If Americans needed any further proof that voting itself has become a partisan battleground, look no further than proposals calling for automatic voter registration. California this month enacted a law that will automatically register people to vote when they get or renew a driver’s license or state identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), following the example set by Oregon several months ago. Over time, this could bring most of the 6.6 million Californians who are eligible but not yet registered onto the voting rolls. Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state and sponsor of the measure, calls it potentially the largest voter registration drive in U.S. history. Other states could soon follow. Legislators have introduced automatic voter registration bills in 16 additional states, including Hawaii, Illinois and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers approved a package that includes automatic voter registration in June. Republican Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t acted on it, but he’s made his opposition clear.
With their 247 seats in the House, the largest GOP majority since 1930, Republicans should have no problem pushing their agenda and agreeing upon a speaker to lead them. But here’s the rub: The Republicans are victims of their own success – gerrymandering success. Their commanding majority in the House is to some extent artificial. Only a few House Republicans represent districts where they hear divergent views, a situation that reinforces their mistaken belief that a majority of Americans agree with them and their agenda for the nation. A recent Pew Research Center survey showed more Americans believe the Democrats are better able to handle domestic policy issues and only 32% of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party. Another Pew poll showed that only 23% of Americans identify as Republicans. More than 40% of voter csonsider themselves independents, and when they are asked to say which party they lean toward more often and are included with strong partisans, only 39% of Americans say they favor GOP views versus 48% who agree with Democrats.
Representatives for news organizations who plan to cover next summer’s convention are protesting a move by the Republican National Committee to charge news media organizations a $150 access fee for seats on the press stand. Seats on risers constructed for newspapers, magazines, wire services and online print publications have been awarded without charge in the past. Representatives for daily and periodical press galleries in the Capitol protested Monday that the media “should not be charged to cover elected officials at an event of enormous interest to the public.” The four-day event will be held in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Don’t expect Congress to shell out any money when it comes to replacing aging voting equipment. That’s what Christy McCormick, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), says her agency is telling state and local election officials, even though a bipartisan presidential commission warned last year of an “impending crisis.” “We’re telling them that, from what we understand, there won’t be any more federal funding coming to help them,” McCormick said in an interview with NPR. And that’s a problem because election officials around the country are worried about breakdowns as voting machines purchased after the 2000 presidential election near the end of their useful lives. Much of the equipment is already outdated. Some officials have even had to resort to sites such as eBay to find spare parts. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that it will cost about $1 billion to buy replacement machines. But state and local budgets are tight. And Congress has shown no sign that it’s willing to foot the bill as it did more than a decade ago, when punch-card voting equipment was replaced nationwide.
National: Study: U.S. voters face shorter waits, but voting methods are changing | Atlanta Journal Constitution
New data from the 2014 midterm elections show a vast majority of national voters waited 10 minutes or less to cast their ballot, while a surprising number of people who requested mail ballots either didn’t vote or returned their ballot in ways other than by mail. In short, states have gotten better at getting voters in and out of the polls quickly. But with mail voting increasing in popularity, both voters and election officials still face planning challenges when it comes to absentee and mailed ballots. The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts comes as the nonpartisan research and public policy organization readies a comprehensive review of how each state fared during the 2014 election. That “elections performance index” is due out at the beginning of next year, ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in last month on this term’s big Supreme Court voting rights case, the one that will decide the meaning of “one person, one vote.” It took the position embraced by most liberals: that states should be allowed to count everybody in drawing election districts, including unauthorized immigrants, rather than only people eligible to vote. But the group seemed to take the opposite position in a pair of recent lawsuits it filed in Rhode Island and Florida, in which it objected to counting prisoners when drawing voting districts. Counting prisoners in one district, the lawsuits said, “dilutes the voting strength and political influence” of eligible voters in other districts. There may be good reasons for treating prisoners differently from other people who cannot vote. But it is also true that counting prisoners, often housed in rural areas, tends to amplify the power of Republican voters. Counting unauthorized immigrants, who often live in urban areas, generally helps Democrats.
