Editorials: How Washington starves its election watchdog | Center for Public Integrity

Just after the federal government shut down Oct. 1, and one of the government’s more dysfunctional agencies stopped functioning altogether, Chinese hackers picked their moment to attack. They waylaid the Federal Election Commission’s networks. They crashed computer systems that publicly disclose how billions of dollars are raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees. As minutes turned to hours, the FEC found itself largely defenseless against what may be the worst act of sabotage in its 38-year history. The government had furloughed all 339 agency employees, save for the presidentially appointed commissioners, and not even one staffer had been deemed “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats” to federal property, the minimum measure for keeping someone on the job.

Editorials: Voting ruling nothing to celebrate | Wichita Eagle

If Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could claim a minor triumph in federal court Friday, there is nothing to celebrate about Kobach’s law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and the absurd roadblock it’s creating for thousands of would-be voters in Kansas. Rather than accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer invalidating Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement as also applying to Kansas, Kobach has continued to press the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to alter the federal voter-registration form to reflect both states’ requirements that those registering to vote provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship. The current federal form requires only that applicants sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, swearing they are citizens.

Editorials: Iowa voter fraud hunt seems much more buck than bang | Iowa City Press Citizen

Voting experts say that — because the penalties are so high and the payoff is so low — instances of real, intentional voter fraud are exceedingly rare. We agree that, when those few instances occur, the penalty should be severe enough to serve as a future deterrent against others taking such actions. But we don’t think the results of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schulz’s nearly 18-month and $150,000 investigation have proven that such cases are widespread enough to warrant his near obsession with ferreting out voter fraud. The Des Moines Register reports that, so far, the secretary of state’s partnership with the Division of Criminal Investigation has led to criminal charges in 16 cases. And of those 16 cases, five have resulted in guilty pleas, five have been dismissed and none have yet to go to trial.

Editorials: Fairfax shows transparency done right in Virginia Attorney General recount | Open Virginia Law

Earlier this year, Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey began making court opinions freely available on his office’s website, for which the Virginia Coalition for Open Government awarded Frey an open government award at its annual conference.  This week, the Fairfax County Electoral Board again has made Fairfax a model for transparency and open government. If you’re at all interested in Virginia state government lately, you know that the race to be the next Virginia Attorney General is not yet over.  Democrat Mark Herring was certified as the winner by a mere 165 votes out of the 2.2 million cast, but lawyers for Republican Mark Obenshain are vigorously prosecuting a recount in Richmond Circuit Court.  The actual recount is set to occur across the state next week. Fairfax, owing to its large portion of Virginia’s population and its critical support for Herring, has been a central focus on election night and since.  Notwithstanding the fact that two out of the three Fairfax Electoral Board members are Republican, including Twitter sensation Brian W. Schoeneman, unfounded conspiracy theories swirled online as Fairfax officials conducted the post-election canvass, identifying votes that helped Herring over the top.  (Vote corrections in Richmond, another locale where two out of three Board members are Republicans, actually gave Herring the lead, but Fairfax closed the gap significantly, was indispensable to Herring overall, and has been the focus of Republican election lawyers.)

Editorials: Absentee ballot suppression in Florida? | StAugustine.com

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner, set off political alarms and quick responses in late November when he ordered the state’s 67 supervisors of elections to stop taking absentee ballots at remote locations. Detzner is the chief elections adviser for Gov. Rick Scott. Detzner told elections officials not to “solicit return” of absentee ballots anywhere but an elections office or its official branches. Sen. Bill Nelson quickly came forward stating his concern that the new rule was an attempt at voter suppression. He told the press “This is so obvious that it’s making it harder to vote for the average folks, whether Republican or Democrat.” It has become conventional election wisdom during recent years that more votes generally translate into Democrat votes. A smaller election turnout generally favors Republicans.

