Voting Blogs: Restoration of voting rights for ex-felons grows, gets easier | electionlineWeekly

This election year, more than a quarter of a million people previously prevented from casting a ballot will be able to join their neighbors at the polls thanks to the work of state legislatures and officials. Voting rights restoration for ex-felons has become one of the hot topics for the 2016 election cycle driven largely by the actions of elected officials in Maryland and Virginia. Currently 38 states and the District of Columbia allow ex-felons to regain their voting rights upon the completion of their incarceration. In other states ex-felons may have their rights restored following the completion of all the terms of their service. In eight states they must apply for the restoration of their rights and in two states — Maine and Vermont — felons are permitted to vote while incarcerated.

Voting Blogs: EAC hosts public hearing on accessibility | electionlineWeekly

It has been 14 years since the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). It has been almost that long since election officials across the country have worked to implement (and in many cases, replaced and re-implemented), new voting machines, polling place procedures and improved access to polling sites. Yet, at a public hearing in Boston last week, it became clear that while HAVA has succeeded in many ways – including the mandatory addition of polling place machines that allow voters with a variety of disabilities to vote independently and with confidence that their vote counted – the experience of voting has lagged behind the vision laid out by HAVA.

Voting Blogs: President Obama Nominates Nevada’s Kate Marshall to EAC | Election Academy

Last week, President Obama sent the Senate a new nominee for the vacant fourth seat on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, replacing Matthew Butler, his choice in November 2014. His choice, Kate Marshall, is a Democrat and former Nevada State Treasurer who was the party’s unsuccessful candidate for Secretary of State in 2014. … The Republican National Lawyers’ Association called the nomination President Obama’s “third strike,” noting Marshall’s lack of elections background and criticizing Democrats for “view[ing] the EAC [as] a place to reward partisans for their service to the liberal movement” and saying “[i]t is sad that the left has so little regard for election administration.” If and when Marshall’s nomination progresses in the Senate, don’t be surprised to hear similar views in committee or on the floor.

Voting Blogs: Arizona’s Intrastate Battle To Regulate Dark Money Spending | State of Elections

The regulation of political activity in Arizona took a contentious turn over the summer of 2015. What began as a disputed fine levied against an independent group known as the Legacy Foundation Action Fund after the 2014 gubernatorial election, now pits two prominent regulatory agencies against each other in a battle over the regulation of independent expenditures and the groups who run them. The ad in question focused its criticism on the U.S. Conference of Mayors and its president, Scott Smith. Though the ad ran in multiple states across the country, its message proved especially relevant for Arizonans who were considering Scott Smith, then the mayor of Mesa, AZ, as a candidate for governor in the Republican Primary. Shortly after the election, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission determined the ad constituted an “independent expenditure” advocating for the defeat of Scott Smith and imposed a $95k fine on the Foundation for failing to disclose their spending as a campaign expense.

Voting Blogs: Peru will have to choose between democracy and dictatorship | openDemocracy

On Sunday 5th June, Peru will see a second round of elections for the presidency of the Republic, between candidates Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. On the 12th of April, with 95.32% of votes officially counted, the Popular Forces party led by the daughter of a dictator convicted and imprisoned for crimes against humanity and corruption, Alberto Fujimori, went on to the second round with 39.74% of votes. The party furthermore constitutes the primary political force in Congress, enjoying an extraordinary majority. This also means that proposals for a new constitution are increasingly distant, as fujimorismo will defend the present one as the principal legacy of the dictator. If Keiko Fujimori becomes president, proposals for human rights and civil rights will be frozen in Congress, and the communities of those historically excluded will be in grave danger.

