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

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December 28, 2005

Illinois: U.S. Supreme Court asked to force recusal of judge because of his campaign contributors

Lyle Denniston reports on SCOTUSblog: Should an elected judge, who accepts large campaign donations, sit on a case that directly affects the financial or business interests of the donors and their associates? Put as an ethical question, the answer would seem to be obvious: No. But the Supreme Court is being asked to rule on that question as a constitutional issue: does the due process clause create a duty to recuse in such a situation?

If the Court agrees to address the issue in that form, it would be drawn deeply into a particularly tangled political thicket: the financing of state judicial campaigns. Among other issues the Justices might have to confront: how close a link between money and a judicial decision, joined in by a judicial recipient of the money, must there be in order to result in a violation of the guarantee of due process? ...

The new question of recusal of elected judges is raised explicitly in a newly filed case from Illinois, involving a justice of that state's Supreme Court, and a ruling in which he cast one of the deciding votes that scuttled a huge verdict against a private insurance company -- a company closely linked to major campaign donations to that justice. The case is Avery, et al., v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (Filed on Tuesday, it does not yet have an assigned docket number. It probably arrived too late to be decided this Term, if granted.) -- A constitutional duty to recuse?

California: mayor files VRA suit over recall petitions

AP reports: ROSEMEAD, Calif. - Mayor Jay Imperial filed suit against the city claiming recall petitions seeking his ouster should have been in multiple languages.

The successful petition drive triggered a Feb. 7 recall vote. The petitions were in English.

"Today I requested that the federal court review the petitions used in the Rosemead recall effort to determine their compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act," Imperial wrote in a statement presented Tuesday night to the City Council.

Imperial said non-English speakers in the city were duped into signing the petitions. -- AP Wire | 12/28/2005 | News briefs from Southern California

New Hampshire: Tobin seeks new trial

AP reports: James Tobin of Bangor, Maine, filed a motion on Dec. 21 seeking a new trial and to overturn the jury's guilty verdict. The documents filed in federal court in Concord do not include Tobin's arguments for a new trial. They are expected to be filed within a month. -- Former GOP official seeks new trial - Boston.com

Texas: D.A. given a week to respond to DeLay's petition

AP reports: The state's highest criminal court has asked prosecutors to respond to Republican Congressman Tom DeLay's request that the charges against him be dismissed.

The all-Republican appeals court on Tuesday gave prosecutors a week to submit arguments regarding the request filed Friday by DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin. The court will decide whether to take the case after the prosecutors' response is received. -- Appeals court asks prosecutors to respond to motion by DeLay defense

Louisiana: judge denies request for quick elections in N.O. (but urges them)

AP reports: A federal judge on Tuesday urged state officials to quickly set a date for postponed elections that would decide the next mayor for this hurricane-battered city.

The destruction of polling stations, dispersal of election day workers and the difficulties of contacting tens of thousands of evacuees prompted state and local elections officials to call off a mayoral primary set for Feb. 4.

At a hearing on a lawsuit challenging the decision to postpone the elections, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle said voting is an essential part of democracy and that elections would give New Orleanians "a sense of normalcy." ...

But the judge denied a plaintiffs motion to get Lemelle to set an election date. Lemelle said he wanted to let the process unfold rather than stepping in. But he held up his index finger and thumb close together and said: "I came that close to doing that (taking over the election process) today." -- Judge: Set date for N.O. elections - The Clarion-Ledger

December 27, 2005

"The Worst and Best in Election Reform, 2005"

Tova Andrea Wang, of The Century Foundation, describes "The Worst and Best in Election Reform, 2005 (Because There Was More Bad than Good)": So many grinches this year, Who-ville is more worried than ever about its democracy. The Georgia state legislature. The Department of Justice. Tom Delay. It was enough to make us believers in voting rights think we would be left with nothing under the tree. But despite a commitment to reform two sizes too small in so many quarters, there were at least some indications that 2006 might bring progress on elections after all. -- The Worst and Best in Election Reform, 2005 (Because There Was More Bad than Good)

The good/bad news for me is that Alabama is not on either list.

December 24, 2005

California: Rep. Doolittle's wife earns commissions from his fundraising

AP reports: Raising money for Rep. John Doolittle's political campaigns has generated more than $136,000 in commissions for the congressman's wife over the past three years, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The arrangement between the Roseville Republican and Julie Doolittle's company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, is not illegal, but it has sparked an ethics complaint from an activist group, according to a report in The Sacramento Bee.

The disclosure follows the resignation of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham this month on bribery charges and the ongoing investigation into the business dealings of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

A group calling itself Californians for a Cleaner Congress, funded by labor and Democratic-leaning groups but officially nonpartisan, issued an open letter to Doolittle criticizing his fundraising activities and raising question about his wife's commissions. -- Congressman's wife earns $136,000 raising money for husband

Meme of Four

Ellen and Jeralyn have passed it on:
#1 Four jobs you've had
#2 Four movies you could watch over and over
#3 Four places you've lived
#4 Four TV shows you love to watch
#5 Four places you've been on vacation
#6 Four websites you visit daily
#7 Four of your favorite foods
#8 Four places you'd rather be

1. Four jobs: bookstore owner, insurance company file clerk, adjunct law professor, lawyer

2. Four movies I could watch over and over: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Two for the Road, Streets of Fire, A Christmas Story