Even on the nearly lawless frontier of bankrolling 2016 presidential campaigns, everyone agrees one important rule remains. Coordination is not allowed between a candidate’s official campaign organization and the mysterious entities dubbed super-PACs, or political-action committees that now fuel runs for the White House. There’s just one problem: Almost no one agrees exactly what coordination means. For example, leaders of John Kasich’s official campaign team and his super-PAC considered it legal to work together until virtually the minute the Ohio governor officially announced his presidential candidacy in July. But Jeb Bush’s super-PAC execs, fearful of violating the no-coordination rule, divorced themselves a week or two before the former Florida governor’s formal declaration.
Two leading Republican presidential candidates expressed divergent views on the Voting Rights Act on Thursday, setting up a split within a party that has been accused of seeking to suppress minority voter turnout in the name of combating fraud at the polls. Asked about the law at a forum in Des Moines, Mr. Bush said he was uncomfortable placing “regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960.” “There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting,” he said, adding, “I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government in play in most places — there could be some — but in most places where they did have a constructive role in the ′60s.”
The Supreme Court this term could change how states meet the basic democratic goal of “one person, one vote.” Ironically, a victory for the conservative plaintiffs who brought the case may turn on a national survey that Republicans have tried to eliminate. In the Supreme Court case of Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiffs argue that the votes of eligible voters — like themselves — are unconstitutionally diluted because Texas counts non-voters when drawing its legislative districts. Specifically, Texas uses “total population” data, which include such non-voters as children, inmates, former felons who haven’t had their voting rights restored and non-citizen immigrants. The plaintiffs, backed by the activist nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, want the Supreme Court to rule that states must draw their legislative districts based instead on the number of voting-age citizens or registered voters. The likely outcome of that ruling would be to shift power away from cities — which tend to have more children, non-citizen immigrants and Democrats — and toward rural and suburban areas — which skew older, whiter, richer and Republican.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) renewed his call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, suggesting Monday that it would have stopped Alabama from implementing a law requiring a photo ID at the ballot box. Scrutiny of the voter ID law has increased with the announcement that Alabama will close 31 driver’s licenses offices in the state – many in rural counties with a high percentage of black residents – which voting rights advocates fear will make it harder for African-Americans to obtain the IDs required vote. “The Voting Rights Act was born from the bloody actions in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965, and since the Supreme Court struck down one of its most important protections – the federal Justice Department’s ability to prevent discriminatory rules like Alabama’s photo identification requirement – our democracy has been weakened,” Hoyer said in a statement Monday evening.
National: Super PACs stretch the rules that prohibit coordination with presidential campaigns | Los Angeles Times
Long before Ben Carson jumped into the presidential race, some of his biggest fans were scouring the country for supporters. They set up a super PAC and began sending out brochures, eventually attracting thousands who signed up and gave money. When Carson actually got around to running, his campaign used those names to jump-start his early fundraising, according to John Philip Sousa IV, great-grandson of the composer and chairman of the 2016 Committee, a super PAC backing Carson. “It was that list that launched his campaign,” Sousa said, saying those names helped Carson build his $20 million in contributions.
Nationally, some experts say policies governing the voting process in the United States prevent eligible voters from getting to the polls on Election Day. After the Supreme Court overturned a key part of the Voting Rights Act, officials in North Carolina grappled with the passage of a new voter ID law and a reversal of many voting procedures civil rights leaders spent years trying to win. “This is our Selma,” Rev. William Barber, a Protestant minister and political leader in the state, told PBS NewsHour. “We’re talking about taking away rights that people have utilized in elections, some since 2000.”
The corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez has become a battleground over the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the flood of campaign money that is reshaping elections. In legal filings and a recent ruling, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and a district court judge have jousted over the limits of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to unlimited donations to independent political groups, such as super PACs and campaign-minded nonprofits. The Menendez case is the first since the decision to use super-PAC donations as the basis for corruption charges against a lawmaker. It has touched a raw nerve in the debate over the influence of independent expenditures, said Kenneth Gross, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance.
