At almost the same time last week that a Florida mailman was landing a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of the wealthy on politics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was getting pressed about the same topic at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H. “I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” Christie (R) told Valerie Roman of Windham, N.H. The two moments, occurring 466 miles apart, crystallized how money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.
A Pentagon official sat before a committee of the Washington State Legislature in January and declared that the U.S. military supported a bill that would allow voters in the state to cast election ballots via email or fax without having to certify their identities. Military liaison Mark San Souci’s brief testimony was stunning because it directly contradicted the Pentagon’s previously stated position on online voting: It’s against it. Along with Congress, the Defense Department has heeded warnings over the past decade from cybersecurity experts that no Internet voting system can effectively block hackers from tampering with election results. And email and fax transmissions are the most vulnerable of all, according to experts, including officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of the Commerce Department. San Souci declined to comment. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, said the Defense Department “does not advocate for the electronic transmission of any voted ballot, whether it be by fax, email or via the Internet.”
Hillary Clinton called for a constitutional amendment to address the influx of “unaccountable money” in politics during her first official day of campaigning in Iowa. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” she said during an event at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello. She added that campaign finance reform is one of the “four big fights” that her campaign is focused on. The others include building the “economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” strengthening both families and communities, and protecting the country from current and future threats.
You already hate tax season, and as you move wearily through the cold calculations of the 1040 form, you come across a familiar checkbox. It’s the one that requests permission to send $3 to the “presidential election campaign,” delivering cash to a bunch of politicians that you’re sure are awash in money anyway. “What’s the point?” you might ask yourself. To fund more polarizing and negative campaign ads? You happily refuse to check the box. By doing so, you joined 94 percent of Americans who also declined to make that checkmark. The share of tax forms with a checked box has been declining steadily for decades.
In an age where people can transfer money using their mobile device, it’s not hard to envision a future where citizens wake up on Election Day, pull out their phones and choose the next leader of the Free World on the way to work. Last week, a federal election agency took a small step toward that futuristic vision. … The updated guidelines will allow manufacturers to test machines against modern security and disability standards and get them certified for use by states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. … When it comes to Internet-based voting systems, many experts argue there’s no clear solution to address the issues of security and verifiability. A securely designed online system also needs to be easy to use, and so far that goal has eluded researchers, said Poorvi Vora, an associate professor of computer science at George Washington University who has researched Internet voting systems. Vora is part of a group of academics, computer scientists, election officials and activists working on a project led by the Overseas Vote Foundation, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit, to answer one question: Is it possible to design a system that lets people vote remotely in a secure, accessible, anonymous, convenient and verifiable manner? The answer so far is no, but the group says it is close to a possible solution and will present its design to the election research community and federal agencies this summer. As with health records or financial data, online security remains an obstacle.
Presidential fund-raising, never known for its transparency, may have just become even more secretive. In announcing his candidacy for president this week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky waded into new waters when he said he would accept campaign contributions in Bitcoins, a largely untraceable virtual currency, in amounts up to $100. Interested donors at randpaul.com were given three options for making a contribution: a credit card, PayPal or Bitcoins. While some state and federal candidates in California, Colorado, New Hampshire and elsewhere have started accepting Bitcoins, Mr. Paul, a Republican, is the first presidential candidate to do so.
National: Ellison tries to rally support for voter rights amendment, which would nullify voter ID laws | Star Tribune
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is taking his case against voter ID laws straight to the Constitution. He and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, are trying to encourage support for their “right to vote” amendment that will guarantee a citizen voting rights “in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides,” according to the resolution’s text. Ellison and Pocan are holding a voting rights forum in Minneapolis Thursday, which will feature leaders from Asian American and Somali groups. The members are two of the 32 House Democrats supporting this potential amendment.
A few weeks ago, a Massachusetts government agency you’ve probably never heard of settled a lawsuit over what kinds of forms it has to hand out to people who apply for welfare. That might sound dull, but it’s the backdrop for a fight against growing political and economic inequality. The lawsuit, brought by a coalition of nonprofit voting-rights groups, charged that the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance was in violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires agencies that offer public assistance to help their clients register to vote. The coalition claimed the department wasn’t handing out voter-registration forms or taking other steps to ensure that people who wanted to register did.
