Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2005 Archives

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February 28, 2005

Texas: TRMPAC case opens

AP reports: The treasurer of a political committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay violated state law by using corporate money to boost Republican legislative candidates to victory, plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit claimed Monday. ...

GOP victories that year gave the Texas House its first Republican majority since the 1870s and propelled Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland to speaker. Craddick and DeLay later pushed a redistricting plan through the Legislature that resulted in today's commanding GOP advantage in the state's congressional delegation.

Five Democrats are suing Bill Ceverha, a former state lawmaker and treasurer of Texans for a Republican Majority. They contend TRMPAC used $600,000 in corporate money for political purposes and didn't report the money to the Texas Ethics Commission, all in violation of state election code. The use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas.

Ceverha's attorney, however, told state District Judge Joe Hart that the political committee operated above board, filed the government reports it was supposed to and didn't hide its aim of electing Republican candidates. -- DentonRC.com | News for Denton, Texas | AP: Texas

Ohio: Dems seek referendum on campaign finance act

The Athens News reports: The Athens County Democratic Party is taking part in an effort to put a referendum on the state ballot this fall, that if passed would repeal a "campaign finance reform" law that goes into effect March 30.

County party chair Susan Gwinn, in a news release Thursday, alleged that House Bill 1 is "not campaign finance reform. It is a way for rich Republicans to give more." She pointed out that among the law's features is language allowing a child as young as 8 years old to give up to $10,000 to a political candidate -- a provision critics of the law say will allow the children of wealthy donor families to be used to funnel more personal contributions to candidates.

Gwinn said Friday that the law also has "got the unions really concerned," because of its increased restrictions on the use of payroll deductions from members to fund campaign donations. She said one AFL-CIO lobbyist she has spoken with has predicted that had this provision been in effect when Democrat Lee Fisher ran for governor, it would have cut Fisher's organized labor contributions by up to 25 percent. ...

The law quadruples the amount an individual can donate to a political candidate, from $2,500 to $10,000, and allows individuals to give $15,000 to legislative campaign funds. It doubles the amount that a political action committee (PAC) can donate, raising it from $5,000 to $10,000.

H.B. 1 also bans issue-advocacy ads paid for by corporations and unions in the 30 days before an election. -- The Athens NEWS: Twice weekly alternative

February 26, 2005

Michigan: suit claims dead lawyer breached attorney-client privilege

The Macomb Daily reports: An indicted real estate agent in a high-profile corruption case is suing a deceased lawyer and some of his law firm associates, for an alleged breach of attorney-client privilege.

Ralph Roberts and his wife, Kathleen, seek damages of $10 million or more in a lawsuit filed Friday in Macomb County Circuit Court against an estate for the late William E. Bufalino II and his law partner, Frank Palazzolo, along with an associate or affiliated attorney named Eric Biretta.

At issue is a February 2003 conversation Bufalino allegedly had with former Macomb County Chief Trial Attorney Eric Kaiser about recorded telephone conversations that Roberts had turned over to the law firm involving himself and then-Prosecutor Carl Marlinga. Kaiser then mentioned the tapes to federal agents who seized them and used them in a subsequent federal indictment against both men.

"As a direct result of the betrayal of confidentiality, and of Biretta's improper and inadequate advice concerning (a subsequent FBI) interview, Roberts was indicted for campaign finance law violations," the lawsuit states. "Palazzolo owed a duty to (the Robertses) to provide competent legal advice (and) to properly assign and oversee those client matters he referred to other attorneys in the law firm."

Roberts, 48, of Clinton Township, and co-defendants Marlinga, 57, of Sterling Heights, and state Sen. James Barcia, D-Bay City, together face a nine-count federal indictment for conspiracy and fraud against the "honest use" of the prosecutor's office, false statements to federal investigators and skirting federal election law that sets limits on campaign contributions. -- Macomb Daily : Ralph Roberts sues his deceased lawyer 02/26/05

Texas: Dem suit against pro-GOP groups begins next week

Political State Report reports: Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick will likely testify next week in at a trial in the first of three civil lawsuits stemming from the 2002 elections in which Democrats allege Republicans illegally raised and spent corporate money during that election cycle.

