Voting Blogs: Peeling Back the Layers of Super PACs | Brennan Center for Justice

Russian dolls are an attractive toy for children — peel back the layers of wooden figurines until the smallest doll is revealed. But imagine a campaign finance system in which the identity of political donors is shielded from public knowledge. Peel back the layers of this doll and rather than learning who is financing a political advertisement, all you get is the name of a benign-sounding group. Such is the state of disclosure laws today, which were made worse after the influx of new money allowed by Citizens United. The DISCLOSE Act of 2012, being considered today by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, goes a long way to remedy this problem — as Brennan Center testimony illustrates.

Voting Blogs: New York Times article on Florida third party voter registration misses the big story | Election Updates

Today’s New York Times article on the effect of HB 1355 on the activity of third party voter registration groups misses the most important voter registration story in Florida. The more important story is the fact that voter registration from all sources has crashed, from the heights leading up to the elections of 2000 and 2004.    Maybe HB 1355 is seriously restricting the ability of third party groups to register voters.  But, why not an article about why the number of voter registrations in Florida over the 2005-08 cycle fell 54% compared to the 01-04 cycle, or 36% compared to the 97-00 cycle? Here are the basic patterns, gleaned from a great set of reports on the Florida Elections Division web site.

Voting Blogs: Campaign Spending Shows Political Ties, Self-Dealing | ProPublica

For an example of the fluidity of campaign finance rules, as well as the tangled web of connections between candidates and super PACs, look no further than the digital consulting firm Targeted Victory. So far, the firm’s hauled in $4.1 million working for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and American Crossroads, the super PAC launched by GOP strategist Karl Rove. Just down the hall, its neighbors in Arlington, Va., include an office housing four other companies working for Romney, American Crossroads or the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. With the rise of super PACs, the jet-fueled political action committees that can take unlimited contributions, many campaign finance watchdogs have focused on the hundreds of millions of dollars being raised this presidential election cycle. But after the most recent campaign filings came in last week, ProPublica decided to track the other side of the equation: Where the money goes. Our analysis found that more than $306 million has been spent so far by major super PACs and the five leading presidential candidates.

Voting Blogs: “Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded”: Election Officials’ Responsibility for Handling Denial of Service Attacks | Election Academy

Over the weekend, Canada’s New Democrats (NDP) conducted a vote for a new leader. The vote was conducted online so that registered party members could vote both in person at the NDP convention site and remotely from home computers or smartphones. Sometime during the second round of voting, the system slowed considerably, and eventually it became known that the system had likely been the target of a “denial of service” (DoS) attack aimed at clogging the the system and thus preventing (or at least discouraging) voters from casting ballots. The NDP, its vendor and consultants have identified two IP addresses that appear to have been the source of the attack and are investigating now. The results of that investigation are still forthcoming, but in the meantime I wanted to focus on a discussion I saw online yesterday about whether and how NDP and its vendor should have prepared for the possibility of a DoS attack.

Voting Blogs: Citizens United sequel filed | SCOTUSblog

Arguing that the heavy flow of money into this year’s presidential election campaign is not the result of a controversial Supreme Court ruling, two small Montana corporations told the Supreme Court Tuesday that there is no need now for the Justices to reconsider that decision two years ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  In fact, the new petition (found here, with an appendix) asked the Justices to summarily overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that the corporations argued directly disobeyed the Supreme Court.  The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock, et al. (no docket number assigned yet). Two Justices had argued last month that the Montana case would give the Court a chance to reconsider Citizens United, because of the “huge sums” of money now being spent “to buy candidates’ allegiance.”  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, nonetheless conceded in their statement that lower courts were still bound by the 2010 ruling freeing corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they wished on campaigns if they did so independently of candidates.  The Court put on hold the state court ruling upholding a Montana law similar to the federal law nullified in Citizens United, at least until an appeal is decided.

Voting Blogs: 200 Years of the Gerrymander | Brennan Center for Justice

Today is the 200th Anniversary of the first Gerrymander.  The cartoon-map first appeared in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812 when Jeffersonian Republicans forced a bill through the Massachusetts legislature rearranging district lines to assure them an advantage in the upcoming senatorial elections. Although Governor Elbridge Gerry had only reluctantly signed the law, a Federalist editor is said to have exclaimed upon seeing the new district lines, “Salamander! Call it a Gerrymander.” So here we are in 2012.  As noted by Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola School of Law in California, “every 10 years, redistricting litigation joins death and taxes as one of life’s certainties.”  Although redistricting is nearly complete in almost every state, there is no shortage of controversy.  Professor Levitt notes 113 cases impacting federal or statewide redistricting have been filed so far this cycle, in 31 different states — with 26 new cases in November and December alone.

