Elizabeth Drew’s essay in the New York Review of Books considers the impact of Citizens United and new laws restricting registration and voting on the 2012 elections. At the Overseas Voter Foundation’s annual summit, Pew released a report on improvements for overseas and military voters. The New York Times examined Shelby County Alabama’s challenge to the Voting Rights Act and Samuel Issacharoff wrote about the Supreme Court’s Texas redistricting decision. In an election dominated by issues of transparency and public oversight of election administration, voters in Saguache County Colorado voted overwhelmingly to recall the county’s election chief. Election administration failures in Iowa may threaten the first-in-the-nation status of the State’s caucuses. In a referendum, Croatian voters chose to proceed with membership in the European Union and Ireland seeks to put an end to an expensive experiment with electronic voting.
- National: Can We Have a Democratic Election? | Elizabeth Drew/The New York Review of Books
- Blogs: New Pew Report Details Progress on Military, Overseas Voting | Doug Chapin/PEEA
- Alabama: Voting and Racial History – Shelby County v. Holder and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act | NYTimes.com
- Editorials: Messin’ with Texas (Redistricting) | Samuel Issacharoff/Boston Review
- Editorials: In Saguache, a vote for voters | The Denver Post
- Iowa: Caucus results may threaten first-in-nation status | Des Moines Register
- Croatia: Croatia and the EU: Slouching towards Brussels | The Economist
- Ireland: The Celtic Tiger’s white elephant | Enniscourthyguardian.ie
Beneath the turbulent political spectacle that has captured so much of the nation’s attention lies a more important question than who will get the Republican nomination, or even who will win in November: Will we have a democratic election this year? Will the presidential election reflect the will of the people? Will it be seen as doing so—and if not, what happens? The combination of broadscale, coordinated efforts underway to manipulate the election and the previously banned unlimited amounts of unaccountable money from private or corporate interests involved in those efforts threatens the democratic process for picking a president. The assumptions underlying that process—that there is a right to vote, that the system for nominating and electing a president is essentially fair—are at serious risk.
In all of the excitement over the Republicans’ sweep of the 2010 elections—their recapture of the House of Representatives, the decrease in the Democrats’ margin in the Senate, and the emergence of the Tea Party as a national force—most of us missed the significance of their victories in the states. The Republicans took control of both the governorship and the legislature in twelve states; ten states were already under Republican control. The Republican-controlled states undertook quite similar efforts to tilt the outcome of the presidential election in their party’s favor by denying the right to vote to groups that traditionally voted Democratic—minorities, the elderly, and students.
Of the fifteen states that in 2011 considered new voting restrictions, eight approved a requirement that people who want to vote show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, the kinds of documents that members of such groups are unlikely to have. Two states had already enacted such a requirement. (Even the Department of Motor Vehicles requires simply that people show some household bill to establish place of residence.) They reversed progress in the struggle to guarantee the right to vote that had gone on since the Civil War. This concerted effort amounts to a subversion of the democratic system of government, taking away the fundamental right to vote.
Until two years ago, there was reason to believe that through laws passed by Congress and upheld by the courts, there were at least some constraints on the part that corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals could play in federal elections through “soft money” donations. Such donations could, under very limited circumstances, be made to a party or a group organized around an issue. The donors were required to operate outside the campaigns themselves, even if the lines between them were somewhat porous. However, in 2010 a couple of major court decisions wiped away the requirement that this soft money had to be spent on “issue ads,” and removed all limits on what corporations, unions, and individuals could spend on behalf of a candidate. This led to the creation of so-called Super PACs—political action committees that collect and spend unlimited corporate or individual contributions to pay for ads that are explicitly for a specified candidate. These donations weren’t required to be disclosed until after the election. This changed everything. The 2012 election has been virtually taken over by Super PACs; the amounts they are spending are far outstripping expenditures by the candidates’ campaigns.
- Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC: Testing the Limits of Citizens United | TIME.com…
- Mutually Assured Super PAC Destruction In Massachusetts? | National Memo
- The Uphill Battle Against Citizens United: Tricky Legal Terrain and No Easy Fixes | AlterNet
- Mitt Romney’s flawed plan to ‘fix’ campaign financing | The Washington Post
- GOP makes run at corporate cash | Politico.com…
Today at the 2012 Overseas Vote Summit in Washington, DC the Pew Center on the States will release Democracy from Afar: States Show Progress on Military and Overseas Voting, a new report updating progress on the issue of military and overseas voting first high lighted by Pew’s 2009 report No Time To Vote.Democracy from Afar finds that “47 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws to protect the voting rights of military and overseas citizens”. More specifically, Pew found that “many states have implemented changes to their laws or administrative codes.”
