Voting Blogs: The Right to Vote Amendment is Worth At Least One Candle: A Reply to Heather Gerken | Josh Douglas/Election Law Blog

A new constitutional amendment affirmatively granting the right to vote could have a significant impact on protecting voting rights for all Americans. Most significantly – and perhaps paradoxically – we are likely to see the biggest effects of a federal amendment where we least expect it: in state courts. Professor Heather Gerken, in a characteristically eloquent and well-reasoned new article, claims that pursuing a new constitutional amendment enshrining the right to vote is “not worth the candle.” The heart of Professor Gerken’s argument is that the benefits of a new right-to-vote amendment do not justify the costs involved, particularly as Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges are unlikely to alter the scope of voting rights analysis given the likelihood that, to pass, the amendment’s language would have to be too vague. But a constitutional amendment granting the right to vote does not need federal judges, or even the U.S. Supreme Court, to have a big impact. That is because many state courts follow federal law even when construing their own state constitutions.  So a new provision in the federal Constitution, even if couched in broad platitudes, will have corollary effects on state constitutional law.

Utah: Amendment advances to overturn ‘Count My Vote’ compromise | The Salt Lake Tribune

The Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to a constitutional amendment that could overturn a new law to change how parties choose their nominees. The Senate voted 17-12 to send SJR2 to a final vote later this week — but that was three votes short of the two-thirds majority (20 of 29 members) that it would need eventually to pass and be sent to the House, and perhaps eventually to voters for a decision. Its sponsor, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said the amendment would ask voters “the question: should a party’s rights be infringed upon.” He said the amendment says “parties should be able to decide under their own terms and circumstances how their candidate goes to a ballot.”

Arkansas: Proposed constitutional amendments to require voter ID filed | Arkansas News

State legislators filed two proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. During the 2013 regular session, lawmakers approved legislation requiring photo ID at the polls and overrode a veto by then-Gov. Mike Beebe. But the law, Act 595, was struck down last year by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which said it violated the state constitution by imposing qualifications for voters that went beyond those set forth in the constitution.

National: Federal free and fair elections amendment proposed | Associated Press

A Democratic lawmaker on Thursday called for Montana to support a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit corporate donations in election campaigns. Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula introduced House Joint Resolution 3 in the State Administration Committee. Committee members did not take immediate action. “I believe the corporate buyout of our elections is the reason to do it,” she said of a Constitutional amendment that calls for free and fair elections. It takes 34 states to trigger a convention. Thirty-eight states would then have to approve a change for the amendment to be put into effect. Twenty states have similar resolution proposals in their legislatures this year, according to Ryan Clayton with Wolf PAC, a political action committee working to promote the amendment nationwide.

Missouri: Legislators Once Again Consider Photo-ID Mandate For Voters | St. Louis Public Radio

The decade-long effort to require photo IDs in Missouri voting booths is once again under way in the General Assembly, although it’s unclear if the chances are any brighter. State Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, is once again the chief sponsor of the two-pronged campaign to mandate government-issued photo IDs at the polls. “I am 100 percent sure that voter impersonation fraud is taking place in the state of Missouri,’’ he said a hearing Tuesday before a House committee. State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, is among the opposition leaders who say there’s been no proof of such fraud. They say that Dugger is targeting certain groups of Democratic-leaning voters – including students and minorities – who are less likely to have the types of photo IDs his legislation requires.

Florida: State among nation’s toughest places to have voting rights restored | Sun-Sentinel

Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you. The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2. Only two other states have that tough a policy. Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer. Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.

Vermont: Calls grow for elections amendment | Times Argus

On the eve of the Legislature’s vote to decide who will be the next governor, lawmakers and advocates are calling for a constitutional amendment that would return the decision to the voters. Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, was joined Wednesday morning just before the start of the 2015 legislative session by Sens. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, Bill Doyle, R-Washington, and Jeanette White, D-Windham, to promote a change to the state’s constitution that would eliminate the mechanism that allows the Legislature to choose the governor. “From VPIRG’s perspective, the concept is pretty simple. The voters of Vermont should be the ones who decide who our governor and other top elected leaders will be,” Burns said. “This year’s election has only provided more evidence that we need a constitutional amendment now. It’s fair, it’s democratic and it’s time.”