Voting Blogs: The Anniversary of SpeechNow.org and the Rise of the Super PAC | CCP

Citizens United gets all of the attention: the protests, the whole being called the “Dred Scott of our generation” thing. But if you really think that super PACs are the root of all evil, then you ought to take your attention elsewhere. All Citizens United permitted was corporate or union independent expenditures. Under Citizens United, as long as it did not coordinate with any candidate or cause, MillerCoors can run ads, paid for from their general treasury, attacking President Obama for drinking a Bud Light at the much-vaunted 2009 White House Beer Summit. But nothing in the opinion asserts that Pete Coors could pour unlimited contributions into the coffers of, say, Americans for a Shiny America, an independent expenditure only committee that would run ads in favor of candidates who pledge to air Firefly re-runs on PBS.

Voting Blogs: Appleton’s Doughnut Controversy: Even Little Things Get Big Scrutiny | Election Academy

Last week, the Appleton, WI city attorney ruled that doughnuts – at least those provided by candidates to poll workers – were pastries non grata in city elections:

City Attorney Jim Walsh ruled on the sticky situation last week. In February, a conservative civic group cried foul over the pastries that are traditionally delivered to election poll workers as a thank you from elected officials. “We determined that there was no illegal activity, and there was no unethical activity,” Walsh said Thursday. “But because the state Government Accountability Board recommends only the clerk provide food, we suggested to the council we don’t do this anymore.”

At first glance, this dispute appears good for a chuckle, but the issues behind it are (believe it or not!) very serious. Many states and localities have detailed statutes in place regarding rewarding anyone for participating in the voting process; the most obvious of these is vote-buying, but in recent years we have seen concerns related to offers of free ice cream, coffee or other rewards to anyone sporting an “I Voted” sticker.

Voting Blogs: The War for Wisconsin: As Photo ID Restrictions Hit Constitutional Roadblock, Hard Right Files 29 ‘Ethics Complaints’ | BradBlog

In Wisconsin, two Dane County Circuit Court judges, David Flanagan and Richard Niess both issued injunctions against the state GOP’s polling place photo ID restriction (“Act 23”) — Flanagan’s temporary, Niess’ permanent — after finding that the law was in direct violation of the WI state constitution’s guaranteed right to vote. Immediately after the first of those two injunctions, issued by Judge Flanagan in Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker, the WI GOP filed an ethics complaint with the WI Judicial Commission, alleging that the judge had violated the WI Code of Judicial Conduct because he had signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) and failed to disclose that fact before issuing his ruling. However, when Flanagan’s temporary injunction was promptly followed not only by Neiss’ permanent injunction one week later, but by a subsequent refusal by an intermediate WI appellate court to stay the temporary injunction, the hard-right, operating under another right-wing billionaire front group, the Landmark Legal Foundation, filed ethics complaints against 29 WI judges who also signed recall petitions. If you can’t beat ’em, hit ’em with ethics violations complaints…

Voting Blogs: Analyzing Minority Turnout After Voter ID | Brennan Center for Justice

I had the pleasure of speaking with Kerry Miller of the Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio on the subject of Voter ID laws. Minnesota currently has a proposed constitutional amendment moving through its legislature to impose strict photo ID restrictions on voters and possibly eliminate Election Day registration. I take great pride in the fact that my home state of Minnesota consistently has the highest turnout in the country, and I’m pained by this legislation that is sure to reduce opportunities for voter participation across the state. I want to correct a common misperception that came up during show, suggesting that voter turnout among Hispanic voters in Georgia has increased since the passage of its restrictive no-photo, no-vote photo ID law.

Voting Blogs: Hans Von Spakovsky’s False Conclusions About Georgia’s Voter ID Impacts | Colorlines

In my last blog I said that Georgia has a unique situation in terms of its voter ID law, which was put into effect in 2007. As is often cited by photo voter ID law proponents, voter turnout did in fact increase between the 2004 presidential elections, which did not feature a photo voter ID mandate, and the 2008 presidential elections, which did. The numbers on this can not be refuted, and Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky often excitedly refers to the Georgia case when making his pro-voter ID arguments and did so in a recent blog. Citing recent voter turnout data released by Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp in a presentation he made before the Conservative Leadership Conference of the Civitas Institute on March 2 to rally North Carolina up for passing a voter ID bill:

Voting Blogs: Foreign Corporations, Non-profits and the Holding of Citizens United | Money, Politics and the Law

Days after Citizens United v. FEC was decided, President Obama famously said at his 2010 State of the Union address that he believed the decision would “open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limits in our elections.”  There may be loopholes which allow foreign corporations to donate through American entities, but not only arecorporations generally not funding super PACs, the ban on money accepted directly from foreign corporations appears to be being followed.  Last month, Rick Santorum’s super PAC returned a $50,000 donation from such a corporation. The Internal Revenue Service has also said non-profit organizations under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (which applies to charitable organizations) are banned from contributing to super PACs.  (In contrast, non-profit social welfare organizations organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Code may donate to political causes as long as that is not their main activity.  Professor Rick Hasen has more on 501(c) non-profit donations after Citizens United)  This ban from the IRS led to Mitt Romney’s super PACrefunding a $100,000 check from a 501(c)(3) charity. But here’s the important question from a legal standpoint: under the holding of Citizens United, should either of these bans be constitutional?

Voting Blogs: Romney voter fraud allegations loom as general election liability | The Daily Caller

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has survived the heated GOP nominating contest so far without attracting significant attention to what may become a general election issue: allegations that he committed voter fraud in 2010. In January 2010 the former Massachusetts governor proudly cast a ballot for Republican Scott Brown in the special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. He didn’t own property in the state at the time, and had registered to vote listing his son’s unfinished basement as his residence. Massachusetts law defines a residence for voter registration purposes as “where a person dwells and which is the center of his domestic, social, and civil life.” Anyone found guilty of committing voter fraud faces up to five years behind bars and a fine of $10,000.

Voting Blogs: Paper Cuts are the WORST: Illinois Latest State to Find Out There is No Small Stuff | Election Academy

Years ago, I worked for the U.S. Senate Rules Committee – which, in addition to its legislative responsibilities (including elections!), manages office space on the Senate Office Buildings. In many ways, we were like the landlord of the Senate side of Capitol Hill, and with 100 high-profile tenants with strong personalities there was always something that needed attention. Consequently, we often used the following joke to explain our non-legislative duties: “The good news is that we don’t have to sweat the small stuff; the bad news is that there is no small stuff.” I was reminded of those days recently as I read the stories out of Illinois concerning optical scan ballots that were too wide and thus had to be trimmed by scissors in order to be read by scanners. The problem was traceable to a single printing vendor whose cutting blade was misaligned and left ballots at the top of each shrink-wrapped bundle slightly thicker than ones at the bottom. [Anyone who’s ever tried to cut too many sheets in a paper cutter – leaving the top sheets slightly trapezoidal as the blade moves the sheets – has a sense of what went wrong.]

Voting Blogs: New Florida Data Suggests HAVA’s Approach to Disabled Voters Isn’t Working | Election Academy

The latest Election Data Dispatch from Pew finds that in the recent GOP primary in Florida, only 49 voters (or 0.03%) used the disabled-accessible voting machines in Miami-Dade and Orange counties, two of the state’s largest. Accessible machines for disabled voters – one per polling place – were one of the federal mandates on state and local election offices included in the Help America Vote Act. Inclusion of this provision was widely seen a victory for the advocates for disabled voters, given the perceived failure of previous efforts to make voting more accessible such as the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (VAEHA). Post-HAVA, however, the preferred technology for this mandate – direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, known popularly as touchscreen machines – became the focus of a fierce debate about the security and transparency of electronic voting. Indeed, in the early years of the debate advocates for the disabled and advocates for verifiable voting often found themselves on opposite sides of the argument or even opposing sides in a courtroom.

Voting Blogs: Montana Supreme Court leading the charge against Citizens United | State of Elections

Last month the Supreme Court issued a stay on Montana’s Supreme Court decision upholding corporate spending limits in state elections. It seems that the Court may be ready to reexamine Citizens United. What they’ll find is what many states have been saying all along: Citizens United is out of sync with the values of many states. Montana was the first of many states to express disdain for unlimited corporate funding. Early last week 55 towns in Vermont passed resolutions proposing a constitutional amendment that would limit the rights of corporations. The Alabama legislature has also been seeking to stop PAC-to-PAC fund transfers that mask donors. Even some members of the Court seem eager to reexamine the effects of Citizens United.