Editorials: North Carolina Shows Why the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed | The Nation

A federal judge in Winston-Salem today set the schedule for a trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restrictions. There will be a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in July 2014 and a full trial a year later, in July 2015. This gives the plaintiffs challenging the law, which includes the Department of Justice, the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, a chance to block the bill’s worst provisions before the 2014 election. Earlier this year, in July 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law, which included strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the repeal of public financing of judicial elections and many more harsh and unnecessary anti-voting measures. These restrictions will impact millions of voters in the state across all races and demographic groups: in 2012, for example, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early, 152,000 used same-day voter registration, 138,000 voters lacked government-issued ID and 7,500 people cast an out-of-precinct provisional ballot. These four provisions alone will negatively affect nearly 3 million people who voted in 2012.

Editorials: Digital voting is a game changer but we have to get it right | The Conversation

The UK may be taking its first, tentative steps towards introducing online voting with the establishment of a Commission on Digital Democracy. As so many of our routine tasks are going digital, the shift towards virtual polls seems like a natural progression. However, there are many technical issues that need to be ironed out and the stakes are very high. John Bercow, Speaker in the UK House of Commons, established the commission with a view to looking at how technology can be used to aid the democratic working of parliament, including online voting. This team would do well to take a look at what has, and has not, worked elsewhere around the world. Electronic voting can take a number of forms, including tallying votes by computer, using electronic equipment in polling stations and voting over the internet from the voter’s own computer or mobile device. Voting by phone is already used in entertainment shows, though multiple voting is possible and result-fixing has been known to happen. Internet voting is also carried out for professional societies, student unions and other forms of election. It works well when cost and desire to increase turnout are important factors and where the likelihood of an attack on the election is considered to be low. If we were to start using e-voting systems for electing political representatives, we’d need to be absolutely sure of their trustworthiness. Computer systems, including e-voting systems, can go wrong accidentally through software bugs, they can be hacked, and they can be subverted by corrupt insiders. Systems used in elections have been the subject of criticism for all these reasons, resulting in some cases from their withdrawal.

Editorials: Florida elections supervisors need to battle to retain voting sites | Miami Herald

Yet another flap between state officials and Florida’s county election supervisors is in the news, raising new questions about the motives of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Are they committed to making it easier for all eligible Floridians to vote or is their real goal to make it more difficult? So wondered U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, before meeting with Tampa Bay area elections supervisors. “I just don’t understand why the state keeps making it harder for people to vote,” he said. Good question. First, the governor signed a bill in 2011 that restricted the hours for early voting, raising the ire of county supervisors. They warned of lengthy delays for voters during the 2012 presidential election. They were so right that some voters in South Florida stood in line for eight hours just to exercise their constitutional right. That’s unconscionable. Then-Monroe County Elections Supervisor Harry Sawyer famously fought Scott on the early-voting issue (losing when the federal government sided with the governor), becoming somewhat of a folk hero nationwide for those who believe in more opportunity to vote, not less.

Editorials: Honey, I Shrunk the Vote!: the implications of a reduction in the voting age | University Times

It has been decided that by the end of 2015 there will be a referendum in Ireland regarding lowering the voting age from 18 years of age to 16. The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) is in support of the proposed reduction in voting age. There are several reasons for the proposed reduction of voting age. The most persuasive of which I believe is that it will put youth issues on the political agenda. The NYCI suggests that “the involvement of more young people in Irish politics would … ensure issues affecting young people specifically would gain more prominence in the political arena because the people affected by those issues would be able to exercise their franchise to influence the policymaking process”. If the population between 16 and 18 years of age were added to the electorate, this youth block alone would account for 3.1% of the voting electorate (based on the population figures from the Census taken in 2011). This is a proportionately large amount of the electorate considering it only involves an age range of two years.

Editorials: The Year in Preview: Post-Preclearance Voter Protection | American Prospect

Anyone concerned about voting rights will remember 2013 as the year the Supreme Court neutered one of the strongest protections against voter suppression, the “preclearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had required that nine states (as well as dozens of counties) – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – all needed to abide by Section 5 preclearance requirements. Three counties in California, Five counties in Florida, three counties in New York, 40 counties in North Carolina, two counties in South Carolina, and two towns in Michigan also needed to have new election laws approved by the Department of Justice until last June. (as well as dozens of counties) with long histories of voter discrimination get any changes in election law approved by the Department of Justice or the D.C. District Court. This preclearance requirement was an invaluable civil-rights protection. It stopped many discriminatory elections laws, including gerrymandered maps and photo-ID requirements, like those in Texas and South Carolina.

