Wisconsin: GOP bills would hike contribution limits, split Government Accountability Board into two agencies | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Assembly Republicans unveiled bills Wednesday to double political contribution limits, rewrite campaign financing rules and split the state’s elections and ethics board into two agencies and fill them with partisan appointees. One of the two bills would dissolve the state Government Accountability Board, which consists of six former judges who are responsible for running elections and overseeing the state’s laws on ethics, campaign finance and lobbying. It would create two new agencies — the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission — to oversee those duties. The six-member commissions are to be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) acknowledged an error in the way the legislation was written that would have allowed one party to control the commissions and said that would be promptly fixed. Daniel Tokaji, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University who specializes in election law, called the accountability board a model for the nation and said it was ridiculous to turn elections over to partisans. He noted the Federal Election Commission routinely deadlocks because it is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. “Only a lunatic or a glutton for gridlock would want to copy the FEC,” Tokaji said. “I think what they want is a commission that will routinely gridlock and get nothing done.”

Wisconsin: Status quo likely won’t last at Government Accountability Board, putting elections, ethics oversight in flux | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board was created in the wake of scandal, meant to be an independent overseer of elected officials and those who influence them. Eight years later — after playing controversial roles in the 2012 recall elections and an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — the board has made enemies of many of the elected officials it was founded to regulate. Now, the board is on course for a sweeping overhaul — or perhaps for extinction. Some fear the coming changes could leave Wisconsin with weakened oversight of those in power at the Capitol. They also could mean the state will have untested elections oversight in 2016, the first presidential election year in which a photo ID requirement for voting is expected to be in place. But critics of the GAB say change is needed because its purported impartiality is a farce. Gov. Scott Walker said last month that the board should be replaced. Walker was speaking just after the state Supreme Court halted an investigation into coordination between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups — an investigation in which the GAB played a key role. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has signaled the Assembly will take up a bill this fall to overhaul or replace the board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

Editorials: Supreme Court could weaken voting rights — again | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby  left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer.

Wisconsin: Scott Walker, J.B. Van Hollen again ask court to reinstate voter ID | Journal Sentinel

Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen are asking a federal court to reinstate Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but they have not finalized a plan to comply with a different court’s decision requiring the state to provide IDs to people who don’t have birth certificates. The state Supreme Court last month upheld the voter ID law, but the requirement to show photo ID at the polls remains blocked because a federal judge has found it violates the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution. A new court filing suggests the voter ID law is unlikely to be put in place for the Nov. 4 election, when the GOP governor faces Democrat Mary Burke. She opposes the voter ID law. State officials say they need to know soon whether the law will be in effect so they can retrain poll workers and send out absentee ballots with the proper information. But the federal appeals court has said it won’t rule on reinstating the voter ID law until at least Sept. 12 — around the time absentee ballots will be mailed out. “I just can’t imagine that this could be implemented by the November election without creating a huge mess,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. “I think it would be imprudent to put it mildly to try to implement this law pursuant to an order issued after Sept. 12. I think that’s just asking for trouble.”

National: Is the Voting Rights Act making a comeback? | MSNBC

The chances of Congress acting to fix the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was weakened by the Supreme Court last summer, appear slimmer by the week. But lately, it looks like the landmark civil rights law might end up being strengthened in a different way: by being used. Last Tuesday, a federal judge in Wisconsin struck down the state’s voter ID law, ruling that it violates the VRA’s Section 2, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The state has said it will appeal the ruling. Two days later, voting rights advocates filed suit against Ohio’s recent cuts to early voting, again alleging a violation of Section 2. “I think it’s exactly what the federal courts should be doing,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, referring to the Wisconsin ruling, and the potential for a similar verdict in Ohio. “When partisan politicians go too far to restrict the right to vote in an effort to serve their own ends, courts aren’t likely to look on that kindly.”

National: Supreme Court to Consider Challenge to Law Against Lying in Elections | Wall Street Journal

The Supreme Court will consider Tuesday whether two conservative groups can pursue a free-speech challenge to an Ohio false-statements law that if allowed would advance a broader push against state laws making it illegal to lie about a political candidate or ballot initiative. Although Ohio’s elections commission rarely refers complaints over false statements for prosecution, the conservative groups, including the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List, said the law discouraged them from running advertisements against a Democratic congressman. “It almost never comes to a criminal prosecution, but that doesn’t mean there’s no chilling effect on speech,” Daniel Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University who isn’t involved in the case, said of the law. More than a dozen other states have laws authorizing criminal or civil penalties for spreading falsehoods in political campaigns. The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling, expected by June, is unlikely to affect the state laws or political discourse in the current elections cycle. The case would instead likely be sent back for lower courts to consider whether the false-statement law violates the First Amendment by improperly suppressing protected speech.

