The City of Edmonton will embark on a online election pilot later this month and Strathcona County will no doubt be watching. Despite my generation’s apparent love affair with everything technology, online voting is one of those things that should forever remain a pie-in-the-sky lust. Sort of like flying cars. Sure, flying cars sound nice — unless you realize the safest place to live is in the basement of your home because a car flown by some inebriated driver can come crashing through your roof without warning. Likewise, an online poll can be mucked with without warning. Government rules for rewarding contracts being what they are, the best security the lowest bid can buy will most likely be protecting any online vote. While I believe any bid-winning firm has what it takes to stop most hackers from having fun with the results, not every hacker can be so easily derailed.
Vladimir Putin had an election in Russia. This week, Hugo Chavez had one in Venezuela. Last spring, Nicholas Sarkozy lost one in France. In each case, the outcome was decided by the majority of voters in their country. Such direct democracy is a foreign concept in the USA, where we require neither direct voting nor a majority to lead our nation. The reason is an arcane institution: the Electoral College. In the U.S., presidents are not elected by the people but by 538 “electors” who award blocks of votes on a state-by-state basis. The result is that presidents can be — and have been — elected with fewer votes than their opponents. Indeed, various presidents have taken office with less than 50% of the vote. The question is whether a president should be elected by a majority of voters of at least one free country before he can call himself the leader of the free world. The Electoral College is a relic of a time when the Framers believed that average people could not be trusted with selecting a president, at least not entirely. This was consistent with a general view of the dangers of direct voting systems. Until 1913, U.S. senators were elected not by their constituents but by the state legislators. When we finally got rid of that provision with the 17th Amendment, we failed to change its sister provision in Article II on the indirect election of presidents.
This country is stronger when virtually every adult is empowered with their constitutional right to vote. Few restrictions should limit this right, and a change in those limits should only be made when it’s been demonstrated that the rights of the majority are in danger. There are two principles of a free election on which all should agree. Those who either are not citizens or who have lost their right to vote should not be voting. Every citizen regardless of economic physical condition, politics, religious belief, race, gender or age must be given an opportunity to vote. On Nov. 6, Minnesotans will vote on a significant change in voting rights – a constitutional amendment that would require a valid voter identification with a photograph of the individual voting. If passed, the amendment also says the state must issue photographic identification at no charge. A voter unable to provide a government-issued photograph identification would be permitted to cast a provisional ballot that can be counted only after lawful identification is provided.
A judge’s ruling Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law does not have to be enforced for the Nov. 6 election doesn’t go far enough. The discriminatory law, like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other painful attacks on democracy, should be permanently retired. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr.’s ruling allows anyone eligible to vote to do so on Nov. 6 without showing a photo ID. But poll workers can still demand to see an ID, which leaves the door open for voters to be harassed. Simpson’s ruling was an admission that he was wrong with his prediction in an earlier ruling that no voter would be disenfranchised by the outrageous law, among the strictest in the nation. Since the state could not offer as evidence a single incident of voter impersonation, it’s too bad he didn’t also acknowledge that the law is an affront.
Six weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a wrongheaded ruling upholding that state’s new voter ID law. On appeal, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent the case back for further review. This time, the Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr., has arrived at a slightly more rational rationale. The decision he issued last Tuesday should greatly reduce the risk of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of registered Pennsylvania voters—those who happen not to drive, for example, or have not otherwise needed a state-issued photo identification card before this election cycle. Let’s be clear precisely which voters we are talking about: Poor voters. Elderly voters. Black and brown voters. Students. Voters who are ill or infirm. With Judge Simpson’s new ruling, these folks will not be forced to travel to state bureaucratic offices, simply to wait in line for hours, all for a card they will use only for one purpose – to exercise their right to vote.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge Robert Simpson yesterday did his part to save the Republican Party. Simpson, a Republican himself, essentially postponed Pennsylvania’s voter ID law until after the 2012 election on the grounds that the state had made scant progress supplying IDs to prospective voters and would likely disenfranchise large numbers if the law wasn’t derailed. According to recent polls, President Barack Obama is leading Republican Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania by 7 to 12 points. Obama appears likely to win the state with or without a voter ID law tamping down the youth and minority vote. That doesn’t mean the state’s election would be without drama. Pennsylvania is on record with an estimate that 758,000 registered voters lack the proper ID. Over the course of 2012, a few more than 10,000 of those voters obtained one. So if the courts had permitted the law to go forward, perhaps three quarters of a million registered Pennsylvania voters would have been unable to vote this November.