The lawsuit, filed by four unsuccessful Democratic candidates against Texans for a Republican Majority Treasurer Bill Ceverha runs parallel to a Travis County grand Jury investigation that has resulted in indictments against three political consultants. In addition to being subpoenaed for the civil trial, Craddick is also a subject of the grand jury investigation.

Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond has also recieved a subpoena to testify at the trial. Hammond's brag that the association's $1.9 million in corporate spending "blew the doors" off the 2002 election led to the criminal investigation of that organization by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle.

TAB and TRMPAC's spending resulted in a Republican majority in the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction and a Craddick speakership, which led to a Tom DeLay-led mid-decade redistricting effort that ultimately helped defeat a handful of longtime Democratic U.S. Congressmen.

Attorneys for Democratic plaintiffs intend to show that Hammond's activities were coordinated with TRMPAC activities. -- Political State Report: straight from the trenches .:. Campaign 2004

Georgia: Legislature nears passage of new congressional map

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: Republican legislators appeared Friday to be close to their goal of killing the last of the state's three Democratic-drawn redistricting maps.

After little debate, GOP-run committees in both the House and Senate signed off Friday on a new map of the state's 13 congressional districts. Republicans said they met privately Thursday night and hashed out differences between House and Senate versions of the map.

Democrats criticized GOP legislators for crafting the map behind closed doors and for pushing it through the House reapportionment committee in less than five minutes. ...

Since the GOP won a majority in the House in November, Republicans have been eager to use their power to replace the current map. They point to sprawling, splotchy district lines in explaining the need for new districts.

Several of Georgia's GOP congressmen also have pushed for more favorable district boundaries. The state currently has seven Republican congressmen and six Democrats. -- GOP pushes new map | ajc.com

February 23, 2005

Virginia: Mayor Wilder more than a month late with campaign finance report

Style Weekly reports: Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's political action committee, Reformer for Mayor, has yet to file its campaign finance report, due Jan. 18, as required by state law.

Wilder's other campaign finance filings with the city and state are replete with incomplete donor entries, apparently in violation of state law. And he also has yet to release how much money his $125-a-plate inaugural ball raised Jan. 3.

Not including the ball, Wilder reports raising $446,000, according to city and state filings, and spent $283,000. Wilder has said he plans to put leftover campaign funds into a political action committee.

Barely two months after Wilder swept into office promising a new era of political accountability at City Hall, the late and incomplete filings raise questions about the former governor's willingness to play by his own rules. -- Style Weekly in Richmond, Virginia

Wisconsin: Right to Life "admonished" by FEC

AP reports: The Federal Election Commission has admonished Wisconsin Right to Life for posting endorsements of President Bush and others on its Web site last year.

The FEC confirmed the finding Tuesday to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after a group that filed a complaint in the matter, the Campaign Legal Center, issued a news release on the case.

The nonprofit corporation is subject to a ban on corporate contributions and spending in federal elections, and the FEC said there was reason to believe the anti-abortion group violated those restrictions on corporations. ...

Wisconsin Right to Life's political action committee, a separate entity, endorsed Bush and others in the 2004 campaign and Wisconsin Right to Life posted a link to those endorsements, as well as a photo of the president, on its corporate Web site. -- FEC admonishes Wisconsin Right to Life | The Janesville Gazette | Janesville, Wisconsin, USA

Alabama: election contest for Guntersville mayor now in second day

The Huntsville Times reports: Guntersville election officials accepted hospital bills and credit card documents as proper identification for voting absentee during the 2004 Guntersville mayor's race, according to testimony Tuesday.

Plaintiffs say many illegal absentee ballots were counted in the Aug. 24 election in which Mayor James Townson defeated Bob Hembree Jr., by one vote, 1,242 to 1,241. Testimony was to continue today at 9 a.m.