Ohio: Case before U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether states can criminalize campaign lies | Cleveland Plain Dealer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments on an Ohio law that criminalizes deliberate lies about political candidates in a high-profile case that could overturn campaign speech restrictions around the nation. The controversy over whether Ohio’s law violates free speech has forged unlikely allies of the abortion-rights American Civil Liberties Union and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List. It has also pitted Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine against himself as he defends the law in his official capacity while criticizing the law in a separate court filing. Even political satirist P. J. O’Rourke has weighed in with a U.S. Supreme Court brief that claims “the law at issue undermines the First Amendment’s protection of the serious business of making politics funny. Laws like Ohio’s here, which criminalize ‘false’ speech, do not replace truthiness, satire and snark with high-minded ideas and ‘just the facts,’ ” it continues. “Instead, they chill speech such that spin becomes silence.” Violations of Ohio’s law against political lies are considered a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Iowa: Activists Ask Judge To Block Rule Allowing Voter Purge ‘Scare Letters’ | TPM

The Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa have sued Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) over a rule that aims to remove names from voter rolls if a federal immigration database suggests they are not authorized to vote. The ACLU and the LULAC filed a legal motion in Iowa’s Polk County on Wednesday asking the judge to issue a ruling in the lawsuit, originally filed last year, and permanently block Schultz’s rule. Schultz was given tentative permission to use the rule Aug. 14. If the judge approves the request, the activists will have successfully stopped the proposed voter roll purge. The rule in question allows Schultz’s office to cross reference self-identified non-citizens on voter registration rolls with the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which the Department of Homeland Security operates. The SAVE program retains information on immigrants in the country on a temporary visa. If a non-citizen on the SAVE list is also listed as a registered voter a letter is sent to the registrant telling him or her that he or she might be illegally registered to vote. If the voter does not respond to that first letter, a second letter is sent reminding “the individual that registering to vote without citizenship is a felony,” according to Schultz’s office. After the second letter a voter might have to appear before a hearing to present evidence on voter eligibility.

Editorials: Why voter ID won’t save the GOP | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act has left voting-rights advocates and Democrats fearing that a potential new wave of suppression tactics could keep poor and minority voters from the polls. Voter ID laws have topped the list of concerns, with several southern states vowing to push forward with such measures now that it’ll be harder for the federal government to stop them. But a close look at the research on how voter ID laws affect elections suggests that, from a purely political point of view, the anxiety may be misplaced: The picture is murky, but there’s no clear evidence that requiring voter ID significantly reduces turnout. And some experts say that other voting restrictions—especially those that make it harder to register and to vote early—are likely to have a bigger effect.

Ohio: Republicans Push Law To Penalize Colleges For Helping Students Vote | TPM

Republicans in the Ohio Legislature are pushing a plan that could cost the state’s public universities millions of dollars if they provide students with documents to help them register to vote. Backers of the bill describe it as intended to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for tuition and voter registration, while Democrats and other opponents argue it is a blatant attempt at voter suppression in a crucial swing state. “What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote,” Daniel Tokaji, a professor and election law expert at Ohio State University told TPM. “It’s a transparent effort at vote suppression — about the most blatant and shameful we’ve seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot.” The legislation is a provision in the state budget that was backed by the Republican majority in the Ohio House of Representatives. It is now headed to the Ohio Senate, which also has a GOP majority.

Wisconsin: Incoming Senate leader favors political appointees over judges on GAB | Journal Sentinel

The state Senate’s incoming leader said Monday that he would like to take retired judges off Wisconsin’s nonpartisan elections and ethics board and replace them with political appointees. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who becomes Senate majority leader in January, said he believes that the state Government Accountability Board has made decisions favoring Democrats and that putting political appointees on the board would “strike more of a balance.” “GAB, it’s not working the way it’s supposed to,” Fitzgerald said. A professor specializing in election law who has studied the accountability board bemoaned the proposal. “I think that’s about the worst idea I’ve heard this year,” said Daniel Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law who has written about Wisconsin’s accountability board.

Editorials: Could Sandy blow away the election? Don’t hold your breath | Reuters

Deadly Superstorm Sandy left millions of Americans snowed in, flooded out or stranded without power – and the federal government itself in Washington closed – just a week before voters across the country head to the polls. But if anyone is wondering whether Election Day will be put off, the answer is almost certainly no. Local U.S. elections have been postponed before – in one relatively recent example, New York put off voting that had been set for Sept. 11, 2001, because of the attacks on the country that day. But presidential balloting has always gone on, even during the Civil War in 1864 (President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected). Federal law mandates that the national vote must take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years.

National: Challenges to Voting Laws May Play Havoc On and After Election Day | Roll Call

Democratic Rep. Mark Critz’s chances of hanging onto his seat representing Southwestern Pennsylvania could hinge on a lawsuit filed by a 93-year-old great grandmother over the state’s new voter identification law. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is hearing Viviette Applewhite’s appeal today so it can decide whether the recently enacted statute is so burdensome on some citizens that it violates Pennsylvania’s constitution. Like other lawsuits across the country, it pits Republicans concerned about voter fraud against Democrats worried about voter suppression. The outcome could affect turnout on Election Day and spawn legal challenges afterward. Legal tussles over voter ID laws, purges of voters deemed ineligible, registration tactics and early voting periods in states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas and South Carolina are setting the stage for a potential post-election legal showdown in November. At least one Senate race and five House races that Roll Call currently rates as a Tossup are in states with ongoing voting lawsuits.

