Votes being registered for the wrong candidate. Voting machines running out of memory. Election officials searching eBay for outdated notebook computers. These are just a few of the nightmarish scenarios state and local officials face as the country’s voting machines age and break down. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that the expected lifespan of core components in electronic voting machines purchased since 2000 is between 10 and 20 years, and for most systems it is probably closer to 10 than 20. Experts surveyed by the Brennan Center agree that the majority of machines in use today are either “perilously close to or exceed these estimates.”
A closely divided Supreme Court on Tuesday struggled to decide “what kind of democracy people wanted,” as Justice Stephen G. Breyer put it during an argument over the meaning of the constitutional principle of “one person one vote.” The court’s decision in the case, expected by June, has the potential to shift political power from urban areas to rural ones, a move that would provide a big boost to Republican voters in state legislative races in large parts of the nation. The basic question in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone.
Some people think it’s unfair to have more eligible voters in one legislative district than in another — that basing things solely on total population is the wrong way to draw political maps. But that’s only one way the lines might be seen to slight a particular group of Texans. The question stems from a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court this week challenging the current maps for Texas Senate elections. The plaintiffs argue that those maps — drawn to put approximately the same number of people in every district — put them at a disadvantage by including unequal numbers of eligible voters in each district.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday will debate whether to rewrite the rules for legislative redistricting—in a way that would further strengthen Republicans’ dominance in state politics. State legislative districts are apportioned under the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” And, for decades, states have taken that to mean that each district should contain roughly the same number of people. But the challengers in the case before the high court Tuesday say that’s not the right interpretation. They say districts should be apportioned with equal numbers of eligible voters, rather than total residents. If the challengers succeed, the case could usher in a redistricting revolution—and big gains for the GOP. Densely populated urban areas tend to lean Democratic, and also to contain more people who aren’t eligible or registered to vote. If state legislative districts were redrawn to equalize the number of eligible voters, rather than the number of total residents, inner cities’ political power would likely be diluted into more conservative suburbs.
Turning 16, for many teenagers, means finally driving a car without supervision or starting the college search. Now, a new campaign is hoping to add the ability to vote in local elections to the milestones of that age. The campaign, called Vote16USA, which will be announced on Wednesday, aims to lower the voting age to 16 from 18 to spur civic engagement by younger Americans. But the push, by a nonpartisan group based in New York called Generation Citizen, which seeks to promote youth participation in politics, is igniting a debate about voter competency, adolescent decision making and whether allowing younger people to vote is the best way to politically engage teenagers. Opponents say that teenagers are not mature enough to vote at 16, that they will not make informed decisions and that Vote16USA is a partisan push to get more liberals on voter rolls. Advocates, however, argue that lowering the voting age would increase turnout, allow teenagers to weigh in on issues that directly affect them and push schools to improve civic education.
Practical concerns about forcing states to abandon the way they have drawn electoral districts for more than 50 years seemed to give a key justice pause Tuesday in a Supreme Court case of immense importance to the nation’s growing Latino population. The court heard arguments in a case from Texas on the meaning of the principle of “one person, one vote,” which the court has said requires that political districts be roughly equal in population. But it has left open whether states must count all residents, or only eligible voters, in drawing district lines. In Texas, and other states with large immigrant populations, the difference is more than academic. Urban districts include many more people who are too young, not citizens or otherwise ineligible to vote.
It turns out the idea of “one person, one vote” isn’t as simple as it sounds. The U.S. Supreme Court will put that half-century-old constitutional principle to the test Tuesday, hearing an appeal that liberal groups say would transform the way legislative maps are drawn, giving more voting clout to Republican strongholds and less to Hispanic communities. The debate centers on an issue that until recently had appeared to be settled. For decades, map-drawers virtually everywhere have tried to equalize the size of districts based on their total population. Now an appeal pressed by two Texans, including a Republican county chairwoman, says the measure should be eligible voters, an approach that would reduce representation for areas heavy with children and non-citizens.
