Remote ballot marking systems are one of the new uses of technology in election administration. As part of a vote-by-mail system, they allow voters to receive a blank ballot to mark electronically, print, and then cast by returning the printed ballot to the elections office. In a recent project, NIST, the Center for Civic Design, Verified Voting Foundation and experts in security, accessibility, usability, and election administration set out to answer the question: Can we make remote ballot marking systems both accessible and secure, so voters can use and trust them? We were pleased to discover that these goals can co-exist in a well-designed system, and in many cases they support each other. Following the lead of state election directors, we started with strong principles and supporting guidelines for remote ballot marking systems focusing on the important goals for any election system.
National: ‘Motor-voter’ registration laws pitted against citizenship IDs in court case | Washington Times
A federal official overstepped his authority by allowing three states to demand proof of citizenship on the national “motor-voter” forms that help many Americans register to vote, the Obama administration and allied groups argued Wednesday in a case that pits one part of the federal government against another. The League of Women Voters said eligible voters in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia will be turned away in a pivotal election year because the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s executive director waded into a “clear question of policy” that can be tackled only by commissioners of the independent agency. “The practice is clear,” Michael C. Keats, an attorney for the league, told U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon in the District of Columbia, pleading with him to block changes to the federal form’s instructions in all three states until their lawsuit is decided on the merits.
National: In Maryland and Virginia, efforts to end gerrymandering face major obstacles: Lawmakers | The Washington Post
In deep-blue Maryland, Democratic state lawmakers have shown little interest in giving up their power to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts every 10 years. The Republicans who control the legislature in Virginia are similarly unwilling. But with both states’ congressional maps under attack for unfairly favoring the majority party, a few lawmakers have come up with a new suggestion: Why don’t we give up our power together, negating the political effects? “The only way to get through this now is for everybody to give up a little bit in a partisan sense for everyone to gain a lot in terms of principle,” said Maryland state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin. The Montgomery County Democrat is calling for a “Potomac compact” in which a single, independent panel would draw congressional lines for both states.
In 2011, former Bain Capital executive Edward Conrad decided to give $1 million to the super-PAC supporting the presidential bid of his pal Mitt Romney. But he didn’t contribute the cash directly. Instead, he put the money in a generically named shell company he had recently created, which then cut a check to the super-PAC, Restore Our Future. Election law prohibits donors from taking steps to hide their identities, and campaign finance activists pressed the Federal Election Commission to investigate. Five years later, the FEC—which since at least 2010 has been existing in a fugue state of partisan paralysis—has finally rendered a decision on whether it will probe the matter, which is something of a post-Citizens United test case. Nah, we’ll pass on this one, the FEC decided on Monday.
The state-by-state push to enact automatic voter registration laws is nearing a tipping point. Or so its supporters hope. Oregon began proactively adding unregistered citizens to its rolls last month. California will soon follow suit under a state law signed last year. Serious efforts to enact similar proposals through legislative action or citizen ballot initiatives are underway in several other states, including Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio. The drive has won endorsements in the last year from President Obama and both Democrats running to succeed him in the White House. Those are all indisputable signs of momentum for an idea now at the core of advocacy efforts to expand access to the ballot box—that state governments should make it easier to vote by simply registering their eligible citizens, rather than forcing them to do it themselves. Yet while the campaign has gained steam, it has also cleaved along party lines in a way that threatens to turn automatic registration into one more partisan flashpoint in the battle over voting laws. “I have met many Democrats that are convinced that Republican are trying to keep their party from voting, and I’ve met many Republicans that are convinced that Democrats are cheating,” said Kim Wyman, the top elections official in Washington state. “And it’s really hard to convince either side otherwise.”
Campaign-finance reform advocates hold out zero hope that the current Congress will overhaul the rules, but they have nevertheless unveiled a plan that sketches out their ideal vision for tightening up federal election law enforcement. On Tuesday, Senator Tom Udall, of New Mexico, introduced a bill that would kill the Federal Election Commission and replace it with a new agency that is “empowered to crack down on campaign finance violations,” according to a statement. A cadre of pro-reform advocacy groups is now calling on other senators to support the legislation, dubbed the Federal Election Administration Act. “The Federal Election Commission is a failed, dysfunctional agency that does not enforce or properly interpret the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the groups wrote in a letter to U.S. senators this week. “As a result, campaigns, political operatives, parties and independent spenders know they can operate with impunity and without consequences for campaign-finance violations. This has created the modern political equivalent of the Wild West without a sheriff.”
