National: Voting Rights Act: After Supreme Court Ruling, 2016 Election Could Endanger Black, Latino Rights | International Business Times

Decades after many Americans fought, bled and died for the right to vote, millions of voters could be once again be turned away from the polls this year because of a regime of voting laws that disproportionately burden minorities, the elderly, immigrants and the poor. With both presidential and congressional elections in November, advocates warn that the stakes are high. “Basically, all hell is breaking loose,” said Katherine Culliton-González, director of the voter protection program at the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, who spent five years working on voter issues at the U.S. Department of Justice. “Unless you are in the elite — and that doesn’t even mean in the middle class — voter restrictions are going to impact you, one way or another.” This year’s presidential election will be the first one held after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the historic Voting Rights Act in 2013, which required federal pre-clearance of voting law changes for states with a history of voter discrimination. Without those protections in place, pending legal battles over the fairness and constitutionality of recently enacted voting laws will get unprecedented scrutiny this year, advocates on both sides have said. If the courts uphold, for example, a voter ID requirement in North Carolina or allow Texas to redraw districts and reduce political power in heavily immigrant communities, they’d potentially be denying millions the right to vote and be equally represented by their state lawmakers. “Voting laws seem to be changing every day, and that in and of itself is disenfranchising to so many Americans,” González said.

National: As Voter ID Laws Expand, Fewer People Are Getting Drivers Licenses | CityLab

A North Carolina law requiring people to have certain kinds of photo identification in order to vote is on trial this week, in a federal courthouse in Winston-Salem. The state passed a voting law in 2013 that even some conservatives have called one of the most restrictive in the nation in terms of the potential burdening effect it could have on women and people of color. The voter ID provision is one part of a broader set of measures included in that law that, among other things, shortens the early voting period and eliminates Election Day voter registration. Those other measures were taken up in a separate federal trial last summer, with a decision currently pending. This week, the voter ID provision is on trial, with the North Carolina state chapter of the NAACP arguing that it will make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote, especially when combined with the law’s other restrictions. African-American registered voters are far less likely to have driver’s licenses than white voters.

National: North Carolina voter-ID case could have ramifications across U.S. | The Washington Post

The requirement to present photo identification to cast a ballot went on trial Monday in a closely watched case that will have legal ramifications for voting across the country this presidential election year. Inside a federal courthouse here, attorneys for the Justice Department and the NAACP argued that the law passed by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly intentionally discriminates against African Americans and Latinos, who disproportionately lack one of the required forms of photo identification. “The state should be making it easier for people to engage in the fundamental right to vote, not harder,” Michael Glick, a Washington lawyer representing the NAACP, said in his opening statement. Because the voter-ID requirement will make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote, Glick said, it is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

National: Voting rights advocates observe somber King holiday | USA Today

While most of the country will spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday remembering the peaceful nature and civil rights successes lodged by the late leader, voting rights advocates say this is a dark time for them. Many might spend Monday reflecting on King’s 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march to push for voting equality for black Americans, but voting rights advocates note that there has been a major setback in their world. In 2013, a Supreme Court ruling struck down the part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that indicates which parts of the country must have changes to voting rights laws cleared by the federal government or by a federal court. Preclearance was a requirement for states and communities that had a history of discrimination against black voters. Advocates viewed it as a necessary safeguard against discrimination at the ballot. Also, 33 states now have Voter ID laws in place with increased identification requirements for people seeking to cast ballots. The issue has been a controversial one for civil rights advocates, who maintain that some groups of Americans, including older people and minorities, are less likely to have the sort of identification that would be required.

National: When Will We Be Able to Vote Online? | Scientific American

Sooner or later everything seems to go online. Newspapers. TV. Radio. Shopping. Banking. Dating. But it’s much harder to drag voting out of the paper era. In the 2012 presidential election, more than half of Americans who voted cast paper ballots—0 percent voted with their smartphones. Why isn’t Internet voting here yet? Imagine the advantages! … It’s all about security, of course. Currently Internet voting is “a nonstarter,” according to Aviel D. Rubin, technical director of Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute and author of the 2006 book Brave New Ballot. “You can’t control the security of the platform,” he told me. The app you’re using, the operating system on your phone, the servers your data will cross en route to their destination—there are just too many openings for hacker interference. “But wait,” you’re entitled to object, “banks, online stores and stock markets operate electronically. Why should something as simple as recording votes be so much more difficult?” Voting is much trickier for a couple of reasons. Whereas monetary transactions are based on a firm understanding of your identity, a vote is supposed to be anonymous. In case of bank trouble, investigators can trace a credit-card purchase back to you, but how can they track an anonymous vote? And credit-card and bank fraud goes on constantly. It’s just a cost of doing business. But the outcome of an election is too important; we can’t simply ignore a bunch of lost or altered votes.

