With most of Nebraska’s election technology now roughly a decade old, its Legislature is considering a pair of bills that would help chart the future of voting in the state. Secretary of State John Gale coordinated with state Sen. Tommy Garrett to introduce a bill last week that would convene a task force to spend 2017 studying the state’s voting technology, and investigate whether a move to all-mail or online voting would be feasible in the next few years. Meanwhile, state Sen. Matt Hansen introduced a measure earlier this month to convene a legislative committee to conduct a similar study over the next few months. Neither of the measures would result in immediate changes, but Gale told StateScoop that both bills represent meaningful first steps for the state. “We really don’t have a crisis at this point, but it’s timely to start thinking ahead,” Gale said.
Editorials: The Future of Campaign Finance Rests with the Next Supreme Court Appointments | Lawrence Norden/The Atlantic
For the last 10 years, the Supreme Court has engaged in a systematic effort to transform American democracy. Steered by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court loosened restrictions on political advertising by corporations and unions, gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, upheld the rights of states to enact restrictive voting laws, and, in the words of Justice Stephen Breyer, “eviscerate[d] our Nation’s campaign-finance laws.” This year, the Court will decide a voting and redistricting case that could change the lines of virtually every state legislative district in the country. There is no area of the law the Roberts Court has more thoroughly transformed. Almost all of the Court’s major election cases were decided by a 5-4 vote. Of course, on the Court, the majority rules. But it would not take a constitutional amendment or a revolution in legal scholarship to bring this string of decisions to an end. It is extremely likely that the next president will have the opportunity to replace at least one (and very likely more than one) Supreme Court justice, as the previous five presidents have done. One new justice on the Court might be enough to push the law in the opposite direction.
South Carolina is just beginning to shop for new voting machines — and a new report found many other states should do the same. New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice released a report last week saying when Americans head to the polls for next year’s presidential election, 43 states, including South Carolina, will be using electronic voting machines that are at least a decade old. The cost of updating them could exceed $1 billion. Many of the increasingly outdated machines were bought with federal money not long after the infamous “hanging chad” controversy in Florida helped determine the 2000 presidential election. “No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running without increased failures?” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program and co-author of the study.
Editorials: The Impending Crisis of Outdated Voting Technology | Lawrence Norden and Christopher Famighetti/ The Atlantic
The 2016 campaign is already underway, with nearly two dozen candidates vying to be the next president. Americans may have no idea who they will vote for next year, but they are likely confident that when they show up at the polls, their votes will count. And for the vast majority, of course, they will. But with rapidly aging voting technology, the risk of machines failing is greater than it has been in many years. In a close election, the performance of that old equipment will come under a microscope. Fifteen years after a national election trauma in Florida that was caused in significant measure by obsolete voting equipment—including hanging chads and butterfly ballots—it may be hard for many Americans to believe that the U.S. could face such a crisis again. But unless the right precautions are taken today and in the coming months and years, there is a significant risk that the story on Election Day will be less about who won or lost, and more about how voting systems failed. The looming crisis in America’s voting technology was first brought to national attention last year by President Obama’s bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which offered a stern warning about the “widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago.” Over the past 10 months, the Brennan Center, where we work, surveyed more than 100 specialists familiar with voting technology, including machine vendors, independent technology experts, and election officials in all 50 states, to study how widespread this looming crisis really was.
When Americans head to the polls for next year’s presidential election, 43 states will be using electronic voting machines that are at least a decade old, according to a new study from New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice released Tuesday. And the price tag for replacement machines could top $1 billion. Fifteen years after the term “hanging chad” entered the American political lexicon, and Congress appropriated $2 billion to move to electronic voting systems to avoid a future conundrum, those same electronic systems are still in use in many jurisdictions. “No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running without increased failures?” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program, and co-author of the study, in a statement. “Old equipment can have serious security flaws, and the longer we delay purchasing new machines, the higher the risk. To avoid a new technology crisis every decade, we must plan for and invest in voting technology for the 21st century.”
National: Hanging chad redux? Old voting devices could create new crisis, report finds | The Guardian
The United States is heading for another catastrophe in its voting system equivalent to the notorious “hanging chad” affair that shook the country in 2000 and propelled George W Bush into the White House, experts on electoral procedures are warning. The voting technology deployed by most states around the country is now so antiquated and unreliable that it is in danger of breaking down at any time, the experts say. Some states are having to go on eBay to buy spare parts for machines that are no longer manufactured. The extent of decay in America’s electoral infrastructure is laid bare in a new report from the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan institute at the New York University School of Law specializing in democracy and justice. Having consulted more than 100 voting specialists in all 50 states, the center concludes that the country is facing an impending crisis in the way it conducts elections. As Louisiana’s secretary of state Tom Schedler put it to an official hearing recently: “It’s getting a little scary out there.”
