In the final hours of the North Carolina General Assembly’s 2013 session, the Republican-controlled legislature passed House Bill 589 [PDF] (HB 589), an omnibus package of election law “reforms” aimed at further “securing the vote.” A few weeks later HB 589 was signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, despite the Governor’s initial admission that he “doesn’t know enough” about certain provisions of the legislation and in the face of growing opposition from the public. The legislation’s expected effect of diminishing the ability of North Carolina voters from casting their ballots seems incongruous with the legislation’s preamble stating in part: “[a]n act to restore confidence in government.” In effect, this legislative effort appears to be a not-so-veiled attack on voting which will make the registration process and actual act of casting a vote more onerous, particularly for the poor, minority, college-age youth and elderly voters. Until recently, 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties were covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Prior to the US Supreme Court ruling on Shelby County v. Holder in June, election law changes impacting any of these counties (and many others nationally) required preclearance review by the US Department of Justice. The Shelby County holding invalidated Section 4 (which set forth the formula for determining those jurisdictions subject to preclearance) and effectively voided Section 5 (the preclearance provision) of the VRA. It now appears that the Court’s June decision prompted Republican members of the General Assembly to revisit previously filed legislation [PDF] intent on further restricting ballot access and scaling back current election laws knowing that the sometimes long and arduous road of preclearance would likely not need to be traveled.Full Article: JURIST - Dateline.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calendar this past week looked like this: unpack from an Italian vacation, catch up with advisers and kick off a campaign with a small-town rally for an election that will be held in just five weeks. In the United States, the 2016 campaign is well under way, with contenders jostling to give speeches in the battleground state of Iowa. But in Germany, where regulations keep political ads largely off the airwaves, the sleepy federal election campaign fired up only last week, when parties were finally allowed to string up signs on light poles. Merkel’s main challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, also just dusted himself off from a weeklong vacation and has been barnstorming from one half-timbered town square to another, although according to many local observers, the battle remains as lukewarm as any in memory. German candidates typically hit the trail just a few weeks before an election, spend far less than $50 million — pocket change by Obama-Romney standards — and yet draw voter turnout that, while declining, is still well above U.S. levels. “It’s sensible to have a short campaign,” said Heiko Geue, Steinbrueck’s campaign manager, in an interview in his spartan office at the Social Democrats’ red-bedecked Berlin headquarters. “People decide a few days or the day of the election whether they’ll vote and which party to vote for.”Full Article: Frugal German election contrasts sharply with U.S. | The Japan Times.
When Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signs North Carolina’s sweeping new elections bill as expected this month, critics will be ready to act, too – in court. The bill not only contains one of the nation’s strictest photo ID laws but compresses the time for early voting and ends straight-ticket balloting. It would no longer count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The bill that emerged in the final days of this year’s legislative session goes beyond voting changes. It limits disclosure of outside campaign spending, ends public financing for judicial races and no longer makes candidates take responsibility for their ads. “I have never seen a single law that is more anti-voter,” says Penda Hair, a lawyer with the Advancement Project, a civil rights group in Washington. “North Carolina now joins a very short list of (states) that seem … motivated to stop people from voting.”Full Article: Lawsuits expected over major NC voting changes | CharlotteObserver.com.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 11, as the North Carolina House jousted over details of the state budget, Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Republican attorney from the state’s mountain region, decided to help the legislature reach a compromise on a thorny problem. At issue was the N.C. Public Campaign Fund, a popular program launched in 2003 to help free judges from relying on deep-pocketed — and potentially compromising — special interest donors to get elected. Eighty percent of eligible judges — conservatives and liberals — used the voluntery program, which awarded candidates a grant to help run their campaign if they raised at least 350 small donations and agreed to strict spending limits. Ideologues hated the public financing option, but judges and even many conservatives thought it boosted public confidence in the courts. In May, members of the state’s Court of Appeals took the unusual step of publicly calling on legislative leaders to keep the program. A dozen newspapers praised its success, and two Republican officials from West Virginia came to explain why their state had just adopted the North Carolina model.Full Article: How Art Pope killed clean elections for judges in North Carolina.
The community of federal campaign oversight will undergo significant downsizing following announcements from the Federal Election Commission and the House Administration Committee, Wednesday. Tony Herman, General Legal Counsel to the Federal Election Commission, will leave the agency this July and the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) moved one inch closer to being scrapped. In a statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub said, “I want to thank Tony for his outstanding service to this agency and to the American public.” He will return to Covington & Burling, LLP where he was a partner before joining the FEC in 2011. The FEC has been understaffed since February when former commissioner, Cynthia Bauerly, left after serving nearly a 5-year term. Now with five out of six commissioners, each serving expired terms, the agency will need to locate a new General Counsel before July 7.Full Article: House Lawmakers See Elections Oversight Committee as Waste of Money.
