Editorials: Eric Holder’s Voting Rights Legacy | Ari Berman/The Nation

When Eric Holder took over the Department of Justice, the Civil Rights Division, known as the crown jewel of the agency, was in shambles. Conservative political appointees in the Bush administration had forced out well-respected section chiefs. Longtime career lawyers left in droves, replaced by partisan hacks. Civil rights enforcement was virtually non-existent. Holder made restoring the credibility of the Civil Rights Division a leading cause. “In the last eight years, vital federal laws designed to protect rights in the workplace, the housing market, and the voting booth have languished,” he said at his confirmation hearing. “Improper political hiring has undermined this important mission. That must change. And I intend to make this a priority as attorney general.” Enforcing the Voting Rights Act became a key priority for Holder’s Justice Department. In 2012, it successfully challenged Texas’s voter ID law, South Carolina’s voter ID law, and Florida’s cutbacks to early voting under the VRA.

Editorials: The GOP’s war on voter registration | Jamelle Bouie/Chicago Tribune

As holidays go, National Voter Registration Day is self-explanatory. Created in 2012 by the League of Women Voters, it’s a day in September when volunteers work to register voters and increase participation. In the last two years, the effort helped add 350,000 people to the voter rolls, and this year more than 2,000 groups have organized events to mark the occasion and repeat the success. In Atlanta, for example, the NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and the American Legal Advocacy Center of Georgia gathered at the State Capitol to host a mass registration event. Likewise, in Ohio, the state Democratic Party held registration events in Cincinnati and Columbus, by way of a statewide bus tour. And on a more national note, the Democratic National Committee issued a message in support of National Voter Registration Day. The Republican Party has not responded with similar enthusiasm.

Editorials: Room for ballot error? | The Wichita Eagle

Though much of the uncertainty about the U.S. Senate race stems from Democrat Chad Taylor’s last-minute decision to withdraw, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his appointed county election commissioners must ensure there will be no doubt about the final tally in that or other contests. Confidence already is wobbly, including in Sedgwick County.

Some reasons for worry:

▪ Kobach ordered Friday that more than 500 ballots be mailed by the next day, as per federal law, to overseas civilians and military personnel. But he included a disclaimer that new ballots would be printed if the courts agreed with his position that Democrats must name a replacement for Taylor.

That scenario looked less likely Tuesday; the Kansas Supreme Court ordered that the voter’s lawsuit that could lead to such a ruling be transferred to Shawnee County District Court for what could be time-consuming fact-finding.

Editorials: Long Lines at Minority Polling Places | New York Times

Some of the longest lines on Election Day occur at polling places in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. A new report says that’s not a coincidence. In the three states with the longest lines in 2012, precincts in minority neighborhoods were systematically deprived of the resources they needed to make voting operate smoothly — specifically, voting machines and poll workers, according to the report by the Brennan Center for Justice. The report’s data show the growing need for federal supervision of voting rights, though ensuring supervision is harder than ever since the Supreme Court removed the teeth from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last year. The report looked at Maryland, South Carolina and Florida, where many voters waited for hours to cast a vote in the 2012 presidential election. In all three, minority precincts were more likely to have had long lines. In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest waits had more than twice the percentage of black registered voters, on average, than the rest of the state.

Editorials: I’m 16. Let me vote | Emma Jacobs/The Guardian

There were winners and losers in the Scottish referendum. Alex Salmond may have led the losers but 16- and 17-year-olds took gold. The yes supporters may have been bitterly disappointed by the result, but first-time voters for both sides relished the opportunity to flex their electoral muscle. That’s why, as an English 16-year-old, I am left wondering why I can’t have a vote in the next general election in May 2015. Thankfully, change may be in the air. At this year’s Labour conference Ed Miliband said “It’s time to hear the voice of young people in our politics” and that he needs the “hope, energy [and] vitality” associated with our youth. It’s good to hear a political leader calling out to my generation – and not just hustling for votes. At my age I can buy a lottery ticket, have sex, drive a moped and leave school. So why am I responsible enough to have a baby or win the lottery, but not old enough to vote? The social contract that governs our society says we should have no rights without responsibilities, but we teenagers have lots of responsibilities without the precious right to vote.

