National: Obama commission encourages early vote expansion | Associated Press

Responding to frustratingly long lines in the last national election, a presidential commission on Wednesday encouraged expansion of early voting and said no American should have to wait more than half an hour to cast a ballot. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was presenting President Barack Obama with a list of recommendations to reduce the wait and make voting more efficient. The commission warned of an “impending crisis in voting technology” as machines across the country purchased after the 2000 election recount wear out with no federal funds on the horizon to replace them. “We could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now,” Obama said after receiving their 112-page report in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. But fixing the problems will be easier said than done, since no federal commission can force changes to balloting run by about 8,000 different jurisdictions. Funds for upgrades are scarce. Not only that, there have been sharp differences in recent years between the parties on what approach to employ. Fights over voting process can — and sometimes have — been as partisan and bitter as those associated with the redrawing of political boundary lines.

National: Presidential Commission Recommends Expanding Early Voting, Online Voter Registration | National Journal

A year after President Obama’s pledge to address voting problems, a commission he established recommends expanding early voting and online voter registration to improve efficiency at polls nationwide. The 2012 election was characterized by stories of voters waiting for hours to cast ballots at some polls in battleground states. The commission’s unanimous conclusion is that “problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable,” and that no voter should have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. The commission also recommended jurisdictions form advisory groups to address the needs of disabled or voters with limited English proficiency; address the “impending crisis in voting technology,” as no federal dollars are set aside to update 10-year-old voting machines; and improve the recruitment and training of poll workers.

National: Presidential panel advises sweeping voting overhaul | The Hill

A panel commissioned by the White House to examine the nation’s voting laws after some Americans were forced to wait hours to cast their ballots during the 2012 presidential election presented President Obama with a report on Wednesday calling for a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s electoral practices. After studying the nation’s election laws for the past six months, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration argued that through “a combination of planning… and the efficient allocation of resources,” local jurisdictions could cut wait times at the polls to less than half an hour. “Problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable,” the commission wrote in its 112-page report. The panel recommended a dozen major changes to electoral practices, including an expansion of online voter registration and early voting.

National: Hillary Clinton foes file FEC complaint | POLITICO

An anti-Hillary Clinton group has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against the former secretary of state and an independent group promoting her potential 2016 presidential bid. In what election law experts say is a long-shot argument, the hybrid PAC, titled the ‘Stop Hillary PAC,’ claims that Clinton and her political team have essentially authorized a campaign by renting her official resources to a super PAC. The Wednesday complaint singled out Clinton and the super PAC Ready for Hillary — a group that is urging Clinton to run for president but is forbidden by law from coordinating with Clinton or her staff. At issue, according to Stop Hillary lawyer Dan Backer, is whether Clinton is tacitly supporting a committee that’s aiming to “draft” her for president. “Ready for Hillary is in the business of trying to get Hillary Clinton to run for office — essentially to draft her for office. And that’s their right to do so, provided the object of their draft — Hillary — isn’t behind it or helping them, because then it stops being a draft committee and becomes an authorized campaign committee,” he said in a statement, going on to suggest that she and the committee are in violation of campaign finance law.

National: Joe Biden: Voting rights fight continues |

On the 85th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, Vice President Joe Biden said he never imagined the country would once again be fighting over the Voting Rights Act. “I never thought we’d be fighting the fight again on voting rights, I really didn’t,” Biden said Monday to the annual King Day breakfast at the National Action Network. The vice president marked the civil rights leader’s birthday with a renewed call to action for the cause he said got him into public office in the first place.

National: 2014 elections could be most expensive midterms in history | Al Jazeera

It’s still 10 months from Election Day, but the amount of money raised to fund this year’s congressional races already numbers in the hundreds of millions. Early indicators suggest that 2014 could see the most expensive midterm elections in U.S. history. Candidates have officially collected $446 million through their campaign committees, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Most worrisome for many concerned about the avalanche of money in the political system is the cash originating from a few wealthy donors and corporations, then funneled through outside groups like trade associations, nonprofits affiliated with political causes, and commitees, or “super PACs,” closely allied with candidates. These so-called independent expenditures have already topped $25.5 million for 2014 and the 2013 special elections. That figure outpaces the $21.2 million spent at this point in the 2012 cycle and dwarfs the $8.5 million spent by this time in 2010. Much more is expected to flow in as candidates vie in competitive primaries and the general election season gets into full swing.