To paraphrase 15th Century Dutch Philospher Erasmus’ well-known characterization of women — “technology, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.” Ever since the debacle that was the vote counting in Florida a dozen years ago, virtually every jurisdiction in the country has moved away from some form of manual voting machine to embrace the technology of electronic voting (“e-voting” for short). Yet, as states and local elections offices have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to institute e-voting, little attention has been paid the potential dangers inherent in this form of vote counting. Indeed, even as many Republican voters and legislators decry the possibility of voting abuse posed by suspected voter fraud and have ousted for voter ID mandates, the specter of lost votes posed by e-voting continues to go largely unnoticed or deliberately ignored. However, as noted in a recent editorial in USA Today by Philip Meyer, professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, electronic voting machines have the very real “potential to steal your vote.” The problem identified by Meyer is magnified this election cycle, given the high likelihood of another exceptionally tight presidential race.
Republicans’ current crop of “voter security” laws are Democrats’ “voter suppression” laws. For several years now, Republican-led legislatures have been loud in their concerns about what amounts to a solution in search of a problem: massive, organized voter fraud in order to steal elections. Real verified instances of organized, deliberate voter fraud can likely be counted in the scores at best, and Republicans have been ardent about using the specter of the now-disbanded ACORN group to raise a national warning. … So get a load of what’s just happened. There has emerged some potential voter fraud – possibly by a group hired by Republicans themselves, which puts me in mind of the verse in Matthew, in the Gospels, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” which essentially means, who are you, Mr. Pot, to call the kettle black? The controversy surrounds a Republican political consulting firm whose chief operated a voter registration project that was investigated by the Justice Department and several state officials in 2004 on fraud allegations; charges were never filed, and in this 2012 instance, GOP officials, including the Republican National Committee, have been scrambling to fire the consulting firm to contain the political fallout a little over a month before the elections.
Here’s the good news about civil rights for former felons in Virginia: True to his word, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is restoring voting privileges to ex-inmates faster than his predecessors did. Now the bad news: With the exception of Florida, Virginia has the nation’s worst record when it comes to disenfranchising its citizens. In this case, unfortunately, the bad news outweighs the good. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican former prosecutor and attorney general, is well aware that granting voting rights to more ex-offenders who have completed their sentences is an important step toward rebuilding their lives as responsible citizens. That’s why he made it a campaign promise and a priority of his administration, along with expanding job training, counseling and other important programs for former convicts.
Starting today with Georgia, and followed by Ukraine and Lithuania, parliamentary elections in Europe’s east are revealing the tenuous nature of democracy and sovereignty in countries once entrapped by Soviet-era Moscow. Among the top priorities that Russian President Vladimir Putin set for his third presidential term is the reintegration of former Soviet republics – based on tighter economic links and culminating in a political and security pact centered around Russia. Moscow seeks to create a new Eurasian Union that will balance the European Union in the West and China in the East.
Imagine that the umpire in a baseball game was affiliated with one of the teams on the field. Would you trust him to call the game fairly? You most likely would not. Yet when it comes to elections, Americans trust officials from the two political parties to oversee the process in a fair way. There are 36 states in which elections are overseen by an elected, partisan secretary of state or lieutenant governor, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State. In another three states – Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas – partisan secretaries of state appointed by the governor oversee elections. These officials vow to carry out their duties in an impartial manner. The Constitution of the National Association of Secretaries of State says that members commit to “practicing fair and unbiased election administration that recognizes each eligible citizen’s right to cast his or her vote, and for that vote to be counted with the highest regard to constitutional foundations.”
