Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: April 2004 Archives

« March 2004 | Main | May 2004 »

April 30, 2004

Priority mail for the troops

Plagued by a history of problems delivering mail, especially in wartime, the Pentagon will soon be unveiling a program to do a better job of getting ballots overseas and back so units deployed in combat zones and elsewhere can cast votes in the fall presidential election.

The pledge for improvement comes amid critical reports on laggardly military mail service and complaints of shortages of forms to request absentee ballots for overseas civilians.

Pentagon studies of recent elections have found about a quarter of overseas military service members who try to get an absentee ballot do not get it in time or do not get it back to their local election office in time for it to be counted. More recently, a General Accounting Office study released this month said historic military mail problems have resurfaced in Iraq.

The Pentagon and the Postal Service are putting finishing touches on a joint agreement for speedy handling of ballots going back and forth to units overseas. The ballots will travel in specially colored containers so everyone knows they need priority handling, said Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. His portfolio includes the Federal Voting Assistance Program responsible for more than 6 million military and civilian voters overseas. -- Pentagon to Try to Fix War Zone Voting Woes (

April 29, 2004

4th Circuit afirms decision against Charleston County

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a South Carolina county's at-large method of electing county council members illegally dilutes minority voting strength.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy's ruling that Charleston County's system discriminates against blacks. The court said only a "clearly erroneous" ruling could be overturned.

"While the district court's finding ... is certainly disputable, it is not clearly mistaken," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

The U.S. Justice Department and a group of Charleston County voters challenged the at-large system, in which all county voters choose all nine council members. At the time of the trial, only three blacks were among the 41 council members elected since 1970. The county's population is 31 percent black, according to the 2000 census. -- Court strikes down S.C. county's at-large elections (AP via Charleston State)

The opinion is here on the 4th Circuit website.

Granada, MS, citizens seek injunction to stop malapportioned election

BULLETIN: US District Judge Glen Davidson has refused to issue an injunction stopping Monday's election [in Granada, Miss.]. A hearing date on the case will be set at a later time.

A lawsuit was filed late yesterday in Federal Court in Oxford [Mississippi] to delay the May 3 city election until new ward lines can be drawn based on the official 2000 census.

Oxford Attorney David O'Donnell filed the case on behalf of seven Grenadians who represent a larger group which was organized to try to get voting rights for citizens annexed by the city. ...

The suit charges that the city is planning a city council election based on 1990 census ward lines rather than ward lines drawn according to the official U.S. Government 2000 Census. ...

Informed sources say ward line deviations are off 36.6% under the current (2004) election plan. -- Citizens seek election delay (Granada Daily Sentinel Star)

Does anyone know why the plaintiffs waited to so near the election before filing suit?

Adjuncts teaching election law

While the full-time law professors provide a wonderful resource for all of us in the election law field, many law schools utilize adjuncts to teach the election law course. Practitioners bring a fresh "in the trenches" perspective that many students need to hear. I would like to compile a list of those teaching election law as adjuncts.

First on the list if Jeff Wice who will be teaching at Touro Law School.

If you are one or know of others, please leave their names in the comments.

Alabama GOP to appeal candidate case

The state Republican chairman says his party will appeal a ruling that reinstated a Christian radio talk show host on the June 1 primary ballot.

The GOP had disqualified Kelly McGinley from running for the state school board seat representing Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties on April 7, five days after she filed papers to be a candidate.

"We're going to appeal it because ultimately, the issue is not the Republican Party," state GOP chairman Marty Connors said Wednesday. "The issue is: Does any private or nonprofit organization have the ability or responsibility to govern its own affairs? Or is that the responsibility of the state or government?" ...

Connors said any votes McGinley receives would not be counted while the case is pending in court.

"People who'd vote for this candidate are going to have to understand that it's possible their votes might be meaningless because her candidacy is being challenged," he said. -- GOP: Party will appeal ruling that reinstates McGinley (AP via

April 28, 2004

Ballot format challenged in West Virginia

Democratic secretary of state candidate Mike Oliverio has filed court petitions against ballot commissioners in eight counties challenging the placement of the seven secretary of state candidates' names on those counties' May 11 Democratic primary ballots.

A petition challenging ballots in Boone, Jackson, Lincoln, McDowell, Nicholas, Summers and Webster counties was filed Wednesday in the state Supreme Court. The court ordered the prosecutors in those counties to file responses by noon Thursday. ...

On the ballots, which are all to be read by optical scanners, the Democratic secretary of state candidates' names appear at the bottom of one column and spill over into another. Five names appear in one column and two in the next. Because the order of candidates is randomly chosen in each county, Oliverio's name appears in the second column on about half the ballots.

Oliverio said state law requires that if the candidates in a particular race have to be split between two columns, the columns have to be "nearly equal.'' Instead of a five-two split, there should be a four-three or three-four split.

Also, at the end of the first column on each county's ballot is the notation "continued on the following column.'' But at the top of the second column, the two names appear alone, without any indication they are candidates for secretary of state.

Oliverio said the notation at the end of the first column should be "secretary of state candidates continued'' and there should be a notation at the top of the second column indicating the next two names are secretary of state candidates. -- Oliverio challenges ballots in Supreme Court, Raleigh County (AP via Charleston Gazette)

Another view: Vieth helps the Texas Dems

Richard Gladden writes:

Contrary to the view of some, I believe the Supreme Court's decision today in Vieth, particularly in light of Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion, actually increases the odds the Court will grant review and strike down intra-deceniial congressional redistricting in my client's case, Session v. Perry, juris. stat. pending, sub. nom. Henderson v. Perry, No. 03-9644. Although the question I presented does not rely directly on the First Amendment, it does rest fully on the idea that Elections Clause power is commensurate with, and must be supported by, or related to, a "legitimate regulatory purpose". Nowhere in the plurality, concurring or dissenting opinions, is partisan Gerrymandering considered as such. I have attached my client's jurisdictional statement (that is, the cover, index and body, as originally filed, without the docket number refered to herein). If you think it might be of interest to your readers, please feel free to post it if you like.

Thanks, Richard.

Mississippi Senate amends voter ID bill

The [Mississippi] Senate on Wednesday amended a House-passed voter identification bill to delete language that would have exempted the elderly from showing proof of their identity at the polls.

The House version provided people born before Jan. 1, 1940, would not have to show identification. The exception was put in to address concerns that requiring ID could be used to intimidate older black voters who once had to pay poll taxes.

Thirteen of the Senate's 52 members voted against the bill. The bill now goes back to the House, which can adopt it, send it to conference or let it die.

Voter ID has been a hot-button issue at the Capitol for years. Supporters say the measure would strengthen the integrity of elections in the state. Opponents say poll workers could misinform or intimidate voters. -- Senate Passes Amended Version Of House Voter ID Bill (AP via

Gore donates $6.6 million from old campaign to Democrats

Former Vice President Al Gore will drain his $6.6 million legal slush fund from his 2000 presidential campaign and transfer $4 million to the Democratic National Committee and $1 million each to both the House and Senate campaign committees.

In addition, Gore pledged $240,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, the state where he narrowly lost the presidential race, and $250,000 to the party of his home state of Tennessee.

By donating the money -- most of it squirreled away in a general election legal and accounting compliance (GELAC) fund -- Gore ended months of speculation among Democratic strategists on how he would involve himself in the Democrats' effort to take back the White House and control the Congress. -- Democrats get millions from Gore fund (The

Cuellar seeks to block Rodriquez amendment to complaint

Congressional challenger Henry Cuellar said Wednesday that U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was legally too late in making claims about unqualified Webb County voters casting ballots in last month's Democratic primary.

In court papers filed Wednesday in Laredo, Mr. Cuellar asked retired Judge Joseph Hart, who is hearing the case, to not accept the allegations in Mr. Rodriguez's amended lawsuit, filed Tuesday, which charges that Mr. Cuellar's slender lead in the 28th Congressional District is a result of illegal voting in his home county.

Mr. Cuellar's legal filing asserts that, by pointing at the Webb County voters, Mr. Rodriguez is trying to improperly broaden the scope of his original lawsuit, which alleged unspecified irregularities in voting, vote counting and in a recount in late March. -- Cuellar: Election complaint too late (

Roundup of early stories on Vieth

A divided Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Republican-drawn redistricting plan for Pennsylvania and appeared to leave scant room for similar Democratic challenges in Texas and elsewhere. ...

Several appeals to the Texas redistricting plan are pending at the court, but Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School, said the Pennsylvania ruling is bad news for Democrats in those cases.

"It was already extremely difficult. Now it is even more difficult, because you have four justices saying the door is completely closed," he said, referring to Scalia, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas. -- High court ruling in Pennsylvania case seems to offer bad news for Democratic challenges in other states (AP via Miami Herald)

"The fact that they came so close to eliminating cases over political gerrymandering but didn't do it is very significant," said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor and redistricting expert at the University of Pennsylvania. "What we're left with is Justice Kennedy's opinion, which proposes a whole new way of thinking about this."

Kennedy, in an opinion upholding Pennsylvania's map but leaving the door open to other lawsuits, suggested gerrymandering could be prohibited if the districts violate First Amendment tenets on freedom of association.

"These allegations involve the First Amendment interest of not burdening or penalizing citizens because of their participation in the electoral process, their voting history, their association with a political party, or their expression of political views," Kennedy wrote. "Under general First Amendment principles, those burdens in other contexts are unconstitutional absent a compelling government interest."

Persily said that could be a ray of hope to minority-party voters in many states: "If you're a party that feels you've been shafted, what do you do tomorrow? You say it's ideological discrimination. If you make it a First Amendment argument, now you can get back in the door." -- Supreme Court upholds Pennsylvania's GOP-leaning redistricting (Knight Ridder Newspapers via

The UPI story is here.

Welcome to the hot seat, Mr. Ashcroft

The Justice Department's Public Integrity Section is reviewing allegations that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft may have violated federal campaign finance and disclosure laws based on information developed by the Federal Election Commission.

The section is responsible for determining whether allegations merit investigation as potential criminal violations of campaign finance and disclosure laws and for making recommendations as to whether a special counsel would be needed when a potential conflict of interest with senior Justice officials exists.

At issue is the valuable campaign fundraising list of then-Sen. Ashcroft (R-Mo.). He had claimed ownership of the fundraising list during an FEC inquiry, but had not reported it as an asset on his Senate or Justice Department financial disclosure statements.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine disclosed the review in an April 14 letter to the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI), an election law interest group, which disclosed it to The Washington Post.

The institute triggered the original FEC investigation almost three years ago, which resulted in a determination in December that Ashcroft's 1998 leadership political action committee, Spirit of America, and his Senate reelection campaign committee, Ashcroft 2000, had committed at least four violations of federal campaign laws. The two committees agreed to pay a $37,000 fine to settle the issue. -- Justice Department Reviewing Ashcroft (

Here is the letter from Mr. Fine.

Vieth v Jubelirer affirmed by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has affirmed the decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer. The plaintiffs had claimed that the congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly was a political gerrymander.

Here are excerpts from the syllabus:

Justice SCALIA, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE O’CONNOR, and JUSTICE THOMAS, concluded that political gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable because no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating such claims exist.

JUSTICE KENNEDY, while agreeing that appellants’ complaint must be dismissed, concluded that all possibility of judicial relief should not be foreclosed in cases such as this because a limited and precise rationale may yet be found to correct an established constitutional violation.

More when I read the decision.

UPDATE: If you want a quick analysis of Vieth, take a look at Rick Hasen's "initial thoughts." As Rick says, Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion is generally to be considered the controlling authority. So, let's start with that opinion. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Would anyone who has read that tell me what the heck he decided, other than the appellants lose? Do you see a standard in that opinion? Is there anything to guide the lower courts in dealing with these political gerrymandering claims in the future?

2. Justice Kennedy says (p.3 of his opinion), "The ... parties have not shown us, and I have not been able to discovery, helpful discussions onthe principles of fair districting discussed in the annals of parliamentary or legislative bodies." Justice Kennedy probably does not count citizen initiatives as "parliamentary or legislative bodies," but he ought to take a look at Arizona's constitutional standards which require certain objective criteria be used (but note that the choice among those criteria can be quite subjective) and "to the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals."

3. As usual in discussions of the fairness of redistricting, Justice Kennedy ignores the elephant in the room. It is very hard to make a plan with winner-take-all voting into a "fair" plan -- just take a look at the problems Arizona has had. The Arizona Commission used a measure called AQD (a predictive measurement based on voting for certain statewide offices) and found the statewide spread to be 5.6% in favor of the Republicans. The plan just approved by the Independent Redistricting Commission and the Superior Court has 14 districts with a solid GOP majority, 9 with Democratic majorities, and 7 competitive districts. For the Democrats to win a proportionate share of the districts, they have to win the 9 with Democratic majorites and 5 of the 7 competitive districts. How likely do you think that will be? The answer, of course, is some form of proportional or choice voting. See the Center for Voting and Democracy website for a general, and many specific, explanations.

April 27, 2004

Judge orders disloyal Republican be allowed on the ballot

A judge ordered the Alabama Republican Party to reinstate a Christian radio talk show host on the June 1 primary ballot Tuesday, saying the party's rules regarding candidate loyalty were too vague.

The GOP had disqualified Kelly McGinley from running for the state school board seat representing Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties on April 7, five days after she filed papers to be a candidate. ...

McGinley rejected the idea that she is a "bad Republican," placing that label instead on party moderates — such as those Republicans who advocate abortion rights.

"Those people are the bad Republicans," she said. "I go by the platform, and I don't like Republicans that leave the platform.

"The moderates in the party are increasingly brazen in their efforts to derail candidates who are not selected by the party elite. This is happening nationwide." -- Judge orders radio talk show host back on GOP primary ballot (AP via

Michigan prosecutor arraigned for contribution/bribery case

Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga pleaded innocent Tuesday to federal charges that he intervened in criminal cases in exchange for contributions to his failed 2002 congressional campaign. ...

The nine-count indictment says Marlinga and others used his office to commit conspiracy, fraud, campaign violations and mail and wire fraud.

The federal investigation into Marlinga was triggered by complaints from Republicans who claimed Marlinga intervened in an appeal filed by convicted rapist Jeffrey Moldowan in exchange for contributions. The indictment lists $34,000 in contributions to his campaign. -- Macomb County prosecutor pleads innocent to federal fraud charges (AP via Detroit Free Press)

The Michigan Democratic Party denied Monday that it improperly funneled money from a contributor into the congressional campaign of Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga. ...

The contribution, the indictment says, came from a lawyer who already had contributed the maximum allowable to Marlinga’s campaign and defended two rape victims at the heart of the charges.

