The ink on his thumbnail was supposed to be a fraud-proof deterrent, a sign that he had already voted in Haiti’s critical presidential and legislative elections. But hours after the adviser to Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council cast his ballot in the now disputed Oct. 25 vote, the indelible ink stain was barely visible, more resembling a fading birthmark than an electoral safeguard. Nearly two months after the pivotal balloting and three weeks before the scheduled Dec. 27 presidential runoff, Haiti remains at an impasse. Allegations of ballot tampering, fraudulent tabulations and widespread procedural breakdowns — such as failing ink that led to multiple voting — have fanned a widening chorus of doubt about the credibility of the results.
Progressive and political money groups say they will intensify their lobbying in the coming days to prevent four campaign finance measures from hitching a ride on a year-end spending deal. With a deadline to reach agreement on government-wide funding less than two weeks away, the effort will be no easy pitch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., authored one of the measures, which would relax limits on coordination between political parties and candidates. “They’re swimming upstream every step of the way,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University professor who specializes in campaign and election issues. “Legislators are going to be hard-pressed to vote against an appropriation bill that’s otherwise appealing to them on the basis of some of these riders.”
California: San Francisco sets sights on open source voting by November 2019 | The San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco could have an open-source voting system in place by the November 2019 election, under a plan approved earlier this month by the Elections Commission. The timeline could result in the emergence of San Francisco as the leader of the open-source voting movement in the United States. For supporters of open-source voting, the importance of that point can’t be underscored enough. “San Francisco could help write some U.S. democracy history with its leadership role,” said a Nov. 18 letter to the Elections Commission from Gregory Miller, co-founder of the Open Source Election Technology (OSET) Foundation, a collection of executives from top technology companies like Apple and Facebook. “And the total estimated cost to do so [$8 million] is a fraction of status-quo alternatives.” Open-source voting systems bring a greater level of transparency and accountability by allowing the public to have access to the source codes of the system, which is used to tabulate the votes. A system owned by The City could also save taxpayers money.
Montana is the latest state to overhaul its campaign-finance rules in an attempt to cast out dark money after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections. The architect of the changes in Montana said the new rules will create a high level of transparency in the state with a history of election corruption, and will be effective because of Montana’s relatively small population of 1 million people. “You can put a lightbulb in a big cave and not see very far,” Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said. “In Montana, you’re going to see a lot of corners.”
Wisconsin: GOP lawmakers reverse course, balk at campaign donor reporting | Milwaukee Jounal-Sentinel
GOP state senators reversed course early Saturday and voted to let people make political donations without disclosing their employers as part of a broad overhaul of campaign finance laws. The bill passed just after midnight 17-15, with all Democrats and Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) opposing the measure and all other GOP senators supporting it. The measure now returns to the state Assembly, which will have to agree to the changes made by the Senate. GOP senators also approved a bill to eliminate the state Government Accountability Board, which runs elections and oversees ethics laws, and to give those duties to two new commissions. The proposal, which passed on a strictly party-line vote of 18-14, goes to the Assembly as well. Together the proposals would represent a significant shift in how elections are run and how money flows in the world of Wisconsin politics.
Wisconsin: Senate GOP tight-lipped as campaign finance, GAB bills near Friday extraordinary session | Wisconsin State Journal
Senate Republican leaders are keeping a tight wrap on forthcoming changes to bills splitting the state’s elections and ethics agency and rewriting campaign finance law — both of which appear headed for a Senate vote Friday in a so-called “extraordinary session.” The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, signaled Tuesday that changes will be offered to the bills in extraordinary session, since Thursday marks the end of lawmakers’ scheduled period to convene. Proponents of the bills have said it’s important to pass them this fall, in advance of the 2016 election cycle. Fitzgerald said Wednesday the Senate has the votes to pass the ethics and elections bill.
Editorials: Wisconsin legislature should reject secrecy bill | Daniel I. Weiner and Brent Ferguson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that would dramatically reduce voters’ ability to know which corporations, unions and wealthy individuals are funding state campaigns. The Senate is expected to vote on a companion bill (SB 292) shortly. Supporters of the measure say these changes are required by recent court decisions. Don’t believe it. If passed, SB 292 would radically change the law, not comply with it. As we explained in a letter to legislators this week, the Senate should vote it down.
Editorials: Dismantling the Government Accountability Board weakens government | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
It appears the state Assembly will take up this week the bill aimed at wreaking Republican revenge on the Government Accountability Board, replacing it with a system that doesn’t work particularly well on the federal level and hasn’t worked well in Wisconsin in the past. This attack on the nonpartisan watchdog agency that supervises state elections and conducts investigations into ethics violations reeks of payback partisanship. Under it, and other measures, legislators would like to set themselves up as the sole arbiters of transparency and accountability. That’s not how our system of government is supposed to work. It is similar to the underhanded attempt to gut the state’s open records law on the Fourth of July weekend by this same crew of legislators led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. And it deserves the same kind of fate: an overwhelming demand from angry citizens to kill the bill.