National: Appeals court upholds FEC rule on disclosure requirements | Associated Press

A federal appeals court on Thursday dealt a setback to campaign finance reform advocates in a ruling about who pays for political ads. The ruling upheld a Federal Election Commission regulation that narrows disclosure requirements for corporations and labor groups paying for ads that run close to Election Day. The regulation says groups running the ads only have to reveal donors who contribute for the express purpose of paying for the ads. That means donors who choose not to say how they want their money used can remain anonymous. Opponents say the rule undermines Congress’ goal of letting voters know which donors are trying to influence elections. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court decision that threw out the regulation last year. The ruling comes on the six-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which lifted limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions.

National: Partisanship Barges In on John Lewis’s Dream | The New York Times

In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that, to the joy of millions of African-Americans, Barack Obama redeemed by winning the presidency. As the youngest speaker at that March on Washington gathering, John Lewis identified another dream. It, too, has been redeemed by the American political system. But the blessing has been decidedly mixed. On that sweltering August day, Mr. Lewis, the 23-year-old champion of voting rights, lamented the absence of an unequivocal “party of principles” from the political scene. “The party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland,” Mr. Lewis said. “The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater.”

National: Hackers Are Sharing Reams of US Voter Data on the Dark Web | Motherboard

Alleged voting records of millions of American citizens have been uploaded to the dark web on a site affiliated with a well-known cybercrime forum. Although the information is not particularly sensitive in its own right, its presence on the site shows that even easily obtainable personal data can be of interest to hackers. The datasets appear to include voters’ full names, dates of birth, the date they registered to vote, addresses, local school districts, and several other pieces of information. The dumps also include voting records from previous elections and political affiliations. The two largest files are 1.2 GB and 1 GB, respectively, and each contain at least a million entries. The folder containing the files is called “US_Voter_DB,” though Motherboard could not independently verify the contents’ legitimacy. It’s not entirely clear where the data was sourced from. On December 28 last year, news site CSO Online reported that a database configuration issue had left 191 million voter records exposed to the open internet. That data was discovered by security researcher Christopher Vickery, who found his own personal information within the dump.

National: It May Be Time to Resolve the Meaning of ‘Natural Born’ | The New York Times

After he left Wall Street to enter politics eight years ago, Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, began fielding the occasional question of when he intended to run for president. “It has come up in jest any number of times,” said Mr. Himes, who always has his answer ready. “There could be constitutional questions.” Mr. Himes, you see, was born in Peru in 1966 while his father worked for the Ford Foundation. That makes him one of at least 17 current members of Congress who, because of their birth outside the United States, could run afoul of the Constitution’s “natural born citizen” presidential requirement should they try to relocate down Pennsylvania Avenue.

National: Unlikely Advocates Push To Give 16-Year-Olds A Vote | NPR

Turning 16 is considered a milestone. In many states, it means being able to drive, pay taxes and work like an adult. In Washington, D.C., 16-year-olds could soon take on another responsibility: the right to vote in a presidential election. Michelle Blackwell is helping lead the effort to enfranchise teenagers in the nation’s capital. But she’s not your typical Washington politico. In D.C., the 44-year-old is better known as one of the top go-go singers around. “Go-go is one of the indigenous genres of music — born right in this city,” says Blackwell of the percussive brand of funk music that originated in Washington in the late 1960s. But off stage, she’s now helping lead the effort to make D.C. the first jurisdiction to let 16-year-olds vote in federal elections.

National: Democrats stand as Obama calls for redistricting reform | The Hill

President Obama called Tuesday for an end to partisan redistricting, creating one of the biggest applause lines from fellow Democrats in his State of the Union address. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it,” Obama said. Democrats in the chamber stood in response, while Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Republicans remained in their seats.
Obama’s party lost control of the House in his first midterm election, and the Democratic Party’s chances of getting it back are dim in large part because of redistricting. More votes were cast for Democratic House candidates in the 2012 election, for example, but it didn’t help put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back into the Speakership.

