Rick Hasen has a really interesting paper up discussing partisan polarization and the possibility of changing the Constitution to deal with it. (And you should really read Jonathan Bernstein’s response, too.) Hasen starts off by asking whether we should be considering moving toward a more parliamentary style of government. It’s a fair question. We have what looks like a serious mismatch between our parties and our governing institutions. We live in an era of sharply distinct, internally disciplined, programmatic parties with very different visions of how the nation should be run. That’s fine—we have some time-honored institutions, such as elections and majority-rule legislatures, for settling disagreements, even when the disagreements are sharp. But that’s not all we have. Under our constitutional system, we have many rules designed to thwart majority rule and slow down lawmaking. A bicameral legislature and separation of powers, for example, are built into the system, with the explicit purpose of making it harder to pass laws—and over the years we’ve added things like the filibuster and debt ceiling votes that slow things down further. At times when parties are weak, as they were in the mid-20th century, it’s possible for legislators to come together across party lines and work out agreements despite these impediments. But when parties are strong, the minority party has a lot of tools to keep the majority from accomplishing much of anything.
Every time Oregon holds an election, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh gets a vote. Probably, he gets thousands of votes — or at least keeps other people from casting them. In 1986, following the Rajneeshees’ comical but vicious attempt to take over Wasco County by busing in homeless people to vote, Oregon voters enacted a registration cutoff 20 days before an election. The bhagwan is long gone, but every election thousands of Oregon voters who get interested in a contest too late are kept out of the election process. Now Secretary of State Kate Brown has a proposal, based on what Oregon has learned over two decades’ experience with the mail ballot: Getting to vote should be easy, not hard.
It is now only a month to May 10, 2013. Yet the issue of the Smartmatic-PCOS automated electoral system is unresolved. There is no solution in sight that intelligent Filipino voters can expect an honest to goodness election. But Comelec is pushing it through. We need only review the events that led to a renewal of Smartmatic-PCOS contract to see that Comelec would not have it any other way. It was Smartmatic-PCOS by hook or by crook — deadlines were ignored, unsatisfactory bidding for services pushed and most of all quibbling about a source code. And in a last minute to consolidate its determination it says it will have the source code of the Dominion automated electoral system. It was supposedly used in 2010 but no one has actually seen it up to this day except insiders. What seems inevitable is a collision course between Comelec as government and the Filipino citizenry as electorate.
If you want to stare into the ugly face of racial resentment, take a look at Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His stunningly injudicious remarks about a key portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) laid bare the bitterness that so many conservatives harbor toward black progress. During recent oral arguments about a challenge to the law, Scalia dismissed a critical part as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Given that the VRA was passed to ensure that black Americans had the right to vote – after white segregationists showed they were willing to beat, jail, and kill activists to block the black ballot – it was a chilling remark. I’m so glad Scalia said exactly what was on his mind. It saves me the trouble of having to persuade you that many critics of the VRA are mossbacks who still resent the political transformation unleashed by the power of the black vote.
Editorials: New Voter Suppression Efforts Prove the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed | Ari Berman/The Nation
In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states. Ultimately, twenty-five laws and two executive actions were passed in nineteen states following the 2010 election to make it harder to vote. In many cases, these laws backfired on their Republican sponsors. The courts blocked ten of them, and young and minority voters—the prime target of the restrictions—formed a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008. Despite the GOP’s avowal to reach out to new constituencies following the 2012 election, Republican state legislators have continued to support new voting restrictions in 2013. According to a report by Project Vote, fifty-five new voting restrictions have been introduced in thirty states so far this year. “The 2013 legislative season has once again brought an onslaught of bills to restrict access to the ballot, including proposals to undercut important election laws that have recently opened the electorate to more voters,” writes Erin Ferns Lee. These measures include “strict photo ID policies … voter registration restrictions; voter purges; [felon] disenfranchisement; and policies to cut back or revoke voting laws that have made voting more convenient.”