Editorials: Is D.C. Statehood a Matter of Civil Rights? | Andrew Giambrone/The Atlantic

“No taxation without representation” has been a cliché of American politics almost since the nation’s founding, but for citizens of Washington, D.C., those words have been anything but a guarantee. Last week, a Senate committee held a hearing on the unlikely possibility of D.C. statehood. In attendance were Senators Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat, and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, Mayor Vincent Gray, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting delegate for the House of Representatives. Along with nine panelists, they were there to discuss the New Columbia Admission Act, a bill that would incorporate the lion’s share of D.C. as the 51st state in the Union, preserve a federal enclave of monuments and buildings within the new state, and grant the district’s nearly 650,000 residents full representation in Congress. Currently, citizens of the nation’s capital are denied voting equality at the congressional level and significant autonomy locally. This set-up makes D.C. an anomaly among American municipalities and arguably relegates its residents to second-class citizens. “In the 21st century, Congress simply cannot ask our residents to continue to be voyeurs of democracy, as Congress votes on matters that affect them—how much in federal taxes they must pay, whether their sons and daughters will go to war, and even their local budget and laws—without the vote in the House and Senate required for consent of the governed.” Norton said in a prepared statement.

Editorials: Preserving the right to vote in the wake of Wisconsin’s voter ID law | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

As we inch forward to the 119th anniversary of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech, where “in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress,” Wisconsin, not to mention the entire nation, is more separated than ever — like the fingers in a hand. From Ferguson, Mo., to Milwaukee and throughout all these United States, African-Americans perceive themselves to be targets of unfair treatment by our institutions. There are many issues that the African-American community must address from within (such as crime and poverty), but that cause is decidedly not helped by laws whose effect, if not intent, is to marginalize African-Americans from the political process and, thus, society. One such case, out of many, is the law requiring approved photo ID for participation in elections. The recent federal appeals court ruling on voter ID is unhelpful to Wisconsin’s poor who are disproportionately African-Americans, Latinos, women, students and the very elderly. It is also shameful to a nation that prides itself on liberty, equality and justice for all. Simply put, the courts in the U.S. have become overly politicized, as illustrated by the recent ruling by a three-judge panel, all appointed by GOP presidents, who rendered a decision that is advantageous to a governor in a tight gubernatorial campaign. We cannot say for certain that this factor weighed on the court; however, the haste in which the law just prior to an election will be executed is cause for concern.

Editorials: Open Source Fix For US Voting System? | InformationWeek

The last surge of investment in voting technology happened a decade ago. Since then the regulatory apparatus for election reform has broken down, and voting machines themselves are starting to fail as well. Every election shines attention on a different bit of dysfunction, from long lines at polling places to cyber security risks. Open source to the rescue? Maybe, although probably not in time to have much impact on the 2016 election. Silicon Valley’s Open Source Election Technology Foundation (OSET) is methodically chipping away at the problem, building credibility with software for voter registration and election-night reporting while also working on the more challenging problems of improving the casting and counting of votes. Meanwhile, a few brave — and impatient — county election officials are embarking on their own voting technology design and development projects, which may or may not intersect with OSET’s work. The bottom-line goal of these initiatives is the same: to move away from reliance on proprietary technology while boosting transparency and leaving a reliable audit trail — making it clear that the victor in any contest really is the candidate who won the most votes.

Editorials: Critics of D.C. statehood cite specious objections, such as Grave Snowplow Threat | Robert McCartney/The Washington Post

Why shouldn’t the District become a state? Opponents at Monday’s U.S. Senate hearing cited the grave threat that the city might gain full authority over its snowplows. You read that right. According to this objection, a self-governing District might intimidate Congress through its control of basic services for Capitol Hill. Statehood “would make the federal government dependent on an independent state, New Columbia, for everything from electrical power to water, sewers, snow removal, police and fire protection,” Roger Pilon, a constitutional scholar for the libertarian Cato Institute, testified. In Pilon’s defense, his argument is rooted in James Madison’s long-ago desire to prevent any individual state from unduly influencing Congress. But that concern is completely outdated.