Virginia: Ethics panel calls for nonpartisan redistricting | The Virginian-Pilot

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s ethics advisory panel today endorsed creation of an independent commission to redraw legislative districts without regard to partisan politics. The Virginia General Assembly currently draws districts, and convincing legislators there’s a better way won’t be easy. The ethics panel is “not naive enough to think that whatever we recommend is going to be enthusiastically received by members of the General Assembly,” said former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a co-chairman. “But it is an issue that we need to keep front and center.” The Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government was created in September after the conviction of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on public corruption charges. Bolling, a Republican, is joined by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher in leading the 10-member panel.

Australia: Indigenous recognition vote eyed | BBC

More than a century after its constitution was drafted, Australia is edging closer to formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the nation’s first people. Changing the constitution to recognise the nation’s first people is not about politics, says Mike Baird, premier of New South Wales – Australia’s biggest state. It’s about righting a wrong. “It is an important part of who we are, it is an important part of our history,” he says. Earlier, this month, Mr Baird became the first state or territory leader to publicly back a federal government campaign – started by the previous Labor government and adopted by coalition Prime Minister Tony Abbott – to reverse the historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people from Australia’s constitution. To do that, the public would have to vote in a referendum.

Ohio: House Republicans, Democrats come to redistricting agreement | The Columbus Dispatch

After weeks of public debate and hours of closed-door negotiations, House Republicans and Democrats reached agreement today on changing the process for drawing legislative districts in Ohio. Supporters say the plan would create clearer criteria for drawing maps, give incentive for the majority party to work in a bipartisan manner and make it more difficult to gerrymander districts. “I think it represents some big compromises on the majority’s part,” said Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, before the 80-4 vote. “The majority will not be able to do the kind of things that have happened in the last several years.” Critics say the current system of drawing legislative and congressional districts allows the majority party to rig the districts to their benefit, which solidifies its power, creates a more partisan and dysfunctional government, and dilutes Ohioans’ voting power. “Now, we have a redistricting system that does not require any balance,” said Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington. “I think that has been destructive to the legislative process.” Rep. John Patrick Carney, D-Columbus, called it an imperfect plan but “certainly better than what we have.”

Florida: Drive to restore voting rights for ex-felons coming to Florida? | SaintPetersBlog

A coalition of groups in Florida are preparing to try to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot in Florida that would restore the voting rights of most individuals with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentence. These groups include the ACLU of Florida, the League of Women Voters, Faith in Florida and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.  The proposed constitutional amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. The state’s current policy regarding ex-felons was an issue that Charlie Crist occasionally discussed during the recent gubernatorial campaign. When he took office after being elected in 2007, the then Republican governor was able to persuade a majority of the Florida Cabinet to change the policy to provide ex-offenders convicted of less serious offenses the right to regain their rights without a hearing, while those convicted of crimes such as murder required a more thorough investigation and a hearing. But that was repealed in 2011, when newly elected Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the process was too easy for released felons.  Shortly after she made those comments, she and the rest of the Cabinet scrapped the process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.

Arizona: GOP may sue to keep independents out of primaries | The Verde Independent

Republicans may try to block independents from participating in future party primaries after their turnout in last month’s election — close to one vote out of every seven — may have affected some races. A.J. LaFaro, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, said he wants the party’s lawyers to find ways around the 1998 voter-approved measure which allows independents to participate in choosing the nominees of any recognized party. He said independents who may not believe in the party’s “conservative values’ are affecting who ultimately runs under the GOP banner. Carolyn Cox, his Pima County counterpart, said she agrees that independents may be having an unwanted influence on GOP politics. “I just think it’s kind of unfortunate when people who are not in the party are selecting who the party is going to have as a candidate,’ she said. The state party isn’t quite ready to make the push toward closing the primary — yet.

Missouri: Court reworks early voting ballot summary | Associated Press

A Missouri appeals court panel rewrote the ballot summary Monday for an early voting proposal, ruling that the wording approved by lawmakers was misleading because it failed to mention the measure is contingent upon funding. A proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot will ask Missouri voters whether to authorize a no-excuses-needed early voting period for future general elections. The six-day voting period would be limited to business hours on weekdays. In its ruling Monday, a panel of the Western District appeals court said the summary prepared by the General Assembly failed to note the early voting period would occur only if the legislature and the governor provide funding for it.