President Obama and leaders in both parties, in calling for improving American elections, point to long lines at the polls last year as a significant problem that needs to be solved. And with good reason: Longer wait times can discourage people from voting and fuel the perception that their right to vote is in jeopardy. A post-election poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 55 percent of voters who waited 30 minutes or more to cast a ballot thought that the election was managed “very well,” compared with 79 percent for voters who waited less than a half-hour and 83 percent for voters who had no wait. Long lines, however, are just the tip of iceberg; much more needs to be done. To achieve an election system that is convenient, accurate and fair, state and local leaders need data to review and track their voting processes–from registration to ballot-counting. This kind of analysis is not easy. Our nation’s locally run elections lack a common set of performance measures and a baseline from which reliable comparisons–between election cycles and across jurisdictions-can be made. Accurate data on what leads to better or worse results in any particular area are often scarce.
Editorials: Groups study future of voting in Indianapolis | Elizabeth L. White/Indianapolis Recorder
Marion County political leaders, elected officials, poll workers and community groups met this week in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building to begin the discussion about the future of voting in Indianapolis. Launched in February, the Voter Experience Project is the Marion County Election Board’s effort to listen, deliberate and ultimately decide how and where we will vote in the future. Why are we having this conversation now? Our current fleet of voting equipment is more than 10 years old. Purchased in 2002, the first generation machines are starting to show signs of wear despite a vigorous maintenance schedule. Replacement parts are also becoming more difficult to find. In addition, our software license and maintenance contract expires in 2014, and we don’t know if the software vendor will continue to support their product after next year.
Pretty much anything we do is taxed. Whether it’s flipping on our cable, making a call on our cell phone or biting into a Snickers bar. Taxes are inescapable. The one tax-free haven, at least in theory, is voting. A free and fair vote is the bedrock of our political system. Voting is the one instance where all of us, no matter how rich or poor, influential or humble, are completely equal because there is no cost involved. Voting is the great equalizer, of course, assuming it is free. However, this week the state of Virginia joined a growing number of states that have implemented or are pending implementation of a voting system that taxes voters. In other words, Virginia has implemented a poll tax. Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law a bill that requires voters to present a valid photo identification in order to vote. At first read, the new voting requirement seems innocuous. Most people tend to have a photo identification either in the form of a driver’s license or school ID. And if they don’t have one, then the state will provide one free of charge. But what the bill does not address is the cost it takes to secure the documents needed to get that free ID.
President Obama and leaders in both parties, in calling for improving American elections, point to long lines at the polls last year as a significant problem that needs to be solved. And with good reason: Longer wait times can discourage people from voting and fuel the perception that their right to vote is in jeopardy. A post-election poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 55 percent of voters who waited 30 minutes or more to cast a ballot thought that the election was managed “very well,” compared with 79 percent for voters who waited less than a half-hour and 83 percent for voters who had no wait. Long lines, however, are just the tip of iceberg; much more needs to be done. To achieve an election system that is convenient, accurate and fair, state and local leaders need data to review and track their voting processes–from registration to ballot-counting.
Recently, the Pew Center on the States gave New Mexico a composite (2008/2010) rating of 19th in the nation for election administration. While this is much higher than most state-by-state comparisons featuring the Land of Enchantment, we still clearly have more work to do to improve our election processes. Correspondingly, the 2013 New Mexico Legislature provided a wonderful opportunity for our state to move forward and modernize the election process. Several pieces of legislation progressed with the intent of improving how we conduct elections in New Mexico. A few of them are even now awaiting the governor’s signature. In 2012, many counties in our state became national models for how to efficiently and effectively run elections, while at the same time streamlining processes and saving money, by conducting Election Day vote centers. While these counties are to be praised for their successes, other counties struggled with the new system and many voters had bad experiences at the polls.