National: Presidential candidates-to-be make the most of fundraising rule-bending | Los Angeles Times
The charade comes to an end this month for many of the 2016 presidential contenders, who have long avoided saying they are running — while they are so obviously running — in order to sidestep rules that burden declared candidates. Ted Cruz is already in. Rand Paul is expected to follow suit Tuesday. Marco Rubio has a big announcement planned a week later. The timing, like most things in politics, is driven by money. April marks the start of a sprint to raise as much of it as possible for an official candidacy before the summer reporting deadline, which lands as televised primary debates are about to get underway. Candidates who fail to show that the early big money is flowing into campaign accounts could quickly falter. One big exception is Jeb Bush. Although he is perhaps the least coy of the pre-candidates about his plans to run — and among the most aggressive fundraisers — his announcement may not come for a while.
National: Conservative lawmakers weigh bid to call for constitutional convention | The Washington Post
Conservative state legislators frustrated with the gridlock in Washington are increasingly turning to a plan to call a convention to consider a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an event that would be unprecedented in American history and one that could, some opponents predict, lead to complete political chaos. Legislators in 27 states have passed applications for a convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. Proponents of a balanced budget requirement are planning to push for new applications in nine other states where Republicans control both chambers of the legislature. If those applications pass in seven of the nine targeted states, it would bring the number of applications up to 34, meeting the two-thirds requirement under Article V of the Constitution to force Congress to call a convention. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Four years ago today, President Barack Obama was gearing up to announce his reelection campaign, Mitt Romney was leading Newt Gingrich in the polls, and roughly one out of every three American adults owned a smartphone. You read that right: In the spring of 2011, just 35 percent of American adults owned a smartphone, according to Pew Research. The Internet and social media may have been changing politics in myriad ways, but news consumption was mostly a sedentary experience. Today, as Hillary Clinton prepares for the formal launch of her campaign, and as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are neck and neck in the polls, roughly two out of every three American adults, or 64 percent, own a smartphone, according to a new report from Pew. The new mobile reality is changing the state of news and advertising, and it will also change the dynamic of American politics — especially during the 2016 campaign season, journalists and political operatives said.
National: Menendez indictment marks first big corruption case involving a super PAC | The Washington Post
The federal bribery case against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey marks the first time large-scale super PAC donations have figured prominently as evidence of a political corruption scheme, renewing questions about how truly independently such groups operate. The 22-count indictment against Menendez and wealthy Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen hinges in part on $600,000 that Melgen gave to the Senate Majority PAC — a Democratic super PAC — earmarked to support the senator’s 2012 reelection. Senate Majority PAC officials have not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the Justice Department argued in the court filing that the donations were among the things of value Melgen offered Menendez so the senator would use his position to help get the donor’s girlfriends visas to enter the country and to influence government officials to help Melgen’s businesses.
It seemed like a typical corruption case: A Florida doctor, seeking official favors with a United States senator, plies him with gifts while raising all the money he can for the senator’s campaign, and for his fellow senators and party. But the searing 68-page indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, filed this week by the Justice Department, does more than pull back the curtain on a politically and personally lucrative relationship between the senator and the doctor, Salomon E. Melgen. It is also the first significant campaign corruption case evolving out of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened up new channels for the wealthy to pour money into campaigns even as it narrowed the constitutional definition of political corruption and made it harder for prosecutors to prove bribery.
Members of the House Oversight Committee are urging a review of the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program for military personnel living overseas. The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) assists military service members abroad and U.S. citizens living in foreign countries with absentee voting. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran, spearheaded the letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation about the program’s effectiveness.
For months, White House hopefuls from both parties have been raising millions in unlimited contributions at upscale fund-raisers from Manhattan to Palm Springs, Calif. — all without officially declaring themselves candidates and becoming subject to federal caps on contributions. Only a few of some 20 would-be presidential candidates have even bothered to set up the exploratory committees that were once a time-tested way to declare interest in the White House — and that set off their own fund-raising restrictions. But two leading campaign finance groups charged on Tuesday that the spread of these unofficial campaigns in recent months was not only deceptive, but also illegal.
Earlier this month, Oregon became the first state in the nation to automatically register voters using data from the Department of Motor Vehicles, a move that stands in contrast to voting restrictions many states have enacted in recent years. “I challenge every other state in this nation to examine their policies and find ways to ensure that there are as few barriers as possible in the way of a citizen’s right to vote,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said at the bill’s signing ceremony. Most Americans are in favor of enacting a similar proposal in their own state, a new survey finds. A 54 percent majority of Americans say they’d favor an automatic registration law in their state, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, while 55 percent favor allowing eligible citizens to register on the day of an election.