Voting Blogs: The EAC’s Troubles | More Soft Money Hard Law

When the Presidential Commission on Election Administration held hearings around the country, the future of the Election Commission Administration came up regularly in discussions and testimony. The EAC had no Commissioners, and the concern was chiefly that it could not attend to its responsibility for voting machine standards and certification. There was also a sense that the absence of the EAC—amid indications of neglect, partisan stand-off, or both—highlighted the weakness of a national commitment to progress in professional election administration. The EAC was an invaluable resource for administrators, and, if it could steer clear of partisan conflict, it could perform a valuable service to the election administration community—and to the voters. The EAC then got enough Commissioners for a quorum and full operations. This was a period of considerable promise, and those working in the field moved quickly to engage with the EAC. For example, early on Ben Ginsberg and I sent a letter urging that the newly functional Commission initiate steps to improve the standard-setting and certification process for voting machines. The Commission subsequently acted, and it did so unanimously. EAC-sponsored discussions in which former PCEA Commissioners and election administrators participated heightened the expectation that the Commission could help mark out the ground for professional administration even in a period of intense political and other conflict over voting rights. There were warm and encouraging words all around.

Voting Blogs: Absent Court Intervention, 608k Registered Texas Voters Face Unlawful Disenfranchisement (Again!) | Brad Blog

Unless either the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal or Supreme Court intervenes, more than 608,000 lawfully registered Texans, who were illegally disenfranchised during three successive elections (the General Elections in 2014 and 2015 and this year’s Presidential Primary), are likely to again be barred from casting a vote in the November 2016 general election. A disproportionate number of those who have been and may be deprived of a right that is, at least in part, supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) are impoverished African-Americans and Hispanics. The source of disenfranchisement is a Republican-sponsored polling place Photo ID law which state Democrats had spent years, and no small amount of effort (even life-endangering effort) attempting to oppose.

Voting Blogs: Long lines at the polls? There’s an app for that! | electionlineWeekly

Everyone knows that the waiting is the hardest part and with work, family and other responsibilities many voters don’t have time to wait in the lines they are sometimes greeted with during high profile elections or peak voting hours. Election administrators too admit that they lose sleep worrying about election-day lines and from resource allocation to polling place relocation, work hard to make sure that if there are lines, they are as short as possible. One county in Texas has done something about election day lines with the Voter Line Wait app. In 2009 Collin County became part of Texas’ vote center pilot program and have been a successful addition to the county’s elections arsenal.

Voting Blogs: One FEC Commissioner’s Answer to Citizens United | More Soft Money Hard Law

FEC Commissioner Weintraub believes that she has hit upon a regulatory maneuver to stop publicly traded corporations from making independent expenditures, or unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees. At a time when newspaper editorialists carry on with attacks on the Commission as “worse than useless,” the Commissioner seems determined to prod the FEC to face the major “money in politics” issues of the day. This is her theory: foreign nationals cannot make contributions or independent expenditures, which means that the FEC could establish that no corporation with foreign nationals as shareholders could engage in this political spending. The rule would not bring about this result outright: it would require a corporation to “certify” that it was not making contributions or independent expenditures with these funds. As a practical matter, corporations with foreign national shareholders could not risk making the certification and would forgo this political spending. The Commissioner plans to direct lawyers to produce proposals that she and her colleagues can consider in a future rulemaking.

Voting Blogs: Robo-calls, in Montana and Elsewhere | State of Elections

Missoula, Montana, is a beautiful city. There are mountains in the distance, tall, deep-green trees everywhere, old buildings – and a rocky, white-swirling river moving through it. No reasonable person seeing Missoula for the first time would think to focus on the city’s current robo-call election law controversy. This month, parents of students enrolled in Missoula’s schools received automated phone calls containing a message from Missoula’s mayor, John Engen. The content of the message is available on Youtube. In short, the message urges parents to vote on an upcoming bond, tells them where and how they can cast their ballot, and ends with this encouragement: “Thank you for everything you do to support your children, and to ensure a positive future for your family – and our wonderful community.”

