National: Blacks’ Election-Day Waits Nearly Double Those Of Whites, But Why? | NPR

On Election Day 2012, black voters waited on average nearly twice as long to vote as did white voters, while the wait time for Hispanic voters fell in between those two groups. So say the available data, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist Charles Stewart III. He decided to see what he could learn by examining statistics on Election Day waits and sums up his findings in a research paper titled “Waiting to Vote in 2012.” Stewart says the national average wait for white voters was 12 minutes, while that same metric for African-Americans was 23 minutes. For Hispanics, it was 19 minutes. Although it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that some form of discrimination might have been at work, Stewart suggests that other factors could be at play, such as geography.

National: GAO asked to investigate why voters waited hours to cast ballots | WTOP

Two members of Congress have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate why voters in Virginia and Florida had to wait hours in line to cast their ballots on Election Day 2012. Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, both Democrats, made the request in a letter to the government’s investigative arm.

“… we request that GAO conduct a study of the underlying causes contributing to long lines on Election Day, including evaluating laws that impact voting rights and election administration. This study will help inform both federal and state policymakers about the types of reforms that will most effectively reduce long waiting times and ensure that all Americans obtain equal access to the ballot box.”

National: Voting Lines Study Shows Minorities Faced Longer Average Wait Times To Cast Ballots | Huffington Post

new report by Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shows that non-white voters faced longer average wait times at the polls than white voters did in November.

From the report:

Viewed nationally, African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites; Hispanics waited 19 minutes. While there are other individual-level demographic difference present in the responses, none stands out as much as race. For instance, the average wait time among those with household incomes less than $30,000 was 12 minutes, compared to 14 minutes for those in households with incomes greater than $100,000. Strong Democrats waited an average of 16 minutes, compared to an average of 11 minutes for strong Republicans. Respondents who reported they had an interest in news and public affairs “most of the time” waited an average of 13.2 minutes, compared to 12.8 minutes among those who had “hardly any” interest.

The study points out that the findings don’t suggest discrimination on an individual basis, but rather a failure by precincts with high levels of minority voters, typically in urban areas, to appropriately address the issue of long lines. For example, the difference in wait times between black and white voters in the same zip code was less than a minute on average.

National: Rules of the Game: Lame-Duck FEC Invites Scofflaws | Roll Call

Already short one officer, the Federal Election Commission will soon have a dubious distinction: As of April 30, all five of its remaining commissioners will be serving expired terms. By now President Barack Obama’s failure to fully staff the dysfunctional agency barely even riles government watchdogs. In theory composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, the FEC has been deadlocked for so long that, some argue, the agency could hardly grind to more of a halt. But the FEC’s growing backlog of work, protracted stalemates and failure to enforce or even explain the rules is taking a toll. At a minimum, political players are increasingly confused about how to reconcile already-complicated election laws with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to deregulate political spending. (The FEC has yet to issue regulations interpreting that ruling.) At worst, the FEC’s failure to act on even the most blatant violations is sending an “anything goes” signal to political players, who are becoming increasingly brazen about testing what’s allowed. True, most candidates, elected officials and donors simply want to understand the rules and follow them. But a growing number, election lawyers say, see their competitors pushing the envelope and are tempted to follow suit.

National: Spending mushrooms in new ‘political ecosystem’ | Associated Press

Operating with few rules and limited oversight, outside groups spent a record $1 billion to influence last year’s election. Politicians of all persuasions griped about the meddling. But few are working to change laws that ushered in an unprecedented flood of money made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that erased years of campaign finance law. Instead, political leaders and donors from both parties are preparing for the flow of outside money to intensify. New groups have formed and others are shaping plans to come back bigger and smarter ahead of the 2014 congressional elections and the 2016 presidential race. What laws do remain could become even looser as the Supreme Court considers another high-profile decision.