Voting rights, according to Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor of public policy Maya Sen, are fundamentally a question of numbers: How many people were eligible to vote? What number actually registered? And who, among those who registered, ended up casting a ballot? Though this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the celebration is somewhat subdued for many: in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the VRA. Using data to argue for what the act had already achieved, Chief Justice John Roberts ’76, J.D. ’79, writing for the majority, invalidated a portion of the law that used a formula based on historical voting patterns to determine which counties and states needed to be monitored more closely. “All of these questions”—of the history, efficacy, and continued necessity of the Voting Rights Act—“turn on data collection and analysis,” Sen explained at a Thursday event hosted by the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. At the event, part of the center’s Challenges to Democracy series, Sen spoke with two fellow political scientists—professor of government Stephen Ansolabehere, and Indiana University assistant professor Bernard Fraga, Ph.D. ’13—and New York Times data journalist Nate Cohn.
Rep. Susan Davis has re-introduced two of her election reform bills to “restore integrity to federal elections and end constraints placed on voters who want to vote by mail, known as absentee,” her office said Thursday. Rep. Susan Davis, who represents California’s 53rd District. The Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act would end restrictions many states impose on a person’s ability to vote absentee, such as requiring a doctor’s note, the details of a religious obligation, latest pregnancy status or details of a vacation destination.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday not to hear a case involving the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s strict voter ID requirement shifts attention now to voter identification laws working their way through the courts in Texas and North Carolina. As in Wisconsin, these laws are being challenged on the grounds that they hurt minorities and other voters who are less likely to have the required government-issued photo ID. It’s possible — depending on what happens in the lower courts — that the Supreme Court could be asked to weigh in on one or both of these cases before the 2016 presidential election. In the meantime, the Wisconsin law is now set to go into effect, although the state’s attorney general, Brad Schimel, said that won’t happen until after state elections are held April 7.
The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Wisconsin to implement a voter-identification law that opponents say is one of the strictest in the nation. Rejecting an appeal by civil rights groups, the justices Monday gave a victory to Republicans, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who have championed voter-ID laws around the country. Wisconsin is one of 30 states with ID laws and one of 17 that enacted measures since the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana statute in 2008. Civil rights groups say ID requirements disproportionately affect minority and low-income voters while doing little if anything to protect against fraud. The organizations pressing the Wisconsin appeal said 300,000 registered voters in that state lack a qualifying ID.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to Wisconsin’s Republican-backed law requiring voters to present photo identification to cast a ballot, a measure Democrats contend is aimed at keeping their supporters from voting. The justices declined to hear an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law. The ACLU said it then filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court to try to keep the law from taking effect immediately. Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said the law cannot be implemented for the state’s April 7 election because absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters but would be in place for future elections. “This decision is final,” Schimel said. Voter identification laws have been passed in a number of Republican-governed states over Democratic objections. Republicans say voter ID laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. Wisconsin’s measure, blocked by the Supreme Court last year, was backed by Governor Scott Walker, a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender.
As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nonprofit VOTE releases its biennial voter turnout report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, based on final data certified by state election offices. The report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this historically low-turnout election. While just 36.6% of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II, turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent, and Colorado at 54.5%. Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30 percent of their eligible voters participating. “Clearly there’s much work to do to foster a healthy democracy when well below half the electorate votes in a national election,” states Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “The good news is that higher turnout states show us how we can increase voter turnout across the nation.”
The America Goes to the Polls 2014 report is available at http://www.nonprofitvote.org/americagoestothepolls2014.
“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” President Obama told a crowd in Cleveland Wednesday. He even mused about the idea of making voting mandatory. That’s not going to happen any time soon. But in the wake of record low voter turnout in last fall’s midterm elections, a movement is growing in Washington and around the country to dismantle a set of restrictions that keep nearly 6 million Americans from the polls: felon disenfranchisement laws. Many state restrictions on felon voting were imposed in the wake of Reconstruction, as the South looked for ways to suppress black political power. But now, the falling crime rates of the last two decades have prompted a broader reassessment of tough-on-crime policies. Meanwhile, the ongoing Republican-led assault on voting has triggered a backlash that aims to expand, rather than contract, voting rights. On Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), backed by an array of civil- and voting-rights groups, introduced a bill that would restore voting rights for federal elections to Americans with past criminal convictions upon their release from incarceration. That came on the heels of a similar but more limited bill introduced last month by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would apply only to non-violent offenders. Neither measure is likely to get much traction in the Republican-controlled Congress. But in the states, there has been plenty of movement lately.
