With parliamentary elections in Belarus due to take place in September, Belarusian journalist, Katerina Barushka, stresses the importance of the elections and the reasons why the international community shouldn’t become indifferent to them. Why should the international community be interested in Belarus and its upcoming parliamentary elections which are due to take place on September 23rd 2012? After all, Belarus is a country which hasn’t amused the international audience with too many surprises recently. There have been no scandals and the parliamentary system is not that different from the representative institutions of other Eastern European countries. There are some quirky peculiarities, however. There is not a single fracture or party majority in the Belarusian parliament, and not a single politician is opposed to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. By and large, the Belarusian parliament hasn’t been recognised by the international community since 1996, the year in which Lukashenko reorganised the post-Soviet parliamentary structure, the Supreme Council, into its current form. Instead of holding general elections, however, he simply appointed all the representatives of the lower chamber from amongst his most loyal associates in the Supreme Council. Simplicity and straightforwardness has always been the key to effective governing in Belarus.
Twelve years after disputes about hanging chads and butterfly ballots cast doubt on the credibility of the outcome of a presidential election, the integrity of the election process again has become a partisan issue. If the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney is a close one, look for the losing side to blame the outcome on either fraud or voter suppression. At this point the latter looks to be the bigger problem. Precipitating this debate is a spate of new state laws requiring photo IDs at polling places. Not content to mount legal challenges to such controversial laws, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has taken to the hustings to denounce them, arguing that they disproportionately suppress the votes of minorities, the poor and the elderly. Departing from his prepared remarks in a speech to the NAACP last week, Holder compared photo ID requirements to the notorious poll taxes of the Jim Crow era, which were used to prevent blacks from voting until they were finally abolished in federal elections by the 24th Amendment. Republicans who have been the principal advocates of photo ID laws insist that they are simply trying to prevent election fraud.
The most fundamental of democratic processes has become more barrier-filled and error-prone than at anytime since Florida’s 2000 election, when voter list purges, flawed voting technology and a partisan U.S. Supreme Court majority ended a statewide recount and installed George W. Bush as president. This fall’s potential problems begin with a new generation of voter suppression laws and aging voting machines in a handful of presidential battleground states. And other important factors are in play, such as election officials curtailing voting options due to fiscal constraints, the increasing age of poll workers—volunteers averaging in their 70s—who must referee an ever more complex process, and the likelihood that close races will end up in post-Election Day legal fights. Voters tell academics they want consistency in voting. Yet emerging trends are poised to upend that hope in many states. This year’s big questions are: where will the meltdown—or meltdowns—occur, what will go wrong, on what scale, and, when it comes to computer failures or tampering, will we even know about it?
Two years ago, Congress came within a single Republican vote in the Senate of following the Supreme Court’s advice to require broad disclosure of campaign finance donors. The justices wanted voters to be able to decide for themselves “whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.” The court advised such disclosure in its otherwise disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, which loosed a new wave of unlimited spending on political campaigns. The decision’s anticorruption prescription has grown even more compelling as hundreds of millions of dollars in disguise have flooded the 2012 campaigns — a great deal of it washed through organizations that are set up for the particular purpose of hiding the names of the writers of enormous checks. The ability to follow the money has never been this important since the bagman days of the Watergate scandal. But when the Democratic Senate majority made a fresh attempt to enact a disclosure bill on Monday, the measure was immediately filibustered to death by Republicans, like other versions.
Sandwiched between its controversial immigration, campaign finance and health-care rulings last month, the Supreme Court issued a little-noticed decision in a Maryland case that gave the green light to states to eliminate the repugnant practice of “prison-based gerrymandering.” States are now unquestionably free to correct for an ancient flaw in the U.S. Census that counts incarcerated people as residents not of their homes but of the places where their prisons are located. When the prison population was small, the problem was little more than statistical trivia. Today, however, the census counts more than 2 million people as though they were residents of places where they have no community ties.
Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania House majority leader, is honest if nothing else. His exact statement to a crowd of state Republicans — that the new voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania” — was the most truthful accounting of why the party is pushing for allegedly more stringent voting rules across the nation. This is not about voter fraud, a claim that has never been substantiated, but about politics. Pennsylvania’s new rules will require a government photo ID to be able to vote, which disproportionately burdens those without cars: the poor, elderly, and minority voters who trend Democratic. Students without drivers’ licenses will also be stuck.
Editorials: Conservative Judge Richard Posner Bashes Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling | The Daily Beast
The American political system is marked by legal corruption in which “wealthy people essential bribe legislators” with campaign contributions, according to one of the nation’s most influential federal judges. Speaking to foreign educators, Judge Richard Posner told the assembled that the wealthy give lots of money to legislators and that an individual legislator “knows that if he doesn’t promote the interests of the donor,” he won’t get any more money. Posner is a renowned member of the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He is not only the nation’s most prolific jurist-academic, he is seen by some as the most influential judge outside of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court.
You can actually feel the impact of the state’s new voter-ID law coming. I don’t mean whether it’s successful in fighting fraud, as Republican leaders claim, or whether it’s successful in allowing Mitt Romney to win the state, as one Republican leader claims. I mean in the sense that it’s starting to look like a Republican overreach that could end up benefiting Democrats. It’s starting to jump the shark. Thanks largely to House GOP Leader Mike Turzai saying last month that the law will help Republican Romney, we have ongoing national attention. The Washington Post on Sunday editorialized against the law, mentioned Turzai and urged courts to halt it. On Monday, a Boston Globe editorial singled out Turzai for “making it so clear” that the law isn’t about voter integrity but about who wins elections.
The process of electing representatives in the U.S. has always been a contentious one. At its core there are political parties and candidates vying for power. However, the politics of setting election procedures and policy is perhaps even more contentious than the elections themselves. The debate about the integrity of the election process and how to balance it against the basic democratic principle of expanding voter participation is not new; the Founders deliberated over the same concerns we discuss today. The question is, what trade-offs do we consent to in order to protect the integrity of the election process while expanding suffrage? The basis for integrity is honesty and fairness. If we believe that our election processes are fair and honest, we can trust their results. However, if we perceive these processes to be fraught with fraudulent practices or participants we conclude that the results are wrong and an affront to our democratic ideals. Some pundits and elected officials have focused on voter fraud as a real threat, pointing out that thousands of Americans have lost faith in the election process as a result. In this context, voter fraud usually refers to registering voters who are ineligible such as noncitizens, voting “from the grave,” or one person voting multiple times or in multiple jurisdictions (sometimes through absentee ballots).
Editorials: Postponing elections may be best option for resolving political crisis | The Jordan Times
After several political parties announced plans to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, some opinion writers in Sunday’s papers suggested that postponing the polls could be the best option to get the country out of the present political stalemate. Al Ghad Editor-in-Chief Jumana Ghneimat wrote that under the current circumstances, holding elections on time, no matter how fair and transparent, will not solve the country’s political dilemma, as ensuring maximum participation is the most important consideration. “Insisting on holding the elections under the current Elections Law will further complicate the political situation and will lead to more escalatory activities in the streets, regardless of the government’s ongoing pledges to conduct the elections with utmost integrity and neutrality,” Ghneimat said, adding that the country’s interests should take priority over any political calculations and agendas. “There is an urgent need now to find a way to reach a compromise on an elections law that convinces everyone to participate, weakens the case for abstention and makes everyone partners in change without political exclusion or attempts to monopolise power,” she added.
Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives, flew to Washington this week to persuade a panel of federal judges to invalidate a requirement that voters must have an ID card. His trip was less arduous than the one some residents would have to endure to get a government-issued photo ID. “In West Texas, some people would have a 200-mile round-trip drive” to the nearest state office to get a card, he testified, according to The Dallas Morning News. More than a quarter of the state’s counties don’t even have an office to get a driver’s license or voter card. Lines at the San Antonio motor vehicles offices are often more than two hours long, he said. Texas is one of 10 Republican-controlled states that have imposed a government ID requirement to vote, purportedly to reduce fraud but actually to dissuade poor and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. (Seven other states have passed slightly less-restrictive rules.) In most cases the federal government can do little to resist this incursion on voting rights, because the Supreme Court upheld ID requirements in 2008. But Texas is different. It is covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allows the Justice Department to disapprove of any change in voting procedures in areas with a history of discrimination.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder declared in his address to the NAACP national convention in Houston what many voting rights advocates had been saying for months: that the photo voter ID law passed in Texas is a poll tax. Determining whether voter ID laws are as unconstitutional as poll taxes won’t be up to him, though. That honor goes to the US Supreme Court justices who lately have been signaling they may be ready to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What this means is that a legal challenge to a voter ID law in Texas could be the trigger for the demise of the constitutional act that made it possible for people of color to vote in much of the country. Right-wing pundits have all but conceded this week’s US District Court hearing over Texas’s voter ID law to the Department of Justice. There’s agreement on the left and the right that Texas didn’t do a good enough job proving that the law has no discriminatory purpose nor effect. Experts have testified that almost 1.4 million Texans could be disenfranchised due to lacking ID. The state’s argument wasn’t helped by Texas state Senator Tommy Williams, an author of the voter ID law, who said, “I think people who live in west Texas are accustomed to driving long distances for routine tasks,” when confronted with the fact that the closest DMV for some low-income Texans could be dozens of miles away.
Most Florida voters don’t know it, but come the Aug. 14 primary election, the majority of them won’t have the same opportunities to cast a ballot as Floridians in five counties because the state is enforcing two different sets of rules. That’s the basis of the latest lawsuit seeking to halt Gov. Rick Scott’s assault on voting rights. And it shows how determined the governor is to ignore law and precedent in order to manipulate the election process. On June 29, the American Civil liberties Union of Florida, the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, filed an administrative petition challenging the state’s policy that has created an illegal, dual system of elections. Five Florida counties (Hendry, Hardee, Collier, Monroe and Hillsborough) operate under rules that were the law before 2011. These counties are “covered jurisdictions” under the Voting Rights Act. Consequently, any change in voting law or procedure must be approved (“precleared”) by the U.S. Justice Department or the federal court in Washington before it can be implemented. The remaining 62 Florida counties are operating under rules approved by the 2011 Legislature and immediately implemented by the Scott administration.
Spare us any more hooey about “preventing fraud” and “protecting the integrity of the ballot box.” The Republican-led crusade for voter ID laws is revealed as a cynical ploy to disenfranchise as many likely Democratic voters as possible, with poor people and minorities the main targets. Recent developments in Pennsylvania – one of more than a dozen states where voting rights are under siege – should be enough to erase any lingering doubt: The GOP is trying to pull off an unconscionable crime. Late last month, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, was addressing a meeting of the Republican State Committee. He must have felt at ease among friends because he spoke a bit too frankly. Ticking off a list of recent accomplishments by the GOP-controlled Legislature, he mentioned the new law forcing voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Said Turzai, with more than a hint of triumph: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”
At this point in a closely fought presidential campaign, pundits and pollsters are checking their guts and sifting through data to try to predict November’s winner. Those of us who specialize in election law engage in a more heart-wrenching task: attempting to make an educated guess about the likelihood that one or another election irregularity will lead to a Bush v. Gore-style meltdown. My candidate for the honor of the next potential chad to dangle: absentee ballots. Competition for this year’s biggest potential ballot box nightmare is pretty stiff. We can expect the rise in voter identification laws to lead to some confusion at the polls. This confusion may arise both from the voters who face unfamiliar barriers to entry and from untrained poll workers who must enforce sometimes arcane, novel laws on the fly. This will probably lead to a large number of provisional ballots — the kind a poll worker gives you when they can’t find your name on the rolls. The legality of these would be determined in a post-election recount, if one comes to pass. But the silent, creeping revolution in the timing and method of voting presents bigger opportunities for trouble. In recent years, absentee and mail-in ballots have been steadily rising as a share of total ballots cast. The majority of states now allow “no-excuse absentee” voting, meaning anyone can ask to cast a ballot by mail. You don’t need the political equivalent of a doctor’s note, as was true previously.
