A few countries, like Estonia, have gone for internet-based voting in national elections in a big way, and many others (like Ireland and Canada) have experimented with it. For Americans, with a presidential election approaching later this year, it’s a timely issue: already, some states have come to allow at least certain forms of voting by internet. Proponents say online elections have compelling upsides, chief among them ease of participation. People who might not otherwise vote — in particular military personnel stationed abroad, but many others besides — are more and more reached by internet access. Online voting offers a way to keep the electoral process open to them. With online voting, too, there’s no worry about conventional absentee ballots being lost or delayed in the postal system, either before reaching the voter or on the way back to be counted. The downsides, though, are daunting. According to RSA panelists David Jefferson and J. Alex Halderman, in fact, they’re overwhelming. Speaking Thursday afternoon, the two laid out their case against e-voting.
A recent story out of New Mexico has made Buddy, pictured above, the latest (would-be) four-legged cautionary tale about the nation’s registration system. Buddy’s owner was walking across campus a while back at the University of New Mexico when he saw a voter registration booth. He said he decided to “test” the system by submitting an application for Buddy using a fake birth date and Social Security number. A short time later, he had a voter registration card for Buddy in hand – and took his story to the media to “expose” the flaws in the state’s election system, saying “[t]hey should verify. Somebody should have verified this information and somebody should have come out and took a look at exactly who it was.” Let’s go ahead and set aside this notion of in-person followup visits – can you imagine this person’s reaction had he received such a visit in response to a legitimate application? – and focus instead on this notion of “testing” the system to expose its perceived flaws.
Voting Blogs: New Federal Lawsuit Provides U.S. DoJ Golden Opportunity to Challenge Polling Place Photo ID Restrictions Under Section 2 of Voting Rights Act | BradBlog
Last September’s hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights established that polling place photo ID restriction laws have nothing to do with eliminating “voter fraud.” They are, instead, part of what Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights litigator at The Advancement Project, described at the time as the “largest legislative effort to roll back voting rights since the post-Reconstruction era” — part of the partisan, multi-state effort by the billionaire Koch brothers-funded, Paul Weyrich co-founded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-fueled GOP exercise in voter suppression. Her testimony established, yet again, that such laws have a disparate impact upon minorities, the poor, the elderly and students (all of whom happen to have the unfortunate tendency of voting Democratic).
Anyone looking for clues about the future of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) got at least a hint on Monday, when the President’s Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) budget was released. Tucked into the $3.8 trillion budget is a relatively tiny ($11.5 million, or about 0.0003%) amount in new funds for the EAC. Only about two-thirds is slated to go directly to the agency; $2.75 million is earmarked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for its work on voting technology, and $1.25 million is designated for the agency’s Office of Inspector General, which audits both the EAC’s spending and HAVA fund spending by states. The remaining $7.5 million will be used to support an agency which continues to downsize; the budget shows a reduction in full-time equivalent (FTE) staff from 48 in FY11 to 29 in FY13.
Today, the Pew Center on the States released a report detailing some of the serious flaws in our voter registration systems, the lynchpin of election administration. Their study reaffirms what election administrators and voter advocates have known for a long time — that the voter rolls are filled with errors, and an unconscionable percentage (almost a quarter, according to Pew) of American citizens who are eligible to vote are not registered. The flaws identified in the Pew study are the result of an outdated, paper- based voter registration system that is not only inefficient and costly, but prone to inaccuracy. Worse, the clunky system leaves off millions of eligible voters or contains errors in their records that could prevent them from voting effectively. The question is no longer whether we should upgrade the system, but how we should do so. Recent technological innovations point the way to the solution: modernizing the system.
One might guess that groups with names like Restore Our Future, Priorities USA, and Winning Our Future would all be campaigning for the same thing — but that could not be further from the truth. These similarly named groups are the Super PACs who are fighting each other in the presidential election. Their confusing names are paltry in comparison to the biggest concern: many of their real donors remain hidden from the public eye. With unlimited contributions made possible by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and subsequent court decisions, the groups have already raised millions of dollars from wealthy individuals, corporations, unions, and nonprofits. While President Obama is not immune from the Super PAC trend, the Republican nominees have raised more money in much larger amounts. Twelve billionaires donated to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, with contributions ranging from $50,000 to $1 million.
Voting Blogs: Hurry Up Already: In What Could Be a Busy Election Year, New York City Urged to Pick Up the Pace | Doug Chapin/PEEA
This blog has already covered – in great detail – the frustrations many feel about New York state’s seeming inability to find a way to schedule and administer elections in a way that doesn’t do violence to common sense and, potentially, the state’s finances. An editorial in today’s Daily News suggests that this approach is not unique to Albany, but also exists in New York City as well. In particular, the Daily News complains that the City Board of Elections is treating its new voting machines like old technology in a way that unnecessarily complicates and delays the count.