Editorials: Electoral Chaos in Wisconsin | New York Times

It is difficult to understand the reasoning of the federal appeals court panel that permitted Wisconsin officials to enforce a controversial voter ID lawless than two months before Election Day. That’s partly because the panel’sfive-paragraph order, issued late Friday only hours after oral arguments, offered the barest rationale for lifting the stay that Judge Lynn Adelman of the federal district court had placed on the law in April. Judge Adelman issued a remarkably thorough 70-page opinion finding that the law violated both the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution by making voting harder for a substantial number of Wisconsinites — disproportionately those who are minority and poorer, and who tend to vote Democratic. (The law, passed in 2011 by a Republican-controlled Legislature but since tied up in lawsuits, requires prospective voters to present a government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport.)

Editorials: ‘A Big, Big Mistake’ in Voter ID Case | Jesse Wegman/New York TImes

Wisconsin officials say they plan to enforce the state’s controversial voter-ID law less than two months before the 2014 midterm elections, after the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit lifted a stay on the law on Friday afternoon. In April, a federal trial judge invalidated the law, finding that it would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters — largely poorer and minority citizens who tend to vote Democratic . The Republican-dominated legislature claimed the law was necessary to stop in-person voter fraud, but the judge found that to be virtually nonexistent. In July, the state’s supreme court revised the procedures for getting a photo ID to make it easier for those who could not afford one, or had trouble tracking down the necessary underlying documents, such as a birth certificate.

Editorials: America is a democracy. So why do we make it hard for certain people to vote? | Steven W Thrasher/The Guardian

Since I first registered to vote on my 18th birthday, I haven’t missed voting in a single election that I can remember. My feat has been nothing short of a pain in the ass, given that I have moved 14 times in the 19 years since. This week, I almost failed to vote for the first time: I had moved – again – in the gap between the board of elections deadline to change my address and the New York state primary election. I did try to update my voter registration online, but didn’t receive a confirmation. I was confused if I was eligible to vote where I now live, or at the last address where I had been registered. We don’t have same-day registration here in New York, so I steeled myself against the guilt and decided not to bother. But the guilt set in anyway: I saw on Facebook how many of my friends had voted; I felt the ghosts of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather prepare to raise up from the grave and beat my black behind for giving up so easily when they’d fought much harder challenges – like the Klan – to exercise their right to vote. So I went down to what should be my precinct (and will be, once the change of address takes effect). My name wasn’t on the rolls, but because I was already a registered voter, I was allowed to fill out a provisional ballot. It wasn’t an easy process to navigate, it took a lot of time, and my vote may not even be counted.

Editorials: The voting rights threat on November ballots | Billings Gazette

In the November 2012 election, 329 Yellowstone County residents who had moved since they last registered to vote were able to cast ballots thanks to Montana’s Election Day registration law. Additionally, 471 eligible Yellowstone County voters registered for the first time in Montana and voted because state law provides for Election Day registration. That’s 800 voters in one county at one election using Election Day registration. Many of these folks mistakenly thought they had already registered, just forgot to change their address or understood that they had registered when they renewed their driver’s licenses. This year’s November ballot includes a legislative referendum that would end Election Day voter registration. This referendum would infringe Montanans’ right to vote. If Legislative Referendum 126 had been the law in November 2012, 800 Yellowstone County residents would have been denied their vote.

Editorials: Photo voter ID bill should stay marooned in limbo: editorial | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ohio House Republicans should shun a bid to require voters to provide a photo ID to cast a ballot, a “solution” in search of an imaginary “problem.” The real aim is to hold down voting by the urban poor, typically Democratic. At issue is House Bill 269, sponsored by Rep. John Becker, a suburban Cincinnati Republican. Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican — and, be it remembered, indisputably conservative — has kept the Becker bill in limbo. So a “discharge petition,” to force a House vote on HB 269, is floating around the Statehouse. If 50 of the House’s 99 members sign it, Batchelder would have to call a vote on Becker’s bill.