West Virginia: Funding an issue for Supreme Court candidate public financing; program to have $1.5M balance | Associated Press
Pleased that a public financing experiment for Supreme Court candidates is now a permanent program, West Virginia’s State Election Commission also noted Thursday that it will only have an estimated $1.5 million to offer when a court seat is next on the ballot in 2016. The commission voted to approve proposed revisions to the program’s rules, following passage of legislation expanding what had been a one-election pilot. But commission members were also mindful that the recently concluded session did not include additional funding or revenue sources for the program. Lawmakers instead took $1.5 million from the program’s balance, after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin requested it for other budgetary needs. That leaves $1.1 million, while the state treasurer is scheduled to provide an additional $400,000 by July 2015, Timothy Leach, a lawyer for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, said during Thursday’s meeting.Full Article: Funding an issue for Supreme Court candidate public financing; program to have $1.5M balance.
All five sitting commissioners at the Federal Election Commission are now serving expired terms, while the sixth seat remains unfilled since a commissioner retired on Feb. 1, 2013. FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on Tuesday. Until their replacements are confirmed by the Senate, FEC commissioners are permitted to stay on. Former Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly resigned her post in February long after her own term had expired. President Barack Obama has not successfully appointed a single new commissioner to the FEC. In 2010, his lone appointee withdrew during a contentious confirmation process. Obama’s failure to name commissioners has been a sore point for campaign finance reformers, who sent a blistering letter to the White House on Monday excoriating the president for not pushing hard enough to reform the nation’s system of campaign funding.Full Article: FEC Commissioners All Serving Expired Terms Now.
Arizona Republican lawmakers are poised to wildly increase the state’s campaign finance limits in an effort that would allow an unprecedented flood of private dollars into local elections and undermine the state’s public campaign financing system. Republicans said current limits are unconstitutionally low, especially given the growing influence of outside political advertisements in national and state campaigns made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that erased years of campaign finance law. But Democrats argued the measure would give wealthy donors and political groups more influence in campaigns while effectively dismantling the state’s public financing options approved by voters. The bill would not increase funding for candidates running under the state’s public campaign financing option.Full Article: Ariz. proposal would flood money into politics.
Already short one officer, the Federal Election Commission will soon have a dubious distinction: As of April 30, all five of its remaining commissioners will be serving expired terms. By now President Barack Obama’s failure to fully staff the dysfunctional agency barely even riles government watchdogs. In theory composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, the FEC has been deadlocked for so long that, some argue, the agency could hardly grind to more of a halt. But the FEC’s growing backlog of work, protracted stalemates and failure to enforce or even explain the rules is taking a toll. At a minimum, political players are increasingly confused about how to reconcile already-complicated election laws with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to deregulate political spending. (The FEC has yet to issue regulations interpreting that ruling.) At worst, the FEC’s failure to act on even the most blatant violations is sending an “anything goes” signal to political players, who are becoming increasingly brazen about testing what’s allowed. True, most candidates, elected officials and donors simply want to understand the rules and follow them. But a growing number, election lawyers say, see their competitors pushing the envelope and are tempted to follow suit.Full Article: Rules of the Game: Lame-Duck FEC Invites Scofflaws : Roll Call News.
New York: Cecilia Tkaczyk, Democrat, Ekes Out 18 Vote Victory in Republican Senate District | NYTimes.com
Hoping to pad their narrow majority in the State Senate, Republicans used the redistricting process last year to draw a new, Republican-friendly district in the Albany area. They expected that George A. Amedore Jr., a state assemblyman whose family has a successful home-building business in the capital region, would have no trouble making the jump to the Legislature’s upper house. Democrats sued to block the creation of the seat, but failed. Yet on Friday, 73 days after Election Day, Mr. Amedore conceded defeat to a little-known opponent: Cecilia F. Tkaczyk, a Democrat who, in addition to serving as vice president of the local school board, is also the vice president of the Golden Fleece Spinners and Weavers Guild. Ms. Tkaczyk (pronounced KAT-chik) was ahead by 18 votes — out of more than 126,000 cast — after a batch of contested ballots was counted in Ulster and Albany Counties. (Another uncounted ballot was found in Montgomery County, but it remains unclear whether it will be counted.)Full Article: Cecilia Tkaczyk, Democrat, Ekes Out Victory in Republican Senate District - NYTimes.com.
Here’s one way Gov. Andrew Cuomo can match the acclaim he achieved by getting same-sex marriage approved in New York State: persuade the State Legislature to make New York’s system of electing legislators the fairest and most transparent in the country. Such a system should include a public financing mechanism modeled on New York City’s successful efforts to involve small donors with matching contributions. It would set sensible limits on individual and corporate contributions. It would close loopholes. It would be transparent and strictly enforced. By setting a national standard for public financing, New York State could go from laggard to leader.Full Article: Gov. Cuomo and Campaign Finance Reform - NYTimes.com.
The State Elections Commission in a July 31 emergency meeting approved a motion to “actively defend constitutionality of matching funds law passed by the Legislature.” Allen Loughry, a Republican running for West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, was the only candidate for that office hoping to take part in the state’s public financing pilot project. The Commission decided in a July 17 vote to not release public financing funds to Loughry.Full Article: Election Commission questions constitutionality of public financ - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV.
