National: Can an election district have too many minority voters in it? | Constitution Daily

Under the Constitution, government officials are not supposed to sort people by race, for any public benefit. If they do, they have to come up with the strongest policy reasons, and even those will be severely tested in court.   The really hard part comes when race is taken into account as an attempt to remedy past racial discrimination. When does that become a new form of discrimination? Courts have long struggled with that remedy issue, and in no field of law has that effort been more difficult than in drawing new election districts, as almost always has to be done after each new federal Census. Populations do shift over 10-year spans, and districting maps thus may get out of date. Racial calculations do enter into the map-drawing process, for the simple reason that federal voting rights law requires it.

National: Obama administration to make push on American Indian voting rights | Reuters

Concerned that American Indians are being unfairly kept out of the voting process, the Obama administration is considering a proposal that would require voting districts with tribal land to have at least one polling site in a location chosen by the tribe’s government, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday. Holder said the Justice Department would begin consulting tribal authorities on whether it should suggest that Congress pass a law that would apply to state and local administrators whose territory includes tribal lands.

National: Republicans take photo ID laws beyond voting | MSNBC

For Republicans, requiring photo ID isn’t just for voting anymore. They like the concept so much they’re now expanding it to cover government benefits that low-income Americans rely on. In a growing number of states, and even in Washington, the GOP, citing fraud, is pushing laws that could deny needed benefits to those who are struggling, simply because they lack ID.n Studies suggest around 11% of Americans—including one in four African-Americans—don’t have a photo ID. Among those who receive government benefits, that number is almost certainly higher. North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature—which last year passed a voter ID requirement as part of the nation’s most restrictive voting law— advanced a bill Thursday that would make recipients of jobless benefits also show a photo ID. It’s expected to pass next week.

National: Senate Democrats Begin Efforts to Amend Constitution | Roll Call

It’s been 22 years since the last amendment to the Constitution took effect, but Senate Democrats are hoping to alter the nation’s founding document once again. The likelihood of crossing the threshold to amend the Constitution over campaign finance is slim to none, however. An amendment would have to garner support from two-thirds of the House and Senate, before being approved by three-fourths of the states. Despite that seemingly insurmountable hurdle, Senate Democrats are forging ahead with a plan to bring SJ Res 19 to the floor. This resolution would add a 28th Amendment, stating that Congress can regulate contributions and spending in federal elections. It would also give state governments the same authority in statewide contests.

National: Justice Department considers making request that would add polling sites to tribal lands | The Washington Post

The Justice Department is considering making a recommendation to Congress that would require any state or local election administrator whose territory includes part of an Indian reservation, an Alaska Native village or other tribal lands to locate at least one polling place in a venue selected by the tribal government. Associate Attorney General Tony West will announce the effort Monday morning at the National Congress of American Indians conference in Anchorage. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also will release a video Monday that will announce the Obama administration’s plans to consult with tribal governments on a legislative proposal that would ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives have “a meaningful opportunity to claim their right to vote.”

National: Judge denies attorneys’ fees for Shelby County in voting rights case | Montgomery Advertiser

Shelby County won the case that led the Supreme Court to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act, but that victory doesn’t mean the federal government should pay the county’s lawyers, a judge ruled last week. Washington D.C.-based lawyers for Shelby County had asked for $2 million in fees for the team that pursued the case all the way to the nation’s highest court. The case had challenged the Voting Rights Act’s formula that was used to determine which parts of the country needed to get pre-approval from the Justice Department before making any changes to their election procedures. The court found the formula unconstitutional. Its ruling ended the “pre-clearance” process for Alabama and several other states, a historic shift in how the federal government enforces anti-discrimination laws meant to protect minority voters.

National: Voting problems across south could spell trouble for November | MSNBC

We’re still more than five months from midterm elections, but already Republican voting restrictions are causing chaos in states across the South, and in some cases, blocking access to the ballot. The slew of problems, even in a recent series of low-profile elections, is raising fears that large numbers of voters could be disenfranchised this fall if the laws aren’t blocked before then. Because two of the states involved, Arkansas and North Carolina, are hosting tight Senate races this fall, it’s possible that the laws could even be decisive in helping Republicans gain total control of Congress. “The problems we’re seeing in places like Arkansas and North Carolina are only going to worsen in higher-turnout elections in November, when hundreds of thousands more voters will arrive at the polls,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “They demonstrate exactly why we’ve filed motions to put these laws on hold until they’ve been thoroughly vetted by the courts.”

