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

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April 28, 2005

Senate rules committee approves campaign finance bill

The Washington Post reports: The Senate rules committee approved legislation yesterday to prohibit "527" organizations such as Swift Vets and POWs for Truth and the Media Fund from using unlimited contributions to run political commercials. ...

The legislation, which may go to the Senate floor next month, would prohibit 527 advocacy organizations buying television time in federal elections from accepting unlimited contributions. If the bill becomes law, for example, financier George Soros, who gave more than $6 million to the Media Fund in 2003-2004, and developer Bob J. Perry, who gave the Swift boat group $4.5 million, would be allowed to give no more than $32,500 to such groups.

Other major provisions include:

· A ban on federal campaign finance regulation of political activities on the Internet, including the political Web logs that have become increasingly significant players in elections.

· An increase from $5,000 to $7,500 in maximum contributions to political action committees. The amount that PACS could give to candidates would rise from $5,000 to $7,500, and the amount they could give to political parties would jump from $15,000 to $25,000.

· Allowing trade association and corporate PACs to solicit employees, including non-supervisory workers. -- Panel Backs Bill To Rein In '527' Advocacy Groups

April 27, 2005

Judge holds government employees' emails did not violated Hatch Act

The Washington Post reports: Two government employees did not violate restrictions against partisan politics in the federal workplace last fall when they sent politically charged e-mails to more than 20 of their colleagues, an administrative law judge ruled this month.

The April 14 ruling by Judge Arthur J. Amchan of the Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed attempts by the Office of Special Counsel to have the two Social Security Administration workers fired for violating the Hatch Act, which limits political activity by employees in federal offices and on government time. ...

But Amchan ruled that the e-mails amounted to the electronic equivalent of a discussion of politics around the office water cooler, something that is legal.

"In some circumstances, a federal employee using his or her computer in a government office may violate the Hatch Act by engaging in 'political activity,' " Amchan wrote in his 16-page opinion. "However, an expression of personal opinion does not constitute political activity merely because it is disseminated to two dozen individuals with one or several computer keystrokes." -- Judge Rejects Sanction Over Political E-Mails

April 24, 2005

Arizona: seeking an investigation of FAIR

AP reports: Some Tucson immigrant-advocacy groups want the Arizona Attorney General's Office to prosecute a national immigration reform group, claiming it engaged in a misleading campaign that helped persuade voters to approve Proposition 200 last year.

At issue is whether the Federation for American Immigration Reform should have registered as a political committee and filed finance reports during last year's campaign to pass Prop 200, an initiative to keep people who are living in the country illegally from receiving public assistance.

FAIR largely funded efforts to gather the signatures needed to put the measure on last November's ballot. -- Arizona Daily Sun-

April 23, 2005

Arizona: IRC seeks fees from losing plaintiffs

The Capitol Times reports: A state commission won a short-lived redistricting lawsuit filed last year against it by Hispanic Democrats and now wants the challengers to pay its legal costs - as long as it doesn’t have to get personal.

The Independent Redistricting Commission voted 3-1 on April 8 to ask a federal judge to order the challengers to reimburse the commission for approximately $52,300 in attorney fees and court costs.

However, commissioners said they’d drop the request if they receive firm assurances from the challengers’ lawyers that the challengers themselves — and not some support group or benefactor — would personally be on the hook financially.

The Hispanic Democrats, including five current or former state legislators, sued the commission in federal court last April in a failed attempt to force the state to use a new map of legislative districts in last year’s elections. -- Arizona Capitol Times

April 20, 2005

Book Meme

Blonde Justice

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be saved from the firemen who are buring all the books? Huckleberry Finn. While the F451 firemen were burning all books, Huck Finn is one of those that gets banned by libraries and schools pretty frequently. This is a book I re-read frequently. Hmm, that reminds, it's been several years. Time to get it out. "Well then, I'll just go to Hell."

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Can't remember I had a crush on her, but I wanted to meet Nancy Drew.

3. The last book you purchased? See the next answer. I'm leaving out the stuff I buy for the office.

4. What are you currently reading? Murder in Tombstone: The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp by Steven Lubet. God's Politics by Jim Wallis. The Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis.

5. Five books you would take to a deserted island?

  • The New English Bible with Apocrypha, Oxford Study Edition.

  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

  • Huckleberry Finn.

  • The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. (Annotations by Martin Gardner.)

  • The Federalist. (I just got a good annotated version by J.R. Pole.)
  • Now, the idea of a Meme is that you spread the idea around. Put it on your blog. Type up your list and email it to friends or post it on your door.