National: A License to Vote? GOP Lawmakers Push Voter IDs |

Residents of Virginia and Arkansas may be getting carded at places other than nightclubs come 2014. Both states have passed stricter election laws that require voters to show approved photo ID before they can cast their ballots. On Monday, the Republican-controlled Arkansas legislature overrode a veto from Democratic governor Mike Beebe, who called the law “an expensive solution in search of a problem.” Republican governor Bob McDonnell signed Virginia’s bill into law on March 26. Both laws are part of the “endless partisan cycle of fights over the election rules,” says Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California at Irvine. The classic conservative argument is that such laws are needed to combat voter fraud. The classic liberal retort is that voter fraud is a red herring and such laws are really attempts to suppress voters who lean Democratic—because voting blocs like the young, elderly and minorities disproportionately lack photo ID.

National: Attorney General Holder wants voting rights provision upheld | Associated Press

On the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, Attorney General Eric Holder challenged the Supreme Court to uphold a key section of the Voting Rights Act that requires all or part of 15 states with a history of discrimination to get federal clearance before carrying out changes in elections. Holder made the comments Thursday in a speech to a civil rights group whose founder and president is the Rev. Al Sharpton. Focusing on issues he regards as important during President Barack Obama’s second term in office, Holder vowed to protect the voting rights of all Americans, safeguard young people from gun violence and improve the criminal justice system. Opponents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 say the pre-clearance requirement has outlived its usefulness. Starting in 2009, the Supreme Court made clear its skepticism about the present-day need for the provision. The court is considering a challenge on the issue from Shelby County, Ala., near Birmingham.

National: Supreme Court rejects call to change voting district head counts | Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court has rejected a conservative challenge to the common practice of counting everyone, not just U.S. citizens, when adjusting the size of voting districts across the nation. Without comment, the justices let stand a redistricting rule that benefits urban areas like Los Angeles and Chicago that have a higher percentage of noncitizens as residents. Since the 1960s, the court has said that election districts should be equal in size under the so-called one person, one vote rule. Under this rule, U.S. representatives, state legislators, city council members and county board members usually represent about the same number of people. But the court had not ruled directly on whether these districts should be counted based on the number of persons who live there or on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

National: States vote yes to online registration |

A wave of states in recent years have moved to allow residents to register online and the pace is quickening today as many more are debating the issue – a development that is swelling voting rolls, saving taxpayers’ money, and providing a welcome demilitarized zone in the raging partisan wars over ballot access. “It’s red states, blue states, small states, big states,” said Jennie Bowser, an elections expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “It’s happening across the board.” Only two states, Arizona and Washington, had online voter registration when Barack Obama won the presidency. Four years later, 13 states had systems up and running by the time Obama won reelection. Now, at least fourteen additional states are considering legislation to enact online registration. (Virginia and New Mexico have already sent bills to the governor.)

National: Can Obama’s new panel defuse the voting wars? | MSNBC

In recent years, the issue of voting rights has exploded  into a high-octane partisan battle, with Republicans backing laws restricting access to the ballot, Democrats loudly crying foul, and no resolution in sight. But a new presidential panel aimed at fixing problems in the U.S. voting system could offer a way around the stalemate. Following up on an Election Night pledge to fix the long lines that kept some voters waiting over seven hours to cast a ballot, President Obama last week formally created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, and gave it a broad mandate to improve the voting experience. “When any Americans—no matter where they live or what their party—are denied that right [to vote] simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama said in his State of the Union address.

National: Obama Forms Presidential Commission To Study Voting Problems | NPR

President Obama has established a new bipartisan commission on election administration, something he promised to do in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is being headed by two longtime Washington attorneys, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg. Bauer was general counsel to the president’s re-election campaign and is also Obama’s former White House counsel. Ginsberg was national counsel to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and also to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns.

National: Could Google tilt a close election? | The Washington Post

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” But what would it mean for democracy if it was? That’s the question psychologist Robert Epstein has been asking in a series of experiments testing the impact of a fictitious search engine — he called it “Kadoodle” — that manipulated search rankings, giving an edge to a favored political candidate by pushing up flattering links and pushing down unflattering ones. Not only could Kadoodle sway the outcome of close elections, he says, it could do so in a way most voters would never notice. Epstein, who had a public spat with Google last year, offers no evidence of actual evil acts by the company. Yet his exploration of Kadoodle — think of it as the equivalent of Evil Spock, complete with goatee — not only illuminates how search engines shape individual choices but asks whether the government should have a role in keeping this power in check. “They have a tool far more powerful than an endorsement or a donation to affect the outcome,” Epstein said. “You have a tool for shaping government. . . . It’s a huge effect that’s basically undetectable.”

