Ohio: Attorney General Mike DeWine rejects petition for Voter’s Bill of Rights referendum | cleveland.com

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Thursday rejected a Democratic-backed petition for a statewide referendum on a Voters Bill of Rights, saying proponents’ summary language was misleading. Proponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, which include the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, say they plan to move quickly to submit new summary language along with another 1,000 signatures as a first step toward putting the measure on the November ballot. In a release, DeWine said the summary language, which would describe the proposed amendment to voters, ran afoul of federal law in two places.

Missouri: Voter ID rules pass House committee on party-line vote | Columbia Daily Tribune

The House Elections Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to approve two proposals requiring voters to show government-issued identification before casting ballots. The identical 8-4 votes showed that no Republicans have waivered in their support of the proposals and Democrats remained solidly against them. The votes approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to require identification and a bill to enact the requirements themselves. The committee rejected an amendment to allow college students to use their school-issued identification when they vote. The bill establishing the requirement would allow only Missouri driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards or other state or federally issued identification that includes a photo and an expiration date. The measures now move to the Republican-dominated House for debate.

Maine: House OKs early-voting measure | The Morning Sentinel

The House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday to allow an enhanced early-voting system in Maine, but the 92-56 vote was several short of the two-thirds margin that will be needed for final passage. The bill, L.D. 156, sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, would change the Maine Constitution to give cities and towns the option of allowing in-person voting before Election Day. It does not specify how long before Election Day voting could take place. The same bill received majority votes in the House and Senate last year, but fell short of the two-thirds margin in both chambers. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, held the bill before it failed final passage last year and brought it back for the current session.

Missouri: GOP wants to change Missouri constitution for voter ID | MSNBC

The nationwide fight over voter ID laws is heading next to the Show Me State. Missouri Republicans are working to amend their state’s constitution as part of an aggressive push to require photo identification at the polls. The GOP-controlled legislature held a hearing Monday on two voter ID bills. One would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November, which, if approved by voters, would allow for a voter ID law. The second bill, to go into effect only if the amendment passes, would impose voter ID. The two-pronged approach is needed because of a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling which found that voter ID laws violate the state constitution’s guarantee of a right to vote. A Pennsylvania judge this month struck down that state’s ID law on similar grounds.

Editorials: An interesting effort to expand ballot access in New Hampshire | Concord Monitor

State politicians across the country, including in New Hampshire, have spent the past few years debating a variety of ways to limit access to the ballot box – various forms of voter ID requirements, limiting hours and polling places, changing same-day registration rules and more. That context makes it all the more encouraging that there are two state legislators in New Hampshire actually working in the opposite direction: a plan to expand access to the voting booth. When the Legislature returns in January, one of the proposals on their agenda will be a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by November to vote in that year’s primary elections. The idea sounds sort of random until you think about it a bit: The target audience are those teenagers who will have the right to vote in November but – without the change – get no say in whose names appear on that general election ballot. If you consider party primary elections part of that year’s total election process, why not let them participate in the entire operation?

Florida: Oops! Lawmakers destroyed redistricting records | Orlando Sentinel

n new court filings, House and Senate Republican leaders are conceding they deleted records related to the 2012 re-drawing of congressional and legislative maps. The voting-rights groups — including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and individual voters — challenging Florida’s re-drawn congressional maps notified a Leon County court Wednesday that they intended to place House and Senate officials under oath to find out what documents were destroyed and why. “The admission that redistricting records were destroyed should have Florida voters up in arms,” League President Deirdre Macnab said in a statement. But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, shot back that the “accusation that the Florida House … thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false.” “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents,” Weatherford said. “They should know better.”

