asserts that, just weeks out, it is too late to implement changes to voting permissions. The other is less straightforward, not least because the Court did not affirmatively defend its decision in the Texas case, and calls into question the way that the right to vote has been interpreted, as well as the role of the Supreme Court in offering clarity.
In allowing Texas’ voter identification law to go into effect, at least for the November election, the U.S. Supreme Court last week showed the nation precisely what it meant in 2013 when its conservatives struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs. Holder. The Texas law, one of the most discriminatory voting laws in modern history, runs afoul of constitutional norms and reasonable standards of justice. It is hard to chronicle in a short space the ways in which the Texas law, one of the most discriminatory voting laws in modern history, runs afoul of constitutional norms and reasonable standards of justice. State lawmakers rammed through the measure, jettisoning procedural protections that had been used for generations in the state Legislature. By requiring registered voters to present a certain kind of photo identification card, and by making it difficult for those without such cards to obtain one, the law’s Republican architects would ensure that poor voters, or ill ones, or the elderly or blacks or Latinos — all likely Democratic voters — would be disenfranchised, all in the name of preventing a type of voter fraud that does not materially exist. These lawmakers — and for that matter the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court judges who now have sanctioned the law’s implementation for next month’s election — were shown mountains of evidence on what the law’s discriminatory impact would be on minority communities. Witness after witness testified that the new law amounted to a poll tax on people who had, even in the deepest recesses of Texas, been able for decades to adequately identify themselves before lawfully casting their ballot.
Editorials: Justice Ginsburg’s dissent on Texas’ voter ID law a wake-up call for voting rights | Richard L. Hasen/Dallas Morning News
Every so often, Supreme Court watchers are reminded that these justices are working hard behind the scenes by reading briefs, exchanging memos and debating outcomes. Case in point: The justices issued an order and a dissent in a Texas voting rights case at 5 a.m. Saturday. Supreme Court reporters stood by all night for the ruling. The holdup apparently was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s six-page dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The Supreme Court allowed Texas to use its voter ID law in the upcoming election, even though a federal court decided a few weeks ago that Texas’ law violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, and that Texas engaged in intentional racial discrimination in voting. The trial court had barred Texas from using its law this election, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed that decision last week, and the law’s challengers went to the Supreme Court, where, as expected, the court sided with Texas. The Supreme Court’s order was consistent with some of its other recent orders indicating that lower courts should not change the rules of running an election shortly before voting begins. I have dubbed this rule the Purcell Principle, for a 2006 Supreme Court case.
The supreme Court’s weirdly busy October brings to mind an old Cadillac commercial showing a sedan gliding silently down the highway, driver calm and confident in a hermetic, leather-appointed cabin, while the announcer intones, “quietly doing things very well.” Whether the justices are doing their jobs well depends on your point of view. But there is no disputing that they have been doing their most consequential work in uncharacteristic silence in recent weeks. The justices’ moves on gay marriage, abortion and voting rights have been delivered all but wordlessly, as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate recounts. The notable exception to the rule is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice who refused to hold her tongue over the weekend, when six of her colleagues permitted Texas to enforce its new photo identification law in the November elections. The Court’s announcement came down at the ungodly hour of 5am on Saturday. It followed a federal district court decision on October 9th that the Texas law was discriminatory in both intent and effect and “constitutes a poll tax”—a ruling that was stayed by the Fifth Circuit Court on October 11th. The stay prompted an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court via Antonin Scalia, the justice assigned to the Fifth Circuit. The six justices who denied the request to lift the stay before dawn on October 18th were mum as to why; they released no reasoning for the decision, which effectively gives Texas’s questionable voter law a pass. But Justice Ginsburg and her clerks apparently ordered pizza and downed some Red Bull on Friday evening, pulling an all-nighter to compose a six-page dissent, which Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined. (Rick Hasen asks why Justice Stephen Breyer, the fourth liberal justice, did not sign on to the dissent; one strong possibility is that he was asleep.)
If Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters succeed in booting C.Y. Leung from power, the city’s unelected chief executive should consider coming to the United States. He might fit in well in the Republican Party. In an interview Monday with The New York Times and other foreign newspapers, Leung explained that Beijing cannot permit the direct election of Hong Kong’s leaders because doing so would empower “the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.” Leung instead defended the current plan to have a committee of roughly 1,200 eminent citizens vet potential contenders because doing so, in the Times’ words, “would insulate candidates from popular pressure to create a welfare state, and would allow the city government to follow more business-friendly policies.” If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Leung’s views about the proper relationship between democracy and economic policy represent a more extreme version of the views supported by many in today’s GOP.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, there was widespread concern about a slew of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans. But those fears mostly weren’t borne out. Courts blocked several of the worst moves before election day. And record African-American turnout suggested the assault on voting might even have backfired by firing up minority voters. But Republicans didn’t ease off on the push to make voting harder. If anything, they doubled down. And this time around, they’ve had a lot more success as several voting restrictions are now in effect for the first time in a major election. That’s likely to help the GOP this fall. But voting rights advocates say the bigger lesson is that current laws protecting access to the ballot just aren’t strong enough. “This is a clear example of the need for additional federal protections,” said Myrna Perez, a top lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, and one of the attorneys who argued against the Texas voter ID law, which was approved for the election by the U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday morning. That decision—which came just two days before early voting kicks off in the Lone Star State—means most of the statewide voting restrictions that in recent weeks were the subject of court fights will be in place when voters go to the polls. In addition to the Texas law—green-lighted despite a federal judge’s ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minorities—North Carolina’s sweeping voting law and Ohio’s cuts to early voting will also be in effect.
Editorials: Age of candidacy laws should be abolished: Why 18 year olds should be able to run for public office. | Osita Nwanevu/Slate
In January, state Sen. Linda Lopez of Arizona retired after 13 years in the legislature. Before announcing her retirement, Lopez looked for a candidate to endorse to fill her vacancy. She soon settled on Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a friend and a board member of Tuscon’s Sunnyside Unified School District. He agreed and began gathering support to run for office. A win seemed likely. There was just one problem. Hernandez was 24. Arizona law requires legislators to be at least 25 years old. But Hernandez initially hoped he could run because he would turn 25 just 13 days after being sworn in. It wouldn’t have been unprecedented. Young federal and state legislators-to-be have found ways to work around age of candidacy laws for almost as long as the laws have existed. Back in 1806, antebellum statesman Henry Clay was appointed to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29 and reached the Senate’s age of eligibility, 30, more than three months after being sworn in. No one seemed to mind. Hernandez wasn’t so lucky. As he found out, Arizona state law requires candidates to sign an affidavit proving that they will be eligible for the office they seek on Election Day, barring him from running altogether. The law was clear: 24-year-old Hernandez was unqualified to serve in the state Senate this year. But a 25-year-old Hernandez would have been fine.
It sounded like a good idea at the time: modernizing elections with touch-screen voting and instant tabulation. Enough with the punch cards and the ink dots, and enough with the endless waits for election results when helicopters carrying paper ballots from far-flung precincts are grounded due to fog. Why should people who do their shopping and banking online be stuck in the dark ages when they vote? But early electronic voting systems proved vulnerable to error. And worries about fraud persisted. Even absent verifiable evidence that election results were changed by hackers or by politically motivated voting-machine makers, the mere belief that such meddling was possible was enough to undermine confidence in elections. So there is some comfort in the fact that the consulting contract adopted this week by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors calls for a modernized system based on some very old-school elements. The proposal emerged after careful vetting from an advisory panel that included election experts and voting rights advocates.
