The court ruling that invalidated Florida’s congressional districts this week will give voters in November’s elections something they are used to: uncertainty. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Legislature’s 2012 congressional map and specifically ordered two of the state’s 27 districts redrawn to comply with the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, should see her sprawling district become more compact and follow traditional political boundaries, Lewis ruled. And U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, should have his Orlando-based district revamped to eliminate the partisan advantage that came when lawmakers swapped out Hispanic Democrats for white Republicans. Among the harsh criticism Lewis directed at the Republican-controlled Legislature was that they allowed “improper partisan intent” to infiltrate the redistricting process and seemingly ignored evidence that partisan political operatives were “making a mockery” out of their attempts to conduct themselves with transparency.
Missouri’s Aug. 5 elections could provide a case study for the ability of governors to affect proposed ballot measures, both politically and legally. Five proposed constitutional amendments will go before voters this summer, instead of during the November elections, because of a decision by Gov. Jay Nixon. The governor’s prerogative is provided for in the Missouri Constitution and has been used by many chief executives over the years to shift measures off the general election ballot and on to the August primaries. Those decisions can carry political consequences and, as a recent court ruling has shown, may also have legal implications. The political ramifications are perhaps best illustrated by proposed Constitutional Amendment 1, which seeks to create a right to farm similar to what already exists with the rights of free speech, assembly and religion.
Ohio: ‘Voters Bill of Rights’ effort misses July deadline, will continue to collect signatures | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Supporters of a “Voters Bill of Rights” constitutional amendment won’t attempt to put the issue on the ballot this November but plan to continue collecting signatures for a future November ballot. Amendment supporters had to collect roughly 385,000 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters by July 2 for the amendment to appear on the November ballot. The group has been collecting signatures since March, but were more than 200,000 signatures short. State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat leading the group, said the all-volunteer effort has collected about 100,000 signatures in less than 90 days on a “shoestring budget.” Signatures that have been collected will still count toward the group’s final total.
With absentee voting already underway for the August election, a Missouri judge is considering whether to strike down the ballot summaries prepared for voters on proposed constitutional amendments addressing gun rights and transportation taxes. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem heard arguments Thursday on lawsuits claiming that the summaries prepared by the Republican-led Legislature are insufficient because they don’t mention some aspects of the measures. The lawsuit against the transportation sales tax also challenges the official financial summary, which states that it would generate $480 million annually for the state and $54 million for local governments. If Beetem rejects the ballot summaries, he could write new ones, which could invalidate any votes already cast under the current summaries. If he were to strike down the summaries without writing replacements, the measures could effectively be knocked off the ballot because the Legislature is not in session to be able to approve new wording.
Every 10 years after a census, political lines are redrawn nationally to reapportion congressional seats based on population. Growing states, like Florida, may pick up a congressional seat or two at a cost to other states. Such was the case in 2012. In Florida, the Legislature draws the lines for its own districts as well as those for the growing congressional delegation. While we would like to believe these lines would be drawn fairly and without regard to protecting incumbents, rewarding favorites and growing representation by the majority party, there’s reason to question the outcomes of previous efforts under both parties. Attempts to move redistricting responsibility from the hands of legislators to independent or bipartisan committees, as in seven other states, haven’t gained traction. Frustrated by what they viewed as an incestuous arrangement, citizens and voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, led the effort to place a pair of constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to consider.
An unusual move by Illinois election officials has injected new controversy into a fight over who wields the crucial power of drawing Illinois’ political maps, with supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment complaining that insiders are undermining their efforts. The political intrigue was heightened when the state elections board abruptly decided to overrule its own hearing officer and shorten a key deadline for those seeking to prove the proposal has enough valid signatures to be placed on the statewide ballot in November.
Florida: Voting-rights groups blast Legislature for secrecy, favoritism in drawing congressional districts | Florida Times-Union
A state judge has the power to decide that Florida’s congressional districts were illegally drawn to favor Republicans — and he should do just that, a coalition of voting-rights organizations argues in written closing arguments. In arguing that the districts violate a voter-approved Constitutional amendment specifically prohibiting such political favoritism, the plaintiffs fired a volley of salvos following 12 days of testimony in a landmark trial. “The 2012 congressional plan is exactly what one would expect from a legislature that fought the Fair Districts amendments at every hedgerow, involved partisan operatives in its decision-making, and made key decisions outside of the public eye,” the plaintiffs wrote to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
Another vote, another advisory referendum. The Nov. 4 ballot seems to be getting bulkier and bulkier for every day the General Assembly remains in session this spring. On Thursday, the Senate ignored GOP charges of election-year “gimmickry” and approved two ballot questions, sending one to Gov. Pat Quinn for final approval and the other back to the Illinois House. By a 33-17 vote, the Senate approved legislation that would put a non-binding referendum on the fall ballot that would ask whether voters favor imposing an additional 3-percent tax on millionaires with money raised going toward public schools. “I’m not a biblical scholar, but I remember from my childhood and Sunday school: ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’” said Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, the millionaire-tax bill’s chief Senate sponsor.
