As legal challenges to voter identification laws slowly wind their way through the courts, opponents of the controversial measures aren’t just sitting around waiting for judicial relief. They’re hitting the streets in a grassroots effort to make sure affected voters have the documents they’ll need to cast their ballots in November. “When you put Americans’ backs against the wall, we tend to rise and we tend to fight a little harder,” said John Jordan, an NAACP elections consultant in Philadelphia, where a new state law requires voters to have government-issued photo identification documents.
The Republican Party promptly fired a voter registration contractor this week after the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, turned in illegible, incorrect, and falsified voter registration forms to Florida election officials. Saying the party has “zero tolerance” for voter fraud, the GOP also filed complaints against the company with the Florida Secretary of State’s office. The company, run by long-time GOP operative Nathan Sproul, says a single employee was responsible for the forged signatures, though the problem, by Friday, had spread to 10 counties. “This is an issue we take extremely seriously,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told CBS News. “When allegations were brought to our attention we severed all ties to the firm.” While reasonable, those explanations could have trouble finding traction among the US electorate, which has watched battles erupt in mostly swing states from Florida to Ohio over control of voter rolls, and heated debates about potential disenfranchisement of key Democratic constituencies, poorer, minority, and elderly voters.
With 39 days left before the U.S. presidential election, time is running out for judges to resolve voter access lawsuits in states including Ohio and Florida where a few thousand votes may be the margin of victory between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati is considering Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s bid to overturn rulings blocking Republican-sponsored restrictions on early voting and provisional ballots. In Pennsylvania, voters are waiting to hear whether courts will enforce laws requiring them to show photo identification at the polls. “The sooner these matters can be resolved the better,” Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said in a telephone interview. “They’re in an expedited process and we hope they will be resolved well in advance of the election.”
The Republican National Committee has abruptly cut ties to a consulting firm hired for get-out-the-vote efforts in seven presidential election swing states after Florida prosecutors launched an investigation into possible fraud in voter registration forms. Working through state parties, the RNC has sent more than $3.1 million this year to Strategic Allied Consulting, a company formed in June by Nathan Sproul, an Arizona voting consultant. Sproul has operated other firms that have been accused in past elections of improprieties designed to help Republican candidates, including dumping registration forms filled out by Democrats, but none of those allegations led to any criminal charges.
Walter Lomax can still remember the day he cast his first vote in an election. The emotion in his voice changes as he takes a pause, attempting to put into words how it felt to exercise the right after serving 40 years, wrongly convicted, in a Maryland prison. “I felt empowered,” said Lomax, sitting inside the Park Avenue Baltimore office where he now operates the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MJRI). “Being someone who spent two-thirds of my life in prison, being free and able to participate was refreshing. I played a part in the process.” Not a hint of bitterness can be detected as the slender, tall, man, now in his early sixties, reflects on the day he entered a Baltimore booth in 2007, just one year after his release, to vote for a slew of offices from mayor to city council members. “Now if we need a speed bump in our neighborhood, a stoplight, or a playground I can have a say because if you look in the records you’ll see that I am a voting constituent.” According to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization, one in 40 Americans stand to become disenfranchised even after they have served their time. That statistic is significantly higher when it comes to the African American population, where one in every 13 over the age of 18 has lost the right to vote.
The participants if this year’s presidential debates are set – Republican nominee Mitt Romney will face off against President Obama in a matchup that’s been obvious for months. But there are still other presidential candidates, and one in particular is keen on elbowing his way into the debates. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson earlier this month filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates, claiming that the organization’s practices violate antitrust laws and alleging collusion between the commission and the country’s two dominant political parties. In the suit, Johnson and his campaign accuse the commission, along with the Republican and Democratic national committees, of a “conspiracy” to meet in secret and create the rules for the debates, excluding third-party candidates and participating in what the lawsuit contends is a “restraint of trade” violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
For young voters busy registering for classes, registering to vote isn’t always their No. 1 priority. Tack on changing registration laws and voting can turn into a struggle. “When students come back to school, they’re either more worried about schools or worried about, let’s be honest, parties,” said David Schultz, an election law expert at Hamline University. “The first thing on their mind is not registering to vote, especially for students who just turned 18. They don’t know much about the process.” California’s new same-day registration law is a blessing for students with planners already crammed with exam dates, Rock the Vote President Heather Smith said. But across the country there are technical issues students face that could complicate the process for them. Students new to voting often don’t know registration deadlines (in Texas, Oct. 9 and Oct. 12 in New York) or even that they need to register to vote, Smith said. “It’s frustrating when a young person navigating the process for the first time is calling our office on Election Day (saying), ‘I’m here and ready to vote and I didn’t realize I needed to register,’” Smith said. Proposed ID requirements to register, like Texas and Pennsylvania laws currently in the courts that don’t accept all student IDs, have been criticized as adding another hurdle for young voters. For example, students in the dorms or on campuses with good public transportation often don’t need a driver’s license, Smith said.