A bipartisan backlash is growing against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to insert an obscure measure into a year-end spending bill that would allow unlimited spending by political parties in coordination with candidates. McConnell — who has long believed that money is an expression of free speech and that restrictions should be removed on political spending — is trying to mimic a tactic that was employed last year. In late 2014, congressional leaders from both parties used a massive year-end bill as a vehicle to greatly increase the amount of money that can flow into political parties. But while last year’s rider was snuck in at the last minute, this year McConnell’s plan has been smoked out early. The backlash now comes from both the left and — perhaps surprisingly given conservatives’ fervent advocacy of looser restrictions on political spending — the right, but for different reasons.
After every U.S. census, states redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts to account for changes in population. This sets off a decennial exercise in partisan gamesmanship, with Democrats and Republicans seeking to alter the lines to their advantage. Lawsuits inevitably follow. Since new maps were drawn before the 2012 election, courts have weighed in on them in 22 states. Five years after the census and less than a year away from the 2016 election, five states are still waiting on judges to determine the fate of their districts. Their decisions could help Democrats chip away at the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the most acrimonious redistricting fights in the nation came to an end on Wednesday, when Florida’s Supreme Court replaced the Republican-drawn congressional map with one that shakes up all but three districts in the state.
With the potential for a seismic shift in the political landscape of California and other states hanging in the balance, the U.S. Supreme Court this week takes on a case that will test the framework of the “one person, one vote” principle that has defined political boundaries for generations. The high court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case out of Texas that threatens to upend the way states draw their political districts based on census-driven overall population numbers — and which could alter political influence in states such as California, where mushrooming Latino populations in urban areas, including illegal immigrants and other noncitizens, play a key part in shaping political maps. Conservative groups have challenged the “one person, one vote” premise based on a simple argument that counting overall population, including those ineligible to vote, unfairly diminishes the power of citizens who are eligible to vote. They have urged the Supreme Court to invalidate the current system, which would force states to completely redraw local and state political districts using different factors and perhaps open the door to eventually reconfiguring congressional districts.
Breaking news can be hard to predict, except when it’s tied to a controversial court case. Candidates and consultants spend their time, energy and dollars staying on message — trying to focus voters on winning issues. But breaking news, even something such as a court decision that can be anticipated, often derails those plans by interjecting a subject that wasn’t in the campaign prospectus into the national conversation. It’s far too early to declare which issues will be decisive in the 2016 elections, but a handful of court cases are likely to become news throughout the next year. That would force candidates for president, the Senate, and the House to respond, creating opportunities for them to shine — or to say something controversial, even stupid. Of course these news events could be trumped by bigger breaking news, such as another terrorist attack.
Maryland state lawmakers have taken up legislation to allow felons to vote once they were released from prison. Currently, felons must wait for their parole or probation to run out. Jane Henderson, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and executive director of Communities United, was surprised to learn that the legislation was getting action. She had assumed it would have been difficult to get the legislature to address the matter, let alone pass legislation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it in May, but she is optimistic that the legislature will override him, and soon. “By state constitution, they have to take it up soon when the next session starts in January,” Henderson told the Washington Examiner. “In the Senate, we’re fine. The House voted 82 for it and we need 85 … We’re very close.” If Maryland does approve the bill, the state would be the latest in an accelerating trend. Since 2009, six states have rolled back laws limiting felon voting rights.
As jurisdictions across the country are preparing for 2016’s big election, many are already thinking of the next presidential election—2020 and beyond. This is especially true when it comes to the equipment used for casting and tabulating votes. Voting machines are aging. A September report by the Brennan Center found that 43 states are using some voting machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. Fourteen states are using equipment that is more than 15 years old. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration dubbed this an “impending crisis.” To purchase new equipment, jurisdictions require at least two years lead time before a big election. They need enough time to purchase a system, test new equipment and try it out first in a smaller election. No one wants to change equipment (or procedures) in a big presidential election, if they can help it. Even in so-called off-years, though, it’s tough to find time between elections to adequately prepare for a new voting system. As Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, puts it, “Changing a voting system is like changing tires on a bus… without stopping.” So if election officials need new equipment by 2020, which is true in the majority of jurisdictions in the country, they must start planning now.