+ Enough time to vote: 38 states and the District have laws or rules meeting or exceeding federal requirements to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before an election AND 8 additional states changed their primary dates to accommodate the requirement;
+ Electronic transmission of unvoted ballots: All states and the District allow military and overseas voters to receive blank ballots electronically;
+ Eliminating requirements for notarization or witnesses: 46 states and the District do not call for either for military and overseas voters; and
+ Expanded use of Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots (FWABs): 34 states and the District mandate FWABs be used as a backup ballot for all elections, including state and local.
All of these changes are summarized state-by-state in a typically handy-dandy Pew chart on page 5 of the report.
- Let the MOVE Act have a chance to work before considering electronic return of ballots
- Crowd-Geeking the New Military Voting Report | Doug Chapin/PEEA
- New legislation makes it easier for military overseas to vote | NewsObserver.com…
- Organisation appeals for expat Americans to stand up and be counted | Telegraph
- Military Voting Bill from Secretary of State Mollis Set for Rhode Island House Vote Tuesday | RI.gov…
Instead of ensuring that voting rights are extended to all Americans, many state legislatures are engaged in efforts to shut out voters in this election year, taking aim at young people, immigrants and minorities. Last week, a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard a case that could eviscerate the ability of the federal government to prevent racial discrimination in voting. The issue in Shelby County v. Holder involves Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires that jurisdictions with flagrant histories of racial discrimination in voting must get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes in their voting rules or laws.
Shelby County, Ala., one of those jurisdictions, contends that Section 5 intrudes unconstitutionally on the sovereign authority of states. It argues that while the preclearance rule was justified when the country, especially the South, was ending legal segregation, it is no longer needed. That argument was properly dismissed in a 151-page opinion by Judge John Bates of Federal District Court, who ruled that the discrimination that led to passage and extensions of the Voting Rights Act endures. The appeals court should uphold his decision.
The case is important because in 2009, by a 8-to-1 vote, the Supreme Court said there are “serious constitutional questions” about whether Section 5 meets a current need, although the justices did not answer those questions at that time. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, left some legal experts with the impression that the court had come close to striking down Section 5. Fortunately, it did not do so.
Full Article: Voting and Racial History – NYTimes.com….
- Appeals Court Examines Constitutionality Of Voting Rights Act Provision | The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times
- Election map fight goes before Supreme Court | Thomson Reuters
- Voter ID cases could test Voting Rights Act | Facing South
- Justices Wrestle With Texas Voting Rights Case | NYTimes.com…
- Supreme Court Messes With Texas, Voting Rights | Justin Levitt/Miller-McCune
For the past 30 years, redistricting in Texas has provided great theater. As the state has gone from one-party Democratic to a Republican stronghold to renewed stirrings of bipartisan competition, the controlling party has exploited the decennial line drawing to lock in gains. And just as certainly, the courts have provided refuge for those on the outs. The Supreme Court has recognized the problem on a national scale but has been unable to see a solution. The justices have failed to find an easy definition of what is fair, what level of manipulation is permissible, how much greed is tolerable, how many districts should be assigned to this group or that group.
Unfortunately our democracy has done little to bring order to the self-serving spectacle of political insiders trying to cement their advantage, the voters be damned. Fifty years ago the Supreme Court decreed that it would strike down unequal population in districts, but other than translating that into a one-person, one-vote requirement, the Court has done little else. We are told that gerrymandering offends the Constitution, but that nothing can be done about it.
So, following the logic of going where the getting might be good, litigants have learned that partisan grievances only get traction if adorned in the inflammatory garb of racial claims. Of course, race and politics are difficult to separate. The polarization of the parties nationally yields a heavily minority Democratic party and an overwhelmingly white Republican party. The richest partisan gains follow the lines of race and ethnicity.
- Supreme Court Rejects Judge-Drawn Maps in Texas Redistricting Case | NYTimes.com…
- Despite Supreme Court ruling, Texas congressional map still very uncertain | The Washington Post
- Court rejects Texas maps, delays West Virginia map | SCOTUSblog
- Actual Winner Unclear in Supreme Court’s Ruling on Texas Redistricting | ProPublica
- Is Voting Rights Act target of redistricting case? | San Antonio Express-News
The recall of Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers offers some lessons about transparency and the good sense of voters. Myers, who oversaw a messy election in which she prevailed over a challenger, was booted out of office this week with a resounding 68 percent of the vote. We suspect voters were dismayed not only by the controversial outcome in the 2010 election, in which results were reversed days after the polls closed, but by the clerk’s fight to keep ballots secret. We supported a public recount of the ballots in an effort to build public trust in the process. And we think county clerks, who are pushing for legislative action this session to restrict public access to voted ballots after elections, ought to take note of the Saguache recall. Voters may not be as keen on their efforts as they think.
… The value of transparency is certainly worth the effort. If the public is able to double-check the work of clerks in tabulating elections, it should add to the public confidence in the process. That’s assuming the clerks are accurately tallying elections, and we have no reason to assume otherwise. The bill the clerks are hoping to get passed has yet to be introduced in the legislature, so we’ll withhold comment on it until we see it. Donetta Davidson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said the bill is being drafted.