Editorials: Protecting the right to vote – history demonstrates that any effort to deny citizens the ability to vote can’t be ignored | latimes.com
Since their historic victories in the 2010 midterm elections,Republicans across the country have passed an array of voting laws — to require photo identification, to make it more difficult to register, to reduce periods of early voting or to purge voter rolls — and they are considering others. The Justice Department, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, theAmerican Civil Liberties Union and other groups have challenged many of these laws in court. A federal court recently rejected Texas’ voter ID law, and similar cases from Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin await final judicial action. Sound-bite analogies between these new laws and the fully mature Jim Crow system have been properly condemned as simplistic and misleading. But more careful study of the experience of a century ago may offer a cautionary lesson about today’s changes in election laws. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern Democrats used statutory and state constitutional restrictions — as well as violence, intimidation and ballot-box stuffing — to discourage and, ultimately, to disfranchise many poor whites and the vast majority of African Americans. Several popular misunderstandings about that “first disfranchisement” cloud the public’s view of recent legislation.
Hard-core pornography is like widespread voting fraud. You know it when you see it. Kind of like what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart opined in a 1964 obscenity case ruling, “I know it when I see it. . .” That wasn’t the end of the sentence. This was: “. . .and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” All of which brings us to Virginia, which will have new voter ID laws in effect come the November elections. The biggest change will be no more affidavits available to sign that attest to one’s identity and then makes one eligible to vote. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s reasoning for the new voting rules are to ensure every voter “have at least one valid ID,” because, “Every qualified citizen has the right to cast one vote. Not two votes; not zero votes.” Thing is, the numbers say Virginia certainly doesn’t have widespread voter fraud or anything approaching it. Virginia state police records show approximately 400 alleged cases of potential voter fraud filed by the State Board of Elections four years ago in the presidential election and confirmed fewer than 40 violations. That’s out of nearly 4 million votes cast.
I have not tested this theory, but I bet officials at the Pennsylvania Department of State have never issued as many news releases touting as many substantive changes to any process as they have while attempting to explain, justify, and implement the voter ID law. It’s not enough that a cynical legislature forced bureaucrats to design, on the fly, an ID-issuing system guaranteed to frustrate and discriminate. Every time well-intentioned officials issue a fix, journalists and advocates unearth more evidence of what remains broken. And the clock ticks on, with Election Day only six weeks away.
This month, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister of Hungary, and three other members of his political party set up tents in front of the parliament building in Budapest and embarked on a week-long hunger strike. They ended it with a rally before thousands of their compatriots — all to protest a proposed law that requires Hungarians to register before voting in the upcoming election. Why so much passionate resistance to registering 15 days before the election? One ally of the protesters went so far as to say that they were doing it “to call the attention of the people to how the government is bringing down democracy.” Gyurcsány said that he believes “it is unacceptable that anyone who happens to decide two days before an election that he wants to vote cannot do so and take part in the election.”
The Republicans’ plan is that if they can’t buy the 2012 election they will steal it. The plan, long in the making and now well into its execution, is to raise great gobs of money—in newly limitless amounts—so that they and their allies could outspend the president’s forces; and they would also place obstacles in the way of large swaths of citizens who traditionally support the Democrats and want to exercise their right to vote. The plan would disproportionately affect blacks, who were guaranteed the right to vote in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment; but then that right was negated by southern state legislatures; and after people marched, were beaten, and died in the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now various state legislatures are coming up with new ways to try once again to nullify that right. In a close election, the Republican plan could call into question the legitimacy of the next president. An election conducted on this basis could lead to turbulence on election day and possibly an extended period of lawsuits contesting the outcome in various states. Bush v. Gore would seem to have been a pleasant summer afternoon. The fact that their party’s nominee is currently stumbling about, his candidacy widely deemed to be in crisis mode, hasn’t lessened their determination to prevent as many Democratic supporters as they can from voting in November.
Editorials: Voter ID laws and roll purges are the real defrauding of US democracy | Ana Marie Cox/guardian.co.uk
There are three inducements of support that Americans are powerless against: the promise of whiter teeth, the suggestion of no-diet weight loss and the cause of justice. Political campaigns tend to couch their appeals in terms of the last, though parts of the Romney-Ryan economic pitch could be described as the second. In today’s truly divisive debates, both parties have usually engineered a rhetorical claim to the side of fairness: gay rights advocates propelled themselves forward when they began to argue for “marriage equality” against the outdated complaint of “special rights”. Americans rankle at unearned privileges as much as they rally, in the main, to equality. Hence the widespread, enthusiastic support of voter ID laws (they poll with about 75% in favor) makes total sense if you see the laws exactly the way their authors and promoters talk about them – as barriers to voter fraud. After all, voter fraud is when criminals unfairly manipulate voting, the most basic expression of fairness available in a democracy.