    This also came from Blonde Justice. And I looked at Blond Justice because it is on the list of 60 Sites in 60 Minutes from the ABA Techshow.

    Just a little fun

    Edna
    Which Incredibles Character Are You?

    brought to you by Quizilla

    Well, that's funny because I don't feel very Edna-ish. (I ran across this on Blonde Justice.

    April 19, 2005

    Carter-Baker Commission hears testimony

    The Washington Post reports: It did not feature much in the way of butterfly ballots, hanging chads or protracted Supreme Court fights. But the first hearing yesterday of the Commission on Federal Election Reform made it clear that the 2004 election was not without problems.

    Former president Jimmy Carter and ex-secretary of state James A. Baker III, who co-chair the commission, invited a dozen experts to American University to recommend ways to improve the nation's voting system. The commission will consider those suggestions, along with others expected at a second hearing in June, and submit its own recommendations to Congress.

    Those recommendations are not expected until September, which is a good thing because the academics, advocacy group leaders and politicians invited to testify yesterday provided a dizzying list of electoral problems that might make some wonder how any ballots were counted in November. ...

    Much of the testimony was anecdotal, with many bemoaning the lack of hard evidence that would indicate how widespread the problems are. Many disagreed on what ought to be done. But nearly all said the system can and should be improved before the next election. -- Defects In 2004 Balloting Described (washingtonpost.com)

    April 17, 2005

    Arizona: court of appeals hears arguments in state redistricting case

    AP reports: Arizona's redistricting fight was back in court Tuesday as an appellate court heard arguments over whether legislative and congressional maps drawn by a commission and used in two elections satisfy a voter-passed initiative.

    A trial judge in January 2004 ruled that the legislative map was unconstitutional because it didn't create enough competitive districts. However, the judge said the congressional version passed legal muster.

    The Independent Redistricting Commission is appealing the ruling on the legislative map, which was challenged by Hispanic Democrats, while the Navajo Nation is appealing the one on the congressional map.

    Court of Appeals Judge Ann A. Scott Timmer said a key issue is whether the constitutional amendment creating the commission put creating competitive districts ahead, behind or on a par with other redistricting goals.

    Commission attorney Lisa Hauser said the amendment gave the higher goals a higher priority but that courts should not be second-guessing the commission's exercise of its discretion to balance the competing priorities. -- Court of Appeals weighs redistricting appeals

    Michigan: loopholes galore in campaign finance law

    AP reports: Special interest groups using unregulated campaign contributions have found it easy to influence votes by circumventing Michigan's 28-year-old campaign finance law, according to a published report.

    Michigan is defenseless against a growing array of techniques invented to get around the rules, The Detroit News reported Sunday.

    Those techniques include "independent" committees whose millions of dollars in "issue" spending really are veiled candidate endorsements; political action committees designed to avoid restrictions on direct donations; and money swapping between like-minded groups at the national level.

    Regulations like those of the national McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law would be applied to state law under legislation planned by House Majority Floor Leader Chris Ward, R-Brighton. -- MLive.com: NewsFlash - Report: Donors skirt Michigan's campaign finance law

    Wisconsin: governor will veto voter ID bill

    AP reports: Voters in Wisconsin would face the nation's strictest requirements in proving their identities before they could cast ballots under a bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

    The 21-12 vote sent the bill to Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who said he would veto the measure he claims would disenfranchise thousands of voters who lack photo IDs.

    Wisconsin would join South Carolina with the toughest requirements for voter identification in the country, said Jennie Drage Bowser, who tracks state election laws at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    While 19 states require voters to show some form of identification, only South Carolina requires the ID be a state driver's license or a military ID with a photo. The other states allow voters to show other forms of IDs, such as student IDs or Social Security cards, or permit voters to sign affidavits if they don't have one. -- ShawanoLeader.com -Archives

    Arizona: DOJ (?) says voter ID bill would not violate federal law

    The Arizona Republic reports: The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that Gov. Janet Napolitano erred when she vetoed a bill that would have prevented people from casting a provisional ballot at a polling place if they could not produce identification.

    Napolitano vetoed Senate Bill 1118 on April 1, saying that she thought it violated the federal Voting Rights Act because it might prevent registered voters from getting a provisional ballot if, for example, they were robbed of their identification shortly before the election.

    Secretary of State Jan Brewer had pushed hard for the bill as a clarification to Proposition 200, which mandated identification at the polls.

    On Friday, Brewer got a letter from Sheldon Bradshaw, a deputy assistant attorney general with the Civil Rights Division of Justice, who said Brewer's proposed legislation would not have conflicted with federal law. ...

