Former FEC commissioner Trevor Potter explained misunderstandings about SuperPACS in a Washington Post editorial. Ballot shortages in a local election in Alaska have led to protests and an investigation, while the importance of every vote was highlighted in a razor-thin special election for the Oklahoma House. Rick Hasen commented on the marathon of elections in Wisconsin that will culminate in the June 5 recall election for Governor. Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell angered some in his own party by offering a series of amendments that rendered the State’s new voter id legislation moot. A recent District Court decision and the anticipated inaction by a deadlocked FEC have left political players uncertain about disclosure requirements. TechPinions considered the security concerns that stand in the way of a trustworthy internet voting system and Janai Nelson surveyed the many significant elections taking place in Africa in 2012.
- Editorials: Five myths about super PACs | Trevor Potter/The Washington Post
- Alaska: Unscanned ballots tallied as problems investigated in Anchorage | Anchorage Daily News
- Oklahoma: Tulsa County Judge Could Decide Who Wins Oklahoma House Seat | KOTV.com
- Wisconsin: The Real Loser Of The Scott Walker Recall? The State Of Wisconsin | Richard L. Hasen/The New Republic
- Editorials: McDonnell’s wise move on Virginia’s voter ID bill | The Washington Post
- National: FEC Ruling Leaves Ad Uncertainty | Roll Call
- National: Internet Voting Is Years Away, And Maybe Always Will Be | TechPinions
- Blogs: African Elections in 2012 on the World Stage and in the Classroom | Concurring Opinions
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed them. Political candidates rely on them. And Stephen Colbert parodies them. But as a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the lawyer behind Colbert’s super PAC — Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — I find that most people don’t understand the role that these largely unaccountable organizations play in American politics. As the GOP primary race draws to a close, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about groups powerful enough to evade traditional limits with a single bound.
1. Super PACs are transparent because they are required to report the names of donors.
Under federal law, political action committees must report the names of their donors. And under the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, corporations are permitted to spend money on political speech. So super PACs — allegedly independent political action committees that can collect unlimited cash — regularly disclose corporate contributors. But transparency can be a bit blurry at times. In 2011, the Mitt Romney-linked Restore our Future super PAC reported a $1 million contribution from “W Spann LLC.” Never heard of it? Neither had several enterprising reporters, who learned that its address in New York was the same as that of Bain Capital — Romney’s former firm. After the press demanded to know what Romney was hiding, a former Bain executive came forward to say that the donation was his. He had given it through a shell corporation that his lawyer had created for that purpose. How often does this happen? What if W Spann had been funded by another corporation or a foreign national — one whose lawyers had been a little less obvious when picking an address? Disclosure isn’t the same as transparency.
2. Super PACs don’t corrupt politics because they operate independently of the campaigns they support.
In Citizens United, the high court said that the government may regulate only political activity that has the potential to corrupt and that independent corporate spending does not fall into that category. But the Federal Election Commission permits “common vendors” (such as pollsters and media firms) to be used by candidates and super PACs. It lets candidates solicit funds for super PACs, endorse them and appear at their events. Financial backers of these groups can travel with candidates and advise them on policy. And the people running them can be closely tied to the candidates.
Full Article: Five myths about super PACs – The Washington Post.
- The biggest danger of Super PACs | Rick Hasen/CNN.com
- The DISCLOSE Act and the Non-Profit Campaign Finance Loophole | Legislation & Policy Brief Blog
- Federal judge rules Federal Election Commission overstepped authority in shielding ad donors | The Washington Post
- Romney’s fundraisers are quietly amassing millions | WSJ.com…
- Federal contractors donate to ‘super PAC’ backing Romney – unclear whether such giving is still banned after Citizens United | latimes.com…
When some Anchorage precincts ran out of ballots on Election Day, frustrated voters were asked to cast substitute ballots. They selected their mayor using ballots printed for faraway precincts. They marked their vote on a controversial gay rights proposal on blue sample ballots or hastily made photocopies. On Thursday, 1,800 of those makeshift ballots were being counted at City Hall even as election officials and city leaders work to untangle just what went wrong April 3. The replacement ballots couldn’t be counted alongside regular ballots the night of the election because they’re incompatible with voting machines, said City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein. ”These are the ones that people showed up at their own home precincts … but there was a shortage of ballots,” Gruenstein said. “So they voted a sample ballot that won’t slide through the machine.” The city will release results of the 1,800 “unscannable” votes as soon as they become available, Gruenstein said.