National: Red, Blue States Find Some Common Ground on Elections Reform | Stateline

After nearly five years of partisan feuds over state elections laws, there are growing signs that lawmakers are finding common ground on both sides of the aisle, in blue and red states alike. During legislative sessions this year, several states enacted changes designed to ease the voting process, such as online voter registration and same-day registration.  When Illinois finishes the rollout of its online system this summer as expected, more than 100 million eligible voters will live in states offering online registration — about half of the nation’s eligible voters, according to the United States Elections Project. The raft of new measures comes on the heels of a bipartisan presidential elections commission report released in January that encouraged states to “transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters.”

National: RNC files lawsuit seeking to raise unlimited sums | Washington Post

The Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission on Friday seeking the ability to raise unlimited donations from individuals, the latest attempt by the GOP to reverse a seminal 2002 campaign finance overhaul. In its suit, the party committee argues that it has a First Amendment right to raise the kind of massive contributions that now fuel super PACs and other independent groups. Currently, individuals can only give $32,400 a year to party committees. Overturning that limit would knock out a major plank of the McCain-Feingold Act, which banned parties from accepting soft money. “I believe it is my job as the leader of the Republican Party to do everything in my power to help our candidates and get out our message of economic growth and opportunity,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “The patchwork of limits on political speech undermines the First Amendment and puts high transparency, full-disclosure groups like the RNC on an unequal footing with other political entities. We are asking that political parties be treated equally under the law.”

National: Voting Rights Act Fix Stalled in Congress |

Nearly one year after the US Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s core provision and six months before a crucial midterm election, a bill to restore many of the VRA’s key protections remains stalled in Congress. The primary roadblock is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who has yet to hold a hearing on the measure. Reports indicate Goodlatte and other GOP leaders have claimed restoring Section 5 — which required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain certification that a proposed voting change would not hurt minorities — is unnecessary because the VRA’s Section 2 provides adequate protection, MSNBC reported. Advocates contend Section 2 is not enough for a number of reasons, including that challenges must be done on a case-by-case basis, which is inefficient, costly and will allow some discriminatory changes to fall through the cracks.

National: Republican Party Sues to End Fundraising Limits on Political Parties | Wall Street Journal

The Republican Party and a leading conservative lawyer filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to allow political parties to raise unlimited funds from donors to spend on elections. The court challenge, if successful, could level the playing field between the national political parties and a burgeoning roster of outside political entities that are raising and spending millions of dollars on elections. The lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission seeks to undo a key provision in a 2002 campaign-finance law that bans unlimited donations to political parties. The law, based on legislation from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (R., Wis.), is the cornerstone of the modern campaign-finance system.

National: Technology Makes Voting Less Private | Government Technology

Where is the line between technology and voter privacy? Secret ballots are one of the tenets of voting, and as technology moves forward there’s a push to keep voting secret, with Monroe County poll sites banning cellphones and photos of the ballots themselves. But what happens once a vote is cast, and it becomes one point in a data set about voting trends throughout the region? Voting data can reveal various trends, from where Democrats and Republicans are voting, to where the most voters live, to the ages of most voters. Data like this was always available in some form, but it was usually buried in hundreds of sheets of paper and information was rarely gathered, given the large time commitment necessary to do so. Monroe County Clerk Linda Robbins said in a particularly busy election, it might take a year to get a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of votes. This election, it took one day due to the first-time use of the electronic poll books. Voter data information is now available with the click of a button, and that information can be pretty revealing for trying to determine how someone voted.

National: Court extends stay in Arizona, Kansas voting case | Associated Press

A federal appeals court has delivered a new setback to officials in Arizona and Kansas, ruling that residents in those states can continue registering to vote for now using a federal form without having to show proof of citizenship. The decision is the latest blow to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who says the federal form — which requires only that people attest under penalty of perjury that they are citizens — creates a “massive loophole” in the enforcement of voting laws in Kansas and Arizona aimed at keeping noncitizens off the rolls. Late Monday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver extended its halt to U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s March 19 decision ordering the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to add instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents on the federal voter registration form about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements. Earlier this month, the same court had issued an emergency stay. The court also granted a request for a quick hearing in the case.

