Pushing constitutional amendments tends to be the province of Republican presidents: to mandate balanced budgets, for instance, or to make abortion illegal. But President Obama has been both speaking privately and flirting openly with the notion of amending the Constitution. His goal would be to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and get the biggest-money checks out of politics. Obama advisers have been edging up to this for months. In February, urging donors to open their checkbooks to Obama-supporting super PACs, campaign manager Jim Messina said that “the president favors action — by constitutional amendment, if necessary — to place reasonable limits on all such spending.”
Editorials: Voting Rights: This Is What a Strong Party Platform Would Look Like | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
In tone and tenor, the Democratic and Republican voting-rights planks could not be more different. But there’s clearly room for a third way. The most elemental civil right, the one from which all other rights ultimately flow, is the right to vote. Can we all at least agree on that? This election year, to a degree unimaginable even in the wake of the Florida recount and Bush v. Gore, the issue of voting rights and election procedures is a key part of the political debate leading up to the first Tuesday in November. It’s as if some great lock has been turned, some vast door has been opened, and all the primal grievances from those furious days in November and December 2000 have come pouring out again. Add to the mix strident white fear about America’s changing demographics over the interceding decade, and you have a combustible brew indeed.
In states from Florida to Pennsylvania, Republican Party efforts to diminish minority voting strength for this year’s presidential election are a sobering reminder that the struggle for full civil rights is not over. But it’s not only black voters who should be concerned about Republican voter-suppression tactics. The GOP’s war on voting is a serious attack on the fundamental workings of our democracy. It is, at its core, an attempt to negate the important victories of the early 1960s that laid the foundation of our modern representative democracy. To understand the breadth of the threat represented by voter-ID laws and other new practices designed to suppress votes in Democratic districts, it’s important to realize that the effort to dismantle obstacles to voting rights for black voters in the South during the early 1960s did more than just enfranchise African Americans. It exposed the myriad ways in which key aspects of the American electoral system were fundamentally unfair for all voters. In particular, the disproportionate power afforded to underpopulated rural jurisdictions over the more populous cities was corrected by the Supreme Court in a series of cases that dismantled the framework of unequal voting power that had existed in the South since the turn of the 20th century.
We’re all familiar with Aesop’s Fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The cautionary tale taught us that intentionally lying about something has its consequences, and that those consequences can negatively impact the people around us. Crying wolf about the security of Montana’s elections is an intentional and deliberate attempt to decrease voter turnout by gaining support for laws that will restrict your right to vote. These false allegations of massive voter fraud have been tediously repeated despite all evidence to the contrary, and it’s time for the deceivers to start bearing the burden of proof. As your secretary of state, and chief elections officer, I take every allegation of election fraud seriously. I launched the “The Fair Elections Center” early in my term so that every Montanan could easily report a potential state election law violation. Every allegation is documented, reviewed and, if warranted, passed on to the appropriate authorities.
Twenty-one-year old Gillian Demers says she was “more than a little afraid” when she received a letter from the state warning she may be breaking the law—by registering to vote. Last September, the University of Maine senior received a letter from Maine’s secretary of state, Republican Charles Summers, questioning her right to vote in her newly adopted state. Two hundred and five other students received the same letter, sent after the state’s GOP chairman, Charlie Webster, asked his GOP colleague to investigate if the students had the right to vote in Maine. Unless she met certain bureaucratic regulations like registering for a Maine driver’s license, Summers’s letter said, Demers would have to revoke her residency or be in violation of a law that could mean up to six months in jail. The letter is just one example of new laws and regulations rolled out largely by Republican-controlled statehouses over the last two years. Purportedly aimed at preventing voter fraud, the laws suppress the votes of students and minorities and, according to court records and interviews with political insiders from both parties, at least some GOP officials know it.