A district court judge on Monday dismissed four corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his donor Salomon Melgen, but denied motions to toss out other charges including, notably, the senator’s solicitation of contributions for a super PAC. Lawyers for the senator had asked the court to dismiss charges related to the $700,000 in contributions from Melgen to Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that made independent expenditures to support Menendez’s 2012 reelection, which prosecutors allege were made in exchange for official acts. The basis for dismissal offered by Menendez’s lawyers were the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United and 2013 McCutcheon decisions. Those two cases redefined corruption as only explicit bribery, excluding influence and access. The senator’s lawyers argued that this redefinition of corruption and Citizens United’s declaration that independent expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” provided freedom of speech protections for all “efforts to influence and obtain access to elected officials,” including any campaign contribution.
National: General Services Administration kicks of search for new Federal Election Commission headquarters | Washington Business Journal
The Federal Election Commission could end up relocating its headquarters from 10th and E streets NW as part of a search process now ramping up. The General Services Administration posted a presolicitation to FedBizOpps.gov Wednesday seeking up to 105,000 square feet for the FEC, now based at 999 E St. NW under a lease that expires in September 2017. It is the latest in a small but growing batch of new prospectuses the GSA is pursuing for the federal government’s 2016 fiscal year.
National: It’s bold, but legal: How campaigns and their super PAC backers work together | The Washington Post
The 2016 presidential contenders are stretching the latitude they have to work with their independent allies more than candidates in recent elections ever dared, taking advantage of a narrowly drawn rule that separates campaigns from outside groups. For the first time, nearly every top presidential hopeful has a personalized super PAC that can raise unlimited sums and is run by close associates or former aides. Many also are being boosted by nonprofits, which do not have to disclose their donors. The boldness of the candidates has elevated the importance of wealthy donors to even greater heights than in the last White House contest, when super PACs and nonprofits reported spending more than $1 billion on federal races. Although they are not supposed to coordinate directly with their independent allies, candidates are finding creative ways to work in concert with them.
The Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide an important question on the rights of the nation’s 22 million public employees: How far do free-speech rights go in protecting a public employee who is demoted or fired over his or her perceived political affiliations? In the past, the court has said public employees have 1st Amendment rights, including the right to speak out on public issues. But lower courts are split on whether these employees are always protected from political retaliation. The justices agreed to hear an appeal from a New Jersey police detective who was demoted to walking a beat after he was seen putting into his car a large campaign sign that supported a candidate who was trying to oust the mayor of Paterson.
Federal Election Commission employees — a generally unhappy lot for years — are even more unsatisfied with their jobs than before. That’s the bleak conclusion drawn from the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey’s satisfaction index, which places the election law enforcer and regulator near the bottom of 41 small agencies ranked. The FEC received an employee “global satisfaction” score of 43 out of 100, down a point from last year and 12 points from 2010, according to the annual survey released today by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Only the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (36) and African Development Foundation (18) received a lower score than the FEC among small agencies. The average score among small federal agencies is 62.
A group with ties to the tea party and a Koch brothers-founded organization is helping election officials in North Carolina to remove thousands of duplicate registrations from the voter rolls ahead of next year’s elections. And it says it wants to do the same thing nationally. The effort, announced early Monday by Houston-based True the Vote, is aimed at removing duplicates—when a voter’s name mistakenly appears twice. True the Vote has been accused by critics in the past of using intimidating tactics and stoking unwarranted fear about voter fraud. True the Vote said it sent each of North Carolina’s 10 largest counties lists of potential duplicate registrations, based on similarities in the names, ages or addresses listed. It said five of the counties have told them they’re processing the data, and one, Guilford, has already removed 655 names from its rolls. True the Vote said it’s currently compiling similar data for the 10 largest counties in two other 2016 swing states, Ohio and Colorado.