An obscure procedural order issued the day after the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s health care law got lost in the saturated media coverage of the health ruling and the palace intrigue over whether Chief Justice John Roberts switched his vote and alienated his conservative colleagues. Without comment or dissent, the justices declined to hear Minnesota’s appeal of a federal appeals court ruling in 281 Care Committee v. Arneson — holding that Minnesota’s law banning false campaign speech about ballot measures is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The result could be even nastier campaigns and more political dirty tricks. Minnesota had asked the Supreme Court to hold its petition until the court decided United States v. Alvarez, the so-called “Stolen Valor” case. The court decided Alvarez the same day as health care, striking down as a free speech violation a federal law making it a crime to falsely claim to be a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez casts considerable doubt over when, if ever, states can take actions to combat false campaign statements and campaign dirty tricks — including lying about the location of a polling place or the voting date. The court could have used the 281 Care Committee case to clear up the muddle next term. But it just denied the petition. Without new clarity, I expect anyone charged with making election-related lies to raise a First Amendment defense. Which they just may win.
At first glance, it seems appropriate to require voters to show photo ID cards. But stop and think: What sort of person is unlikely to have a driver license or similar card? Answer: the poor, young blacks, the aged, Hispanics, teens — all groups who tend to vote Democratic. That’s why Republican legislators across America are waging an all-out drive to clamp restrictions on voting. They claim they’re doing it to stop “vote fraud,” but that’s a smoke screen. In reality, the new laws amount to vote fraud themselves because they’re designed to block left-leaning people from the polls. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimates that 5 million Americans could be prevented from voting this year because of GOP-passed state laws requiring picture IDs, halting election-day registration, curbing early and absentee balloting, etc.
When Edward and Mary Weidenbener went to vote in Indiana’s primary in May, they didn’t realize that state law required them to bring government photo IDs such as a driver’s license or passport. The husband and wife, both approaching 90 years old, had to use a temporary ballot that would be verified later, even though they knew the people working the polling site that day. Unaware that Indiana law obligated them to follow up with the county election board, the Weidenbeners ultimately had their votes rejected — news to them until informed recently by an Associated Press reporter. Edward Weidenbener, a World War II veteran who had voted for Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential contest, said he was surprised by the rules and the consequences. “A lot of people don’t have a photo ID. They’ll be automatically disenfranchised,” he said.
It was a tiny election in the scheme of things. Only 2,544 votes were cast on a quiet May day in 2009. But over three years later, the ballots in the 2009 mayoral race remain at issue, their photographic images locked up in a court fight which may cost taxpayers well over $200,000 if the winner takes all. What has this squabble over ballot inspection proven so far? In the short run, we proved to ourselves that instant runoff voting produced enough of a stink that we booted it. The procedure, run here by a Maryland firm, was supposed to simulate a runoff if no one won a majority. When we learned that there were multiple ways for guessing how people would vote, we decided that an actual runoff beat one run by a computer program. But that race had another by-product. It produced a court battle that seemed rooted in a clash of egos.
Editorials: Walking a fine line on voter ID issue – the Minnesota Secretary of State and the voter ID amendment | StarTribune.com
The much-debated voter ID amendment is a potential minefield for Minnesota’s top elections official. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s opposition to the proposed changes in election law has been well-known for years. Yet now that the Legislature has put the issue on the ballot for voters, his office must be sure that the referendum is carried out fairly and impartially. Some supporters of the amendment contend that Ritchie already has failed that test. The Minnesota Majority, a citizen’s group, says it is considering filing a complaint against the secretary with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Amendment supporters raise legitimate questions. Ritchie and his staff are the go-to government officials for information on voting practices, and now a major elections change is on a ballot they must administer. Despite the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s opposition to the amendment, it is the board’s hope that Ritchie’s office will strive to remain as neutral as possible between now and the election.