Voting Blogs: “Dude—I’m Way Too Depressed About the Future to Vote” | The Canvass

It’s a refrain commonly heard in modern elections—“young people don’t vote.” And the truth of the matter is that youths are not voting at the same rates as their elders. In 2014, turnout for 18 to 29-year-olds reached record lows of 16 percent, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That’s compared to turnout for older age brackets consistently above 30 percent (youth hit record high turnout in 2008 of 48 percent). This begs the question: What can states do to engage young people in the electoral process? No silver bullet exists, but states have taken a variety of bipartisan steps to reach out to their younger residents. We’ll consider whether these legislative options really make a difference: Preregistration for youth, Allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, Lowering the voting age. Preregistration for 16-and-17-year olds has gained traction recently. Preregistration involves permitting those under the age of 18 to register to vote. Typically, those youth are placed into a pending status in the voter registration database and then changed to active status when they turn 18. This definition, however, isn’t consistent across every state and the way states treat these voters varies greatly.

Voting Blogs: Abysmal Voter Turnout and an Electoral Dinosaur: Indiana’s Meaningless Off-Year Municipal Elections | State of Elections

All politics is local. That truism (often wrongly attributed to former Rep. Tip O’Neill) has long encouraged politicians to remember the people back home because, ultimately, those people will vote based on the issues that matter to them. But politics is looking a lot less local now. Local concerns have taken a backseat to partisan politics, and local candidates are looking more and more like extensions of their national counterparts. Perhaps these changes can help explain why municipal election voter turnout is plunging across the United States. Indiana, the state with the lowest voter turnout in the country for the 2014 midterm elections, held its most recent off-year municipal elections on November 3.

Verified Voting in the News: Blockchains & Elections: Don’t Believe the Hype | Free & Fair

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has risen into public consciousness over the past few years. It is the first digital currency to reach this level of success and notoriety. Bitcoin is based on a decades old cryptographic concept called a blockchain. As people and companies seek new ways to conduct elections that make better sense in our high tech world, several startups have proposed using blockchains, or even Bitcoin itself, to conduct elections. Using Bitcoin (or a blockchain) as an election system is a bad idea that really doesn’t make sense. While blockchains can be useful in the election process, they are only appropriate for use in one small part of a larger election system. A blockchain is basically a public database of information that is distributed across many different computers so that all users are able to verify that they have the same overall data even if some of the computers go down. There is no need to trust a central server or authority. A blockchain is a fundamental concept in cryptography that existed for decades prior to being used in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Voting Blogs: Election technology and the Legislature: NCSL election technology toolkit | Katy Owens Hubler/electionlineWeekly

The “impending crisis” in voting technology identified by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) two years ago is well-known in the election community, and starting to get noticed in other circles as well. We at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) have been having conversations with our constituents – state legislators and legislative staff – on this topic for the last two years. We’ll continue to work with legislatures on how they might be able to assist their local election officials as part of our Elections 2020 project. As part of the project we are bringing together legislators, legislative staff, and state and local election officials for a daylong meeting in a given state to discuss the topic of election technology. When did counties last purchase voting machines? What was the funding source? When might current equipment need to be replaced? What money is set aside for funding new equipment? We’ll conduct these meetings in a series of six states before the year is out. Local election officials are on the ground every day – they know the issues and they know how election law works in practice. Communication is key – legislators want to hear about how a given policy might affect their constituents (and election officials are their constituents!).

Voting Blogs: My Thoughts on Arizona Long Lines: Incompetence, Not Vote Suppression, and Blame #SCOTUS First | Richard Hasen/Election Law Blog

The other day, while voting was taking place in AZ, I had a post entitled Would Long Lines at AZ Polling Places Have Happened if #SCOTUS Hadn’t Killed Voting Rights Act Provision? My point was that Maricopa County’s decision to cut the number of polling places by 2/3 would not have been possible before the Supreme Court decided the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case because to do so Arizona, which had been covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, would have had to demonstrate (and likely would not have been able to demonstrate) that doing so would not have made protected minority voters in Maricopa County (lots of Latino and Native American voters) worse off. So this review would have made a big difference. Which brings me to my point today. Section 5 worked not only to stop intentional minority vote suppression but also bureaucratic incompetence. The election administrator of Maricopa County, Helen Purcell, made a decision to cut polling places apparently to save money (there is always pressure from state and local governments to skimp on resources for election administration), and partially out a mistaken vast underestimation of election day turnout.