Texas: Low Turnout or Bad Law?: Voter ID Effects Uncertain: Turnout boost heaviest in counties with local referendums | The Austin Chronicle

The turnout numbers from the Nov. 5 election recall the gnomic phrases of former Defense Department Sec. Donald Rumsfeld trying to explain what went wrong in Iraq. There are the “known knowns” – how many people turned up to vote, and how they voted. There are the “known unknowns” – how many people had trouble voting because of the state’s stringent new voter ID law. And then there are the “unknown unknowns”: What kept 91.5% of Texans away from the polls, and what role did that law play? The answers to the latter could become exhibit A in the ongoing federal legal challenges to the Texas rules. This was the first election under the new photo ID law passed in 2011. Republicans and statewide officials pointed out that, with 1,144,844 ballots cast statewide, turnout was actually higher than in the last two constitutional elections: 2009 (1,058,986 votes cast) and 2011 (690,052). On Oct. 25, Secretary of State John Steen issued a press release noting that, in the first four days of early voting, almost 95,000 Texans had cast a ballot in the state’s 15 largest counties. “That is more than double the 45,379 voters who voted at the same point in 2011, the most recent constitutional amendment election.”

Azerbaijan: The Challenges of Electoral Competition in an Oil Rich State | Washington Post

Azerbaijanis will go the polls on Oct. 9 in an atmosphere marked by a general sense of fear combined with deep apathy. Although there were signs of discontent earlier this year with a riot in a provincial town  – as well as occasional unsanctioned opposition rallies in the capital Baku – these expressions of discontent with corruption and power abuse as well as grievances over rising material inequalities did not develop into a sustained popular mobilization movement. Most experts predict that the outcome of the upcoming vote is predetermined in favor of the incumbent president, Illham Aliyev, who has been in office for 10 years already. If elected, this will be his third term – a term made possible through a controversial 2009 constitutional amendment. What makes President Aliyev’s reelection an almost foregone conclusion is a reflection of the resources held by the current regime, the uncompetitive nature of the electoral process, and repression and intimidation used against regime critics.

Florida: State Supreme Court Gets Redistricting Case | The Ledger

A coalition of voting-rights groups trying to get lawmakers to testify about the 2012 redistricting process asked a skeptical Supreme Court on Monday to rule that legislators should not be shielded from speaking in court. Those challenging new district maps under the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” state constitutional amendments are appealing a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that prevents the legislators who drew the districts from having to testify about “objective” facts about the redistricting process. The Supreme Court has no definitive timeline for ruling on the question. A lower court had initially ruled that the lawmakers should have to testify, though the trial court didn’t order lawmakers to testify about “subjective” issues, like why they made certain decisions.

Arizona: Rep. Matt Salmon Proposes Term Limits Constitutional Amendment | Politix

Rep. Matt Salmon, who stuck to his term limits pledge for his first House stint, is proposing a constitutional amendment the limit the length of lawmakers’ time in office. The Arizona Republican has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to impose strict term limits on Congress. The measure would prohibit the route Salmon took in his political career. No one could return to Washington after meeting the limit of terms, even if they sat out for a few years. Salmon was elected to three terms, beginning in 1994. He abided by his self-imposed term limits pledge and retired after the 2000 elections. In the interim Salmon ran for governor in 2002, losing narrowly, and later served as chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, among other roles.

Editorials: Citizens United poised to destroy judicial impartiality | James Nelson/The Missoulian

Sen. Jon Tester recently introduced a proposed federal constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood rights, overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The utility of such an amendment may be debated, since Citizens United was based on First Amendment free speech law, not referring to corporate personhood as a basis for the decision. Citizens United ushered in the unprecedented use of dark, institutional mega-money to influence elections and, effectively, silence voices of individual small contributors and ordinary voters. The Supreme Court’s approach and subsequent court cases have chipped away at contribution limits by individuals, corporations, unions, special interests groups, “non profits” and trade associations. This has resulted in millions of dollars pouring into elections with little or no disclosure of the source of funding and with little, if any, accountability for truth and accuracy of their messages. Candidates are being “marketed” to voters in the same fashion that fast food and frozen vegetables are hawked to consumers.

Cambodia: Hun Sen May Force End to Election Deadlock | Wall Street Journal

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday he would push to form a new government even if the opposition tries to block the process, suggesting that his party could force an end to a standoff over disputed election results. His Cambodian People’s Party and the country’s main opposition group are currently deadlocked with competing claims to victory in Sunday’s vote—an impasse that some political observers fear could last for months and delay the formation of a new parliament and government. But Mr. Hun Sen, already prime minister for 28 years, insisted that his party had enough lawmakers—after preliminary results show it won 68 out of 123 parliamentary seats—to form a new government. His comments contradict claims by some legal experts who say the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which won 55 seats in the initial count, could block a new parliament by declining to take its seats. “We only need 63 seats to form a government,” said Mr. Hun Sen, 60 years old, while visiting farmers in Kandal province, which surrounds the capital, Phnom Penh.