Editorials: Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America | Jotaka L. Eaddy/Huffington Post

Today, nearly 4.4 million people in America have families, own homes and have even started their own businesses. They are pursuing the American Dream with one exception — they cannot vote. Felony conviction laws are blocking them from the ballot box. This barrier to full participation in our country’s democracy underscores why felony disenfranchisement is as much an international issue as incarceration rates and prison reform. On December 10th — Human Rights Day — we must continue to make this injustice visible. It is no secret that the U.S. is home to more than 2.4 million prisoners, surpassing countries like Russia, Brazil, and South Africa combined. The data becomes even more jarring when broken down by race. Blacks, who constitute roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 38 percent of the prison population by state. Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, account for 21 percent of the state prison population. Whites, who account for about 78 percent of the country’s population, only make up 35 percent of the prison population.

Editorials: It’s time for Guam Election Commission to update election equipment, policies | Pacific Daily News

With the 2014 elections fast approaching, it’s imperative that the Guam Election Commission moves with urgency to address its outdated equipment. The 2012 elections made it clear that the island’s current tabulating machines are old and falling apart. During the 2012 General Election, the Election Commission had problems with at least three of its four tabulators. Those problems drew attention to the age of the machines. The four tabulators are based on technology from the 1980s. It’s time for the Election Commission to move forward with its primary focus on updating equipment and technology. GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan said the commission is expecting to announce an invitation for bids for new tabulators by next month. Pangelinan and the commission need to ensure that these new tabulators fit the needs of our community and come with the appropriate support and regular maintenance.

Editorials: The Register’s Editorial: Should Iowa expand the use of runoff voting? | Shreveport Times

When voters in Ward 1 on Des Moines’ northwest side went to the polls last Tuesday, they didn’t have to wait in line long. Only 2,960 people cast ballots in the runoff election. The total number of participants was less than 1 in 10 registered voters in the ward. Some might say this is a good argument for getting rid of the runoff election as a way to decide races where none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote. But the turnout was only 1,200 fewer than the 4,168 who showed up four weeks earlier in the general election when five candidates were on the ballot. The runoff is one of two options most Iowa cities can use to elect council members and mayors under state law. The other option is to hold a primary election. Some cities in the United States — including Minneapolis — have adopted the so-called instant runoff system. In that system, voters mark not just their top pick. They also rank their second choice, third choice and so on, depending on how many names are on the ballot. The votes cast for the candidates with the fewest votes are reallocated until a candidate accumulates more than 50 percent.

Editorials: Stop restricting Florida voting rights | Miami Herald

Yet another flap between state officials and Florida’s county election supervisors is in the news, raising new questions about the motives of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Are they committed to making it easier for all eligible Floridians to vote or is their real goal to make it more difficult? So wondered U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, before meeting with Tampa Bay area elections supervisors on Tuesday. “I just don’t understand why the state keeps making it harder for people to vote,” he said. Good question. First, the governor signed a bill in 2011 that restricted the hours for early voting, raising the ire of county supervisors. They warned of lengthy delays for voters during the 2012 presidential election. They were so right — some voters in South Florida stood in line for eight hours just to exercise their constitutional right. That’s unconscionable. The governor and Mr. Detzner also tried to purge voter rolls before the presidential election — with disastrous results. The “purge” was so riddled with mistakes and misinformation that its instigators finally cancelled it.

Editorials: Ballot confusion – Florida election officials keep getting in the way of fair voting | Herald Tribune

In a recent directive regarding absentee ballots, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner once again created controversy where none was necessary. That’s becoming a habit for Florida elections officials, who have made repeated, error-filled attempts to purge the state’s rolls of voters wrongly identified as suspect. At least this time, facing a revolt by angry local elections officials, Detzner quickly backtracked on his absentee-ballot rule. Maybe this latest stumble will signal the end of the state elections office’s efforts to fix voting policies that aren’t broken. Let’s hope so — for the voters’ and the local supervisors’ sake. The latest tempest arose Nov. 25 when Detzner, who oversees Florida’s elections office, said elections supervisors “should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor’s office.”