Editorials: Voter ID on Trial in Texas | New York Times

In April, a federal judge in Wisconsin invalidated that state’s voter-identification law, finding that it would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in a phony attempt to prevent a problem — in-person voter fraud — that does not exist. Last week, the spotlight turned to the federal court in Corpus Christi, where the Justice Department and several advocacy groups are fighting Texas’ absurdly strict voter-ID law. Passed in 2011 by the Republican-dominated Legislature, the law accepts as proof of identity a concealed-weapon permit but not a student ID card. Laws like these used to be blocked by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that the federal government preapprove any voting rules enacted by states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices. But in a destructive ruling last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 as unconstitutional. Only hours after that ruling, Texas resurrected its voter-ID law, which had been stopped by Section 5.

Editorials: Republicans should want more African Americans to vote. It’s the only way they can keep winning in the south | George Chidi/The Guardian

If I were a vote-scrounging Republican politician and I wanted to hustle up some black people’s votes, I would think it generally sound policy not to tell them that they’re too stupid to deserve a vote. State senator Fran Millar, a Republican from the affluent, majority-white Dunwoody section of majority-black DeKalb County here in Georgia, apparently doesn’t feel the same way. In a public Facebook post, he took exception to a plan by county CEO Lee May to open up an extra early-voting site in a South DeKalb mall “dominated by African American shoppers and … near several large African American mega churches”. “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters,” he added in a comment to his post. “If you don’t believe this is an efort [sic] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist. This is a partisan stunt and I hope it can be stopped.” Well, yes. It is a partisan move. It shouldn’t be. The race of voters shouldn’t be a partisan predictor in an ideal world. But here in Georgia, the contests for governor and a US Senate seat are too close to call – and may turn on whether the Democrats can win as much as 30% of the white vote. Seven out of 10 white voters, minimum, are Republicans, and 90% of black voters are Democrats. Here, all politics are racial politics – and the contests are only close because the number of black and Latino voters in the state has grown so quickly.

Editorials: Analysis shows Voter ID laws could make fraud worse and disenfranchise poor and minority voters. | Dahlia Lithwick/Slate

Texas’ voter ID law went on federal trial last week in Corpus Christi.* Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2011, and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012. The law was blocked by a federal court later that year, but reinstated after the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. This is a big test of whether Section 2 of that act, which bars racial discrimination in voting, has any teeth. To vote in Texas, registered voters must now present one of the following: a driver’s license or state ID card, a license to carry a concealed gun, a U.S. military ID card with a photo, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo, a U.S. passport, or a state election certificate (a document you can obtain if you don’t have any other accepted form of ID). Student photo IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses are not permitted. The Department of Justice, the NAACP, and various other voting and civil rights groups are challenging the law, claiming that up to 787,000 registered Texas voters lack any acceptable form of ID, and that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be disenfranchised by the law than whites. A federal court in Wisconsin struck down a similar voter ID measure this year, finding that it violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Until recently, most of the heavy lifting in voting rights challenges was done by Section 5—the part of the Voting Rights Act requiring designated states, counties, and municipalities with a history of discriminatory election practices to obtain federal “preclearance” before making changes to their voting laws. But that provision was struck down in June 2013 when the Supreme Court determined that the preclearance system was outdated and burdensome on the covered jurisdictions. There’s a growing sense that the laws achieve nothing good and possibly do something very bad.