Almost everyone in the voting rights community agrees that the unexpected case challenging long-held assumptions about the concept of “one person, one vote” — which is being heard by the Supreme Court next week — could have devastating consequences. But a point of contention among experts is what threat a more incremental decision poses to the already crippled Voting Rights Act. The case is called Evenwel v. Abbott. It is coming out of Texas, where the challengers are contesting the state legislature’s senate redistricting plan. At issue is whether the use of total population to draw districts — as Texas and other states have near universally done — is unconstitutional. The challengers suggest that some other metric — perhaps one that counts districts by citizens or by eligible voters — is preferable. They say their votes have been diluted because they live in a district that has a higher percentage of eligible voters compared to district that is roughly the same size in total population, but has a lower rate of voter eligibility — in part because of the presence of Latino noncitizens.
Texas was the big winner in the 2010 census when it picked up four congressional seats, due mainly to growth in its Hispanic population. A Supreme Court case being argued Tuesday threatens to diminish Latinos’ clout and benefit white, rural voters. Two voters in Texas are asking the court to order a drastic change in the way Texas and every other state divides their electoral districts. Rather than basing the maps on total population, including non-citizens and children who aren’t old enough to vote, states must count only people who are eligible to vote, the challengers say. They argue that change is needed to carry out the true meaning of the principle of one person, one vote. They claim that taking account of total population can lead to vast differences in the number of voters in particular districts, along with corresponding differences in the power of those voters. A court ruling in their favor would shift more power to rural areas and away from urban districts in which there are large immigrant populations that are ineligible to vote because they are too young or not citizens.
Progressive and political money groups say they will intensify their lobbying in the coming days to prevent four campaign finance measures from hitching a ride on a year-end spending deal. With a deadline to reach agreement on government-wide funding less than two weeks away, the effort will be no easy pitch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., authored one of the measures, which would relax limits on coordination between political parties and candidates. “They’re swimming upstream every step of the way,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University professor who specializes in campaign and election issues. “Legislators are going to be hard-pressed to vote against an appropriation bill that’s otherwise appealing to them on the basis of some of these riders.”
State legislatures are constitutionally obligated to redraw congressional districts every 10 years. But now, with an increased awareness of the potential for unfairness and abuse, voters are starting to push back. Most states make the redistricting decisions themselves, and accusations of gerrymandering – drawing the maps to unfairly preserve majority advantage – are frequent. Since the most recent census in 2010, lawsuits challenging congressional, state Senate or state legislature redistricting maps have been filed in 38 states; there were 37 such challenges following the 2000 round of redistricting. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court considered arguments over whether the Democrat-designed map in Maryland could be reviewed and potentially thrown out by a state panel. At the heart of that dispute is the fact that the state’s political affiliation, currently 54.3 percent Democrat and 25.8 percent Republican, has changed only marginally since Democrats held a 57 percent to 29.7 percent advantage in 2000. And yet Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation has gone from being evenly split between the parties 15 years ago to a 7-1 Democratic advantage now after two rounds of redistricting under Democratic governors and legislatures. One of the districts, which have survived reviews by federal courts, was recently described by a federal judge as resembling “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” “Most people know that Maryland is home to some of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the country,” says Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
When service members take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, they also vow to defend freedom and the right to vote. Voting is essential to maintaining our democratic republic and is accessible to service members through voting assistance programs. The Installation Voting Assistance Office and Federal Voting Assistance Program provide Marines, sailors and family members accessibility to vote in upcoming elections.