More than $4bn was spent on the presidential and congressional candidates and campaigns in the first 18 months of the election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission. Presidential candidates have received $601.9m of that money, the data released on Wednesday, shows, while $1.21bn has been donated to congressional candidates donated to presidential candidates personally. The Federal Election Commission compiled campaign finance reports filed between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2012 to produce the report. The time period covers the Republican primaries and the buildup to the presidential race. In total $4.06bn was received by presidential candidates, congressional candidates, party committees and PACs over the 18-month-period. There are no direct figures directly comparing the same period available from 2008 or earlier, but Bill Allison, from the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, said ultimately more money will be spent on the 2012 campaign. “This is 18 months and we’re at $4bn, 2008 the entire election cycle ended up being at $5.2bn, so there’s still a quarter of the money to go,” Allison said. “We’ll definitely top that number. The current projection is about $5.8bn that we’ll see for 2012.”
There are still plenty of conservatives who think ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama and will do it again this year. ACORN was everywhere four years ago. Even John McCain, late in his campaign and desperate to land a blow on Obama, ranan ad tying his challenger to the community-organizing group before saying in the final debate that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” How did ACORN steal the election? A number of the group’s paid canvassers had been caught submitting false voter registration forms in a handful of states, using the names of dead people or false addresses, in order to avoid working. Four years later, ACORN is dead, and a Republican firm contracted by the Republican National Committee has adopted its shady tactics. But, so far at least, there’s been hardly a peep from the same conservatives who seized on ACORN about one of their own engaging in almost identical fraudulent tactics. Prosecutors in Florida are looking into alleged voter registration fraud conducted by employees of Strategic Allied Consulting, which the RNC and state parties hired in at least five states. TheRNC has now cut ties with the firm after news broke that its employees had registered dead people and listed the addresses of a Land Rover dealership and other non-residences on registration forms. Paul Lux, the Republican supervisor of elections in Okaloosa County, Fla., who first brought the suspect registration forms to the attention of prosecutors, said as many as one in three were questionable. “It’s kind of ironic that the dead people they accused ACORN of registering are now being done by the RPOF [Republican Party of Florida],” Lux said.
In an unexpected political twist, a move to include overseas military personnel and wounded warriors in the presidential nominating process could threaten the caucuses in Iowa and other states. At both the Republican and Democratic national conventions over the summer, delegates proposed rules changes to enhance the ability of overseas service members and injured troops to participate in the caucuses. A Republican rules change asserting that states “shall use every means practical to guarantee” the participation of overseas and injured service members in the presidential nominating process was designed to enhance military voting. But in the case of Iowa and other caucus states, where voters must be present to participate, it also has the side effect of forcing changes in traditional procedures — and raising questions about the future viability of the caucuses themselves.
New voting laws in key states could force a lot more voters to cast provisional ballots this election, delaying results in close races for days while election officials scrutinize ballots and campaigns wage legal battles over which ones should get counted. New laws in competitive states like Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could leave the outcome of the presidential election in doubt – if the vote is close – while new laws in Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee could delay results in state or local elections. Some new laws requiring voters to show identification at the polls are still being challenged in court, adding to the uncertainty as the Nov. 6 election nears. “It’s a possibility of a complete meltdown for the election,” said Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida. Voters cast provisional ballots for a variety of reasons: They don’t bring proper ID to the polls; they fail to update their voter registration after moving; they try to vote at the wrong precinct; or their right to vote is challenged by someone.