The first presidential election in more than half a century without the protections of the Voting Rights Act kicks into even higher gear over the next 12 days. And voters in several of the states with upcoming contests could face barriers to the polls. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio are all among the states that hold primaries or caucuses between Saturday and March 15, and all have new voting restrictions in place. Nominating contests tend to attract fewer voters, and a more engaged crowd, than the general election, so the immediate impact may be limited. But what happens could offer warning signs about problems that could arise on a much larger scale in November. Already, voting restrictions and administrative snafus in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, among other states, appear to have disenfranchised would-be voters.
Ted Cruz, tagged as “Canadian” by a needling Donald Trump since the GOP race tightened in January, rejects any idea of being ineligible to be U.S. president. While Trump hasn’t followed up on his threat to sue Calgary-born Cruz over what he says is the Texas senator not meeting the constitutional requirement of being a “natural-born citizen,” plenty of other people have. Trump has warned that Democrats will disrupt the electoral process by suing if Cruz is the nominee. And that’s caused Cruz a bit of trouble. He has had to lawyer up to fight the more than half-dozen lawsuits around the country, some in federal court, some in state court. A Cook County, Ill., judge tossed one of the suits Tuesday, not over the citizenship issue but over a technicality of how the papers were served.
In many ways, Alabama is the cradle of the voting rights movement, a place where Wilcox County circuit clerk Ralph Ervin says “stumbling blocks” have been turned into “stepping stones”. But on Super Tuesday civil rights activists say those stumbling blocks are preventing black voters from going to the polls. The issue in this state, where a quarter of the population are African-American, is voter ID laws. In 2014, the state changed the law and now requires all voters to produce government-issued photo IDs. At first glance that does not seem like an unreasonable request and those who back the law say it prevents voter fraud. But in sparsely populated poor communities, like Wilcox County, public transport is virtually non-existent -compounding the problem is the partial closure of more than 30 drivers license offices, many in predominantly black counties.
As voters in 12 states head to the polls for Super Tuesday, there are scattered reports of election problems — especially in the South. Officials at Election Protection, a coalition of groups that runs an election-day hotline to help voters who encounter problems, say the phone lines have been busy, with about 1,500 calls as of around 5:45 p.m. ET. The highest volume came from Texas, Georgia and Alabama, with Virginia and Colorado also well represented. Many of the calls came from voters who have moved recently and want to know whether they can still vote at their old polling location, said Kristen Clarke, the executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helps lead the effort.
The US presidential election is fast approaching and the nation, along with the rest of the world, is waiting to see who will be chosen to run for the White House. … Yet, even though the US is among the most technologically advanced nations in the world, most of its voters cannot cast their ballots online. This is despite the fact that nowadays we can do pretty much anything in the virtual world: work, entertainment, paying bills or buying things are now part of our everyday online lives. So is internet voting really such a risk? And if so, where’s the catch? There are actually several of them. First of all, cyberspace isn’t actually as safe as everyone thinks, not even for banking or paying for for online shopping … that is if you’re not properly protected. The upside is that potential fraud affects only a small portion of all online transactions. Due to this, online merchants, banks and big companies can ‘hide’ the costs that the victims of fraud would normally have to pay. The rather unpopular downside is that everyone ends up covering these losses in the form of fees or higher prices. But this approach doesn’t apply to online voting. Who would pay for the damage done by electoral fraud? And what would be the mechanism to fix glitches, especially if they were uncovered years later? Making things ‘even worse’, voting is anonymous, so by design there should be no way to find out who rigged the results or who cast the fraudulent ballots.
During President Obama’s final State of the Union address, he called for reforms to the voting process, saying, “We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. We need to modernize it for the way we live now.” Just ahead of Super Tuesday and in the midst of the presidential primaries—where we’ve already witnessed record turnout and long lines in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada—it’s a good time to reconsider the president’s appeal to modernize the voting process, and review an encouraging effort to do just this. Many have questioned the burden and fairness of voter ID laws, particularly for minority voters. But even easing voter ID laws doesn’t eliminate the bias of the polling locations themselves. In fact, a score of recent studies highlight how the building where you vote—whether it’s a church or a school—can subconsciously influence which boxes you check on the ballot.