An early voting measure Missouri lawmakers endorsed could wind up competing on the ballot with a more expansive version proposed through a petition drive. The constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature would allow ballots to be cast on six business days ending the Wednesday before an election. In-person ballots would be cast during the regular business hours of local election officials, who would be barred from activities or incurring expenses for early voting unless funding is included in the state budget. The measure states its provisions could not be repealed or invalidated by another constitutional amendment unless that measure specifically references them.
A bid to change the Illinois constitution to take political mapmaking out of the hands of state lawmakers faces trouble after state election authorities Tuesday found less than half of the signatures gathered by supporters on petitions were valid. In a sampling of 5 percent of the total signatures submitted to the State Board of Elections, only 46 percent were deemed legible and from registered voters by state election officials, said Rupert Borgsmiller, the election board’s executive director. That validity rate, if applied as the law allows to the 507,467 signatures gathered by those advocating for a depoliticized mapmaking process, would leave the movement well short of the 298,400-signature threshold they need to get their constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. In order to qualify for the ballot, based on the total number of signatures filed, those in the independent mapmaking movement would need a validity rate of about 59 percent.
An early voting measure Missouri lawmakers endorsed Wednesday could wind up competing on the ballot with a more expansive version proposed through a petition drive. The constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature would allow ballots to be cast on six business days ending the Wednesday before an election. In-person ballots would be cast during the regular business hours of local election officials, who would be barred from activities or incurring expenses for early voting unless funding is included in the state budget. The measure states its provisions could not be repealed or invalidated by another constitutional amendment unless that measure specifically references them. The Legislature’s approval means it will appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Jay Nixon sets a different election date.
Missouri voters could cast ballots during several weekdays before Election Day under an early voting measure endorsed Tuesday by the state Senate. The proposed constitutional amendment approved by senators would allow ballots to be cast on six business days ending the Wednesday before the election. In-person ballots would be cast during the regular business hours of local election officials, who could not take any action or incur expenses for early voting unless funding was included in the state budget.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are introducing separate bills to provide a means for filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office. Currently, the state code fails to address the situation. One bill would mandate a special election to fill the office; the other bill would allow the governor to appoint the replacement. The gap in the code came to light after Lt. Gov. Matt Denn announced he would run for state attorney general this fall. If he wins, the lieutenant governor’s office would be vacant for two years. Republican leaders are calling for a state constitutional amendment to mandate that any such vacancy be filled through a special election, according to a news release. State Rep. Deborah Hudson, House Minority Whip, said the measure should be non-partisan. “A vacancy can occur when a member of any party occupies the office,” she said. “Vacancies in the General Assembly are filled through special elections and that process favors no party. Candidates step to the forefront, run a race, and the people decide. What’s the argument against using the democratic process?”
Missouri Republicans are working to ensure that if the state adopts early voting, it’s as limited—and inconvenient—as possible. On Wednesday, the state’s GOP-controlled House approved a measure that would ask voters to consider amending the state’s constitution to establish early voting. But under the amendment, the early voting period would last just nine days, ending a full week before Election Day, and would not include Sunday voting. In other states, Sunday voting is especially popular with African-American voters who often vote en masse after church. … But some Democrats say it’s designed to head off a Democratic-backed campaign that would put a different constitutional amendment on the ballot, allowing for six weeks of early voting, including three Saturdays and three Sundays. As such, they say, it aims to do almost as little as possible to make voting easier for working Missourians.
Editorials: Let’s Settle This Once and for All: D.C. Statehood Is Constitutional. Period. | Joan Shipps/Huffington Post
On April 16th, D.C.-based voting rights activists plan to meet with Congressional offices to encourage support for D.C. statehood. Statehood advocates are calling on Congress to cosponsor, hold hearings on, and vote for the New Columbia Admission Act — legislation that would grant full citizenship rights to the disenfranchised residents of Washington, D.C. In anticipation of Wednesday’s lobby day on the Hill, I feel compelled to go on record about the constitutionality of statehood for the citizens of D.C. That D.C. statehood is unconstitutional is the single most common misconception I hear when discussing D.C. governance with Congressional staff and opponents of D.C. voting rights generally. So let me be absolutely clear on this issue: Statehood for the residents of D.C. is Constitutional. Now here’s why. The D.C. statehood bill does two things, both of which have precedent without any constitutional amendments.
Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly are mounting a two-pronged effort to make voting more difficult for certain citizens, who are most likely to be elderly, low-income, students or minorities. They’re not even subtle about it. On one front, the annual effort to require voters to produce government-issued photo identification at the polls is moving quickly. If the Senate votes in favor, a resolution seeking a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification will be headed for the November ballot. A separate effort, endorsed Wednesday by the House, is a pre-emptive strike against a citizen-initiated ballot proposal to finally get early voting in Missouri. In a show of pettiness, the House budget even deletes $79,900 in funding for a special unit of the secretary of state’s office that investigates allegations of election improprieties. The elections integrity unit is a more effective and less expensive way to ensure that elections work well than a cumbersome voter ID law. Created by Secretary of State Jason Kander, it follows up on complaints and suspected problems. The intent is not only to look out for the slim prospect that an ineligible citizen may try to cast a ballot, but to make sure that the process of voting works well for citizens who are eligible.
The Republican-controlled Missouri House endorsed a pair of measures Wednesday that would expand early voting, though Democratic critics called it a “sham” that could circumvent a separate voting initiative that would go further. Missourians currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, including if they will be out of town on Election Day. The proposal that won first-round approval Wednesday would send a constitutional amendment to the ballot allowing early voting for nine days and ending the week before the election. Companion legislation would call for polls to be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday for four hours.
A House committee tried a last ditch effort to restore voting rights for former felons by attaching a version of House Bill 70 to a Senate bill that was dying in the House. Senate Bill 58 proposes a constitutional amendment that would give most felons who have completed their sentences their voting rights back immediately when their sentences are finished and they are no longer on probation or parole. It would, however, allow the legislature to enact through statute a waiting period of up to three years. The bill passed the House by an 85-13 vote and now goes to the Senate. “This is a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who favors the bill.
Strong opposition to requiring at least a 20 percent voter turnout for an election for a property or sales tax to pass wasn’t enough to kill it. With only the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry for it and numerous groups like the Louisiana Municipal Association and Louisiana School Boards Association against it, SB200 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, survived the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee when Chairman Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, voted to create a 5-5 tie. That vote left the bill in committee to be heard later. “I’m talking about a higher standard,” Allain said. “These are tax elections where they’re taking people’s money.”
An early voting initiative petition is prompting a Missouri lawmaker to propose another version that could lead to voters deciding between competing plans. A House committee last week endorsed a constitutional amendment and companion legislation that would establish an early voting period. That comes as the Missouri Early Voting Fund is using professional petition circulators and volunteers to gather thousands of required signatures from registered voters in hopes of getting its proposal on this year’s ballot. The campaign treasurer for the initiative campaign is a former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster. The initiative petition would allow early voting for six weeks and require that officials accommodate early voting on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections. The proposal in the legislature calls for nine days of early voting and depends upon lawmakers to approve funding.
Illinois voters this fall will get to decide a pair of constitutional amendments on ballot protections and crime victim rights. The Senate voted today to put both questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposed constitutional amendment to protect voter rights says no person should be denied registration and voting rights based on race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, language or income.
Add Illinois to the list of states where voting rights could be on the ballot this fall. Land of Lincoln lawmakers are advancing a bill that would put a proposed constitutional amendment on voting rights before the state’s voters in November. The Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly passed the measure Tuesday afternoon with strong Republican support, and it’s expected to pass the Senate, which also is run by Democrats. If approved by voters this November, the proposal would add to the state’s constitution an affirmative right to register and vote. Illinois joins Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and California, all of which may ask voters to weigh in on the issue of access to the ballot in November. But while Illinoisans and Ohioans may be considering efforts to protect the franchise, voters in those other four states could be mulling whether to impose new restrictions.
Buoyed by bipartisan support, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan to amend the Illinois Constitution to ban voter suppression overwhelmingly passed the Illinois House Tuesday. The measure, which needed 71 votes to pass, cleared the House on a 109-5 roll call and now moves to the Senate. “The intent of this constitutional amendment is to provide in Illinois, constitutionally, that voter-suppression laws would not be permitted,” said Madigan, D-Chicago. “Some might say, ‘Well, today in Illinois, you don’t need this. Voter suppression wouldn’t happen in Illinois.’ “We don’t know that,” Madigan continued. “We don’t know what the future holds. What we do know is we can constitutionalize the protection of the right to vote.”