This is how voter intimidation worked in 1966: White teenagers in Americus, Ga., harassed black citizens in line to vote, and the police refused to intervene. Black plantation workers in Mississippi had to vote in plantation stores, overseen by their bosses. Black voters in Choctaw County, Ala., had to hand their ballots directly to white election officials for inspection. This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout. The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud. Voter identity fraud is all but nonexistent, but the assertion that it might exist is used as an excuse to reduce the political rights of minorities, the poor, students, older Americans and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.
The presidential election is Nov. 6, but it could take days to figure out the winner if the vote is close. New voting laws are likely to increase the number of people who have to cast provisional ballots in key states. Tight races for Congress, governor and local offices also could be stuck in limbo while election officials scrutinize ballots, a scenario that would surely attract legions of campaign lawyers from both parties. “It’s a possibility of a complete meltdown for the election,” said Daniel Smith, a political scientist at the University of Florida. Voters cast provisional ballots for a variety of reasons: They don’t bring proper ID to the polls; they fail to update their voter registration after moving; they try to vote at the wrong precinct; or their right to vote is challenged by someone.
Call them the voter fraud brain trust. A cadre of influential Washington, D.C., election lawyers has mobilized a sophisticated anti-fraud campaign built around lawsuits, white papers, Congressional testimony, speeches and even best-selling books. Less well-known than Indiana election lawyer James Bopp Jr., who’s made a national name for himself challenging the political money laws, conservative veterans of voting wars such as Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams nonetheless play a role similar to Bopp’s in their behind-the-scenes fight to protect ballot integrity. Both former Justice Department officials, von Spakovsky and Adams have worked alongside such anti-fraud activists as Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, and Catherine Engelbrecht, president of the tea party group True the Vote.
Democratic Rep. Mark Critz’s chances of hanging onto his seat representing Southwestern Pennsylvania could hinge on a lawsuit filed by a 93-year-old great grandmother over the state’s new voter identification law.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is hearing Viviette Applewhite’s appeal today so it can decide whether the recently enacted statute is so burdensome on some citizens that it violates Pennsylvania’s constitution. Like other lawsuits across the country, it pits Republicans concerned about voter fraud against Democrats worried about voter suppression. The outcome could affect turnout on Election Day and spawn legal challenges afterward.
Today is Election Day. And so is tomorrow. And the day after that. By the end of September, voters in 30 states will start casting early or absentee ballots in the presidential race — a fact that both poses challenges for the campaigns seeking to make their final pitches as well as raises the stakes between now and Nov. 6. Absentee ballots have been mailed out in key swing states like North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. In South Dakota and Idaho — firmly red states — early voting began Friday, and in-person early voting in the crucial swing state of Iowa begins this Thursday. “It’s no longer Election Day; it’s election two months,” said Pete Snyder, the Republican National Committee Victory chairman in Virginia.
National: Study says voter roll purges, citizenship proof demands, photo ID may affect 10 million Hispanics | The Washington Post
The combined effects of voter roll purges, demands for proof of citizenship and photo identification requirements in several states may hinder at least 10 million Hispanic citizens who seek to vote this fall, civil rights advocates warn in a new report. Hispanic voters are considered pivotal to the presidential election this November, and are being heavily courted by both Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. If they turn out in large numbers, Hispanics could sway the outcome in several swing states. In an analysis based on government data, civil rights group The Advancement Project identified legal barriers that could deter voter registration and participation among eligible Hispanics. In some of those states, the group’s researchers said, the number of voter-eligible Latino citizens potentially blocked by those barriers exceeds the margin of victory in the 2008 election.
Millions of Latinos may have a difficult time voting this year. New laws that require voters show proof of citizenship and photo identification at the polls — as well as recent voter roll purges — could hinder at least 10 million Hispanics in 23 states who try to cast a ballot in November. The number of Latinos eligible to vote who might be blocked from voting this year is equal to the margin of victory in a number of states, according to a new study by the Advancement Project, a civil rights group. Overall, 17 states have enacted laws that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls before casting a ballot. Propoents have said the laws are needed to combat voter fraud, but civil-rights activists have countered that the laws are a political ploy on behalf of Republicans to limit turnout from minority voters who traditionally favor Democrats.