National: Obama signs order creating election reform commission |

President Obama signed an executive order Thursday creating the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a panel tasked with formulating suggestions on how to cut down on long lines to vote and other problems that plagued voters in 2012. Obama announced plans to launch the effort — co-chaired by lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg who represented the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively, during the 2012 election — during his State of the Union address. But the White House hadn’t offered details on how the commission would work until Thursday. The order directs the nine-member panel to produce a report for Obama within six months of its first public meeting that will “identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay, and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.”

National: Cyberattack on Florida Primary Election Not First Such Attack | The New American

In what is being touted as the first known cyberattack on a U.S. election, many mainstream news outlets are reporting on the approximately 2,500 bogus absentee ballot requests that were flagged as suspicious by Miami-Dade County’s absentee ballot processing software in last year’s primary elections. A Miami-Dade County grand jury investigated the incident and described it as: a scheme where someone created a computer program that automatically, systematically and rapidly submitted to the County’s Department of Elections numerous bogus on-line requests for absentee ballots.

Fortunately, the software had safeguards that verified IP addresses on the absentee ballot requests. That was instrumental in detecting this cyberattack, but the incident still leaves questions unanswered regarding the inherent insecurity of the Internet and why it should be used at all in the balloting phase of elections. There’s also the question of how many cyberattacks might have been carried out elsewhere or at other times that were not detected.

National: Obama creates bipartisan election commission | USAToday

President Obama created a special commission Thursday designed to find ways to make voting easier. The bipartisan commission will report to the president later this year with proposals on how state and local officials can “shorten lines and promote the efficient conduct of elections,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “That report is intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voter’s experience at the polls under their existing election laws,” Earnest said. Obama authorized the commission by signing an executive order Thursday. The order said members will examine such challenges as processing overseas and military ballots, and voters who have disabilities or “limited English proficiency.”

National: Voter ID laws applied unequally, study shows | The Daily Pennsylvanian

As the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court prepares to hear another challenge to the state’s voter ID requirement, a new study reveals that across the country, voter ID laws disproportionately affected young minority voters in the 2012 elections. While just over half of white youth were asked for identification, election officials asked 60.8 percent of Latino and 72.9 percent of black youth voters for ID in November. Similar disparities existed for photo ID, which is required by law to vote in many states, and in states with no voter ID law. “Race should never play a role in who gets to vote, or who is asked for ID in order to vote,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania associate director Sara Mullen in an email. The study, conducted by Cathy Cohen of the University of Chicago and Jon Rogowski of Washington University in St. Louis, also revealed that 17.3 percent of non-voting blacks cited lack of proper identification as their reason for not voting, over three times the 4.7 percent of whites who had the same explanation.

National: Lawmaker criticizes Obamacare questions on voter registration | Washington Times

A House Republican leader wants the Obama administration to explain why an application to use insurance marketplaces under the health-care law asks people if they would like to register to vote. “While the healthcare portions are lengthy and complex on their own, the draft documents wander into areas outside the Department’s purview and links applications for health insurance subsidies to voter registration,” Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, said Monday in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

National: Voter ID – fraud prevention or minority voter suppression? |

The U.S. Supreme Court may be holding the political future of the United States in its hand as it tries to decide how far the states may go in requiring identification from those who attempt to vote. Last week, the justices heard argument on whether Arizona or any state may require proof of citizenship for voter registration. An eventual decision in the case could shape the national political landscape for some time. Seventeen states have enacted laws requiring the presentation of some type of government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license, before voting. The Brennan Center for Justice said those 17 states account for 218 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Arizona case pits the state requirement for proof of U.S. citizenship against the federal “Motor Voter” law that requires only filling out a form to register for federal elections.

National: Congress votes to force USPS to keep Saturday delivery | Chicago Tribune

Congress foiled the financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service’s plan to end Saturday delivery of first-class mail when it passed legislation on Thursday requiring six-day delivery. The Postal Service, which lost $16 billion last year, said last month it wanted to switch to five-day mail service to save $2 billion annually. Congress traditionally has included a provision in legislation to fund the federal government each year that has prevented the Postal Service from reducing delivery service. The Postal Service had asked Congress not to include the provision this time around.