Envisioning a future that would make the founding fathers proud, Los Angeles County is investing $13.6 million to revolutionize its voting system and possibly set the standard for the rest of the country, too. After decades of putting up with the clunky InkaVote and its even clunkier predecessors — Votomatic punch cards, anyone? — the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to develop a prototype with a touch screen and other high-tech innovations designed to serve the different needs of the county’s nearly 5 million registered voters. Barring any serious glitches, the new “ballot marking machine” will be field tested in 2017 and mass produced in 2018, in time for the gubernatorial election. “If this works well in L.A. County, it could be a game changer for the nation,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan organization that advocates election accuracy, transparency and verifiability. Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan said the machine’s engineering specifications, intellectual property and functional prototypes would be nonproprietary and remain in the public domain. “From the beginning, we’ve adopted the principle of doing this in a very transparent manner so other jurisdictions can take advantage of the data,” he said. The project’s first priority is to upgrade the county’s voting system but Logan added, “If we can do that in a way that is transferrable to other jurisdictions, that can advance voting systems across the country, it would be icing on the cake.”
Editorials: Does Botswana deserve its reputation as a stable democracy? | Amy Poteete/The Washington Post
Botswana has a reputation for political stability, democracy, sound economic management and good governance. This opinion is widely shared — by foreign governments, international financial institutions, organizations such as Freedom House and Transparency International, and even academics. Developments in the run-up to the Oct. 24 elections have revealed a significant gap between Botswana’s reputation and reality. The campaign took a tasty turn at the end of July, when charismatic opposition politician Gomolemo Motswaledi died in a suspicious automobile accident. In September, another opposition politician was abandoned for dead in a ditch but survived; he claims to have been kidnapped and tortured by agents of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services. Other opposition politicians and activists complain about threatening phone calls and being followed. Some have been attacked but got away while others have moved to protect themselves.
LIKE voters in most democracies, Brazilians pay little heed to foreign policy when choosing leaders. Yet the presidential election on October 26th matters not just to Brazil but to the region. Over the past two decades Latin America’s giant has overcome its introversion and wielded growing influence in its backyard. And on foreign policy, as on economics, there is a clear gap between President Dilma Rousseff of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT), who wants a second term, and her rival, Aécio Neves, of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB). Brazil’s greater assertiveness began under Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB in the 1990s and continued under the PT’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president in 2003-10. Both gave importance to the Mercosur trade block (founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), to South America and to ties with Africa and Asia. Both had reservations about a 34-country Free-Trade Area of the Americas, a plan that Lula helped to kill. But there were differences, too, partly because of Brazil’s changing circumstances. Lula put far more stress on “south-south” ties and on the BRICs grouping (linking Brazil to Russia, India, China and later South Africa). In Latin America he emphasised “political co-operation”. Relations with the United States were cordial but distant, especially after Lula tried brokering a nuclear deal with Iran which the White House opposed.
Editorials: How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in | Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times
The voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning? A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they’re just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires “falls overwhelmingly on minorities.” In other words, the answer is yes. The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized. In 2000, four states–Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and North Dakota–had enacted ID laws, none of them photo-based; they aimed to clarify voting rules, part of a trend that led to the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2002. At the time, the idea of straightening out confusing differences in voting rules was noncontroversial: “why would any member of Congress oppose helping Americans vote?” the authors ask. The atmosphere soon changed. In 2001, only 14 states required identification to vote, of which only four specified photo IDs; by 2014, 34 states had ID laws, including 17 photo ID laws. In 2011 alone, six states added a photo ID requirement.
You’d think the world’s oldest democracy would be constantly working to make sure that as many people as possible vote in elections such as the one two weeks from today, which will decide who runs everything from city governments to Congress. Instead, what’s clear in the countdown to Nov. 4 are the ways a nation built on the proposition that the vote is the great equalizer limits the number of people who actually go to the polls. Too much of this is deliberate. Republican legislatures have enacted all sorts of thinly disguised ways to suppress the vote of people who don’t typically vote GOP, including minorities, the poor, the elderly and college students. Ohio and North Carolina have cut back early voting, for example, making it tougher for working people to vote. The most offensive restrictions, though, are tough photo ID requirements, which have spread to at least 16 Republican-dominated states — a number that fluctuates as courts strike down or uphold the laws. On Saturday, the Supreme Court upheld the Texas ID law, widely regarded as the nation’s most punitive.