Kentucky: Felons getting closer to voting | Cincinnati Inquirer

Felons won’t let up on state lawmakers in Kentucky until they get the right to vote. After getting a powerful ally in U.S. Sen. Rand Paul this year, the supporters of the automatic restoration of voting rights for most felons hope the next session of the Kentucky General Assembly in January will give felons the same rights they have in most other states. Already, three bills, two by Democrats and one by a Republican, have been filed that would automatically restore upon completion of the sentence and probation the voting rights for felons not convicted of sex offenses, homicide, treason and bribery. All three are Constitutional amendments that require the support of 60 percent of legislators and ratification by voters.

National: Senate blocks campaign finance amendment | Politico

Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a constitutional amendment sought by Democrats that would allow Congress to regulate campaign finance reform. The measure failed to clear a 60-vote threshold on Thursday afternoon, 54-42. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly moved to hammer Republicans and tie them to Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who back national conservative political operations. “Senate Democrats want a government that works for all Americans — not just the richest few. Today, Senate Republicans clearly showed that they would rather sideline hardworking families in order to protect the Koch brothers and other radical interests that are working to fix our elections and buy our democracy,” Reid said after the vote. The constitutional amendment would allow Congress and state lawmakers to override recent Supreme Court decisions that have struck down campaign finance laws previously passed by Capitol Hill — language that Republicans argued amounts to an attack on the Bill of Rights.

National: Reid sets up next vote on campaign spending | The Hill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on a constitutional amendment meant to reverse two recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign spending. Republicans are likely to vote against the amendment on a procedural vote that is expected to occur Thursday. Earlier this week, Republicans supported advancing the measure because they said it deserved debate — that move also tied up the Senate from considering anything else for nearly three days. Democrats have had less time to hold other political votes during the two-week session before adjourning for the midterm elections. Reid has said he also wants to hold votes on Democrats’ political priorities, such as equal pay for women and refinancing student loan rates.

National: Senate Moves Forward In Bid To Limit Campaign Funds | NPR

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to debate a proposed constitutional amendment that would let Congress and the states put caps on political spending. But that’s probably the high-water mark for the amendment. When Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) called the vote tally, it looked like a big win for advocates of the constitutional amendment: 79 ayes, 18 nays. That’s a dozen votes more than the 67-vote majority needed to actually move the amendment out of the Senate and over to the House. But it was a strategic move as 25 of the Senate’s 45 Republicans voted aye. It allows the GOP to prolong the debate and spend less time on other measures that Democrats want to vote on before the midterm elections – measures such as equal pay for women and college affordability. Democrats pretty much ignored the stalling tactic and insisted this is an important vote. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, “There are times when action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it converted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win. This is the time to amend the Constitution.” But setting the political gamesmanship aside, one question lingers. When pollsters ask Americans about the political money system, overwhelming percentages basically say they hate it. So why doesn’t Congress do something?

Connecticut: Voters to Decide if Lawmakers Can Consider New Ballot Options | Public News Service

Connecticut voters face a question when they head to the polls this November – it’s a constitutional amendment to allow state lawmakers to consider new ways for voters to cast ballots. State Rep. Ed Jutila says Connecticut is currently one of only 14 states in the nation that limits voting to Election Day. He says the Constitution also limits absentee balloting. “Individuals either need to be out of town, sick, disabled,” he points out. “Or the tenets of their religion prohibit them from coming out to vote on that day. So, that’s what we’re faced with.”

Missouri: Votes From August Election On Right-To-Farm Measure To Be Recounted Statewide | Ste Genivieve Herald

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has ordered a statewide recount of the votes cast in the August 5 Primary Election on Constitutional Amendment 1. The announcement was made August 26, according to Kander’s website. Entitled “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed,” Amendment 1, which passed by a simple majority vote, aims to make farming a right in Missouri, “similar in scope and protection to the speech, religion and gun rights already in Missouri’s constitution,” according to campaign materials authored by Attorney Brent Haden of the Haden & Byrne Law Firm of Columbia.

Florida: Is Redistricting Case Headed to State’s High Court? | New Service of Florida

A coalition of voting-rights organizations and individual voters wants the Florida Supreme Court take up the legal battle over the state’s congressional districts. In a notice of appeal filed Friday with the 1st District Court of Appeal, the groups—which include the League of Women Voters of Florida—also said they were giving up on having the lines changed in time for this year’s congressional elections. That had emerged as a major flashpoint in the battle between the Republican-led Legislature and the voting groups about whether congressional districts violated the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010. In July, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found that a congressional map approved by lawmakers in 2012 violated the constitutional requirements. That led lawmakers to hold a special legislative session and redraw portions of the map. Lewis upheld the new map, despite arguments from the voting groups that it continued to violate the constitution.