National: Voter ID lawsuits could delay election results again | CNN.com

Partisan legal showdowns in battleground states over a spate of new voting laws could turn the 2012 elections into a repeat of the 2000 presidential vote recount saga, political experts say. “Whenever you change the rules by enacting new laws, it triggers a round of litigation. I don’t think we’ll see an end to this anytime soon,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor. “It could come down to the states counting of absentee ballots. … We could see a replay of the 2000 election, where we don’t have a winner for weeks.” This year’s fight has gotten ugly, especially in the hotly contested states of Florida and Pennsylvania, where there are high-profile fights over new voter identification laws, and Ohio, where President Barack Obama’s and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaigns are locked in a showdown over early voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a legal think tank at the New York University School of Law that has criticized the increase in what it sees as prohibitive voting laws, 16 states have passed measures “that have the potential to impact the 2012 election.” The endgame, political experts say, is all about parties crafting laws to help ensure that their side wins.

National: Partisan Rifts Hinder Efforts to Improve U.S. Voting System | NYTimes.com

Twelve years after a too-close-to-call presidential contest imploded in a hail of Florida punch card ballots and a bitter 5-to-4 Supreme Court ruling for George W. Bush, the country’s voting systems remain as deeply flawed as ever with any prospect of fixing them mired in increasing levels of partisanship. The most recent high-profile fights have been about voter identification requirements and whether they are aimed at stopping fraud or keeping minority group members and the poor from voting. But there are worse problems with voter registration, ballot design, absentee voting and electoral administration. In Ohio, the recommendations of a bipartisan commission on ways to reduce the large number of provisional ballots and long lines at polling stations in 2008 have come to naught after a Republican takeover of both houses of the legislature in 2010. In New York, a redesign of ballots that had been widely considered hard to read and understand was passed by the State Assembly this year. But a partisan dispute in the Senate on other related steps led to paralysis. And states have consistently failed to fix a wide range of electoral flaws identified by a bipartisan commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III in 2005. In Florida, for example, the commission found 140,000 voters who had also registered in four other states — some 46,000 of them in New York City alone. When 1,700 of them registered for absentee ballots in the other state, no one investigated. Some 60,000 voters were also simultaneously registered in North and South Carolina.

Ohio: Husted asks feds for immigration database for voters’ citizenship verification | cleveland.com

Ohio has requested access to a massive federal immigration database so election officials can verify voters’ citizenship. Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted acknowledged the sensitivity of immigration issues but said the information, which he requested, would be valuable in unique situations when a voter’s citizenship is called into question. The database would not be used on a widespread basis to purge Ohio’s voter rolls of non-citizens, he said. “I feel like I have an obligation to pursue this to make sure we have all the tools necessary to make sure the integrity of the election system is upheld,” Husted said. Husted’s request comes at a volatile time. The hotly contested presidential election has put a spotlight on voting rights issues across the country, and there already have been accusations in Ohio of voter suppression tactics by GOP lawmakers aimed at poor and minority voters. Just this week, President Barack Obama’s re-election team sued Husted to allow in-person voting the three days before Election Day. Voting rights advocates cautioned Husted to use the information carefully.

Ohio: Voters First Initiative Faces Opposition From Secretary of State | Ohio News Network

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, a longtime advocate of reforming the redistricting process in Ohio, said that he opposes the Voters First initiative. “Of course we should go to a more bipartisan approach on redistricting, but the one pending before us is not the solution,” Husted said. “We can’t have each party end-running the other one to try to get their way to do this.”. Each decade, Ohio redraws legislative and congressional lines after the census. If one political party has a clear majority, those lines are often drawn to that party’s advantage. Dan Tokaji, an election law professor from the Ohio State University, advocates an overhaul of the reapportionment process. “It’s not surprising that partisan politicians and party bosses are trying to hold onto their power,” Tokaji said. “What the Voters First Initiative would install is a non-partisan independent citizens commission.”

Ohio: Senate Republicans take another crack at election reform before the fall presidential election | cleveland.com

Ohio might have new voting laws in place before the November presidential election after all. Senate Republicans are working on a plan that would repeal last year’s controversial election overhaul package and replace it with a more narrow set of reforms that could take effect before the Nov. 6 election. The latest changes would incorporate some ideas from the GOP’s previous attempt at reform – House Bill 194 – and prior legislative efforts that ultimately failed. Democrats say the sudden push for new election laws is nothing more than a political ploy to tilt the presidential election in Republicans’ favor. But Republicans insist their only interest is to improve election day operations.
Regardless of motive, the potential for voter confusion is high, because lawmakers have been tinkering with election laws since the beginning of last year. If they pass new legislation before the fall election, voters will be casting ballots under different rules than the March 6 primary.

Ohio: Voter ID provision yanked from Ohio bill | Middletown Journal

After discussion with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, Senate Republicans removed a provision in an elections reform bill on Wednesday that would require Ohio voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls.

Husted opposes the voter ID requirement that was inserted into the bill on Tuesday. But the issue lives on in a separate bill that is slated for a hearing and possible vote on Thursday morning.

Requiring photo ID to vote sparked outrage from voting rights groups, unions, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio Democratic Party and others.