National: Turnout for Voters with Disabilities Suffers | The Canvass

People with disabilities continue to vote at a lower rate than most others. Turnout in recent decades has improved slightly since federal laws were passed to ensure people with disabilities have access to voting polls. Study after study, however, shows these voters lag behind other cohorts when it comes to registration and participation in elections. The Research Alliance for Accessible Voting used U.S. Census data to show in a survey report that there was a disability turnout gap of 7.2 percent during the 2008 presidential contest and 5.7 percent in 2012. “There has been a fair amount of progress but we still have a long way to go,” said Jim Dickson, who co-chaired a voting rights working group for the National Council on Independent Living.

National: Campaign Bitcoins Proliferate, but FEC Rules Unclear | Roll Call

Candidates testing the waters of bitcoin fundraising are following different sets of rules as they go along, a function of both the freewheeling culture of the digital currency world and of mixed signals from the Federal Election Commission. The FEC approved bitcoin fundraising in a unanimous advisory opinion on May 8, but the agency’s six commissioners immediately began a public dispute over what that decision actually means. At issue is whether digital currency contributions must be capped at $100 per election per donor, or whether candidates, political action committees and parties may accept the virtual currency in larger amounts. The commission’s three Democrats maintain that they approved of bitcoin fundraising only to the $100 cap, and in a statement cited “serious concerns” about the potential difficulty verifying virtual transactions. But the commission’s GOP chairman, Lee E. Goodman, countered in his own statement that bitcoins are in-kind donations, and must therefore be capped only at existing contribution limits — $2,600 for a candidate and $5,000 for a PAC per election. “Innovation and technology should not and will not stand idly by while the commission dithers,” he declared.

National: Court extends stay in Arizona, Kansas voting case | Associated Press

A federal appeals court extended its order allowing Kansas and Arizona residents to continue registering to vote using a federal form without having to show proof of citizenship. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its order late Monday and granted an expedited hearing on the merits of the case sought by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and voting rights groups. Earlier this month, the appeals court issued its emergency stay of U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s ruling ordering the commission to immediately modify its federal voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements.

National: Republicans drag their feet on fixing the Voting Rights Act | MSNBC

The Republican lawmaker in a key position to help bolster the Voting Rights Act (VRA) isn’t convinced new legislation is needed, and wants more evidence that current laws aren’t strong enough to stop racial discrimination in voting, according to people involved in the discussions. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s go-slow approach—which comes as efforts to pass the bipartisan measure before this fall’s midterm elections enter a critical phase—is causing frustration among voting-rights advocates. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Before agreeing to hold a hearing on the bill, Goodlatte has asked for examples of voting discrimination that have occurred since the Supreme Court weakened the VRA last year in Shelby County v. Holder, as well as information on how such incidents would have been stopped by the proposed legislation. Lobbyists with the NAACP responded to Goodlatte’s request last week with a 16,000-word document outlining a slew of discriminatory voting changes stopped by the VRA before the Shelby decision, as well as several new ones that went into effect after the landmark civil rights law was eroded.

National: FEC Decision Pushes Bitcoin Further Toward Legitimacy | MintPress

The U.S. Federal Election Commission has taken a leap into the Digital Age, approving the use of the virtual currency Bitcoin to make financial contributions to political candidates. The FEC’s move comes as several candidates running in this year’s midterm elections have started accepting Bitcoin contributions. In an opinion issued earlier this month, the agency’s six commissioners unanimously adopted guidelines proposed by the Make Your Laws political action committee. The Federal Election Campaign Act defines a “contribution” as “any gift … of money or anything of value,” and, the commission concluded, Bitcoins “are ‘money or anything of value’ within the meaning of the Act.” Under Make Your Laws’ guidelines, contributions will be limited to $100 per donor per election cycle and, to promote transparency, an individual must provide identifying information, including name, physical address and employer, in order to make a contribution.

National: Democratic Party considers Internet voting in 2016 election |

Democrats are seriously considering using the Internet for voters to cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential election saying such a process will help their party’s new president, according to news reports on Saturday. The party leaders during a recent Democratic National Committee meeting in Iowa claimed Internet voting would make it easier for their constituents to cast their ballots including military voters serving overseas. … But such a revision to the nation’s election system will be difficult once the debate takes a more prominent place within political dialogue. Several experts in law enforcement, computer science and social media are suspicious of the Internet being used to choose political leaders especially when it comes to national elections. “These Democrats are the same people who were behind the Obamacare website fiasco that is still being remedied at a cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. They couldn’t even get an enrollment website functioning properly so how do we trust them to get Internet voting problem-free,” said political strategist Mike Baker. “Can you imagine hundreds of thousands of votes suddenly lost forever in cyperspace? And without proper screening who is to say someone voting online is really the person they claim to be?” Baker asks.