During eight hours of testimony Tuesday, Guntersville City Clerk Betty Jones identified the absentee voting documents of 60 or more residents and answered questions about counting ballots.

Townson lost at the polling place at the Guntersville Recreation Center, 1,206 to 1,124, but won his fourth term by taking the absentee ballot count, 118 to 35.

Hembree, who conceded the election to Townson after a recount, told the Guntersville Rotary Club last week he doesn't support the court fight but will serve if Jolley decides he should have won. But he said if Townson wins the trial, he wouldn't accept the post even if the plaintiffs win on appeal. -- Guntersville clerk testifies about absentee votes at trial

Some folks in Guntersville hired me last week to file an amicus brief in this case. I've been working on it pretty heavily the last few days and filed it just before the trial started. You can download my brief here.

South Dakota: bill would allow mid-decade redistricting after lawsuit

AP reports: Emergency legislation that would allow county commissioners to redraw the boundaries of their districts was introduced and passed within minutes Wednesday by the South Dakota House.

Rep. Thomas Deadrick, R-Platte, said HB1265 is needed because of a federal lawsuit that was filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union against Charles Mix County. ACLU alleges that commissioner districts in the county illegally dilute the voting strength of American Indians, he said.

The districts have not been redrawn since 1950, Deadrick said.

Should the county be found in violation of state or federal redistricting laws, existing state law does not provide for emergency redistricting, he said. County redistricting is only permitted once a decade, Deadrick said, and the next time Charles Mix County could redraw its voting boundaries is 2012. -- AP Wire | 02/23/2005 | County redistricting bill offered

February 16, 2005

SEnate GOP lays out its plan to improve elections

Steven Duffield of the Senate Republican Policy Committee emails: The Senate Republican Policy Committee has released a new Policy Paper, "Putting an End to Voter Fraud: the Need for New Federal Reforms." It argues for voter identification requirements at the polls, adjustments to the “Motor Voter” law so that states can protect against fraudulent and duplicate voter registrations, more protections to ensure that only Americans vote in American elections, and greater examination of fraud risks in early and absentee voting.

The executive summary of the plan contains the following points:

First, Congress should require that voters at the polls show photo identification.

Second, Congress should examine the integrity of the voter registration process and the ongoing failures of states to maintain accurate voter lists.

Third, Congress should examine the extent to which early and absentee voting increases the likelihood of fraudulent votes being cast.

No election-related legislation should proceed in this Congress unless these issues receive a thorough examination.

Don't say you were not warned.

February 15, 2005

New Sentencing Project report on voting rights restoration

The Sentencing Project has a new report, Barred for Life: Voting Rights Restoration in Permanent Disenfranchisement States, that examines the rights restoration process in the 14 states in which disenfranchisement may last for a lifetime. The study finds that in 11 of these states, less than 3% of disenfranchised persons have had their rights restored in recent years. Here's what it says about Alabama:

Estimated Number of Disenfranchised Ex-Felons: 148,830

Felony Disenfranchisement Laws and the Process of Restoration

Alabama disenfranchises all people who are convicted of a crime involving “moral turpitude,” a list which includes all felonies. In 2003, the state passed legislation to streamline the process of restoring voting rights. Individuals seeking to regain their right to vote can now apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Board is obligated to issue a certificate within 45 days if all requirements are satisfied.

The process is generally only available to persons convicted of non-violent offenses. Persons with a conviction for a violent offense and certain other offenses are required to apply for a pardon from the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Reenfranchisement Activity — Restorations: 1,697 (estimated, 2004)

As of September 2004, 1,697 persons had received their Certificate of Eligibility, and an additional 5,000 requests were still pending.4 These figures are the result of the law change in 2003 and a vigorous advocacy campaign by community organizations to inform eligible people of the rights restoration process. State officials have reported that they have insufficient staff to handle the volume of applications and that the 45-day time period may not always be met.

February 13, 2005

Alabama: petition asks for Voting Rights Act to be made part of the Constitution

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will expire in 2007, but people like Selma's Sam Walker aren't just sitting around and waiting for that day to come.