National: Voter Privacy: What You Need to Know About Your Digital Trail During the 2016 Election | EFF
The right to an anonymous vote is a cornerstone of the U.S. democratic process. Yet from the time until you walk into the voting booth until long, long after you cast your ballot, your personal information is a highly sought-after commodity. Often your name, contact details, and political leanings are frighteningly easy for political campaigns to access, collect, share, trade, and sell. First, a caveat. As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, we are prohibited from electioneering, i.e., endorsing or opposing any particular candidate. So while we’ll offer some illustrative examples, none of what follows is intended to single out any particular candidate—candidates and independent campaign committees across the political spectrum are collecting information about you. This post is not intended to influence your vote, but rather to inform you as a citizen about the privacy implications of your participation in the democratic process. Data collection is an entrenched part of how modern political campaigns work, and that should concern you regardless of your political affiliation.
If the early voting numbers are any indicator, get ready for a huge turnout on Super Tuesday. In state after March 1 state, election officials are reporting increases in the number of voters who cast their ballot before election day. Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts — to name just a few — report upticks in absentee ballots and voter registration. In at least two of the 12 states voting Tuesday, Georgia and Tennessee, election officials report dramatic surges that have blown past previous records. “We are seeing an upsurge. In the last couple of election cycles we’ve seen about 100,000 people early vote. Through yesterday, we’ve had about 120,000 already. And we’ve got today, tomorrow and Monday still,” Chris Powell, a spokesman in the Arkansas secretary of state’s office, said Friday. The numbers vary but the story is similar in many of the Super Tuesday states — voters seem primed to come out in large numbers and are eager to vote earlier in 2016.
As this year’s presidential primaries move beyond the First Four states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, and into the dozen “Super Tuesday” states voting on March 1, millions of Americans will find themselves exercising their right to vote on computerized machines from the pre-iPhone era running on software like Windows 2000 with hardware like 512 kilobyte memory cards. “It’s concerning because this is the infrastructure for our elections,” said Lawrence Norden, co-author of America’s Voting Machines at Risk, a recent Brennan Center for Justice report found 43 states have counties using voting equipment 10 to 15-years-old. “The most immediate short-term concern is that we get more failures on election days – that machines crash or shut down or have to be taken out of service, because they’re not working like they’re supposed to,” Norden said. “That can create chaos at the polling place and long lines
Civil rights leaders who marched from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965 received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, the highest civilian honor awarded by the US Congress. The honor was accepted by Reverend Frederick D Reese, one of the march’s organizers. It was a triumphant, if frustrated, ceremony, as some of the same congressional leaders who awarded the medal had also failed to pass a renewed voting rights act, after the US supreme court’s recent dismantling of key legislation from 1965. “I am certainly honored to be able to stand here and look into such beautiful faces and recall how good God has been, because he is a good God,” said Reese, when he took the podium. “He brought us from nowhere to somewhere, allowed us to receive the great blessing that this great nation has to offer, and to stand here today to say, ‘Thank you!’” But not at everyone was jubilant. The award was prefaced with a press conference, which called for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
A federal judge has turned down a request to block a federal official’s move allowing three states to enforce proof-of-citizenship requirements for people attempting to register as voters. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon declined to issue the temporary restraining order civil rights and voting rights groups sought to block approval of changes the states of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia obtained recently to a federal form that can be used in lieu of state voter registration applications. “Given that the registration deadlines for the Alabama and Georgia primaries and for the Kansas Republican Caucus had already passed at the time this TRO motion was filed…and that the effects of [the federal] actions on the ongoing registration process for the Kansas Democratic Caucus and plaintiffs’ rights and efforts thereto are uncertain at best, plaintiffs have not demonstrated they will suffer irreparable harm before the hearing on their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” Leon wrote in a four-page order issued Tuesday afternoon.