Editorials: Fiji Elections: For Once Race Is Not An Issue | Eurasia Review

Fiji Islands – where ethnic Indians comprise about 37 percent of its 840,000 population spread of 110 inhabited islands – is in election mode with catchy radio jingles, glossy banners and other paraphernalia of campaigning on display. The general election on Sep 17 is expected to bring an end to the eight-year-long military government in the South Pacific island nation. The radio jingles are to help people memorize numbers as the single ballot for the entire country will carry no names, only numbers to identify the candidates. Fiji, which has had three elected governments overthrown by armed men in as many decades, is holding an election after eight years with a new and distinctive voting system under a new constitution promulgated by the military regime headed by Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama. Race or ethnicity has been a pivotal aspect of the cultural, political and economic life in Fiji’s complex society. But race will not play a role in the election process this time. The new constitution has done away with race-based electoral rolls, race-based seat quotas and some special privileges of the indigenous Fijians. Under the new system, all Fiji citizens are now called “Fijians”, irrespective of their origin. Indigenous Fijians form 56 percent of Fiji’s population while people of Indian origin account for 37 percent. Political rivalry between the two groups led to two elected governments being overthrown by radical indigenous Fijians, irked over the loss of political power to what were perceived as Indian dominated governments. The 2006 coup was not racially motivated.

Editorials: Fiji’s election: Fair and free? | The Interpreter

On 17 September, Fiji goes to the polls for the first time in eight years. This is a notable step forward given that, when I spoke to people in Suva a year ago, they were still phrasing things in terms of ‘IF the election happens’. With the first pre-polling stations having opened a few days ago, that ‘if’ has become a very definite and proximate ‘when’. Assurances have been given both by Rear Admiral Bainimarama and by Brigadier-General Tikoitoga, the new commander of the Fijian military, that the results of the election will be respected. If these promises can be taken on faith then the question is not if Fiji will return to democracy, but how well the transition will be managed. The critics of the Bainimarama Government have always demanded elections for Fiji, but also that those elections should be free and fair. In that regard Fiji’s outlook is mixed. Prominent experts, including the Deputy Head of the EU delegation to the Pacific, believe that the results on the polling day will reasonably reflect the will of the people. As far as the vote itself goes, that is likely to be true. Despite reports of at least one case of voters being defrauded, widespread blunt-force cheating probably won’t be an issue. The ballot boxes aren’t likely to be stuffed, there is no evidence that voters have been disenfranchised and I would not expect to see intimidation at polling stations. Fijian citizens who cast their vote can feel safe that it will go to whomever they select on the ballot paper and that they will be able to make their choice safely. So far, so good. By world standards of elections after prolonged military rule, Fiji is doing well.

Editorials: Blaming Gerrymandering Has Its Limits, as Pennsylvania Shows | Nate Cohn/New York Times

There is no question that Republicans have a huge advantage in the House. But there is a big debate about whether it’s because of partisan gerrymandering or because Democrats are gerrymandering themselves into urban, heavily Democratic districts. One reason the debate continues, despite a near consensus among political scientists, is because the “wasted votes” phenomenon is abstract and hard to illustrate. In a Sunday Review article in The Times, I argued that the Democratic problem was mainly because of the distribution of their voters, not because of partisan gerrymandering, but I didn’t have a chance to include one of my favorite illustrations of the Democratic problem: Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a state where Mr. Obama won by a clear margin but lost a majority of the state’s congressional districts. The state was heavily gerrymandered by Republicans, which lets them squeeze out a few extra districts. But the Republicans probably would have still had an advantage on a neutral map.

Editorials: Pakistan’s democracy on the rocks | openDemocracy

Just when many thought Pakistan was finally on the trajectory towards a functioning democratic system, unrest broke out in a number of cities and provided a stark reminder just how fragile the country’s politics remain. This whole situation not only threatens democracy in South Asia’s second most populous country but also draws attention and resources from sustainable development and humanitarian challenges. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan accuses the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, ofrigging the May 2013 elections and robbing him of victory, and is calling for him to stand down. All sorts ofallegations and rumours are being thrown into the mix – has Khan been plotting this for months in collaboration with the disgruntled army? Is the army using Khan as a pawn to oust a government that is diminishing the role of the army in politics? Who knows? Khan’s actions make one thing clear: that he is willing to jeopardise Pakistan’s burgeoning political stability.