Walker and about 125,000 people from across the nation have signed a petition to deliver to Congress on Aug. 6 to request the Voting Rights Act of 1965 become a permanent act through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Walker, who is a board member of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, hopes to deliver at least 1 million signatures to Capitol Hill in August.

But the chances of an amendment to the Constitution being implemented this year may be remote. ...

Those interested in signing the petition urging a constitutional amendment making the Voting Rights Act of 1965 permanent should contact the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma at (334) 418-0800. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com

Texas: another round of the "protect DeLay" game

The Los Angelse Times reports: Late last year, Republican leaders in Washington caused a stir, even among some allies, when they tried to protect House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas by revoking an ethics rule that would force him to step down if indicted.

Now, Republican leaders in Texas are pushing a measure that watchdogs call a junior version of the Washington effort.

A bill filed this week by a veteran state GOP lawmaker would give the Texas Ethics Commission — whose members were appointed by the three top elected officials in the state, all Republicans — the power to quash the prosecution of a politician.

Critics call it a brazen attempt to protect GOP leaders who might become entangled in an ongoing criminal investigation into whether illegal fundraising paved the party's rise to power in the state. ...

State Rep. Mary Denny, who filed the bill, said in an interview Thursday that she was attempting to add oversight, not remove it. She said it never occurred to her that the legislation could be used to protect Republican leaders who might become targets of the fundraising investigation. -- Texas GOP Trying to Gut Ethics Inquiry, Critics Say

February 10, 2005

The VRA in 28 Days

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is presenting The VRA in 28 Days to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Voting Rights Act. The site is adding a new page every day. So far there are 14.

February 8, 2005

Ohio: Supreme Court raises judicial campaign contribution limits

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: Contributors to judicial candidates can boost their donations in future elections.

The Ohio Supreme Court is increasing contribution limits with the goal of prompting contributors to give money directly to individual campaigns instead of third-party issue advocacy groups.

The current limits were raised by as little as $500 for individual contributions to candidates for the Supreme Court to as much as $25,000 from political parties.

The court did not change contributions from organizations to judicial candidates. -- High court raises contribution limits

California: is Arnold "controlling" a political committee

The Sacramento Bee reports: A political watchdog group accused Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of violating California campaign finance law in a complaint filed Monday with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

TheRestOfUs.org, a nonprofit organization that monitors campaign fund raising, said the governor is breaking the law by "controlling" the activities of a business group's finance committee that is raising money to support Schwarzenegger's agenda in a series of ballot measures.

If he were in control of the committee, which aides to the governor insist he's not, FPPC rules imposed last year would prohibit individual contributions in excess of $22,300.

The committee in question, Citizens to Save California, has not yet reported any contributions. But it has been soliciting donations without limits. It plans to help Schwarzenegger reach his goal of raising $50 million for four measures he wants on a special election ballot later this year. His package includes drawing new legislative district lines, restricting state spending and converting the state's pension system to a 401(k)-style retirement plan. -- California - Group claims governor breaks fund-raising rules - sacbee.com

Mississippi: campaign finance reform "as weak as water"

AP reports: A campaign-finance bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday is "weak as water," Secretary of State Eric Clark says.

But, Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton says the bill proposes important changes without making rules that are too complicated for candidates to follow.

"Some people say this doesn't go far enough," said Burton, R-Newton. "Well, we don't want to get to the point where you have to hire a CPA and a lawyer to run for office in this state."

The bill would increase the amount of money corporations could give to candidates, but it doesn't address questions about "soft money" flowing into Mississippi elections from special interest groups. -- AP Wire | 02/08/2005 | Secretary of state says Senate campaign bill is 'weak'

Maybe having every candidate "lawyer up" would be a good idea.

Washington State: Rossi expects a trial within a month

AP reports: Dino Rossi was almost ready to throw in the towel, the Republican candidate for governor told reporters at a Monday news conference.

If a judge had ruled last Friday that Rossi's legal challenge to Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's election had to go through the Legislature and not the courts, Rossi said he might have given up.