National: Election Assistance Commission rejects voter registration changes for states | Associated Press

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Friday rejected requests by Kansas, Arizona and Georgia to modify federal registration forms to allow their states to fully implement proof-of-citizen voting laws for their residents. The decision came just hours before a court-imposed deadline in a lawsuit filed by Kansas and Arizona in U.S. District Court in Kansas. Georgia is not part of that litigation but has similar requirements. The agency found that granting the states’ requests would “likely hinder eligible citizens from registering to vote in federal elections,” undermining the core purpose of the National Voter Registration Act. Most immediately, the issue will likely return to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren, who has held onto litigation in anticipation of further proceedings. Both states enacted laws requiring new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote, and most voters use state forms that enforce the requirement. But some voters use the federal form, which requires only that someone sign a statement under oath that he or she is a U.S. citizen, and Kansas and Arizona want to force a change to close what their officials see as a loophole in enforcement of their proof-of-citizenship requirements.

National: Bipartisan group begins effort to restore parts of Voting Rights Act | Los Angeles Times

Lawmakers announced Thursday bipartisan legislation that would restore key protections of the Voting Rights Act that were thrown out by the Supreme Court last summer. The bill would also establish new criteria to determine whether states need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to voting rules. The legislation is a response to the high court’s ruling in June that Southern states had been unfairly singled out by the long-standing formula used to determine which states must seek federal “pre-clearance” before changing their voting laws. The proposed legislation would establish a new trigger. Any state that is found to have committed five voting violations over a 15-year period would be subject to federal scrutiny of any new voting laws for a period of 10 years. It would also allow states to create “reasonable” photo identification laws. Four states would be subject to the law immediately upon enactment: Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

National: Lawmakers to Introduce Bipartisan Voting Rights Act Fix | Roll Call

Several months after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers plans to introduce a legislative fix on Thursday afternoon. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a passing reference to developments on the VRA front at a news conference earlier in the day. “I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress — and that’s a good thing — that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act, and I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement on that later today,” Pelosi said. “I’m not here to announce it, but I’m here to say what’s occurred in briefings and meetings we’ve had. While it’s not the bill everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress and it is worthy of support.” Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., confirmed Pelosi’s remarks while heading into the House chamber, adding that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., are the sponsors.

National: Members of Congress Introduce a New Fix for the Voting Rights Act | The Nation

Today Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last June invalidating a critical section of the VRA. The legislation, known as “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” represents the first attempt by a bipartisan group in Congress to reinstate the vital protections of the VRA that the Supreme Court took away. In the Shelby County v. Holder ruling on June 25, 2013, the Court’s conservative majority struck down Section 4 of the VRA, the formula that compelled specific states with a well-documented history of voting discrimination to clear their voting changes with the federal government under Section 5 of the VRA. The two provisions were always meant to work together; without Section 4, Section 5 became a zombie, applying to zero states.

National: Congress, FEC meet about security breakdowns | Center for Public Integrity

Federal Election Commission staff today traveled to Capitol Hill and briefed congressional officials investigating the beleaguered agency on how it intends to address recent computer security and staffing problems, officials from both government bodies confirmed. The FEC’s contingent was led by Alec Palmer, who doubles as the agency’s staff and information technology director. It wasn’t immediately clear how many congressional officials participated in the meetings, although a spokesman for Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that his office participated. Brady, along with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., last week called for separate inquiries into the FEC’s recent woes, which include an October infiltrationinto its computer systems by Chinese hackers. Brady is the ranking member on the Committee on House Administration, which has FEC oversight powers.

National: Campaign Activists Blast FEC Decision on Crossroads | Wall Street Journal

Campaign-finance activists vowed to take the Federal Election Commission to court Thursday after it disregarded a finding by its staff that Crossroads GPS, conservative nonprofit backed by Karl Rove, likely broke campaign laws during the 2010 elections. On Friday, the FEC quietly released a legal opinion by its staff lawyers that found that the “major purpose” of Crossroads GPS was to elect federal candidates, despite being registered as a “social-welfare” nonprofit group. The FEC’s general counsel recommended holding a formal investigation into the group. However, the FEC decided not to take any action after a deadlocked 3-3 vote by its commissioners along party lines. On Thursday, that decision drew sharp criticism from campaign-finance activists.