Florida: Voting rights groups want Florida Supreme Court to hear redistricting case |

A coalition of voting-rights organizations and individual voters wants the Florida Supreme Court to take up the legal battle over the state’s congressional districts. In a notice of appeal filed Friday with the 1st District Court of Appeal, the groups, which include the League of Women Voters of Florida, also said they were giving up on having the lines changed in time for this year’s congressional elections. That had emerged as a major flashpoint in the battle between the Republican-led Legislature and the voting groups about whether congressional districts violated the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010. In July, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found that a congressional map approved by lawmakers in 2012 violated the constitutional requirements. That led lawmakers to hold a special legislative session and redraw portions of the map. Lewis upheld the new map, despite arguments from the voting groups that it continued to violate the constitution.

Editorials: What if Alabama elected multiple congressmen per district? A radical reform proposal | Brendan Kirby/

No one would dispute that Alabama is a Republican-leaning state, but an electoral reform group contends the current voting system distorts GOP dominance. Presently, six of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Republican. But the state is not 85 percent Republican. The Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy, in an analysis of the upcoming 2014 election issued last month, puts the Republican percentage at 63 percent. In “Monopoly Politics 2014 and the Fair Voting Solution,” the center details how gerrymandered districts and winner-take-all elections have reduced the number of competitive districts across the country to a handful. The group also argues that the system encourages polarization and increases the number of voters with virtually no chance of electing representatives of their choice. “In contrast, fair representation voting systems provide nearly everyone with a real chance to elect a preferred candidate in every election and make it likely that large groups of like-minded voters (those who vote for similar candidates) will win seats in proportion to their share of the vote,” the report states.

National: Ballot initiatives become pricey playgrounds of parties and corporations | The Washington Post

In a midterm election season when control of the United States Senate hangs in the balance, Democrats are increasingly turning to ballot measures to get otherwise reluctant voters to the polls. Big Business is, too: Some of the most expensive races in the country this year will be ballot measures written by, and for, major corporations. Some the hardest-fought ballot battles of 2014 won’t involve candidates at all. They’ll be questions that come with big implications for corporate bottom lines — or promise big benefits to political strategists, especially Democrats, looking to drive turnout for other races. For the first time in history, spending on the approximately 125 ballot questions facing voters in 41 states is likely to top $1 billion in campaign spending this year — and perhaps much more: Oil and gas companies in Alaska spent more than $170 for every vote they won in a successful campaign to reject higher taxes earlier this month.

Missouri: Recount requested on Missouri right to farm | Associated Press

Election officials across Missouri will conduct a recount of the narrow passage of a constitutional amendment creating a right to farm, as opponents of the measure seek to reverse the results. The recount on Constitutional Amendment 1 is expected to begin in the coming days. The secretary of state on Monday was officially certifying the results of Missouri’s Aug. 5 primary elections. Those results show that voters approved the right-to-farm amendment by a margin of 2,490 votes out of nearly 1 million cast, a victory of one-quarter of a percentage point. Missouri law allows the losers to request a recount whenever the margin of victory is less than one-half of a percentage point. The amendment makes farming and ranching official constitutional rights, similar to existing protections for the freedoms of speech and religion. Missouri is just the second state, after North Dakota, to adopt such a measure.

Connecticut: Partisan Clash Over Easing Connecticut’s Voting Rules | Hartford Courant

How and when people should be allowed to vote has become a highly partisan issue around the United States in recent years, and Connecticut’s turn is now arriving smack in the middle of a heated political campaign season. Democratic and Republican state lawmakers squared off Wednesday at a legislative meeting over the seemingly innocuous issue of how to explain to voters a proposed state constitutional amendment that’s on the ballot this November. The real debate wasn’t about the wording, but about the proposed amendment itself, one that would remove current restrictions on the General Assembly’s ability to allow things like early voting and “no excuse” absentee ballots. Republicans insist the change could lead to more voter fraud, but Democrats say all they want to do is make it easier for people to vote.

