National: Holder vows to protect voting rights at MLK event in South Carolina | CNN.com

Attorney General Eric Holder joined NAACP leaders on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia on Monday, with the Confederate flag fluttering overhead, to promise he will aggressively protect federal voting rights for minorities. NAACP National President Ben Jealous said he had chosen to be at the Columbia ceremonies honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., declaring South Carolina is “ground zero” in the battle for African-American voting rights.

National: Santorum defends support for restoring felons’ voting rights | Washington Times

Rick Santorum pushed back Monday morning against a series of ads being run against him on his record on earmarks, labor issues and a vote he took in 2002 that would have forced states to let felons’ voting rights be restored when they completed their sentences. Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is demanding the felon charge be stricken from an ad being run by a political group backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of his opponents in the Republican presidential primary. The ad says Mr. Santorum voted to “let convicted felons vote” — something the senator says is “explicitly false” because it implies, though it never says, that he wanted felons to be able to vote from jail.

National: King Day at the Dome: Voter ID on minds at rally | TheState.com

South Carolina’s controversial voter ID law will be in the spotlight today as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder addresses a crowd of marchers honoring the life and work of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the State House.
The state, since 2000, has commemorated the life of the civil rights leader with an NAACP-led march to the State House. This year’s King Day at the Dome, beginning with an 8:30 a.m. prayer service at Zion Baptist Church, also will feature NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous. South Carolina’s passage, and the U.S. Justice Department’s subsequent rejection of, a controversial voter ID law last year has sparked a rancorous political fight and put the state on a collision course with Washington over state and federal powers.The courts may ultimately resolve the standoff.

National: Santorum hits Romney over voting rights attack ads | The Hill

Rick Santorum engaged Mitt Romney in a testy exchange over what the former Pennsylvania senator believed was an unfair attack on his record towards felon voting rights, providing early fireworks at Monday’s GOP debate. Santorum cited an ad by a pro-Romney Super-PAC that criticized him for voting in favor of a federal law that would reinstate voting records for felons who had completed their sentences and any required probation or parole. Citing that criticism, Santorum asked Romney if he believed “people who are felons who have served their time who’ve extended and exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given their right to vote?”

National: For King, the right to vote was sacred | CNN.com

Every third Monday in January we gather as Americans to commemorate the values and beliefs — as well as the ultimate sacrifice — of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His tireless advocacy for civil rights, equal protection under the law, labor rights, and for the ultimate realization of our essential creed that we are “one nation, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is taught in every school in America, and is now enshrined in a memorial on the National Mall.
Dr. King believed so strongly not only in these values, but also in the moral imperative to heed the “fierce urgency of now.” He knew that in the face of injustice no moral man or woman can stay silent — and he paid for it with his life.

National: Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC: Testing the Limits of Citizens United | TIME.com

Stephen Colbert is laughing at the U.S. Supreme Court. He started Thursday night, on his show, when Colbert transferred control of his super PAC to his mentor, business partner and friend, Jon Stewart. It’s a great set piece of comedic theater underscored by a serious argument: Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by a majority on the Supreme Court, issued a ruling in 2010 rewriting the nation’s campaign finance rules that is, on its face, pretty absurd. The argument is actually worth exploring in some detail. Since the 1970s, many lawyers and judges have argued quite reasonably that the the First Amendment’s right to free speech should permit anyone–an individual, a corporation or a union–to spend as much money as they want to influence elections. This argument posits that this sacred right to self-expression around elections simply trumps the danger that the large sums of money could corrupt the political process. It is a balancing test–the First Amendment on one side, the public interest in avoiding corruption on the other side–and reasonable people can reach different conclusions about where the fulcrum should be placed.

National: GOP makes run at corporate cash | Politico.com

“Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season,” Romney told MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough last month. “We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.” To be sure, Romney has benefitted from millions of dollars in brutal ads from a supportive super PAC targeting his rival Newt Gingrich. And he supported the most significant of the 2010 federal court decisions that paved the way for the emergence of super PACs, in a case called Citizens United vs. FEC.