But the judge ruled the Republican's case could proceed. On Monday, Rossi said he hopes his election challenge will go to trial within a month. ...

Democrats said the Republican's election challenge probably will take longer than that, quoting a December letter from Rossi saying an election challenge could stretch for months and would cause the state to suffer through a long process. -- Rossi hopes for speed in vote challenge - The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Texas: still counting the provisional ballots

AP reports: More than three months after the November election, state officials don't have a final tally of how many provisional votes were cast and counted in Texas.

Provisional vote totals remain in question for 29 counties. Local election officials had to report provisional votes in a lengthy federal survey. Some counties have not yet responded. For 10 of the 29 counties a computer registered the provisional vote total as zero, possibly inaccurately, Bill Kenyon, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state's office, said Monday.

The agency is following up with the 29 counties to verify their totals. ...

So far the tally shows that 35,282 provisional votes were cast statewide. Of those, 7,156 were determined to be valid and were counted. -- DentonRC.com | News for Denton, Texas | AP: Texas

New York: recount finally over for state senate seat

The New York Times reports: The longest-running State Senate race since shortly before the Great Depression ended Tuesday with Nicholas A. Spano, the Republican incumbent, finally prevailing in his bid for re-election, winning by a mere 18 votes after more than 114,000 ballots were counted.

Mr. Spano, the assistant majority leader of the Senate and a Yonkers native, beat back a spirited challenge from Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat and a five-term county legislator, to win a 10th term. ...

After months of legal wrangling in three different courts over hundreds of contested ballots, the race came down to 249 absentee and provisional ballots. They were opened in the morning in a packed but hushed conference room at the Westchester County Board of Elections. The election results were certified in the afternoon, and Mr. Spano, 51, was scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday morning in Albany, 35 days after the legislative session began. The final tally of votes was 57,073 to 57,055. -- The New York Times > New York Region > In State Senate Marathon, Incumbent Wins

New Hampshire: GOP operative sentenced for phone-jamming

The Washington Post reports: A federal judge in New Hampshire sentenced the former president of an Alexandria political consulting firm on Tuesday to five months in prison, the first jail term handed out in connection with the jamming of state Democratic Party phone lines on Election Day in 2002.

Allen Raymond, who headed the now-defunct company GOP Marketplace, which was hired by New Hampshire Republicans for election-related telemarketing services, pleaded guilty last summer to one count of conspiring to make harassing phone calls. ...

Raymond was the first to be sentenced of three men charged after the revelation that Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in Manchester, Nashua, Rochester and Claremont were peppered with more than 800 computer-generated calls over a period of 90 minutes on the morning of Nov. 5, 2002.

Firefighters in Manchester, who were offering rides to the polls independently of the two parties, were also targeted, prosecutors said. Police later determined that an Idaho-based firm called Milo Enterprises had been engaged by GOP Marketplace to make automated hang-up calls. -- Former GOP Consultant Sentenced to Prison (washingtonpost.com)

February 5, 2005

California: Secretary of State Shelley resigns

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: Kevin Shelley resigned as California's secretary of state Friday, admitting that the growing scrutiny over his questionable campaign fund- raising, alleged misuse of federal voting funds and admittedly volcanic temper left him unable to do the job he assumed two years ago. ...

he intense scrutiny of Shelley began in August when The Chronicle reported that $125,000 from a state grant appeared to have been illegally diverted into his 2002 campaign account. Since then, state investigations have concluded that he mismanaged federal voting act funds and that Shelley's explosive temper created a hostile work environment for subordinates. ...

Though his mercurial temper and abusive treatment of subordinates had brought criticism in the past, the real downturn in his political fortunes began last summer, when The Chronicle reported that a state grant for a San Francisco nonprofit group apparently had been diverted to his 2002 campaign account. Shelley had helped secure the grant while serving in the Assembly.