Voting Blogs: Big Money in Politics Makes U.S. Economy “Fundamentally Unsound” | PolicyShop

The International Monetary Fund’s former chief economist recently described one of the world’s leading economies as fundamentally unsound because the political process is captured by financial firms. But he wasn’t talking about just any banana republic. He was talking about the U.S.A. In the article “Why Some Countries Go Bust”, Adam Davidson discusses a new book in which economist Daron Acemoglu argues that “the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy”. In other words, economic inequality is itself predictive of economic decline. The book includes historical studies showing how “fairly open and prosperous societies can revert to closed and impoverished autocracies.”

Voting Blogs: Two Voter ID Cases Demonstrate the Need for the Right to Vote in the U.S. Constitution | State of Elections

On March 6th, the Wisconsin Circuit Court in Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker, granted a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing a voter ID law in the upcoming primary election. Then, on March 13, a second Circuit Court judge struck down the same voter ID law in League of Women Voters v. Walker. The courts proceeded with similar, yet differentiated, analyses of the law in finding that Act 23, Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law, was unconstitutional based on the Wisconsin Constitution’s affirmative right to vote – a right unfortunately not found in the U.S. Constitution.

Voting Blogs: Voter Fraud Claims, Voter Suppression Claims and False Equivalence in the Voter ID Debate | Rick Hasen/Election Law Blog

I have been getting a lot of pushback from Democrats and those on the left recently about some recent posts, my book chapter, and a recent oped of mine on the subject of voter identification laws.  The essence of the complaint is that I’ve drawn a false equivalence between spurious Republican claims of voter fraud offered to justify new strict voter identification laws and exaggerated Democratic claims of the extent to which such laws are likely to actually deter Democratic voters from voting.  One prominent Democrat accused me of a false evenhandedness as a “media strategy” for my upcoming book.  Another Democrat writes that there is a problem with my writing because it implies a parallel in which engaging in voter suppression and fighting voter suppression are seen as morally equivalent acts, and that I’ve just thrown up my hands and lamented how both sides are acting in a ridiculous way.

Voting Blogs: Does Americans Elect Really Have 400,000+ Identity-Verified Delegates? | horizonr

Yesterday, Americans Elect was out with a press release that included the following claim (emphasis mine):

Americans Elect delegates, which now total more than 400,000 and counting, can draft and support a presidential candidate of their choice and nominate a presidential ticket that will appear on general election ballots nationwide this November.

Is this true? Does Americans Elect really have more than 400,000 identity-verified delegates? What evidence there is suggests that it possibly is not even close to that number. As I learned a couple of weeks ago, when I went to AmericansElect.org and completed the delegate verification process, becoming an Americans Elect delegate requires a bit of a commitment. It’s not as simple as just “signing up.”

Voting Blogs: Monopoly or Broken Market? Either Way, St. Charles, MO Can’t Buy New Voting Machines | Election Academy

The St. Charles, MO County Executive recently vetoed a $1.2 million contract for new voting machines requested by the elections director and approved by the county council. Unlike his counterparts in some other county governments, he isn’t unhappy with the performance of the election director. Nor does he appear to have any issue with the new voting machines being sought or the company providing them under the contract. Rather, he is concerned that the County only got one bid for the new machines, saying “[a]nytime we have $1.2 million in expenditures and only one bid, I’m going to be very suspicious.” Normally that would make sense, but here’s the problem: only one vendor (the one who got the contract – the contract that got vetoed) is certified to do business in the State of Missouri.

Voting Blogs: California Felon Voting Case Asks: When is Being in Jail Not “Imprisoned”? | Election Academy

This week, civil rights advocates filed suit in a California appellate court seeking to restore the voting rights of 85,000 felons. Normally, these offenders would be ineligible to vote, given that California – like most states – has felon disenfranchisement laws on the books. But as the result of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision aimed at overcrowding, the Golden State is reducing its state prison population by transferring tens of thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails and tens of thousands more from state parole to county probation. In December, California’s Secretary of State sent county election offices a memorandum detailing how this “realignment”, as it is called, would affect the voting rights of the individuals involved. Basically, the memo says that almost nothing has changed with regards to felon voting rights; except in very limited circumstances (when the accused is convicted of a felony but required to serve time in a county jail as a condition of probation in lieu of a felony sentence) these individuals remain ineligible to vote.

Verified Voting in the News: Internet voting way too risky, say experts | Marketplace

Every time an election rolls around, you hear about some pitifully low percentage of people who actually bother to go to the polling place and cast a ballot. At the same time, one can’t help notice the decline in many bricks and mortar retail stores and the attendant growth of online shopping. So why not put two and two together here? Why not vote over the Internet? Skip all that hassle of looking up where you’re supposed to vote, getting there, parking, waiting in line. Just log on, in your pajamas if you want, and cast a ballot the same way you would order some shoes. “It would be something that would be more convenient for voters, you could just do it from the privacy of your own home,” says J. Alex Halderman, Assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan. “That has the potential to increase voter turnout, which is a very good thing. But, the problem is internet voting presents very serious security challenges that we don’t know how to solve, and might not know how to solve anytime soon.”