National: Views on Implementing Federal Elections on a Weekend | U.S. GAO Report

Read the GAO Report

For the 2010 general election, 35 states and the District provided voters at least one alternative to casting their ballot on Election Day through in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, or voting by mail. Specifically, 33 states and the District provided in-person early voting, 29 states and the District provided no-excuse absentee voting, and 2 states provided voting by mail to all or most voters. Of the 9 states and the District where GAO conducted interviews, all but 2 states provided voters the option of in-person early voting in the 2010 general election, and 5 states and the District offered both early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. Implementation and characteristics of in-person early voting varied among the 7 states and, in some cases, among the jurisdictions within a state. For example, 5 states and the District required local jurisdictions to include at least one Saturday, and 2 states allowed for some jurisdiction discretion to include weekend days.

National: Vote on the weekend? Government study inconclusive | CBS News

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released the first major U.S. report on the costs and benefits associated with holding elections on weekends – though it said it could not “draw valid conclusions” about what impact moving elections to weekends would have on voter turnout. Under federal law passed in 1845, elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Lawmakers chose Tuesday in order to give voters one travel day after the Sunday day of rest to get from their farms into town to vote. Critics say the practice of voting on Tuesdays is outdated and depresses turnout.

National: Partisan feud escalates over voter ID laws in South Carolina, other states | CSMonitor.com

The Obama administration’s recent decision to block a new voter ID law in South Carolina is fueling one of the biggest partisan debates of the day: Do stronger state voter ID laws really curtail the minority franchise? States have been on a tear of late to enact tighter controls on voting, including in South Carolina. Last year, 34 approved or considered tougher voting regulations, in a bid to ensure that voters who show up at the polls on Election Day are who they say they are.

National: Internet picks presidential candidate if Ackerman gets his way | The News Journal

It’s just after 8 a.m. on Nov. 11, and Peter Ackerman is staring at red numbers flashing on an electronic board. He sees 2,008,069. “That’s 2 million Americans who have signed on to having another candidate on the presidential ballot,” he says, beaming, in the Manhattan offices of the marketing agency for Americans Elect, the group he’s backing with more than $5 million. Ackerman, 65, who made more than $300 million working alongside Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.’s Beverly Hills, California, offices in the 1980s, is Americans Elect’s chairman and top donor. He wants to circumvent U.S. politics-as-usual by letting voters choose a presidential candidate via the Internet who, with a running mate from a different political party, will appear on every state ballot for the 2012 election, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its February issue.

National: New super PAC breed pushed by group | Politico.com

Corporate- or union-sponsored political action committees should be free to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, a conservative nonprofit corporation tells the Federal Election Commission in a new advisory opinion request. In it, attorney Dan Backer asks the FEC to consider allowing PACs connected to corporations, unions and trade associations to create super PACs within their structure – effectively creating hybrid PACs.“

National: RNC Fights For Corporate Right To Give Money To Candidates And Party Committees | Huffington Post

In the latest GOP effort to accord corporations the same rights as people, the Republican National Committee wants to strike down the century-old ban against direct corporate contributions to candidates and party committees. The ban, part of a 1907 anti-corruption law that helped curb the influence of corporate robber barons, is one of the last bulwarks of campaign finance law left after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago. Despite the explosion of so-called independent super PACs, which can collect unlimited contributions, corporations remain banned from making contributions directly to candidates or party committees.

National: Will Obama Issue an Order Exposing Big Corporate Political Spenders in Citizens United Era? | AlterNet

A executive order requiring that federal contractors disclose their electoral spending—by top officers and as corporations—is being reconsidered by the White House despite stiff opposition from the business lobby after it was first proposed last spring, according to civil rights attorneys working on the issue. “There’s a lot of movement at the White House,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “I just had a meeting at the White House counsel’s office, trying to encourage them to move forward with the executive order. They have the perfect window of opportunity to get the executive order done.”