Voting Blogs: D.C. Board of Elections works with civic hackers for voting insights | electionlineWeekly

Election administrators generate heaps of data beyond the election night returns that take center stage, but the data revolution that now drives decisions in campaigns, business, and parts of government has yet to transform how we run elections. As the Presidential Commission on Election Administration noted in its report, a “new technological gap is beginning to emerge, between the data analytical capacity that has improved customer service in the private sector, and the lack of data-driven efforts to improve the experience of voters.” A lack of money for election administrators to pay skilled data pros is largely responsible for creating and sustaining this gap. But fear not, cash-strapped election administrators, there is hope.

Voting Blogs: Ohio’s Confusing Republican Ballot | Dan Tokaji/Election Law Blog

Lots of Republicans voting in today’s Ohio primary are confused, and understandably so. The Republican presidential candidates’ names are listed twice on the ballot, once under the heading “For Delegates-at-Large and Alternates-at-Large” and again under “For District Delegates and District Alternates.” If this weren’t enough, different candidates’ names appear under the first and second contests on some Ohio ballots. Mike Huckabee and/or Rick Santorum, both of whom have withdrawn, will appear on the “District Delegates” contest in some congressional districts but not others (see p. 7 of this directive). What makes this a real head-scratcher is that the state’s Republican primary is winner-take-all, with the highest vote-getter getting all of Ohio’s 66 delegates. The Secretary of State’s office will reportedly release vote totals for both the “Delegates-at-Large” and “District Delegates” contests, but the state party says that it plans to consider only the at-large delegate vote in determining who gets Ohio’s delegates. And the “District Delegates” contest will appear at the top of page on at least some ballots (like this one), with the “Delegates-at-Large” contest – the one that matters – further down on the left side. This problem is reminiscent of problematic ballot formats in past elections, like Florida’s 2006 election for the 13th Congressional District, California’s 2003 recall election, and even the infamous butterfly ballot in Florida’s 2000 presidential election. It’s possible that some voters will inadvertently fail to cast a vote that counts.

Voting Blogs: Signs of the super things to come? | electionlineWeekly

Although absentee ballots are still arriving from overseas and provisional ballots are still being verified, for voters, depending on where they lived and which party they voted for, Super Tuesday, was indeed super in some places, in others, it was just meh. And for elections officials, who no doubt think every election is super, Tuesday’s contests in the nine states holding primaries (Alaska-GOP, America Samoa-Dems, Colorado and Minnesota all held caucuses), were a mixed bag as well with some jurisdictions registering few if any problems and others being forced to apologize for long lines and delayed results.

Voting Blogs: Conflicted Court Likely to Reverse 4th Circuit in Maryland Redistricting Case | State of Elections

The stakes were high at oral argument for Shapiro v. McManus on November 4, 2015. Justice Breyer said Shapiro and his co-plaintiffs “want[ed] to raise about as important a question as you can imagine . . . And if they [were] right, that would affect congressional districts and legislative districts throughout the nation.” It was clear that the justices struggled with the serious implications that their decision could have for future redistricting and partisan gerrymandering cases. In Shapiro v. McManus, a group of Maryland citizens brought suit challenging the state’s contorted congressional districts, drawn by Democrats in 2011. Petitioners claimed that the political map violated Republicans’ First Amendment rights “by placing them in districts where they were the minority, therefore marginalizing them based on their political views.”

Voting Blogs: The Will of the People: Michigan’s Ballot Initiative to Allow By-Mail Voting | State of Elections

Alexander Hamilton once said, “A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.” In Michigan, the citizens have incredible power to voice their opinion and influence the sovereignty of their state. Through initiative, Michiganders may propose either a constitutional amendment, which does not require state legislative approval before being placed on the ballot, or state statutes, which must first be submitted to the state legislature for approval before being placed on the ballot. In order to participate in the initiative process, Michigan does not even require that the petitioner register with the state, but rather only requires that the petitioner report campaign contributions in excess of $500. However, petitioners may submit their proposal to the Bureau of Elections in order to greatly reduce the chance that formatting errors will prevent the proposal from being accepted.