In the wake of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling on Aug. 27, Minnesotans will decide in November whether we rewrite our state Constitution to include new restrictions on voting, including the need to show photo ID at the polls. In its decision, the court affirmed the Legislature’s authority to place amendments on the ballot. Missing was proof that an amendment was even needed in this case. And that makes for an unfortunate and shortsighted opinion, one that puts Minnesota at odds with states such as Wisconsin and Missouri, where courts held that such measures are unconstitutional because they threaten citizens’ fundamental right to vote. But it goes even beyond that.
Editorials: Voting Rights Act denies equal right to discriminate, says Arizona Attorney General | Examiner.com
Next week, state attorney general Alan Wilson will attempt to contest the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s rejection of South Carolina’s “voter ID” law. The case is taking a new twist, however, thanks to the AG of another state. Today, Arizona’s Thomas Horne filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, claiming that one particular part of the Voting Rights Act unfairly affects the nine states that are subject to its laws. Section Five of the Act notes that any change to voting laws in subject states must be approved by the federal government. Some other states not subject to VRA, though, have already changed their own laws pertaining to voting and didn’t require federal approval for those changes, Horne notes. Different formats of voter identification requirements are used in some of those other states, Horne notes, and the federal government didn’t interfere in those cases. Minority voters are still subject to discrimination in those states, too, he says. Because South Carolina and nine other states are the only ones subject to the Voting Rights Act, Horne concludes, it has unfairly lost its own right to discriminate. Section Five of the VRA “undermines the principal of equal sovereignty,” he says.
In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a measure that imposed more than 75 restrictions on Florida voters, ostensibly to combat voter fraud. These included requirements that make it more difficult for third-party organizations to register voters, limits on early voting and a plan to purge voter rolls of non-citizens. As with many of the voter limitations imposed by Republican state governments since they won election in 2010, these measures are likely to favor Republican candidates — and Florida is the ultimate swing state. Thankfully, a federal judge in Florida has issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which would interfere with the ability of organizations like the League of Women Voters to register voters in time for the election.
François Hollande’s victory in the French presidential polls this year showed how a single national election can change Europe’s political equilibrium. Now the forthcoming Dutch election is being shaken up by the eurozone’s attempts to end its crisis and threatening in return to cause complications for Europe.
The election itself is a result of the Dutch government being a casualty of the eurozone crisis. Long a hawkish supporter of deficit cuts in the currency union’s periphery, the Netherlands was forced to take its own medicine when it went into recession last year and was set to miss fiscal targets agreed with the EU. An austerity package, designed by the coalition between prime minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right Liberal party and the Christian Democrats, led Geert Wilders’ populist Freedom party to withdraw parliamentary support and bring the government down. Both right and left are now riven by disagreements over how to handle the eurozone debt crisis. On the right, Mr Wilders has burnt his bridges and can only play the role of obstructionist. On the left, the Socialist party has outflanked the Labour party with strident criticism of both domestic austerity and the Fiscal Compact – the disciplining treaty demanded by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Of all the developments in The Voting Wars since 2000, the lead story has to be the successful Republican effort to create an illusion of a voter fraud epidemic used to justify a host of laws, especially tough new state voter identification requirements, with the aim to suppress Democratic turnout and to excite the Republican base about “stolen” elections. Democrats sometimes have exaggerated the likely effects of such laws on turnout—we won’t see millions of voters disenfranchised by state voter id laws, for example. But in a very close presidential election, as we are likely to see in November, new voter id rules, voter purges in places like Colorado and Florida, cutbacks in early voting in Ohio, and other technical changes have the potential to suppress Democratic turnout enough to swing the election from Obama to Romney. How did we get here? Our story begins with what Josh has aptly referred to as “bamboozlement” by a group of political operatives, “The Fraudulent Fraud Squad.”
This year, 32 states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts. An ideological battle inFlorida, an expensive and partisan one in North Carolina and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.Special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others, have been heavily involved and sometimes find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans. In six states where spending has been especially heavy — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — the harm to justice is well documented.