After running a story about voter access laws last Sunday, the New York Times got some complaints from readers about its he-said-she-said treatment of whether voter fraud is a serious problem. Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, asked the reporter and editor of the piece for their views:
The national editor, Sam Sifton, rejected the argument. “There’s a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides,” he said. One side says there’s not significant voter fraud; the other side says there’s not significant voter suppression. “It’s not our job to litigate it in the paper,” Mr. Sifton said. “We need to state what each side says.” Mr. Bronner agreed. “Both sides have become very angry and very suspicious about the other,” he said. “The purpose of this story was to step back and look at both sides, to lay it out.” While he agreed that there was “no known evidence of in-person voter fraud,” and that could have been included in this story, “I don’t think that’s the core issue here.”
This is a pretty remarkable response.
I doubt that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has the authority to enforce his generous new interpretation of South Carolina’s new voter ID law – he can merely advise election officials, who may or may not follow his legal advice – but his out-of-courtroom explanation for testimony that enraged critics and seemed to startle a panel of federal judges represented the first hint of a rational approach to this issue that I’ve heard from an elected official. After testifying last month that people without cars, birth certificates or enough time to get a state-approved photo ID would “absolutely” be able vote by signing an affidavit saying they had a “reasonable impediment,” Mr. Wilson told The Associated Press that “We have balanced the interest of ensuring the integrity of the electoral system with the fundamental right of the individual to vote.” That seems so obvious. The question isn’t whether those two fundamental values have to be balanced in a voting system; the question is how to balance them. Or at least that ought to be the question. What’s so maddening about this whole issue is that neither side has been willing to recognize any shades of gray.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing on Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, over the state’s voter ID law, was serious enough that it drew the presence of Ben Jealous, the president of the national NAACP. After ninety minutes of arguing about the fundamental right to vote before the state’s six supreme court justices, Jealous said he was “cautiously optimistic” that civil rights groups might prevail in the case. Perhaps cautiously pessimistic, I couldn’t help but think, But what if they don’t? When I asked Jealous this, he said: “We will have volunteers throughout the state demanding that everyone who is eligible to vote and who has a right to vote will be able to vote. And then we will make sure every provisional ballot is counted and make sure the polls stay open and we will fight to make sure the polls stay open as long as necessary.” In other words, the NAACP, and a lot of civil rights and liberties organizations like them, would be absorbing the burden imposed by the Pennsylvania law, which mandates specific forms of photo ID in order to vote.
If there has ever been an issue of less practical or political import that has produced more litigation, legislation, public debate and passion than voter ID, I cannot imagine what it would be. I agree with the majority of Americans that producing some kind of ID to prove you are who you say you are when you vote is not an unreasonable safeguard. However, I am equally convinced that the amount of voter fraud generally is minuscule and the number of people actually showing up to vote using a false identity is even rarer. It is evident that the latter proposition is true because in none of the litigation over voter ID have any of the states defending the laws even attempted to make any showing of actual voter fraud. It was somewhat surprising to me that the courts have consistently said that the states do not have to show actual incidents of fraud to justify requiring identification. The courts have ruled the states have a right to impose reasonable safeguards solely to assure the public that elections are fair. But let’s not pretend that either side of this issue cares about the merits of the issue. This is pure political calculation.
The Republican fight against voter rights has garnered the lions share of press attention, but as The Nation reports, the fight for voting rights extends well beyond the fight over Voter ID and includes the fight over who gets to raise the question over who is eligible to vote. In at least twenty-four states any random person is authorized, if they feel so inclined, to question individual voters and ask them to “prove” their eligibility to vote. As restrictive and complicated Voter ID laws have passed state-by-state, conservative groups have realized there’s good leveraging in voter registration challenges and poll watcher trainings.Tea Party loyalists have created True the Vote, an advocacy group which pushes Voter ID laws and training “patriots” to protect the polls. But as a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, “Voter Challengers” spells out, these groups rely on American’s historical amnesia when it comes to race in order to promote their activities. Poll-watching can’t be divorced from its racially motivated roots, and groups like True the Vote understand that, even if they won’t acknowledge it.
