Voting Blogs: Of Politicians and Girl Scouts: First Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Judicial Campaign Finance Decision | More Soft Money Hard Law

The Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence has come under just criticism for its incoherence, and today’s decision on judicial campaign finance does not mark a step toward improvement. There is much to be said about the case, but a good starting point is the question of whether Chief Justice Roberts is right to say—in fact, to assert flatly—that “judges are not politicians.” Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, No. 13-499, slip op. at 1 (2015). The Chief Justice is joined in this view, quite emphatically, by Justice Ginsburg, who argues, as she has before, that judges do not participate in representative democratic processes—and so are not properly seen to be politicians. Over a decade ago, in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, Justice Scalia, then writing for the Court, had countered that the distinction drawn between judicial and other elections had been exaggerated: “the complete separation of the judiciary from the enterprise of “representative government”…is not a true picture of the American system.” 536 U.S. 765, 784. In the case today, the Court doubles down on the contrary proposition.

Voting Blogs: Wait … What? Agency Advising California Governor on Payments to Counties Proposes Moving to VBM to Save Money | Election Academy

The State of California, like some other states, has an “unfunded mandate” law that requires the state to make money available for new legislation that imposes costs on counties. In practice, those mandates can be “suspended” for budgetary reasons, leaving localities holding the bag on costs. This practice has been particularly difficult for California’s election officials, who are owed more than $100 million collectively for a variety of suspended mandates – the most significant of which involves permanent absentee balloting and vote by mail. That’s why county officials were pleased to see that last year the Legislature asked the Department of Finance (DoF) to write a report analyzing the election mandates and making recommendations to the governor about how to address them.

Voting Blogs: “War Chests” and Political Spending in Massachusetts: Are Unions and Corporations Similarly Situated? | State of Elections

In March of 2015, two family-owned companies headquartered in Massachusetts filed suit in state court challenging certain provisions of Massachusetts’ campaign finance laws. The provisions in question prohibit corporations and corporate PACs from contributing to candidates or political party committees, but permit labor unions and their PACs to directly contribute up to $15,000 per calendar year to candidates or parties. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint (filed as 1A Auto, Inc. v. Sullivan), this law represents a “lopsided ban” that stifles First Amendment-protected speech and associational rights for corporations. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by granting unions and their PACs a privilege that is forbidden to their corporate counterparts.

Voting Blogs: Online voter registration numbers grow |electionlineWeekly

This week, with the deadline to register to vote in the May Parliamentary elections looming, more than 400,000 Britons used the country’s online voter registration system to register…in one day. Britain launched their online voter registration system in June 2014 and since then, more than 7.1 million people have used it to register online or update their existing registrations. Even though the British system differs from voter registration here in the United States because it’s a national system, states throughout U.S. that provide online voter registration (OVR) can regale you with significant numbers of people using the online systems to register or update their voter registration. Currently 20 states offer online voter registration with an additional six states and the District of Columbia working to implement systems mandated by law.

Voting Blogs: Elections, Meet Academia; Academia, Meet Elections | The Canvass

“Elections are the way we measure the democratic process,” said Kathleen Hale, associate professor at Auburn University in Alabama. “As technology changes, and the pace of change accelerates, having top skills in the part of our government that measures democracy is critical.” Her university and a number of others are doing their part to help measure democracy better—and otherwise help improve the election process. If you’re a legislator from Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and a few other states, count yourselves lucky. These states already get help from academia to improve election management.

Voting Blogs: An Uprising for Campaign Finance Reform? | More Soft Money Hard Law

A few years ago, after the enactment of McCain Feingold, the Federal Election Commission began issuing implementing rules, and there were not well received in reform quarters. It was objected that the agency was ignoring Congressional intent and gutting the law. One line of attack was possible Hill intervention to disapprove the rules pursuant to the Congressional Review Act. At a lunch with Senators to discuss this possibility, a prominent reform leader told the assembled legislators that if they did not reject the rules and hold the FEC to account, the public “would rise up” in protest. The public uprising did not occur, neither the Senate nor the House took action, and the reform critics took their cases to court—with some but not complete success.

Voting Blogs: Bexar County Texas successfully tests email ballots for military members | electionlineWeekly

Jacquelyn Callanen, elections administrator for Bexar County, Texas has been testing programs to help service members from the four military installations in her county vote since 2006. For almost a decade Callanen and her staff have been trying a number of different ways — including fax and email — to quickly and securely get ballots to and more importantly from service members serving abroad. And finally, with legislative approval, Callanen thinks they’ve found the solution. “We’re really excited about this,” Callanen said from her office while working to conduct yet another special election in the county. “We have worked really hard on this for many, many years.”

Voting Blogs: Virginia DOE releases report critical of WinVote system | electionlineWeekly

On April 1, the Virginia Department of Elections released an interim report citing critical, potential security concerns with the WinVote DREs, in particular with the wireless capability of the system. Despite the date, this was no joke. Following scattered reports of problems with voting systems in the state during the November 2014 election, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) called for an investigation into the irregularities. The State Board of Elections began its review in late 2014, but it wasn’t until early 2015 that the extent of the problem became obvious. “We really didn’t know until early February that there was a potential security issue with the WinVotes,” said Edgardo Cortes, commissioner of elections for the Commonwealth. “At that point we moved quickly to conduct additional testing, but it wasn’t until the preliminary test results were provided on March 26 that we knew how serious a vulnerability we were facing.”  Twenty-nine localities — about 20 percent of the precincts in the Commonwealth — use the WinVote DREs and of those, 10 are facing June primaries.

Voting Blogs: Oversimplifying Corruption and the Power of Disgust | More Soft Money Hard Law

Has the Supreme Court created an environment “pregnant with possibility of corruption?” The Washington Post Editorial Board makes this case, building it around the rise of super PACs, and it locates the problem in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Citizens United. The argument does not clarify especially well the choices ahead in campaign finances, or the role of Citizens United in shaping them, or the means of grappling with bona fide corruption. The Post’s miscue is the insistence on keeping campaign finance reform tied tightly to the corruption debate—or, more accurately, tied up with it, with nowhere to go. What the editorial has to say about Super PAC independent expenditures could be asserted about any independent expenditure. The culprit, if there is one to be found, is Buckley v. Valeo: Citizens United followed its reasoning, perhaps more faithfully than some would like, but the 1976 Court rejected limits on expenditures made without the request or suggestion of, or in consultation with, a candidate.

Voting Blogs: Indignities and Tyrannies in Local Elections | Texas Election Law Blog

I am informed that the city secretary for the City of Bartlett in Williamson County has asserted once again for the fourth year running that there is “no state law” requiring the city to conduct early voting within its city limits during the entirety of the early voting period for the May election, and that despite the fact that in-person early voting is to be conducted from April 27, 2015 through May 5, 2015, there will only be one day of early voting within the City of Bartlett city limits; namely on Saturday, May 2nd. This is both annoying and wrong, and a disservice to the voters of that city, but it may also be a shortcut chosen by other political entities as well, given that various other entities inside Williamson County also have weirdly truncated and limited early voting. Last year, in response to complaints about the lack of early voting, the Temple Daily Telegraph ran a story asserting the city’s position that an election services contract with Williamson County justified the lack of early voting locations. The story is behind a paywall, but there’s not much point in reading it, given that the city’s premise is wrong and is flatly contradicted by state law, as I’ve explained before.

Voting Blogs: Pre-Marked Ballots Reported in Chicago Mayoral Runoff | Brad Blog

At In These Times, author and journalist Rick Perlstein covers reports from some Chicago voters claiming that they received paper ballots today that were pre-marked for Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) in his runoff election against the more progressive Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D). … Perlstein details a few other similar reported incidents of pre-marked ballots from around the city in the election which the local CBS affiliate is now calling for Emanuel. The Chicago Board of Elections website currently shows Emanuel leading Garcia 56% to 44% with over 79% of precincts reporting at this moment.

Voting Blogs: Sudan: nodding through a dictator’s re-election | openDemocracy

Sudan’s presidential and parliamentary elections take place as opposition figures rot in jail and the government’s campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ makes it dangerous, if not impossible, for millions to vote. Newspapers are routinely confiscated and peaceful protest is crushed with unhesitating brutality. Respectable international election-monitoring organisations are unlikely to be present, because few conditions for a credible election exist. Nevertheless, after the 13-15 April poll, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) will claim to have a legitimate mandate. The result will be recognised by Sudan’s supporters within the Arab League and the African Union (AU) and by its business and military partners, such as Iran, China and Russia. Officials in the US, the UK and the EU will likely wait until afterwards to express any doubts about its validity, ostensibly because they do not wish to damage the unlikely possibility that there might be a meaningful national dialogue about the future of Sudan—their concerns will attract little attention.

Voting Blogs: All in the Family: New Jersey Closed Primaries Challenged | State of Elections

This past August the United States District Court in New Jersey dismissed a complaint brought by voters and independent interest groups to open state primaries and prevent the state from funding closed primaries. The coalition, formed by Endpartisanship.org, is appealing to the Third Circuit to end state funded primaries for the two major parties. Their complaint alleges that the New Jersey statute impermissibly funds closed primaries to the detriment of unaffiliated candidates and voters generally. Endpartisanship.org is a coalition of various groups that believe the two party system has been unfairly supported by the states and that the taxpayer funds supporting the parties creates an unfair advantage to the detriment of independent candidates. This is their first lawsuit as a coalition and it seems that they may have hit a major roadblock.

Voting Blogs: Does Electronic Voting Increase the Donkey Vote? | ABC Elections

While security fears always get a regular airing in debates about electronic voting, another question that has so far escaped attention is whether electronic voting itself can change who people vote for. We have known for decades that the structure of paper ballots has an impact on the way people vote. We know there is a small bias in favour higher placed candidates on the vertical lower house ballot paper, and a left to right bias on horizontal upper house ballot papers. This bias by position is as a result of the order in which people read the ballot paper. Some electors seem to stop and vote for the first candidate or party they recognise rather than look at all options. It can also lead to donkey voting, where people simply number candidates top to bottom or left to right. These factors get worse the larger the ballot paper. Some of the giant ballot papers in recent years have shown evidence of voter confusion as voters have struggled to find the parties they do know amongst a profusion of micro party offerings.

Voting Blogs: Why leave room for foul play? Pennsylvania’s 10-Foot Requirement | State of Elections

Pennsylvania’s decision to continue to keep the press from entering polling stations draws an arbitrary line and leaves room for foul play by ensuring that the voting process is not as transparent as possible. The 2012 election marked the first time that the Commonwealth would attempt to enforce its voter identification law. The law required all eligible voters to present an authorized government ID at the polls. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters’ wanted to gain access to the polling stations to observe the ID law, but were prevented from doing so due to a section of the Pennsylvania Election Code. The code stated that:

“[a]ll persons, except election officers, clerks, machine inspectors, overseers, watchers, persons in the course of voting, persons lawfully giving assistance to voters, and peace and police officers, when permitted by the provisions of this act, must remain at least ten (10) feet distant from the polling place during the progress of the voting.”

Voting Blogs: We are Listening | Christy McCormick/EAC Blog

The Commissioners have had a very busy couple of weeks hosting and visiting important members of the election community and listening to ideas, priorities and the appropriate role of the EAC now that it is reconstituted. At our recent Next Steps roundtable, we solicited opinions from a range of stakeholders: local and state election administrators, officials, legislative representatives, vendors, technology advisors, the accessibility community, advocacy and interest groups, and commissioners from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA). The Co-Chairs of the PCEA kicked off our event with some encouraging, and, frankly, sobering, words on how the EAC is now positioned to follow up on the PCEA’s work. Bob Bauer set a very high standard for the EAC by saying, “The newly invigorated Election Assistance Commission will provide for a new beginning here in the United States about how to improve the voting experience for millions of voters.” Ben Ginsburg told us that he believes “the work the EAC does is tremendously important; the EAC will play a major role in finding solutions to impending crises in voting technology” in addition to its clearinghouse and research functions. Both Co-Chairs stressed that a bipartisan approach to election administration is critical. All the EAC Commissioners agree and we are committed to operating in a friendly, bipartisan manner.

Voting Blogs: Oregon prepares to register every possible voter | electionlineWeekly

Oregon made history recently when newly appointed Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation into law that makes voter registration automatic for Oregonians using driver’s license records. House Bill 2177 moved quickly through Oregon’s Democratically controlled Legislature — although similar legislation had failed in 2013. It was championed by then-Secretary of State Kate Brown as well as the Oregon Association of County Clerks (OACC). And on March 16, Brown got to sign her legislation into law. Now comes the hard part — implementing the new law.

Voting Blogs: Reading the tea leaves – what do recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions bode for Texas elections? | Texas Election Law Blog

Within the past week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant certiori to hear an appeal of a decision upholding Wisconsin’s appalling voter i.d. law, (Frank v. Walker) and just remanded two Alabama redistricting cases (Alabama Black Legislative Caucus et al. v. Alabama et al., linked with Alabama Democratic Conference et al., v. Alabama et al.) back to the lower courts on a 5-4 decision holding that the state legislature could not justify “packing” African-American voters into fewer districts on the basis that it was compelled to do so in order to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Superficially, this seemed to be a bit of give-and-take when it came to voting rights, although the cases weren’t directly comparable on the facts or issues. So, what do these decisions mean for (1) the Texas voter i.d. case (Veasey et al. v. Perry et al.), or (2) the Texas redistricting case (Perez et al. v. Texas)?

Voting Blogs: Virginia’s Odd Recount Law | State of Elections

Virginia is certainly no stranger to statewide recounts. It’s had two in the last ten years and the nail-biter senatorial race on November 4th almost increased that number to three. For a key swing state with a trend toward close elections, Virginia’s recount laws could become a deciding factor in national politics. The birth of Virginia’s current recount laws come from the 1978 senatorial race between former Virginia Attorney General Andrew P. Miller and former Virginia Senator John Warner. Senator John Warner won the seat by 0.39% of the total vote. Andrew Miller immediately filed a recount petition, but the law on the books required the losing candidate to fund the entire recount. Miller was forced to concede after failing to raise the $80,000 necessary to go forward. If a former state attorney general was unable to raise the money, it was implausible to assume that anyone else could, so the Virginia legislature enacted the current law that requires localities to bear the costs if the margin of loss is less than 0.5%.

Voting Blogs: Will the recall effort against the Ferguson Mayor pass judicial scrutiny? | The Recall Elections Blog

It looked like the recall of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles was “dead in the water” a couple of weeks ago. But times have changed. There is now a more concentrated — or at least much better publicized — effort to have Knowles kicked out. Signatures are starting to be collected and press reports note that petitioners need about 1800 signatures (15% of registereds) in 60 days. The move may simply be a way to pressure Knowles into resigning (a common result in a recall). But if Knowles doesn’t resign, there is an open question — and possibly conflicting statutes — as to whether he can be recalled for his leadership of the city. There may also be a question of how many signatures are actually needed for the recall. The problem here is that the state law may conflict with the local law.

Voting Blogs: Special elections continue to pile up: Some states and localities are looking for ways to decrease the numbers | electionlineWeekly

Mid-Tuesday afternoon while much of America was either enjoying St. Patrick’s Day, Twitter suddenly blew up with the news that Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock (R-18th District) announced his resignation. While the journalists and political gadfly’s on social media made light of the resignation or talked about its impact on politics, all electionline could think was of those poor elections administrators and volunteers in Illinois. Now some of those elections officials are going to have conduct a special election to replace Schock on top of previously planned spring elections and for some, on top of other special elections. “In a year when state revenues are almost certain to decrease, the increased cost of an unanticipated and unbudgeted election is particularly difficult,” Peoria County Administrator Lori Curtis Luther told the Peoria Journal Star. This will be the third special Congressional election in Illinois in the last years. For Peoria elections officials, the special election creates a whole different set of issues in addition to funding. Last year, voters approved a measure to create a countywide election commission, which was supposed to have almost a full year to get up and running before its first election, now they need to scramble. Last year, voters approved a measure to create a countywide election commission, which was supposed to have almost a full year to get up and running before its first election, now they need to scramble.

Voting Blogs: Voting Laws Are Disabling The Disabled: Easy Nationwide Fixes To Re-Enfranchise Voters With Disabilities | State of Elections

Laws affecting voter participation are a current hot topic in the news. Voter identification, early voting, or redistricting laws are all working their way through the legal system almost certainly on their way to the Supreme Court (if they have not reached the high court already). There are mixed opinions on what these laws do. Supporters insist that the laws protect the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. Opponents vehemently argue that the laws are simply pretense for stopping poor and minority voters from exercising their rights at the polls. However, one group of minority voters, voters with disabilities, are severely impacted by election administration laws regarding the accessibility of elections. Their story has been largely ignored in the sound-byte thrusts and parries of the politicos and pundits.

Voting Blogs: Texas Post-Election Report Indicates Systemic Election Issues | Texas Election Law Blog

After the November 2014 general election, Battleground Texas used the data from its Election Day voter hotline to summarize and describe the problems that voters faced in the election. That public report is available as a .pdf file through Battleground Texas. You can read the report here. Among other things, the report finds that (1) the statewide voter registration list is riddled with errors (and the fact that the statewide database went down on Election Day was frustrating), (2) compared to the experience in other states, provisional ballots in Texas are used disproportionately in response to registration problems, (3) The Texas Department of Public Safety has a deserved reputation for particularly poor handling of “motor voter” registrations, a responsibility of the state agency that administers drivers’ license issuance and renewal as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act, and (4) voting systems in Texas are showing their age – equipment is breaking down, touchscreens are getting misaligned, and the availability of back-up machines is declining.

Voting Blogs: Commissioner Masterson’s Notes from the Road 3.13.15 | EAC Blog

As my fellow Commissioners and I begin our work at the Election Assistance Commission we have embarked on a “listening tour” across the country to figure out where to start after several years without a quorum at the EAC. One message is clear at every stop. As Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said recently: Addressing the House and Governmental Affairs committee Wednesday, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler sent out an S-O-S on the condition of the state’s stock of voting machines. “I just will tell you that it’s getting a little scary out there,” Schedler said, reminding lawmakers, “Voting machine equipment is all 15-20 years, plus.” Sulphur Rep. Mike Danahay, part of a contingent investigating new voting technology with Schedler, noted, “They’re having to scavenge parts off old machines to keep the current machines running.”

Voting Blogs: Pennsylvania: Mediocre Student | State of Elections

A new report by Common Cause, found that Pennsylvania is having mixed results in applying the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Alternatively, as WITF stated, “Pennsylvania is a mediocre student when it comes to heeding the advice for improving the voting experience.” The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was established in March 2013 by Executive Order 13639 to improve the efficient administration of Federal elections and voter experience. The executive order was passed to address some of the issues of the 2012 . In fact, there were record long lines on the day of the 2012 election. In Texas and Virginia people had to wait up to four hours. The Common Cause report examined ten states that were predicted to have close gubernatorial or congressional races in the mid-term elections.

Voting Blogs: New Paper Uses Google Web Search Data to Suggest EDR Could Have Added 3-4 Million Voters in 2012 | Election Academy

My friend and colleague Mike Alvarez of CalTech shared a new paper appearing in Political Analysis yesterday that not only has interesting conclusions about the effect of registration deadlines but also suggests that readily-available but under-appreciated data on web searches could help us get a better handle on how voters perceive the election process. The paper, “Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data” by Alex Street, Thomas Murray, John Blitzer and Rajan Patel, dives into the search data available via the Google Trends website and examines when in 2012 people searched for voter registration in comparison to registration deadlines.

Voting Blogs: A perfect storm: Boko Haram, IS and the Nigerian election | openDemocracy

The news that Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) makes for sombre reading. The conflict raging in west Africa has taken thousands of lives, destroyed homes and destabilised a fragile region. The human cost is a tragedy and the political ramifications alarming. Nigeria’s presidential election, already postponed, is close to being unhinged as the conflict with Boko Haram becomes a focal point of the campaign. Indeed, should it go ahead? If the election were to be deferred again, it would not guarantee against a scenario of riots, authoritarian twists and political manoeuvring. A second postponement would send out two signals: that Nigeria is not ready for democracy in action and that it is weakening in the face of Boko Haram’s assault.

Voting Blogs: Let them vote: Move is on to allow more 16- and 17-year olds vote in local elections | electionlineWeekly

Not too many folks can say they were “the first” in their industry to do something, but Jessie Carpenter, clerk for Takoma Park, Maryland can wear that label with pride. In 2013, the City of Takoma Park — a Washington, D.C. suburb — gave 16- and 17-year olds the right to vote in local elections and Carpenter was there to conduct the first election. Since then, Takoma Park has been joined by Hyattsville, Maryland in allowing 16- and 17-year olds to vote, and legislators in San Francisco, Lowell, Massachusetts and the state of Missouri are also considering lowering the voting age. Back in Takoma Park, Carpenter said the transition was pretty seamless.

Voting Blogs: Rethinking “Corruption” in Campaign Finance Reform Circles | More Soft Money Hard Law

“What is corruption, how should we define it, and why is it bad?” This is the question put to the panel organized by Fordham Law and featuring key theorists about corruption and equality, all of them on the reform side.  It is available on video and well worth watching.  Rick Hasen has already reported that he and Larry Lessig came to a sort of detente – – coming closer, he said, “than we ever have before” on the role of money. This is an understatement.  By the time they were done, Lessig, champion of a theory of “dependence corruption”, and Hasen, vigorous exponent of a theory of political equality, agreed that they might be talking about roughly the same thing.  Somewhat more on her own was Zephyr Teachout, who argued eloquently for a morality-based view of corruption centrally concerned with shoring up civic culture.

Voting Blogs: Supreme Court Looks to Endanger Citizen Redistricting Commissions and MORE | Richard Hasen/Election Law Blog

I have now had a chance to review the transcript in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and the news is not good. It appears that the conservative Justices may be ready to hold that citizen redistricting commissions which have no role for state legislatures in drawing congressional districts are unconstitutional. What’s worse, such a ruling would endanger other election laws passed by voter initiative trying to regulate congressional elections, such as open primaries. For those who don’t like campaign finance laws because they could protect incumbents, this is a ruling that could make incumbency protection all the worse, removing the crucial legislative bypass which is the initiative process (for congressional elections). The question in the case arises from the Constitution’s Elections Clause, giving each state “legislature” the power to set the rules for Congressional elections if Congress does not act. The key question is whether the people, acting through a state’s initiative process as lawmakers, are acting as the legislature for purpose of this clause. If not, redistricting done without the involvement of the legislature would be unconstitutional. (Before the Court agreed to take the case, it seemed settled that Legislature could include the initiative process of a state.)