National: Libertarians, Greens ready lawsuit against Commission on Presidential Debates | The Washington Post
The Libertarian Party and Green Party and their 2012 candidates for president are readying a legal complaint against the Commission on Presidential Debates, hoping that a new legal argument — an anti-trust argument — will break the “duopoly” that’s dominated the stage. The legal complaint, which was sent early to The Washington Post, argues that a “cognizable political campaign market” is being corrupted by the commission’s rules. The commission, a private entity set up after the League of Women Voters’ 1992 debates allowed third party candidate Ross Perot to participate, has withstood yearly assaults from the likes of Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, and former Congressman Bob Barr. None of them have gotten past a 1999 commission rule: No candidate gets onstage unless he or she is polling at 15 percent or better.
National: Everyone Counts raises funds to push internet voting into the mainstream | San Diego Union-Tribune
Election software firm Everyone Counts has raised $20 million in debt and equity financing to push its electronic voting technology into more county and state governments. The influx of capital comes as the San Diego company awaits federal certification for its secure digital voting system – expected no later than the first quarter of next year, said Chief Executive Lori Steele. Approval by the Election Assistance Commission would pave the way for county and state elections officials to offer digital voting via computers, tablets or smartphones – both in polling places and remotely. “The interesting thing is we will be the only software-based voting system that is hardware agnostic that is (EAC) certified – probably for the next two years,” said Steele on Thursday.
National: From Carter To California: Automatic Registration Is The New Endgame For Elections | Huffington Post
President Jimmy Carter took office in 1977 with the conviction that it should be easier for citizens to register to vote. To accomplish that goal, he wrote to Democratic secretaries of state that year urging them to support legislation that would allow voters to register on Election Day. “The continuing decline in American voter participation is a serious problem which calls for the attention of all of us in public life,” Carter wrote. Advisers to Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale had concluded that Election Day registration, which they called “universal registration,” would boost low turnout rates. They cited laws passed in Minnesota and Wisconsin after the 1972 election that allowed citizens to register at the polls, which placed both states in the top five for highest turnout in 1976. But tucked away in their correspondence about the election reform proposals was an acknowledgment that the United States’ neighbor to the north had made it even easier for citizens to vote, by registering them automatically with government data.
In 2010, the District of Columbia decided to test its online absentee voter system. So officials held a mock election and challenged the public to do their best to hack it. It was an invitation that Alex Halderman, a computer-security expert at the University of Michigan, couldn’t resist. “It’s not every day that you’re invited to hack into government computers without going to jail,” he says. In less than 48 hours, Halderman and his students gained complete control of the system and rigged it to play the Michigan fight song each time a vote was cast. The students were ecstatic, but Halderman, who has a long history of exposing cybersecurity weaknesses, takes a more sober view. “This is the foundation of democracy we’re talking about,” he says.
The right to vote is a cornerstone of what it means to be a free people: It represents the bedrock tenets of equality and civic participation upon which our Nation was founded. Throughout American history, courageous patriots of every background and creed have fought to extend this right to all and to bring our country closer to its highest ideals. Voting is vital to a principle at the core of our democracy — that men and women of free will have the capacity to shape their own destinies. On National Voter Registration Day, we recommit to upholding this belief by encouraging all eligible Americans to register to vote and exercise this essential right.
Opportunity and Freedom PAC, and its two siblings, Opportunity and Freedom PAC numbers 1 and 2, were meant to be heavyweight sluggers for Republican Rick Perry, providing big-budget support for his second presidential bid. But Perry himself turned out to be a welterweight at best. The former Texas governor entered the race late, raised a skimpy $1.1 million by June 30 and “suspended” his campaign barely two months later. “We had a plan,” political consultant Austin Barbour, senior advisor to the superPACs, told NPR. “To me it also represents the peak of spending absolutely foolish money. It’s not rational, but I love it.”