The U. S. Supreme Court seems poised to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The challenge, filed by Shelby County, Alabama, was invited by signals sent by the Supreme Court in earlier cases. It will be surprising if the decision departs from the Court’s ideological and partisan 5–4 divide. Section 5 requires that 9 states and parts of 7 others — all with a history of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities — get approval from the Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington before making changes to voting laws or procedures. This “pre-clearance” is designed to ensure that changes do not have a retrogressive impact on the voting rights of minorities. … The tactics of voter suppression have changed since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. It is less common that people of color face violence or are murdered when they try to exercise their fundamental rights as a citizen. Instead, bureaucrats purge voter rolls and legislators restrict voter registration activities. … The tactics of voter suppression have changed, but voter suppression has not ended.
Editorials: Internet voting for overseas military puts election security at risk | Pamela Smith/Hartford Courant
Connecticut lawmakers are considering legislation to allow military voters to cast ballots over the Internet. The intention of this legislation is well-meaning — Connecticut does need to improve the voting process for military voters — but Internet voting is not the answer. Every day, headlines reveal just how vulnerable and insecure any online network really is, and how sophisticated, tenacious and skilled today’s attackers are. Just last week, we learned that the U.S. has already experienced our first-ever documented attack on an election system, when a grand jury report revealed that someone hacked into the Miami-Dade primary elections system in August 2012. A chilling account in The Washington Post recently reported that most government entities in Washington, including congressional offices, federal agencies, government contractors, embassies, news organizations, think tanks and law firms, have been penetrated by Chinese hackers. They join a long list that includes the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, Bank of America, and on and on. These organizations have huge cybersecurity budgets and the most robust security tools available, and they have been unable to prevent hacking. Contrary to popular belief, online voting systems would not be any more secure.
Editorials: Voter Registration Measure Undermines Congress’s ‘Broad Power Over Federal Elections’ | ACS
This week, the Supreme Court heard argument in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, a case at the intersection of two lines of cases which have been prominent on the Court’s docket in recent years. The case is an example of a challenge to Arizona’s apparentlyendless cornucopia of anti-immigrant legislation. It also tests measures which, according to some conservatives, are designed to preserve the integrity of the ballot box, but according to others are calculated tosuppress the minority vote. The case involves Arizona’s Proposition 200, passed in 2004, which requires prospective Arizona voters to provide proof of United States citizenship before registration. But the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 directed the federal Election Assistance Commission to create a federal form for voter registration (current version here). That form requires applicants to provide a date of birth and other identifying information, and an oath that the applicant is a citizen, but does not require independent documentary proof of citizenship. Federal law requires states to “accept and use” the federal form. The critical question is whether “accept and use” means that a properly completed form is sufficient for voter registration unless the state independently proves that it is fraudulent, or, rather, that the form is the beginning of an application process during which the state may freely add supplemental requirements and inquiries.
On Aug. 6, 1965, I was working in Coahoma County, Miss., trying to register new voters at the courthouse in Clarksdale. For many weeks, I and other civil rights workers in our project had been knocking on doors, persuading African Americans to go down to the courthouse, stand in line, risk retaliation, take a detailed written test and, inevitably, be rejected as unqualified. We would then ask each rejected applicant to sign an affidavit. We collected those affidavits and sent them in bundles to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The purpose of this effort was to show that African Americans in the South wanted to vote and that this particular person had been prevented from registering for no reason other than his or her race. That summer, we persuaded 500 African American citizens in Coahoma County to try to register to vote. Four or five passed the test. The rest signed affidavits. We prayed that federal officials would read the affidavits and do something about the situation. … Many months later, I asked one of my Harvard professors — a distinguished legal historian who was also the biographer of Oliver Wendell Holmes — whether there was any concern about the constitutionality of Congress passing a law that imposed requirements on some states when it did not impose the same requirements on other states. He said: “No. We fought a very bloody war about that same question: the proper role of the federal government when it came to protecting the rights of an American citizen. The South lost that war; and in 1870 the country, to make itself absolutely clear on that issue, adopted the 15th Amendment. That amendment put the issue to rest.”