National: First Known Election Fraud Hack Attempted in 2012 Florida Primary | E-Week

In the first known example of an attempt to hack a U.S. election, an online attacker took advantage of the lax security surrounding the online process of requesting absentee ballots in the 2012 primary in Miami-Dade County, Florida, to order more than 2,500 ballots. The scheme could have actually worked if it was done with more skill, stated a grand jury report released in December, but whose findings only recently came to light. The attack failed to affect the outcome of the election, but succeeded in verifying the dangers of election processes that allow voters to cast their ballots via email over the Internet. While voting irregularities have cropped up in numerous U.S. elections, no known hack of a live election has been attempted, said David Jefferson, computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a member of the board of directors of Verified Voting and the California Voter Foundation.

National: Justices wrestle with Arizona voter registration law |

The Supreme Court took up its second voting rights case in less than a month on Monday, with the justices appearing narrowly divided on whether the National Voter Registration Act, or “Motor Voter” bill, trumps state registration requirements. At issue in the case is Arizona’s Proposition 200, which requires proof of citizenship, and whether or not the federal registration form under the NVRA preempts Arizona’s more stringent requirements. The liberal justices criticized Arizona’s eligibility requirements as overly restrictive and in direct conflict with the federal voter registration form, which requires people to attest to their citizenship via signature but does not require documentation of citizenship. Some of the Court’s conservative judges, however, parsed the wording of the NVRA and suggested the states do, in fact, have the ability to add requirements such as proof of citizenship.

National: Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes | Bloomberg

In the 1780s, Patrick Henry tried to shape Virginia’s House district lines to block James Madison from serving in the first U.S. Congress. The grudge between the two men: Henry opposed the U.S. Constitution freshly written primarily by Madison. The gambit failed and Madison won his seat.  More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress. A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans. The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seatsacross the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

National: First-ever cyberattack on US election points to broad vulnerabilities |

Over a 2-1/2 week period last July, more than 2,500 online “phantom requests” for absentee ballots were made to Miami-Dade County election headquarters, marking the first known cyberattack on a US election. The fake requests for ballots targeted the Aug. 14 statewide primary and included requests for Democratic ballots in one congressional district and Republican ballots in two state House districts, according to a recent Miami Herald report. The fake requests were done so clumsily that they were red-flagged and did not foul up the election. In any case, they would not have been enough to change the outcome. But now confirmed as the first cyberattack aimed at election fraud, the incident is further evidence that the vote-counting process is vulnerable, particularly as elections become more reliant on the Internet. “This is significant because it’s the first time we’ve seen a very well documented case of attempted computer election fraud in the US,” says J. Alex Halderman, a cybersecurity researcher at the University of Michigan who focuses on election-system vulnerabilities. “This should be a real wakeup call because it illustrates the sort of computer voting attacks that many scientists have been warning were possible for years.”

National: Cyberattack on Florida election is first known case in US, experts say | NBC

An attempt to illegally obtain absentee ballots in Florida last year is the first known case in the U.S. of a cyberattack against an online election system, according to computer scientists and lawyers working to safeguard voting security. The case involved more than 2,500 “phantom requests” for absentee ballots, apparently sent to the Miami-Dade County elections website using a computer program, according to a grand jury report on problems in the Aug. 14 primary election. It is not clear whether the bogus requests were an attempt to influence a specific race, test the system or simply interfere with the voting. Because of the enormous number of requests – and the fact that most were sent from a small number of computer IP addresses in Ireland, England, India and other overseas locations – software used by the county flagged them and elections workers rejected them. Computer experts say the case exposes the danger of putting states’ voting systems online – whether that’s allowing voters to register or actually vote. “It’s the first documented attack I know of on an online U.S. election-related system that’s not (involving) a mock election,” said David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who is on the board of directors of the Verified Voting Foundation and the California Voter Foundation.