National: GOP: Corporate donation ban unconstitutional | Politico.com

The century-old ban on corporate donations to federal political campaigns should be junked as unconstitutional, the Republican National Committee argued in a legal brief filed Tuesday that could lead to new attacks on the GOP as beholden to corporate money. The GOP brief filed with a federal appeals court contends that the ban which became law back in 1908 violates the First Amendment in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, including the 2010 Citizens United decision which allowed unlimited donations to independent-expenditure groups.

National: McCain: Super PACs will result in scandal, corruption | CNN.com

Republican Sen. John McCain on Monday blasted the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that eventually paved the way for the rise of super PACs, blaming it for the election cycle’s increasing ad wars. “Now it’s the system under which we operate, which leads to this kind of campaigning and will lead to corruption and scandals. I guarantee it.” McCain said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

National: Ballot Secrecy Keeps Voting Technology at Bay | Scientific American

Voters in the recent Iowa caucuses and Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary will rely on paper ballots as they have for generations. In the very next primary on January 21, South Carolinians will vote with backlit touch-screen computers. In an age of electronic banking and online college degrees, why hasn’t the rest of the nation gone the way of the Palmetto State? The reason is simple and resonates with the contentious debate that has yet to be resolved after at least 15 years of wrangling over the issue of electronic voting. No one has yet figured out a straightforward method of ensuring that one of the most revered democratic institutions—in this case, electing a U.S. president—can be double checked for fraud, particularly when paperless e-voting systems are used.

National: Justices Wrestle With Texas Voting Rights Case | NYTimes.com

Several members of the Supreme Court appeared frustrated on Monday as they surveyed the available options and looming deadlines in a major voting rights case from Texas that could help decide control of the House. The case is a result of a population boom in Texas, which gained more than four million people in the last decade, about 65 percent of them Hispanic. The growth entitles the state to four additional Congressional seats.

The Texas Legislature, controlled by Republicans, enacted new electoral maps for both state houses the federal House of Representatives in May and June to take account of the growth in population, and Gov. Rick Perry signed them into law in July. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though, the maps may not be used until they are approved, or “precleared,” by either the Justice Department or a special three-judge court in Washington. Texas officials chose to go to court, and they have so far not received clearance.

In the meantime, a second special three-judge federal court, this one in San Antonio, Tex., drew a competing set of electoral maps when Texas failed to obtain prompt federal clearance. The question for the Supreme Court justices is whether the court-drawn maps give enough deference to the Legislature’s choices. The answer may help determine whether the new districts elect Democrats or Republicans.

National: E-Voting Problems Cast Shadow on Elections | Mobiledia

An e-voting machine expected for use in the 2012 presidential election is experiencing anomalies, increasing scrutiny on the system’s reliability as elections loom. The Electronic Assistance Commission’s formal investigative report revealed the DS200 machine, used only in Ohio and Wisconsin, failed to record votes, logged in the wrong vote, and often froze up, jeopardizing voting accuracy. Testing protocol included powering off the machine between votes and inserting ballots at various angles.

The government group, which certifies electronic voting, reportedly won’t decertify the machines because manufacturer, Electronic Systems & Software, said it fixed the issues.

National: SCOTUS upholds foreign money ban | Politico.com

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that bars foreign nationals from spending to influence U.S. elections.

In the latest of a series of high-profile cases challenging limits to political contributions, the high court affirmed a lower court ruling that foreign citizens can be excluded from certain civic and political activities. The Supreme Court summarily upheld the lower court’s decision in the Bluman v. Federal Election Commission case without comment. Campaign finance reform advocates painted the court’s decision as a victory for keeping corporate foreign cash from improperly influencing the U.S. political system.