Editorials: Turkey’s presidential elections: What is at stake? | A Kadir Yildirim/Al Jazeera

There is little doubt that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan will win the upcoming presidential elections. His lead in the most recent public opinions polls is at least in double digits. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu was fielded as a joint candidate for the two largest opposition parties, centre-left People’s Republican Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The third candidate is Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the Kurdish nationalist People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Despite the fact that this is the first election in which the president will be elected by popular vote, following a constitutional amendment in 2007,enthusiasm for it is running fairly low. This election offers the Turkish voter the choice of two different models of presidency, where one would imply a de facto change in the system of governance. The election of either Ihsanoglu or Demirtas would maintain the fairly symbolic presidency in a parliamentary system. By contrast, Erdogan’s election will turn it into a semi-presidential one. In recent remarks, Erdogan clearly expressed his preference for an active presidency: “A president elected by the people cannot be like the previous ones. As the head of the executive, the president uses all his constitutional powers. If I am elected president, I will also use all of them. I won’t be a president of protocol.” Erdogan certainly has some room to do that within the current constitutional provisions that determine the powers of the presidency. The concern, however, is that Erdogan is adamant about politicising the role of the president; as he himself said: he “won’t be an impartial president”. What is at stake?

Missouri: Early voting initiative may miss Missouri ballot | Associated Press

A Missouri proposal to create one of the most expansive early voting periods in the nation appears to have fallen short of reaching the November ballot, according to an Associated Press analysis of initiative petition signatures. The AP review of signature counts conducted by Missouri’s local election authorities found that the proposed constitutional amendment on early voting lacks enough valid signatures of registered voters in all but two of the state’s eight congressional districts. To qualify for the ballot, initiatives must get signatures equal 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in at least six of the congressional districts. Missouri currently allows absentee voting only in limited circumstances when people attest that they won’t be able to vote in person on Election Day. The initiative proposed a 42-day, no-excuse-needed early voting period that would have been one of the longest in the nation and also would have allowed votes to be cast on weekends.

Montana: For first time since ‘72, no initiatives make ballot | The Montana Standard

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said Monday that no citizen initiatives obtained enough voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. That’s the first time that’s happened in more than four decades. “We haven’t had a general election ballot without a citizen initiative on the ballot since 1972,” McCulloch said. “That’s the same year voters approved the current Montana Constitution.” To place a statutory initiative for the ballot requires the signatures of 5 percent of the total registered Montana voters or 24,175 signatures, including those of 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts. Qualifying a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot takes the signatures of 10 percent of the total registered voters or 48,349 signatures, including 10 percent of the voters in 40 of the 100 state House districts. McCulloch attributed the failure of groups to qualify initiatives to one factor. “Absentee voting has probably changed things,” McCulloch said. “Signature gatherers usually set up shop outside polling places for school and primary elections, and now there just aren’t as many people around to sign the petitions.”

California: Plan to split California into six states could end up on 2016 ballot | The Guardian

One billionaire’s plan to divide California into six states might actually make an appearance on the ballot in 2016. Clad in a tie depicting his vision for a divided state, venture capitalist Tim Draper on Tuesday delivered 1.3m signatures to Sacramento, the state’s current capital. That exceeds the state’s 807,615 signature requirement for getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot, though officials will still have to determine the validity of those signatures. Draper, who recently purchased 29,656 bitcoins in a government auction, said that he wants the state divided into six separate entities, each with their own constitutions, governments and, presumably, flags. He believes that dividing the state into six parts would solve California’s problems and lead to greater accountability.

Florida: Ruling That Rejects 2 Districts’ Borders Casts Haze Over Coming Elections | New York Times

After political operatives helped redraw the boundaries of Florida’s Fifth Congressional District, now held by Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat, it snaked all the way from Jacksonville to Orlando, packing in more Democrats, but also benefiting Republicans in nearby districts. In a similar process in the 10th District, in the Orlando suburb of Winter Garden, an “appendage” was tacked on benefiting the incumbent, Representative Daniel Webster, a Republican. On Thursday night in a scathing decision, a state court judge tossed aside those district lines, saying they “made a mockery” of a voter-approved amendment meant to inject fairness into a process that has long been politically tainted. But Judge Terry P. Lewis’s blistering attack offered no remedy or timetable for fixing the boundaries. With Florida’s primary election only six weeks away, it is unclear whether voters will cast ballots on Aug. 26 and then on Nov. 4 based on a map that a judge has declared unconstitutional — or whether changes, if they withstand appeal, will be postponed until 2016.