Voting doesn’t begin for another two months but some presidential candidates have already failed their first big ballot test – actually getting on the ballot in all 50 states. The business of getting a candidate’s name on the ballot is a costly and complex endeavor, a major drain of money and manpower that threatens to weed out the most underfunded campaigns and strain the others in what remains a historically unwieldy Republican field. Some states require thousands of signatures to qualify; others charge tens of thousands of dollars. Nationally, the price tag for ballot access can soar well past $1 million – more money than some campaigns have left in the bank. “Right about now is the time when some desperation will set in,” said Ben Ginsberg, a veteran Republican political attorney who served as national counsel for Mitt Romney but is unaligned in 2016.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s docket is crowded with voter redistricting disputes this term. The high court already heard a procedural redistricting dispute, Shapiro v. McManus, U.S., No. 14-990, argued, 11/4/15 (84 U.S.L.W. 615, 11/10/15), and the justices recently agreed to take a look at a racial gerrymandering challenge to Virginia’s latest voter map in Wittman v. Personhuballah, U.S., No. 14-1504, review granted, 11/13/15 (84 U.S.L.W. 663, 11/17/15). But on Dec. 8, the one-person, one-vote principle will take center stage at the high court in two separate redistricting cases: Evenwel v. Abbott, U.S., No. 14-940, oral argument scheduled, 12/8/15, and Harris v. Ariz. Indep. Redistricting Comm’n, U.S., No. 14-232, oral argument scheduled, 12/8/15. Where the justices ultimately land in these cases could have a national impact. The dispute in Evenwel—possibly the most consequential of the two one-person, one-vote challenges—centers on whether the one-person, one-vote principle announced in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), protects all persons, or just eligible voters.
In 1963, while preparing for his speech atthe March on Washington, John Lewis saw a photo in The New York Times of a group of black women demonstrators in Rhodesia holding signs that read: one man, one vote. The 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) adopted the phrase as a rallying cry against the disenfranchisement of black Americans in the segregated South. “‘One man, one vote’ is the African cry,” Lewis said at the Lincoln Memorial. “It is ours, too. It must be ours.” Following the March on Washington, SNCC made “One man, one vote” its official slogan. That the Supreme Court is even hearing the ‘Evenwel’ case is a major victory for the plaintiffs. At the same time as Lewis’s speech, “One man, one vote” was being debated before the nation’s highest court. For decades, elected offices in many places were not based on equal population, giving conservative lawmakers from rural areas far more influence than liberal lawmakers from urban areas. “In the American South,” wrote Douglas Smith in On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought “One Person, One Vote” to the United States, “malapportionment served as a cornerstone of white supremacy, ensuring the overrepresentation of the most ardent segregationists and thus further delaying the realization of civil and voting rights for African Americans.”
National: Governors Could Restore Voting Rights To Millions Of People If They Wanted To | Huffington Post
There’s a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress that restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions is a crucial aspect of criminal justice reform. But governors have a massive amount of discretion in deciding whether to reinstate voting rights for millions of ex-felons who are still denied the right to vote, as recent decisions in Kentucky and Iowa illustrate. On Tuesday, Kentucky’s outgoing Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, signed an executive order that would automatically restore voting rights to at least 140,000 former felons who have served their sentences. Kentucky is just one of just three states, along with Florida and Iowa, that permanently disenfranchises all people with felony convictions. Up until now, a Kentuckian with a felony conviction would have to individually petition the governor to have his or her rights restored. As in other states, permanent felon disenfranchisement disproportionately affects racial minorities. An estimated 1 in 5 African-Americans in Kentucky are disenfranchised, compared to 1 in 13 nationally.
Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a must-pass government funding bill that would vastly expand the amount of cash that political parties could spend on candidates, multiple sources tell Politico. The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign-finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates. Pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime foe of campaign finance restrictions, the coordination rider represents the latest threat to the increasingly rickety set of rules created to restrict political fundraising and spending on elections.
Long lines and wait times at the polls are a voting rights issue. During recent presidential election years, horror stories have emerged across the South and the country about voters having to wait in line for several hours to cast a ballot. While such extreme stories are rare, in 2013 a bipartisan commission decried the fact that some 10 million voters had to wait at their polling place for half an hour or more, arguing that “no citizen should have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes to vote.” Some states and localities do a better job of cutting down on wait times than others. A report released this month [pdf] by the Caltech/MIT Voting Project finds that geography — where a voter lives — is the single biggest factor in determining wait times. Drawing on two large election data sets, the report found “average wait times in 2012 ranged from 1.7 minutes in Vermont to 42.3 minutes in Florida — a difference of a factor of 25 between these two states.”