Editorials: Virginia attorney general recount: It’s not who wins, but how | Roanoke Times

Once again the election is over, and not over. The razor-thin campaign to be Virginia’s next attorney general has entered the recount phase. This is the time for both sides to put politics aside and strive for a scrupulously fair process, regardless of the result. On Election Night, Republican Mark Obenshain clung to a slight lead. After all returns were in, Democrat Mark Herring was on top by fewer than 14 dozen votes out of more than 2 million. He has been certified the winner. Obenshain, as expected — and as is wholly appropriate to the situation — has requested a recount. A Herring victory would give the Democrats a sweep in the three statewide offices. An Obenshain win would salvage something of the season for Republicans. It seems unlikely the certified results will be overturned, but not impossible. Therefore, both sides will be very motivated to count their own votes and challenge the opponent’s. But instead of this, every vote should be judged on one criterion: Did that vote adhere to all of the pertinent rules?

Editorials: Election Circus Undermines Honduran Democracy | Bloomberg

Politicians in Honduras have been cementing the Central American country’s reputation for dysfunction. Four and half years ago, the Honduran military — with a nod from Congress and the Supreme Court — staged a coup against leftist President Manuel Zelaya in order to halt his plans for populist constitutional reform. The repercussions of that decision have made a mess of the country’s recent presidential election. Xiomara Castro, a leftist presidential candidate who also happens to be Zelaya’s wife, has so far refused to accept defeat in the Nov. 24 election, despite having apparently received about 28.8 percent of the vote, 8 percentage points fewer than the winner, Juan Hernandez of the conservative National Party. Castro’s rejection of, well, reality began the evening of the election, when she declared herself the victor before the electoral tribunal had announced the official results. Later that night, she tweeted: “With the results I’ve received from nationwide exit polls, I can tell you: I am the President of Honduras.”

Editorials: Reforming the Ugandan Electoral Commission is very easy | The Observer

Very many political analysts in Uganda have opined that the current Electoral Commission cannot conduct free and fair election. There seems to be wide agreement that there is need to have an election-management body that fits into the modus operandi or aspirations of the multi-party political dispensation which we embraced in 2005. We should not forget that the current EC was introduced through efforts of a single party; therefore, the perception that it is partial, prevails. This has not been helped by the manner of appointment of commissioners of the EC prescribed in the 1995 Constitution which gives the president the power to appoint the commission and also the power to fire it without recourse to any other body. That is why any right-thinking Ugandan should support the bid by Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) to amend articles of the Constitution that talk about the composition of the EC as well as some sections of the Electoral Commission Act.

Editorials: A vote for more efficient Virginia elections | The News Leader

The State Board of Elections met Monday and some of what its members had to say wasn’t good. Virginia has too many different kinds of voting machines, and too many of those are outdated. This would be disturbing even if the attorney general’s race wasn’t heading to a recount. Worse, in our view, is that the old voting machines are part of the problem: Our entire voting system is due for a retool. We encourage the state board to take the lead in upgrading not only the equipment but the process as a whole. Voting in the 21st century can and should be efficient and produce accurate results that reflect the true will of the majority. Turnout last month was 37 sad percent. Distasteful candidates didn’t help; nor did an antiquated system. And when 63 percent of our citizens do not bother to vote, democracy as a whole suffers.

Editorials: Is Croatia’s ‘yes’ vote tyranny of the majority? | Al Jazeera

On December 1, Croatia, the newest European Uion member state, held a referendum on same-sex marriage. However, unlike other European countries, Croatia was not voting on its legalisation, but on whether a new clause, defining marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”, should be included in the constitution. The preliminary results show that 65 percent have said “yes”. The referendum was called for in reaction to the election promises [Sr] of the ruling coalition to give certain rights to same sex couples. A Croatian Catholic group “In the Name of the Family” launched a petition on this matter, gathering 750,000 signatures. As a result, the Croation parliament, with 104 out of 151 votes, decided to open the decision-making to the public, through a referendum. Although less than 40 percent of the 3.8 million [Sr/Hr/Bs] eligible voters actually took part in the referendum, the results are binding, as there is no required quorum. Although most Balkan countries include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws, Croatia’s call for referendum and the petition do not come as much of a surprise to anyone in the region. Past attempts at asserting LGBT rights have been greeted with contempt and sometimes outright violence. Croatian analysts and intellectuals indicate that the referendum on marriage is just a prelude to the referendum on the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia.

