The Overseas Vote Foundation is launching a new domestic voter registration and absentee ballot site in this election season that aims to make it easy for voters to fill out and access state-specific election forms. OVF announced the new initiative, the U.S. Vote Foundation, at its summit at the end of January. The Overseas Vote Foundation, founded in 2005, has been dedicated to making the overseas registration process more accessible through its websites dedicated to military service members as well as the general population of Americans abroad. “We know that one of the things that election officials want the most is that voters use the forms that their state provides,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, OVF’s president and CEO. “Some states use the NVRA to send the voter yet another form.”
National: Project Seeks to Help Students Overcome Barriers to Voting | The Chronicle of Higher Education
A national advocacy organization that focuses on increasing voter registration for underrepresented groups announced on Wednesday a campaign to spur student participation in elections and to help students overcome voting barriers. The Fair Elections Legal Network kicked off its campaign, the Campus Vote Project, at George Washington University’s Law School. At the event, members of an advisory board on student voting met to talk about ways to create campuswide policies and programs that make voting more accessible for students. “Voting is a universal right,” said Victor Sánchez, president of the United States Student Association and member of the advisory board. “With help and guidance, there should be better ways to help go about increasing access to voter registration and increasing voters on campus.”
National: Oscars vote vulnerable to cyber-attack under new online system, experts warn | guardian.co.uk
Computer security experts have warned that the 2013 Oscars ballot may be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks that could falsify the outcome but remain undetected, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows through on its decision to switch to internet voting for its members. The Academy announced last week that it would be ditching its current vote-by-mail system and allowing its members to fill out electronic ballots from their home or office computers to make their choices for best picture and the other big Hollywood prizes, starting in 2013. It announced a partnership with Everyone Counts, a California-based company which has developed software for internet elections from Australia to Florida, and boasted it would incorporate “multiple layers of security” and “military-grade encryption techniques” to maintain its reputation for scrupulous honesty in respecting its members’ voting preferences.
The change will be a culture shock for an Academy voting community that tends to skew older and more conservative: indeed, concerns are already surfacing whether all of the Academy voters even have email addresses. And the claims have been met with deep scepticism by a computer scientist community which has grappled for years with the problem of making online elections fully verifiable while maintaining ballot secrecy – in other words, being rigorous about auditing the voting process but still making sure nobody knows who voted for what. So far, nobody has demonstrated that such a thing is possible.
Reporting from Washington –— Determined not to be “the only chump” without a committee to collect “unlimited corporate money,” satirist Stephen Colbert went to the Federal Election Commission last summer to petition for permission to form his own “super PAC.” He won, and instantly started swiping credit cards as he delivered a knock-knock joke to the throng of fans who’d gathered to greet him.
“Knock knock?” Colbert said.
“Who’s there?” the crowd replied.
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions.”
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions who?”
“That’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to tell you.”
Like all super PAC operators, Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s late-night faux news show “The Colbert Report,” filed forms this week that disclosed the source of the nearly $1 million his super PAC raised last year. It turns out the vast majority of it would have been legal without the much-maligned Supreme Court ruling that prompted the creation of super PACs and has been the butt of Colbert’s jokes.
Stephen Colbert continued his one-man crusade against “super PACs” on Thursday night with an ironic salute to 22 of their biggest backers. Tuesday was the deadline for presidential super PACs to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, and the reports underscored the increasingly influential role of money in electoral politics. “To all the worrywarts out there who said that super PACs were going to lead to a cabal of billionaires secretly buying democracy: Wrong. They are publicly buying democracy,” Colbert (sort of) joked. As he explained, approximately half of all super PAC money — some $67 million dollars — came from just 22 donors.
National: Summit addresses military and overseas voters – despite progress, challenges remain | electionlineWeekly
The Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) hosted its Sixth Annual UOCAVA Summit last week, where participants highlighted progress made and noted the challenges that still remain in ensuring that military and overseas voters can successfully cast their absentee ballots.
A new report from the Pew Center on the States noted in the past two years, 47 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to protect the voting rights of military and overseas citizens. This year’s election will be the first presidential election since many of these changes went into effect. The report, Democracy from Afar, found that many states have implemented changes to their laws or administrative codes.