National: Could Pop-up Social Spaces at Polls Increase Voter Turnout? | Smithsonian

If you make voting fun, will it encourage people to cast their ballots? And once people are at the polls, can you keep them there, and get them talking about what they want from their local and national politicians? Those were some of the questions that designers at the Long Beach, California-based studio City Fabrick were pondering when they came up with the idea for Placemaking the Vote—their very own “kit for creating temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in historically low voter turnout areas.” While the designers are still figuring out exactly what would go into the kit, they’d likely include lights, shelter, chalk and other supplies for building a gathering place and drawing attention to it. City Fabrick would set up the brightly-colored booths outside of the polling places and provide snacks and comfortable places to sit to encourage voters to stick around and talk.

National: For government’s top lawyer on voting rights, presidential election has begun | The Washington Post

The Justice Department has brought on a well-respected election law professor to oversee its voting section and lead the department’s battles over voting rights during this presidential election year. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles has begun serving as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division at a critical time, with Justice Department lawyers litigating several voting-rights cases across the country. Levitt will hold the position, which does not require Senate confirmation, until next January. Levitt, 41, takes charge as the Justice Department awaits high-profile court decisions on voting rights in North Carolina and Texas. The presidential election this year will be the first since a divided Supreme Court invalidated a critical component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, more restrictive voting laws will be in effect in 15 states for the first time in a race for the White House. “The biggest change since the last presidential election is unquestionably the Supreme Court’s decision [on voting rights],” Levitt said in an interview in his fifth-floor office at Justice Department headquarters.

National: Obama’s State of the Union pledge to push for bipartisan redistricting reform was a late add | Los Angeles Times

President Obama used his last State of the Union address to push for national voting reforms and went off script to specifically call for bipartisan groups to draw new congressional districts instead of lawmakers. “I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around,” he said before veering from his prepared remarks to add: “Let a bipartisan group do it.” In recent days, aides to the president had said he was concerned about gerrymandering, the flood of money in politics and other barriers to voter participation.

National: Republican Party begins preparing for contested convention | Associated Press

The Republican National Committee has started preparing for a contested national convention, which would follow the primary season should no GOP candidate for president win enough delegates to secure the party’s nomination. While calling the need for such plans ultimately unlikely, several GOP leaders at the party’s winter meeting in South Carolina told The Associated Press on Wednesday that such preliminary planning is nonetheless actively underway. They stressed it had little to do with concerns about the candidacy of billionaire businessman Donald Trump, describing the early work instead as a necessary contingency given the deeply divided Republican field. With less than three weeks to go before the Feb. 1 leadoff Iowa caucuses, there are still a dozen major Republican candidates in the race. “Certainly, management of the committee has been working on the eventuality, because we’d be wrong not to,” said Bruce Ash, chairman of the RNC’s rules committee. “We don’t know, or we don’t think there’s going to be a contested convention, but if there is, obviously everybody needs to know what all those logistics are going to look like.”

National: Can Google steal elections? Researchers say yes (in theory) | The Charlotte Observer

When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he’ll mention an array of programs and people. And all across America, fingers will start flying on computer keyboards as millions of curious viewers go to Google or Bing or Yahoo in search of more detail on those programs and people. It’s the way we make sense of the world around us in the Internet age. Everything’s on the web; just look it up and you’ll be enlightened, right? Not necessarily, say the authors of a 2015 study into the ways search engines can influence voter behavior, and perhaps even the outcomes of elections. Depending on how the search engine results are displayed, or if they are manipulated, you could end up misguided rather than enlightened.

National: Man behind gutting of Voting Rights Act: states may have ‘gone too far’ since decision | The Guardian

To his detractors, Edward Blum is one of the most dangerous men in America, a human wrecking ball on a mission to destroy the landmark achievements of the civil rights era and send the country back to a dark age of discrimination and harassment of minorities – in the workplace, in higher education and at the ballot box. That’s some reputation for a slightly built former stockbroker who answers his own phone, sounds nothing like the bullying demagogues who once held sway over the deep south, and even has some misgivings about the consequences of his actions. If anything, his soft-spoken, self-deprecating, consciously neurotic manner is reminiscent of Woody Allen from his early days in standup. Blum’s impact, though, is beyond question. For more than 20 years, working largely on his own, he has orchestrated lawsuits to challenge and, in some instances, dramatically reverse once sacrosanct legal principles. Case after case that he’s filed – on voting rights, on the drawing of electoral districts, on affirmative action – has made its way to the supreme court, often against the predictions of legal scholars, and found a sympathetic reception from the conservative majority.