Voting Blogs: Trying to Stop Drive-By-Voting in New Hampshire | State of Elections

Round two of the “drive-by voting” battle in New Hampshire ended on September 16th, 2015 when the New Hampshire Senate failed to override Governor Maggie Hassan’s veto of Senate Bill 179. That proposal would have required potential voters to be domiciled in the state for at least thirty days prior to an election. This was the second initiative purportedly aimed at combatting this type of fraud, which can be illustrated by the actions of Vice-President Joe Biden’s niece. While “she didn’t break the letter of the law… many people think she violated the spirit of it” by voting in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire after only working on the campaign there for a short time.

Voting Blogs: Justice Scalia’s Death and Implications for the 2016 Election, the Supreme Court and the Nation | Election Law Blog

Justice Antonin Scalia has died in Texas at the age of 79. Let me begin with condolences to his family, friends, and former clerks who were fiercely loyal to him (and he to them). Whatever you thought of Justice Scalia’s politics and jurisprudence, he was an American patriot, who believed in the greatness of the United States and in the strength of American courts to protect the Constitution’s values as he has seen them. He also wrote the most entertaining and interesting opinions of any Justice on the Court. I was just in the early stages of a project to evaluate Justice Scalia’s legacy, and I will have much to say later on about Justice Scalia’s impact on the judiciary where his views on constitutional originalism and new textualist statutory interpretation have have played a key role in the development of American jurisprudence and argumentation in the federal courts. But let’s begin here with the implications for the Court’s current term, its impact on the 2016 election, and on the Nation as a whole.

Voting Blogs: The Federal Election Commission’s Role in A Reform Program | More Soft Money Hard Law

The Federal Election Commission has not solved the “Super PAC problem,” but then again the Commissioners cannot agree on what the problem is. Others outside the agency are divided in this same way. A number of questions in contemporary campaign finance are like that. Because positions are passionately held, each side is convinced that the other is not merely mistaken but dead wrong, maybe also ill-motivated. Given the chance, proponents and opponents of new rules would like to win however they can. So there is the hope that the Supreme Court can be shifted by a vote toward a more favorable judgment on congressional power to control campaign finance. And proposals are made to strengthen the FEC for a more decisive role. The Brennan Center suggests that the FEC could make strides in the direction if it could be restructured to a) bring an element of nonpartisanship into the choice of Commissioners, by assuring that at least one is unaffiliated with a party and b) add an additional Commissioner to the total to get to an odd number and avoid deadlocks.

Voting Blogs: Connecticut’s Current Battle over Campaign Contributions | State of Elections

In 2014, Republicans filed a complaint against Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, alleging that he and the Democratic Party used state contractor funds in violation of state law for Malloy’s campaign. A legal battle has ensued, raising questions about the interplay between state and federal campaign finance laws, as well as the jurisdictional reach of the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) to conduct investigations. Connecticut law does not allow parties to use contributions from state contractors in state campaigns. Federal law, however, permits parties to use state contractor funds during federal election years for federal election activities, which includes “get-out-the-vote” efforts. Get-out-the-vote activities are those that promote voting in elections in general. For example, they include “encouraging or urging potential voters to vote,” providing information via mail about polling location hours, or communicating information about absentee voting. (11 C.F.R. § 100.24(a)(3)(1)).

Voting Blogs: Wisconsin Wants You to Register to Vote—Unless You're Poor, or a Person of Color | Project Vote

Partisan lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing a voter registration bill that is a thinly veiled attack on voter registration drives and the rising American electorate. SB295—just approved by the state Senate Elections Committee in a party-line vote—is being sold as an “online voter registration” bill, as it would make Wisconsin the latest state where citizens can register to vote over the Internet. Project Vote strongly supports online registration, but it is a convenience, not a cure-all: unless it is implemented hand-in-hand with other registration options and protections, it can make existing inequalities in the electorate even worse. And these Wisconsin lawmakers, while offering online registration with one hand, are quietly taking those other options away with the other. SB295 would implement online registration, but only for people who have Internet access and a valid, up-to-date ID through the DMV. Studies have proven that this leaves out a large percentage of the population, particularly young people, older people, poor people, persons with disabilities, and disproportionate numbers of people of color.