The lawyers who pursued the case that led to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in 2010 freeing corporations to spend heavily on political campaigns asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn a Montana Supreme Court ruling that they argued defies the Court’s decision. The state court ruling, the new filing argued, is so flatly contradictory to the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission precedent that it should be summarily overturned.
Voting Blogs: Jim Bopp Goes for Broke in Montana Campaign Finance Case, and Just Might Get It | Election Law Blog
Today the James Madison Center filed this application for a stay of the Montana Supreme Court ruling upholding state law barring corporate independent spending in state elections. As I have explained,the opinion upholds Montana’s ban on independent corporate spending on state elections, and it seems to run headlong into the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United. Eugene Volokh predicts the Court will hear the case and reverse, and Calvin Massey predicts a summary reversal. (More analysis from SCOTUSBlog.)
Voting Blogs: Plaintiffs in Favors v Cuomo Lawsuit Appeal to Court to Take Over New York Redistricting
Back in November 2011, a group of New York community leaders, and persons interested in government and elections, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, asking the Court to take over redistricting of U.S. House and legislative districts, on the theory that the New York legislature had proved itself incapable of doing the job in a timely manner. That case is Favors v Cuomo, 11-cv-5632. It is before U.S. District Court Judge Dora Irizarry. On February 10, the plaintiffs wrote a letter to Judge Irizarry, pleading for quick appointment of a 3-judge court, which would be needed for the court to take over redistricting. The letter says, in part, “The March 20 start to the candidate petitioning period is less than six weeks away, yet no congressional lines have even been proposed through New York’s legislative process.
On January 24 Saguache County, CO voters overwhelmingly recalled County Clerk Melinda Myers. Myers had been under fire ever since presiding over a hotly-disputed 2010 election in which preliminary results – which showed some candidates, including Myers’ GOP opponent, leading – were ultimately reversed due to reported machine problems and other errors. Although a grand jury found no evidence of criminal conduct, the 2010 election led to a long-running battle involving Myers, local activists, election officials and the courts about whether and how to allow scrutiny of voted ballots in the name of transparency.
Voting Blogs: Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me: EAC Shutdown of HAVA Boards Provokes Resistance from State Election Officials | Doug Chapin/PEEA
Last week, the Acting Executive Director and General Counsel of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission issued a memo directing the EAC’s 37-member Board of Advisors and 110-memberStandards Board to cease all official activities. The two boards, created as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, have wide-ranging responsibilities and – in the wake of the resignations of the remaining Commissioners due in part to the growing partisan battle over the EAC’s future in Congress – had been the most active in carrying out the duties of the agency.
Voting Blogs: SuperPac Disclosure Data and “Citizens United as the Root of All Evil” Watch: Part II | Rick Hasen/Election Law Blog
Several months ago I wrote to argue against the constantly-repeated storyline that cast Citizens United as responsible for the explosion of SuperPacs in this election cycle. Though I have written critically about the Court’s decision, I was also skeptical of the tendency to blame the Court’s decision for all the forms of newly emerging election financing in this cycle that critics disliked. Citizens United did liberate corporate and union general-treasury funds to engage in independent election spending, but it did not otherwise change the constitutional architecture originally constructed in Buckley v. Valeo, back in 1976.
Today at the 2012 Overseas Vote Summit in Washington, DC the Pew Center on the States will release Democracy from Afar: States Show Progress on Military and Overseas Voting, a new report updating progress on the issue of military and overseas voting first high lighted by Pew’s 2009 report No Time To Vote.Democracy from Afar finds that “47 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to protect the voting rights of military and overseas citizens”. More specifically, Pew found that “many states have implemented changes to their laws or administrative codes.”
Voting Blogs: Los Angeles County “Challenge” Could Be the Future of Voting Technology | Doug Chapin/PEEA
Los Angeles County, CA has announced an Open Innovation Challenge that it hopes will revolutionize the way the County – and someday, the nation – casts and counts its ballots. According to the press release for Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean [RR/CC] Logan:
The underlying goal of the initiative is to design, acquire, and implement a new voting system that meets the needs of current and future Los Angeles County voters. The County launched its Voting Systems Assessment Project (VSAP) in 2009 and since then has been working with community groups to learn about voter needs and preferences. Working with a projectadvisory committee representing a broad spectrum of interests, in 2011 the Department adopted a set of general voting system principles that serve as the foundation for the development of the new system. The County now seeks to engage the genius and talents of the best and brightest designers, academics and experts in various fields to help envision what this new system might look like. “As we look to the future of voting in Los Angeles County, we want to craft a vision that encompasses the diversity, creativity and desires of the community we serve. The online crowdsourcing challenge is an exciting and innovative approach aimed at inviting broad participation in the ongoing discussion and design of our future voting system”, said RR/CC Logan.