On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the state’s strict new photo ID law, which is allegedly intended to prevent voter fraud. A voter must present a government-issued or other approved photo ID at a polling place to vote or can file a provisional ballot, which must be validated later by a submission of a photo ID or proof that the voter is indigent. The state has offered no evidence of voter identity fraud to justify this law. There is no legitimate government interest that justifies the burden the law imposes on voters. If the court does not block the law, it will cause irreparable harm. In Philadelphia, for instance, almost one-fifth of the registered voters may not have an acceptable form of identification to vote on Election Day. Statewide, almost one-tenth may not. When he signed the law in March, Gov. Tom Corbett claimed that it “sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.” But, at a meeting of the Republican State Committee in June, the House majority leader, Mike Turzai, boasted that it would “allow Governor Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania.”
A wave of new voting restrictions have been struck down by the courts in recent weeks. A major exception is Pennsylvania, where Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the state’s controversial voter ID law on August 15. Today in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court convened in a packed, standing-room-only courtroom to revisit the law. A decision is expected in the next few weeks to determine whether Pennsylvania will be the largest swing state with a new, restrictive voter ID law on the books for the 2012 election. David Gersch, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs (which include voting rights groups such as the ACLU and the Advancement Project), argued that Judge Simpson erred in failing to conclude that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law “impermissibly violates the right to vote.” Gersch noted the significance of holding the hearing in Philadelphia, “the birthplace of American democracy,” in a state whose constitution explicitly protects the right to vote. Gersch asked, once again, for an injunction against the law based on three major points: (a) “the right to vote is a fundamental right” harmed by the law; (b) the voter ID law was not a mere election regulation but something far more significant and burdensome; and (c) the law was not narrowly tailored toward its legislative goal of stopping voter fraud.
Politico led this morning with a piece arguing that Mitt Romney’s clay feet on the subject of national security threaten to turn him into John Kerry. I don’t quite buy the comparison, however Kerry-like Mr Romney may be in his stiffness and aloofness; Mr Romney never claimed national security as a core competency, as Mr Kerry did. Yet this is part of an ongoing narrative that says this election is like 2004, in which a relatively unpopular and vulnerable incumbent won because the out-party overestimated voters’ distaste for the incumbent and nominated a dreadful candidate. The bases of both parties were gripped by a visceral disdain for the president that voters at large simply did not share. Both Mr Kerry and Mr Romney had fairly easy rides to the nomination: for all the ginned-up primary drama this year, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich stood no better chance of becoming president than did Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich. But if the campaign looks like 2004, Ethan Bronner makes a far more persuasive case that its aftermath may more closely resemble 2000. The thicket of new voting laws enacted over the past four years—mostly by Republicans, and most of them with the effect, if not the intent, of making it harder for voters who belong to Democratic-leaning blocs to cast their ballots—will likely provoke a flurry of court challenges if the election is as close as it looks as though it might be. Those challenges have already begun. Florida lost in its effort to restrict early voting, as did Ohio. A federal court ruled that Texas’s voter-ID law fell afoul of the Voting Rights Act for imposing “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.” Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law, on the other hand, was upheld (the state supreme court will hear appeals on Thursday).
In 2006, Congress reauthorized Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act with nearly unanimous Republican support. In 2012, Republican officials declared war on minority voting and have challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 — which requires states and localities with egregious histories of voting discrimination to seek federal approval before making any election changes — in multiple court cases. What happened? Consider: Republican support among African-Americans for presidential nominee Mitt Romney finally hit zero in a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and the GOP’s strength among Latino voters is nearly as anemic. These numbers make minority voters, sadly, irresistible targets for Republican vote suppression efforts. Legal battles over when ballots can be cast and whose votes will be counted, The New York Times reported Monday, could substantially affect the outcome of 2012 elections.In many states, only the Voting Rights Act is standing in the GOP’s way. Rather than showing respect for the voting rights of minorities and winning their votes with appealing policies, Republicans appear to have instead decided to try to expel them from the electorate and attack the biggest legal obstacle to their expulsion — the Voting Rights Act. The rights of minority voters, however, are not fair game in partisan battles. Partisanship must not be allowed to trump equal opportunity in voting. Republicans have whipped up a phony frenzy over the extent of voter fraud to justify their assault on minority voters.