    The fact that the Justice letter was written by Bradshaw and not the head of the Civil Rights Division or the department's chief of the Voting Section could raise questions about partisan political maneuvering. According to a federal government Web site, Bradshaw was not even employed at DOJ at the time he wrote to Brewer. His letter is dated April 15, but a news release announced his hire as chief counsel for the Food and Drug Administration "effective April 1."

    Bradshaw was also a central figure in the forced redistricting of Texas two years ago to create more Republican congressional seats. In that controversial decision, it was Bradshaw again, rather than a higher-ranking Justice official, who authored the letter that gave Texas lawmakers the go-ahead to redraw their districts. -- Governor erred in vetoing provisional-ballot bill, Justice official says

    In addition, I wonder why the Justice Department would even give an opinion on a bill that has not been enacted.

    Wisconsin: In which district do the homeless voters live?

    The Journal Times Online reports: You can win but that doesn't mean you get the prize.

    Keith Fair won the election for 1st District alderman April 5, but when the new Racine City Council is seated on Tuesday, it seems no chair will be pulled out for the alderman-elect.

    It's because Alderman Jeff Coe, who lost the race 185-182, is challenging Fair's win in court. Under state law, Coe's challenge and any subsequent appeals can keep Fair from taking his seat for weeks.

    Coe's attorney, John Bjelajac, said he'll file papers to challenge the election in Racine County Circuit Court by Tuesday.

    Bjelajac said he will argue in court that 14 homeless people should not have voted in the 1st District in the election. He said he does not want to take away the right of the homeless to vote. Rather, he wonders if 14 homeless people who really don't live in the 1st District should be voting in a local election.

    If the 14 votes are discounted, it could make a difference. The election was decided by three votes.

    Where do the homeless live? The question, for Bjelajac, comes down to residency. The shelter at St. Paul Baptist Church, 1120 Grand Ave., is one of several sites that accept the homeless as part of the Racine-area REST program. The program has the homeless rotating among the sites, one for each day of the week. -- The Journal Times Online

    April 12, 2005

    Illinois: class action re lack of notice to challenged absentee voters

    A class action has been filed in the Northern District of Illinois regarding the untimely notice given to absentee voters of challenges to their ballots.

    Bruce Zessar voted by absentee ballot in Lake County, Illinois, but his ballot was never counted because the election officials determined that the signature was not the same. The election officials did not notify Zessar until mid-January that his ballot had not been counted.

    Zessar now seeks a reformation of the process. His suit points out, "The state of Illinois otherwise goes to great lengths to allow individuals to vote and to defend his [sic] ballot over a challenge. ... The validity of [absentee ballots] is determined by election officials without any opportunity to defend, although it would no difficulty to afford it."

    Zessar v. Helander, No. 05-1917, N.D. Ill. The complaint is here (without the exhibits).

    New Mexico: governor signs election reform package

    Government Technology reports: Last week, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed a comprehensive election reform package incorporating several bills that initiate sweeping changes in New Mexico's election process. The new law creates uniform standards for voter identification, ballot counting, voting machine records, and the training of election judges and poll workers. ...

    Voter ID: Voters will be required to state their name and give the last four digits of their social security number, or show some form of physical identification prior to voting. The list of acceptable ID includes any photo ID, a utility bill, a bank statement, a government check or a paycheck. Any tribal government document is acceptable as well. ...

    A voter friendly process: The bill also makes New Mexico more voter friendly by requiring maps to be posted at all polling places directing voters to their proper precincts. Voters will also be able to drop off absentee ballots at their polling location on election day, and will provide funding to re-design ballots and election materials to make them easier to understand and complete them correctly. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan will chair an interim committee to tackle additional questions that must be addressed, such as same-day registration, prepaid postage for absentee ballots, and greater uniformity in voting machines. -- New Mexico Gov. Signs Election Reform Package

    I have excerpted only the most interesting of the provisions. Note the "or" in the Voter ID provision.

    Indiana: voter ID bill passes

    AP reports: A bill that would require most voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot is on its way to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels for consideration after winning final approval in the General Assembly on today.

    Daniels has said he would likely sign the bill, which has been strongly opposed by Democrats who say it would disenfranchise voters to the GOP's benefit and be the most restrictive voter ID law in the nation.

    The Republican-ruled Senate voted today 33-17 along party lines to agree to slight changes to the bill made in the GOP-controlled House. -- General Assembly passes voter ID bill

    April 8, 2005

    Alabama: group formed to fight absentee fraud

    The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Voter fraud has been a fact- of- life in Alabama elections for many years, especially in the state's Black Belt region where investigations, indictments and occasional jail sentences are almost expected.