Editorials: The Other Big Voting Rights Case Before the U.S. Supreme Court | Juan Cartagena/Huffington Post
On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Arizona’s incessant drive to suppress its Latino population can make it impossible for newly naturalized citizens to register to vote by mail. The case is Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. and it represents Arizona’s attempt to thwart the will of Congress when it established national norms for voter registration in federal elections with the National Voter Registration Act of 1995. The NVRA established for the first time in history a government obligation to register voters by requiring agency-based registration. While simplified to its common name, the Motor Voter law because it includes motor vehicle agencies, the NVRA is unique in that it also requires the government to affirmatively register low-income voters who apply for traditional welfare, food stamp and Medicaid benefits. In New York the state law implementing the NVRA also includes unemployment insurance agencies, for example. Finally, it completely changed the landscape on street voter registration by requiring all states to accept mail-in voter registration forms for federal elections, which in turn, was applied to registration for all elections. This also was a significant reform in states that previously required street registration campaigns to be attended by official state registrars, and on limited hours.
Let’s start with the basics: In presidential races, each state has electoral votes equal to the number of its House representatives plus two for its senators. Currently, there are 435 House members and 100 senators, plus three votes for Washington, D.C. (thanks to the 23rd Amendment), for a total of 538. The candidate who garners a majority — 270 or more — wins, even if he loses the popular vote. That’s what happened in the 2000 Bush versus Gore election, which sparked the effort to switch to popular voting for presidential elections. Ordinarily, that switch would require a constitutional amendment; but a group of activists came up with a scheme — the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) — that could work without a constitutional amendment. Article II of the Constitution gives states broad authority to decide how their electoral votes are selected and divided among the candidates. In 48 states, the candidate who gets the most votes wins all of the state’s electoral votes. But the Constitution doesn’t require that rule. Maine and Nebraska have implemented district- by-district voting. One electoral vote goes to the winner in each congressional district, and the remaining two electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
North Carolina lawmakers continue to consider legislation that would require some type of voter ID when citizens go to the polls. This week the House Elections Committee will hold more panel discussions on the issue. If an ID requirement were put in place, citizens such as Rocky Reese would be unable to vote. Homeless for 15 years, he is currently unable to secure the proper documents to get an ID. “Being out on the streets, you’re not thinking about your ID,” Reese declared. “You’re thinking about survival. You’re thinking about where am I going to eat next. If you have never been there, you don’t know. You don’t feel accepted.” Reese voted in last November’s election.
I attended yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court oral argument in the Arizona voter registration case. The argument went well generally, but Justice Alito suggested the Justices would create a “crazy” double standard by requiring that Arizona election officials accept the federal registration form. Alito’s concerns are unwarranted. Arizona chose to create two standards when it chose to add special “proof of citizenship” to register. The National Voter Registration Act requires that all states “accept and use” a single, uniform voter registration form for federal elections (states can also still use their own registration forms). The Federal Form requires that prospective voters check a box and sign an affirmation that they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury. Arizona, however, adopted a state law requiring “satisfactory proof” of U.S. citizenship to register, such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport, or state driver’s license that shows citizenship. As a result, Arizona rejected over 31,000 registrations that lacked its “proof of citizenship”–including Federal Forms–even though Arizona concedes it has no evidence that any of these individuals were non-citizens.
Three weeks after hearing a challenge to the heart of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court will decide another important voting rights case following oral arguments today in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Under the NVRA, those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to the documents needed to prove citizenship.”
Michigan’s 14th congressional district looks like a jagged letter ’S’ lying on its side. From Detroit, one of the nation’s most Democratic cities, it meanders to the west, north and east, scooping up the black- majority cities of Southfield and Pontiac while bending sharply to avoid Bloomfield Hills, the affluent suburb where 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was raised. Its unusual shape is intentional. Michigan Republicans, seeking to maximize their political strength, drew the district lines — and the residential patterns of Democratic voters made their job easier. Michigan (CONSSENT)’s 14th district underscores how Democrats across the U.S. are bunched in big metropolitan areas, resulting in the party’s House candidates often winning by wide margins on Election Day while Republicans capture more seats because their voters are spread out.