It’s the election season, and the battle for the presidency and control of Congress is being fought not just through voter registration drives, endless campaign ads, and stadium rallies, but also in courts across America. Litigation over election rules has become increasingly commonplace since the disputed 2000 election in Florida, which led to the United States Supreme Court choosing George W. Bush over Al Gore. And as in 2000, the question of military voters and military ballots is back in the media and legal spotlight, with Republicans unfairly accusing Democrats of being anti-military. A federal district court in Ohio will soon decide the Obama campaign’s challenge to an unusual Ohio law. The law allows military voters and overseas voters, but no other voters, the right to cast an in-person ballot in the three days before Election Day. Democrats argue that this law is unconstitutional because it “requires election officials to turn most Ohio voters, including veterans, firefighters, police officers, nurses, small business owners and countless other citizens, away from open voting locations, while admitting military and nonmilitary overseas voters and their families who are physically present in Ohio and able to vote in person.”
Editorials: Internet voting advocates ignorant of software, says computer scientist Barbara Simons | FierceGovernmentIT
Advocates of Internet voting typically form their opinions without real knowledge of how software works, said Barbara Simons, a computer scientist and board member of VerifiedVoting.org. She gave an Aug. 8 talk to the research division of Microsoft; the company posted a webcast of her presentation online. “They don’t understand why when we say you can’t find all the software bugs, you can’t,” Simons said. An analogous public policy example of how software can permit inadvertent flaws that enable later malicious exploitation is the U.S. tax code, she said. Congress periodically approves well-intentioned updates to that complex system which, once implemented, “turn out to benefit a single company in ways that have not been anticipated before the update,” she said.
Editorials: Buckeye ballots – Ohio has a ways to go in ensuring fairness at the poll | The Washington Post
On Wednesday, Ohio’s secretary of state, John R. Husted (R), declared a uniform early-voting policy, after complaints were heard that certain liberal-leaning areas had less time to vote than some of their conservative counterparts. While this was a necessary decision that should have been made long ago, Ohio, a key swing state, still has a ways to go in ensuring fairness at the polls. In the name of combating the largely imaginary threat of “voter fraud,” Republican legislatures in nine states, including Pennsylvania and Texas, have sought to impose ID requirements that would disproportionately affect groups that typically support Democrats. But voter ID laws aren’t all that could infringe on the franchise. In Ohio, a recent battle over provisional ballots has revealed another kind of restriction, one with a less clear-cut partisan motivation that’s nonetheless decidedly anti-voter.
Why are states with new voting restrictions so unconcerned about fraud that is the real threat to our elections? Over the past 18 months, in a bitterly partisan environment, several states have passed new restrictions on access to voting. They often say they did so to prevent fraud. But something doesn’t add up. The very states that passed the most restrictive laws have also failed to take basic security steps recommended by experts to prevent fraud — steps that nearly every other state in the country has taken. Let’s look at the most controversial (and common) of the new voting laws. Nine states have passed restrictive voter ID requirements that could be in effect this November, depending on the outcome of legal challenges. Under these laws, if a voter cannot produce a specified type of government-issued photo identification — most commonly, a driver’s license — his or her vote will not count. Period. Because millions of Americans do not have the kind of ID required by these laws, the Brennan Center for Justice and others have objected to them. We argue that there should be some way for people who don’t have the ID required by these laws to verify who they are and cast a ballot that will count.
Friday’s exchange of letters between the election campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in which Romney rejected Obama’s offer to drop the tax return issue if Romney will produce just three more years’ records, has moved the long-simmering brouhaha over Romney’s tax returns back to the front media burner. That’s many fewer than any presidential candidate has disclosed in decades, setting up the hearsay accusation disseminated joyfully by Harry Reid (who may or may not actually believe it) that Romney is afraid to tell voters that he sometimes pays no taxes at all. (Romney has answered that, saying he has never paid less than 13% in taxes on his income.) Meanwhile, Romney appears to have escaped relatively unsinged from the apparently unrelated revelation that he may have committed voter fraud in January 2010, when – despite not owning a house inMassachusetts and having given every appearance of having moved to California – he registered and voted in the Massachusetts special election to replace the deceased Senator Ted Kennedy. Given the GOP’s ongoing use of the “voter fraud” fable to justify modern Jim Crow laws and its highly-publicized persecution of the voter registration groupAcorn, an actual case of felony voter fraud committed by the Republican nominee could have been a big story – but Romney was able to tamp down the flames by claiming, not very credibly but also not disprovably, that he and Ann actually were living in their son Tagg’s Belmont, Massachusetts basement in 2010. Without proof that Romney lied about where he lived, there’s no felony – and no big national story.