National: Voting Laws Are Still Up In The Air In These States | Huffington Post

With just about 10 months until Election Day, ongoing courtroom battles over voting restriction have made it so that we still don’t know exactly when, and how, Americans in a number of states will be able to vote. Many of those battles originated with the Supreme Court gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Section 5 had barred states and jurisdictions with a history of racially motivated voting discrimination from enacting changes to their election laws without approval from the federal government or without going to federal court. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court eliminated the most effective part of the landmark 1965 civil rights act. States rushed to pass onerous measures, including requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, eliminating same-day registration and cutting early voting.

National: Is there a federal factor in the voter records leak? | FCW

Lawmakers and the administration have for years been seeking common ground on a federal data breach law to replace the patchwork of state and local rules. But even with such a law in place, Uncle Sam may still have been shut out of any role in policing the recent exposure of a database of 191 million voter records. The trove of personal information, complete with home addresses and telephone numbers, was briefly available on the public-facing web, due to a database configuration error. Privacy advocates and the media scrambled to investigate, but federal agencies were quiet. While voter registration information is public, it is rarely offered up for public consumption in bulk without some strings attached. Some states bar public-facing online voter record databases, while Florida and Ohio, for instance, both run public-facing voter record look-up sites. Ohio’s site returns addresses for name and county searches, while Florida’s requires birthdates and contains a notice that the site is intended for use only by voters attempting to verify their own registration status. Florida’s state government is considering legislation that would exempt voter information from public records rules because of the possible threat of identity theft.

National: How Democratic Are Ballot Initiatives? | The Atlantic

Paul Spencer, a teacher and part-time pecan farmer in Arkansas, drafted a ballot measure for 2016 to reform the state’s campaign-finance laws so his fellow voters could know who paid for election ads on TV. But he and fellow activists there knew they couldn’t do it alone. They sought the help of national election-reform groups because in Arkansas, as in many other states, initiatives can cost millions of dollars to pass. Liberal groups working at the national level are using state ballot initiatives as their weapon of choice for 2016, but given the costs, they’re carefully planning exactly where to push these measures. And Spencer’s Arkansas proposal didn’t make the cut for 2016.

National: Measuring the integrity of elections | The Boston Globe

How do we measure and ensure the integrity of elections? It’s certainly a relevant question as we enter a presidential election year here in the United States, but it’s also important from a global perspective. “Despite the fact that elections have spread worldwide . . . the quality of elections is really bad in many, many places,” according to Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Pippa Norris, who is director of the Electoral Integrity Project. “And that has consequences.” Norris came on the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast just over a year ago to explain why she was drawn to the subject for both theoretical and practical reasons.

National: A Banner Year for ‘Dark Money’ in Politics | Bloomberg

The 2016 presidential campaign seems certain to feature not only more money than any since Watergate but also more money from undisclosed donors since the days when black satchels of illicit cash were passed around. This so-called dark money, or contributions to entities that are not required to disclose their donors, topped more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential race, and some experts believe that the levels may be far higher this time. Among the risks is that foreign money — barred from playing a direct role in the election — could be surreptitiously funneled into the campaign because it could move through channels where it wouldn’t have to be publicly disclosed.

National: Enshrining the right to vote and 2015’s other constitutional amendment ideas | The Guardian

More than 11,000 amendments have been proposed in Congress to the constitution, and only 27 have become law. But that hasn’t stopped members of Congress from trying to add to that total and make their mark on the founding document of the United States. This year, congressmen and senators have proposed nearly 70 different amendments to the constitution. Amending the constitution is an intentionally difficult process. In order to be enacted, an amendment needs to be approved by two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate, and then has to be approved by the legislatures in at least three-fourths of states (or 38 out of 50). The last amendment was passed more than two decades ago. … Unbeknown to many Americans, there is no explicit right to vote in the US constitution. While US citizens have the right to bear arms, the right not to have troops quartered in their homes and to trial by jury in a federal civil law “where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars”, there is no affirmative right to cast a ballot.