As the US presidential election season heats up, the public has focused on the candidates vying for the nation’s top office. But whether Donald Trump will secure the Republican nomination is secondary to a more serious quandary: whether the nation’s voting machines will hold up when Americans head to the polls in 2016. Nearly every state is using electronic touchscreen and optical-scan voting systems that are at least a decade old, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law (.pdf). Beyond the fact the machines are technologically antiquated, after years of wear and tear, states are reporting increasing problems with degrading touchscreens, worn-out modems for transmitting election results, and failing motherboards and memory cards. States using machines that are at least 15 years old include Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, which means they are far behind even a casual tech user in keeping pace with technological advancements. The average lifespan of a laptop computer is three to five years, after which most consumers and businesses replace their machines. Computer users also generally upgrade their operating systems every other year or so as Microsoft and Apple release major software overhauls—including security upgrades. But US voting machines, which are responsible for overseeing the most important election in the country, have failed to keep up. “No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running?,” write Larry Norden and Christopher Famighetti, authors of the Brennan Center report. “[T]he majority of systems in use today are either perilously close to or past their expected lifespans.”
Voting machines around the United States are coming to the end of their useful lives. Breakdowns are increasingly common. Spare parts are difficult, if not impossible, to find. That could be a serious problem for next year’s presidential elections. Allen County, Ohio, election director Ken Terry knows how bad things can get. In the last presidential election, he had to replace the Zip disks — a 1990s technology — in the main machine his county uses to count votes. The disks are no longer made. And when he finally got some from the voting machine manufacturer: “They actually had a coupon in them. They were sealed and everything. And the coupon had expired in … 1999,” he said. And, to make matters worse, Terry said his voting machines use memory cards that hold only 250 megabytes of data — a tiny fraction of what you can store today on a $6 thumb drive. “You know, by today’s standards that’s just absurd,” he said.
National: Startup spirit helps Omaha company ES&S innovate, thanks to Straight Shot incubator | Omaha World Herald
It can be hard in a big company for a small idea to get the attention it deserves. Sometimes, perhaps the big company should think like a startup.
That’s what Omaha-based Election Systems & Software did: carved out a small team and sent its members to startup school to develop an idea that could make voting a better process throughout the United States and beyond. ES&S Director of Emerging Technologies Rob Wiebusch and Director of Innovations Shari Little last week finished a three-month stint at the Straight Shot Accelerator, where they refined their early concept at improving voting. They want to use data to help election administrators make smarter decisions at polling places. Omaha’s ES&S makes electronic voting machines used around the world. Even though it’s the world’s leading provider of voting equipment and election support services, the company’s management said a startup mindset is what ES&S needs to maintain its lead in the business. So ES&S sent Wiebusch and Little to the 90-day startup accelerator program in June to come up with the nuts and bolts of a new product offering that will aim to make voters’ experiences at the polls go more smoothly.
When Americans head to the polls for next year’s presidential election, 43 states will be using electronic voting machines that are at least a decade old, according to a new study from New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice released Tuesday. And the price tag for replacement machines could top $1 billion. Fifteen years after the term “hanging chad” entered the American political lexicon, and Congress appropriated $2 billion to move to electronic voting systems to avoid a future conundrum, those same electronic systems are still in use in many jurisdictions. “No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running without increased failures?” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program, and co-author of the study, in a statement. “Old equipment can have serious security flaws, and the longer we delay purchasing new machines, the higher the risk. To avoid a new technology crisis every decade, we must plan for and invest in voting technology for the 21st century.”
In 2014, just 41.9 percent of the voting-age citizen population of the United States voted. But the people who voted are not only in the minority, they form an unrepresentative minority. Millions of Americans are too young to vote. Others are disenfranchised felons, unable to vote for health reasons, missed registration deadlines, stuck at work, dissuaded by voter ID laws. In many salient ways, voters are not like nonvoters: voters are richer, whiter, and older than other Americans. And my new report, Why Voting Matters, shows how their votes produce a government that caters to their interests—and how boosting turnout would lead to a more representative democracy. Political scientists once accepted the idea that voters were a “carbon copy” of the nonvoting population. In 1999, Benjamin Highton and Raymond E. Wolfinger summarized this consensus, writing that, “simply put, voters’ preferences differ minimally from those of all citizens; outcomes would not change if everyone voted.” More recently, though, that view has come under attack. Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler, a pair of political scientists, argue that gaps between voters and nonvoters are real and have widened, and that the divergence in their views is particularly acute on issues related to social class and the size of government. However, measures that examine a one dimensional left-right axis obscure these divides.