Computer security experts have warned that the 2013 Oscars ballot may be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks that could falsify the outcome but remain undetected, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows through on its decision to switch to internet voting for its members. The Academy announced last week that it would be ditching its current vote-by-mail system and allowing its members to fill out electronic ballots from their home or office computers to make their choices for best picture and the other big Hollywood prizes, starting in 2013. It announced a partnership with Everyone Counts, a California-based company which has developed software for internet elections from Australia to Florida, and boasted it would incorporate “multiple layers of security” and “military-grade encryption techniques” to maintain its reputation for scrupulous honesty in respecting its members’ voting preferences. The change will be a culture shock for an Academy voting community that tends to skew older and more conservative: indeed, concerns are already surfacing whether all of the Academy voters even have email addresses. And the claims have been met with deep scepticism by a computer scientist community which has grappled for years with the problem of making online elections fully verifiable while maintaining ballot secrecy – in other words, being rigorous about auditing the voting process but still making sure nobody knows who voted for what. So far, nobody has demonstrated that such a thing is possible. “Everybody would like there to be secure internet voting, but some very smart people have looked at the problem and can’t figure out how to do it,” said David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the election transparency group Verified Voting. “The problem arises as soon as you decouple the voter from the recorded vote. If someone casts a ballot for best actor A and the vote is recorded for best actor B, the voter has no way of knowing the ballot has been altered, and the auditor won’t be able to see it either.”
Since the 2000 recount in Florida, voting procedures have been under the microscope; in close races, painstaking legal details and arcane rules can determine the results. Among those details is the handling of ballots cast by hundreds of thousands of “invisible” overseas voters. In the swing state of Virginia this November, 10,000 votes could decide the outcome in the presidential race, or the U.S. Senate race. In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb won Virginia’s Senate seat by a margin of 9,329 out of the nearly 2.4 million votes that were cast, a mere four-tenths of one percent margin of victory. Likewise in 2008, in another battleground state, Missouri, Republican presidential candidate John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama by 3,903 votes, a one-tenth of one percent margin.
The Republican lawyer on the case that arguably helped pave the way for the creation of so-called “super PACs” told TPM this week that he hopes politicians will realize that the contribution limits on their campaigns are putting them at a huge disadvantage, and will pass legislation dashing such restrictions. An odd position for a key player in the opening of the anonymous-campaign-cash floodgates to have? James Bopp Jr. says no. “I’m very hopeful and actually expect that incumbent politicians are going to look at themselves and say we are severely handicapped” in comparison to super PACs, Bopp told TPM, arguing that political campaigns were more accountable to voters than super PACs. “It is of course possible that there would be a court decision that would effect that. But I think the more likely scenario is that members of Congress will realize they have cut their own throat,” Bopp said.
Close to 60 corporations and wealthy individuals gave checks of $100,000 or more to a “super PAC” supporting Mitt Romney in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, according to documents released on Tuesday, underwriting a $17 million blitz of advertising that has swamped his Republican rivals in the early primary states. President Obama reported raising some $39.9 million in the fourth quarter, not including money he raised for the Democratic National Committee or transfers to a joint fund-raising account with the party. The filings to the Federal Election Commission, the first detailed look at a crucial source of support for Mr. Romney, showed his ability to win substantial backing from a small number of his party’s most influential and wealthy patrons, each contributing to the super PAC far more than the $2,500 check each could legally write to his campaign. All told, the group, Restore Our Future, raised about $18 million from just 200 donors in the second half of 2011.
Mitt Romney’s investment background, criticized by some of his Republican presidential rivals, is helping him build a financial advantage over them.
In the fourth quarter of last year, eight of the 10 biggest donors to Romney, co-founder of Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, a private-equity firm, worked for banks and investment funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg based on U.S. Federal Election Commission information released yesterday. Citigroup Inc. (C) employees gave $196,600. Those at JPMorgan Chase & Co. donated $180,518, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) workers contributed $106,580.
Senate Democrats decried the influx of millions in unregulated dollars in the 2012 elections, announcing Wednesday that they will hold hearings looking into the impact of super PACs. New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrats’ messaging chief in the Senate, announced that the Rules committee will begin hearings this month on super PACs. Joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), Schumer pointed to Mitt Romney’s victory in Florida’s Republican primary as evidence of the outsize influence of super PACs. He then bashed Karl Rove-tied groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS for raising money by the millions without having to disclose all of its donors.
A new analysis shows that in the deluge of TV ads in the early voting states for the Republican presidential primaries, nearly half of the ads are coming not from the candidates but from superPACs — the new breed of political committees that raise unregulated money. Political scientists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut found that so far, there have been about the same number of GOP primary ads as there were four years ago. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Group shows that while the overall number of ads in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is similar to four years ago, the source of the ads has changed. What’s different — and different in a big way — is the role of outside money groups, mostly superPACs, says Erika Franklin Fowler, a director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “They went from about 3 percent of total ad airings in the 2008 race to almost half, about 44 percent, in 2012,” she says.