Also on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska announced it had made a public records request calling on the city to produce detailed paperwork that would reveal how many ballots were sent to each precinct, the names of people who voted questioned ballots and other information.
The latest counting effort, which began at 2 p.m., is one more step toward learning exactly how many people cast eligible ballots in the city elections and whom they voted for. A trickier question — how many people tried to vote but were unable to because of the shortages? — will be harder to answer.
- Tulsa County Judge Could Decide Who Wins Oklahoma House Seat | KOTV.com…
- Anchorage Assembly Votes Against Independent Council To Investigate Election | alaskapublic.org…
- Wellington election: Judge approves request for hand recount for disputed election | OrlandoSentinel.com…
- Machine glitch on Sequoia Advantage leads to election recount in Wallington | NorthJersey.com…
- Indian Voting Machines With Paper Trails to Be Field-tested | PCWorld
A hearing will resume next week in a Tulsa County courtroom over the outcome of a special election for state House District 71 seat. Democrat Dan Arthrell and Republican Katie Henke are seeking to replace former state Representative Dan Sullivan. In that special election April 3, 2012, Arthrell won by three votes. Henke asked for a recount and on Wednesday, the Tulsa County Election Board certified Henke as the winner by one vote. After the board certified the election, two uncounted ballots for Arthrell were found inside a ballot box. The election board believes the two ballots were caught somehow, maybe on the edge of the drop box underneath the voting machine.
“The precinct officials have to literally get down on their hands and knees to look for these ballots,” Election Board Secretary Patty Bryant said. “They overlooked it when they put them in the boxes and sealed them and said these were all the ballots,” That’s why the election board asked a judge for guidance about what to do about a 1-vote margin, when 2 votes for the losing candidate were missed.
“All of this needs to be cleared up before anyone is seated from this district, otherwise whoever goes in is under a cloud,” House District 71 candidate Dan Arthrell (D) said. “I would not want to go under a cloud like that whether all the votes were cast and all the votes were counted.” The winner of the recount, Katie Henke, would lose if the ballots missed in the recount were added in. But since the extra ballots were not under lock and key – the law says they don’t count.
Full Article: Tulsa County Judge Could Decide Who Wins House Seat –NewsOn6.com… – Tulsa, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports – KOTV.com… |.
- No ruling yet in recount in Tulsa House race | NewsOK.com…
- Stray ballots found after Republican certified winner in Oklahoma House District 71 | Tulsa World
- New ballots found after recount in Oklahoma House race | RealClearPolitics
- 2 Ballots found After Republican Wins By 1 Vote In District 71 R | NewsOn6.com…
- Unscanned ballots tallied as problems investigated in Anchorage | Anchorage Daily News
On June 5, Wisconsin voters will head to the polls to decide whether to recall controversial Republican Governor Scott Walker and hislieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. The current pollingshows a close race. But while it’s not yet clear whether Walker will survive the vote, it’s increasingly safe to declare one winner and one loser from the recall election. The winner is the national Democratic Party, which is already reaping benefits. The loser is the cause of civility in the state of Wisconsin. Democrats may not succeed in removing Walker from office, which would be only the third removal of a U.S. governor ever (following a North Dakota governor in 1921 and California’s Gray Davis in 2003). But the recall vote will likely improve the Democrats’ general election prospects. The June election will be a practice run for get-out-the-vote and other organizing efforts in November. That provides an opportunity to both parties to make sure voters are registered to vote–but it’s Democrats who stand to disproportionately benefit, as they usually have a harder time with voter registration, for various demographic reasons (ie: their voters’ incomes are lower; they move homes more frequently.)
True, if Walker wins, it is possible that the momentum will help Republicans in the presidential contest. But the prospects are much higher that even a Democratic defeat would be helpful. The recall event has already energized union voters, and no doubt Democrats will try to paint Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as lining up behind Walker and his anti-union efforts.
To be sure, the recall effort does pose risks for Democrats. One possibility that commentators have mentioned is that Republicans in other states will use the same recall tool to remove Democratic governors. (Think of Mark Dayton in Minnesota, for example, who faces a majority Republican legislature.) But this risk seems minimal. There is a reason that there have been only two successful recalls of sitting governors in the last century: It takes time, money, and a lot of voter anger to remove someone from office whom voters have just chosen for the seat. While many opponents of governors talk of a recall, the talk rarely translates into action, and a successful Wisconsin recall is unlikely to change that. It takes an odd confluence of events to produce a potential majority to undo a statewide election.
