A prominent good-government group says it’s strongly opposed to legislation that would allow military and overseas voters to send their ballots electronically in Pennsylvania elections. Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause/PA, says the current state of the Internet does not make online voting practical. “Every credible Internet and computer security expert says don’t do this,” Kauffman said, “you cannot make a system secure for voting.” But the sponsor of the bill, Fayette County Senate Republican Patrick Stefano, says his measure is not an online voting bill. He says it merely allows overseas voters to submit their paper ballots electronically, by converting them to PDF files and sending them via email.
Partisan gerrymandering is an offense to democracy. It creates districts that are skewed and uncompetitive, denying voters the ability to elect representatives who fairly reflect their views. But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case in which a small dose of math can help the justices root out these offenses more easily. Redistricting may seem unglamorous, but it comes up repeatedly before the court. Last month, the justices heard a case that could streamline the path by which they receive such complaints. In oral arguments, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed his fear that his court could be flooded with complex redistricting cases. But he needn’t be concerned. Tuesday’s case gives the court a chance to adopt a simple statistical standard for fairness that cuts through the legal morass. In the United States legislative system, district maps must be redrawn every 10 years, after each census, a process that legislators manipulate to gain advantage.
With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by the challengers in time for the 2016 election. “Our opinion today — the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment — should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,” the court wrote in a 5-2 decision. The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session. Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.
A Leon County judge and lawyers for the Legislature and voting-rights organizations on Tuesday began muddling through the legal process for deciding on a new set of districts for the 40-member state Senate. While the hearing before Circuit Judge George Reynolds was largely procedural, attorneys for the two sides clashed over whether the coalition of voting-rights organizations, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, faces the same burden of proof as lawmakers do when a full-blown trial about the maps begins Dec. 14. Reynolds has the task of recommending one of five maps — one drawn by Senate aides and four drawn by the voting-rights groups — to the Florida Supreme Court after the existing map was set aside as part of a legal settlement. Lawmakers conceded in that settlement that the current map, drawn in 2012, would likely be found by the courts to violate a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering adopted two years earlier.
A handful of groups are getting together to push for changes to the state’s voting laws. The organizations – like Common Cause Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters, and the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group – say they’re asking for modest changes. They want to create a pre-registration system for teenagers to get on the voting rolls before they turn 18, and allow same-day registration for everyone. Another suggestion is for Pennsylvania to start in-person voting before Election Day — something that 33 states already allow.
The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” to help Democrats. The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,” wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.
The plaintiffs in the state Senate redistricting case have reshuffled their proposed maps to redraw the state’s 40 senatorial districts, saying they want to “narrow the issues for trial.” Part of their reason was the much-maligned “jumping the Bay,” or districts that cross the water from Hillsborough County into Pinellas County to capture a Democratic voting base in southeast Pinellas. On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others withdrew two maps and submitted a new “corrected” map, after filing six versions of a redrawn district map last week. In a notice filed by attorney David King, they took away one map that “includes a fourth Hispanic district in South Florida (District 38) and an African-American district in Hillsborough County that does not cross Tampa Bay into Pinellas County (District 19).”
New York: Reform groups say Cuomo should include funds for early voting in 2016 budget | Auburn Citizen
A collection of good government groups is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to insert funding in his 2016-17 executive budget for two election reform proposals. The New York Voters Coalition said the state should provide $5 million to help counties implement early voting and an additional $2 million for the development of electronic poll books and ballot on demand systems. According to the group, which includes representatives from Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters New York State and the New York Public Interest Research Group, the measures could boost voter turnout in New York. “We note that 2016 is a particularly appropriate year to fund much-needed election administration reforms, with important election contests at the presidential, gubernatorial, congressional level and legislative levels,” they wrote.
Pennsylvania: Coalition pushes for voting reforms to get more to the polls in Pennsylvania | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bemoaning a 25 percent turnout in this fall’s general election, a nonpartisan coalition wants to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote, proposing reforms like same-day registration and optional voting by mail. But it’s unclear whether reforms could have an impact on next year’s presidential election. Keystone Votes is seeking a sweeping overhaul of restrictions on voter registration and access to the polls. Many voters “really struggle to make it to the polls on Election Day,” said Karen Buck, executive director of Philadelphia-based SeniorLAW Center. And all voters, she said, “would welcome more flexibility and choice in deciding when and how to cast a vote.” Other members of the group include the state League of Women Voter Pennsylvania Voice, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the state ACLU.
After months of feuding, the Florida House and Senate reached a redistricting truce on Thursday and asked the court to hire an expert to draw a new map revising the state Senate boundaries instead of conducting a five-day trial next month. “The appointment of a consultant would streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers by eliminating the need for costly discovery and a five-day evidentiary hearing,” wrote the Senate lawyers to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. “It would also eliminate any suspicion that the adopted map was laden with improper intent.” Reynolds had asked the parties to submit a scheduling plan for the Senate redistricting trial by Thursday. But after receiving the call for an expert, Reynolds issued an order saying the trial would move ahead as scheduled, with maps submitted by next Wednesday. There was no mention of what he will do with the Senate’s request.
Florida: Legislature and challengers blame each other for redistricting ‘manipulation’ | Tampa Bay Times
Who is to blame for the latest legislative impasse over redistricting? The finger-pointing began quickly last week as Florida lawmakers adjourned their second special session on redistricting and faced the prospect of another court-ordered map. Lawmakers blamed the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution as impossible to follow, and House and Senate leaders lashed out at the challengers — a coalition of Democrat-leaning individuals and voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — for manipulating the process. This week, the challengers lashed back.
The three-year battle over Florida’s congressional boundaries moved to the state’s highest court Tuesday where lawyers for the Legislature tried to get a trial court map declared unconstitutional but instead found themselves defending the way lawmakers handled two Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who authored the landmark ruling in July that invalidated Florida’s 27 congressional districts, grilled the attorney for the Florida House for “jumping over” portions of the ruling “as if it didn’t exist.” “The reason that it was to be redrawn was it was drawn to favor the Republican Party,” Pariente told George Meros, the lawyer for the House. When the House redrew Districts 26 and 27 in Miami, “it was redrawn to favor Republicans even more than the original,” she said. “I’m having trouble with the House’s position here.” Meros countered: “There is no evidence in the record that these map drawers drew that configuration in order to improve Republican performance,” he said. “They had no idea.”
Wisconsin: Senate GOP tight-lipped as campaign finance, GAB bills near Friday extraordinary session | Wisconsin State Journal
Senate Republican leaders are keeping a tight wrap on forthcoming changes to bills splitting the state’s elections and ethics agency and rewriting campaign finance law — both of which appear headed for a Senate vote Friday in a so-called “extraordinary session.” The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, signaled Tuesday that changes will be offered to the bills in extraordinary session, since Thursday marks the end of lawmakers’ scheduled period to convene. Proponents of the bills have said it’s important to pass them this fall, in advance of the 2016 election cycle. Fitzgerald said Wednesday the Senate has the votes to pass the ethics and elections bill.
The governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission wrapped up its final report Tuesday calling for an independent, bipartisan commission of nine people to draw congressional and legislative district lines, with no politicians involved. All but two Democratic legislators on the 11-member reform group voted for the final report setting up the kind of independent commission Gov. Larry Hogan had called for. Good government groups in the Tame the Gerrymander coalition, including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, applauded the outcome. The Maryland Democratic Party called the work “fundamentally flawed” and “predetermined by a small group of Republican insiders.”
Florida: House panel tweaks Senate districts, sets up another redistricting clash | Orlando Sentinel
The House and Senate are again poised to clash over redrawing political boundaries after a House redistricting committee Monday changed a plan passed by the Senate last week to redraw 40 Senate districts. The most significant changes shift district lines in Miami-Dade County. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, amended a “base map” drawn by legislative staffers that drew more compact districts there but that also kept him out of a district that included fellow incumbent Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. House redistricting chairman, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he redrew the Senate map to include some changes sought by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the voters rights groups who brought the redistricting lawsuit. Because his map includes much of the Senate version and parts of the voters groups’ preferred map, he doesn’t see another “collision course” with the Senate.
The chairman of the House redistricting committee Friday filed a new Senate map that would recast districts in South Florida, opening up a potential conflict with the Senate a week before a special legislative session on the lines is set to end. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a memo to House members that his proposal for the 40 state Senate districts was inspired in part by a plan floated by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. Those voting-rights organizations have helped lead a legal fight against congressional and Senate maps drawn by the Legislature in 2012, saying that the plans violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters two years earlier.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked for the third time in a decade to overhaul the inherently political process of how Ohio redraws state legislative districts every 10 years. Voters said “no” the first two times. This time a broad coalition of Republicans, Democrats, and business, labor, government watchdog, and voting-rights groups that have often aligned on opposite sides of the issue have come together to urge voters to say “yes” on Issue 1. Many are already looking ahead at a similar bipartisan approach with congressional remapping if this one affecting only state House and Senate maps passes. “Fair districts mean fair elections,” said Catherine Turcer, policy analyst with Common Cause Ohio. “Issue 1 creates greater transparency, keeps communities together, and establishes a bipartisan plan. I look at Issue 1 as a reform decades in the making. There is general agreement that this is the proposal that will make a real change.”
One week from today, the governor’s commission on congressional redistricting is scheduled to issue a final report to the governor to create an independent commission that would draw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. Governor Larry Hogan favors the commission, as an alternative to the current system where the governor appoints a panel to create the boundaries and the legislature approves the plan in tact. Hogan and other critics have said the current system favors the Democrats and creates oddly shaped districts that divide communities.
Wisconsin Republicans are moving at breakneck speed to abolish secret investigations into political corruption such as one that haunted Gov. Scott Walker, do away with the state’s unique nonpartisan elections board and legalize coordination between candidates and shadowy issue advocacy groups that don’t disclose their donors. The moves come after Republicans were angered by a secret investigation of Walker approved by the elections board that focused on coordination with conservative issue advocacy groups. Republicans deny they’re seeking retribution for the probe, which the state Supreme Court in July ended as unconstitutional. But Democrats and independent observers say the changes will transform the state’s elections and regulatory process, making it more difficult to investigate politicians for wrongdoing in office.
It’s no secret that the infighting within the Republican ranks in the Florida Senate has led to a bitter contest between Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart Jack Latvala of Clearwater over who will lead the Senate in 2016. Now, it appears, dissension is mounting over how Senate leaders are handling the legal argument as the Legislature meets in special session to resolve its differences over redistricting. On Monday, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, emerged as a critic of the decision by Senate redistricting lawyers to propose a series of draft maps without showing how they repair the flaws alleged by the challengers in the lawsuit. The Legislature was sued by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals for violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution when it drew the 2012 Senate reapportionment boundaries.
Florida House and Senate leaders on Wednesday released six staff-drawn base maps that reconfigure the state Senate boundaries which they will offer up to legislators as a starting point for the three-week special session that begins on Monday. That maps, each drawn by adhering to two different sets of standards, were designed to replace the enacted map produced by lawmakers in 2012, which legislative leaders conceded violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution. “We believe each map complies with the relevant legal standards contained in the Florida Constitution and federal law, including the Florida Supreme Court’s recent interpretations,” wrote House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva and Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano in a memo to legislators on Wednesday.
The latest chapter in Florida’s redistricting saga played out Thursday in a Leon County courtroom as two Miami congressional districts emerged as the heart of the differences over which of seven maps should be the one chosen by the court. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis must decide which map, or pieces of maps, he will recommend to the Florida Supreme Court by the Oct. 17 deadline. The court invalidated the map drawn by the Legislature in 2012 because it violated the constitutional ban on protecting incumbents and political parties. After the Legislature reached a stalemate in a special session, the high court ordered Lewis to choose from proposals from the House, Senate and the group of voters who successfully challenged the original map.
With a Leon County circuit judge ready to hear arguments Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court has rejected a request that could have shed more light on congressional redistricting maps proposed by groups that have waged a long-running legal battle against the Legislature. The Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision Monday, turned down a request from House attorneys to allow additional information-gathering — through a legal process known as discovery — about proposed maps submitted by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and a group of individual plaintiffs.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections met in executive session for more than two hours Thursday night and may have taken a vote that it does not plan to disclose to the public. Following the rare night session, during which the shouts of board members could be heard beyond the chamber’s closed doors, Raymond Marcaccio, the board’s legal counsel, said the board was not bound to disclose any vote that took place because it involved a personnel matter, and the employee is entitled to privacy. “In my opinion, what occurred in this executive session would not qualify for any of the reasons to disclose a vote at this time,” Marcaccio said. The board has not identified who was the subject of the meeting where, at one point, someone was heard shouting from behind closed doors that people were on a “witch hunt.”
Wisconsin: Targeting of Government Accountability Board ‘all about raw political power,’ Jay Heck says | The Capital Times
The way Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director Jay Heck sees it, the state’s Government Accountability Board is being punished for doing what it’s supposed to do. Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, have called for the dissolution of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan elections and campaign finance agency, whose board voted in 2013 to authorize an investigation than ran alongside a John Doe probe into alleged campaign finance coordination between Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and an outside advocacy group. In an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” that aired Sunday, Heck said claims that the GAB hasn’t done its job have proven to be unfounded through audits.
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave the Florida House and Senate, and the two groups of redistricting challengers, until the end of the day on Monday to submit their proposals for him to choose from when he recommends Florida’s final congressional districts map. At a 30-minute hearing, the Tallahassee judge approved in concept a proposal that would also require that anyone who submits a map to disclose who drew it, why they drew the lines they choose and how it comports to the constitutional guidelines in Florida’s Fair Districts law. He is likely to receive four maps — one each from the House and Senate and one each from the two plaintiffs groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause and the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court last week ordered Lewis to choose between the maps after the Legislature ended its special session in August without an agreement on a map. The court said that Lewis must accept proposals from the parties and choose among them to recommend which of them most adheres to the July 9 ruling that set guidelines for lawmakers to follow when redrawing the map.
The legal team that uncovered the shadow redistricting process that invalidated Florida’s congressional and Senate districts didn’t rely just on maps and cloak-and-dagger emails to prove that legislators broke the law. The best clues came in the form of data — millions of census blocks — delivered electronically and found in the files of political operatives who fought for two years to shield it. The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in July that lawmakers were guilty of violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and ordered them to redraw the congressional map. It was a landmark ruling that declared the entire process had been “tainted with improper political intent” — a verdict so broad that it prompted an admission from the state Senate that lawmakers had violated the Constitution when they drew the Senate redistricting plan in 2012. The Legislature has scheduled a special session in October to start over on that map. But the breakthrough for the legal team — lawyers for the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters and their redistricting experts — came just days before the May 19, 2014, trial on the congressional map was set to begin.
A little-noticed lawsuit brought by a Maryland man challenging the state’s contorted congressional districts will be heard this fall by the Supreme Court — where it has the potential to open a new line of constitutional attack for opponents of gerrymandering. Stephen M. Shapiro, a former federal worker from Bethesda, argues that the political map drawn by state Democrats after the 2010 census violated the First Amendment rights of Republicans by placing them in districts in which they were in the minority, marginalizing them based solely on their political views. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether a lower court judge had the authority to dismiss the suit before it was heard by a three-judge panel. But Shapiro hopes the justices will also take an interest in his underlying claim. Most redistricting court challenges are rooted in the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. If Shapiro’s approach is endorsed by federal courts, supporters say, it could open a new approach to challenging partisan political maps.
Consternation inside the Ohio Democratic Party over whether to endorse a November ballot issue on legislative redistricting should be nearing a conclusion. The legislature passed Issue 1 in December, and there was only one Democratic “no” vote. The proposal has been endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party, the League of Women Voters and a variety of groups that generally align with Democrats, including ProgressOhio, Common Cause Ohio and the Coalition of Democratic & Progressive Organizations of Central Ohio.
A pair of voting-rights groups whose lawsuit led to the state’s current congressional districts being struck down by the Florida Supreme Court say that a new proposal appears to be tilted to favor a Republican congressman in South Florida. In a letter to state House and Senate leaders, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida said a “base map” crafted by legislative staff members and currently working its way through a special session largely follows the Supreme Court’s ruling. The court last month found that current districts violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” standards approved by Florida voters in 2010. But League of Women Voters President Pamela Goodman and Common Cause Chairman Peter Butzin said the base map appears to try to protect Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo after the Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to unite the city of Homestead in one district. That shift would add thousands of African-American voters to Curbelo’s swing district.