Editorials: Tycoon dough: The ultimate electoral martial art | Lawrence Norden and Daniel Weiner/Reuters
Jan. 21 marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations (and, by extension, unions) have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections. Few recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have received as much attention — or generated as much public backlash – as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court and its defenders promised that the ruling – which gave corporations (and, by extension, unions) a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections — would free up more voices to enrich U.S. political debates. Critics predicted a deluge of corporate cash into U.S. elections. Yet neither has been the most striking result of Citizens United. The most stunning consequence is the influence that a few tycoons and other wealthy donors now wield in U.S. elections. Running a close second is the tidal wave of “dark money” from unknown sources making it impossible for citizens to know who is supporting candidates in pivotal races. Both these unexpected and troubling developments undermine American democracy.
Minutes after he was re-elected in November, President Obama vowed to fix the long lines that many voters faced at the polls. He mentioned the problem again in his inaugural address. And now, the president is expected to raise it once more in the State of the Union address on Tuesday — this time with some possible solutions. When Obama made his initial vow after midnight on election night, some Miami polling places had just closed — after voters stood in line for six, seven, even eight hours to cast ballots. There were similar waits at other polling sites in Florida and elsewhere. “For me, who voted in the state of Maryland, I was in line for seven hours,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, a leading voting-rights group. Today, not all Americans have equal access to the polls, she says. “We have 13,000 election jurisdictions that run elections 13,000 different ways,” she says. “That is what we have to fix.”
At tonight’s State of the Union address, Michelle Obama will be joined by 102-year-old Desiline Victor, who, like many in Florida and elsewhere, waited hours to vote on Election Day. “By the way,” Obama said in his election speech. “We have to fix that.” But how to fix it remains unclear. Though new research on states’ performance in the November election reveals long lines kept thousands from voting, there’s still much we don’t know about what would best speed up the process. Victor’s home state of Florida had the longest average wait timeof any state at 45 minutes. Victor waited for three hours. Other Floridians reported standing in line for up to 7 hours. Not every voter had Victor’s stamina: Professor Theodore Allen at Ohio State University estimated that long lines in Florida deterred at least 201,000 people, using a formula based on voter turnout data and poll closing time. The number only includes people discouraged by the wait at their specific polling site, and not those who stayed home due to “the general inconvenience of election day.” The real number, Allen says, is likely much higher. One study also showed that black and Hispanic voters nationwide waited longer on average than white voters.
Election experts and activists are calling for an overhaul of the voting system after hours-long lines, machine malfunctions and other obstacles plagued polling places around the country last week and in some cases delayed the results of races for days. Buoyed by President Barack Obama’s promise to “fix” the system in his acceptance speech, interested parties are coalescing around a campaign to retool the registration and voting process to avoid a meltdown in tight contests down the road.
A wave of at least 180 proposed laws tightening voting rules washed over 41 statehouses in 2011 and 2012, by the count of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Only a fraction of those bills passed and survived the scrutiny of the courts, but the new rules cover voters in 13 states, several quite populous, in time for next month’s election. More laws are to start afterward. Partisans and experts are arguing, over the airwaves and in the courts, about the effects of all this on voter turnout, for which few studies exist. (The most rigid voter ID laws are believed to affect about 10 percent of eligible voters, said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center.)
A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday blocked the key component of a highly contested state law requiring strict photographic identification to vote in next month’s election, saying the authorities had not done enough to ensure that voters had access to the new documents. The result, that Pennsylvanians will not have to present a state-approved ID to vote in November, was the latest and most significant in a series of legal victories for those opposed to laws that they charge would limit access to polls in this presidential election. With only a month left until Election Day, disputes around the country over new voter ID requirements, early voting, provisional ballots and registration drives are looking far less significant. “Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened,” said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the New York University School of Law and opposes such restrictions. “It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws.”
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.
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.
The November presidential election, widely expected to rest on a final blitz of advertising and furious campaigning, may also hinge nearly as much on last-minute legal battles over when and how ballots should be cast and counted, particularly if the race remains tight in battleground states. In the last few weeks, nearly a dozen decisions in federal and state courts on early voting, provisional ballots and voter identification requirements have driven the rules in conflicting directions, some favoring Republicans demanding that voters show more identification to guard against fraud and others backing Democrats who want to make voting as easy as possible. The most closely watched cases — in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania — will see court arguments again this week, with the Ohio dispute possibly headed for a request for emergency review by the Supreme Court.
Why are states with new voting restrictions so unconcerned about fraud that is the real threat to our elections? Over the past 18 months, in a bitterly partisan environment, several states have passed new restrictions on access to voting. They often say they did so to prevent fraud. But something doesn’t add up. The very states that passed the most restrictive laws have also failed to take basic security steps recommended by experts to prevent fraud — steps that nearly every other state in the country has taken. Let’s look at the most controversial (and common) of the new voting laws. Nine states have passed restrictive voter ID requirements that could be in effect this November, depending on the outcome of legal challenges. Under these laws, if a voter cannot produce a specified type of government-issued photo identification — most commonly, a driver’s license — his or her vote will not count. Period. Because millions of Americans do not have the kind of ID required by these laws, the Brennan Center for Justice and others have objected to them. We argue that there should be some way for people who don’t have the ID required by these laws to verify who they are and cast a ballot that will count.