Full Article: Editorial: In Saguache, a vote for voters – The Denver Post.
- Contested Saguache County election gets public scrutiny, vote by vote | The Denver Post
- The sky didn’t fall after all | The Denver Post
- Saguache Co. clerk ordered to turn over ballots | The Denver Post
- ES&S representatives fail to show for ordered depositions | Center Post Dispatch
- Saguache County, Colorado state officials at odds over access to ballots | The Pueblo Chieftain
The winner of the 2012 caucuses, we now know, was Rick Santorum. The loser, it’s becoming clear, was Iowa. The certified results released this week from the nation’s first presidential nominating contest revealed that Mitt Romney’s declared eight-vote victory on caucus night was actually a 34-vote defeat. They revealed that eight voting precincts went missing in action, and their votes will never be counted. And they were accompanied by evolving statements from the Republican Party of Iowa, which, having initially called the race for Romney, first declared this week’s result a “split decision” and only later acknowledged victory for Santorum.
Such a muddled result and response threatens the already-contested legitimacy of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status and underscores the need for reforms to professionalize the voting process, political observers and party officials said. “It’s bad. It really hurts the caucuses,” longtime Iowa observer David Yepsen said. “The caucuses have lots of critics, and for this to happen really jeopardizes the future of the event.”
Criticism of Iowa’s place on the nominating calendar has long come from other states envious of the attention it receives, and has often focused on the demographic realities that make it unrepresentative of the country as a whole. But this year’s fumbled result opens a new line of attack: that Iowa’s process is amateurish, and that its results cannot be trusted.
- The Semantics and Statistics of Santorum’s Win in Iowa | 538/NYTimes.com
- Who won the Iowa primary – and does it matter from a technical perspective? | Jeremy Epstein/Freedom to Tinker
- Santorum Didn’t Win Iowa By 34 Votes — He Won By 69 | TPM
- Recount gives Santorum edge in Iowa caucuses | Washington Times
- Recount shows Santorum won in Iowa, but officials call it a tie | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There were no fireworks and no joyous, flag-waving crowds, although the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament did at least raise a glass to the strains of Ode to Joy. Yesterday two-thirds of Croats who took part in a referendum on whether their country should join the European Union voted “yes”, more than had been expected. The low turnout of 43%, however, meant that only a third of the electorate actually voted in favour. “It’s not great, but it’s legal,” was the accurate if underwhelming summing-up of Zoran Milanović, the new prime minister. Still, not a single one of Croatia’s 15 regions voted against. Indeed, one could fairly make the case that given the steady stream of bad news from the euro zone, Balkan Greece and Croatia’s neighbour Hungary, a two-thirds vote in favour of joining was something of an achievement.
Croatia completed its negotiations with Brussels last year and, assuming no hiccups, will become the EU’s 28th member on July 1st 2013. It will become the second ex-Yugoslav state, after Slovenia, to join.
Croatia’s EU accession was negotiated by the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which was turfed out of office in an election in December. But it was backed by Croatia’s entire political elite, from Mr Milanović’s left-leaning Social Democratic Party to the Catholic church to prominent academics and institutions.
- Croats say ‘yes’ to EU membership | seattlepi.com…
- Referendum Held on EU Membership | VoA News
- Can We Have a Democratic Election? | Elizabeth Drew/The New York Review of Books
- New Pew Report Details Progress on Military, Overseas Voting | Doug Chapin/PEEA
- Voting and Racial History – Shelby County v. Holder and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act | NYTimes.com…
So it looks like ‘our stupid aul pencils’ got the last laugh. With Ireland’s 7,500 e-voting machines now up for sale or waste disposal if they can’t be sold, the end is finally in sight for a costly saga going back some 13 years. Following research and trial runs the machines were eventually purchased in 2002 for €50 million as the Fianna Fail led government sought to push ahead with their introduction. However, amid serious concerns surrounding the accuracy and security of the machines the government was eventually forced to set up an independent commission to look into these concerns. The commission found the concerns were justified and plans to use them in the 2004 elections were scrapped just a month before people voted in June. Since then, it has cost the stage a whopping €3.5m to store Ireland’s e- voting machines.
Dutch firm Nedap made the machines and public concerns in the Netherlands and Germany later prompted the decommissioning of thousands of the machines in those countries. Unbowed by these setbacks, the government – with Noel Dempsey, Martin Cullen and Bertie Ahern leading the charge – were determined that they could still salvage the situation and introduce e-voting for the 2009 elections.
Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dail in 2007 that by not adopting the new technology ‘ this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid aul pencils’.
- Pubs ‘could use e-voting machines’ | Belfasttelegraph.co.uk
- E-voting machines for sale or disposal | RTÉ News
- The infamous E-voting machines of the noughties are now officially worthless | JOE
- Disposal plan sought for e-voting machines | The Irish Times
- Microsoft Research Proposes E-Voting Attack Mitigation | threatpost