Editorials: Early Voting in Ohio, Despite Republican Objections | David Firestone/New York Times

A federal judge’s decision this morning to allow early voting in Ohio is a big victory for those who think voting should be easier and more accessible. It was also a remarkable decision in purely human terms, showing a deeply compassionate understanding of the lives of the low-income people who have been the most harmed by Republican efforts to put barriers around the ballot box. In February, Ohio Republicans passed a law cutting early voting from 35 to 28 days, and eliminating the week in which residents could register and vote at the same time, known as the “Golden Week.” In blocking that law today, federal District Judge Peter Economus described in detail the people “struggling on the margins of society” who have been the biggest users of early voting and the Golden Week since 2008.

Editorials: Constitution Check: Who decides who gets to vote? | Lyle Denniston/Constitution Daily

One of the gestures toward states’ rights that the Founders made in writing the Constitution was to give the states a primary role in deciding who gets to vote – not only in state and local elections, but also in federal elections. But, to protect national interests of the new government they were setting up, the Founders also gave Congress a veto power in this area. It has never been quite clear how the two provisions were supposed to work together, instead of in conflict, and that is at the heart of a new controversy over who controls the right to vote. The controversy arises at the intersection of two recent trends in the management of elections. First, a number of states, out of a fear of voter fraud (especially, a suspicion that non-citizens who are illegally in this country are voting), have been imposing tight new ID requirements to ensure that only citizens get to vote. Second, Congress and a federal election management agency have been proceeding, under a 1993 law, to try to ensure that barriers to registration are eased so that more people get to go to the polls. Those contrasting trends have been made more difficult to sort out, as a constitutional matter, because the Supreme Court in a major ruling last year gave guidance that points in two directions: buttressing federal power to try to make registration requirements uniform, but virtually inviting states to sue to try to get their way in enforcing their own registration rules.

Editorials: Why the GOP is so obsessed with voter fraud | Salon

It is rare for a politician to publicly deride efforts to boost voter turnout. It is seen as a taboo in a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals. Yet, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week slammed efforts to simplify voter registration. Referring to Illinois joining other states — including many Republican-led ones — in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.” Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July. Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite the Illinois State Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Referring to the same-day voter initiative, Christie said Quinn “will try every trick in the book,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Christie said the program is designed to be a major “obstacle” for the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates. The trouble with such rhetoric – beyond its anti-democratic themes — is its absurd assertions about partisan motives. After all, many of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors.

Editorials: In Afghanistan, Time for Compromise | New York Times

Having spent several weeks auditing ballots in Afghanistan’s fraud-plagued presidential vote, election officials there are expected to declare a winner within days. If the two candidates vying for the post fail to reach a power-sharing deal beforehand, the announcement could easily kick off a wave of unrest that would all but guarantee a catastrophic wind-down to America’s longest war. The window of opportunity to strike a compromise is narrowing dangerously. Without a new government in place, the Obama administration may well pull back on plans to keep a military contingent in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and without that force, the international community will cease bankrolling the impoverished nation. Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, not without reason, is fighting the outcome of an election in which his rival, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, is widely expected to be declared the winner. Western officials say that the audit of millions of ballots cast on June 14 has made clear that the scope and sophistication of fraud was staggering even for Afghan standards.

Editorials: The Elections Cop Invites Mischief | New York Times

The country’s increasingly lawless political system needs a traffic cop to set clear rules and rein in violators who think nothing of breaking the spending limits. That’s supposed to be the job of the Federal Election Commission, but the agency has made a travesty of its mission, encouraging bad behavior rather than stopping it. There are six members of the commission, three from each party, with four votes required to take any significant action. In 1975, the agency’s architects in Congress might have had reason to believe that equal division would encourage nonpartisan thinking. But in the current age of outright hostility between right and left, the commission is unable to get four votes for any issue of importance. As Nicholas Confessore reported last week in The Times, those deadlocks mean more than simple paralysis; Republican commissioners are telling violators that a tie vote actually gives them permission to push past the old limits on spending and disclosure.