More than 9,000 people are pledging to vote in the federal election with their faces covered in order to make a point. Launched on Facebook by a Quebec woman, the movement suggests people have the right to vote while wearing anything at all, whether it’s a potato sack, a Darth Vader mask or a black veil. The page’s creator, Catherine LeClerc said she started the page on her own in her living room after growing frustrated with the government’s inability to ban religious garb, such as the niqab, while taking oaths of citizenship or while voting. But she denied it being against Muslims and said it’s more about transparency. “It’s not against a religious group,” said Leclerc, adding that the movement she started is merely pushing for secularism in democratic processes. The page links to an Elections Canada webpage that indicates people can refuse to take their masks off and still vote.
While in the northern province of Tucumán, election results remains in the news due to a contentious vote for governor, currently led by the Victory Front’s Juan Manzur in the final recount, opposition politicians are scheduled to meet in the afternoon with Court authorities. … “Proposals for Electoral Transparency 2015” was presented in document form last week during a press conference in the Argentine Congress, according to a statement released by UCR caucus chief Negri.
Editorials: John Doe Decision – After Doe investigations, a chance for sensible reform | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
A 4-2 state Supreme Court decision last month ended a controversial investigation into coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election campaign and conservative groups and left a broad swath of Wisconsin’s long-standing campaign finance law unconstitutional. The court’s decision halted the second of two criminal investigations into Walker led by Milwaukee County prosecutors using the state’s powerful “John Doe” statutes. The first led to the convictions of six Walker aides, associates or appointees but the second was stalled by litigation for more than a year amid bitter complaints from conservatives about prosecutors’ tactics and theory of law. Even if the final chapter of these investigations is now at hand, many questions remain. Among the most important: Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?
The Alabama Legislature has again tried to tighten up the state’s campaign finance law, following up on earlier efforts that haven’t worked as planned. The Fair Campaign Practices Act, on the books since 1988, has been criticized for lacking teeth and a designated authority for enforcement. With a bill that passed during the regular session, lawmakers gave the state Ethics Commission authority to investigate violations of the act, among other changes. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the bill, based mostly on recommendations from a study committee, “will bring a lot more transparency and accountability to our electoral system.”
A push to allow Internet voting in elections is growing stronger along with advances in the underlying technology, but systems are not yet secure enough to use with relative certainty that the vote counts will be accurate, according to a new report. Still, while “no existing system guarantees voter privacy or the correct election outcomes,” election officials could take several steps to significantly improve the security and transparency of Internet voting systems, said the report, commissioned by the U.S. Vote Foundation, an organization that helps U.S. residents vote. Election officials considering Internet voting must embrace an end-to-end verifiable Internet voting system, or E2E-VIV, said the report, released Friday. An E2E-VIV would be difficult to build, but it would allow voters to check that the system recorded their votes correctly, to check that it included their votes in the final tally and to double-check the announced outcome of the election, the report said. An Internet voting system must be transparent, useable and secure, said the report, echoing some recommendations security groups have made about other electronic voting systems. “An Internet voting system must guarantee the integrity of election data and keep voters’ personal information safe,” the report said. “The system must resist large-scale coordinated attacks, both on its own infrastructure and on individual voters’ computers. It must also guarantee vote privacy and allow only eligible voters to vote.”
Pakistan: ECP backtracking from Electronic Voting Machines, voting rights for overseas Pakistanis | The Express Tribune
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems to be backtracking on its plans to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), at least for the next general elections scheduled in 2018. Having proposed the adoption of electronic voting machines in its second-five year reforms program for transparency in voting, officials of the poll body on Wednesday told a parliamentary committee that there were various “technical issues” that would bar the electoral body from introducing EVMs in next general elections. Many countries, including neighbouring India have been successfully using EVMs for decades. Earlier the officials of the ECP had blamed lack of legislation as impediment in implementing the proposal as it would require the law to be amended to make the voting process constitutional. The ECP had announced that it would go for voting through electronic machines in next general elections due in 2018. However, at a time when the proposal was about to be realised, it was the ECP who backed out.
After special interest groups spent $18 million in the 2014 governor’s race, campaign finance reformers are waiting with bated breath to see if a bill that curbs outside money in statewide elections is passed by the General Assembly. Crafted by the state Elections Enforcement Commission, the legislation is part of a logjam of bills on the calendar of the Democratically controlled state Senate, which has been noncommittal on its prospects. The initiative to bring greater transparency to expenditures by political action committees and nonprofit advocacy groups has state Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of undermining Connecticut’s clean-elections program.