In just under a year, Americans will head to the polls to cast their ballots: Democrat or Republican? Carson or Clinton, perhaps Sanders or Trump? But even 12 months out, political and tech experts are starting to worry that current voting technology won’t be able to keep up with citizen demand. Worst case? A repeat of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, which is still under investigation today. Best case? The country gets on board with at least some electoral advancements to help safeguard the process. What options are available to current voters looking to cast their ballot in the upcoming election? USA.gov’s “Voting and Registering to Vote” page provides the basics: Citizens can turn up in person at their local polling station with applicable ID, or if they’re away from home, they may vote using a mail-in absentee ballot. Making the process more complicated is the fact that citizens must register to vote in federal elections at the state level, and all states have their own registration methods in place. For example, 23 states allow voters to register online, while others only accept a hard copy of the National Mail Voter Registration Form. But there’s a twist: Certain states like North Dakota and Wyoming, along with territories such as American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico, don’t accept the National Mail Voter Registration Form, meaning citizens must register in person at specific government offices.
If Jeb Bush’s popularity ever catches on among fellow Republicans, he’ll find his campaign team has paved a smooth path to the ballot box in primary states. The former Florida governor, political newcomer Ben Carson and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appear to lead the still-crowded GOP presidential field by one important measure: They’ve secured access to the greatest number of state presidential nomination ballots so far. Having the skill, money and will to accomplish that is a sign of a campaign’s seriousness and competence in the eyes of major donors and experienced political watchers.
The United States takes great pride in being one of the largest and longest running modern democracies in the world. Yet when it comes to having a good voter registration system, we have a long way to go. Today’s voter registration systems vary widely in terms of quality and effectiveness from state to state, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice. A dozen states still use paper forms to register voters, making their systems costly to run and prone to errors. The states that do use technology differ in how they use computers to register voters, often making the system less effective than it could be. Until Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, citizens had to seek out the necessary forms to register. The “Motor Voter” law, as it came to be called, made the process easier by putting the forms at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and requiring agency personnel to ask drivers if they wanted to register. But many countries — including Australia, Chile, France, Germany and Sweden — make it easier than that to sign up with automatic voter registration.
Polling places mysteriously ran out of ballots when Mexican Americans showed up to vote. Ads on Spanish language radio threatened fines and imprisonment to those who voted without first properly registering to vote. Illiterate voters were not given assistance at the polls. These were just a few examples of tactics used to keep Mexican Americans from voting in elections after the Voting Rights Act was passed given by scholars and activists at a two-day conference in Texas on the struggle for Latino voting rights. The Voting Rights Act protections are weakened today after a 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court that gutted the act, experts said, and new tactics are taking their place to suppress Latino votes as the population grows and becomes more politically potent.
National: Should soldiers’ votes get counted? That’s not as easy as you’d think. | The Washington Post
Americans want their soldiers to vote. But often they can’t. Despite absentee balloting, military personnel deployed overseas often just cannot participate in elections. For most of U.S. history, military personnel have not been able to vote. State laws and constitutions often specifically restricted military personnel from participating in the franchise. Attitudes about voting soldiers started to change when the Civil War called large numbers of citizens for military service—but action was tempered by partisan politics. The Civil War was the first time the United States had large numbers of soldiers deployed during a presidential election. Politicians of both parties were convinced that the army would vote for the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. As a result, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers to vote, while most states led by Democrats did not. Those voting soldiers probably helped Abraham Lincoln in Maryland and influenced a few local elections in various states.
Pre-election polls in numerous countries this year have widely missed their marks, often by underestimating support for candidates on the ideological fringes. The polling failures in countries like Britain, Poland and Israel point to technical issues that could well foreshadow polling problems in the United States, many analysts believe. “The industry has a collective failure problem,” said John Curtice, the president of the British Polling Council and a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Partly this is the result of changing methodologies. “It’s now a mix of random-digit dialing — that is, telephone polls — and Internet-based polls based on recruited panels,” he said. Both modes present potential problems. Opinion polls in advance of Britain’s general election in May severely underestimated the number of seats that Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party would win. After the election, the polling council called for an independent inquiry into what had caused the error. The council plans to release its findings in mid-January, a report that will be closely read by pollsters in Britain and around the globe.