They vowed to wage a war on voter fraud. But those officials are having a hard time finding much of an enemy to fight. State officials in key presidential battleground states, many of them Republican, have found only a tiny fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected existed. Searches in Colorado and Florida have yielded numbers that amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state. Democrats say the searches waste time and, worse, could disenfranchise eligible voters who are swept up in the checks. “I find it offensive that I’m being required to do more than any other citizen to prove that I can vote,” said Samantha Meiring, 37, a Colorado voter and South African immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Meiring was among 3,903 registered voters who received letters last month from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office questioning their right to vote.
In Tennessee, a new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls explicitly excludes student IDs. In Wisconsin, college students are newly disallowed from using university-provided housing lists or corroboration from other students to verify their residence. Florida’s reduction in early voting days is expected to reduce the number of young and first-time voters there. And Pennsylvania’s voter identification bill, still on the books for now, disallows many student IDs and non-Pennsylvania driver’s licenses, which means out-of-state students may be turned away at the polls. In 2008, youth voter turnout was higher that it had been since Vietnam, and overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. This time around, the GOP isn’t counting solely on disillusionment to keep the student vote down. In the last two years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed dozens of bills that erect new barriers to voting, all targeting Democratic-leaning groups, many specifically aimed at students. The GOP’s stated rationale is to fight voter fraud. But voter fraud — and especially in-person fraud which many of these measures address — is essentially nonexistent.
Imagine how easy voting would be if Americans could cast ballots the same way they buy songs from iTunes or punch in a PIN code to check out at the grocery store: You could click on a candidate from a home computer or use a touch screen device at the local polling place. It’s not entirely a fantasy. In many states, some voters can already do both. The process is seductively simple, but it’s also shockingly vulnerable to problems from software failure to malicious hacking. While state lawmakers burn enormous energy in a partisan fight over in-person vote fraud, which is virtually nonexistent, they’re largely ignoring far likelier ways votes can be lost, stolen or changed. How? Sometimes, technology or the humans running it simply fail.
The November 6 election is still seven weeks away, but early, in-person voting begins in two states on Friday, even as Democrats and Republicans battle in court over controversial plans to limit such voting before Election Day. Idaho and South Dakota are the first states to begin early voting on Friday, although North Carolina has been accepting absentee ballots by mail since September 6. By the end of September, 30 states will have begun either in-person or absentee voting, and eventually all the states will join in. Much of the focus of the early voting period will be on the politically divided states of Ohio and Florida, which could be crucial in deciding the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
The afternoon before early voting began in the 2010 midterm elections, a crowd of people gathered in the offices of a Houston Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots. They soon formed a line that snaked out the door of the Patriots’ crumbling storefront and down the block, past the neighboring tattoo parlor. The volunteers, all of whom had been trained by the Patriots to work as poll watchers, had come to collect their polling-place assignments. As they waited, the group’s chief trainer, Alan Vera—a mustachioed former Army ranger who likens poll observers to commandos who “jump out of airplanes” and “blow things up”—walked the line, shaking hands. As he would later recall, he then launched into a drill-sergeant routine. “Are you ready?” “We’re ready!” “Strength and honor! Remember your mission! Your mission is the vote!” The next day, King Street Patriots—many of them aging white suburbanites—poured into polling places in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods around Houston, looking for signs of voter fraud. Reports of problems at the polls soon began surfacing in the Harris County attorney’s office and on the local news. The focus of these reports was not fraud, however, but alleged voter intimidation. Among other things, poll observers were accused of hovering over voters, blocking lines of people who were trying to cast ballots, and, in the words of Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, “getting into election workers’ faces.”