National: Former Connecticut Secretary of the State Miles Rapoport to lead Common Cause | New Haven Register

Former Connecticut Secretary of the State Miles Rapoport will be the next president and chief executive officer of Common Cause, a national non-profit government watchdog agency. The agency announced Rapoport’s appointment in a news release Tuesday. Rapoport, a Democrat who served as Secretary of the State from 1995-99 and as a state representative from 1985-95, has been president of Demos, another non-profit watchdog agency, since 2001. He will succeed former congressman Bob Edgar, who died suddenly last April after leading the organization for six years. Rapoport starts his new job March 10.

National: Hacking attempt draws congressional investigation of FEC | Center for Public Integrity

Two congressional leaders — one Republican and one Democrat — are calling for investigations into Federal Election Commission computer security and operational breakdowns that the Center for Public Integrity detailed in a recent report. The report revealed that Chinese hackers crashed the FEC’s computer information technology systems in October just as the federal government shut down, and that the agency is suffering from chronic staffing shortages. A subsequent audit the FEC commissioned revealed a variety of other security issues. “The revelations that FEC IT systems were compromised raises serious concerns,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee which oversees federal IT matters. “I am working with my staff and the staff of the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the extent of the breaches, and I intend to conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials.”

National: Robert Pastor: Ex-US Official, Americas Expert | New York Times

Robert A. Pastor, an influential scholar and policymaker who spent decades working for better inter-American relations and democracy and free elections in the Western Hemisphere, has died after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 66. American University Provost Scott A. Bass announced the death on Thursday. A letter posted on the university website by Dean James Goldgeier of the university’s School of International Service, where Pastor was a professor, said he died Wednesday evening.

National: Half of states OK’d restrictive voting laws | Boston Globe

Nearly half the states in the country passed laws restricting the right to vote in the five years leading up to the last presidential election, with most of them in the South, according to a study recently released by two professors from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien, professors of sociology and political science, respectively, found that race, class, and political partisanship influenced the push for a raft of restrictive laws from 2006 to 2011. The study, published last month, found that during the five years preceding the 2012 election, nearly every state proposed a voting law that would have, in some way, restricted access to casting ballots or registering to vote. Almost half of states passed such a law, the study said. From 2006 to 2011, according to the study, restrictive voter access policies were more likely to be proposed in states with larger African-American and immigrant populations, and where voter turnout among minority and low-income voters had increased during presidential elections.

National: What voter turnout means for efforts to remedy income inequality | The Washington Post

The gap between rhetoric about income inequality and action to deal with it is sizable. There are many reasons for that, but one possible explanation, according to a provocative new book, is the contrasting views of Americans who vote and those who do not. The book is titled “Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States.” The authors are two political scientists, Jan E. Leighley of American University and Jonathan Nagler of New York University. “Who Votes Now?” is a thoroughgoing examination of voter turnout patterns from 1972 through 2008 and offers much to chew on. But its most important finding, the authors say, is that, on crucial questions about economic policy and redistribution, those who vote do not represent the views of those who do not vote. “Voters are significantly more conservative than nonvoters on redistributive issues and have been in every election since 1972,” they write.

National: New Law Brings Major Changes to the FEC’s Administrative Fine Program – and New Challenges for Independent Expenditures | In the Arena

On December 26, President Obama signed into law a bill to extend the Federal Election Commission’s administrative fine program.  The new law broadens the program significantly, in ways that will especially affect those who make independent expenditures. The administrative fine program allows the FEC to collect fines on a streamlined basis, and on fixed schedules, when political committees fail timely to file their regular periodic reports, or when candidate committees fail timely to file their last-minute contribution (or “48-hour”) reports.  While the program places strict limits on when a respondent can challenge a fine, it has generally been regarded as successful, and has largely avoided partisan or ideological controversy.

National: Federal Election Commission Faces Serious Security Failings, with Few Plans to Remedy | Infosecurity

Just weeks after the US Department of Energy was shown to have disregarded proper cybersecurity measures, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is facing what an independent auditor calls “significant deficiencies” when it comes to its cybersecurity posture. The FEC in fact remained at “high risk for future network intrusions”. However, the electoral watchdog said that it has little interest in implementing even minimum IT security controls. The audit firm, Leon Snead & Co., said in the audit that the FEC’s IT security program does not meet government-wide best practice minimum requirements in many areas. That includes carrying out due diligence information as part of an organization-wide risk management program, using the risk management tools and techniques to implement and maintain modern safeguards and countermeasures, and ensuring the necessary resilience to support ongoing federal responsibilities, critical infrastructure applications and continuity of government in the event of an attack.