By September, eight federal, state and local agencies were looking into questionable campaign contributions linked to Julie Lee, the San Francisco community activist and Shelley fund-raiser who co-founded the San Francisco Neighbors Resource Center. With Shelley's help, the nonprofit organization received a $500,000 state grant for construction of a community center. The center was never built, and some of the money appeared to have been funneled to Shelley's campaign account. -- SHELLEY QUITS / Secretary of state says controversies over fund raising, use of federal money and his volatile temper damaged his office's 'ability to function effectively'

Washington State: Dems, GOP both lose on aspects of recount case

AP reports: Dealing a blow to Republicans seeking a revote for Washington governor, a Chelan County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that even if Republicans win their election challenge he can't order a new election.

"The court doesn't have that authority," Judge John E. Bridges told a rapt courtroom in this Eastern Washington city.

Aside from the revote ruling, it was a day of setbacks for the Democrats as Bridges denied their motions to dismiss the challenge or move it to the Legislature. ...

Though the judge dashed their hopes of a spring revote, Republicans said the courts still could nullify the election, forcing Gregoire to vacate the office until a new general election in November. -- The Daily News Online

Texas: Cracker Barrell makes a deal on its indictment

The Nashville Business Journal reports: Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. has announced today that charges filed against the company in Travis County, Texas, regarding an alleged illegal political contribution have been dismissed as part of a deal reached with prosecutors.

Last year, Cracker Barrel, which is owned by Lebanon-based CBRL Group Inc. (NYSE: CBRL), with seven other companies, was indicted by a Texas grand jury - along with political consultants of a political action committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. ...

For its part of the deal, Cracker Barrel agreed to publicly disclose all of its corporate political contributions on its Web site for two years, to not make any illegal contributions in Texas or any other state, to cooperate with the state in its prosecution of anyone related to the donation that is under indictment. The company admitted no wrongdoing.

Cracker Barrel also has decided to donate $50,000 to support a nonpartisan series of programs at The LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. -- Cracker Barrel dismissed from Texas campaign fund case - 2005-02-02 - Nashville Business Journal

What the Prez did not say to the Black Caucus

Ellen Nagler writes on The Blogging of the President: This morning I got the latest California Democratic Party e-mail newsletter, and one of the featured news stories, from the Chicago Defender, has the headline "Bush tells CBC he's 'unfamiliar' with Voting Rights Act."

Well, that looked pretty juicy, and I was ready to blog it, but something about it didn't feel right, especially when I couldn't find a second source for the story. So I called Charlie Rangel's office in Washington and spoke to his staffer who has the VRA portfolio. She said she hadn't heard about it but would do some checking.

Turns out my instinct was right. When I called back she told me that there was some confusion about the "unfamiliar" remark. What she did clarify is that 1) it was made not in the actual meeting but to a knot of people around Bush afterward (Rep. Rangel was not in the knot); and 2) there was uncertainty about whether Bush was referring to the VRA itself or to the provision of the Act that comes up for renewal next year — which provision Bush is quoted as saying he'll look at when it comes across his desk. -- The Blogging of the President: 2004

Ellen has a good analysis of what's going on and an instinct to check behind a story that liberals ought to love. Take a look at her whole post.

February 3, 2005

FEC raises campaign contribution limits

AP reports: Consumers aren't the only ones getting hit by inflation. Campaign donors will also feel its effect as candidates and political parties raise money for the 2006 elections.

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday raised donation limits to compensate for inflation, the first time it has done so. That means congressional candidates and national party committees can now ask donors for more money. ...

Under the new limits, congressional candidates can raise $2,100 for their primary campaigns and another $2,100 for general-election campaigning from each individual donor. Previously, candidates could only ask individual givers for up to $2,000 for the primaries and another $2,000 for the general election.

National political party committees can now ask individuals to give up to $26,700 a year, an increase of $1,700 over the old limit.

The FEC also raised the overall amount an individual donor can give on the federal level.

A contributor can now make a total of $101,400 in congressional, party and political action committee donations during the 2005-06 election cycle. The previous two-year limit was $95,000. -- AP Wire | 02/03/2005 | Campaign Donation Limits Get Boost

Bill to have FEC regulation of 527's introduced

AP reports: Sen. John McCain and others pushing for tougher campaign finance rules won a surprising ally Wednesday as they announced a renewed effort to block partisan interest groups from spending millions of dollars in big donations in congressional and presidential races.