As someone who writes a lot about court decisions, I can vouch for the fact that actually reading the opinions can spoil the fun. A court’s rationale is often more complicated and technical than the first takeaway from the decision would suggest. Sometimes, it’s true, the jurisprudential rigmarole is just a rationalization for an outcome-driven discussion, but that happens less often than cynics think. I offer these observations to explain why I’m less outraged than some people about a Pennsylvania judge’s refusal to block implementation of that state’s voter ID law — a law, I think, that is mischievous and politically motivated. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s opinion is closely reasoned, careful (perhaps too careful; see below) and as far as I can see untainted by partisanship, though he was elected as a Republican.
Yesterday was a big day in what Rick Hasen has aptly called The Voting Wars. There were three major developments. First, in the wake of increasingly vociferous criticism from Democrats and civil rights organizations (and the New York Times editorial page), Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, issued a directive requiring all 88 counties in the state to offer in-person early voting for the same specified days and hours, thereby prohibiting any county from offering fewer or more times when in-person early voting would be available. Second, a federal trial court in Ohio heard the Obama campaign’s challenge to the State’s early voting regime insofar as it permits military voters, but not others, to cast in-person ballots on the Monday immediately before Election Day. The Obama campaign’s lawsuit had assumed that in-person early voting would also be available for military voters, but not others, during the weekend immediately preceding Election Day; but Husted’s new directive appears to eliminate that possibility.
If you live in Butler or Warren counties in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Cincinnati, you can vote for president beginning in October by going to a polling place in the evening or on weekends. Republican officials in those counties want to make it convenient for their residents to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day. But, if you live in Cincinnati, you’re out of luck. Republicans on the county election board are planning to end early voting in the city promptly at 5 p.m., and ban it completely on weekends, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The convenience, in other words, will not be extended to the city’s working people. The sleazy politics behind the disparity is obvious. Hamilton County, which contains Cincinnati, is largely Democratic and voted solidly for Barack Obama in 2008. So did the other urban areas of Cleveland, Columbus and Akron, where Republicans, with the assistance of the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, have already eliminated the extended hours for early voting.
Ostensible justification for a spate of Republican-sponsored voter ID laws — which would require voters to present government-issued photo ID at the polls — has been the threat of voter fraud, specifically, in-person voter impersonation. It has seemed likely, given the absence of evidence of such crimes, that the threat was overstated. Now we know for sure: Such fraud virtually never takes place. Listening to Republican advocates of voter ID laws, you’d think that impersonations at the polls are the biggest danger to democracy since the Chicago political machine allegedly registered thousands of dead people to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960. The Republican National Lawyers Association — devoted to promoting “open, fair and honest elections” — frequently cites the figure of 375 cases of voter impersonation fraud.
Since the mid-2000s, a small cadre of lawyers and activists has reshaped the role of money in American politics. Led by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), attorney James Bopp, Jr., and law professor and activist Brad Smith, this group has won a string of victories that have imploded campaign finance laws. Citizens United? That was Bopp. Super-PACs? Thank Smith’s Center for Competitive Politics. The 2010 and 2012 DISCLOSE Act filibusters? All McConnell. But it’s been rough going for the deregulators as of late. They’ve lost a slew of cases intended to gut existing political disclosure laws. They’ve failed to knock down bans on contribution limits. And despite their objections, the Internal Revenue Service has said it might revisit how it regulates dark-money nonprofit groups, which outspent super-PACs 3-to-2 in the 2010 elections and unloaded at least $172 million through June of this election cycle. “The free speech crew’s winning streak has hit a bump in the road,” says Neil Reiff, an election law attorney who used to work for the Democratic National Committee.