National: Power to the people? Remembering the year in recalls. | The Week

After recalls suddenly grabbed hold of the nation’s attention in 2012, anyone could have been excused for thinking they might have gone back to being little used, frequently ignored weapons this year. But 2013 proved such expectations wrong. Despite a sharp drop in their total number, recall elections once again managed to place themselves on centerstage in American politics. Unlike in Wisconsin in 2012, the most prominent recalls of 2013 did not appear to be stark Democrat versus Republican fights. Instead, it was a hot button political issue — the fight over gun control — that allowed recalls to push their way into the spotlight. Colorado, for instance, saw some of its most expensive state legislative elections in history: Two Democratic state senators — including the State Senate president — were kicked out and a third resigned, over the state’s new gun control laws.

National: Key fights ahead for right to vote | MSNBC

Voting rights advocates are girding for a series of crucial battles that will play out over the next twelve months in Congress, in the courts, and in state legislatures. Victories could go a long way to reversing the setbacks of the last year. Defeats could help cement a new era in which voting is more difficult, especially for racial minorities, students, and the poor. Despite some scattered efforts by states to improve voting access, the right to vote took a big step backwards last year. Republican legislatures in states across the country continued to advance restrictive voting laws, while a major Supreme Court rulingShelby County v. Holder, badly weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Wendy Weiser, who runs the Democracy program at the Brenan Center for Justice, called Shelby “the single biggest blow to voting rights in decades.”

National: The futility of the Federal Election Commission | Dallas Morning News

six-month study by the watchdog Center for Public Integrity has reached sobering, even depressing, conclusions about an agency that should be one of the bulwarks of our democracy. Among the findings:

*The FEC has “reached a paralyzing all-time low in its ability to reach consensus.” The six-member commission operates with three Republicans and three Democrats. And often over the past several years, there have only been four or five commissions. Because four votes are required to take any action, and we live in highly-polarized times, there’s…wait for the shock…gridlock.

National: Federal Election Commission still in ‘significant’ danger of hacking | Center for Public Integrity

The Federal Election Commission’s computer and IT security continues to suffer from “significant deficiencies,” and the agency remains at “high risk,” according to a new audit of the agency’s operations. “FEC’s information and information systems have serious internal control vulnerabilities and have been penetrated at the highest levels of the agency, while FEC continues to remain at high risk for future network intrusions,” independent auditor Leon Snead & Company of Rockville, Md., writes. The audit, released today, comes less than two weeks after a Center for Public Integrity investigation that revealed Chinese hackers infiltrated the FEC’s IT systems during the initial days of October’s government shutdown — an incursion that the agency’s new leadership has vowed to swiftly address. The Chinese hacking attack is believed by FEC leaders and Department of Homeland Security officials to be the most serious act of sabotage in the agency’s 38-year history.

National: Study: Voter Fraud Non-Existent, Partisanship at Heart of Voter Laws | Houston Press

The George W. Bush DOJ went after voter fraud hard. It became a mantra in right-wing talking circles that voter fraud was rampant, perhaps swinging elections. The problem with this narrative was that there simply wasn’t much evidence to support it. Undeterred by the lack of evidence, right-wing activists, led by Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican lawyer who served in the Bush Administration, kept pushing the idea in state legislatures. And while many laws restricting voting rights were proposed, a number were passed especially after the Tea Party got a hold of some state legislatures in 2010. Those on the left always suspected that there was something else going on behind these types of laws: requiring photo identification, proof of citizenship, regulation of groups who attempt to register new voters, shortened early voting periods, banning same-day voter registration and increased restrictions on voting by felons. That is, these restrictions seemed designed to suppress the votes of voters more likely to vote Democratic: poor and Black. Well, now two researchers have added some empirical rigor to the debate: what is going on with these spate of voting restrictions?

National: Weird Loophole Allows Corporations to Incentivize Employee Contributions to Corporate PACs | Nonprofit Quarterly

U.S. corporations cannot give money directly to political action committees, but individuals can. Can corporations find a way around the prohibition? Of course they can! That’s what loopholes are for. Bloomberg News reports that corporations are getting their employees to donate to PACs in return for the corporations making matching contributions to the employees’ choices of charities. Among the corporations doing this according to Bloomberg are Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Boeing, and Hewlett-Packard. The loophole isn’t just a recent discovery. The practice was specifically approved by the Federal Election Commission in the late 1980s and has been reviewed and approved by the FEC seven times between 1994 and 2009. It is also a practice that is reprehensible, clearly intended to skirt the intention of the law. Election law prohibits corporations from reimbursing employees for their PAC donations, either directly or indirectly, but the corporations are making the case that making donations to charities is different than offering employees reimbursement, bonuses, or other compensation.