Sen. Trent Lott, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said he voted against sweeping campaign fund-raising restrictions won by McCain, Sen. Russ Feingold and others in 2002 but now agrees with the law's supporters that further legislation is needed to stop groups from circumventing the new rules.

Lott called six- and seven-figure checks that independent political groups poured into last year's presidential election "sewer money" that must be stopped. The Mississippi Republican said his committee would vote next month on legislation that would put strict new limits on fund-raising and spending by partisan tax-exempt groups active in congressional or presidential races.

The proliferation of new groups that spent millions in the presidential race was an unintended consequence of the 2002 law that banned national party committees and congressional and presidential candidates from accepting big checks, Lott said. Money that used to go to the political parties simply moved to other partisan groups, he said. -- BostonHerald.com - National Politics: McCain, allies aim to block big money

The bill, S. 271, can be downloaded here. It will be available on Thomas within a few days.

New York: amicus brief in 2nd Circuit on felon disfranchisement case

From the National Voting Rigths Institute site: A combination of policies regarding the census, political redistricting and felon disenfranchisement are discriminating against racial minorities in New York state. The state denies incarcerated prisoners the right to vote, yet counts prisoners as residents of prisons where they are incarcerated when drawing its state legislative districts. This practice dilutes minority voting strength by enhancing the voting power of upstate rural prison districts, at the expense of the urban minority communities where most prisoners retain their legal residence.

NVRI, together with the Prison Policy Initiative, describes the racially discriminatory impact of this practice in an amicus brief filed January 28, 2005 in Muntaqim v. Coombe, a case challenging New York's prisoner disenfranchisement laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Second Circuit has granted an unusual en banc review of the case.

Our brief draws on a seminal report by Peter Wagner, Assistant Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, entitled Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York (April 2002). The brief explains how New York's policy of crediting prison towns with the presence of disenfranchised prisoners for purposes of redistricting enhances the voting strength of white communities that host prisons while diluting the representation afforded to urban communities of color. Representatives of these rural upstate districts make little pretense of treating prisoners as actual constituents. -- National Voting Rights Institute

The brief can be downloaded here.

Florida: fewer uncounted ballots in 2004

The Miami Herald reports: More people in South Florida cast ballots that weren't counted in the presidential election than in any other part of the state, but voting accuracy improved statewide over 2000, according to a report released Tuesday by the Florida Division of Elections.

The report shows a decline statewide in the number of votes not counted last year compared to the 2000 election. The 2000 presidential election wasn't decided until the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Florida counties to stop a recount.

Based on information given to state officials from all 67 counties, the report showed that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had the highest number of voters whose ballots for president last November were not counted because of undervotes, where no votes are recorded, or overvotes, where voters select more than one candidate. The numbers didn't come close to affecting any outcome: 4,227 for Miami-Dade, 2,852 for Broward and 2,718 for Palm Beach.

Statewide, some 31,453 votes were not counted in the presidential election in which President Bush won Florida by nearly 381,000 votes over U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Bush won Florida in 2000 by 537 votes, with nearly 180,000 blank or spoiled ballots that year. -- Herald.com | 02/02/2005 | Uncounted ballots declined in 2004 vote

New York: State court of appeals orders more votes counted in contested senate election

AP reports: In a victory for the Democratic challenger, the state's highest court on Wednesday declared that 228 more votes must be counted in the disputed state Senate race in Westchester County that is already the most delayed state legislative election in New York's history.

In a 5-2 decision, the Court of Appeals ordered the standoff to continue between incumbent Republican Nicholas Spano and Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins as the votes are counted. The court overruled the midlevel Appellate Division that said just 45 disputed votes needed to be counted. That would have given Spano the win, because at last count he had a 58-vote lead. ...