The big money outside groups best known for airing ruthless ads in the early state GOP primaries are elbowing their way onto the turf of presidential campaigns and parties — and some campaigns aren’t happy. In the last few weeks, super PACs and other outside groups supporting Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and President Barack Obama launched activities in Florida, other key states, and nationally — including phone banking, field organizing, direct mail, polling, state-of-the-race memos and even surrogate operations — that were once left mostly to the campaigns and parties.
For military and overseas voters from 47 states and D.C., casting a ballot in 2012 will be a much different — and easier — experience than ever before. Since the 2009 passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which called for improved election access for those living or serving abroad, 47 states and D.C. have enacted new laws and reforms to protect this group of voters, the Pew Center on the States study released Friday found. The 2012 election is the first presidential contest where these voters will cast ballots with the newly implemented legislative and administrative changes. Pew found that 38 states and D.C. now have rules meeting or exceeding the MOVE act’s requirement to send absentee ballots no later than 45 days before a federal election, and eight states also moved their primary dates to accommodate that condition.
The powerful political groups known as super PACs, whose heavy spending has become a significant factor in the presidential race, are also beginning to play a role in congressional races around the country. The groups have set off a scramble among candidates in both parties, who are now struggling to cope with a flood of negative ads run by organizations that are outside their direct control. Targets of super PAC money in recent months include at least two dozen pivotal House districts around the country, along with high-profile Senate races in states such as Massachusetts, Ohio, Utah and Indiana, according to Federal Election Commission data and interviews with political strategists.
Beneath the turbulent political spectacle that has captured so much of the nation’s attention lies a more important question than who will get the Republican nomination, or even who will win in November: Will we have a democratic election this year? Will the presidential election reflect the will of the people? Will it be seen as doing so—and if not, what happens? The combination of broadscale, coordinated efforts underway to manipulate the election and the previously banned unlimited amounts of unaccountable money from private or corporate interests involved in those efforts threatens the democratic process for picking a president. The assumptions underlying that process—that there is a right to vote, that the system for nominating and electing a president is essentially fair—are at serious risk.
A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that dealt with a narrow issue in a redistricting case from Texas suggests that the nation’s top court is ready to reconsider a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a major piece of civil rights legislation. In the Jan. 20 decision, which tossed a Texas electoral map back to a lower court, the Supreme Court made a reference to “serious constitutional questions” raised by the act, which was passed in 1965. Legal experts have identified an Alabama case working its way through the courts as a vehicle through which the Supreme Court could eventually take another look at the act
A top European anti-corruption body wants the U.S. to increase transparency of political funding through outside groups that donate millions to support candidates, warning that they could be used to skirt long-established disclosure rules. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption — known as Greco and which counts the U.S. as a member — warns “soft money” political financing vehicles appear to be increasing in America. The highly technical, 39-page report was approved by the Council of Europe’s plenary session last month, but was not previously made public. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report on Thursday. Greco officials then posted it online. (Links to the report: Theme I / Theme II)
National: Academy Awards Partners with Everyone Counts for 2013 Internet Oscar Ballots | Thompson on Hollywood
The Academy will mail final ballots for the 84th Awards on February 1 to 5,783 voting members. The completed ballots are due at 5 PM February 21. Most members–whether in London, New York or Borneo–will anxiously mail their ballots or, if they are in Los Angeles, walk them into PricewaterhouseCooper’s offices. After tabulating the votes, PricewaterhouseCoopers will place winners’ names in the sealed envelopes that are opened on the Oscar show February 26. This seems positively archaic in the digital age. Why can’t Academy voting take place online? The Broadcast Film Critics, the Canadian Genies, BAFTA and others do it that way. Academy president Tom Sherak told TOH last year that the Academy starting considering electronic ballots because they wanted to move up the Awards date: online voting was a prerequisite of making that happen. But Sherak was afraid that the Oscars offered a fat juicy target. “I’ve yet to be convinced that you couldn’t find someone to hack into it,” he said. “Nobody has said to me, ‘you can’t get in.’ The Academy is as pure as the driven snow.” Until Sherak was convinced that no one could influence the voting by hacking into an online voting system, he was sticking with paper ballots, he said. “They can hack into the Pentagon!” he says. “The chances of getting online ballots are slim to none.”