The lawyer, whom Marlinga identified as Dennis Johnston, was trying to avoid the individual contribution limit of $2,000, the indictment says. -- Dems deny funneling money to Marlinga (Detroit News)

ACU opposes investigation of DeLay group

A national conservative group is asking federal prosecutors to drop an investigation into the financial activities of a political committee founded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

The American Conservative Union told U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of San Antonio that the 2002 campaign finance activities of DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority should not be subject to a criminal investigation.

"Your office should take no action ... for the simple reason that the contributions were made legally and in accordance with the applicable state and federal law in effect during the 2002 election cycle," wrote David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

The advocacy organization Judicial Watch has filed a complaint against Texans for a Republican Majority, claiming it conducted illegal money laundering in 2002 to funnel corporate money to GOP candidates for the Texas House. -- Feds asked to suspend PAC probe (

Punk rock and voters

Vicious snarls, fist-clenching lyrics, audience of screaming fans - it all looks like typical punk rock in Fat Mike's latest concert tour.

But hang out between sets and the scene grows strange. Suspended screens start displaying political movies, one about Iraq and another about the 2000 presidential election. Linger afterward to hear a lead singer deliver an anti-Bush screed. Trace the tour dates through one swing state after another.

"Right now it's my personal crusade," Fat Mike said. "I think it's good for the country." ...

Fat Mike said he never voted before 2000, and is still not keen on Kerry. He said he only ventured into politics because he can reach young voters, not because he's a Democrat.

"I'm not anti-Republican. I'm anti-Bush," said Fat Mike. And as soon as the election is over, he said, he's giving up politics: "I'd rather be gambling." -- Of 527s, And Political Punk Rock (

"This case is different"

A national Republican spokesman who last week criticized a South Dakota Democrat for taking a salary from campaign contributions said Monday that Arkansas Republican state Rep. Marvin Parks gets a pass for doing the same thing.

"This case is different," National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti said of Parks, who is drawing about $4,000 a month from contributions.

The Washington D.C., newspaper Roll Call reported that Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat from South Dakota, is paying herself $2,500 a month as she campaigns in the June 1 South Dakota House special election.

Herseth and Parks, R-Greenbrier, are taking advantage of a new federal campaign finance law designed for those who can't afford to quit their jobs to run a full-time congressional campaign. -- National Republican changes tune on Parks' use of campaign funds (Arkansas News Bureau)

The non-loophole: phone ads

One of the newest ads of the campaign season isn't airing on TV or over the radio. You've likely heard it on the other end of your telephone.

Senator Tom Daschle's re-election campaign paid for an undisclosed number of telephone ads blaming John Thune's campaign for an increase in negative advertising.

But that's only part of the story. It turns out Daschle's ads violate a new federal election law.

Campaign finance laws require political commercials to tell you who's paying for them. You see those disclaimers at the end of any campaign ad. And new guidelines mean you should also hear them over the phone.

The phone call begins, "Hello this is Pam Dorneman. I wanted to give you a quick call because this week I have seen a number of negative television ads..."

Political persuasion over the phone is nothing new to KELOLAND campaigns. But it's how this ad ends that breaks a new federal election law. There's no disclaimer saying who paid for it. -- Ad Watch: Daschle Phone Calls (KELOLAND.COM)

Internet loophole

Hey, George Soros! You're sending sackloads of cash to all sorts of groups dedicated to defeating President Bush this November. But by so ruthlessly exploiting one loophole in campaign-finance law -- the one that allows unlimited donations to the political nonprofits known as 527 committees -- you're ignoring a different, equally large loophole. And it's one that affects a medium no one seems to be taking advantage of yet: the Internet.

The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, popularly known as McCain-Feingold, had two big goals: stopping the flow of unlimited soft-money donations from corporations, individuals, and unions to political parties; and preventing corporations and unions (and groups funded by corporations and unions) from broadcasting so-called "issue ads" on television and radio within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of the general election. The Internet makes it possible to subvert both goals, however, and that's where you come in, Mr. Soros. -- Tell George Soros! Three reasons to spend campaign cash online. By Chris Suellentrop (Slate)

Fred Gray to speak at Pepperdine

Alabama civil rights lawyer and activist Fred D. Gray will deliver the keynote address Saturday at the commencement ceremony for Pepperdine's Seaver College, the school announced yesterday.

Gray, a senior partner with Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray & Nathanson, based in Tuskegee and Montgomery, is the immediate past president of the Alabama Bar Association and was honored for his civil rights work in 1996 by the American Bar Association. He represented Rosa Parks in 1955 in litigation challenging segregated seating on public buses in Montgomery.

He was the first black president of the Alabama Bar Association. In honoring him in the inaugural year of its Spirit of Excellence Awards, the American Bar Association noted he brought cases to open the door for redistricting and reapportionment legislation, to protect the right of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to do business in Alabama, to reinstate students expelled from Alabama State College, to require the State of Alabama to protect marchers walking from Selma to Montgomery in pursuit of the right to vote, and to remedy systemic exclusion of blacks from civil juries in Alabama. -- Civil Rights Attorney to Speak At Pepperdine Graduation (Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

When "political" and "party" mean something entirely different

A couple of stories on how to party with the pols.

Under new campaign-finance rules, big donors can no longer spend lavish sums to entertain politicians at the parties' national conventions. But that won't stop the partying this year.

House majority leader Tom DeLay has set up a tax-exempt charity called Celebrations for Children, which will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from top donors at the Republican Convention in New York City by offering them yacht cruises, tickets to Broadway shows and the chance to mingle with Republican lawmakers at parties. -- Support a worthy cause and meet a senator (Time via

Public watchdog groups have criticized Republicans for using a charitable group to help host lavish parties at this summer's presidential nominating convention, but Democrats are now employing the same strategy.

Democrats are inviting corporations to contribute up to $100,000 to attend the "Rockin' on the Dock of the Bay" party in Boston on July 28, the night before Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) is to be nominated to challenge President Bush. The event's official beneficiary is the National Childhood Cancer Foundation's "CureSearch" program, but the trappings are overtly political. -- Charity-Hosted Revelry Not Just for Republicans (

Guy Charles argues against FEC regulation of 527 organizations

As the November 2004 election approaches, fundraising by issue-oriented political organizations (known as "527 organizations") will certainly impact the outcome. Groups such as the left-leaning Americans Coming Together, or the right-leaning Progress for America, will doubtless seek to use their funds to place print and television advertising that will give a boost to certain causes -- and, inevitably, certain candidates. They may also spearhead get-out-the-vote efforts to support their respective causes -- and, inevitably, certain candidates.

Currently, campaign finance laws permit such groups to do all of these things -- without regulation as to how much money can be spent. Contributions to particular candidates and parties are capped. But contributions to issue-oriented groups are not.

The result is that wealthy individuals, after they hit the cap on contributions to particular candidates and parties, can just keep on spending. After they max out their contributions to particular candidates, they can give their money, instead, to issue-oriented groups whose efforts are likely to end up helping those very same candidates and parties.

Is this a loophole in the campaign finance laws that should be closed? In the last few weeks, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has increasingly focused on this very issue. Indeed, it is considering setting a $5,000 cap on individual contributions to each 527 organization.

I will argue, however, that imposing such a cap would be a mistake -- and a First Amendment violation even if the FEC believes that it has the authority to impose the cap. -- Charles: Why the Federal Election Commission Should Not Limit Contributions to Political Issue Organizations (FindLaw's Writ)

VRA and ADA interaction

Jeff Wice asks:

Has anybody ever come across a case where the Voting Rights Act was used (by a governmental body) as a defense against an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit? Specifically, has the relocation of non-ADA accessible voting places in minority communties to ADA accessible polling places (in adjacent but non-minority) neighborhoods violated the Voting Rights Act? Or has the Voting Rights Act not served as a valid defense? This would not be in a Section 5 jurisdiction.

If you have ever heard of such a situation or case, please let me know directly at

April 26, 2004

Supreme Court: reconsider North Carolina campaign finance law

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a lower court to reconsider the constitutionality of a North Carolina law prohibiting political action committees from accepting individual contributions of more than $4,000.

A federal judge and appeals court agreed the law should be struck down, but the justices said those decisions should be reconsidered in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld a federal campaign finance law, known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or BCRA.

"Just as Congress adopted BCRA to address the use of conduits (soft money committees and sham advocacy committees) to circumvent contribution limits, so North Carolina has enacted laws to address similar real world problems involving independent spenders in elections," Susan Nichols, a special state deputy attorney general, had told the justices in a filing.

The North Carolina Right to Life Committee challenged the law and won decisions that allowed individuals to make unlimited donations to PACs that run independent campaigns on behalf of like-minded state candidates, thus avoiding contribution limits directly to the candidate's campaign.

Justices told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to review the case again, taking into account the Supreme Court's December ruling in the federal campaign law case. -- High Court Orders Review of N.C. Campaign Finance Case (AP via

Whoops, my faith in India is shaken

Thousands of people who have been denied the right to exercise their franchise have no remedy against the injustice committed on them by the election officers.

Though the right to vote is a statutory right, the Supreme Court has held that its breach "should not come in the way of the process of fulfiling the high objective of bringing into existence a House or an institution contemplated by the Constitution for enabling democratic functioning of the country".

So who is a voter?

The first and foremost requirement for being a voter is that his or her name must figure in the electoral rolls.

If the name is missing, the right to vote by such a person ceases to exist, even if he or she is carrying the photo identity card issued by the Election Commission.

Though the apex court had, in several judgments, deprecated lapses in properly revising the electoral rolls, it has not bestowed the right on a victim voter to seek judicial remedy against such a grave offence. -- No remedy for missing names (The Times of India)

China to Hong Kong: no direct elections

China's parliament Monday dashed Hong Kong people's hopes of directly electing their leaders in polls in 2007 and 2008, reinforcing Beijing's full control over democratic progress in the territory.

The decision came after top members of the National People's Congress (NPC) had voted on political reforms for the former British colony, where calls have mounted for more voting rights out of growing frustration with the China-backed administration.

"There will be no universal suffrage for electing the third Chief Executive in 2007," Tsang Hin-chi, a Hong Kong member of the NPC's Standing Committee, told reporters in Beijing.

"There will be no universal suffrage for all legislators," he said, referring to elections due in 2008. His comments were carried live on Hong Kong's Cable Television. ...

Half of Hong Kong's Legislative Council is returned via direct election, while the other half is selected by largely pro-Beijing professional and business groups. -- China Rules Out Direct Elections in HK in 2007-08 (

Ex-chairman of Virginia GOP moves to dismiss eavesdropping suit

The former chairman of the [Virginia] state Republican party asked a federal court Monday to dismiss a civil suit filed against him and other former GOP officials over eavesdropping on Democratic strategy calls two years ago.

Gary R. Thomson, who pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor related to the controversy and resigned his post, said in his response that he did not reveal the contents of one of the calls to Anne P. Petera, the top staffer for Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. ...

Attorney Joel D. Bieber, who is representing Thomson in the civil case, said Monday that further litigation in the matter was "mean-spirited."

"We've accepted responsibility for what was done," Bieber said. "(The plaintiffs) are saying it's time to bring a Washington, D.C., law firm into Virginia to do the job the FBI did not do." ...

Democrats have said that money was not the object when they filed suit. The main hope, they say, is that more information will come out over who was involved in the scandal beyond Matricardi and Thomson. -- Former state GOP head requests eavesdropping suit be dismissed (AP via Hampton Rhodes Daily Press)

April 25, 2004

Must have been an "accounting malfunction"

The Texas Republican Party went on a drive during the last major statewide elections to raise corporate cash like never before, collecting $2.2 million from companies such as energy firms and nursing home chains.

While raising the money was legal, it may have been spent in violation of state law, the Houston Chronicle found through a review of more than 10,000 pages of state and federal campaign finance reports.

Texas law prohibits political parties from spending corporate or labor union money on anything other than running a party primary, paying for a convention or administrative expenses. State law also requires those funds to be spent through a separate, restricted account, which can also include money from other sources.

But the state Republican Party transferred its corporate donations to a federal committee it runs and designated all general election expenses as administrative. -- - Possible violations of law in GOP money trail (Houston Chronicle)

Scalia, ducks, friends, and redistricting

The Los Angeles Times article, Renewed Focus on Scalia Trip, concerns another of Justice Antonin Scalia's duck hunting trips.

Justice Scalia has been hunting in Mississippi with Judge Charles Pickering and his son Cong. Chip Pickering for years. Yet he refused to recuse himself in the Mississippi redistricting case in which Cong. Pickering's district was in dispute -- Branch v. Smith.

In 1993, Scalia wrote a strong opinion for the Supreme Court in a Minnesota case, saying that state lawmakers and state judges, not federal authorities, had the primary duty to redraw their electoral districts. In the Mississippi case, however, Scalia upheld a move by federal judges to block a state court's plan that was more favorable to Pickering's Democratic opponent.

His legal flip came with an explanation suited to Mississippi — but one carrying a touch of irony. Because of the state's history of racism, its state officials cannot make changes in their electoral districts without advance approval from the Justice Department under the terms of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when the Bush administration refused to approve a Mississippi state judge's plan that was favored by black Democrats, the high court cleared the way for federal judges to adopt a plan that was favorable to the Republicans.

Scalia's role in a partisan struggle that determined the political fate of a hunting partner created an impression of partiality and Republican coziness, according to various observers.

The Times provides a counterweight to its charge by pointing out that the decision in the case was joined by other members of the Court.

But the Democrats' complaints also may be exaggerated, since it is not clear whether Scalia made a difference in the final outcome. His decision in the redistricting case was backed by the full court in a ruling issued months later. The justices all agreed that the state's failure to win the Justice Department's approval for its new Congressional districts cleared the way for federal judges to step in.

However, in the mid-80's, the Supreme Court heard a case from Alabama which involved the bias of one of the Alabama Supreme Court Justices. Justice Brennan concurred and noted that the decision did not hinge on the decision below being 5-4.

That fact too is irrelevant -- Justice Embry's participation in the court's resolution of the case, while he was fully aware of his interest in its outcome, was sufficient in itself to impugn the decision. The description of an opinion as being "for the court" connotes more than merely that the opinion has been joined by a majority of the participating judges. It reflects the fact that these judges have exchanged ideas and arguments in deciding the case. It reflects the collective process of deliberation which shapes the court's perceptions of which issues must be addressed and, more importantly, how they must be addressed. And, while the influence of any single participant in this process can never be measured with precision, experience teaches us that each member's involvement plays a part in shaping the court's ultimate disposition.

Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813 (1986).

April 24, 2004

South Dakota rumors about voter registration campaign

Election officials and law enforcement authorities [in South Dakota] are keeping close watch on voter registration projects in north Rapid City after reports that two convicted felons were being paid to specifically sign up Democrats.

Pennington County Auditor Julie Pearson said Friday that she and her staff had not found any fraudulent registration forms. But she said she is being especially vigilant because of a well-publicized case of voter registration fraud in the county two years ago.

Pearson also grew concerned after officers from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office notified her that two people with criminal records had been working the North Rapid area to register voters. ...

It isn't illegal for convicted felons to register voters, Pearson said. Nor is it illegal for voter registration workers to be paid on a per-head basis for their registration work. In fact, state elections supervisor Kea Warne of Pierre said state law doesn't prohibit registration workers from paying people to register. -- Voter registration charges, denials fly (Rapid City Journal)

Despite this behavior's being legal, the Democrats say that they are not doing it.

South Dakota: 7th day of Indian trial

When Elsie Meeks was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1998, she said the campaign office got a series of telephone complaints that the party had chosen an American Indian for that position.

"They would call and say, 'We don't understand why Bernie has her on the ticket when we can't go onto her reservation and vote,'" Meeks testified in a voting rights trial on Thursday. ...

The judge must decide whether the American Indian population is too high in District 27 or if the state's lawyers are correct when they say that that high of an Indian population is needed to elect state lawmakers who are Indian.

Lawyers from the South Dakota attorney general's office cite low voter turnout on reservations for state elections and a young population that, in all racial groups, tends to vote in small numbers. ...

Both the state and the ACLU have expert witnesses who have examined voting patterns on a precinct-by-precinct basis. The experts have reached different conclusions about voting patterns of the two races.

ACLU lawyers argued in a brief that their expert and the state's expert both found "overwhelming" cohesion among Indian voters. They argued that various forms of statistical analysis of 2002 elections in District 26 found that 86 percent of Indian voters voted the same way.

The ACLU argued that the state's expert incorrectly considered ballot issue elections in his analysis. Those elections do not have candidates and should not be studied to find voting patterns, the ACLU argued. -- ACLU finishes case in voting rights trial (Rapid City Journal)

South Dakota: 3rd day of Indian suit

In the third day of a voting-rights trial on Wednesday, five American Indians told a federal judge that they have experienced racism in South Dakota.

The testimony is designed to establish a history of racial discrimination as the American Civil Liberties Union seeks a court decision to carve out a new state legislative district favorable to American Indians in the south-central part of the state. ...

As a grown woman, Black Lance said she still fears leaving the reservation because she believes law enforcement officers will stop her.

"I'm afraid when I leave the reservation. It seems like we left a safe area and go to an area where it's prejudiced," she said.

Black Lance said she has been stopped "just about every time I left the reservation."

The traffic stops ended when she bought a car that did not bear a license plate number from a reservation county, she said. ...

On cross-examination by state lawyers, the witnesses said they had not had trouble registering to vote or voting. Drapeaux said she is a leader in her community, and a copy of a newspaper advertisement in which the Rural Electric Association recognizes her as such was entered into evidence.

When asked if she believed white people in Martin accepted her, Drapeaux replied, "I'd say so." -- Witnesses testify on racism at ACLU trial (Rapid City Journal)

South Dakota: 6th day of Indian suit

South Dakota's election procedures are fair, open and not a barrier to participation by American Indians, state election officials testified in the sixth day of a voting rights lawsuit.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson and Bennett County Auditor Susan Williams both testified that their overriding philosophy is that it should be easy for people to vote. ...

Voter registration in the three American Indian reservation counties at issue in the lawsuit exceeds national and state voter registration averages, Nelson said. But the same isn't true for turnout.

"They've done a very good job getting registered to vote. But turnout rates fall to the bottom of the list. Going to the polls is another story," Nelson said.

Nelson said a former state tribal affairs officer told him Indians tend not to vote in state and federal elections because they care more about tribal government and less about state and federal government.

ACLU lawyers have argued that low Indian turnout can be attributed to a lack of faith in the system that is the result of a history of being unable to overcome the power of a white majority. -- Election officials: Everyone was treated equally (Rapid City Journal)

Ex-felons getting the right to vote in Virginia, one by one

In a matter of months, Gov. Mark R. Warner will have restored civil rights to more ex-convicts than any other governor in Virginia's modern history.

Warner, a Democrat, has restored voting and other rights to more former state convicts during the past two years than the past two Republican governors -- Jim Gilmore and George Allen -- did during their combined eight years in office.
Not since Gov. Charles S. Robb, a Democrat who served from 1982 to 1986, has any governor restored civil rights at such a pace.

"As long as I'm governor, this is going to be our approach," Warner said this week. In Virginia, anyone convicted of a felony loses certain rights, including the right to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury or act as a notary public. The state is one of only seven where felons have their voting rights taken away for life.

However, the governor has the discretionary power to restore all citizenship rights, except for the right to possess a firearm. Felons do not become eligible for rights restoration until years after they have completed any sentence. -- Warner restoring rights to felons at quick pace ( Online)

Arizona group sues in federal court for approval of new districts

A coalition of minorities asked a federal court on Friday to approve new, more competitive legislative districts for the 2004 elections rather than waiting for the U.S. Justice Department to rule on the recently redrawn maps.

The group's leaders said they need quick action so candidates know where to stump for votes and so election officials can meet deadlines to organize the election.

The Independent Redistricting Commission was forced to redraw the districts after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge threw out the old maps because there were too few competitive "swing" districts. The commission sent its new maps, which increased the number of districts deemed winnable by both Republicans and Democrats to seven from four, to the Justice Department last week.

Members of the Arizona Minority Coalition, whose lawsuit sparked the changes, said they are asking the U.S. District Court to rule on the new maps as a fail-safe against slow action by the Justice Department. -- Fast OK is asked on redistricting (Arizona Republic)

If anyone is interested in seeing the complaint and moving papers, please let me know. I can post them.

April 23, 2004

House approves special elections bill

Fearing that a terrorist attack on the Capitol could decimate the legislative branch, the House overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday that would provide for quick special elections if 100 or more of its members were killed.

The bill, which would allow for elections 45 days after a catastrophe, went to the Senate after it passed by a vote of 306 to 97. But its Republican sponsors refused to take up the politically thorny question of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for temporary appointments to the House until special elections could be arranged. ...

The measure would allow for special elections in "extraordinary circumstances," which the bill defines as occurring when the speaker of the House announces that there are more than 100 vacancies. Within 10 days of the announcement, the political parties in states with vacancies would be permitted to nominate candidates to run in a special election within 45 days. -- House Sets Up Quick Elections if Its Members Die in Attack (New York Times)

DNC may establish independent unit to advertise for Kerry

Opening a new front in the campaign advertising war, the Democratic National Committee is developing plans to establish an unprecedented independent unit to run ads supporting Sen. John F. Kerry, party sources say.

Although senior officials say the party has not yet approved the plan, the DNC has hired a political operative to direct what could become a major effort to support Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, with advertising in key states. ...

But when the Supreme Court reviewed the McCain-Feingold law, it left the parties an alternative: It suggested they could continue to advertise beyond their coordinated expenditure limit if they established an independent unit to design and air the ads.

The catch was that no one in contact with the presidential nominee could participate in developing the advertising. Lawyers for both sides say that means officials at the national party committees could not consult on the content of the ads or where they run; all they could do is write the checks to pay for them.

Adding to the difficulty, since the McCain-Feingold law barred the parties from raising soft money, all of the ads must be funded with money subject to federal contribution limits.

Even with those constraints, the DNC appears on track to establish such an independent advertising unit. -- DNC Studies Independent Unit to Run Kerry Ads (

Suit attacks Washington governor's veto of blanket primary

The state Grange on Thursday sued [Washington] Gov. Gary Locke, challenging the constitutionality of his veto that restricts voters to one party's primary ballot.

The Grange, which is backing a rival plan that is similar to the outlawed blanket primary, asked the state Supreme Court to take direct and speedy review of the governor's action.

Grange lawyer James Johnson, a prominent appeals attorney who is running for a vacant seat on the high court, said Locke's veto was clearly unconstitutional.

"He essentially turned apples into oranges," he said. -- The Daily News Online

DOJ concerned about Michigan's HAVA compliance

The U.S. Department of Justice is concerned Michigan won't be in compliance with new federal election standards if Gov. Jennifer Granholm does not sign legislation that would implement the needed changes.

That's according to an e-mail sent this week by Chris Herren, an attorney for the voting section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, to State Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas.

Herren said the department has concerns about whether Michigan will be in line with the Help America Vote Act by this year's first election for federal office on Aug. 3 "if the state does not soon have HAVA compliance legislation in place."

The e-mail also said states that aren't in compliance with certain provisions of the Help America Vote Act by this year's federal elections will face court action. -- Justice Department concerned Michigan won't be in compliance without bills (Detroit Free Press)

Finneran may be caught in a lie

[Massachusetts] House Speaker Thomas Finneran warned former Chelmsford Rep. Carol Cleven that her district would be eliminated the day before a legislative committee released its redistricting plan, contradicting Finneran's testimony that he did not know the details of the plan before it was released to members.

A voting rights group challenged the 2001 legislative redistricting plan in federal court, claiming that it discriminated against minority voters while protecting white incumbents. During the trial last year, Finneran testified he was not involved in preparing the district map and had no knowledge of its contents until it was distributed to House members.

Federal prosecutors have now opened a criminal investigation into the redistricting process and cited Finneran in a subpoena seeking documents that would contradict statements made during last year's redistricting trial. -- Cleven: Finneran knew some details on redistricting plan (Lowell Sun Online)

Gotta dance with the one who brought you

A Montgomery County [Alabama] circuit judge heard arguments for the second time in three days Friday in the case of a Christian radio talk show host who says she was unfairly disqualified from the upcoming Republican primary for a state school board seat.

Republican Party state chairman Marty Connors testified at the hearing that Kelly McGinley was disqualified because she had openly endorsed the Constitution Party on her Web site.

"As a minimum requirement to run on the Republican ticket you should at least not be advocating a third party," Connors told Circuit Judge William Shashy. Connors also said Alabama law gives political parties the right to set their own rules concerning candidates. -- Judge hears arguments on whether talk show host will be on GOP ballot (AP via

Public Citizen asks for money laundering investigation

The consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen called on the Federal Election Commission Thursday to investigate possible money laundering by a donor who gave to Republican Geoffrey Davis in Kentucky's 4th District.

The complaint came the same day The Hill reported that Quentin Nesbitt of Cincinnati, after donating the legal limit of $4,000 to Davis, gave $5,000 to Family First PAC; the PAC then made an identical contribution, on the same day, to Davis.

The contribution from Family First PAC was the only one the political action committee has made to a candidate in this election cycle. Nesbitt's contribution was the only donation the PAC has received this election cycle. -- Public Citizen asks FEC to investigate Ky. donation (The

April 22, 2004

Nicknames on the ballot?

A federal judge Wednesday ordered the 11 counties of the Alabama School Board's Third District to delay printing ballots for the June 1 Republican Primary after a challenge by a Shelby County professor seeking to have his nickname on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor's decision came a day before a three-judge panel will hear the case of Chris "The Teacher" House, who sued the Alabama Republican Party, State Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors and Secretary of State Nancy Worley.

Proctor's order names Cherokee, Calhoun, Cleburne, Talladega, St. Clair, Shelby, Coosa, Chilton, Elmore, Autauga and Montgomery counties. Arguments in the case are to be heard today by the panel of the 11th Circuit, comprised of Judges Proctor, U.W. Clemon and Susan H. Black. -- Judges to decide if candidate's nickname should be on ballot (Birmingham News)

Nicknames used to be so common on the ballot in Alabama that a friend considering a run for the county school board in 1970 thought it was a political necessity. He considered calling himself C.L. "Buck" Smith, instead of C. Lynwood Smith. He decided not to run, but his real name, sans nickname, apparently did not keep him from being elected to the Circuit Court and appointed to the U.S. District Court.

Redistricting challenge in St. Landry Parish

Discussions concerning a pending St. Landry Parish reapportionment trial drew attorneys from Washington, D.C., today to U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon's court in Lafayette.

"Honestly, what went on there, was a lot of lawyers talking," said Jon Greenbaum, a Voting Rights Project attorney representing the St. Landry Parish chapter of the NAACP. "There was no change in the trial schedule," which sets a January court date for start of trial, he said. ...

A minority-majority district is one in which the minority population is in the high 50 percent, Greenbaum said. In St. Landry Parish there are three district that meet that number, Districts 2, 3 and 10.

Objections to the plan included allegations that minority numbers were even further packed into the three existing districts rather than creating a fourth.

The NAACP is seeking fourth and fifth districts. ...

"The major difference between the two sides relates to whether or not black voters have an effective opportunity to vote in a candidate of their choice or not.

"District 1 and 12 will be the focus," [Gerald Hebert, attorney for the St. Landry Parish Council and St. Landry Parish School Board] said. -- Judge meets with lawyers in parish redistricting challenge (Opelousas Daily World)

Greenbaum is with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Shad Planking

A traditional political event in Virginia is the Shad Planking, held in Wakefield. Pols from both parties show up, greet voters, have a good time, and help the Ruritan Club raised a wad of money. Instead of a politician, the featured speaker this year was Larry Sabato, political science professor at U.Va. and commentator (his web site quotes one paper that calls him "probably the most quoted college professor in the land"). Here are a few of Sabato's comments, culled from three papers:

"The buzz this year is that the legislature's failure to act is an embarrassment," Sabato said before his speech. "This is something you expect from Maryland, not Virginia."

Partisanship had so poisoned Virginia politics, Sabato told the crowd, that he formally proposed a nonpartisan redistricting system, such as those in Arizona, Iowa and elsewhere. -- More on Their Plates Than Shad (Washington Post)

"I had hoped to see more members of the General Assembly ... not really," Sabato cracked in opening remarks, following his introduction by former Lt. Governor John Hager.

Sabato ragged the crowd and his own school, saying, "I can tell from here half of you are tipsy and the other half are seriously paying attention, just like when I teach in class at UVA. Although General Assembly members don't have to worry about having too many drinks ... you can't fall off a flat earth."

Referring to the overtime, 100-day session still deadlocked over the state budget, Sabato observed, "It's not exactly like the first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration, is it?" -- Shad Planking inspires Sabato to new heights (Hopewell News)

Sabato, mixing humor with commentary, said "the last sad 100 days in Richmond" resemble more the "Jerry Springer Show" than an assembly that used to pride itself on its civility. Thursday marks the 100th day of a scheduled 60-day session.

Sabato blamed the legislature's inability to reach a budget compromise on redistricting. He said legislators are in such safe districts that candidates do not have to answer to the electorate.

"Voters become apathetic when they perceive that elections are over before they begin," Sabato said.

A nonpartisan redistricting system would make Virginia's politics more competitive and "prevent more of these horrible legislative deadlocks that threaten to embarrass our justifiably proud state again and again," he said. -- Budget a hot topic at annual Shad Planking (AP via

NC Supreme Court upholds law for 3-judge court

The [North Carolina] state Supreme Court said Thursday that a three-judge panel should hear the latest redistricting fight, marking a setback for Republicans looking to block the latest maps.

In an opinion with no dissenting justices, the court sided with legislative leaders and state attorneys who said the General Assembly had the authority to create the panel last year.

The panel, required by law to hear cases in Wake County, will decide whether state House and Senate boundaries approved in November are constitutional.

Republicans opposed to the latest maps argued that Johnston County Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins still had the authority over redistricting. He struck down two earlier sets of boundaries, from 2001 and 2002.

GOP leaders said Democrats who control the state Senate and share control of the House intentionally took the case from Jenkins because they were unhappy with his past rulings. -- N.C. Supreme Court affirms three-judge panel for redistricting (AP via Wilmington Star)

April 21, 2004

Black Caucus in North Carolina fined

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Political Caucus was fined $4,500 for violating state campaign finance law, and ordered by the State Board of Elections to follow stricter public disclosure requirements.

Board members on Tuesday scolded the caucus for breaking the law just three years after it was warned about similar problems.

But the board declined to impose larger fines, and took no action against state Rep. Pete Cunningham, D-Charlotte, who loaned the caucus more than state law allows. The caucus broke the law by repaying the loan with money not meant for that purpose.

Kim Westbrook Strach, the state investigator who examined the case, disputed caucus officials' assertion that the violations were made through ignorance. She also said, in a report released Tuesday, that the caucus treasurer realized she was making a mistake but was overruled by its executive committee. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg black caucus fined over campaign finances (AP via

Feds may observe East Chicago election

U.S. Department of Justice inspectors may be at the polls in East Chicago [Indiana] primary.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has asked the U.S. Justice Department Voting Section to send watchers to the polls in the May 4 primary. Lake County Voter Registration Board Director Sally LaSota told the Lake County Election Board Tuesday that she has been contacted by the Justice Department, who asked about credentials.

Federal officials in Washington would not comment on the request as of press time. ...

In his landmark ruling in the Pabey vs. Pastrick election trial, Special Judge Steven King detailed instances of electioneering and fraud that he said appeared to target voters with limited English speaking ability. -- Feds asked to watch E.C. vote (Gary Post-Tribune)

South African opposition parties contest election

The Inkatha Freedom Party and Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) lodged founding papers with the Electoral Court on Wednesday contesting the declaration of last week's elections as free and fair.

A court official confirmed receipt of the documents.

"The papers will now be sent to the judges, who will decide on dates for the hearings, merit allowing."

The Independent Electoral Commission, named as the respondent in both matters, would be given an opportunity to respond before a date and venue was decided for each hearing. -- IFP, FF+ lodge papers in electoral court ( )

Cuellar: show the proof or get dismissed

Congressional candidate Henry Cuellar asked a state court to force U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez to list specific examples of how voting fraud may have occurred during election recounts in two South Texas counties.

And if the seven-year incumbent doesn't promptly provide such details, Cuellar (pictured, left) says, any claims of wrongdoing in Rodriguez's lawsuit over the results of the District 28 recount should be tossed out.

Rodriguez led by 150 votes when the recounts of the Democratic primary began in Webb and Zapata counties in late March. By the time they were done, Cuellar led by nearly 200 votes.

The Cuellar campaign says the unusual vote swing alone is not enough to support a lawsuit.

"There is no allegation of any particularized defect, error or irregularity in the recount," wrote Austin lawyer Steve Bickerstaff, representing Cuellar. -- Cuellar Wants Rodriguez To Come Up With Proof (AP via

Suit against Maryland e-voting machines

A citizens' group in Takoma Park will file suit Thursday against the state Board of Elections, charging that Maryland's 16,000 new electronic voting machines fail to comply with state law.

The lawsuit, to be filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, asks that the machines be decertified until the manufacturer remedy security flaws, and they are upgraded to print paper records of cast ballots.

The lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Verifiable Voting -- better known as -- alleges that state elections officials violated the law when they certified the touch-screen devices and failed to decertify them once computer experts found they were susceptible to vote-switching.

The suit cites Maryland election law that states the elections board cannot certify a voting system unless it determines that the system is secure, reliable and "capable of providing an audit trail of all ballots cast so that, in a recount, the election can be reconstructed."

State law also requires that the board decertify a system if it "no longer protects the security of the voting process," the suit adds. -- Lawsuit challenges Md. voting machines (

Arizona group may file redistricting suit in federal court

A largely Hispanic group [in Arizona] will likely go to federal court as early as this week seeking to get the state's new legislative boundaries cleared promptly to give election officials and candidates enough time to prepare for this fall's primary.

In a separate action Tuesday, the Independent Redistricting Commission, which carved the new court-ordered map, asked the U.S. Justice Department to sign off on the map by May 15.

Members of the Arizona Minority Coalition said there is no assurance that Justice Department officials will act promptly, which is why the group plans to ask the federal court to intervene. The coalition plans to file the legal action in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. -- Minority group may ask court to hurry redistricting (Arizona Republic)

April 19, 2004

Election supplies land in Afghanistan

Two planeloads filled with election material arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday ahead of a stepped-up drive to register people for a vote later this year seen as a key step toward democracy for the war-torn country, officials said.

Some 180 metric tons of booklets, laminating equipment, cameras and other items to be used in the September vote touched down at Kabul's international airport.

"This is a big step in our logistical preparations providing eligible Afghan men and women outside of the regional capitals with the opportunity to register to vote," Farooq Wardak, the head of the Afghan electoral body, said during a ceremony at the airport. -- Tons of election material arrives in Afghanistan (

Sinn Fein asks for changes in Norther Ireland's voter registration policy

Voter registration in Northern Ireland should take place every five years instead of every year, a House of Commons committee was told today.

In a six-point plan for getting voters back on the register, Sinn Fein also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee that household registration should replace individual registration.

The party also said non-photographic forms of identification should be deemed acceptable at polling stations and voting applications should be received up to a week before elections are held.

Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty said the new measures were needed because 210,000 people had lost their votes under the current system which was introduced in 2002 to counteract voter fraud. -- News - Latest News - Thousands Denied Right to Vote, MPs Told (

Inkatha Freedom Party to contest South African election

The Inkatha Freedom Party is set to contest the result of elections in the highly contested KwaZulu-Natal province [in South Africa] which according to results declared by the Independent Electoral Commission were free and fair.

In terms of those results, the IFP slipped to second biggest party behind the African National Congress by about 47% to 37%.

This translates to 38 and 30 seats in the 80 seat legislature respectively. -- IFP to contest election result (Sunday Times, South Africa)

The IFP has several press releases on its website complaining about various election irregularities.

Supreme Court will not hear Texas re-redistricting case about 2/3 rule

The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider if Texas Republicans went too far last year in their strategy to enact new GOP-friendly congressional boundaries.

The congressional map that could give Texas Republicans six more seats cleared the state Legislature after months of turmoil and two walkouts by Democrats. -- Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Texas Redistricting Case (AP via

UPDATE: Max Renea Hicks has emailed me, "The Supreme Court's redistricting affirmance was NOT on the larger, later challenge but, instead, to the earlier challenge to the abolition of the 2/3 rule in the Texas Senate -- the step that let the still-under-challenge-and-under-Supreme Court-consideration redistricting bill pass."

I have changed the title to reflect that.

Irish FOIA docs reveal e-voting problems

Recently released government documents, obtained under the [Irish] Freedom of Information Act, reveal shocking lapses in both security and accuracy in the pilot tests of Electronic Voting in the 2002 General Election, according to Green Party local election candidate Catherine Ansbro. Ms Ansbro, who is standing for election for both the Roscommon County Council and the Boyle Town Commission in the upcoming European elections, is calling for the immediate postponement of electronic voting.

Ms Ansbro said today that, "The problems included large differences between the number of votes cast, as recorded by the Presiding Officers in Dublin North and Dublin West, and the number of votes recorded electronically on the ballot modules. The size of the discrepancies is significant. They are many times larger than what could be easily explained away by spoiled votes or other reasons." -- Major flaws in electronic voting according to newly released Government document (

How much to steal an election"

Here's another way to look at the issue: what are the economics of trying to steal an election?

Let's look at the 2002 election results for the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In order to gain control of the House, the Democrats would have needed to win 23 more seats. According to actual voting data (pulled off the ABC News website), the Democrats could have won these 23 seats by swinging 163,953 votes from Republican to Democrat, out of the total 65,812,545 cast for both parties. (The total number of votes cast is actually a bit higher; this analysis only uses data for the winning and second-place candidates.)

This means that the Democrats could have gained the majority in the House by switching less than 1/4 of one percent of the total votes -- less than one in 250 votes.

Of course, this analysis is done in hindsight. In practice, more cheating would be required to be reasonably certain of winning. Even so, the Democrats could have won the house by shifting well below 0.5% of the total votes cast across the election. -- Stealing an Election ( Crypto-Gram)

The rush to adopt e-voting in Ireland

Several Sunday papers raise major issues with Ireland's full-forward electronic voting plans. Professor David Parnas, who is advising an independent commission on push-button voting has said that checking the reliability of the software could take up to 12 months. The commission has a deadline of May 1 to advise on whether it should be used in the June elections. -- Electronic voting issues (IrishEyes)

Comments on the FEC hearings

Here are a couple of blogger comments about the FEC hearings on 527's and non-profits.

[Rabbi David] Saperstein, however, is worried "over the violation of religious liberty that this rule could impose on faith groups who feel religiously compelled to speak out on social issues." He adds in his letter requesting to testify, "Congress consciously decided to stop short of applying its soft money regulations ... to non-profit interest groups, which do not present the same potential for corruption or the appearance of corruption as political parties." -- FEC set to silence faith-based social commentary?

I'm against these proposed rules for many reasons, not least of which is that I fear for my ability to be a part of a citizen group large enough to make my most heartfelt concerns public. It scares and confuses me that such rules could even be considered. In a world where having money is the only way to express your opinion, non-profit groups of the like-minded who gather their resources are the only option for the 90% of us who do not have the personal means to finance the distribution of our views and arguments directly to the masses (the internet is sort of self-selecting--for instance, if you're still reading my blog, odds are good that you probably already agree with me on at least some issues). -- FEC Considers Rule Treating Non-Profit Interest Groups As Political Committees

Walter Mondale on campaign finance in 1956

Power Line has two parts on Walter Mondale's law review note in 1956 on campaign finance: Walter Mondale then and now and Wisdom of young Walter Mondale, part 2.

In short, Mondale concluded, reform efforts geared to controlling expenditures seemed "inadvisable becuase of the improbability that reasonable limits could be determined or maintained, or that legislation could be drawn that could not be [evaded]." Mondale therefore urged that removal of expenditure limits be considered and that primary emphasis be given to public disclosure of campaign financing.

April 18, 2004

DOJ sues New York university system over voter registration

The Justice Department announced today [15 April] the filing of a lawsuit against the state of New York and the New York public university system for violating the rights of students with disabilities.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, alleges that New York failed to offer voter registration opportunities for students with disabilities as required by Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act

Specifically, the NVRA requires states to designate, as mandatory voter registration offices, all state-funded offices that primarily serve persons with disabilities. The disability services offices at the State University of New York ("SUNY") and the City University of New York ("CUNY"), including those on their community college campuses, have never been so designated. Press release of Department of Justice.

Pennsylvania ordered to extend time for military absentee ballots

Here is the opinion of the US district court in United States v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which requires the Commonwealth to extend the time for accepting military and overseas absentee ballots.

"Bad New Days for Voting Rights"

It has been years since the bad old days when Southern blacks were given "literacy tests," and voting rights activists were beaten and killed. But blacks, Hispanics and Indians are still regularly discouraged from voting, often under the guise of "ballot integrity" programs that are supposed to be aimed at deterring fraud at the polls.

Minority vote suppression tears at the fabric of American democracy. It persists, however, for a simple reason: in close elections, when some minority groups are strongly identified with a single party, it can be the difference between winning and losing. In 2002, the Indian vote in South Dakota helped Senator Tim Johnson win by just 528 votes.

Today, in Bennett County, S.D., Indians say they have to contend with poll workers who make fun of their names, election officials who make it hard for them to register and — most ominously — a wave of false voter fraud charges that have been made against them, which they regard as harassment. Jo Colombe, a Rosebud Sioux tribal council member, said that when she worked as a poll watcher in a recent election she was accused of fraud simply for taking a bathroom break. When she returned, she said, white poll watchers charged her with copying the names of Indians who had not yet voted, and taking them out to Indians waiting in the parking lot. In January, prosecutors dropped a highly publicized case against another Indian woman, Rebecca Red Earth-Villeda. -- Bad New Days for Voting Rights (New York Times)

Alabama rally for felon voting rights

Prison reform activists from several states were among about 100 people at a Capitol rally [in Montgomery, Alabama] on voting rights for convicted felons.

About 212,000 prisoners, ex-felons and parolees in Alabama have lost their vote. More than 111,000 of them are black, which represents 14 percent of the state's voting-age black population, according to a 2000 study by the Sentencing Project, part of the Right to Vote Campaign.

At Saturday's rally, State Sen. Quinton Ross and Rep. Alvin Holmes, both Montgomery Democrats, said laws that prohibit convicted felons from regaining voting rights until they seek approval from the state is unfair to those who have completed terms behind bars. -- Rally focuses on felon voting rights (AP via

Flagstaff wins in the IRC even though it lost in court

A judge accepted a new map of [Arizona] legislative districts Friday and ordered it to be used in this fall's elections and for the rest of the decade.

The new plan accepted by Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court replaces one he had overturned as unconstitutional on Jan. 16. That ruling said the previous map didn't have enough districts deemed winnable by either major party.

The new map represents legislative redemption for Flagstaff. The city had objected to its placement on the previous map in a district dominated by the Navajo Reservation.

Now, Flagstaff may dominate a district that also includes the Mohave County cities of Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, while Kingman, the Mohave County seat, is in the Navajo-dominated district. -- Flag gets its wish with new legislative map (Arizona Daily Sun)

April 16, 2004

Justice Diaz moves to dismiss charges against him

A Gulf Coast attorney and a Mississippi Supreme Court justice on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss new charges in a judicial bribery case.

The motions on behalf of attorney Paul Minor and Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and his ex-wife Jennifer, were filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson. ...

In the dismissal motion filed for Diaz and his ex-wife, Jackson attorney Robert McDuff said the allegations in the new indictment do not properly charge any federal crime. ...

"The federal government is attempting not only to overstep its bounds and prosecute a purported campaign finance violation, which would be a misdemeanor under Mississippi law, but transform it into a federal felony charge.

"If this indictment is allowed to stand, it will stretch the bounds of federal law so that almost any alleged state campaign finance violation can be made into a federal felony case, requiring citizens to stand trial for their liberty on cases the federal government has no business prosecuting," the motion said. -- Minor, Diaz ask federal judge to dismiss judicial bribery charges (AP via Biloxi Sun Herald)

Felons regaining the right to vote in Alabama

About 212,000 prisoners, ex-felons and parolees in Alabama have lost their vote. More than 111,000 of them are black, which represents 14 percent of the state's voting-age black population, according to a 2000 study by the Sentencing Project, part of the Right to Vote Campaign.

In the seven months since Alabama's law changed, about 800 felons such as Glasgow, a fraction of the disenfranchised, have gotten their voting rights restored, said David Sadler, who coordinates voter registrations for the Montgomery-based Alabama Restore the Vote Coalition.

Similar to the war on drugs, voting laws and policies continue to disproportionately affect black voters.

At Saturday's march [to the steps of the Alabama Capitol at 10 a.m.], advocates plan to link disenfranchisement to Alabama's harsh sentencing statutes for drug offenders and repeat offenders affected by the Habitual Felony Offender Act, which has sent hundreds of non-violent offenders to prison for life terms. -- State's ex-felons start to regain voting rights (Birmingham News)

A prescription for more democracy

Activists are often puzzled by low voter participation in our communities. How come all our door-knocking, town hall meetings and voter registration drives don't seem to increase voter turn-out? And why are politicians so cavalier about resisting the demands of organized community members?

While some people simply choose not to vote, there are many more who are prevented, either by law or practice, from registering or actually casting a vote that counts. Laws that link voter eligibility to criminal conviction and citizenship, needlessly early voter registration deadlines, difficult voter registration processes, inaccessible and out-of-the-way polling places, and voting machines that require English literacy, visual acuity and manual dexterity are just some of the obstacles that would-be voters face when they try to exercise their right to vote.

Many current election laws create barriers that rob votes from urban, progressive, people of color, youth and low-income-friendly candidates for elected office. They reduce the power that many communities have to elect their own candidates. And since elected officials have little to fear from constituencies that don't vote, and even less from people who can't, these communities have little political influence. The end result: a democracy that doesn't work. -- No Vote, No Power by Ludovic Blain (AlterNet)

Profile of Nate Persily

The election of future Georgia state legislators will be directly impacted by the work of Law School professor Nathaniel Persily.

Appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Persily recently helped devise zoning plans for the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate.

"This is very sensitive political work because in effect you are determining which politicians are going to have jobs and which are not," Persily says. -- Law prof takes on Georgia politics (

"Faking Democracy: Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot Printers Can't Fix That"

Machines will produce 99.4% of the election results for the upcoming 2004 presidential election. With all the hoopla over voting machine "glitches," porous software, leaked memos, and the creepy corporations that sell and service these contraptions, and with all the controversy that surrounds campaign financing, voter registration, redistricting issues, and the general privatization of the election process--we are missing the boat on the biggest crisis facing our democracy. ...

Think of voting as a three-step process: marking, casting, and counting ballots. Once a machine is involved in any one of those steps, the result is hard evidence of the machine's output--and only circumstantial evidence of the voter's input. ...

The voting process must be transparent in order for voting rights to be enforced. Machines are not transparent, and adding printers won't cure the defect. -- Faking Democracy: Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot Printers Can't Fix That by Lynn Landes (

Federal court approves Massachusetts legislative plan

A federal appeals court on Friday approved a new redistricting map for Boston districts in the state House of Representatives that minority activists say better reflects the city's changing racial and ethnic mix.

''This map is definitely leaps and bounds better than the one that was deemed illegal by the courts. It's a much better map for communities of color,'' said Atiya Dangleben, statewide director for the Massachusetts Voter Education Network.

The redrawn map of 17 Boston House districts was approved by the same three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out the original redistricting map approved by House lawmakers and used in the 2002 elections. ...

The map must still be approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney before an April 27 deadline. Romney has already signed a bill giving candidates in any district altered by the new map an extra two weeks to gather signatures. -- Court approves new redistricting plan for Massachusetts House (AP via

Once again, I must point out to AP that this was a three-judge district court not an appeals court.

Arizona plan receives court approval

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields has approved the revised redistricting plan drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission. Click here to download the file (in Word format).

Fed subpoena cites Finneran

Federal prosecutors who have opened a criminal investigation into the [Massachusetts] House redistricting process have specifically cited Speaker Thomas M. Finneran in the subpoena they issued, asking for documents that would demonstrate his involvement in the 2001 redistricting, according to a lawyer who has reviewed the subpoena.

Finneran's name is the only one that appears on the subpoena, the lawyer said, a strong indication that the federal investigation is focusing on the veracity of the speaker's testimony in a recent federal trial in which he denied involvement in drawing the legislative map. In an unusual rebuke, the three-judge panel that heard the case questioned the truthfulness of Finneran's assertions.

In addition to records kept by the House Redistricting Committee, the subpoena also seeks hard drives from computers used in redistricting, the lawyer said. -- Finneran actions focus of US subpoena (Boston Globe)

Thanks to Brenda Wright for the heads-up on this.

April 15, 2004

Suggested slogan: "all the news that fits our views"

At the convention, the association also plans to unveil plans for an N.R.A. news company that would produce programs for the Internet, radio and possibly television, Mr. LaPierre said. A daily Internet news talk show featuring a conservative host will begin broadcasting online on Friday. The association hopes to announce acquisition of a radio station within two months, he said.

Creating a private news company would allow the association to disseminate its gun-rights views without having to follow new federal campaign finance restrictions, which prohibit the use of unlimited "soft money" close to a presidential or Congressional election, Mr. LaPierre said. The association and other groups challenged those restrictions, but lost.

"We have every bit as much a right to provide news and information to the American public as Disney has through ABC, Time-Warner has through CNN and News Corporation does through Fox," Mr. LaPierre said. "If you own the outlet, you can say whatever you want. This an act of defiance, but it is completely in keeping with the law." -- The Gun Group: N.R.A. Opens an All-Out Drive for Bush and Its Views (New York Times)

Irish Senate committee calls for public elections of Senate members

A committee on Seanad reform is set to tell the Government that the public should be given the right to vote in Seanad elections, The Irish Times has learned.

In a report calling for sweeping changes in the functions and com-position of the Seanad, the Government will be told that the number of senators elected by local councillors and TDs should be radically reduced.

In addition, the committee will call for the abolition of the Seanad vocational panels which nominate candidates for Seanad elections. It will also seek an extension of the university franchise. -- Public voting for seats urged in Seanad reforms (Irish Times)

Pennsylvania seeks to extend deadline for military absentee ballots

PA Governor Edward G. Rendell today directed the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro A. Cortes, to work with Attorney General Jerry Pappert, Pennsylvania's 67 county boards of elections, and the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Section to take immediate action in Federal and State courts to assure that Pennsylvania voters serving on active duty in the U.S. military services and civilians who are overseas have a full and fair opportunity to vote by absentee ballot in the April 27, 2004 General Primary.

The Governor today directed Secretary Cortes to take extraordinary action on behalf of Pennsylvanians in military service and voters overseas because of delays experienced by many Pennsylvania counties in distributing absentee ballots. An unprecedented number of challenges against primary nomination petitions caused delays in the preparation of official county absentee ballots. While Pennsylvania law authorizes counties to send special absentee ballots to absent military and overseas voters before official absentee ballots can be printed, many Pennsylvania counties waited to distribute official absentee ballots. -- PA Governor Rendell Acts to Secure the Voting Rights of Pennsylvanians in Military Service and Overseas Voters (Governor's press release via PRNewswire)

Virginia ex-Speaker denies eavesdropping

Former Speaker of the House S. Vance Wilkins Jr. says he didn't learn until "after the fact" that the executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia had listened in on a Democratic Party conference call on March 22, 2002.

Wilkins said he did not listen in on either of two Democratic calls that month, so Democratic allegations that he intentionally used the contents of a Democratic phone call to hurt them should be dismissed.

Wilkins responded Monday to a lawsuit brought against him and several other Republicans by Democrats in the General Assembly.

Wilkins said in the response that the contents of the March 22 call and a second one three days later did nothing "to advance the interests of the Republican Party." -- Wilkins says he didn't eavesdrop (

Feds probe Finneran's testimony

Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the Massachusetts House redistricting process and have subpoenaed documents from the legislative committee that created the controversial plan that redrew district lines in 2001.

The grand jury subpoena was sent March 10 to the office of Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, the House chairman of the redistricting committee.

The redistricting plan was challenged in federal court by voting-rights groups that alleged that lawmakers marginalized minority voters' clout and protected white incumbents. During the trial late last year, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran testified that he was not involved in drawing the map, an assertion that the speaker's critics and a panel of three federal judges, in an unusual rebuke, described as not credible.

According to a senior legislative source who has seen the subpoena, prosecutors are seeking committee documents that would contradict statements made during the trial. The subpoena does not specifically name Finneran, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. -- US probes drawing of Mass. districts (Boston Globe)

When does the new districting take effect -- if qualifying ends before the DOJ has precleared the district?

A county employee turned whistle-blower must wait until Friday to learn if he can run against his former boss, Madison County [Alabama] Commissioner Prince Preyer, in the June 1 Democratic primary.

Five members of the county's Democratic Party Executive Committee heard arguments Wednesday over whether Tommie Lockhart lives in Preyer's District 6. Lockhart is the former director of a federal welfare-to-work program Preyer managed called the Working Connection. ...

Lockhart, who lived in Preyer's district, said after the lawsuit settlement that he would challenge Preyer in this year's election. But he found himself outside District 6 when the County Commission on Oct. 3 unanimously adopted changes in commission district lines to reflect population shifts between the 1990 and 2000 censuses.

Lockhart and developer Bob Harrison, also a candidate in the June 1 primary, contend Preyer made sure Lockhart and other potential opponents were gerrymandered out of the redrawn District 6.

Preyer denied that accusation this morning, saying a computer program provided by the state largely determined how district lines should be redrawn. The only human calculation made affecting District 6 lines, Preyer said, was keeping unchanged its southern border, which roughly follows a line from Huntsville Hospital to the post office on Governors Drive. ...

Despite learning he was moved into another district, Lockhart qualified for the District 6 race anyway April 2, the last day he could do so. That prompted college student Robert Pearl, who lives in Preyer's redrawn district, to challenge Lockhart's candidacy based on the law's requirement that he live in Preyer's district at least 90 days before the qualifying deadline. ...

But Lockhart and his attorney, Robert Lockwood, argued that Lockhart still lives in District 6 because the U.S. Justice Department has not approved the commission's changes in district lines as required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Until the Justice Department signs off on the redrawn lines, Lockwood said, "it's just a proposal." -- Preyer foe waits on OK to seek seat (Huntsville Times)

FEC chairman criticizes RNC for no-show

The GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission gently admonished the Republican National Committee for declining to testify yesterday at a hearing about proposed rules to restrict fundraising and spending by independent political organizations.

Chairman Bradley A. Smith said "it would have been useful" if the RNC had sent a representative to answer citizen complaints that the GOP is "seeking merely to silence criticism of President Bush" by attempting to limit the "527" organizations. "It would have been valuable for the RNC in this forum to put to rest the accusation that theirs is a strategy of short-term political advantage," Smith said.

The RNC initially asked to testify in favor of restricting 527s, but it withdrew its request Friday. Charles R. Spies, the RNC's election law counsel, complained in a letter to the commission that too much of the hearings' focus was on nonprofit groups other than 527s. Spies said the shift in emphasis was a "cynical diversionary tactic" that undercuts the commission's main task: to decide how best to restrict 527s.

The RNC is at the forefront of groups that want the commission to crack down on the activities of 527s, which are new and mostly pro-Democratic organizations named for the section of the tax code that governs them. Spending by these groups has made a large impression on the presidential campaign, and leaders of both parties say that the commission's decisions could affect the race this year between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). --
RNC Chided for Absence at Hearing On 527 Rule (

Alabama Supreme Court considers proposed rules on judicial campaigns

Ethics rules for state judicial campaigns should be revised to protect the free-speech rights of candidates under a 2002 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, an advisory panel has told the Alabama Supreme Court.

Birmingham lawyer Mark White, chairman of the Alabama Supreme Court's standing committee on judicial canons and ethics, said in a written report to the court that Alabama's campaign rules should be revised to comply with recent court rulings, particularly a 2002 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in a Minnesota case. ...

White's committee recommended that Alabama's canons, which also prohibit candidates from stating their positions on legal issues, be revised to say that "a judge should not, with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges or promises or commitments" that are inconsistent with impartial performance of judicial duties.

Another Alabama canon prohibits a judicial candidate from stating "the candidate's conclusions of law on pending litigation" and prohibits the candidate from misrepresenting any fact during the campaign.

White's committee proposed that the rules be changed to prohibit the candidate from "knowingly" misrepresenting any fact during the campaign. The panel would leave in place a prohibition against stating conclusions of law. -- Panel seeking revision of campaign ethics rules (Birmingham News)

Audio report on the FEC hearing

Peter Overby reported yesterday on "All Things Considered" about the first day of the oral testimony at the FEC about the proposal to regulate 527's and other non-profits. Listen to FEC Considers Stemming Soft Money.

"Retired Generals See Difficult Situation in Iraq"

The U.S. faces a very difficult military and political outlook as it prepares to meet a June 30 deadline for transferring power in Iraq, former U.S. Army say. NPR's Bob Edwards discusses the situation with Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Retired Lt. Gen. William Odom.

McCaffrey says the United States entered Iraq with a "grossly anemic" military force and probably will need a United Nations-led military presence for a transfer to succeed. He says it probably will take a year or two for Iraqi institutions to be built and security and stability to come to that country. Odom says the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein has had the unintended consequence of making Iraq safe for terrorists and other anti-U.S. movements "and they're breeding them rapidly." -- Retired Generals See Difficult Situation in Iraq (NPR)

This is off the normal topics that I cover, but I found this interview so scary because these guys seem to have the credentials to know what's needed in Iraq. Listen and worry.

April 14, 2004

Alabama considers term limits

[Alabama] Gov. Bob Riley's proposal for term limits for legislators won support in a state Senate committee Wednesday, but the bill's sponsor said that's as far as the bill will go.

Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, said the bill has too much opposition to ever come to a vote in the Senate. "We'll never see it on the Senate floor," the eight-term legislator said.

The bill, part of Riley's government accountability package, would limit a person to three consecutive terms in the House and three consecutive terms in the Senate. The time limit would start running with the 2006 election.

The Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-1 for the bill. -- Senate committee approves term limits for legislators (AP via

East Chicago voter fraud case argued

Members of the [Indiana] state Supreme Court gave few hints whether they believe the 2003 East Chicago primary was so fogged by corruption that the court will order a special election.

The justices have never ordered a special election under state election statutes.

Attorneys for East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick and the Lake County Election Board argued the high court has no authority in cases of fraud.

Attorneys for his challenger, former East Chicago City Councilman George Pabey and the office of Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, argued that the instances of fraud and abuse detailed by Special Judge Steven King in his trial court ruling painted an overwhelming case. ...

In case of fraud, Indiana law gives the state Election Board the authority to order a special election through the recount statute, Babb said. -- High court holds cards in E.C. case (Gary Post-Tribune)

Prisoners vote in South Africa

Western Cape [South Africa] Pollsmoor Prison inmate, Fuad Hendricks, sentenced to three years for housebreaking, cast his vote for the Democratic Alliance because he wants "less crime", "more jobs" and "less poverty".

Discontent with the crime situation in South Africa is perhaps a surprising sentiment to colour the voting choice of a prison inmate, but then again maybe not… For as Hendricks explains: "The DA said that they would bring crime down and create more jobs for people who are unemployed. If I had a job I would not be a criminal." ...

Ibrahim Petersen, serving time for housebreaking and theft, believes that it would be wrong to deny prisoners their right to vote arguing that you need to vote because at some stage you will put your crime "behind you".

"It's very good to allow prisoners to vote because we can get better."

Security Officer at the prison, Lous van Hansen, shares this sentiment arguing that the prisoners are "human beings with a right to vote".

"Things have changed now in the new South Africa. They see the warders voting," he says, implying that denying prisoners the right to vote amounts to a denial of prisoners' humanity. -- Prisoners vote for solutions to crime ( )

The story has pictures of prisoners voting inside the prison.

BBC has more details on those with Down's syndrome being struck from the electoral roll

A number of people with Down's syndrome in Northern Ireland have encountered difficulties in registering to vote in June's European elections, it has emerged. ...

Denis Stanley, the chief electoral officer, ... said anybody could face an objection to their registration to vote.

"The Electoral Register is available, once it's published, at all our offices throughout Northern Ireland, as well as at district council offices," he said.

"Anyone can look at the register to see if they're on themselves, or if they want to object to anyone, for any reason."

The changes in the vote registration system were introduced in an attempt to combat electoral fraud. ...

A report in December last year said measures to combat voting fraud in Northern Ireland had a negative impact on young people and those in poorer areas.

The Electoral Commission said this measure tended to have an adverse impact on disadvantaged, marginalised and hard to reach groups. -- Learning disabled 'vote difficulties' (BBC NEWS)

South African election marked by huge turnout

Click on the picture accompanying this story. Reuters appararently felt it was necessary to identify Nelson Mandela as the man on the left, so we would not mix him up with the white woman on the right.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress looked headed for another landslide victory on Wednesday as polls closed on the country's third democratic elections since the end of apartheid.

Voting officially closed at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT), but the enthusiasm of South African voters seemed to have overwhelmed some polling stations and officials said hundreds of people still queuing would be allowed to vote. ...

Long queues snaked from many of the 17,000 polling stations through the day, a confirmation that the 20 million registered voters still cherish the right to vote 10 years after Nelson Mandela first swept the ANC to power in multiracial elections. ...

One Cape Town voting line meandered three km past city blocks on streets largely clear of traffic after authorities declared polling day a national holiday. -- ANC set for victory as South Africa polls close (Reuters)

If only Americans felt this much enthusiasm for voting.

Dane Co., WI, recount

The war between the liberals and conservatives on the Dane County [Wisconsin] Board has already started even before the new board has been sworn in.

The initial salvo was fired by the conservatives, who got losing candidate Joe Campana in the 3rd District to demand a recount in his close race against winner Elaine DeSmidt.
DeSmidt won by 17 votes, 746-729, a margin greater than the 1 percent benchmark where a recount would have been automatic.

Then, the liberals got losing candidate Penny Rollins in the 32nd District to demand a recount against winner Mike Willett, even though Rollins lost by 38 votes, or almost 2 percent, in the final tally of 1,059 votes for Willett and 1,021 for Rollins.

Why the recounts in two races that weren't that close? To keep the winning candidates from being sworn in, so they can't vote for a new chairman of the board next Tuesday night during the organizational meeting of the board. -- County recounts cause ruckus (

I know you are shocked, shocked to hear of a politician filing an insincere, frivolous lawsuit.

Another recount rejoinder

A few posts below, I twitted Cong. Rodriquez for alleging that he had never seen such a large change in the votes in a recount. Supervisor Rippey seems to have a better grasp of the necessities of recount litigation.

Napa County [California] Supervisor Mike Rippey has gone to court in an attempt to throw out the March 2 ballot in which he lost to Harold Moskowite. ...

Rippey said, "The results changed in ways that defy all statistical probability. John Tuteur himself has called the results an anomaly that he has never seen, doesn't understand and cannot explain."

A report prepared for Rippey by John Skelly of election consulting firm Analytical Research Services concludes that so-called add-on votes, those that didn't show up in the original count because of faulty calibration of the ballot scanning device, are inaccurate or otherwise unreliable.

Skelly says there are two possible explanations for the problems: Errors in the machine counting process or fraud. ...

Skelly said the statistical chances of arriving at the results achieved in the March 10 recount are six in a thousand. "This overall pattern ... is virtually impossible to obtain on the basis of chance alone, and instead is better explained by a lack of correspondence between the results of the add-on votes and the other votes counted in the election. Stated differently, one would have to literally run elections for centuries to obtain a similar pattern of results on the basis of chance alone."

Skelly analyzed a number of the races that appeared on the Napa County ballot March 2. His report states: "One must reasonably conclude that the add-on vote as it now stands is not to be trusted as being indicative of the other votes counted in the election." -- Rippey challenges election loss (

More testimony in South Dakota Sioux suit

South Dakota's state legislative district that encompasses both the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations should be reorganized into two districts, a former state lawmaker and a candidate for state office testified Tuesday.

Former state Sen. Tom Shortbull and current state Senate candidate Theresa Two Bulls testified on the second day of a lawsuit over American Indian voting rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of South Dakota after the Legislature set new legislative district boundaries after the 2000 U.S. Census. The ACLU says the state has packed a "supermajority" of Indians into one district, thus denying them the opportunity to influence more elections. The state denies the claim, saying the Indians in the district in question, District 27, are treated fairly. -- Indian ‘supermajority' decried (Rapid City Journal)

Gary, IN, redistricting tossed

Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by Lake County Commissioner Rudy Clay challenging a redistricting plan adopted by the [Gary, Indiana] City Council in December 2002.

Pera ruled for Clay and Lake County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, who filed the lawsuit claiming the redistricting violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. ...

Clay, Gary Democratic Party chairman, contends the ordinance is illegal because it doesn’t create council districts with nearly equal populations.

For example, the 1st District would have 977 fewer residents than the ideal of 17,124 people per district — a 5.7 percent discrepancy, when the county standard is less than 2 percent.

Clay had said redistricting 15 precincts right after the election would render those residents’ votes meaningless. -- Judge throws out Gary City Council redistricting plan (Gary Post-Tribune)

Rodriquez files suit challenging recount

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez filed a much-anticipated lawsuit Wednesday challenging a [Texas] Democratic primary recount that swung the results of the election in his opponent's favor.

Rodriguez led by 150 votes after last month's primary, but a recount requested by opponent Henry Cuellar found 419 previously untallied ballots in the Cuellar strongholds of Webb and Zapata counties. Cuellar, a former Texas secretary of state, finished with a lead of more than 200 votes.

The lawsuit says there is no reasonable way to explain how so many new votes appeared. The suit asks the court to declare Rodriguez the winner or to order a new election in the district, which runs from the San Antonio area to the Mexican border.

"In some 30 years that I have been an administrator, supervisor or involved in elections, I have never seen this large a change in any county in any election," said Rodriguez lawyer Buck Wood.

The lawsuit did not make specific allegations of wrongdoing or name anyone in particular. -- Texas congressman files lawsuit over recount that made his opponent the winner (AP via

I don't know if res ipsa locquitur is going to cut it. Rodriquez better be able to prove that the "new votes" are fraudulent or otherwise illegal, not just suspicious.

"Unusual Alliances" on 527 proposal

Proposed rules to restrict the fundraising and spending activities of independent political organizations have prompted unusual new alliances of convenience, pitting the GOP and campaign watchdog groups against a coalition of conservative family advocates and liberal abortion rights groups.

The plan, pending before the Federal Election Commission, would put a crimp in the activities of "527" groups, the new and mostly pro-Democratic organizations named for the section of the tax code that governs their activities.
Democratic and Republican leaders believe that the outcome of the FEC deliberations could dramatically affect the race between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Well over 600 ideological and advocacy groups -- ranging from the Sierra Club on the left to the anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee and James Dobson's Focus on the Family on the right -- have joined in opposing the proposed new FEC rules. Meanwhile, Republican Party leaders and campaign finance watchdogs, including Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics, are strongly lobbying in favor of the rule change.

The FEC is to begin hearings today on the regulatory proposal, drafted by the agency's general counsel, which would impose tough limits on third parties raising and using "soft money" contributions from unions, corporations and wealthy people. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance law cracked down on the use of soft money by political parties but did not address third-party activities. -- Proposed Rules for '527' Groups Lead to Some Unusual Alliances (

April 13, 2004

Bustamante to pay $263,000 fine

California's second highest official will pay a record settlement of $263,000 for campaign funding violations in his run against California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state electoral watchdog agency said on Tuesday.

The Fair Political Practices Commission sued Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in January, accusing the Democrat of taking more than $4 million in illegal contributions during the state's recall election last year.

Allegations of financial improprieties had already hurt Bustamante during a campaign that elected political neophyte and action movie star Schwarzenegger to the state's top job.

The FPPC said Bustamante agreed to pay a total settlement of $263,000 for violations to three of his campaign committees that manipulated funds in an effort to evade contribution limits. A judge approved the settlement in court papers late on Monday and the FPPC announced the penalty on Tuesday. -- No. 2 Calif. Official Fined Over Campaign Funding (Reuters)

FEC opens hearings on 527's

The Bush and Kerry campaigns have already sparred over it. Now the advocacy groups will chime in. And the unions. And the trade associations. And don't forget the watchdogs.

These are the latest voices that will join the campaign finance debate on the future of so-called 527 committees as the Federal Election Commission opens two days of hearings on Wednesday. The committees are among the last avenues for injecting six- and seven-figure contributions into the political system, with hundreds having raised more than $120 million for this year's elections.

Having received more than 100,000 e-mail messages on the subject in recent weeks, the commissioners will now dig into the minutiae of campaign finance law, hearing from 29 witnesses who include some of the country's top campaign finance experts. And while the subject can certainly be tedious -- like how to define a campaign expenditure -- the commission's ruling, expected as soon as May, could have major consequences for American elections, though maybe not in time to affect the 2004 races.

The commission's major decision is whether to allow the 527 groups, named for the section of the tax code that created them, to continue raising and spending unlimited amounts of money or to limit their contributions and place other restrictions on them. -- Political Memo: Latest Big-Money Fight, Over Fund-Raising Groups, Will Be Heard by Election Panel (New York Times)

Northern Ireland excluding those with Down syndrome from electoral roll

Mental health campaigners expressed dismay yesterday after it was claimed that people with Down syndrome are being refused the right to vote in Northern Ireland.

Patsy McGlone, an SDLP Assembly member, said a constituent with the condition had been refused a place on the electoral roll even though he had been on it as recently as the Assembly elections last November and had voted in the past.

"The Electoral Office is now saying that because he has Down syndrome, he is not entitled to vote. This fellow wants to go out and vote with everyone else and I know fine well that he knows who he wants to vote for," said Mr McGlone.

The Mid-Ulster MLA claimed that his constituent was not alone and that he knew - through fellow Assembly members - of hundreds of people across the province who were suddenly in the same position. Mr McGlone has been in contact with the Equality Commission, seeking to challenge the issue under disability legislation. He said it could also be a matter for the Human Rights Commission. -- People with Down syndrome 'refused right to vote' (

Should absentee ballots have a witness?

With thousands more Floridians expected to use absentee ballots to vote in November's presidential election, state election officials are calling for changes that critics say could invite fraud.

Election supervisors across the state want to do away with requiring absentee voters to find a witness to sign their ballots, even though witness information proved crucial in overturning a rigged 1997 Miami mayoral race.

The witness portion of the ballot is unnecessary, election officials say, since their clerks merely verify whether the voter's signature matches the one on file. Voters must have a witness's signature and address on the absentee ballot, but no one in the election office ever checks the address or identity of the witness. -- Absentee ballots may not require a witness (Miami Herald)

Alabama computerizing 1867 voting list

Yes, I said 1867.

In faded black ink etched on yellowed paper, cursive handwriting records the names of about 100,000 blacks and 60,000 whites who registered to vote in Alabama in 1867, two years after the Civil War.

The names are listed in county-by-county books kept for decades in the Capitol basement and now stored nearby in the state archives building.

The registration books, many of them two feet wide and three feet tall, are some of the earliest listings of the last names of black men in Alabama who had been slaves just a few years before and hadn't had last names.

State archivists are photographing book pages and typing names and other information from them into a computer database. The work may take two years to finish, said Tracey Berezansky, assistant director for government records at the archives. -- 1867 voter lists gave slaves' last names (Birmingham News)

South Africa has a holiday for voting

South African Minister of Labour Membathisi Mdladlana on Wednesday warned that any attempt on the part of employers to prevent workers from voting would be a contravention of the workers' constitutional rights.

"Employers should be aware that April 14 has been declared a public holiday in accordance with Section 2A of the Public Holiday Act (Act No 36 of 1994).

"This holiday was declared specifically to allow South Africans to exercise their right to vote, which is a right entrenched in the Constitution of South Africa. I therefore call on employers to respect the constitutional rights of workers and allow them to vote. On previous occasions some employers even provided transport for workers to get to the polling stations to vote," Mdladlana said in a statement. -- Bosses urged to let staff vote (, South Africa)

Mississippi House passes voter ID bill

Reviving a debate on one of the hottest topics at the Capitol this year, the House voted 92-28 Tuesday for a bill requiring most voters to show ID starting next January.

People born before Jan. 1, 1940, would not have to show identification.

The exception was put in to address concerns that requiring ID could be used to intimate older black voters who once had to pay poll taxes. ...

The bill would allow a voter to show any of several types of ID, including a driver's license, a passport, a military or student ID, a gun permit, a voter registration card and others.

The bill says if a person is not carrying ID at the polling place, he could sign a sworn statement affirming his identity. Signing a false statement would carry a $5,000 fine.

The bill also sets penalties of $5,000 for intimidating voters. -- House adopts ID mandate for most Mississippi voters (AP via Biloxi Sun Herald_

Sioux sue South Dakota over districting plan

American Indians have been systematically shut out of the democratic process in South Dakota for more than 100 years, an expert witness testified in a trial over the state's legislative districts.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of South Dakota, claiming the newest map of legislative districts disenfranchises Indian voters in the south central part of the state. ...

The ACLU claims the legislative district encompassing both Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations has packed in a "supermajority" of American Indians and kept them from being a force at the polls in two separate districts. The practice, known as "packing," has been struck down by other courts.

Lawyers from the state attorney general's office argue that the state's political map does not take away the voting rights of Indians. -- Indian voting rights trial begins (Rapid City Journal)

Matricardi moves to dismiss Dem's eavesdropping suit

The central Republican figure in Virginia's political eavesdropping case wants a federal court to dismiss a Democratic Party lawsuit against him in connection with the controversy.

Spotsylvania County resident Edmund A. Matricardi III contends the suit has no merit because a Democratic operative invited him to listen in on a pair of March 2002 conference calls in which strategy for overturning a Republican-led redistricting was discussed. ...

Former state Democratic Party staffer Jacquelyn M. Daniel has said she passed the access codes on to Matricardi at the request of Joseph Lee, then a member of the state Democratic Party's governing council.

Lee had received e-mail notification of the calls on behalf of Petersburg Del. Fenton Bland. Bland--a plaintiff in the lawsuit--repeatedly has denied knowledge of Lee's leaking. -- Matricardi says he was invited to listen to Democratic calls (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

Arizona districts approved by commission

The [Arizona] state's redistricting commission has given final approval to its revamped map of legislative districts.

The new map puts seven of the state's 30 districts in reach of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The seven competitive districts are the bare minimum required by a judge who overturned a map used in the 2002 elections. -- Redistricting commission OKs revised vote maps (AP via

April 11, 2004

California agency considers changing campaign finance rules

The state's political watchdog agency last week began an effort that could change California's campaign finance regulations to prevent candidates from raising limitless funds to oppose or support ballot measures.

The Fair Political Practices Commission said Thursday it would consider several options to prevent fund-raising practices that prompted complaints during the fall recall election.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante avoided fund-raising limits that apply to candidates by forming a separate committee to oppose a racial privacy initiative that appeared on the same ballot as his candidacy for governor.

The move allowed him to raise individual contributions far in excess of the $21,200 limit that applies to gubernatorial candidates.

Changing the rules also could halt Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's practice of raising millions of dollars for his California Recovery Team, a committee that raises money for the Republican governor's political projects -- including his successful bond measure and a potential ballot effort to change workers' compensation laws. -- State agency eyes ballot-funding rule changes (Sacramento Bee via Contra Costa Times)

Unions: companies should make disclosures of political spending

Labor unions facing a government order to disclose their election spending are using their clout as stockholders to try to extract new details about the corporate world's political giving.

Pension funds at the Service Employees International Union, the Central Laborers and the Teamsters are sponsoring shareholder resolutions that ask companies to make available to stockholders information about donations to political groups and other election spending.
Stockholders will consider the proposals at annual meetings starting later this month.

Teamster pension fund spokesman Louis Malizia said a lot of corporate money goes into politics and that stockholders need easily accessible details to judge how well that money is spent. -- Union Pensions Probe Political Donations (AP via

Movement to lower the voting age

It sounds counterintuitive: Young adults don't vote, so lower the voting age.

But advocates for a lower voting age say 18 is the worst time to start voting because that's when teenagers' lives are in turmoil -- moving away to college, stressing out over graduation, getting a job, joining the armed forces.

And studies show voting is a habit that has to start early. If people don't start early as voters, they're less likely to vote ever.

Some researchers fear that nonvoters in this generation will remain nonvoters as they age, causing a dangerous dive in voter turnout as baby boomers and older generations die out. In the 2000 election, senior citizens voted at about twice the rate of 18- to 24-year-olds. -- Change in voting age is sought (Gannett News Service via

Census maps trump written descriptions

When a census map and the legal description of an election district are in conflict, follow the map, the Mississippi Supreme Court says.

Justices this week upheld the election of Philip Gunn in a disputed Mississippi House contest last year over incumbent Rep. Jep Barbour.

In the 4-3 decision, the court found a disputed split precinct in Clinton was part of House District 56. The majority said the proper revote was held in that split precinct and one other in Clinton. Gunn won the election. -- State high court rules census maps govern Mississippi redistricting (AP via

A call for modest Electoral College reform

Without belaboring why the Founding Fathers created a system that seems to modern citizens both bizarre and antiquated, the most maddening feature has to be the fact that the will of a large number of voters is routinely ignored by our electors.

While the U.S. Constitution establishes an Electoral College, it doesn't prescribe how the individual states will allocate their electoral votes. Alabama has chosen to follow a "winner-take-all" approach that essentially steals the votes of the losing candidate when our results are reported nationally by awarding all of our electoral votes to the victor.

Put more simply, if you voted for President Gerald Ford way back in 1976, Vice President Al Gore in 2000, or any losing candidate in the history of our state, your vote was completely ignored at the national level. By casting all of our electoral votes for a single candidate, these electors absurdly suggest to people across the nation that 100 percent of the folks down in Alabama agree on who should be president.

If you're thinking the whole "winner-take-all" thing doesn't seem quite fair, you're right. Like most voters, whether I agree or not with my fellow Alabamians on Election Day, I do think every one of their votes should count - period. -- Time to change winner-take-all approach by Mike Higginbotham (Birmingham News)

April 10, 2004

9th Circuit affirms Section 2 decision against Montana County

The Ninth Circuit has decided United States v. Blaine County:

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits any voting procedure that results in a denial of the right to vote. 42 U.S.C. § 1973. The United States brought this section 2 action against Blaine County alleging that the County’s at-large voting system for electing members to the County Commission prevents American Indians from participating equally in the County’s political process. The district court determined that section 2 was a constitutional exercise of Congress’s powers under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that Blaine County’s at-large voting system violated section 2. In this appeal, Blaine County challenges both of those rulings. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

April 8, 2004

Push to give immigrants the vote in New York

At first glance, it may seem a long shot in an era of orange alerts and stepped-up border patrols. But quietly and carefully, elected officials, labor unions and community groups are starting to push the notion of allowing legal immigrants who are not United States citizens to vote in New York City elections. ...

At a minimum, it is an intriguing prospect in a city with about a million legal immigrants of voting age who are not citizens — equivalent to more than a fifth of the total number of current voters. Granting those people, most of them Hispanic or Asian, the right to vote could change the electoral calculus in a number of arenas, from the races for mayor and the five borough presidents to ballot questions on city borrowing and building projects.

The new voters would be more likely to elect minority candidates, political analysts say, and could force politicians to become more responsive to issues like deportation policy and immigrant access to health care. If voting rights were extended to the state level — truly a long shot at this point — the effects would be even greater, forcing redistricting that could affect the balance of power in Congress. Although all residents are counted when district lines are redrawn, normally only eligible voters are included when the new districts are challenged in court under the Voting Rights Act.

"This would be seismic in its impact," said Roberto Ramirez, a political consultant and lawyer who has served as a state assemblyman and chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party. "Both parties would have to develop a different mindset to address policy issues for those residents who have historically not been part of the political process." -- Push Is On to Give Legal Immigrants Vote in New York (

April 7, 2004


When Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.) took charge of an independent political fund called American Dream PAC in 1999, he made clear that its mission was "to give significant, direct financial assistance to first-rate minority GOP candidates."

Since then, only $48,750 -- or 8.9 percent -- of the $547,000 the southwest Texas congressman has raised for his political action committee has gone to minority office-seekers while more than $100,000 has been routed to Republican Party organizations or causes, including a GOP redistricting effort in Texas, a legal defense fund for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Bonilla's reelection campaign. Most of the remainder of the money went to legal fees, fundraisers in Miami and other cities, airline tickets, hotels, catering services, consultants and salaries.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have used independent "leadership PACs" to spread their influence, and in recent years hundreds have been set up. Such PACs enable lawmakers to multiply contributions from special interests and legally avoid the limits set on personal campaign funds. But Bonilla's comes with a twist: It's one of the few PACs, some experts say, that has not lived up to its clear mission statement.

"The fact that this [American Dream] PAC had a mission statement and that it appeared the funds didn't follow that purpose to a degree raises the question of whether donors may have been misled," said Kent Cooper, co-founder of the campaign watchdog group PoliticalMoneyLine. -- 'Dream' PAC Not Living Up To Goal (

April 6, 2004

Violation of the 11th Commandment?

A complaint filed with the Alabama Republican Party contends that conservative Christian talk show host Kelly McGinley should not be on the GOP primary ballot for a state school board seat partly because she has criticized President Bush.

McGinley of Mobile says she has conservative views that differ from Bush's on certain issues and they should not disqualify her from being on the GOP ballot.

State GOP Chairman Marty Connors said Monday the party's candidate committee also will look into McGinley's support of the Constitution Party, a national political organization that has supported ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Connors said McGinley has publicly stated that people should not vote for Bush, but instead should support the Constitution Party. -- Complaint challenges GOP candidate for state school board (AP via

"Ground war" back in vogue

hey call it the ground war. And as anticipated, it is back after a long hiatus, subtly changing politics as we know it. Or trying to.

After decades of playing poor relation to television advertising, grass-roots politics has become a campaign star this year, as many political pros predicted it would be in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore face-off of 2000. And today it ranges from old-fashioned shoe leather to Web technology that can make a precinct captain of anyone with a computer.

It is a matter of adaptation, or survival of the most flexible. With the country still so sharply divided that political analysts figure as few as 10 percent of voters are undecided, each side is fighting to find and bring out every last one if its voters, and persuade the "persuadables," too. That means competing door to door, computer to computer, Web site to Web site. A ground war to complement the air war. -- Foraging for Votes: One-Doorbell-One-Vote Tactic Re-emerges in Bush-Kerry Race (

April 5, 2004

The voter ID debate in Mississippi

The debate in Mississippi over voter identification seems to defy any rational analysis.

With both sides of the argument conceding there is little or no hard evidence to back their stance, they rely on anecdote, emotion and accusation. The result is a partisan brawl in the House of Representatives that has led to bruised feelings, threats and, during one extraordinary debate a few weeks ago, tears being shed. ...

Dan Seligson is editor of, a Web site established by the Pew Charitable Trust to track election reforms after the debacle in Florida in 2000.

"In writing about this for four years, there are two things I have never been able to determine," Seligson said from his office in Washington. "First, that voter fraud is actually prevented by voter ID, and second, that someone is actually intimidated enough not to vote.

"There's anecdotal evidence on both sides, but nothing concrete," Seligson continued. "People on both sides believe what they are saying, but the hard evidence is not there." -- An ID on that too? GOP wants it at ballot box (

Connecticut teaching inmates about voting rights

A new program is being tested out by [Connecticut] state prison officials to make the transition for inmates to life out on the streets a bit easier.

Many inmates leave prison without the basic identification needed to cash the state check given to them upon their release. ...

The transition service program is a three-class course offered to inmates at prison in Enfield, Montville, Niantic and Storrs. It is offered to help inmates with six months or less remaining on their sentences to plan ahead.

The classes teach the inmates about their voting rights, where to get clothes and how to get assistance with education, employment and housing. -- Test program for inmates facing release (AP via

Radio broadcast on felon voting rights

The convict must pay a debt to society. The principle is central to the justice system. But for millions of Americans, a felony conviction not only means going off to prison, but losing the right to vote long after they get out. In some cases, for life.

There is a new movement stirring in states across the country to restore voting rights to all the felons who sit on the sidelines. Some argue that by taking way their right to vote, felons lose a voice as citizens; and their communities are further marginalized. Others counter that opening up the ballot box to convicted murders and rapists, would allow untrustworthy and irresponsible people to help make laws for the rest of society. -- Voting Rights for Felons (The Connection, WBUR, Boston)

Judge to Christian: No Moore

A federal judge dismissed a Christian broadcaster's lawsuit to have Roy Moore reinstated as chief justice.

U.S. District Judge Truman Hobbs rejected Kelly McGinley's claim that her federal due process and voting rights were violated when the non-elected state Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from office for ethics violations.

Hobbs issued only a one-page order Friday in declining the suit by McGinley, who hosts a radio talk show in Mobile. ...

Her attorney, Jim Zeigler of Mobile, said he would "prayerfully consider" whether to file an appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. -- Judge throws out broadcaster's suit to restore Moore to bench

Boston candidates may get more time to gather signatures

Candidates caught in Boston's ongoing redistricting case would get an extra two weeks to collect signatures under a bill being pushed by Secretary of State William Galvin.

The bill would have no effect on the rest of the election schedule. ...

House leaders were expected to present their latest version of the map to the three-judge appeals court panel on Tuesday, the six week deadline. Briefs from all sides were expected to be filed by the end of the week, followed by a court hearing on April 16, according to a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Boston.

Galvin said he is worried that delays could make it hard for candidates to collect signatures in time to qualify for the ballot. His bill tacks two weeks onto the signature deadline for any district affected by the new map. -- Bill would give candidates in redistricting case extra time (AP via Providence Journal)

Racially polarized voting in Teaneck, NJ

[U.S. Justice Department] investigators have spent a year studying whether Teaneck's at-large elections should be replaced with a ward system to ensure that the town's sizable black community has better representation on the Township Council and Board of Education.

Changing demographics have changed the patterns of discrimination. Recently the department has investigated communities where other minority groups, including Hispanics and Native Americans, were alleged to be disenfranchised.

In 2000, the department sued the city of Passaic, alleging that Latino voters were denied a fair opportunity to choose their leaders, even though two Latinos were on the council. The suit was dropped after a Latino mayor was elected in 2001.

But the character of the controversy in Teaneck is more familiar, typical of the black-white cases the Justice Department has conducted throughout the nation for the last 40 years. Among the key questions is whether whites overwhelmingly vote for white candidates and blacks vote mainly for black candidates. In the eyes of the Justice Department, such patterns suggest problems in a political system.

An independent analysis by The Record showed some level of racially polarized voting in four of five Teaneck elections analyzed. The Record analysis was conducted with the assistance of two voting rights experts. Experts caution that polarized voting is not uncommon. -- Making elections fair to minorities (

I assisted the writers of this story and am briefly quoted in it.

April 4, 2004

Scotland tests e-voting

Technology expected to contribute to the abolition of traditional polling stations was pioneered in Aberdeen [Scotland] last night.

City council election chiefs tried out an electronic voting system as they counted votes cast in the Queen's Cross by-election.

Although votes were officially counted by hand, they were also fed through an electronic scanner.

The machine was set too slow for the full results to be matched against the official result, but election officers said the early indications were that the equipment had proved successful - albeit with some "teething problems". -- ELECTRONIC VOTING PASSES ABERDEEN ELECTION TEST (The Press and Journal)

Republican Governors Association targets Easley

Any morning now, campaign strategists for [North Carolina] Gov. Mike Easley expect to wake to a television commercial bashing Easley, courtesy of a national Republican group that has targeted the N.C. governor's mansion as a top priority.

Republicans won't pick their nominee to challenge Easley, a Democrat, until the primary election in July. But the Republican Governors Association can step in to pinch-hit at any time.

The newly restructured organization packs a fat bank account and is free of the fund-raising restrictions imposed on campaigns. ...

The RGA's enhanced clout extends well beyond the Tar Heel State. The GOP operation is the biggest fund-raiser among a new crop of political advocacy groups called 527s because of their tax-exempt designation.

Those organizations are expected to fill television screens across the country this year with advertising, technically separate from, but clearly on behalf of candidates from both parties. In fact, the groups drawing the most attention right now are Democratic, such as's commercials attacking President Bush on cable networks. -- Well-financed GOP group targets Easley (Charlotte Observer)

Kerry campaign pulling money from senatorial challengers

Democrats in numerous key Senate campaigns face a financial disadvantage this fall, according to strategists in both parties, the combined result of the priority given to John Kerry's bid for the White House, new fund-raising restrictions and the location of the most competitive races.

While developments in Oklahoma and Colorado sparked expressions of optimism from Democrats, most hotly contested Senate races are outside the 17 battleground states targeted by Kerry, a cluster of independent groups supporting him and the Democratic National Committee.

Democrats also lag in the fund-raising race between the party senatorial committees, trailing the Republicans in cash on hand by nearly $10 million at the end of March. And while Kerry works furiously to raise the money to compete with President Bush's record-setting war chest, the president raised $2.7 million for the GOP senatorial committee at one event in March, and has pledged to attend a dinner benefiting congressional candidates in June.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for the Senate GOP campaign committee, said the money advantage "will allow us to have more of an impact on the competitive races that are in good territory for the Republicans to begin with." -- Democratic Senate Hopefuls Face Cash Woes (AP via

But compare the story about the Bush Presidential campaign sucking up money that would have gone to the GOP senatorial candidates.

"The Confusion Over Voter ID"

In last month's Florida presidential primary, Fort Myers polling places had signs saying voters could not vote without photo ID, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida The problem is, the signs were wrong. Florida law guarantees voters without photo ID the right to cast an "affidavit ballot," which counts the same as a regular one. There is no way of knowing how many eligible voters saw the false notice and did not vote as a result.

The process by which voters prove who they are has largely been left to election professionals. It shouldn't be. Every barrier to the ballot box reduces the number of voters who end up voting. ID requirements, which vary widely by state, are complicated, and administered poorly. In November, there is every reason to believe a significant number of eligible voters will be turned away on ID grounds, perhaps enough to decide a close election. Election officials should be working to fix these problems now. ...

Above all, election officials should enforce the law accurately. Their record, however, is troubling. In an interview, the election supervisor for Lee County, Fla., which contains Fort Myers, defended the polling place signs, saying there was an official at each polling place to tell voters about affidavit ballots. Training poll workers to operate by different rules than are stated in official written materials is a bad practice, and voters are entitled to have their right to vote correctly described. -- The Confusion Over Voter ID (New York Times)

Op-ed on Texas ballot access laws

Those "ballot access" laws make Texas one of the most difficult states for alternative parties to participate anywhere in America.

In fact, they are so restrictive that most former Soviet Union countries are more receptive to new parties and participatory democracy.

Whether or not you support third parties, you ought to support their right to participate in the political process. -- David Cobb: New parties have trouble getting on Texas ballot (

Texas DA seeks ruling to keep some files secret

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle on Friday sought refuge from publicly disclosing details of his grand jury investigation of Republican campaign activities by filing an appeal with Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of whose 2002 consultants is among those under investigation.

Earle on Friday released a five-inch stack of documents, but he also is seeking to keep others private, claiming their release would compromise his grand jury investigation. The state public information law requires any agency that wants to keep records secret to seek an opinion from the state attorney general.

In this case, that means Abbott.

For more than a year, Earle has been investigating whether the Texas Association of Business and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority illegally used corporate funds to influence the outcome of 2002 state House races.

TAB lawyer Andy Taylor and Texas Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser in recent weeks have hit Earle's office with extensive public records requests in an effort to show the Democratic district attorney's investigation is politically motivated. -- DA seeks ruling before disclosing probe details (

Arizona IRC makes small change to legislative map

The state's redistricting commission has redrawn Flagstaff's new legislative district so that it no longer contains Kachina Village and Mountainaire.

Instead, those unincorporated cities south of the city are placed in a district dominated by Yavapai County. ...

But the commission's March 1 map had some 5,000 Lake Havasu City residents in one district and the rest of the city in another. ...

The Independent Redistricting Commission changed that Friday by putting all of Lake Havasu City in the district that also includes Bullhead City and Flagstaff. To offset the resulting population shift, the commission shifted some 5,000 people in Kachina Village and Mountainaire into a district dominated by Yavapai County.

The new map still divides Mohave County among three districts. However, commissioners said they were handcuffed by a judge's order requiring them to create at least seven districts winnable by either major party, an increase from four in the panel's 2002 map. -- Flag region loses Kachina, Mountainaire to redrawn maps (AP via Arizona Daily Sun)

April 2, 2004

Do you dabble in Daubert or Dilbert?

Daubert on the Web and Blog 702 are looking for state "correspondents" who will scan the appellate courts decisions of his/her state on Evidence Rule 702 and send them on to the proprietor of those useful sites, Peter Nordberg.

If you are interested, go here to sign up. Forty-five states are still available.

A friend is in law school and was studying the Daubert decision. I immediately recommended the Daubert on the web site. That's how good it is.

On the other hand, those who perfer Dilbert, should go here.

India's e-voting will solve all problems

Electronic voting machines [in India] will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, electoral malpractices, claimed officials, because the machines can be used only once in 12 seconds and need to be re-set before the next vote is cast.

The machine will automatically switch off after every vote is cast. In other words, even when workers of a political party "capture" a booth, they will find it impossible to cast more than five votes in a single minute. That too is possible only with the connivance of polling personnel.

At the end of polling, the personnel will also be able to report any misadventure or abuse of the machines, which would lead to cancellation of polling at that booth, they explained. Since polling personnel will be drawn from different districts and at every booth 50 per cent of the poll personnel will be from other districts, it will be difficult for political parties to influence all of them. -- Rest easy, your vote is safe (The Telegraph - Calcutta)

Irish public opposes e-voting

The independent watchdog set up to assess the secrecy and accuracy of electronic voting [in Ireland] has received a decisive thumbs down on the system from its consultation with the general public.

The overwhelming majority of the submissions to the Commission on Electronic Voting express criticisms and concerns about the e-voting system's introduction but the number of actual observations is extremely low.

Recurring themes are the need for a back-up, voter-verifiable paper record, the undermining of democracy, the damage to voter confidence, worries over the lack of secrecy, the reliability of computers and allowing spoiled votes.

Objections were also expressed from people with disabilities to the change in the voting system. -- Public blackballs e-voting in consultation (Irish Examiner)

Kerry raised $26.7 million online in 1st Quarter

Internet fund raising is paying off big for John Kerry, pulling in more than half the Democratic record $50 million he has collected this year and helping him rival President Bush's first-quarter money.

The Kerry campaign said Friday it raised $26.7 million online from January through March, the most ever for a presidential campaign over the Internet in one quarter. It also set a new mark for money raised online in one day, raking in $2.6 million March 4.

"Our grass-roots donors have been the backbone of our fund raising this month, breaking every online record," Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said of the March online effort. -- Internet Fund Raising Pays Off for Kerry (AP via Yahoo)

More April Fool's Day fun

For those who thought that my "information" that Tom DeLay would become our next viceroy in Iraq was a little too subtle, how about this little gem. Avi Rubin -- Mr. "watch out for electronic voting" himself -- announced on his weblog, ATAC: Abusable Technologies Awareness Center, that he was taking a job as Chief Security Officer at Diebold.

In addition to the usual comments, he posted one he received from the Assistant Corporate Council for Diebold, Inc., who said, "My office is in receipt of an InterNet message from you (dated today, April 1, 2004) in which you make false, misleading and damaging representations regarding your supposed employment with Diebold" and demanding that he cease and desist.

What a bunch of humorless clods, I thought. Read further in the letter and you find this paragraph:

Finally, you and all members of your family are directed to register and vote in the 2004 Presidential election, for a candidate chosen by my client as communicated to you at a future time. Diebold reserves the right to install software and other monitoring features in its systems to ensure your compliance with this clause.

The letter is signed, "J.A. Kass."

Gotcha again, didn't he?

April 1, 2004

"Voting Rights Act still serves purpose"

When a judge turned back a challenge to Rep. Ed Pastor's congressional district, he cited the Voting Rights Act as the reason he could not permit a redrawing that diluted minority votes.

When Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission was crafting the state's legislative districts, the Voting Rights Act was clearly a major factor in creating nine majority-minority districts, up from the previous seven.

The two cases illustrate why it's not too early to think about 2007.

That's when key provisions of the Voting Rights Act come up for reauthorization. Section 5 of the act requires that areas with histories of racial discrimination clear their redistricting maps with the Justice Department. Other provisions of the act require election material in other languages and enable challenges to at-large elections that often inhibit minorities' ability to elect candidates of their choosing. -- Voting Rights Act still serves purpose by O. Ricardo Pimentel (Arizona Republic)

Cuellar ahead in Texas recount

Pending a potential lawsuit and a second retabulation of disputed ballots in Webb County, Henry Cuellar took an unofficial 203-vote lead over U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in an 11-county recount completed today [in Texas]. ...

The entire recount process marked an amazing turnaround for Rodriguez, the San Antonio incumbent who saw a 145-vote lead after the March 9 primary evaporate into a 203-vote deficit that has prompted cries of fraud and vote tampering. -- UPDATED: Cuellar ahead by 203 votes after 11-county recount (San Antonio Express-News)

Proposal to change Welsh assembly

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain today vowed to block moves to introduce a different proportional representation voting system for the Welsh Assembly.

A report into the workings of the devolved body has suggested increasing the number of members from 60 to 80 and electing them using the single transferable vote (STV).

It was one of the recommendations of a team led by former Lords leader Lord Richard into the future powers and structure of the Cardiff-based institution.

Mr Hain said the present voting system was "deeply flawed" but told MPs he was strongly opposed to the idea of switching to STV. -- Hain Vows to Block Wales Vote Switch Proposal ( )

Florida may restrict the initiative process

Class-size reduction and high-speed rail may not have made it into the Florida constitution under a proposal the state Senate passed Thursday to thwart costly citizen initiatives.

The Senate would require 60 percent of voters to approve amending the state's constitution, a move made in part out of frustration over those two issues that will cost billions over the next decade and, some say, threaten Florida's long-term fiscal health.

Neither class size nor high-speed rail - both put on the ballot by petition drive - drew enough votes to satisfy the proposed 60 percent standard. Currently, only a simple majority of 50 percent plus one is needed for passing an initiative amendment.

Also passing the Senate were measures approving tighter deadlines for groups wanting to bring issues to the ballot and limiting the types of subjects that can be addressed by citizen initiative. -- Senate passes higher vote standard for constitutional changes (AP via Miami Herald)

Canadian Law Commission recommends adding proportionality to election system

Because elections play a central role in modern democracy, the particular formula employed to translate votes into seats in the legislature assumes special importance. Recently, some countries have questioned their electoral systems and the democratic values that they reflect, and have instituted reforms. Canada, for the most part, has been hesitant to experiment with its electoral system. However, a growing number of Canadians are interested in critically examining the existing electoral system, and many deem that it is time to change the way we cast our votes. ...

The conclusion of this survey is that adding an element of proportionality to Canada's electoral system, as inspired by the system currently used in Scotland, would be the most appropriate model for adoption. Its potential benefits include:

• reducing the discrepancy between a party's share of the seats in the House of Commons and its share of the votes;

• including in the House of Commons new and previously under-represented voices, such as smaller political parties;

• electing a greater number of minority group and women candidates;

• encouraging inter-party cooperation through coalition governments;

• reducing the huge disparities in the value of votes that currently exist, in which a vote for the winning party is often three to four times more “valuable” than a vote for any of the other parties;

• reducing the number of disregarded votes, thus increasing the number of “sincere,” as opposed to strategic, votes; and

• producing more regionally balanced party caucuses.

The Commission, therefore, recommends adding an element of proportionality to Canada's electoral system, and that Canada adopt a mixed member proportional electoral system. --
Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada - Executive Summary

The Law Commission of Canada is an independent federal law reform agency that advises Parliament on how to improve and modernize Canada’s laws.

One judge nixes Ward Connerly proposal in Michigan, another does not

A campaign to put affirmative action before voters this fall was dealt a major setback Thursday [25 March] when a Lansing [Michigan] judge said the petition wording violates state election law.

Ingham County Judge Paula Manderfield ordered the four-member Board of State Canvassers to rescind its December approval of the petition to ban racial preferences in college admissions and government hiring.

The judge found the proposed amendment would add a new section to the state constitution without clarifying that it would alter an existing anti-discrimination section, as required by law. -- Judge: Race petition illegal (Ann Arbor News, 26 March)

A Wayne County judge on Friday denied a request from two attorneys to stop a petition drive to place a proposal on the state ballot to ban racial preferences in college admissions and government hiring.

Circuit Judge Susan Borman ruled that it is premature to rule on the constitutionality of a proposed initiative that may or may not be placed on the November ballot.

After Borman dismissed the case, attorneys Milton R. Henry of Bloomfield Hills and Godfrey J. Dillard of Detroit said that they would take their case to federal court. -- Judge won't halt petitions (Ann Arbor News, 27 March)

The state attorney general said Tuesday that his office plans to appeal a lower court ruling that a state board shouldn't have approved petition forms being circulated by a group trying to end affirmative action at Michigan's public universities and other public agencies.

Mike Cox said if Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield's ruling last week is allowed to stand, it will impair citizens' rights to petition to change the state constitution.

"The lower court's standard for amending the constitution creates too onerous a burden on those who choose to engage in democratic debate," he said in a news release. "The language of the petitions in question clearly meets the test established by Michigan's courts." -- Cox to appeal affirmative-action petition ruling (AP via Ann Arbor News)

The proposal can be found on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative website.

DeLay resigns; goes to Iraq

Votelaw has learned that Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay will resign not only from his leadership position but from Congress in order to avoid arrest following his expected indictment by a Travis County, Texas, grand jury.

President Bush has appointed DeLay as chief democracy builder in Iraq, to replace retiring Amb. Paul Bremer. DeLay said, "I hope to be able to teach the Iraqis a few of things I have learned about running campaigns and dealing with dissent."

DeLay is expected to leave for Iraq before the new grand jury is impaneled in Travis County.

Oh, April Fool.