Voting Blogs: Paper ballots are expensive, so faulty electronic voting machines are fine. Right, EC? | ET Blogs
On January 17, the Delhi High Court ruled that although the highly tom-tommed Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) used in our elections are NOT tamperproof, it is still not in a position to issue any directive to the Election Commission (EC). However, it added that since EVMs are the backbone of our election process, needful should be done to dispel doubts. I am no technology expert but if one goes through the arguments made by Subramanian Swamy and the defence put up by the EC, they both seem to have a point. While Swami, and indeed experts all over, have been able to prove that EVMs can be tampered with, and it is for that reason that several technologically more advanced nations are loathe to try them out, EC too made it quite clear that tampering is extremely difficult and almost impractical to make any material difference to the final result.
Voting Blogs: Constitutional Showdown over the Voting Rights Act: D.C. Circuit Hears Shelby County v. Holder | Test & History
On January 19, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit debated the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, one of Act’s most important and successful provisions, which was renewed by a near unanimous Congress in 2006 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. In 2009, in NAMUDNO v. Holder, the Supreme Court came dangerously close to striking down that 2006 renewal, raising a host of constitutional concerns about the requirement that jurisdictions that have a history of engaging in racial discrimination in voting obtain federal permission before altering their voting laws and regulations, but ultimately avoiding the constitutional question. During yesterday’s argument, the panel — Judges David S. Tatel, Thomas B. Griffith and Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams — grappled with the constitutional questions raised by Chief Justice Roberts in NAMUDNO. All three members of the panel were very active during the argument, posing numerous questions to the parties, often in rapid-fire succession.
Not surprisingly, the recent news about the muddled finish in the GOP Iowa caucuses has got people talking about what it means to say an election is “over”. To an election official, an election is over when the outcome has been certified according to applicable state or local law. At that point, the process for that election is “final-final” and in the books. That’s why election administrators are so insistent about calling Election Night returns “unofficial” returns; experience teaches that lots of factors – including everything from math errors to multiparty litigation – can make the Election Night results turn out to be incomplete or incorrect.
The Supreme Court on Friday unanimously overturned orders issued by a federal court in Texas that drew its own new maps for legislative districts, and ordered it to reconsider. In an 11-page unsigned opinion, the Court said that the three-judge District Court in San Antonio may not have used the “appropriate standards,” which the Court spelled out in some detail. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a separate opinion, repeated his view that a key federal voting rights act implicated in the Texas case is unconstitutional. The decision is here.
In a major step towards global centralization of election processes, the world’s dominant Internet voting company has purchased the USA’s dominant election results reporting company. When you view your local or state election results on the Internet, on portals which often appear to be owned by the county elections division, in over 525 US jurisdictions you are actually redirected to a private corporate site controlled by SOE software, which operates under the name ClarityElections.com.
It may be surprising that the biggest blow to corporations in 2011 didn’t come from Wall Street protestors. Late last month Montana’s Supreme Court took a swing at corporate spending in elections holding, in spite of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, that a 100-year-old law banning corporate spending was valid. In doing so, the court held that the lower court’s reading of Citizens United was erroneous. The Court in Citizens United said, “Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction ‘furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.’”
Voting Blogs: Reduced and Uneven Hours for Early Voting in Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary | electionsmith
As I’ve written before, under Florida law the state must provide uniform standards for the proper and equitable implementation of voting laws. Unfortunately, House Bill 1355, enacted by the Florida legislature last May, has led to fewer and uneven opportunities for Floridians to cast ballots in the state’s January presidential preference primary.
Berkeley’s Philip Stark and David Wagner recently shared a paper they have submitted for publication entitled “Evidence-Based Elections“. While subject matter is highly technical, the authors do a nice job of making it accessible to the informed layperson – and tucked into the piece is an observation that could significantly revamp the approach to voting technology at every level of government nationwide. Stark and Wagner start with this assertion: “an election should ﬁnd out who won, but … should also produce convincing evidence that it found the real winners – or report that it cannot.” Working from that premise, the authors describe various recent elections where voting technology failures created controversy about the validity of the results.
If voting legislation in 2011 centered largely on hindering access to the ballot box, 2012 will hopefully be defined as the year that voting rights began fighting back. Last year, a rash of anti-voting legislation popped up in states around the country, from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin. New laws banning anyone without photo IDs from voting (commonly known as “voter ID”) grabbed the headlines, in part because of their potential to disenfranchise over 3 million citizens in the 2012 election, but lesser-known legislation emerged as well.