“This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.” Lyndon B. Johnson
Voter ID laws are discriminatory. The restrictive laws, especially those that require voters present state-issued photo ID cards, actively curb the ability of millions of eligible voters to cast ballots. While supporters of the law innocently defend the effort as an attempt to avoid fraud, hard data disputes that claim. In fact, the true motivation of the proponents of the law is to exclude certain groups of voters from casting ballots and swaying the outcome of the election. State voter identification laws simply say that in order to cast a ballot, a voter must present specific types of identification at the polls. Thirty-one US states now require voters to present some form of state-issued ID in order to cast a ballot. Seventeen states require photo IDs in order to vote. Currently, several of those laws are facing legal challenges and could be overturned. So what’s the problem with requiring a photo ID to vote? Proponents of the law quip that you need a photo ID to drive or board an airplane or even to cash a check at a bank. But flying and driving are privileges. Voting is a right.
As widely reported, last week a federal court rejected a Texas law that would require voters to present photo identification to election officials before being allowed to vote. This decision comes on the heels of another federal court decision that found the Republican-controlled Texas legislature had intentionally discriminated against Hispanics in drawing new legislative districts. The Texas voter ID law was signed into law last year. However, the law has never gone into effect because Texas is a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and must receive either administrative preclearance from the Department of Justice or judicial preclearance from a federal court that a proposed change in its election laws (such as a requirement to present a photo ID) will not have the effect of diminishing minority voters’ rights, and was not enacted with a specific intent to discriminate against such voters. The Justice Department earlier objected to the new Texas law concluding it would have a disparate negative impact on minority voters. The court last week reached a similar conclusion that the legislation would impose unlawful burdens on poor minority voters.
Nearly a half-century ago, Congress decided that the government could not end racial discrimination in voting simply by suing one state, county, or city at a time, because officials who were determined to keep minorities away from the polls were quickly shifting to new tactics. The only way to keep ahead of those tactics, Congress decided, was to bar the worst offenders among state and local governments from adopting any new election laws until they had first proved they would not discriminate. That was a massive shift in policy, and it worked: the law that Congress passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act, is now widely credited as the most effective civil rights law in American history; even the Supreme Court has said so. But the Supreme Court has grown to be one of the skeptics about the constitutionality of the law, partly because of the very fact that the law has been so successful. ”Things have changed in the South,” the Court commented three years ago. And, at that time, it pondered striking down the key part of the 1965 law — Section 5 — on the theory that “the evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated” in the states, counties, and cities that must obey that section. There are nine of those states, plus local governments in seven other states, that must get permission in Washington before they may change any law dealing with voting — no matter how trivial the change. The Court chose in 2009 to leave the law as is, but hinted that Congress should update it.
If you hate the current state of campaign finance, in which corporations and non-profits exert influence through trade associations, political action committees and so-called “Super PACs,” you can’t lay all of the blame at the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and labor unions have the same First Amendment rights to free speech as individuals. Nor can you say that the root of the problem was the court’s 2007 ruling in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life that corporations and labor unions are permitted to spend money on election ads as long those ads do not contain “express advocacy” for or against a candidate. Instead, you have to look back to 1976, when the Supreme Court decided in Buckley v. Valeo that the constitution permits limits on direct campaign contributions to candidates by corporations. Such restrictions, the Buckley court held, do not violate the First Amendment. That bar on direct contributions to candidates, reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in FEC v. Beaumont, has remained in place despite repeated assaults in recent years. As Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law wrote Wednesday at his Election Law Blog, the current justices may well overturn Beaumont’s holding on direct corporate contributions to candidates if they decide to take up the issue, but so far they haven’t.