National: Ballot Secrecy Keeps Voting Technology at Bay | Scientific American

Republicans during Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary will use a technology recognizable to Washington and Lincoln to make their choices Posted at Scientific American: Voters in the recent Iowa caucuses and Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary will rely on paper ballots as they have for generations. In the very next primary on January 21, South Carolinians will vote with backlit touch-screen computers. In an age of electronic banking and online college degrees, why hasn’t the rest of the nation gone the way of the Palmetto State? The reason is simple and resonates with the contentious debate that has yet to be resolved after at least 15 years of wrangling over the issue of electronic voting. No one has yet figured out a straightforward method of ensuring that one of the most revered democratic institutions—in this case, electing a U.S. president—can be double checked for fraud, particularly when paperless e-voting systems are used. Voters can cast their ballot in a variety of ways, depending upon the method adopted by their election district. This includes paper ballots, punch cards, two different types of touch-screen electronic voting system (one that prints out a receipt verifying your vote and one that does not), optical scanners used to digitize paper ballots, or some combination of these. New Hampshire, like nearly two-thirds of the country, has a paper ballot system that voters mark up and turn in to election officials who count the ballots either by electrical scanners or by hand. With the optical-scan approach, if the ballot is not filled out properly or is unreadable, the scanner will not accept the vote and the voter can fix his or her ballot before leaving the polling place, Dill says.

National: ES&S DS200 digital scanning device for presidential vote has bugs, report confirms | CNET News

An e-voting machine that is to be used for the presidential election this year has been found to have “anomalies” such as failing to record votes or logging the wrong vote and freezing, according to a government report.
The Formal Investigative Report issued late last month by the Electronic Assistance Commission (EAC), which certifies electronic voting equipment, issued a notice of noncompliance for the DS200 optical scanning device manufactured by Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), but did not decertify the machine.

The report found three anomalies:

Intermittent screen freezes, system lockups, and shutdowns that prevent the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed

Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events

Skewing of the ballot, resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy

Specifically, the DS200 failed in some cases to record when the touch screen was calibrated or the system was powered on or off, failed to read votes correctly when a ballot was inserted at an angle, and accepted a voted ballot without recording the ballot on its internal counter and without recording the marks, according to the report.

National: E-voting machine freezes, misreads votes, U.S. agency says | Computerworld

An electronic ballot scanning device slated for use in the upcoming presidential elections, misreads ballots, fails to log critical events and is prone to freezes and sudden lockups, the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission has found. The little noticed EAC report on the DS200 Precinct Count Optical Scanner in the Unity 3.2.0.0 voting system built by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) was released late last month.

The 141-page Formal Investigative Report ( download pdf ) highlights multiple “substantial anomalies” in the DS200: intermittent screen freezes; system lockups and shutdowns; and failure to log all normal and abnormal system event.  For example, the DS200 in some cases failed to log events such as a vote being cast, when its touch-screen is calibrated or when the system is powered on or off, the EAC said. In addition, the EAC report said the system failed to read votes correctly when a 17-inch ballot was inserted at an angle. The voter’s intended mark was either registered as a different selection or the vote was not registered at all, the EAC noted.

National: Impact of South Carolina voter ID law rejection limited | USAToday.com

The Justice Department’s rejection of South Carolina’s voter ID law probably won’t prevent other states from adopting similar measures, analysts say. “Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to have a significant chilling effect,” said Wendy Weiser, a voter ID opponent and lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school.

The South Carolina law would have required voters to show one of five government-issued IDs — such as a drivers license or passport — before casting a ballot. Justice officials said the state didn’t show the law complied with the 1965 Voter Rights Act and didn’t justify the need for the law or prove widespread voter impersonation, which tougher ID laws are designed to prevent. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has promised to appeal.

National: Three Campaign-Finance Lawsuits On the Heels of ‘Citizens’ | Law.com

Three key campaign-finance challenges, one already at the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to push through doors left open by the justices’ controversial Citizens United decision. Advocates and opponents of campaign-finance regulations are watching, in particular, U.S. v. Danielczyk, now being briefed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The government is appealing a district court ruling that struck down the federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.