A top Republican legislator added his name Friday to a Democratic push to guarantee voting rights for minorities, women and gays and lesbians in the Illinois Constitution, but it wasn’t clear whether his Senate counterpart is fully on board with the plan. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, backed House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, in his effort to expand voter protection for Illinois citizens. HJRCA52, the proposed amendment sponsored by Madigan that advanced out of a House committee earlier this week, says that no person can be denied the right to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income or status as a member of a language minority.
The passions have cooled from Minnesota’s direct democracy trial of 2012, when the hot issues of gay marriage and voter ID were put to voters, and some legislators are now taking a critical look at the machinery that allowed that to happen. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and veteran Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, want to make it harder for the Legislature to run to the voters with partisan, emotional issues, and risk permanently enshrining today’s popular opinion into the state Constitution. “I feel very strongly about it,” said Bakk, a former union official who worries that a right-to-work policy, which unions see as a threat to the standard of living, could be pushed into the Constitution by a future GOP-controlled Legislature. “To the extent that I can put something in the way to make it a little more difficult for one party to put something on the ballot, it will make me more comfortable when I leave,” Bakk said.
Ohio: Voter Bill of Rights petition language approved, moves to Ballot Board for review | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohioans pushing to enshrine state voting laws into the Ohio Constitution moved one step closer to putting the issue on the November ballot. Attorney General Mike DeWine certified on Monday petition language to add a Voters Bill of Rights to the Ohio Constitution. DeWine rejected the initial language in February because two of the rights conflicted with federal election law. “Without passing upon the advisability of the approval or rejection of the measure to be referred,…I hereby certify that the summary is a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment,” DeWine stated in a letter to the petitioners. The Ohio Ballot Board will meet 9 a.m. Thursday in the Finan Finance Room of the Statehouse to determine whether the proposed amendment contains more than one amendment.
The question of whether voters should have to carry a photo ID to the polls could be decided on the ballot in 2014. The Missouri House on Thursday approved measures to require photo identification, but the changes to the state’s constitution require approval by voters. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he would like to put the issue to a vote of the people. Proponents of a requirement that voters present a photo ID or cast a provisional ballot argue it will increase the integrity of the election process. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, sponsored the constitutional amendment. “We deserve the protection of photo identification at the moment the vote is cast,” Cox said. But opponents point out there has not been a documented case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri in years.
Imagine if two-thirds of people living in Lexington just disappeared. Their houses sat empty, their jobs unfilled and taxes unpaid. When it comes to our country’s most basic democratic right — voting — that is what’s happening today. Nearly 200,000 Kentuckians living and working in our communities cannot vote because of antiquated laws excluding them from our democracy. When someone is convicted of a felony, they can never vote again unless the governor individually allows them to do so. It does not matter how long ago the crime was, how old the person was when he did it or how long he has been living productively among friends and neighbors. This year, the legislature, and every citizen, had a chance to change that, but it looks as if the Kentucky Senate is squandering that opportunity. The legislature is considering House Bill 70, which would allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights for people with criminal convictions who have fully completed their sentences.
Concerned about the coming wave of restrictive voting laws in their state, black Ohio leaders are working to get a “Voters’ Bill of Rights” on the ballot this fall. But the state’s top legal official, a Republican, is putting obstacles in their path. And some voting law experts suggest he’s twisting the law to do so. Ohio remains the single most pivotal state for presidential elections, so its rules for voting could well have major national implications come 2016. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) wants a constitutional amendment that would declare voting “a fundamental right,” expand early voting, and make it harder to use challenges to disqualify ballots, among other measures. The effort is a response to an aggressive push by state Republican lawmakers to make voting more difficult. Bills that would cut early voting, end same-day registration, and make it harder to get an absentee ballot are likely to pass the GOP-controlled legislature in the coming weeks. There is no explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution—an omission some lawmakers want to fix.
A proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting infringement on a political party’s right to nominate candidates for public office could be on the November election ballot. Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is sponsoring the measure to counter the Count My Vote initiative to replace Utah’s unique caucus and convention system with direct primaries, which might also be on the ballot this fall. Also, the Senate scheduled a floor debate on SB54 — legislation that would allow parties to avoid direct primaries — for 11 a.m. Thursday. Jenkins sees his resolution, SJR15, as complementary to the bill but also an attempt to thwart the Count My Vote effort. The group must gather more than 100,000 signatures to put its measure before voters in November.