National: It’s a Presidential Election Year: Do You Know Where Your Voter Records Are? | The Canvass
One of the secrets of the election world is how readily available voter data can be—and it’s been making headlines lately. In late 2015, information such as name, address, party, and voting history relating to approximately 191 million voters was published online. And recently, the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz came under fire for a mailer in Iowa that used voter data to assign grades to voters and compared them to neighbors to motivate turnout. Voter records have always been public information, but now it’s being used in new ways. Here are some key facts you need to know about the privacy (or lack of privacy) of voter information. All 50 states and the District of Columbia provide access to voter information, according to the U.S. Elections Projectrun by Dr. Michael McDonald at the University of Florida; but as with everything related to elections there are 51 different variations on what information is provided, who can access it, and how much it costs to get it.
Republican congressional leaders joined with their Democratic colleagues this week in a rare show of bipartisan unity to present the Congressional Gold Medal — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to the “foot soldiers” who took part in historic marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965 demanding voting rights for black Americans. Those nonviolent protests and the official violence that met them helped secure passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, a landmark law banning racial discrimination in elections. But that law was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling in a case out of Alabama, a decision that effectively ended the requirement that states with a history of voter discrimination — mostly in the South — get Department of Justice preclearance for changes to election laws. Now two bills have been introduced in Congress to restore that provision of the Voting Rights Act — but they’re being blocked by some of the same Republican leaders who helped honor the voting rights marchers.
National: Civil rights groups concerned restrictive laws will keep minorities from casting votes | Associated Press
With less than a week to go before “Super Tuesday,” a coalition of civil rights groups is working to make sure that everyone eligible can cast a vote. Election Protection, which represents more than 100 civil rights organizations across the U.S., is concerned with the recent surge of restrictive voting laws in some states following the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a Voting Rights Act provision. “We’ve come to see a lot of stress when it comes to accessing the ballot box,” Kristen Clarke, the executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a conference call Wednesday. “This is the first election in 40 years without the Voting Rights Act.”
National: Want honest elections? Meet America’s new election integrity watchdog | Public Radio International
With the 2000 presidential election’s voting debacle still raw, President George W. Bush in 2002, signed into law the “Help America Vote Act,” which he promised would help “ensure the integrity and efficiency of voting processes in federal elections.” A key component: the Election Assistance Commission, a new, bipartisan federal agency tasked with adopting voting system guidelines, distributing grants and otherwise aiding states in improving their election processes. But the little commission soon hit downdrafts. Congress routinely cut its already modest budget. The federal government moved its headquarters from prime digs in downtown Washington, DC, to a nondescript office tower in suburban Maryland. Then in 2010, the Election Assistance Commission began a nearly five-year stretch where it lacked enough appointed commissioners to conduct meetings, and, therefore, conduct its most important business. Some members of Congress tried, and failed, to kill what had effectively become a zombie agency.
National: Post-Scalia supreme court could start to turn tide on voting rights restrictions | The Guardian
Just over a week after the death of Antonin Scalia, legal experts are seeing signs that a newly configured supreme court may lead to a modest expansion of voting rights after years of setbacks. Although a new justice is unlikely to be appointed before election day, a court deadlocked between four conservatives and four liberals could still have a significant effect during a presidential election year in which activists on both sides of the partisan divide will be banging on the door of the country’s highest court to settle disputes over restrictive voting rules and racial discrimination. “It’s starting pretty much immediately,” said Dan Tokaji, an election law specialist at Ohio State University’s Moritz School of Law. “You’re going to start seeing cases challenging voting rules like you do in every election … These cases tended to be decided on a 5-4 vote, so Justice Scalia’s absence could be very important.”
National: DOJ Backs Injunction Against Citizenship Proof On Federal ‘Motor Voter’ Forms | International Business Times
The League of Women Voters, a national voting rights advocacy group, has sued a federal commission charged with standardizing voter registration. But instead of defending its voting commission, the Obama administration appears to agree with the basis of the lawsuit seeking injunction against a proof of citizenship requirement on voter registration forms in three states. According to papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the Department of Justice has urged Judge Richard Leon to block a decision by the director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) allowing registration forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to insist that voters provide documentation of citizenship. The federal National Voter Registration Act requires states to allow voter registration when residents apply for or renew a state government-issued ID or driver’s license, but does not sanction proof of citizenship requirements on so-called “motor voter” forms.