The near-meltdown in the vote count for the New York Democratic primary featuring scandal-tarred congressman Charlie Rangel should serve as a warning siren about what could happen in this November’s national election. It’s not just voter fraud we have to worry about. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the fraud ends and the incompetence begins. The Rangel fiasco reminds us that the United States has, as Walter Dean Burnham, the nation’s leading political scientist, put it, “the developed world’s sloppiest election systems.” And New York City is no unsophisticated backwater. The troubles in the Rangel race began on Election Night, June 26. The voting-machine totals put down on paper had the incumbent beating his challenger, state senator Adriano Espaillat, by a comfortable 2,300 votes in a Harlem district that is now equally divided between black and Hispanic populations. But after the voting-machine totals were sent to a computer, the Rangel lead melted to 802 votes; a partially completed recount has boosted his lead to 945 votes.
Did you see the really important Supreme Court judgment handed down on June 28, 2012? No, not the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ho hum affirmation of the Affordable Care Act. I’m talking about the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the city of Aspen appeal of the Marks v. Koch ballots-as-public-records case. If you missed it, after three years, Marilyn wins. By deciding to not hear the city’s appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court confirmed that ballots are public records. Colorado’s citizens can rightfully and independently verify their election results, and clerks, both elected and appointed, need to both keep ballots anonymous and allow for their public inspection. What a concept. Something strange happens to a lot of people once they are elected. All of the sudden their unyielding belief in fairness and equality takes a back seat to anything that might deleteriously impact their political station. So it should surprise no one that a failed candidate took a small but insidious issue to the higher ground of statewide public interest.
There’s little question what the political calculus behind voter-ID laws is. Advocates argue that the laws, which require government photo identification to vote, are necessary to prevent voter fraud—despite there being virtually no evidence that such fraud is a problem. In practice, the laws will disproportionately have an impact on poor people and those of color, two Democratic-leaning groups that are less likely to have such IDs. Predictably, Republicans have been pushing for these laws, while Democrats generally oppose them. That is, until earlier this week, when Michigan Governor Rick Snyder shot down his own party and vetoed a state voter-ID law. He also vetoed laws that would have made it harder to conduct voter-registration drives and to confirm U.S. citizenship for voters. All three—pushed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and sponsored by Republican lawmakers—would likely have dampened turnout, particularly among disadvantaged communities.
Reported UFO sightings happen far more than voter fraud, Mother Jones reports. Republicans legislatures are quick to legislate against supposedly rampant voter fraud, but a new report finds that UFO sightings are far more likely than actual voter fraud. 3,615 times more likely, to be exact. “Voter laws are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton said on Thursday. In 2000 to 2010, just 13 cases of credible, in-person voter fraud were found in the 649 million votes cast in general elections, but the legislative efforts to curb the supposed fraud are huge: in the last ten years, nearly 1,000 bills have been introduced in 46 different states to tighten voting laws. 24 voting restrictions have passed in 17 states in the last year and a half and five important battleground states—Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—will have tighter voter restrictions than they did in 2008.
Amid our vacations, fireworks and barbecues Wednesday, it’s easy to forget that we are actually commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The most famous phrase from that document is one of our nation’s founding values: “All men are created equal.” As it happens, this July Fourth week brings two significant victories for that value that are worth celebrating. Most Americans are probably not aware that since 2011, more than two dozen measures have passed that will make it more difficult for some eligible citizens to vote, denying them the opportunity to participate equally in our democracy. Too often, it appears that politicians are trying to manipulate voting laws to save their jobs and pick their voters, rather than allowing all voters to choose their politicians. The good news is that the public, the courts and some elected officials have fought these new restrictions in several states, including Ohio, Maine, Missouri and, just Tuesday, Michigan. To the surprise of many — at the urging of good government and voting rights groups, several editorial pages and many of Michigan’s citizens — Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a package of restrictive voting laws in that state. One of the bills would have restricted voter registration drives.
“Some 1,500 people voted under dead people’s and prisoners’ names from 2008-11, according to Michigan’s auditor general. Many might be clerical errors, but this illustrates the need to ensure accurate voter rolls.” Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson wrote this in a July 2 Times-Herald column, and she lied. Johnson is a member of a fifteen-state consortium of right-wing elections officials that’s hellbent on purging voters. And her dishonest jousting in Michigan this week offers a window into how that consortium works—playing fast and loose with facts in order to create the impression of a problem that would justify their hardline solutions, and flouting the law themselves when necessary. Johnson’s Monday column was a last-ditch effort to persuade Governor Rick Snyder to sign into law herSecure and Fair Elections (SAFE) initiative, including the bills HB 5061 and SB 803, which respectively would force voters to reaffirm their citizenship before receiving a ballot and would require photo ID for absentee voting. Another bill, SB 754, would put onerous restrictions on third-party registration organizations, much like a Florida law that was recently blocked by a federal judge. On Tuesday, Governor Snyder vetoed those three bills, but preserved the rest of Johnson’s SAFE package. Despite Johnson’s constant refrain on dead people voting, her own Bureau of Elections has already established that there was no actual voter fraud in the auditor general’s report she referenced in her July 2 column.
The Republican Party has throughout most of its history been far more concerned than the Democratic Party with the vital work of expanding the franchise. Founded by militant abolitionists, many of them radicals who had fled Europe after the failed revolutions of 1848, the Grand Old Party was in the forefront of the fight to allow freed…
There’s nothing to brag about in the fact that since Gov. Terry Branstad took over in 2011, Iowa has become one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to vote. Last year, many civil rights groups were pleading with the newly re-elected governor not to issue an executive order that would return Iowa to a pre-2005 time when convicted felons didn’t have their voting rights restored automatically once they completed their sentences, probation or parole. Before 2005, felons could regain their voting rights in Iowa only by appealing individually for clemency — a lengthy process that required an investigation and a review by the governor. And because the process was so cumbersome that many ex-convicts decided not to follow it through, the net effect was near blanket disenfranchisement. In 2005, however, then Gov. Tom Vilsack issued an executive order that restored voting rights to nearly 100,000 of our fellow Iowans — many of them minority members — to participate in the political process.
In the ongoing controversy over Pennsylvania’s move to require voter identification at the polls starting in November, a Republican leader’s moment of campaign swagger has given opponents new ammunition. State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Allegheny County last weekend stood before a political gathering in Hershey, ticking off victories for the Republican-run state legislature and Gov. Corbett. Voter ID, said Turzai, “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Big surprise, said his political foes. State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) said Turzai’s comments confirmed what Democrats have suspected all along: that voter ID is “part of a national effort by the Republican Party to pass laws disenfranchising large numbers of voters who tend to vote Democratic.”
What is in an election? As Mexico gears up for Sunday’s presidential vote, much of the chatter has centred on the possible return of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) under Enrique Peña Nieto, its candidate and far-away favourite, according to opinion polls. And with little wonder: when the party finally lost power in 2000 after ruling for 71 consecutive years of pseudo democracy, many political analysts predicted that the party would shrivel and die as the country embraced a new, more pluralistic future. But let’s step back a moment from the constant questions of “will a PRI victory mean a return to the past?” and consider the political and economic stability that this election season offers investors compared with six years ago. Back then, investors were scrambling to put their business plans on hold as many doubted whether the centre-right Felipe Calderón could catch up with and overhaul the fiery front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftwing Democratic Revolution (PRD).