- Democrats file 1 million signatures for Walker recall | JSOnline
- Democrats want faux candidates out of recall election | Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune
- Not what they meant democracy to look like – original supporters of recall law expected it would be used rarely | JSOnline
- Lt. Governor: Recall message is national | Politico.com…
- GOP Loses Senate Majority, After Recall-Targeted Senator Resigns | TPM
Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell has moved to gut an obnoxious bill, championed by Republican lawmakers, that would have needlessly stiffened voting requirements for Virginians. The governor’s level-headed move has annoyed his fellow Republicans, but it has also reaffirmed his reputation as a conservative who has governed mainly as a pragmatist — a reputation that propels him to the short list of Mitt Romney’s putative running mates. Although he didn’t veto the bill, Mr. McDonnell offered a series of amendments whose effect will be to render the legislation all but moot. That’s a good thing, because the voter ID bill is a gratuitously divisive measure whose only effect would have been to invalidate ballots cast by thousands of poor, young, elderly and minority voters. Under a state law that has worked well for decades, Virginia voters who lack identification may cast ballots anyway, providing they sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. Falsifying the affidavit is a felony under state law.
The law has never posed a problem; there is no evidence or history of any pattern, prevalence or systematic attempt at voter fraud in Virginia. Nonetheless, Republicans insisted that the law be changed. Under their bill, voters lacking ID could cast only provisional ballots, which would not count unless they faxed an ID to voting officials within a day or presented it personally. Studies have shown that voters who lack identification tend to be disproportionately elderly, young, poor and black. That means the legislation was blatantly anti-democratic as well as anti-Democratic.
- Governor proposes changes controversial voter ID bill | WTVR.com…
- Voter ID bill causes concern among Bucks County’s senior citizens | Bucks News
- Voter ID law may prevent students from voting | The Daily Pennsylvanian
- House panel advances 1 proposal to change voter ID law, but balks at 2 others | The Republic
- Voter ID rules: A solution in search of a problem | The Washington Post
A court ruling rejecting Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements as too lax has left political players unsure how much they need to report about the financing of issue ads, making the agency a battleground in the dispute over secret money in 2012. The March 30 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson orders the FEC to rewrite disclosure rules drafted after enactment of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that the court deemed inadequate. Few expect the six-member agency to comply promptly with the order. Divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the FEC is notorious for partisan deadlocks. It hasn’t yet mustered a quorum to weigh new regulations arising from the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, though it did say it would no longer enforce restrictions that kept labor unions and corporations from making political expenditures.
“They’re very tardy in doing this, frankly,” said Indiana election lawyer James Bopp Jr., who petitioned the FEC to write new regulations within weeks of the Citizens United ruling. “There are several regulations that depend exclusively on the sections of the law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, and the only responsible course for the FEC would have been to repeal those regulations.”
The March 30 ruling muddies the waters further. At issue is whether trade associations or tax-exempt advocacy groups must report the donors behind the issue ads known as electioneering communications. Such ads picture or name a candidate on the eve of an election but stop short of urging for a vote for or against the individual. Nonprofits spent some $133 million on the ads in 2010 without disclosing donors.
Full Article: FEC Ruling Leaves Ad Uncertainty : Roll Call Politics.
- Federal judge rules Federal Election Commission overstepped authority in shielding ad donors | The Washington Post
- Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling | Huffington Post
- Five myths about super PACs | Trevor Potter/The Washington Post
- The DISCLOSE Act and the Non-Profit Campaign Finance Loophole | Legislation & Policy Brief Blog
- Sunshine for the Super PAC: The DISCLOSE Act Would Eliminate Anonymous Donors | Georgetown Public Policy Review
In today’s New York Times Magazine, political writer Matt Bai grumbles in a short piece about his inability to vote online in an era where nearly everything else can be done over the Internet. “The best argument against Internet voting,” he writes, “is that it stacks the system against old and poor people who can’t afford or use computers, but the same could be said about cars.” That, he argues, is a problem that could easily be solved by the electronic equivalent of giving people rides to a polling place. If only it were so simple. Voting, alas, has unique characteristics that make internet implementations all but impossible given current technology. The big problem is that we make two demands of it that cannot be met simultaneously. We want voting to be very, very secure. And we want it to be very, very anonymous.
Internet security is difficult under the best of conditions. But voting has the additional complication that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to remedy a breach. Most of the time, all that is at stake is money, and we know how to fix that. Identity theft is more complex but still there are remedies. A stolen vote is gone forever.