Go to renew your driver’s license in Oregon, and you will now be signed up to vote automatically. It’s the first state in the country with that sort of law, which is designed to make voting easier, and stands in contrast to the trend seen in the past several years in more conservative states. “It’s really interesting — when we’ve seen restrictions emerging in Republican-leaning states,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida associate who tracks turnout as head of the U.S. Elections Project. “In Democratic-controlled states, we’re seeing laws intended to expand the electorate.” Colorado, for example, like Oregon is all vote-by-mail; Vermont is considering automatic registration, McDonald said, and a Philadelphia politician on Tuesday proposed the same for Pennsylvania. New York and Maryland, meanwhile, have expanded early voting.
They say the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. President Barack Obama wants to add one more: voting. Obama floated the idea of mandatory voting in the U.S. while speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday. Asked about the corrosive influence of money in U.S. elections, Obama digressed into the related topic of voting rights and said the U.S. should be making it easier — not harder— for people to vote. Just ask Australia, where citizens have no choice but to vote, the president said. “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.”
Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions after their release from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Similar versions of the bill have been introduced in past congressional sessions. “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process,” Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press release issued Wednesday. She urged Congress to pass the bill, arguing that many criminal disfranchisement laws stemmed from the Jim Crow era, with the intent of keeping African-Americans from voting.
National: Security risks and privacy issues are too great for moving the ballot box to the Internet | Phys.org
Contrary to popular belief, the fundamental security risks and privacy problems of Internet voting are too great to allow it to be used for public elections, and those problems will not be resolved any time soon, according to David Jefferson, who has studied the issue for more than 15 years. Jefferson, a computer scientist in the Lawrence Livermore’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing, discussed his findings in a recent Computation Seminar Series presentation, entitled “Intractable Security Risks of Internet Voting.” His study of Internet voting issues is independent of his Lawrence Livermore research work. Nonetheless, he reminded the audience that “election security is a part of national security,” noting that this is a primary reason he is so passionate about this issue. “I am both a technical expert on this subject and an activist,” Jefferson emphasized in his introductory remarks. “Election security is an aspect of national security and must be treated as such.” The view held by many election officials, legislators and members of the public is that if people can shop and bank online in relative security, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to vote on the Internet, Jefferson said. “Advocates argue (falsely) that Internet voting will increase turnout, reduce costs and improve speed and accuracy.” They promote the idea that “you can vote anytime, anywhere, even in your pajamas.”
With the presidential election coming up in 2016, many constituencies are looking to how they can use technology to streamline the voting process. Security of the voting system – both with and without technology – remains a question. One method gaining support is to secure the voting process by moving to open source software. The TrustTheVote Project wants open source technology used from the top down, in voter registration, voter information services, ballot design, the foundations of ballot tabulation, election results reporting and analysis and elements of auditing. The initiative is the flagship project of the Open Source Election Technology Foundation (OSET), which wants to have a demonstrable impact on the 2016 elections. “Our nation’s elections systems and technology are woefully antiquated. They are officially obsolete,” Greg Miller, chair of OSET told the Anne Babe of the Huffington Post.
Campaign finance reformers have been on a steady losing streak in the courts and Congress. But they may finally have found a champion who can elevate their cause: Pope Francis. “We must achieve a free sort of election campaign, not financed,” the Pope told an Argentine magazine in an interview released this week. “Because many interests come into play in financing of an election campaign and then they ask you to pay back. So, the election campaign should be independent from anyone who may finance it.” To drive his point home, the Pontiff added: “Perhaps public financing would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The Pope’s remarks come in the midst of corruption scandals in his native Argentina. But American advocates of curbing the influence of big money in politics were eager to seize on his message. “We have just gained a great new ally with a worldwide voice for public financing campaigns,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21. “We greatly appreciate his words and wisdom on this subject.” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi similarly embraced the Pope’s “call for an end to the contaminating influence of money in our democracy.”
National: Why super PACs have moved from sideshow to center stage for presidential hopefuls | The Washington Post
In the last presidential contest, super PACs were an exotic add-on for most candidates. This time, they are the first priority. Already, operatives with close ties to eight likely White House contenders have launched political committees that can accept unlimited donations — before any of them has even declared their candidacy. The latest, a super PAC called America Leads that plans to support Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, was announced Thursday. The goal is simple: Potential candidates want to help their super PAC allies raise as much money as possible now, before their official campaigns start. That’s because once they announce their bids, federal rules require them to keep their distance. Official candidates can still appear at super PAC fundraisers, but they cannot ask donors to give more than $5,000. And they cannot share inside strategic information with those running the group.