Now that the 2012 election is in the rear-view mirror and the 2016 election is still somewhat distant on the horizon, this is an appropriate time to return to the question of presidential election reform. As I have written about many times (including here) on this and other websites, and in academic journals, one important and prominent reform effort, known as the National Popular Vote (NPV) Compact, seeks to move the country in the direction of making it ever more likely that the President who is elected is the candidate who obtains the most voter support nationwide. The essential idea (elaborated by me, my brother Akhil Amar and, independently also by Professor Robert Bennett over a decade ago) is to get various states to sign onto an agreement that would require each signatory state to cast its electoral college votes not for the candidate who garners a plurality of popular votes in that state, but rather for the candidate who wins the most popular votes nationally.
With public attention focused on the Voting Rights Act, many have overlooked a second critical voting case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The latest case involves the simple question of whether Arizona can refuse to accept a federal voter registration form. But the stakes are much higher. A victory for Arizona could accelerate a nationwide trend of political operatives attempting to manipulate election rules for political gain, and could undermine the power of Congress to protect voting rights. The National Voter Registration Act requires that all states “accept and use” a single, uniform voter registration form for federal elections. States can still use their own registration forms, but they must also accept and use the Federal Form. The purpose of the Federal Form is to increase participation by preventing states from erecting barriers to voter registration.
At 10 a.m. Monday, the Supreme Court will hold one hour of oral argument on state power to require would-be voters to show proof of citizenship to register. Arguing for state and local officials in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (docket 12-71), will be Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne, with thirty minutes of time. Arguing for the challengers will be Patricia A. Millett of the Washington office of the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, with twenty minutes of time. Representing the federal government as amicus will be Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, with ten minutes of time. With memories still fresh about widespread complaints in last year’s presidential election about efforts to tighten the requirements for voting, especially affecting minority voters, the Supreme Court takes up the constitutional puzzle — existing since the Founding era — over who controls election procedures. And in the background is the abiding partisan debate over whether such voter qualification rules are needed to combat election fraud, or are merely a cover for suppressing minority voting. The Supreme Court may not settle that political argument, but its coming ruling in the case of Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona could have a major influence on how elections for the presidency and for Congress are conducted in the future. And, of course, there could be a spillover effect for state and local elections, too.
Compared with what some Americans have to tolerate on Election Day, registering to vote is relatively painless. That’s partly thanks to the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law at the root of a case the Supreme Court will hear on Monday. The state of Arizona argues that it should be allowed to subvert the law’s obvious purpose. The court shouldn’t let it. In 1993, Congress looked at the “complicated maze” of often confusing and sometimes discriminatory state election rules, and it found that “unfair registration laws and procedures can have a direct and damaging effect on voter participation in elections for federal office.” So lawmakers established national standards. Americans could register to vote when getting driver’s licenses, which gave the act its unofficial name: the “motor voter” law. Congress also required every state to accept a simple, common, mail-in registration form drafted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The record indicates that Congress meant these to be among the “procedures that will increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for federal office.”In 2004, Arizona voters approved a state law requiring evidence of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. As a result, state elections officials no longer accepted standard federal registration forms unless accompanied by copies of passports, birth certificates or other proof of citizenship. Native American and Hispanic groups complained, and now the dispute is before the high court.
Our state’s history of voter suppression provides a context for Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court arguments on Arizona’s 2004 voter-ID law. Ditto for election bills in Arizona’s Legislature. It’s not ancient history. The un-sunny side of Arizona was revealed at Senate hearings when Republican William Rehnquist was named to the Supreme Court in 1971. Rehnquist denied allegations that he personally challenged minority voters at the polls. But he told the Senate he witnessed Republican poll challenges in 1962 that “struck me as amounting to harassment and intimidation.” Stuff happened. And it wasn’t so long ago. And now? Two of today’s most effective strategies to increase Latino voter participation are under attack in Arizona’s GOP-controlled Legislature. … Election-law changes may be necessary. Too many people had to cast provisional ballots in November because they were on the early voting list but showed up at the polls to vote instead of sending in their ballot. But changes in election laws should be enlightened by history. All voters have not been treated the same, and all voters are not going to be affected equally by changes.