Supreme Court candidate Allen Loughry, the sole recipient of public campaign funds from a West Virginia pilot project, announced Monday that he had petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the release of the program’s so-called rescue funding. The Republican also said that he has weighed in on a federal lawsuit that seeks to strike down the pilot project’s rescue funding provision. Neither filing was immediately available late Monday.Full Article: W.Va. court candidate suing over public funds - AP State Wire News - The Sacramento Bee.
David Axelrod, President Obama’s political strategist, recently invoked a common perception about the 2012 campaign by blaming the Supreme Court for empowering 21st-century “robber barons trying to take over the government.” But that explanation does not account for another development that probably has been just as influential as the court’s Citizens United decision in creating the flood of money into the election: the demise of the public financing system for elections, hastened by Mr. Obama’s decision four years ago to abandon it. So far, Mr. Obama, Mitt Romney and their respective parties have raised more than $1.2 billion — five times the amount raised by all “super PACs” combined — as they race frenetically for the cash they need to pay for television advertising, sophisticated technology and old-fashioned get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor is there any reason to expect a slowdown. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney plans to take the $92 million per candidate on offer from public financing for this general election season, and combined they have raised less than $10 million for spending on the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than 95 percent of their receipts so far are for use only through the late-summer nominating conventions, meaning they still have far to go to fill their general election bank accounts.Full Article: With Elections Awash in Cash, Looking for Culprits - NYTimes.com.
Public financing of presidential elections, the greatest reform to come out of the post-Watergate era, died this year after a long illness. It was 36 years old, and was drowned by big money and starved by the disdain of politicians who should have known better. From 1976 until 2008, every major-party presidential candidate took public money for the general election, adhering to spending limits that significantly reduced the influence of money on American elections. Candidates began dropping out of public financing for primaries in 2000, and then in 2008, Barack Obama abandoned the system entirely, preferring to raise more money from small donations, and promising to fix the public program. He has made almost no attempt to fulfill that promise. This year will be the first since Richard Nixon’s day that neither major candidate will accept public financing. Both Mitt Romney and President Obama plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than they could get from the public system.Full Article: An Idea Worth Saving - NYTimes.com.
National: Kucinich Announces ‘Game Changing’ Constitutional Amendment to Publicly Finance Federal Elections | NationofChange
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which opened the floodgate of unlimited, shadowy corporate spending in public elections, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced H. J. Res. 100, a constitutional amendment to rescue American democracy from corporate money’s corrupting influence.Full Article: Kucinich Announces ‘Game Changing’ Constitutional Amendment to Publicly Finance Federal Elections | NationofChange.
You know that little box at the top of your tax form, the one that invites you to “check here” to donate $3 toward a presidential campaign fund? The one no one ever checks anyway? That too is turning into a partisan wedge issue in Washington, D.C.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted to do away with the box and shutter the Election Assistance Commission that handles the funds. Republican backers (no Democrats voted for the legislation) called it an effort to save money by eliminating a “bloated federal agency” that “has long outlived its purpose.” Sen. Harry Reid pre-emptively declared the bill dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate: Getting rid of the little $3 box, he explained, is really an act of voter suppression.
“Instead of making it so it’s easier for people to vote, they want to do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote,” Reid said of the Republican Party, complaining of efforts in certain states, including Nevada, to eliminate same-day registration at the polls. “They want as few people to vote as possible.”Full Article: Public financing of presidential campaigns becomes divisive - Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011 | 2 a.m. - Las Vegas Sun.
California: Zany instant runoff race in San Francisco gives voters thousands of choices | Ventura County Star
The city that is home to the crookedest street in the world is this fall witnessing what surely could be the zaniest election in America. There are 16 people running for mayor and hardly a gadfly in the bunch. The field includes the current appointed mayor, two county supervisors, a state senator, the public defender, the city attorney, the assessor-recorder and three former supervisors.
Each is eligible for up to $900,000 in public financing, so none will be starved for campaign funds. Even those who find themselves dropping in the polls will be able to keep battling through Election Day.
When voters receive their ballots, they will have not one, not two, not even just 16 choices to make. Rather, under the instant-runoff voting system that is being used for the first time in a San Francisco mayoral election, they will have 3,360 distinct ways they could fill out their ballot.Full Article: Zany instant runoff race in San Francisco gives voters thousands of choices » Ventura County Star.
New Zealand: Public spending on election ads comes under spotlight again in New Zealand | NZ Herald News
A decision by the Electoral Commission to refer a parliamentary-funded postcard from Labour to the police is expected to raise questions again about the extent of election advertising that will be funded by taxpayers in the run-up to the election. The postcard in question opposed asset sales and was funded by Labour’s parliamentary budget.
The Electoral Commission believes that because the postcard was election advertising as defined by the Electoral Act it needed a promoter statement on it, saying who authorised it. Labour’s statements on the issue suggests it thinks that simply because it was funded by Parliament, means it cannot be election advertising.
“Labour had taken the view that the flyer was not an election advertisement under the Act, in part because it had received prior authorisation from the Parliamentary Service for its publication,” campaign spokesman Grant Robertson said.Full Article: Public spending on election ads comes under spotlight again - National - NZ Herald News.