    Earlier this year, hundreds of Black Belt residents got together to form an organization they dubbed the Democracy Defense League.

    The purpose of the group is to focus attention on fraudulent voter activities and to push legislators to pass more stringent laws to stop them.

    If past efforts are any indication, the DDL project would seem to be facing an uphill fight. It's been tried before without much success. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com

    Alabama: judge reconsidering his ruling in Guntersville mayoral election

    The Huntsville Times reports: After about 45 minutes of arguments, Circuit Judge Tim Jolley said Thursday he expects to rule by Tuesday in a challenge to his March 31 order overturning the outcome of the Guntersville mayor's race last summer. ...

    Beard and defense attorney P.J. Harris argued that four thrown-out votes for Townson should be counted. One of them was cast by an elderly man who had testified he had leukemia and was at a hospital for tests on election day. ...

    Jolley said state law does not allow medical tests as a reason for voting absentee but suggested that the man could have used being out of the county on election day as his reason for voting absentee. ...

    A second thrown-out vote for Townson involved a man who used a document from Marshall Medical Center North as identification. Jolley ruled March 31 that did not constitute a governmental document and did not meet the 2003 voter identification law guidelines. Beard maintained Thursday the document is valid for voter ID.

    Harris asked the judge to reconsider his decision not to count an absentee vote that was not properly numbered by voting officials.

    A fourth ballot cited by Harris used a July 2004 natural gas bill as proof of identification and residency for an absentee ballot. He said that vote should have been counted because voters who used electric bills as identification were allowed to do so. -- Judge hears vote appeals

    Disclosure: I wrotes some of the briefs filed on behalf of Mayor Townson.

    April 6, 2005

    Arkansas: Is Asa Hutchinson eligible to run for governor?

    The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports: The Arkansas Constitution requires governors to be residents of Arkansas for seven years, and Asa Hutchinson only recently moved back here after living out of state for more than three years.

    But he believes there’s no question that he meets the constitutional residency requirement in his race for the Republican Party nomination for governor. "I could meet the residency requirement if it said 50 years," Hutchinson said.

    Article 6, Section 5, of the Arkansas Constitution states that "no person shall be eligible to the office of Governor except a citizen of the United States who shall have attained the age of thirty years, and shall have been seven years a resident of this State."

    It doesn’t say whether the seven years must be immediately before the election. Apparently no court or attorney general’s opinion has ever interpreted the seven years requirement. -- NWAnews.com :: Northwest Arkansas' News Source

    While there may not have been a court case about the Arkansas requirement, there has been litigation about the similar provision in the Alabama Constitution. A born-and-bred Alabamian moved back to state and decided to run for the State Senate a couple of years later. The Alabama Supreme Court held that the Democratic Party [I was general counsel for the Party at the time] was correct in ruling that she did not meet the constitutional requirements. It held that one cannot tack on the earlier residency with the later period to meet the five-year requirement.

    April 5, 2005

    Save the date: 13 August

    This is the fortieth anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, the Selma-Montgomery March, and the death of Jonathan Daniels. This year's Pilgrimage and Celebration of Jonathan Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama will be held in Hayneville, Alabama, on Saturday, 13 August. For more details go to Pilgrimage 4 Peace.

    April 2, 2005

    South Dakota: federal judge rules for City of Martin in voting rights suit

    The Native Times reports: A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier denied claims by the American Civil Liberties Union that the City of Martin voting districts discriminate against Indian voters. The ruling said that the ACLU failed to present sufficient evidence to support the claims.

    The ACLU is representing Oglala Sioux Tribal members Pearl Cottier and Rebecca Three Stars who live in Martin. The ACLU filed an appeal on the decision later in the week.

    The ACLU contends that the 2002 redistricting plan approved by the city council for Martin fragments the Indian population in a way that reduces the chance the Indian voters electing their preferred candidate. ...

    Schreier wrote in her decision that there was no evidence that the contracting organization that drafted the district plan had focused on the ethnic makeup of voters. Nor were there any statements, minutes or reports indicating that the Martin City Council acted with a “racially discriminatory intent” when it enacted an ordinance that included the new districts. -- Native American Times - America's Largest Independent, Native American News Source

    Guntersville: judge rules incumbent lost by one vote

    The Huntsville Times reports: James Townson won his fourth term as mayor of Guntersville by one vote Aug. 24, but a Marshall County judge Friday threw out 27 votes in the election, making car dealer Bob Hembree Jr. the winner - by one vote.