California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura County) have introduced identical proposed state constitutional amendments that would change the top-two open primary section of the California Constitution. Lara’s bill is SCA 12 and Gorell’s is ACA 9. Article II, section 5 of the California Constitution includes the new primary rules, which say that the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary, for Congress or partisan state office, go on the November ballot. The Lara-Gorell amendment would change the language of this section to say that if the person who came in second in a primary is a write-in candidate, he or she could not be on the November ballot unless he or she received approximately 120,000 write-ins for a statewide office, 3,200 write-ins for State Senate, 1,600 write-ins for Assembly, or 2,500 write-ins for a congressional race. The specific formula is one percent of the last general election vote total for that office.
My participation in Legacy International’s Legislative Fellows delegation to Egypt this week has included a great deal of discussion regarding what constitutes “true” democracy. The Egyptians we’ve met have used words including “true” and “pure” to describe the democracy we have in the U.S., contrasting our system with the political system that’s been built in Egypt since the 2011 revolution, which is widely perceived by Egyptians to fall short of “true” democracy. Yes, Egypt has held parliamentary, presidential and constitutional referendum elections over the past two years, but the legitimacy of the government remains in question. Egypt’s first post-revolution parliamentary and presidential elections were held before a new constitution was drafted, under election laws that were issued by the interim “caretaker” Egyptian Military-based government but later declared unconstitutional by Egypt’s High Constitutional Court. Egypt’s new constitution was written by a government elected under the unconstitutional election laws, a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to the laws under which the elections were conducted being declared unconstitutional, many believe fraud was committed during the elections, including ballot box stuffing and fraudulent counting and reporting of votes cast. In short, the government of President Morsi, the new constitution and the election process itself have been heavily criticized not only by non-Islamist parties and their supporters, but also by many who actually voted for President Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood candidates.
If skepticism from the Supreme Court’s conservative wing is any indication, a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could be struck down this year. This should alarm anyone who views voting as a fundamental right and not, as Justice Scalia characterized it (to audible gasps), a “racial entitlement.” Section 5, the statute at the heart of Shelby County vs. Holder, requires areas with a history of voter discrimination to obtain federal approval before changing any election laws. The measure is considered one of the most successful anti-discrimination laws on the books and today remains key to combating voter suppression. Yet during oral arguments last week, the high court’s conservatives suggested that this critical voter protection tool has served it’s purpose and now unjustly infringes upon the rights of states and municipalities; that, essentially, the law worked too well to continue. To this point, Chief Justice Roberts rhetorically asked whether “citizens of the South are more racist than citizens of the North.” Clearly, no region has a monopoly on discrimination. But the question the court should be asking is ‘are minority voters still vulnerable to systemic disenfranchisement?’
Three conservative attorneys had harsh words for the Federal Election Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating elections, during a campaign finance-themed event today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Benjamin Barr, who specializes in First Amendment law, predicted that continued legal challenges would help “lessen the teeth” of the FEC, which, in an ideal world, he said, would be “shut down.” The agency’s regulatory authority “is very small,” he said, while lamenting that political activists have become “habituated” to “bowing in compliance with the federal government” by registering and reporting their financial activities to the six-member commission. The commission is now operating with five commissioners because of the resignation of Democrat Cynthia Bauerly in February. Such talk came during a week when the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election cost more than $6.3 million at the federal level.
Last month’s Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act served as a reminder of the long history of racial voting suppression in this country. Many of the states covered by Section 5 of the act, particularly in the South, spent decades trying every method they could think of to keep blacks and other minorities from the polls, or to reduce their voting strength. But areas that aren’t covered by the act have no reason to feel smug. Many lawmakers in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also pursued ways to keep selected voters from the polls, using methods like ID requirements or restrictions on early voting. Though the intent is often partisan — Republican officials repressing Democratic votes — the effect is usually the same as it was during the struggles of the 1960s, having a disparate impact on blacks and other minorities, but now adding on students, the poor and the elderly.