Arizona: Senator begins campaign to counter election referendum | Havasu News

Calling a referendum drive misleading, a state senator has launched a campaign to keep voters from overturning extensive changes to voting laws made by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, wants to collect funds to counter the petition drive that would force a public vote on the provisions of HB 2305. The provisions range from allowing election officials to stop sending early ballots to some voters, to putting potential new legal hurdles in the path of people who want to propose their own state laws and constitutional amendments. Reagan said each of the sections helps ensure the integrity and fairness of elections.

Florida: State Supreme Court rules against Legislature in redistricting case | Tampa Bay Times

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday handed a legal setback to the state Legislature, ruling that a legal challenge to the remapping of Senate districts can go forward in a lower court. The 5-2 decision is a victory for the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is seeking to prove that the GOP Senate majority drew districts in violation of the two “fair districts” amendments to the state Constitution that prohibit favoritism toward incumbents or political parties. The Legislature was seeking a “writ of prohibition” from the state’s highest court, based on the argument that the Supreme Court has “exclusive jurisdiction” over any redistricting challenge. Had the court adopted that view, it would have short-circuited the legal action by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the National Council of La Raza and seven individually-named voters. The 47-page opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente,rejected the Legislature’s arguments on at least six separate grounds. Justices said their initial 30-day review of the maps in 2012, as required by the Constitution, was a “facial” review based on limited evidence before the court. “Our facial review left open the possibility of future fact-intensive claims and did not preclude the future discovery or development of evidence,” Pariente wrote.

Wisconsin: Fewer elections for top court would restore civility, public trust, special task force says | Wisconsin State Journal

Limiting Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to a single 16-year term would help restore public confidence in a court whose image has been battered by increasingly savage political campaigns fueled by a rising tide of money, a special task force of attorneys says. The state Bar of Wisconsin panel wants to see a constitutional amendment introduced this fall to change the system that allows justices to run for unlimited 10-year terms, said Joe Troy, a former circuit judge who led an 18-month study that resulted in the proposal. “The campaigns have become so brutal,” Troy said. “The sitting justice is attacked and demeaned, and the challenger is attacked and demeaned. The public sees that and thinks we must not have very good justices.” The proposed term limits aren’t a cure-all, but they would help restore public trust in the system, Troy said. “No justice, once elected, would ever be elected again,” Troy said. “The perception that they are there serving the people (with money) who put them there, or they are worried about the next election, that’s just not going to happen.”

Voting Blogs: Supreme Court Decision Strengthens “Elections Clause” of U.S. Constitution | Ballot Access News

On June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Arizona v Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, 12-71. The most important consequence of this decision is that the Elections Clause in Article One of the U.S. Constitution has been strengthened. The “Elections Clause” only relates to Congressional elections. It says, “Section 4. The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”

National: Congressmen: You have no right to vote | Philadelphia Inquirer

Two members of the House of Representatives insist the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you the right to vote—and one leading fact-checking group says they may be correct, on a technicality. Mark Pocan, a representative from Wisconsin, has joined with Keith Ellison from Minnesota to introduce a new constitutional amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives that guarantees everyone 18 years and older the right to vote in elections. The folks at PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize–winning website in Florida, evaluated Pocan’s statement on the House floor that “nothing in the Constitution explicitly guarantees our right to vote.”

National: Mark Pocan’s voting rights amendment stirs up progressive blogosphere | The Cap Times

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, aimed high with his first bill as a member of Congress: a constitutional amendment establishing the right to vote. As I explained in a recent post, the amendment may sound superfluous but legal scholars acknowledge that the right to vote is not currently guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and adding language to that effect could impact laws that affect voting, such as voter ID. The bill may have little chance of advancing in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, but it is getting attention — for all it’s worth — from progressives across the country.