Even as the two presidential candidates fly from one battleground state to another and as the cascade of campaign ads rolls over television viewers, some fast-approaching deadlines are going to determine who will in fact get to vote on Nov. 6. The National Association of Secretaries of State has declared September National Voter Registration Month and Sept. 25 as National Voter Registration Day. In 48 states voter registration deadlines fall in October. One imminent deadline is this Saturday, Sept. 22, the date – 45 days before the general election – which is set by two federal laws, the Uniformed Overseas Absentee Voting Act and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, for election officials to send ballots to voters in the military and to civilian voters living outside the United States.
Noncitizens aren’t allowed to vote in federal and state elections, but efforts to remove them from the nation’s voter registration rolls have produced more angst than results. Opponents say the scope of the problem has been overblown; those behind the efforts say they’ve just begun to look at the problem. Last year, Florida officials said they found 180,000 possible noncitizens on the voter registration rolls. Officials in Colorado said the number in their state was about 11,000. But it turns out many of these people were citizens. Now, after some names were checked against a federal immigration database, the number of suspected noncitizens is closer to a few hundred. Even those numbers are under review.
President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have little need for public funding for their campaigns, given that, together, they have about $1 billion behind them. But Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, could use a little help: She had raised only $283,000 as of the end of July. Her campaign officials, however, say they are having trouble getting the public funding fast enough to pay the campaign debts. They have been quick to find a culprit and allege a minor conspiracy by Democrats on the Federal Election Commission, hinting that the commissioners are seeking to limit Stein’s ability to peel off liberals who would otherwise support Obama. In a letter to the panel, the campaign’s general counsel wrote, “It is our understanding that one reason for the delays . . . was due to that fact that the Democratic Commissioners were already in Charlotte, NC, for the Democratic National Convention, and were thus unavailable to sign off.”
National: Smartmatic Sues Dominion Voting Systems for Licensing Breach and Improper Business Practices | Rock Hill Herald
Smartmatic International, a global technology company that develops advanced voting systems to support elections worldwide, has filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against Dominion Voting Systems for that company’s alleged breach of a licensing agreement and tortious interference with Smartmatic’s business. The lawsuit is seeking compensation from Dominion for allegedly withholding technology and services that had been licensed to Smartmatic, and for Dominion’s intentional actions to denigrate Smartmatic’s brand and undermine its relationship with customers and prospects. “This lawsuit is necessary because of Dominion’s persistent refusal to deliver technology that Smartmatic legally licensed,” said David Melville, General Counsel of Smartmatic. “We intend to recover the costs of rectifying a basic Dominion software error that nearly affected the 2010 Philippine elections, which we went to great lengths and expense to correct in keeping with our commitment to maintain the highest standards of election integrity and transparency.”
Fourteen members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill that would override a recent spate of voter identification laws, passed in more than a dozen states to require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat, has introduced the “America Votes Act of 2012,” which he and other Democrats hope will counter the wave of new voter ID legislation passed by Republican-led legislatures across the country. The bill would allow voters to sign a sworn affidavit to prove their identity in lieu of providing government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport. The voter would then be able to cast a standard ballot and not a provisional ballot, the latter of which can be contested or thrown out for any number of procedural reasons under current voting ID laws.
While the embarrassing debacle of the 2000 election may seem like a distant memory to some, the unfortunate reality is an encore may be on our doorstep. The Election Assistance Commission was created by the bipartisan Help America Vote Act of 2002 in order to avoid a repeat of the disastrous 2000 election, inspired directly by the failure of effective election administration in Florida that year. The only federal agency whose primary mission is to assist states carry out their elections and provide assistance to local election officials, the EAC has succeeded in this capacity beyond even the most optimistic projections. But now, due either to intentional neglect or outright calls for the agency’s elimination, the EAC is currently without any commissioners or a permanent executive director. While the agency persists in carrying out its mission, its spirit is sorely bruised.
Conservative groups pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 campaign won a reprieve Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington overturned a decision requiring organizations that run election-related television ads to reveal their donors. In an unsigned decision, a three-judge panel said a lower court erred in finding that Congress intended to require such disclosure. It sent a case brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) against the Federal Election Commission back to the district court and called on the FEC to defend its regulations or issue new ones. Practically, the ruling changes little in the short term: Nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS changed the type of ads they were running this summer in order to sidestep the lower-court ruling and keep their donors secret.