National: Voter citizenship lawsuit looms over 2014 election | Associated Press

After Kansas began requiring residents to prove they were U.S. citizens to register to vote, the League of Women Voters started focusing its voter registration efforts at naturalization ceremonies, where people readily have such documents on them. Now that immigration officials have prohibited them from copying naturalization certificates, new citizens face discrimination and significant roadblocks in registering to vote, the group told a federal appeals court Thursday. The latest court filing by voting rights groups in a lawsuit unfolding before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals portrays a sample of the possible impacts at issue in the run-up to this year’s elections. Kansas and Arizona are seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its federal voter registration form for those states to include special instructions requiring citizenship documentation. In March, a federal judge agreed and ordered the commission to immediately modify its forms, but the 10th Circuit last week put that ruling on hold, at least temporarily. Whatever the courts decide will affect primary elections in August and the general election in November.

National: Voter rights group: Registration law blocks new citizens | Associated Press

After Kansas began requiring residents to prove they were U.S. citizens to register to vote, the League of Women Voters started focusing its voter registration efforts at naturalization ceremonies, where people readily have such documents on them. Now that immigration officials have prohibited them from copying naturalization certificates, new citizens face discrimination and significant roadblocks in registering to vote, the group told a federal appeals court Thursday. The latest court filing by voting rights groups in a lawsuit unfolding before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals portrays a sample of the possible impacts at issue in the run-up to this year’s elections. Kansas and Arizona are seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its federal voter registration form for those states to include special instructions requiring citizenship documentation. In March, a federal judge agreed and ordered the commission to immediately modify its forms, but the 10th Circuit last week put that ruling on hold, at least temporarily. Whatever the courts decide will affect primary elections in August and the general election in November.

National: Paul Diverges From His Party Over Voter ID | New York Times

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky broke Friday with fellow Republicans who have pushed for stricter voting laws as a way to crack down on fraud at the polls, saying that the focus on such measures alienates and insults African-Americans and hurts the party. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Mr. Paul said in an interview. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” Mr. Paul becomes the most prominent member of his party — and among the very few — to distance himself from the voting restrictions and the campaign for their passage in states under Republican control, including North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, that can determine presidential elections. Civil rights groups call the laws a transparent effort to depress black turnout.

National: Problem at the polls: Tech stuck in past | The Hill

In the world of iPads, Google Glass and even bitcoin, voting technology remains stuck in a virtual dark age. Nearly 14 years after the 2000 election recount debacle in Florida, election officials now face the challenge of replacing voting machines that are on their last legs in a rapidly changing tech world that’s moved even beyond the changes spurred by that voting mess. Transitioning to modern voting machines, however, won’t be easy due to a lack of advanced machines, small budgets and a burdensome regulatory process. The next frontier to replace aging and unreliable machines should be commercially made and software-only products, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in a January report. “Tablet computers such as iPads are common components of these new technologies. They can be integrated into the check-in, voting and verification processes in the polling place,” the report said.

National: Court issues temporary stay over voter citizenship | Associated Press

Kansas and Arizona residents can continue to register to vote for now using a federal form without having to provide proof of citizenship, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed a ruling from U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren that orders the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to modify its federal voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements. Circuit Judges Carlos Lucero and Jerome Holmes granted the emergency stay sought Thursday by the commission and voting rights groups, a day after Melgren rejected a similar request to suspend his ruling during the appeal. Melgren had ordered the commission on Wednesday to carry out “without further delay” his March 19 directive. The temporary halt is in effect until further order from the appeals court. The 10th Circuit judges gave Kansas and Arizona until Tuesday to respond to the commission’s request to suspend the ruling during the appeal. … In addition to the stay, the commission also asked the court Thursday to consider its appeal of the decision itself on an expedited basis, preferably in a special session this summer. The EAC argued in its filing that the decision will cause “considerable uncertainty” for voters in Arizona and Kansas in the run-up to the primaries in those states in August and the general election in November. Both states’ elections include federal offices.