Editorials: Common sense and the Constitution should guide Arizona voting policy | Arizona Capitol Times

It makes absolutely no sense that someone would be qualified to vote for president but not for governor. Yet that’s the logic of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Secretary of State Ken Bennett. In order to get around a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Bennett and Horne have proposed implementing a two-tiered voting system — based on the form people use to register. People who register using the state form will be able to cast ballots in all elections; those who register with the federal form will be limited to federal races. If all goes as Horne and Bennett hope, Arizona will have two classes of voters for next year’s mid-term elections. It will be a significant policy shift — prior to Horne’s opinion on the matter in October, Arizonans could vote in any election after registering with the federal form. Moreover, dividing the voter rolls will be costly for taxpayers, burdensome for elections officials and confusing for voters.

Editorials: Early voting legislation a disservice to Ohio voters | Ellis Jacobs/Cleveland Plain Dealer

During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio became famous for its dysfunctional election system. Lines snaked around city blocks in many areas, causing people to wait for hours to cast their vote or simply give up and leave. In response, the Republican legislature passed sweeping election reform in 2005 that included expanded early voting hours and no-fault absentee voting, and we haven’t seen dysfunction like 2004 since then. Until now. On November 20, the Ohio Senate passed SB 238, a bill that slammed the doors on the first week of early voting in Ohio.

Editorials: Get the priorities straight on Missouri’s elections | Kansas City Star

Legislatures in Missouri and other states have spent a lot of time in recent years discussing voter ID laws and other ways to make sure ineligible citizens don’t cast ballots. Much less energy has gone into making sure that the electoral process works well for citizens who are eligible. But that’s where the emphasis should be. Incidents of non-U.S. citizens voting, or people voting under the wrong identities, are far fewer than the glitches and barriers that prevent or discourage citizens from exercising their right to vote. A project begun by Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander should bring the picture into sharper relief. Kander has created an elections integrity unit to assess potential voting improprieties. A website connected to the secretary of state’s office — www.sos.mo.gov/elections/elections_integrity — encourages citizens who believe they have witnessed a violation of Missouri election law to file an online report. The office has pledged to evaluate every complaint and provide the source with a written response. The office’s reviews are posted on the website. So far there are nine, all of them suspected problems the office has looked into this year.

Editorials: Special elections not best for lawmaker vacancies in California | San Francisco Chronicle

Under California law, the governor is allowed to choose a replacement for a statewide-elected official who vacates her post midterm. He chooses a replacement for county supervisor when one of those positions is unexpectedly vacated as well. It’s an easy and painless process that doesn’t attract much controversy or concern from voters. So why can’t the governor do the same thing with state legislators? This isn’t an idle question – in fact, it’s an expensive one. There have been 10 legislative desertions in the past year alone. In accordance with state law, each of these vacancies requires a special election at an average cost of $1 million. Can’t California always use a spare $10 million?

Editorials: Florida elections officials should stop meddling | Tampa Tribune

Here we go again. The state’s top elections officer is attempting to dictate another policy that local elections supervisors say is unnecessary and an impediment to thousands of voters. This time, Secretary of State Ken Detzner is telling the state’s supervisors to eliminate any remote sites — such as libraries or other public buildings — where voters could drop off an absentee ballot during early-voting hours. Detzner says his directive is meant to clarify a state law that stipulates the return of absentee ballots be restricted to the office of the supervisor of elections. But it’s only his interpretation of the law, and state elections supervisors should challenge that interpretation before agreeing to eliminate the popular remote sites. If Detzner’s interpretation is upheld, state lawmakers should change the statute to allow for the remote sites. The supervisors this week were once again caught by surprise by Detzner and left to wonder why they are being told to eliminate a practice that makes it easier to vote.