Voter ID laws create an unnecessary barrier to voting that disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters. If you’re going to have them, you should at least tell people that they’re going into effect. But given the impetus of these laws—to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters—it’s no surprise that few of the states that have passed them have made any effort to educate voters. Since 2010, 12 states have passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification in order to vote. One such law is Pennsylvania’s, where studies estimate anywhere from 780,000 to 1.2 million could be turned away at the polls on Election Day because of new ID requirements. A state court is expected to rule this week on whether the law can go forward, but in the meantime, many have blasted Pennsylvania’s anemic efforts to inform voters. Because the state originally estimated that far fewer voters would be affected, the plan was simply to remind those who turned out for the April primaries that they would need an ID next time around. The state also conducted a much-criticized PR campaign by a Republican-owned firm—during the court proceedings, a political scientist testified that one-third of Pennsylvania voters were unaware of the law.
The ‘Goldilocks’ formula has been used by the Electoral Commission to come up with its controversial proposals to change MMP. This is the age-old process by which politicians and authorities decide on compromise policies on the basis of them being ‘not too hot and not too cold’ – i.e. something between the extremes of opinion on any one issue. This is how the Electoral Commission has come up with its recommendation to abolish the so-called ‘one seat rule’ that helps small parties get proportional representation in Parliament, and reduce the 5% threshold slightly to 4%. This Goldilocks method is both explained and approved of today by John Armstrong (National faces tough decision on closing door to cosy deals) and Andrew Geddis (Should the government dissolve the people, and appoint another one?) The danger, however, of trying to please everybody by choosing a middling and mild approach is that you end up satisfying very few, and you make poor choices.
Editorials: Pennsylvania Voter ID case: A chief justice’s time to eschew partisanship? | Philadelphia Inquirer
Picture this: A conservative Republican chief justice is called upon to decide the fate of one of the most partisan issues of our time, and, surprisingly comes down on the Democratic side. Health care and John Roberts? Actually, I was thinking of voter ID and Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ron Castille. There is a plausible scenario whereby he will cast the deciding vote regarding the controversial new law. And while his brethren might rule along party lines, Castille has a history of flexing his independence. With the testimony concluded in the challenge to the state’s voter-ID law, a decision is soon expected from Judge Robert Simpson of Commonwealth Court. Regardless of what he decides, this matter is destined for the state Supreme Court, which currently consists of six, rather than the customary seven, members. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended after being criminally charged, leaving the court with three Republicans and three Democrats, and Castille in a position of power. As goes the state Supreme Court, so will go the law. It’s doubtful that any effort to put this before the federal judiciary will be successful, as this challenge is predicated upon the commonwealth’s constitution.
Editorials: Pennsylvania Voter ID law is now obviously ‘morally indefensible’ | Philadelphia Inquirer
Before the case against Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law got its hearing in Commonwealth Court, ID advocates could pretend they were the good guys. This campaign isn’t about voter suppression, they could say with a straight face, this is about putting an end to voter fraud. But over seven days in a Harrisburg courthouse, that plausible deniability was shredded. Yes, it’s possible that Judge Robert Simpson will let the law stand next week, when his ruling is expected. The legislature has a well established authority to regulate elections, and Simpson may not want to meddle with that. And yes, even if voter ID is struck down, there will be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Supporters of laws that require voters to have a photo ID say that even one fraudulent ballot undermines the electoral process. Fair enough. But the reverse is also true: Even one eligible voter who loses the right to vote because of a flawed ID law undermines fair elections and cheats that citizen of democracy’s most fundamental right. The problem is living up to both of these noble sentiments simultaneously. Requiring voters to show ID at the polls to prove that they are who they say they are, and that they’re eligible to vote, is a reasonable precaution against fraud. Fraudulent in-person voting seems to be far rarer than other, more effective forms of vote stealing, but it happens, and it could conceivably swing a razor-tight election. Given that concern, this page agreed with the recommendation of the bipartisan commission headed by former Democratic president Jimmy Carter and former Republican secretary of State James Baker, which called for uniform photo ID for voters. But ID supporters typically ignore the other half of the panel’s advice: Any ID requirement should be phased in over five years, and states should bend over backwards to make sure eligible voters can get free IDs, including sending out mobile units to provide them. That’s not what’s happening.