National: Disclose Act: Super PAC Transparency Legislation To Be Introduced By House Democrats | Huffington Post
Amid growing concern over the growing influence of super PACs, congressional Democrats are set to introduce new legislation designed to bring an increased level of transparency to campaign-related expenditures. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will introduce in the coming weeks an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act, the legislation aimed at increasing transparency in election spending that failed to pass Congress, in September 2010, by a single Senate vote. Senate Democrats will introduce their own version of the legislation after the House moves first. The two bills are likely to differ slightly in language, though those differences aren’t immediately known. “There is still work being done on a bill in the Senate,” said one Senate Democratic aide. “It will be high on our priority list,” added another.
Outside political groups, already big players in this year’s GOP presidential battle, have started to train their firepower on Senate and House races. Third-party organizations, including political parties and super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited corporate and union money, have pumped nearly $9 million into last-minute advertising and other independent spending to support or oppose congressional candidates in this election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.
New voting laws requiring identification and eliminating absentee ballots disenfranchise young and low-income voters in various states. Students who move out-of-state to attend college normally shrug a slew of stresses on their shoulders. From a potentially higher tuition to possible travel expenses, most college students think they have enough to worry about. A new wave of laws, however, could be adding to that list. Throughout the country, voting laws are being pursued that will affect a wide range of voting issues including voter IDs, proof of citizenship, strict registration, reduction in absentee balloting and disenfranchisement of voters with a felony conviction.
It has been two years since the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and we are only now just beginning to see how its overturning of a century of campaign finance law is distorting the electoral process. Rather than acting truly independently of campaigns, as the majority of justices envisioned, these entities exclusively act on behalf of individual candidates — and are typically run by former aides. Rather than encouraging the universal right of free speech, the ruling has had the effect of providing a megaphone for the rich to drown out all other voices.
Two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited funds on campaign advertisements, provided that such spending is not formally “coordinated” with any candidate. Central to this conclusion was the majority’s broad finding — unsupported by any evidence — that so-called “independent expenditures” pose no risk of political corruption. At the time, some lawyers and academics voiced their alarm. Now, the disastrous effects of this assumption are public knowledge, and — from Helena, Mont., to New York City — even unusual suspects are starting to rebel.
National: Kucinich Announces ‘Game Changing’ Constitutional Amendment to Publicly Finance Federal Elections | NationofChange
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which opened the floodgate of unlimited, shadowy corporate spending in public elections, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced H. J. Res. 100, a constitutional amendment to rescue American democracy from corporate money’s corrupting influence.
National: Citizens United Fallout: Coalition Asks SEC To Order Corporate Disclosure Of Political Spending | Huffington Post
It used to be against the law for executives to spend funds from their massive corporate treasuries to directly influence elections. But two years ago this week, the Supreme Court declared such restrictions unconstitutional — and short of a constitutional amendment, it’s hard to get around that. The Court never said corporations should be able to spend all that money in secret, however. So on Thursday, a coalition of campaign reform and corporate transparency advocates called attention to their petition to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that corporations publicly disclose their political contributions.
National: The Influence Industry: Activist groups want to undo ruling that led to ‘super PAC’ frenzy | The Washington Post
Two years ago this week, the Supreme Court set the political world on its head by ruling that corporations could spend unlimited money on elections, rolling back decades of legal restrictions. An array of liberal-leaning activist groups are marking the anniversary by launching new efforts to overturn the decision, including calls for a potential constitutional amendment. The 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission effectively laid the groundwork for super PACs, the new independent groups that have overwhelmed the Republican presidential race with millions of dollars in negative advertising over the past few weeks.
National: More voters casting ballots early – early voting benefits campaigns with money, manpower | USAToday.com
When South Carolina voters cast their ballots in the Republican presidential primary Saturday, they’ll have company. That same day, Florida Republicans can begin in-person voting for the state’s Jan. 31 primary, joining more than 100,000 state residents who already have cast absentee ballots. As the votes are counted in Florida on Jan. 31, voters in Ohio and other states with primaries on March 6 — Super Tuesday because of its 10 GOP primaries and caucuses — will begin absentee voting. That week, voters can vote early in Arizona for its Feb. 28 primary. Later in February, polls will open for early voting in the March 6 Georgia and Tennessee primaries.
Salon is out with an interview today with Floyd Abrams (noted First Amendment lawyer and campaign finance law opponent). Abrams took the NY Times to task for blaming the $5 million Adelson contribution to Super PACs on Citizens United. Abrams says it is Buckley v. Valeo, recognizing an individual’s right to spend money on elections, not Citizens United, which is responsible for the emergence of Super PACs. That’s not the whole story, and misses the relevance of Citizens United.