Editorials: The Texas two-step and the Voting Rights Act | Scott Bomboy/Constitution Daily

The Justice Department and the state of Texas are tangling in two separate court cases that could determine how much of the Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. Last year, the United States Supreme Court moved to narrow the scope of the historic act, passed in 1965 as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. The Act in its original form guaranteed the voting rights of minorities under the 14th and 15th Amendments, including a provision called Section 5 that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal government approval before changing their election laws. In 2013, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder that the formula used to decide which states had historically discriminated against voters was unconstitutional, and it asked Congress to devise a new coverage formula. The ruling effectively allowed nine states (mostly in the South) to change their election laws without federal approval, since there was little expectation that Congress could agree on a new coverage formula in the near future. But the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, vowed to use other parts of the Voting Rights Act to press its case where it believed voter discrimination existed. In Texas, the Justice Department is pursuing two federal court actions: one in San Antonio and the other in Corpus Christi.

Editorials: Hong Kong’s Democracy Dilemma | Margaret Ng/New York Times

On Sunday the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress issued restrictive guidelines for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Shorn of its technical details, the proposal in effect gives Beijing the means to control who could run for the top office in Hong Kong: Voters would get to cast a ballot, but only for one of just a handful of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government. “By endorsing this framework,” Cheung Man-kwong, a veteran politician of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, wrote, “China has in truth and in substance reneged on her promise to give Hong Kong universal suffrage.” Three decades ago, when Beijing and the British government, which was in charge of Hong Kong then, were negotiating the terms of the territory’s handover back to China, Mr. Cheung was among those who supported “reunification” on the understanding that Hong Kong would eventually acquire a fully democratic system.

Editorials: Don’t let Arizona and Kansas get away with potentially discriminatory voter registration rules | Los Angeles Times

Arizona, which has become infamous for its hostility toward immigrants who are in the country illegally, lost an important case in the U.S. Supreme Court last year when the justices ruled that the state couldn’t require proof of U.S. citizenship as part of the registration process for voting in elections for Congress. The 7-2 decision said that, where federal elections were concerned, the state had to “accept and use” a federal registration form on which an applicant states under penalty of perjury that he or she is a citizen without having to provide a passport or other documentation. Congress, which has the power under the Constitution to override state rules for congressional elections, clearly intended to make voting easier, not harder. The decision was good policy as well as good law because there is little evidence that immigrants who are in the country illegally are trying to register to vote in meaningful numbers. On the other hand, a requirement to supply documentation could keep many citizens — immigrants and otherwise — from exercising the franchise. Like efforts to require a photo ID at polling places, a requirement of proof of citizenship disproportionately affects minorities and the poor.

Editorials: Prizes for Voting? Tackling Turnout in American Politics | John Wilson/Article 3

In the 2012 presidential election, over 125 million votes were cast for one of two presidential candidates. President Obama was reelected with 51% of the popular vote (a little over 65 million votes). And yet in that election, only 57.5 percent of eligible citizens cast a ballot. We should take a second to note that there are countries with so called “compulsory voting” where citizens are required vote. According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, an advocacy group for electoral reform, countries with mandatory voting, such as Australia, have achieved close to 90% voter turnout in recent years. If only 57.5 percent of eligible voters vote in a presidential election year, you can imagine what happens at the midterms (like the one we will have in November). For context, turnout for the last five midterm elections has hovered between 39 and 42 percent. So despite how crucially important our right to vote is in this country, somewhere between 42 percent and 61 percent of the eligible population decides not to vote in a given election year. The problem with this low voter turnout is that it can have a major impact on the types of candidates that succeed. We have talked before about the polarization of American politics into two more extreme parties unable that are unwilling to compromise. While voter turnout isn’t entirely to blame for this, you can see how if only the most enthusiastic (and usually extreme) voters turn out to vote for candidates, its more likely that those extreme candidates win primaries and general elections.