National: Voting Rights Act: Is major portion outdated? Supreme Court to hear arguments | CSMonitor.com

It is recognized as the most powerful and effective civil rights law in American history. So why is the US Supreme Court being asked to declare a major portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional? On Wednesday, the high court is set to take up a legal challenge filed on behalf of Alabama’s Shelby County, alleging that Congress overstepped its authority when it voted overwhelmingly in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) for 25 years. At issue in the case, Shelby County v. Eric Holder (12-96), is a section of the law that gives the federal government extraordinary power to prevent state and local governments from discriminating against minority voters by undercutting their political clout in elections. In 1965, when the VRA was first enacted, many states, particularly in the Deep South, were actively working to prevent black and other minority voters from effectively exercising their right to vote. They had done it for decades through threats of violence, poll taxes, and literacy tests. Congress outlawed those blatant tactics, but the discrimination continued in more creative and subtle ways.

National: At Supreme Court, no reprieve for GOP in voting rights consent decree | CSMonitor.com

The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a request by the Republican National Committee to lift a 30-year-old consent decree that restricts the political party’s ability to enforce preelection ballot security programs that critics say would result in minority voter suppression. The high court, without comment, turned aside the Republican Party’s petition. At issue was a consent decree dating from 1982 involving allegations that Republicans had attempted to intimidate and suppress black and Hispanic voters in New Jersey in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Editorials: Ohio’s Secretary of State Subverts Voting Rights | The Nation

Once again, political experts are predicting that the 2012 presidential election could be decided in the battleground state of Ohio, like it was in 2004. Remember what happened that year? George W. Bush won the state by a narrow 118,000 votes in an election marred by widespread electoral dysfunction. “The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters,” found a post-election report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. According to one survey, 174,000 Ohioans, 3 percent of the electorate, left their polling place without voting because of massive lines in urban precincts and on college campuses. Ohio’s Secretary of State that year was Ken Blackwell, co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Voting Blogs: Western Populism and Corporate Electioneering: The Montana Supreme Court | Election Law Blog

One of the historical oddities about today’s debates over corporate money and elections is that the issue maps so directly onto partisan political differences, at least among national political players.  As I’ve noted before, the deeper, long-term pattern historically has been quite different.  Starting at least in the Jacksonian era, with Andrew Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States — in significant part, because of allegations that the Bank was playing a role in partisan political contests — there have been longstanding alliances against corporate money in politics that united more conservative populists in the west and midwest with more liberal progressives in the east and that transcended conventional partisan divisions.

Arizona’s John McCain, of course, was a principal architect of the restrictions on corporate electioneering the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United.  And within the US Supreme Court, manifestations of that deep historical pattern can be seen in the fact that several Justices from the western United States who otherwise were considered conservatives or moderates strongly endorsed the power of government to limit the role of corporate money in elections — Justice O’Connor (from Arizona), Justice White (from Colorado), and Justice Rehnquist (sixteen years in private practice in Arizona). But there is no one on the Court now who appears to reflect that western-style populist resistance to corporate electioneering.

National: Watchdogs accuse FEC of lax oversight | The Boston Globe

Transparency advocates yesterday excoriated the Federal Election Commission for what they called increasingly lax oversight of campaign finance as the country barrels toward what are expected to be the most expensive elections in history next year. The advocates – including nonpartisan watchdogs Democracy 21, Public Citizen, and the Campaign Legal Center – said the FEC has repeatedly failed to issue new regulations clarifying aspects of a Supreme Court ruling last year allowing companies and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

Among the questions still unanswered: Can foreign companies with some US operations legally contribute to US elections? In the past, foreign citizens and companies have been barred from spending money in the American political system. Also unanswered: Should American organizations that spend money to influence elections have to disclose the source of the money?