Anonymity complicated the problem immensely. The usual way to secure an internet transaction to to make certain that both the server and the person at the other end and who or what they claim to be. To cast a ballot at a poling place or vote an absentee ballot, you have to produce identification or, at a minimum, a signature that matches one on file. It’s not perfect. but it’s generally better than we can do on the internet. Then you are given a ballot or a card that activates an electronic voting machine, but there is no link between the ballot and your identity, guaranteeing anonymity. This is really, really hard to simulate online. The more that is done to assure your identity, the harder it is to separate that identity from the vote that is cast.
- The Details On How To Elect Futurama’s Bender To Whatever Election Is Using Online Voting | Techdirt
- Online Voting ‘Premature’ Warns Government Cybersecurity Expert | WBUR
- NDP internet vote disruption worries experts | The Chronicle Herald
- In Theory And Practice, Why Internet-Based Voting Is a Bad Idea | Slashdot
- Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board | PCWorld
Teaching U.S. election law in the shadow of a presidential election is an election law professor’s dream. There is no better backdrop for the material or more engaging context to capture student interest in the subject. However, as I also teach a comparative election law course that examines election law issues internationally, I had a difficult time deciding which to offer this fall in light of the seemingly record number of presidential and legislative elections this year. On no other continent is this cloudburst of elections more evident than in Africa. The concentration of African elections is owing not just to Africa having more countries and democracies than any other continent; rather, the combination of the Arab spring and the happenstance of calendrical synchronicity has yielded a mother lode of elections on the continent. Africa is evidence that, against many odds, democracy is at work. In the United States, democracy works in large part because of deeply entrenched historical values and a multiplicity of modern interests that depend on democratic institutions. Indeed, in much of the Western world, democracy enjoys a worn expectation as a successful form of governance. In modern Africa, however, democracy increasingly prevails because the lion’s share of its inhabitants is moving steadfastly and stubbornly against authoritarianism and the one-party state in hopes for a fairer, freer, and more equal form of government. Simply put, democracy in Africa grows from the same soil of revolution and idealism that nourished the seeds of U.S. democracy nearly three centuries ago. For those of us interested in the study of democracy, Africa is a place to watch in 2012.
With presidential elections scheduled or already held this year in Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Egypt, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Madagascar and parliamentary or legislative elections in Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Equitorial Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Lesotho, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Zimbabwe, the ballot box is on fire in Africa. More important, however, is what these elections portend for the future of democracy in this region and the potential teaching tool these elections offer for democracy enthusiasts. Many of these elections involve thorny procedural, administrative, and political issues that highlight the positive evolution of democracy in Africa and underscore the delicate trajectory of a decades-long democracy revolution worldwide. Three countries in particular are worth noting: Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali.
The only country in West Africa never to have had a coup, Senegal has been described by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems as a democratic reference point on the African continent. However, in the weeks leading to Senegal’s recent presidential election, an estimated six people were killed in what amounted to a month of demonstrations. The incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, came to power in 2000 and helped to usher in a new constitution the following year that reduced presidential terms from seven to five years and instituted a two-term limit. Seven years later in 2008, the legislature passed another constitutional amendment reinstituting a seven-year term. Despite earlier promises to step down after two terms, Wade announced his intent to run for a third term in 2009 engendering fierce criticism in Senegal and internationally and threatening Senegal’s reputation for democratic stability. A Constitutional Council, the members of which were appointed by Wade, approved his eligibility to run on the grounds that the 2001 constitutional amendment applied only to his second term, thereby allowing him to seek a second seven-year term and third term as president.
The February 26 presidential elections gave Wade a slight lead over his main opponent Macky Sall, Wade’s former protégé and long-time party member. However, with Wade receiving roughly 35% and Sall 27% of the vote, neither obtained the required 50% minimum to avoid a run-off election under Senegal’s constitution. Despite the pall cast over the first round of Senegal’s presidential elections, the run-off on March 25 affirmed the country’s designation as a democracy on the rise. Wade’s support remained static while Sall earned 66% of the vote. In an uncharacteristic relinquishment of power amid protest and controversy, Wade conceded the race within hours of the close of the election. Wade’s spokesman accurately described the election outcome as proof that Senegal remains a “great democracy.”
- Macky Sall wins Senegal run-off election in landslide | Deseret News
- Senegal votes in cliff-hanger run-off election | The Star
- Music star Youssou Ndour hits campaign trail | Daily Star
- Runoff likely as Senegal counts votes | Al Jazeera
- Analysis: In Senegal, presidents concede defeat | Washington Times