The court ordered that these handwritten ballots be opened and counted:

# 163 from voters who went to the right polling place but were directed to the wrong election district desk.

# 20 found in envelopes that did not identify the election district.

# 45 cast by poll workers who used absentee ballots instead of "special ballots" specified in state law. -- State's high court orders recount of 228 votes in race - ithacajournal.com

Thanks to Jeff Wice for the tip.

San Diego: court rules against Frye

The San diego Union-Tribune reports: A judge upheld the disputed re-election of Mayor Dick Murphy yesterday, sweeping aside two challenges that sought to overturn the results because more than 5,500 ballots were not counted.

The speedy ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner capped a three-day trial in which supporters of Councilwoman Donna Frye, a write-in candidate, argued that the election was tainted because of erroneous and unfair vote-counting procedures by the county registrar of voters.

But in a ruling delivered minutes after closing arguments, Brenner calmly demolished each argument raised by the challengers.

The case centered on 5,551 write-in ballots for Frye. They were not included in her count because voters failed to shade in a small oval bubble next to the write-in slot. State law -- Elections Code Section 15342(a) -- requires that the bubble be shaded in for a write-in vote to count. -- SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Metro -- Re-election of Murphy will stand, judge rules

February 1, 2005

Wisconsin: GOP legislators call for voter ID

AP reports: Saying the integrity of Wisconsin's elections have been severely undermined, Republican lawmakers re-introduced legislation Monday that would require voters to present valid identification cards before casting their ballots.

The lawmakers cited allegations of voting irregularities and possible fraud in Milwaukee as a prime example why Wisconsin needs to overhaul its election laws to cut down on the opportunities to abuse the system.

State Rep. Jeff Stone, one of the bill's main sponsors, said Wisconsin voters want to know "that we have fair, accurate elections."

But Melanie Fonder, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jim Doyle, said the state should not try to make it harder to vote. She cautioned the state should not rush to judgment over the allegations in Milwaukee and said federal law requires changes for the 2006 elections that will help strengthen the integrity of Wisconsin's system. -- Green Bay Press-Gazette - GOP lawmakers propose requiring ID card to vote

Canada: bill proposes lowering voting age to 16

CP reports: A bill that would lower the voting age to 16 got a boost in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Twenty 20 MPs from all parties jointly seconded the private member's bill by Ontario Liberal Mark Holland. That's the maximum number of seconders allowed and some had to be refused, said Holland, who first introduced the bill in November. Currently, only people aged 18 and older may vote in a federal election. Though the new bill would give 16-and 17-year-olds the vote, the minimum age for a candidate would remain at 18.

Part of the push to lower the age is an attempt to renew flagging interest in the electoral process.

On a website devoted to the cause, proponents say there's disillusion with the political system among the 2.6 million Canadians 18 to 24 years old, who feel that politicians ignore youth. -- Macleans.ca | Top Stories | Politics | Move to lower voting age to 16 gets push in House of Commons

San Diego: trial of mayoral contest starts

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports: Two formal challenges to Mayor Dick Murphy's victory in the 2004 San Diego election got under way yesterday as lawyers pressed their arguments that thousands of ballots that could tip the race were wrongly excluded.

The lawyers for two sets of voters contesting Murphy's re-election argued that county election officials were in error and unfair when they relied on a state law to exclude thousands of votes for Councilwoman Donna Frye.

The first day of the trial also featured testimony from Registrar of Voters Sally McPherson, who was questioned about how and why her office published certain election materials and how some votes were counted and others not.

The trial centers on 5,551 uncounted ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election. The ballots have Frye's name as a write-in candidate for mayor, but do not have a small oval-shaped bubble next to her name shaded in. Four more votes for Frye were found in a review of ballots by attorneys in the case on Friday. -- SignOnSanDiego.com > News > Politics -- Registrar questioned on vote-counting

The sidebar on this story contains links to several video clips. The first has part of Fred Woocher's opening argument in which he compares an uncounted ballot with Donna Frye's name written in, the other candidates marked out, but no mark in the bubble and an absentee ballot instruction booklet sent in by a voter, and which was counted a vote for Murphy.