National: Efforts to revive Voting Rights Act provision stall in Congress | Dallas Morning News

Ten months after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, efforts have stalled in Congress to restore federal scrutiny of states with a history of racial bias. Freed from the need for Justice Department approval before changing election rules, even minor ones, states moved quickly to impose tight voter ID laws. But changes are also playing out quietly at the local level. In Jasper, an East Texas town with a history of racial tension, the City Council is deciding whether to annex mostly white subdivisions. In Galveston, Texas, some court districts have been eliminated. Civil rights advocates complain that these moves dilute minority populations, unfairly reducing the influence of non-white voters. Before last summer’s court ruling, such changes in nine states could not take effect without pre-approval from Washington. Defenders of the decades-old system say the oversight served as a deterrent, prompting state and local officials to think twice before imposing burdensome or even unconstitutional measures.

National: Federal Election Commission approves bitcoin donations to political committees | Washington Post

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday gave a green light to donating bitcoins to political committees, one of the first rulings by a government agency on how to treat the virtual currency. In a 6-to-0 vote, the panel said that a PAC can accept bitcoin donations, as well as purchase them, but it must sell its bitcoins and convert them into U.S. dollars before they are deposited into an official campaign account. The commission did not approve the use of bitcoin to acquire goods and services. After the vote, however, individual commissioners offered sharply divergent views on whether their decision limits bitcoin donations to small amounts — creating more uncertainty about how much of the Internet currency that political committees can accept. The FEC had deadlocked on a similar question in the fall, with the three Democratic appointees saying they wanted the agency to take more time to study the issue and develop a formal policy to govern the use of bitcoins in campaigns. At the time, some commissioners expressed concern that the virtual currency could be used to mask the identity of donors.

National: As States Vote In Primaries, Voter ID Laws Come Under Scrutiny | NPR

Three states are holding primaries Tuesday, and voters might understandably be confused over what kind of identification they need to show at the polls. In Indiana, it has to be a government-issued photo ID. In Ohio, you can get by with a utility bill. In North Carolina, you won’t need a photo ID until 2016. But that law, along with ID laws in many other states, faces an uncertain future. “We have Florida, Georgia, Indiana,” says Wendy Underhill, of the National Conference of State Legislatures. She’s ticking off the names of some of the states that required voters to show a photo ID back in 2012.  When it comes to state voting laws, Underhill has an important job: She’s the keeper of a frequently consulted list of ID requirements, which seems to change almost daily. (The NCSL has this online resource of voter ID requirements.) This year, Underhill says, there are 16 states that require voters to show a photo ID, eight of which have what are called strict photo ID rules. That means without the credential, you basically can’t vote. “But one of those is Arkansas, and so in Arkansas we don’t know whether that will be in place or not,” Underhill says.

National: Judge refuses to halt order over voter citizenship | Associated Press

Voters in Kansas and Arizona will have to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering to vote using the federal form even as a U.S. agency appeals a federal judge’s order that helps those states enforce their voter registration requirements, the judge ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Eric Melgren rejected the requests from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and voting rights groups to put his earlier ruling on hold while the case goes to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Melgren ruled on March 19 that the commission must immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements. The commission contends that the added documentation burdens result in an overall decrease in registration of eligible citizens, undermining the purpose of the National Voter Registration Act. The states argue the requirement protects the integrity of their elections by ensuring noncitizens aren’t voting.

National: RNC set to join landmark suit taking on campaign limits | Washington Times

Members of the Republican National Committee gathering in Memphis, Tennessee, for their spring meeting are set to join a lawsuit seeking to strike down campaign finance limits and free the GOP to spend unlimited money on get-out-the-vote efforts. Republicans have long argued that “soft money” spending limits imposed on political parties by the Federal Election Commission in the aftermath of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law have punished the RNC and state political parties while letting pro-Democrat unions spend unlimited money to organize voters. The lawsuit specifically will ask the courts to allow national and state parties to form super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts on election efforts, something the FEC has prohibited. “We think this will put the final nail in the coffin of the McCain-Feingold law,” Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in an interview.

National: Is the Voting Rights Act making a comeback? | MSNBC

The chances of Congress acting to fix the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was weakened by the Supreme Court last summer, appear slimmer by the week. But lately, it looks like the landmark civil rights law might end up being strengthened in a different way: by being used. Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Wisconsin struck down the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it violates the VRA’s Section 2, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The state has said it will appeal the ruling. Two days later, voting rights advocates filed suit against Ohio’s recent cuts to early voting, again alleging a violation of Section 2. “I think it’s exactly what the federal courts should be doing,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, referring to the Wisconsin ruling, and the potential for a similar verdict in Ohio. “When partisan politicians go too far to restrict the right to vote in an effort to serve their own ends, courts aren’t likely to look on that kindly.”