The two other challenges tackle federal prohibitions against foreign campaign contributions and contributions by individuals with federal contracts. “These lawsuits are all at least theoretically outgrowths from Citizens United,” said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center. In Citizens United v. FEC, a 5-4 Court struck down the federal ban on the use of general treasury funds by corporations for independent campaign expenditures. “Citizens United is, of course, not directly on point in terms of the law, but its reasoning is certainly being used in new areas of campaign-finance law,” said Malloy. The plaintiffs in the three cases are using, to different degrees, language in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that campaign-finance regulations cannot discriminate based on the identity of the speaker, Malloy said. “This is not necessarily even the holding but it is this type of reasoning that is being leveraged,” she added.

National: Redistricting Spurs Debate Over Voting Rights Act | Roll Call

As new Members take the oath of office in January 2013, something unprecedented may occur: Not a single white Democrat from the Deep South could be a Member of the 113th Congress. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina already have just a single Democratic Representative in Congress. Each of those Democrats is African-American and represents majority-black districts.

It’s a trend that may extend to a fifth state in the Deep South. Georgia’s Republican-written Congressional redistricting map, which became law earlier this year and was approved by the Department of Justice just before Christmas, undermines the current Democratic bent of Rep. John Barrow’s district. He’s the Peach State’s one white Democratic Member. The new map is likely to leave Georgia’s delegation with only four Democrats — representing the state’s four majority-black districts.

National: Voter ID battle will spread from South Carolina to several other key states | theGrio

The Justice Department’s decision last week to block a new South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification is only the first of what will be a year-long battle between advocates and opponents of stricter voting laws. And the results of those fights could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said her state will appeal DOJ’s decision in court, casting it as “bullying” by the federal government. At the same time, civil right groups are promising to fight similar provisions in states such as Wisconsin and Texas, arguing these laws unfairly target minorities, who are less likely to hold photo identification.

National: Civil Rights Groups Press Justice Department To Block Other Voter ID Laws | TPM

It wasn’t long after the Justice Department blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law on Friday that Republicans accused the Obama administration of putting the President’s reelection ahead of preventing voter fraud. “Obama’s S.C. voter ID decision shows he’s putting the 2012 election above policy by opposing efforts to protect against cheating and fraud,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote on Twitter, indirectly acknowledging that voter ID laws suppress Democratic voter turnout. “Moreover, from S.C. decision looks like they just want to benefit from cheating and fraud.”

“It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement.

Here’s the problem, though: In-person voter impersonation fraud is an extremely risky and ineffective way to try to steal an election and there’s been no evidence of in-person voter impersonation fraud — the only type of voter fraud that strict voter ID laws could potentially prevent — taking place in South Carolina. But Republicans have taken the position that the laws are necessary. They also strongly reject the suggestion that the laws are racially discriminatory, though South Carolina’s own data showed that non-white voters were 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack the specific type of photo voter ID required under South Carolina’s statute.

National: Americans Elect Makes Plans to Broker the 2012 Presidential Election | Irregular Times

Richard Winger and Mark B. identify a revealing section of the Americans Elect corporate bylaws recently posted online by the states of Nevada and Florida. The Americans Elect corporation, which aims to arrange the election of its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States, imagines a circumstance in which Americans Elect [“AE”] wins one or more states but not enough to win the presidency for itself. What will its designated electors do then?

Elector agrees that Elector shall remain unpledged until convening of votes for the Electoral College, with the exception of the following conditions:

a. Plurality or Majority Vote for AE Ticket: If the AE ticket receives more votes nationally than any other ticket, the Elector shall solely vote in the affirmative for the AE nominees and for no other candidate;

b. Coalition Agreement: If the AE ticket receives fewer popular votes nationally than the ticket of at least one of the major political parties but no party has attained a majority of the national popular vote and the AE delegates have convened in the Convention after the general election but before the Electoral College vote and endorsed a candidate of either major political party on such terms as may be reflected in the vote of endorsement, the Elector shall vote solely for the candidates as instructed by the Delegates and for no other candidate.

Under the law, of course, presidential electors are free to support whichever candidate they please. But according to the bylaws, Americans Elect will require its electors to sign a contract agreeing to the above plan or to pay a penalty of half a million dollars: