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.