The whole process of the by-elections, from voters entering polling stations to ballot-counting, was broadcast live online Wednesday. To improve transparency of the four by-elections in Seoul, Incheon, Seongnam and Gwangju, the National Election Commission (NEC) aired special programs live on its website, YouTube, Naver and Daum. The NEC said this was to earn people’s trust over the nation’s election system.
It might seem strange that the state commission monitoring money in politics wants to let contractors give more money to candidates. But this is the era of the Super Political Action Committee. And the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission can’t track Super PAC cash. Super PACs, which can receive unlimited amounts of money without disclosing their contributors, were called “active players” in New Jersey campaigns in ELEC’s 2014 annual report. The report included 12 legislative recommendations to increase oversight and transparency of campaigns. At the top of that list were recommendations dealing with Super PACs.
Do you like tracking packages when you buy things online? Try it with a ballot for May’s special election. Multnomah County will offer a service that tracks ballots and notifies voters whether they were accepted or rejected. Voters can visit a county website to receive text, email and phone messages. The pilot program will be offered by i3ballot at no cost to voters or the county. Participants will be surveyed after the election, said Tim Scott, Multnomah County’s director of elections. The pilot will track delivery from the county to the participant and the ballot’s return trip through the Postal Service. People who take ballots to drop boxes or specified locations, such as a library, will be notified after processing, Scott said.
The money hunt for the 2016 election cycle is in full swing, and there is no surer sign of it than the first complaints recently filed by reform organizations. While, as in the past, there is intense interest in the likelihood of record-breaking sums and innovative spending strategies, this year, perhaps more than in the past, attention has turned to transparency. “Dark money” is dominating the campaign finance lexicon. Current conversations on this topic have a Groundhog Day quality, and it seems that they are stuck between the dreary and the dreadful. Part of the problem is that nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court limited the objective of campaign finance regulation to the prevention of corruption or its appearance, and decades of debate ensued about what is and what is not corruption. And all this in the service of identifying when candidates and political parties come under the “undue influence” of money.
Presidential fund-raising, never known for its transparency, may have just become even more secretive. In announcing his candidacy for president this week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky waded into new waters when he said he would accept campaign contributions in Bitcoins, a largely untraceable virtual currency, in amounts up to $100. Interested donors at randpaul.com were given three options for making a contribution: a credit card, PayPal or Bitcoins. While some state and federal candidates in California, Colorado, New Hampshire and elsewhere have started accepting Bitcoins, Mr. Paul, a Republican, is the first presidential candidate to do so.
Sudan’s presidential and parliamentary elections take place as opposition figures rot in jail and the government’s campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ makes it dangerous, if not impossible, for millions to vote. Newspapers are routinely confiscated and peaceful protest is crushed with unhesitating brutality. Respectable international election-monitoring organisations are unlikely to be present, because few conditions for a credible election exist. Nevertheless, after the 13-15 April poll, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) will claim to have a legitimate mandate. The result will be recognised by Sudan’s supporters within the Arab League and the African Union (AU) and by its business and military partners, such as Iran, China and Russia. Officials in the US, the UK and the EU will likely wait until afterwards to express any doubts about its validity, ostensibly because they do not wish to damage the unlikely possibility that there might be a meaningful national dialogue about the future of Sudan—their concerns will attract little attention.
As has been well-reported, Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential and provincial council elections were marred by extensive technical difficulties — unconfirmed numbers of eligible voters, inadequate security, vague district and village boundaries, and interference from military and civilian government officials. Yet they also took a heavy financial toll on the system. According to the Joint Task Force on Election Assistance, the direct cost of the first round of voting proved to be especially high — approximately $109 million — for a country that falls amongst the poorest in the world. The task force noted that the average cost per voter (of the 13.5 million who voted) was $8.08. While this figure is lower than the global average for stable and post-conflict democracies ($8.41 per voter), it is much higher than states that have established efficient voting systems ($4.01 per voter).
Campaign finance reformers have been on a steady losing streak in the courts and Congress. But they may finally have found a champion who can elevate their cause: Pope Francis. “We must achieve a free sort of election campaign, not financed,” the Pope told an Argentine magazine in an interview released this week. “Because many interests come into play in financing of an election campaign and then they ask you to pay back. So, the election campaign should be independent from anyone who may finance it.” To drive his point home, the Pontiff added: “Perhaps public financing would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The Pope’s remarks come in the midst of corruption scandals in his native Argentina. But American advocates of curbing the influence of big money in politics were eager to seize on his message. “We have just gained a great new ally with a worldwide voice for public financing campaigns,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21. “We greatly appreciate his words and wisdom on this subject.” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi similarly embraced the Pope’s “call for an end to the contaminating influence of money in our democracy.”