National: Millions of Voter Records Posted, and Some Fear Hacker Field Day | The New York Times

First and last names. Recent addresses and phone numbers. Party affiliation. Voting history and demographics. A database containing this information from 191 million voter records was mysteriously published over the last week, the latest example of personal voter data becoming freely available, alarming privacy experts who say the information can be used for phishing attacks, identity theft and extortion. No one knows who built the database, or precisely where all the data came from, and whether its disclosure resulted from an inadvertent release or from hacks. The disclosure was discovered by an information technology specialist, Chris Vickery, who quickly alerted the authorities and published his findings on NationBuilder, a nonpartisan political data firm, has said it may have been the source of some of the data, although the actual database that was released was not the company’s.

National: Who Put This Huge Database of U.S. Voting Records Online? | PCMag

Time to get out your deerstalker hat. Somewhere out there is a publicly available database with approximately 191 million voting records, with details like names, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, and political party affiliation. The problem? Nobody knows who owns the database, who set it up, how it got online, or why its information is public. According to CSO, which first reported on the story after being alerted to its existence by researcher Chris Vickery, it’s likely that the information in the database came from the political data firm NationBuilder, but it’s not necessarily the company’s fault that the information is live. A customer possibly purchased this information and made it public, but it’s unclear if they did so on purpose or by mistake. “NationBuilder is under no obligation to identify customers, and once the data has been obtained, they cannot control what happens to it,” writes CSO’s Steve Ragan. “In short, while they provided the data that’s in my newly leaked voter record, they’re not liable in any way for it being exposed.”

National: Campaign Cash in State Judicial Elections Grows | Associated Press

With three seats open on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a chance to flip control of the judicial branch, a wave of campaign cash, independent expenditures and negative TV ads flooded the state in the weeks before the November election. Six candidates combined for $12.2 million in contributions, with two independent groups spending $3.5 million. The record sum for a state judicial election serves as a hint of what lies ahead when voters in two dozen states will cast ballots for state supreme court justices in 2016. The flow of money into state judicial races has been rising in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. Races in a handful of states, including Ohio and North Carolina, are among those that will be watched closely.

National: Database of 191 million U.S. voters exposed on Internet: researcher | Reuters

An independent computer security researcher uncovered a database of information on 191 million voters that is exposed on the open Internet due to an incorrectly configured database, he said on Monday. The database includes names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliations, phone numbers and emails of voters in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, researcher Chris Vickery said in a phone interview. Vickery, a tech support specialist from Austin, Texas, said he found the information while looking for information exposed on the Web in a bid to raise awareness of data leaks. Vickery said he could not tell whether others had accessed the voter database, which took about a day to download.

National: Is Your Election Night Reporting System Ready for 2016? | Government Technology

There is a certain buzz in the air on election nights that gives voters a sense of involvement in a larger process and state elections officials knots in their stomachs. Will state reporting systems keep up with the deluge of access attempts so common in our technology-driven society? As media outlets and the public at large pound on the digital front door for the latest poll numbers, results portals across the country face the strain of hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of hits. Some falter and are overwhelmed by the attention and come crashing down; others come to the game prepared, having learned from past follies. Though 2014 wasn’t exactly what you’d call a big-ticket election — with no presidential candidates on the ballot — states across the country experienced issues with their election reporting websites. Whether the problems were due to overwhelmingly high Web traffic or just technical difficulties, several states had to step back and rethink their online reporting strategies.

National: Legacy voting machines ripe for tampering, breakdowns | GCN

As America preps for the next presidential election, its voting machines are in need of a serious update. Almost every state is using electronic touchscreen and optical-scan voting machines that are at least 10 years old, according a recent Wired article, with Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia are all using voting machines that are at least 15 years old. When these machines were introduced, dial-up Internet was used by most of the country, and the voting technology was equally primitive. These outdated machines have a litany of problems including degrading touchscreens, worn-out modems and failing memory cards. And this is before one considers the cybersecurity issues.

National: Voting only by mail can decrease turnout. Or increase it. Wait, what? | Washington Post

Voting by mail — and only by mail — has become an option in the United States. Will it spread? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states will mail an absentee ballot to voters who request one. While 20 states require a reason, 27 states permit “no-excuse” absentee voting. And three states now use mail-only voting. Oregon’s Ballot Measure 60 kicked off in 1998, making Oregon the first state to conduct its elections exclusively by mail. In 2011, Washington’s legislature moved the state to an entirely vote-by-mail system. Colorado joined in during the 2014 general election. In 2015, California launched a limited all-mail pilot as a test run. Lawmakers will use that pilot to learn how such an election would work in California. Supporters hope that voting by mail means more citizens will vote. Is it so? Generally, the answer is both “no” and “yes,” but with important qualification