Voting Blogs: Automatic voter registration debuts in Oregon | electionlineWeekly

Once again Oregon has found itself on the leading edge of election reform. On January 4 2016, the state became the first in the country to begin automatically registering voters who visit the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to apply for a new or renew a driver’s license or state ID. Since Oregon Motor Voter launched one month ago, the state has added 4,348 voters to the rolls. Under the law, once the voters are registered they receive a Motor Voter card from the Oregon Elections Division and they have three options: Do nothing and remain registered, opt-out, or choose a political party.

Voting Blogs: EAC Adds Proof of Citizenship Instructions to Federal Form | Election Academy

Few recent stories in election policy have taken more twists and turns than the saga of Kansas’ (and other states’) efforts to impose proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal voter registration form. State officials and the EAC have been back and forth on the question numerous times, including two trips to the Supreme Court and several suits in state court. The current state of play is that proof-of-citizenship is unenforceable against voters who use the federal form, and – at least for now, pending appeal – that such requirements cannot be used in Kansas to deny voters a full ballot in state and local elections. That story got a little stranger yesterday with news that the EAC has updated state instructions on the federal form for Kansas (see p. 8) and a few other states to include proof-of-citizenship requirements. New EAC executive director Brian Newby sent letters dated last Friday to several states, including Kansas, who had recently requested that the agency update the instructions. The letter says the requested changes have been made and notes that the EAC is launching an effort to begin “a systematic process with all states to update State-Specific Instructions regularly.” It also asks states to notify the EAC “if any additional State-Specific Instructions are in need of modernization or further calibration with your procedures.”

Voting Blogs: Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Vote in Kansas… | Project Vote

Project Vote was part of the landmark case in which Kobach got whacked down by the U.S. Court of Appeals, when he tried to force the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to add Kansas and Arizona’s state proof-of-citizenship requirements to the federal voter registration form. The Court of Appeals rightfully ruled in 2014 that the NVRA preempted those draconian state laws, and added that Kobach and company “have not provided substantial evidence of noncitizens registering to vote using the Federal Form.” … Today, in a bizarre turnaround, the EAC—without any public process of review—suddenly decided to do what Kobach and Co. have been asking all along. They just added proof-of-citizenship requirements to the instructions on the federal form for residents of Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama.

Voting Blogs: Five steps to getting online voter registration right | electionlineWeekly

Online voter registration has become a “thing” in the last couple of years. When implemented properly, it makes it easier for voters — especially military and overseas voters — to register. It also helps maintain the accuracy of voter rolls; reduces the cost of list maintenance; reduces the inherent potential for error in paper-based systems; saves significant amounts of money; reduces delays and congestion at polling places; and improves the voter experience because voters get immediate feedback when they are registered or when their information has been updated. There are complications and subtleties, but as online voter registration becomes widespread, more ways are emerging to refine the process to better serve voters and election officials.

Voting Blogs: Crowdsourcing election data — a success story | electionlineWeekly

U.S. Vote Foundation’s Election Official Directory (EOD) is a crowd-sourced database with 7,825 extensive records. The “crowd” comprises Local Election Officials (LEOs) across the US who regularly update their jurisdiction contact data. In 2010, the foundation began tracking response rates to update requests that go to LEOs. In the last five years since, the response rate to the update requests doubled from 30 percent to 60 percent. This is a story of dedication in pursuit of an idea and its implementation. Standout states in 2015 were Rhode Island and Michigan. Rhode Island’s Deputy Directory of Elections, Rob Rock, contacted US Vote to ask how his state could reach a 100 percent participation rate for all 39 of its jurisdictions. They teamed on the timing and messaging to the LEOs and the goal was achieved.