    Circuit Judge Tim Jolley granted a motion from Townson's attorneys to delay the order from taking effect so he can hear their arguments asking him to reconsider his ruling. That hearing is set for Thursday in Guntersville.

    The election was contested by Guntersville voters Joy Alves Cranford and Locresia Stonicher.

    Jolley ruled that 14 illegal votes were cast for Townson and 13 illegal votes for Hembree. One uncounted challenged vote should have gone to Hembree, the judge said, making Hembree the winner by a vote of 1,229 to 1,228. -- Hembree wins Guntersville's race by 1 vote

    Disclosure: I am involved in this case as counsel for Mayor Townson.

    The election of the next pope

    AP reports: From every corner of the world, the red-robed "princes" of the Roman Catholic Church headed toward the Vatican on Saturday to prepare for the secret duty they were appointed to carry out: gathering in the Sistine Chapel to elect the successor for the late Pope John Paul II. ...

    Asians, Africans and Latin Americans account for 44 of the cardinals under 80 years old — the condition for participating in the conclave and voting for the pope — compared with 58 from Europe. The United States, which could play an important swing role, has 11 cardinals among the 117 papal electors — the largest group that will ever decide on the next pontiff when the conclave begin later this month.

    It's almost certain the next pope will be among them: although technically the cardinals can select any baptized male Roman Catholic, the last time they looked outside their elite group was 1378. ...

    Initially, a two-thirds majority is needed. But John Paul amended the rules to allow for a simple majority after a three rounds of balloting and pauses. -- Nola.com: NewsFlash - Cardinals head to Vatican for conclave

    Georgia: governor will sign voter ID bill

    Voter ID bill likely to be law | ajc.com
    The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: Gov. Sonny Perdue indicated Friday he's likely to sign a bill that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls, but he has problems with legislation that would ban smoking in many public places. ...

    Perdue said he has no qualms about signing into law one of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed this year, a requirement that voters produce a photo ID at the polls. The bill eliminates nearly a dozen permissible forms of ID currently allowed at Georgia polls, including birth certificates and utility bills.

    Republican sponsors argued photo IDs are needed to cut down on voter fraud. Critics, especially African-American legislators, said it is unnecessary and discriminates against minorities and the elderly. Some critics predict the measure will be rejected by the U.S. Justice Department, which must review the measure for compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

    "I think it's appropriate," Perdue said of the bill. "I believe in the integrity of the voting process. And I don't think it's disenfranchising whatsoever to require that."

    The governor estimated that about 300,000 Georgians 18 or older don't have a driver's license, one of the pieces of photo ID that would be allowed at polls. About 50,000 of those people are incarcerated, he said.

    Washington State: house committee modifies election-reform bills

    The Seattle Times reports: A House committee, racing to meet a deadline yesterday, passed a modified version of the Senate's extensive election-reform package over the objections of Republicans, some of whom stormed out of the meeting before the votes were complete.

    Of the five bills passed, the most contentious were measures to enhance voter-registration record-keeping and an omnibus bill that standardizes election procedures. Both passed on 5-4 votes along party lines.

    More than a dozen GOP amendments to the two main bills, including one that would require photo identification at the polls, were defeated by the Democratic majority on the House State Government, Operations & Accountability Committee. ...

    Democrats removed identification requirements at the polls, something that Gov. Christine Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed supported and the original Senate bill required, either in the form of photo ID or a voter-registration card. -- The Seattle Times: Local News: Some Republicans storm out as panel OKs election reforms

    Arizona: governor vetos voter ID bill

    The Arizona Daily Sun reports: Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed legislation Friday to bar some people who show up at the polls without identification from voting.

    Napolitano said the measure, SB 1118, is illegal because it violates the federal Help America Vote Act. She said that "could result in properly registered Arizona citizens being denied the right to vote."

    But Secretary of State Jan Brewer said Napolitano is wrong.

    She said nothing in federal law requires anyone who shows up at any poll without any ID to be given a ballot. She said the governor was making a political rather than a legal claim. -- Arizona Daily Sun-

    Perhaps Gov. Napolitano was thinking of this provision of the Help America Vote Act:

    § 15482. Provisional voting and voting information requirements

    (a) Provisional voting requirements. If an individual declares that such individual is a registered voter in the jurisdiction in which the individual desires to vote and that the individual is eligible to vote in an election for Federal office, but the name of the individual does not appear on the official list of eligible voters for the polling place or an election official asserts that the individual is not eligible to vote, such individual shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot as follows: ...