When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965, and when President George W. Bush renewed it in 2006, they were trying to prevent barriers to voting. It is tragic that efforts to bar millions of Americans from casting ballots have instead accelerated in recent years. Observers should not underestimate this threat — the very future of our democracy is at stake. Voter suppression efforts have only grown since 2000, when our worries were about the accuracy of voting equipment and Supreme Court bias. Even if the outcome was uncertain, however, most voters were rarely barred from participating in elections. Since then, broad swaths of our population have been targeted for attack. A national legislative campaign coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council has passed laws that could inordinately lock students, senior citizens, African-Americans and Hispanics out of their polling places. ALEC’s list of backers reads like a corporate Who’s Who: Koch Enterprises, Peabody Energy, UPS and Exxon Mobil, to name a few. These companies have millions to gain from legislatures favoring wealthy over low-income Americans.
Once upon a time, American elections were rife with corruption. Party bosses bought votes with strong drink and cold cash, or stuffed ballot boxes with bogus names. Then along came the good-government reformers who cleaned up our democracy with new election laws and regulations. That’s the story we all learned in high school. And it’s true, up to a point. But it leaves out a crucial fact: Those measures also sought to bar certain people from the polls. The goal of election reform wasn’t simply a clean vote; it was also to keep out the “wrong” kind of voter. Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law, which is being challenged in state court, follows this pattern. On its face, it seems neutral and unimpeachable: Who could object to safeguards against fraud? But in practice, as opponents told the court last week, it would make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote.
Editorials: A Détente Before the Election – Voter Fraud and Manipulation of Election Rules | Rick Hasen/NYTimes.com
Does voter fraud sometimes happen in the United States? You bet. But we are dealing with this relatively small problem in an irrational and partisan way. In a 1996 primary in Dodge County, Ga., rival camps for county commissioner set up tables at opposite ends of the county courthouse and bid for voters’ absentee votes in what a county magistrate later called a “flea market” atmosphere. Recently, officials in Cudahy, Calif., admitted intercepting absentee ballots and throwing out ballots not cast for incumbents. Every year we see convictions for absentee ballot fraud. Not a lot, but enough to know it’s a problem. So you might think that Republicans, newly obsessed with voter fraud, would call for eliminating absentee ballots, or at least requiring that voters who use them show some need, like a medical condition. But Republicans don’t talk much about reining in absentee ballots. Eliminating them would inconvenience some voters and would likely cut back on voting by loyal Republican voters, especially elderly and military voters. If only Republicans would apply that same logic to voter-identification laws. The only kind of fraud such ID laws prevent is impersonation: a person registered under a false name or claiming to be someone else on the voter rolls. I have not found a single election over the last few decades in which impersonation fraud had the slightest chance of changing an election outcome — unlike absentee-ballot fraud, which changes election outcomes regularly. (Let’s face it: impersonation fraud is an exceedingly dumb way to try to steal an election.)
When is a voter restriction law like a poll tax? This is the question posed by a wave of laws passed in 11 states that require voters to show state-issued photo IDs. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that such laws are not aimed at preventing voter fraud, as supporters claim, but to make it more difficult for minorities to exercise their right to vote. The new Texas photo ID law is like the poll taxes, Holder charges, used to disfranchise generations of African-American and Mexican-American citizens. Texas Gov. Rick Perry denies this. He claims that using “poll tax” language is “designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension.” Perry is now demanding an apology from President Barack Obama for “Holder’s imprudent remarks.” But no apology needs to be issued. For these laws function very much like a poll tax.