Voting Blogs: Supposing is Good, but Finding Out is Better – MinnPost’s Election Day Registration Map | Election Academy

Minnesota’s legislature continues to move closer to a vote that would put a voter ID constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot. Generally, the debate in Minnesota has focused on the typical points of disagreement in the nationwide voter ID debate; namely, supporters’ fear of fraud vs. opponents’ fear of disenfranchisement. One issue, however, that isn’t discussed as much but is very much on peoples’ minds in the debate is the state’s longstanding tradition of Election Day registration (EDR). EDR is a key feature of the state’s electoral and political history, but has been a source of tension between the political parties. In particular, many Republican legislators have expressed concern about the ability of voters to “vouch” for an EDR registrant at the polls, suggesting that such procedures create an opportunity for fraud – especially since EDR voters cast real votes that cannot be “taken back” if fraud is discovered or proven. Minnesota Democrats (or DFL, for Democrat-Farmer-Labor) counter that there is little evidence that such fraud actually occurs.

Voting Blogs: A Bad Voter ID Law is Put on Hold in Wisconsin | PolicyShop

Wisconsin State Court Judge David Flanagan issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday that will prevent Wisconsin’s controversial Voter ID law from going into effect prior to the state’s April 3 presidential primary. After noting in the order that the Wisconsin State Constitution recognizes voting as a guaranteed right, Judge Flanagan called the bill “the single most restrictive voter eligibility law in the United States.”  The challenged provisions of Wisconsin Act 23 would have required that all voters display a drivers license or voter photo identification before being permitted to vote in any federal, state, or local elections. The bill, like the voter ID bills being pushed in Republican-controlled legislatures around the county, was purportedly designed to prevent voter fraud and maintain the accuracy and security of the ballot process. Judge Flanagan noted in his opinion that the Attorney General failed to introduce any evidence of fraud that would justify this interference with Wisconsin voters’ constitutional right to vote.

Voting Blogs: The Details On How To Elect Futurama’s Bender To Whatever Election Is Using Online Voting | Techdirt

Back in October of 2010, we wrote about how some “hackers” had broken into a test of the Washington DC e-voting system, and had managed to have the system play the University of Michigan “fight song” every time people voted — University of Michigan being where the researchers (led by e-voting security expert J. Alex Halderman) were from. A day later, we discussed some more details of the hack, noting how just a tiny vulnerability could take down the integrity of the entire system.

Voting Blogs: Former U.S. Marine Turned Away From Tennessee Poll For Refusing to Present Photo ID Under New GOP Law | BradBlog

55-year old former U.S. Marine Tim Thompson was turned away from the polls today, Super Tuesday 2012, in the state of Tennessee, after refusing to present a photo ID before voting, as required by a new law recently passed by Republicans. Thompson was documented by videographers attempting to cast his vote under the new polling place Photo ID restrictions instituted by TN’s Republican-majority legislature and signed into law last year by the state’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Voting Blogs: Hacking the Polls: Vulnerability in Electronic Voting Systems | Independent Voter Network

Among those who advocate for the “modernization” of our voting systems, internet-based electronic voting and registration platforms are often offered as an ideal solution to the problems inherent in our current registration and voting processes. A newly published paper describes the ease with which a small group of researchers was able to hack a Washington D.C. based internet voting pilot project, demonstrating that these new systems are not ready for take-off. In 2010, the Washington D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics announced that it would offer a “Digital Vote-by-Mail Service” that would have allowed overseas voters registered in the District to cast their votes over the internet. The federally-funded project ran a mock election allowing for public testing of its functionality and security ahead of the November election. A research team from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor reports that it was able to gain “near complete control of the election server” in under two days time. Even more disturbingly, the hackers state that elections officials were effectively incapable of discerning that their system had been compromised.

Voting Blogs: New Efforts to Improve Ballot Design | ReformNY

As the Brennan Center found in Better Ballots, common problems due to poor ballot design and instructions have led to the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters. As recently as last week, we were reminded of the importance ballot design can play in a close election. The results of a hotly contested City Council race in upstate New York were overturned after a hand recount found that a voting machine had not properly counted two ballots.