National: Department of Justice disowns EAC director’s move on proof of citizenship for voters | MSNBC
Even the federal government says the director of a federal election agency erred when he allowed a group of red states to require proof of citizenship for those looking to vote. In a court filing Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote that it supported a motion by voting groups to immediately halt the controversial move made last month by Brian Newby, the executive director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). DoJ lawyers wrote that because the proof of citizenship requirement violates federal voting law, Newby’s decision was “not consistent with the statute” and “contrary to governing law.” The filing means that Newby’s position that the change was appropriate is in effect being disowned by his own legal team. Despite the DoJ’s stance, at a hearing Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon declined to grant the voting rights groups’ request for a temporary restraining order against the move. Leon indicated that he wanted to wait until the full facts of the case are presented. A hearing is scheduled for March 9.
A federal judge sounded skeptical Monday about a request from voting and civil rights’ groups to block a federal official’s decision to embrace requirements in three states that new voters submit proof that they’re U.S. citizens. During a 90-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon repeatedly asked about past and upcoming registration deadlines in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas, suggested that the parties who brought suit earlier this month may have acted too slowly and seemed focused on the fact that only a small percentage of voters register in any given year. While the judge said he would not rule until Tuesday on the temporary restraining order requested by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and voter registration organization Project Vote, the thrust of his questions to several lawyers hinted that he was inclined against granting the order.
Reflecting on baseball attendance, the philosopher Yogi Berra observed that “if people don’t want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?” He could have said much the same thing about the American electorate. If voters don’t want to go to the polls, what is going to stop them, too? Often enough, nothing has. Across the decades, Americans have chosen not to exercise the franchise aerobically. The turnout rate in national elections, typically below 60 percent, ranks near the bottom among the world’s developed democracies. The share of Americans who even bother registering to vote — 64.6 percent, according to the most recent figures from the United States Census Bureau — does not come close to rates exceeding 90 percent in Western Europe and Canada. Even in a supposedly banner year like 2008, when Barack Obama’s candidacy generated plenty of excitement, the turnout was not quite 62 percent, a pace that countries like Belgium, Denmark and Sweden would regard as dismal.
A group of voting rights activists is up in arms after the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) told elections officials in three states that they could require residents to provide documented proof of U.S. citizenship when using federal forms to register to vote. On Wednesday, the coalition filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order blocking the changes in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. “Voters have been using the Federal Form to register without having to comply with a documentary proof of citizenship requirement for over two decades, but the Executive Director’s sudden unilateral changes to the Federal Form – implemented without public notice – ratchet up the requirements for registering to vote at the last-minute, mere weeks before primary elections and a presidential caucus in the affected states,” according to the complaint. “Imposing such eleventh-hour restrictions on voting risks voter and election official confusion and is contrary to the public interest,” it argued.
President Obama backed a bill in Illinois last week that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID. “That will protect the fundamental right of everybody,” he said. “Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military — it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted.” But so far, support for automatic voter registration — now being considered in about two dozen states — has pretty much broken down along party lines. Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, generally think it’s a great way to expand the electorate. But Republicans are far more wary. Some say they’re worried it could expose voter rolls to mistakes and fraud. And there’s a philosophical divide, too. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, says it’s important that citizens take the initiative when it comes to registering.
As John Oliver discussed on his HBO program Sunday, many states have passed laws in recent years making it more difficult to cast a ballot. Yet there is no sign that actual voter participation has decreased. University of Michigan political scientists Nicholas Valentino and Fabian Neunerhave come up with a psychological explanation for this disconnect. They argue that news of such laws—which are widely seen as attempts by Republican legislatures to reduce voting of predominantly Democrat poorer voters—infuriates people on the political left, making them more likely to go to the polls.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s death is certain to have an impact on the political debate in this year’s elections, but it could also have a far more direct effect on the elections themselves. There are numerous challenges to Republican-led congressional redistricting plans and new voter ID laws likely to come under Supreme Court scrutiny. Scalia had been a reliable vote for allowing such redistricting plans and voting rules. A new justice nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate would almost certainly shift the court in the direction of stricter voting rights enforcement and a greater willingness to take account of race when considering redistricting and election law matters. But the more likely scenario in the near term — deadlock over Scalia’s replacement — could have a similar effect by leaving the court less likely to come up with the five votes required to set precedents on such matters and to issue emergency stays in challenges to last-minute voter ID and election-law changes coming up from lower courts.