Voting Blogs: Small Isn’t Always Beautiful: New Data Suggests Lack of Scale Affects Election Costs in Smaller Jurisdictions | Doug Chapin/PEEA
In case you missed it over the holidays – I know I did – on December 27 Pew’s Election Data Dispatches looked at some new research on election costs in California and Colorado. Both studies found – as similar research had in North Dakota – that less-populous counties had a higher cost per registered voter. More specifically (from the Dispatch):
In California, the study examined election expenditures between 1992 and 2008 and found a 1 percent increase in county population correlated with a 0.05 percent decrease in expenditures per registered voter. For example, San Diego County had an average cost of $6.57 per voter, while Modoc County, the third-smallest county in the state, spent $18.07 per voter. Similarly, the Colorado report found the average cost per voter in 2010 for small counties was $10.21 versus $4.95 for medium counties and $4.92 for large counties.
Voting Blogs: Issacharoff: Clarity About Super PACs, Independent Money and Citizens United | Election Law Blog
It is almost two years since the Supreme Court handed down Citizens United. In that time, the opinion has come to serve as a popular shorthand for all that is wrong with the campaign finance system. With the emergence of Super PACs as the latest vehicle for sidestepping contribution limitations, the overwhelming temptation is to attribute this latest money pit to the Supreme Court’s contributions to this woeful area of law. For example, just today, the New York Times intones, “A $5 million check from Sheldon Adelson underscores how a Supreme Court ruling has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.”
On Friday afternoon, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) released cost estimates that showed the hotly-contested recall of the state’s governor could cost the state more than $9 million in 2012.
GAB obtained the figures through a survey of the state’s counties and municipalities and estimated that the recall costs would break down as follows:
- + County estimated costs: $2,348,423.98
- + Municipal estimated costs: $5,821,898,.20
- + GAB estimated costs: $841,349.00
- + Total estimate: $9,011,762.18
These figures are remarkably detailed and I look forward to learning (and sharing) more about the process involved in generating the estimates.
Before we move on to the nightmare of democracy and secret, concealed “trust-me” vote-counting which will comprise the bulk of the “First-in-the-Nation” primary in New Hampshire, I’d like to offer a few final thoughts, for now, and for the record, on last Tuesday’s “First-in-the-Nation” GOP Caucuses of Iowa. What happened there ought to remain firmly in all of our memories as we move into what is likely to be a nightmare of democracy and secret, concealed “trust-me” vote-counting across almost the entirety of the nation in this important Presidential Election year.
I had planned to post this article (or one like it) on Friday, when I was suddenly side-tracked by the report from Ron Paul supporter Edward True that he had noticed a mis-reported tally on the Iowa GOP’s caucus results website. It was a small mis-report to be sure, but in a race that had previously been “called” for Mitt Romney by just 8 votes out of some 122,000 cast at 1,774 different caucus sites, the 20 vote error noticed by True and called to the attention of the media (and since confirmed by the Appanoose County GOP Chair) could prove to be decisive in the final certified total promised a week or so from now.
Voting Blogs: Battle of the Supremes – The Montana high court upholds the state’s anti-corruption laws—and challenges Citizens United in the process | Elizabeth Kennedy/American Prospect
The Montana Supreme Court in Helena stands just off the main drag, dramatically called Last Chance Gulch Street. The picturesque setting is fitting for an institution that has just challenged the U.S. Supreme Court to a legal showdown on the enormously important question of whether corporations should have an unfettered right to dominate elections or whether citizens have the right to adopt commonsense protections to defend democratic government from corruption. Get the kids off the streets, because this could be an epic confrontation.
In upholding the section of Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act that restricts direct corporate political spending, the Montana Supreme Court attacked the Citizens United fiction that independent expenditures aren’t corrupting and that corporate political spending isn’t a danger to democratic government. The Montana jurists’ decision in Western Tradition Partnership states unequivocally, “The impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.” The decision will no doubt be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But two years after the Citizens United decision, there has been ample evidence of the harm it’s inflicted on our electoral system.
In these difficult economic times, unemployment in the United States continues to hover around 9%. There is one place that has seemingly avoided the recession completely. In fact, this state is booming with jobs. The state is North Dakota. With new technology being developed in the oil and gas industry, oil reserves in the Bakken Formation once too difficult or expensive to tap are now being drilled at a furious rate.
The unemployment rate in North Dakota is now around 3.5% as the state tries to keep pace with growth. Although North Dakota’s population grew only a modest 4.7% from 2000-2010 (compared with a nationwide average of 9.7%), the oil boom is a recent phenomenon, and the true population effects are still unknown. In Williston, North Dakota, a town at the heart of the oil boom, the population grew 17.6% (to 14,716) during the same time period. Since the census, the population of Williston is now estimated to be around 20,000, a 60% increase since 2000. This population growth could have a major impact in the upcoming election in 2012.