Virginia: Panel announces findings on restoring voting rights of former felons | The Washington Post

A Virginia committee announced options Tuesday for streamlining the restoration of former felons’ voting rights, including actions the governor and legislature could take now to advance the process. The possibilities, the committee said, include recruiting ex-felons who have not applied for restoration, partnering with private groups to expedite applications and creating a state agency to speed up the review and approval process. Under the Virginia Constitution, the only way for felons to regain their voting rights is to seek restoration, in writing, from the governor. Attempts to amend the constitution to make the process automatic have proved unsuccessful for more than 30 years. Voting rights and civil rights advocates have called on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and other governors to restore the rights of some former felons automatically through executive order.

National: Congressmen Propose Constitutional Amendment To Block Voting Rights Challenges | TPM

A pair of Democratic congressmen is pushing an amendment that would place an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. According to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the amendment would protect voters from what he described as a “systematic” push to “restrict voting access” through voter ID laws, shorter early voting deadlines, and other measures that are being proposed in many states. “Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

Arizona: Lawmakers propose more requirements to put referendums on ballots | East Valley Tribune

A senate panel voted Wednesday to throw some additional hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to write their own laws.
Existing law already has a set of requirements for putting a measure on the ballot to propose a new statute or constitutional amendment. These include for who can circulate petitions, what has to be on each page and how many names can be on each sheet. SB 1493 adds some new ones, including a mandate to organize petition sheets by county of residence of signers, by the circulator on that signature sheet, and by the name of the person who notarized each. But the real change is that the legislation says that both election officials and courts, in reviewing the validity of petitions, must void those that are not in “strict compliance” with all legal requirements. That change is significant.

Connecticut: State House calls for constitutional amendment to expand voting options | The Day

The state House of Representatives has passed a joint resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that people vote in person on Election Day. The resolution passed by a 90-49 vote, with 12 members absent. It goes next to the Senate and then to a public vote in the 2014 election. Currently, the state constitution exempts people from voting in person if they are out of town on Election Day, are sick, have a physical disability or hold religious tenets that prohibit voting on Election Day. The only alternative to voting in person is by absentee ballot.

Florida: Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting | Miami Herald

Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter who became a symbol of Florida’s elections woes, could again find it tough to cast a ballot now that the Republican-controlled state Senate voted Tuesday to keep a crack down on foreign-language interpreters at the polls. The Senate maintained the last-minute measure on what appeared to be a party-line voice vote while debating a bill designed to reverse the effects of an election law that helped create long lines and suppress the vote in 2012. On Election Day at Victor’s polling station, there weren’t enough interpreters for the Creole-speaking native of Haiti and hundreds like her. Turnout was heavy. And lines lasted for hours — partly due to a slew of proposed state Constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

Florida: Elections bills set for Senate debate | The Florida Current

Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to raising the $500 cap on political contributions to candidates will probably sink campaign-finance reform for the 2013 session, the Senate sponsor of a new elections package said Tuesday. The Senate Rules Committee cleared the two biggest political bills of the year for floor action, voting along party lines for a bill intended to fix the long lines and balloting problems that haunted Florida’s elections in November and approving a plan to abolish the shadowy “committees of continuous existence” that candidates can use as political slush funds. But each bill picked up potentially troublesome provisions that will be hard to work out in the final three weeks of the session. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsored both bills. In March, the House OK’d a finance package raising the $500 cap on contributions to $5,000 per donor in statewide races and Supreme Court retention votes, and $3,000 for district and county races. The Senate bill initially proposed a $3,000 cap but the Rules Committee adopted an amendment lowering the maximum to $500 in all races — the same as it is now. The governor said recently he opposes raising the limit, which was set in 1992.

Editorials: Proposed Amendment Would Limit Voter Choice in California | Richard Winger/IVN

California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura County) have introduced identical proposed state constitutional amendments that would change the top-two open primary section of the California Constitution. Lara’s bill is SCA 12 and Gorell’s is ACA 9. Article II, section 5 of the California Constitution includes the new primary rules, which say that the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary, for Congress or partisan state office, go on the November ballot. The Lara-Gorell amendment would change the language of this section to say that if the person who came in second in a primary is a write-in candidate, he or she could not be on the November ballot unless he or she received approximately 120,000 write-ins for a statewide office, 3,200 write-ins for State Senate, 1,600 write-ins for Assembly, or 2,500 write-ins for a congressional race. The specific formula is one percent of the last general election vote total for that office.