International observers monitoring the second round of legislative elections in the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros declared the vote free and transparent. Voting held on Sunday on the archipelago took place in an atmosphere of “transparency, freedom and serenity,” Samuel Azu’u Fonkam, head of the observer mission sent by the International Francophonie Organization, told reporters in the capital, Moroni. Municipal elections took place alongside the vote for legislators.
Nevada: Gloves come off: Nevada GOP’s move on redistricting draws howls from Democrats | Las Vegas Sun
It didn’t take long for partisan politics to overshadow the prayers, songs and stilted harmony of the Legislature’s opening day. Democrats contend that in the first hours of the session, Republicans diverted the Legislature’s focus from education reform by introducing a bare-knuckle, partisan topic: redrawing political districts. Republicans, in majority control of the Legislature, acknowledge they’re exploring redistricting but say they are working to fix what’s proven to be a complicated, divisive process in the state. Redistricting is the process of reconfiguring district boundaries to adjust for population shifts and maintain an equal number of representatives for residents in different geographic areas. Depending on how the boundaries are drawn, the process can be a major factor in winning elections, as parties have an opportunity to loop in areas with strong voter turnout and high concentrations of voters who traditionally support them. At the same time, one party can create a disadvantage for the other by leaving it with areas where voter turnout is traditionally weak. “There’s nothing more partisan and political bloodsport than redistricting,” said Tim Storey, an elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In the five years since the Citizens United decision was handed down, there has been plenty of evidence to document the magnitude of the flow of dark money and the effects it has had on American politics. In one of the most impassioned moments of the State of the Union address, President Obama decried the corrosive influence of anonymous money in politics. “A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter,” he said. His comment could not have been more timely, coming as it did a day before the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and labor unions to engage in unlimited spending to advocate for or against candidates. Advocacy groups used the occasion (and the Twitter hashtag #CU5) to start new conversations about the impact big money is having on our democracy, and how to fix it. The Brennan Center hosted a summit on the topic with Common Cause, Demos and others. The American Constitution Society delved into one of the ruling’s more insidious effects: In states where judges are elected, the judiciary is effectively for sale. The Center for American Progress talked about how to mitigate the decision’s impact through executive action.
Two bills in the state Legislature that would increase transparency in Montana politics are dead in committee after Republicans voted them down. It was a 4-3 party line vote last Friday in the Senate State Administration Committee with Republicans using their majority to defeat SB 86, which was introduced by state Sen. JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman. The bill’s intent is to provide the public with instant access to campaign finance reports and shine light on attack ad campaigns, Pomnichowski said. Electronic reporting is mandated by 36 states, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics.
Wisconsin election board officials told the Legislature’s audit committee Wednesday that they have been struggling with an unprecedented workload as they worked to blunt a critical evaluation of their performance and save their agency from the chopping block. The Government Accountability Board has been forced to administer multiple recall elections, implement voter photo identification and conduct a massive statewide recount with limited staff during the past four years, the board’s director, Kevin Kennedy, told the committee. “The Government Accountability Board is a Wisconsin success story,” Kennedy said. “I am disappointed that some critics of this agency have used this nonpartisan audit to make political points rather than focusing on how we can work together to maintain Wisconsin’s excellent record and reputation for running elections and transparency in government.”
National: Party fundraising provision, crafted in secret, could shift money flow in politics | The Washington Post
A massive expansion of party fundraising slipped into a congressional budget deal this week would fundamentally alter how money flows into political campaigns, providing parties with new muscle to try to wrest power back from independent groups. The provision — one of the most significant changes to the campaign finance system since the landmark McCain-Feingold measure — was written behind closed doors with no public debate. Instead, it surfaced at the last minute in the final pages of a 1,603-page spending bill, which Congress is rushing to pass to keep government operations from shutting down. Under the language in the bill, a couple could give as much as $3.1 million to a party’s various national committees in one election cycle — more than triple the current limit.
Arizona election law lies broken and in disarray after a federal judge’s decision. But it can be fixed easily. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg found that Arizona’s definition of a political committee is “vague, overbroad and consequently unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment.” With the definition tossed out, the rest of campaign law tumbles. You can’t place reporting requirements, contribution limits or deadlines on committees that no longer legally exist. That creates the potential for an election in which people can contribute as much as they want to candidates and issues, with nothing revealed to voters. That runs counter to a generation of law and policy that holds that transparency protects against corruption.