Editorials: Another attempt to make voting harder in Florida | Tampa Bay Times

Once again Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is carrying out Gov. Rick Scott’s mission to make it harder to vote. With little explanation, Detzner told the state’s election supervisors this week to eliminate all absentee ballot dropoff sites except for their offices. This is no more defensible than the administration’s continuing misguided effort to purge the voting roll of noncitizens, and election supervisors should ignore Detzner’s latest demand. The new restrictions regarding absentee ballots have gone over like a hanging chad among many of the state’s 67 election supervisors, all of whom are elected officials except in Miami-Dade County. They were not consulted about the change, and Detzner’s argument that restricting ballot dropoffs to supervisors’ offices ensures statewide uniformity in voting procedures is a weak rationale for making voting more inconvenient.

Editorials: With eye on 2014, GOP ramps up war on voting | MSNBC

Working ballot by ballot, county by county, the Republican Party is attempting to alter voting laws in the biggest and most important swing states in the country in hopes of carving out a sweeping electoral advantage for years to come. Changes already on the books or in bills before state legislatures would make voting harder, create longer lines, and threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters from Ohio to Florida, Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Georgia to Arizona and Texas. Efforts underway include moving election days, ending early voting and forcing strict new voter ID laws. The results could significantly cut voter turnout in states where, historically, low participation has benefited Republicans. In the 10 months since President Obama created a bipartisan panel to address voting difficulties, 90 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 33 states. So far, nine have become law, according to a recent comprehensive roundup by the Brennan Center for Justice – but others are moving quickly through statehouses. “We are continuing to see laws that appear to be aimed at making it more difficult to vote—for no good reason,” Daniel Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University, said in an interview.

Editorials: Vacant seats? Let the governor fill em | Los Angeles Times

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg says he has seen enough. He wants to rid California of incessant special elections to fill vacancies in the Legislature. The elections interrupt the legislative process, he asserts, and they bleed local taxpayers — roughly $1 million each time some lawmaker jumps ship, which has been increasingly often. Let the governor fill vacant seats and be done with it, the Sacramento Democrat contends. If it were possible, I’d order lawmakers to stop the music, grab a seat and stay put. This musical chairs game is too expensive for the adults, the taxpayers. No more switching offices in midterm. But forbidding politicians to run for another office is probably unconstitutional. So if they do bail in midterm, just let the governor choose their replacement.

Editorials: Mauritania elections: the hard choice | Al Jazeera

The Mauritanian legislative and municipal elections are being held at a moment of national disunity. A number of challenges have caused the vote to be postponed several times in the past. Finally the government has decided to go ahead with it, despite a vote boycott by some of the major opposition parties. The results could be ominous to national unity. Mauritania is one of the least developed nations in the Sahel region of Africa. It has not yet emerged from years of political instability after a series of military coups and failed democratic processes, the result of which is extreme polarization within the political class. Hundreds of small parties are crowding the arena and vying for dominance. None of them has a clear programme or a distinct ideology. They keep switching sides between the ruling party and the main opposition bloc, thereby creating unstable and unreliable alliances. Moreover, there is a deep and long standing mistrust between the ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UPR) and the hardline opposition party, Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD). In 2009 the two sides engaged in an unsuccessful political dialogue in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, following the 2008 military coup which led to the ousting of a democratically elected president.

Editorials: Scotland’s referendum is not democratic if prisoners are excluded | Tony Kelly/theguardian.com

In September 2014, some of the people of Scotland will participate in a referendum on Scottish independence. This is not the first time the issue has arisen, but it is the first time the country has embarked upon this process with the express aim of being open, transparent, inclusive and democratic. However, a question mark remains over the description of the referendum process as truly democratic, because of the unjustified exclusion of a group of Scotland’s citizens from the most important political choice made by us in more than 300 years– the 6,500 men and women who are currently in a Scottish prison. Their exclusion from this profoundly important choice has no remedy, no repeat opportunity. Unlike general elections, which are held every five years, this referendum is, as political leaders repeatedly tell us, a historic “once in a lifetime” event. It is justified on the basis that prisoners have in some way excluded themselves by their conduct – from society, from the franchise, from this choice. They have not.