Delaware: House Approves Easing Voting Restrictions on Felons | WBOC

The state House has approved a proposed constitutional amendment to make it easier for convicted felons in Delaware to vote. The measure was approved on a 32-9 vote Tuesday with virtually no debate and now goes to the Senate for final approval. It cleared the previous legislative session but must pass two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly. The amendment would eliminate the 5-year waiting period before eligible felons who have completed their sentences can have their voting rights restored.

Editorials: Scalia scorns vote protections | Verna Williams /Cincinnati.com

On my constitutional law exam this year, I invited students to comment on a quote from a scholar – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. What he said is worth considering in light of his gasp-inducing comment during the argument in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 case, Shelby County v. Holder: “Originalism seems to me more compatible with the nature and purpose of a Constitution in a democratic system. A democratic society does not, by and large, need constitutional guarantees to insure that its laws will reflect ‘current values.’ Elections take care of that quite well. The purpose of constitutional guarantees (especially those guaranteeing individual rights) is precisely to prevent the law from reflecting certain changes in original values that the society adopting the Constitution thinks fundamentally undesirable. Or, more precisely, to require the society to devote to the subject the long and hard consideration required for a constitutional amendment before those particular values can be cast aside.” This is Justice Scalia in his element. Originalism as protector of constitutional values against the vagaries of electoral politics. Requiring us to think “long and hard” before casting aside those foundational notions. And yet.

Maine: Bill would strip right to vote from Maine prisoners convicted of Class A crimes | Bangor Daily News

The family members of two murder victims called on state lawmakers Monday to allow an amendment to the state constitution that would take away the voting rights of those serving prison sentences for some of the most severe crimes under Maine law. But civil liberties advocates and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap warned lawmakers that removing voting rights from prisoners convicted of Class A crimes under Maine law could undermine prisoner rehabilitation and create an administrative burden for election officials. Maine is one of two states — Vermont is the other — that allow convicted felons to vote while incarcerated. Some states also bar felons from voting after they’ve served their prison sentences. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, proposes a constitutional amendment that would take those rights away from inmates serving sentences for Class A crimes, which include murder, gross sexual assault and aggravated drug trafficking. Maine law allows up to 30 years in prison and $50,000 in fines for such offenses.

Florida: No legislative push so far to crack down on election supervisors | TCPalm.com

So far, lawmakers tasked with fixing Florida’s elections issues have focused on long lines and wait times, not the administrative and equipment trip-ups that plagued counties like St. Lucie. The Legislature kicks off its two-month lawmaking marathon Tuesday, but there’s still no official push to let the state crack down harder on elections supervisors who bungle their duties. The top lawmaker delving into elections reform, Sen. Jack Latvala, has stressed the idea does warrant discussion. “I do think this is an issue that we’re going to want to debate in this committee as we put this bill together,” Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, told the Ethics and Elections Committee he chairs on Feb. 5. But Sen. President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, stressed that it’s not a top concern. “I don’t know that giving the governor or the state more authority to remove someone takes the place of having someone who can actually do the job,” Gaetz said.

Editorials: Let Kentucky voters decide voting rights for former felons | The Courier-Journal

Kentucky lawmakers in the state Senate should take a cue from Thomas Vance, a retired Air Force master sergeant from Campbell County. Vance called it correctly after participating in the latest Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll on a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore some felons voting rights after they served their full sentences. “It’s just not fair. If I did my time, that should be the end of it,” said Vance, whose views were in the majority, according to the poll conducted Feb. 19-21 by SurveyUSA. The poll found that 51 percent of 616 registered voters favored the potential amendment, while 38 percent were opposed and 11 percent were unsure. It was even close among Republicans, which split 45-45, with only those who identified themselves as “conservative” opposing it, though narrowly, 47-44. Yet Kentucky remains one of only five states that bar all felons from voting unless their rights are restored through a pardon by the governor or another agency.