National: Chinese hackers attacked Federal Election Commission website | CNN

Chinese hackers tapped into the Federal Election Commission’s website during the federal government shutdown in October, a report released Tuesday by an investigative news organization says. The report from the Center for Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations, indicates that hackers crashed the FEC’s computer systems, which compiles federal election campaign finance information like contributions to parties and candidates, and how those billions of dollars are spent in each election by candidates, political parties, and independent groups such as political action committees. The attack came as nearly all of the FEC’s employees, except for the presidential-appointed commissioners, were furloughed due to the government shutdown, with not even one staffer being deemed “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats” to federal property. And it came a few months after an independent auditor hired by the government warned that the FEC’s computer systems were at “high risk” to infiltration, a charge the commission disputed.

National: Did 17 illegal voters in Ohio steal the 2012 election? | Slate

The headline from Fox News is chilling, especially at this moment when most Americans regret putting Barack Obama back in the Oval Office. “Non-citizens caught voting in 2012 presidential election in key swing state,” reports Eric Shawn. What are the gruesome details? Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that his office found 17 non-citizens illegally cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election — and has referred the case for possible prosecution… Husted also found that 274 non-citizens remain on the voting rolls. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Ohio by just 2 percentage points in November 2012. Did you catch that, how Shawn pivoted from the number of total votes to the percentage of votes? Why would he do that? Without reading his mind, I’d guess it’s because the actual Ohio margin between Obama and Romney last year was 166,272 votes, and Shawn wants to keep his readers as ignorant as posssible. Seventeen votes represents 0.0003 percent of the total of ballots cast for either Obama or Romney in the state, and 0.01 percent of the margin.

National: New team seeks to take online voting from fantasy to reality | California Forward

You can do almost anything online; your banking, shop on Amazon, pay your bills. And yet one thing that forever evaded Californians is the opportunity to vote online, due to the myriad of security and privacy issues. But a new project from the Overseas Vote Foundation is putting a team together that could be the catalyst toward bringing democracy to your DSL connection. The project is called End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting: Specification and Feasibility Assessment Study, aka E2E VIV Project. It brings together experts in computer science, usability, and auditing and adds in the expertise of local election officials from counties throughout the U.S. to examine potential solutions to the current roadblocks toward online voting. The main challenge? How to maintain the anonymity of your vote while making sure it’s secure and stays the same from sender to recipient.

National: Massive Chinese Hacking Attack on FEC Computers Exposes Deep Agency Dysfunction | AllGov

Few Americans would argue that the “D” in Washington, DC, might well stand for “dysfunction”—but it’s especially true when it comes to one government agency in particular: the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC has been something of a mess for quite some time, due to partisan infighting among its commissioners and lack of help from Congress or the White House. There are six commissioners and no more than three can be from the same party. But things took a turn for the truly ugly during the government shutdown in October, when Chinese hackers took advantage of federal employees being furloughed, leaving no one around at the FEC to mind its computer network. Indeed, every one of its 339 employees had been sent home. The cyber-attack—possibly the worst act of sabotage in its four-decade history—reportedly crippled the commission’s systems that inform the public about the billions of dollars raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees.

National: Federal Election Commission attacked by Chinese hackers during government shutdown |

The Federal Election Commission was hit by a massive cyberattack hours after the government shutdown began, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. The CPI report claimed the Chinese were behind “the worst act of sabotage” in the agency’s 38-year history. Three government officials involved in the investigation confirmed the attack to CPI, and the FEC acknowledged the incident in a statement. However, the CPI report did not explain why the officials believed China was involved, or provide any details of the network intrusion beyond the fact that attackers crashed several FEC computer systems. When asked for a statement, FEC referred Security Watch to the Department of Homeland Security and did not provide any information. The fact that an attack during the 16-day shutdown occurred should not be a big surprise, since many security experts had warned that attackers might take advantage of IT personnel being furloughed to launch an attack. With less people watching the networks, there was a lot of opportunity for attackers. In fact, the FEC had furloughed all 339 agency employees as none of its staff had been considered “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats” to federal property, according to CPI.