National: U.S. Supreme Court justices ask tough questions on voter registration law | Arizona Republic

The U.S. Supreme Court’s nine justices lobbed a volley of tough questions at Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne on Monday as he argued for the state’s voter-registration law aimed at keeping illegal immigrants off the voter rolls. At stake is Proposition 200, a law passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2004, that asks Arizonans who want to vote to provide documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, tribal identification card or naturalization number. The law goes beyond what federal voter-registration rules require for proof. The law inflamed the immigration debate when it was passed and was almost immediately challenged by voting-rights advocates as burdensome to the young, elderly, minorities or naturalized citizens and to voter-registration organizations. Supporters touted the law as a check against voter fraud.

National: States may follow AZ’s lead requiring citizenship proof to register to vote | NBC

Arizona is once again serving as a national flash point in a Supreme Court case to decide the legality of its law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. Oral arguments began on Monday with Sonia Sotomayor and Antonin Scalia squaring off, but experts say the law may lead to a trend of similar state laws if it is allowed to stand. At issue is the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was created to make it easier to register to vote and for an individual to maintain their registration. The “Motor Voter” section of the law allows people to register to vote by mailing in a form where they are asked if they are citizens. Prospective voters must check yes or no and sign the form under penalty of perjury. Arizona’s 2004 law requires documentation of citizenship to use the form. “I’m afraid we’re moving away from the Motor Voter trend,” says Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). “Arizona seems to be the initiator of these restrictive laws. It’s an act to deter those who are eligible to vote when there is no evidence of any fraudulent voting.”

National: Argument recap: Does “may only” mean “shall only”? | SCOTUSblog

Anyone entering the Supreme Court’s chamber Monday morning expecting constitutional drama over the right to vote had to come away quite disappointed.  It took all of fifty minutes of a one-hour argument to get to any constitutional issue, most of the Justices wanted to focus on what “may only” means in a federal law, and one Justice pronounced the current federal-state voter registration regime “a crazy system.”  In an era when very heated debates over curbing voters’ rights regularly occur in political circles, there was none of that as the Court heard Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (12-71). At the center of the case is an Arizona law, approved by the state’s voters nine years ago, that requires a would-be voter seeking to register to show proof of U.S. citizenship as an additional requirement besides submitting a federal form which includes a question — enforced by possible perjury prosecution — asking whether or not one is a citizen.

National: Voting Rights Advocates Sound Alarm As Supreme Court Hears Proof-Of-Citizenship Case | TPM

Voting rights advocates are sounding the warning sirens as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments Monday on a low-profile but important case on whether states may require people to submit proof of citizenship when registering to vote. At issue is whether the Arizona law, known as Proposition 200, violates a federal law that requires states to let people register to vote while renewing drivers licenses or applying for social services. The form provided by the National Voter Registration Act requires people to attest that they are U.S. citizens, but not to provide documented proof, like the Arizona law does. “If Arizona’s brazen attempt to evade the mandates of the NVRA is upheld, it will make it tougher for voters in Arizona to register, and other states with legislatures that are looking to suppress the vote will surely try to pass copycat legislation,” said Doug Kendall, president of the liberal-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center. “If the Court accepts Arizona’s most sweeping arguments against the NVRA, its ruling could severely limit Congress’ power to protect the right of Americans to register to vote.”

National: Can States Go Beyond Federal Law On Voter Registration? | NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could upend the federal effort to spur and streamline voter registration. At issue is an Arizona law that requires prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the state law must fall because it conflicts with federal law. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, known as the NVRA, allows voters to register by mail using a federal form on a postcard. The form asks, among other things: Are you a citizen of the United States? Prospective voters must check yes or no and sign the form under penalty of perjury. The federal law also requires state officials to “accept and use” the federal registration form for federal elections. The question in this case is whether the state of Arizona may place further conditions on registration, beyond what is required by federal law.

National: Must Voters Have To Prove Citizenship To Register? | NPR

The Supreme Court will struggle this week with the validity of an Arizona law that tries to keep illegal immigrants from voting by demanding all state residents show documents proving their U.S. citizenship before registering to vote in national elections. The high court will hear arguments Monday over the legality of Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal “Motor Voter” voter registration law that doesn’t require such documentation. This case focuses on voter registration in Arizona, which has tangled frequently with the federal government over immigration issues involving the Mexican border. But it has broader implications because four other states — Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee — have similar requirements, and 12 other states are contemplating similar legislation, officials say. The Obama administration is supporting challengers to the law.