3. Four places I've lived: Birmingham AL, Washington DC, Springfield VA, Macon GA

4. Four TV shows I love to watch: The Closer, Monk, Mystery, As Time Goes By

5. Four places I've been on vacation: Port St. Joe, FL; Great Britain [several trips, lots of places]; Williamsburg, VA; Chincoteague, VA

6. Four websites I visit daily: Balkinization, DailyKOS, TalkLeft, The Broad View

7. Four of my favorite foods: pecan pie, mu shu pork, pulled pork barbecue sandwich with tomato-based sauce, tangerines

8. Four places I'd rather be: Negril, Jamaica; Washington DC; Colwyn Bay, Wales; sitting on a bench in Muir Woods National Monument

December 23, 2005

Texas: DeLay files motion in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

AP reports: In a last-ditch effort to secure a speedy trial, Rep. Tom DeLay's attorneys on Friday asked the state's highest criminal court to dismiss the charges against him or order a lower court to try him immediately.

DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin took the case to the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals a day after a lower appeals court denied his request that the case be sent back to the trial court or expedited through the appeals process. -- AP Wire | 12/23/2005 | DeLay's lawyers take case to state's highest criminal court

Michigan: appeals court sets fast schedule for approval of ballot language for "Civil Rights Initiative"

AP reports: The Michigan Court of Appeals is trusting a state elections panel will do its duty and approve ballot language for a proposal that would ban some affirmative action programs in the state.

The Board of State Canvassers is supposed to approve statements of purpose that appear on ballot proposals to explain their intent to voters. But a group sponsoring the November 2006 ballot proposal to ban race and gender preferences in university admissions and government hiring sought to bypass the canvassers and have the appeals court directly approve its own suggested language.

The appeals court rejected the request late Thursday, saying state elections officials should follow the normal process for arriving at the proposed constitutional amendment's ballot language.

But the court is speeding up the process for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative proposal. The court order calls for state elections officials to submit proposed language by Jan. 6, and for canvassers to approve the language by Jan. 20. -- mlive.com: NewsFlash - Court sets timeframe for anti-affirmative action petition

Texas: DeLay can't get a quick appeal hearing

AP reports: Representative Tom DeLay's latest effort at a speedy resolution of the criminal case against him was thwarted here Thursday by a state appeals court, which denied his request that the case be sent back to a lower court for an expedited trial.

Mr. DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said he would appeal further, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.

As majority leader, Mr. DeLay was the second-ranking Republican in the House before he was forced by party rules to step aside this fall as a result of his indictment. He has been seeking a quick outcome of the case in hopes that an acquittal will enable him to regain his post before his colleagues call for new leadership elections in the next session of Congress.

But Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor who brought the money laundering and conspiracy charges against Mr. DeLay and two of his associates, has appealed a dismissal of the conspiracy count, and the trial judge has said he will not move forward with the case until that matter is settled.

So Mr. DeLay asked the Third Court of Appeals to intervene and allow him to be tried quickly on the money laundering charge. If he were to be acquitted of that charge, the conspiracy count could be moot.

But on Thursday the appeals court turned aside his request. Mr. DeGuerin said the rebuff meant that the court would not rule on the prosecution's appeal until February at the earliest. He said he planned to ask the Court of Criminal Appeals to dismiss the charges or, alternatively, send the case back to the trial court for a speedy resolution. -- Texas Appeals Court Rebuffs DeLay's Bid for Expedited Trial - New York Times

Increasing scrutiny on "independent" policy groups

The New York Times reports: Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry.

In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products. In an article last month in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, she called for efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines and other drugs.

Both articles identified her as a "research associate" at the institute. Neither mentioned that, as recently as August, Ms. Finston was registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group underwritten largely by drug companies.

The institute says Ms. Finston's ties to industry should not have prevented her from writing about those issues. Nor is there a conflict, it says, in the work of Merrill Matthews Jr., who writes for major newspapers advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by it. "Lobbying is not a four-letter word," said the institute's president, Tom Giovanetti.

But organizations like the institute, which bills itself as an independent, nonprofit research group committed to a "smaller, less intrusive government," are facing new and uncomfortable scrutiny over their links to special interest groups after the disclosure this week that the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid at least two outside writers for opinion articles promoting the work of his clients. -- On Opinion Page, a Lobby's Hand Is Often Unseen - New York Times

December 22, 2005

Texas: Henderson's brief in the re-redistricting appeal

Richard Gladden has sent his brief in Travis County v. Perry, one of four cases the Supreme Court is considering in the Texas re-redistricting controversy. You may download the file here. I have not had a chance to read the brief yet, but it looks as though Henderson's lawyers are going down the "satisfy Justice Scalia on original intent and early-Republic history" road. Here are the major topics in the brief:

ARGUMENT................................................................... 7
Any “reasonably conceived plan” adopted by a State
legislature to alter valid congressional districts must
be supported by a legitimate and neutral regulatory
purpose that takes into account, and is justified by,
shifts or growth in population unaccounted for since
congressional districts have last been established.
I. Comparison of the Elections Clause with
Contemporaneous State Constitutional Provisions
in Effect at the Time the Elections
Clause was Adopted, on which the Framers
Purported to Model the Constitution ................ 8
II. Usage of the Elections Clause Power by the
Several State Legislatures During the First
Decade of the Republic ....................................... 19
III. The Contemporaneous Understanding of the
Temporal Scope of Redistricting Power under
the Elections Clause........................................... 24
IV. Chancellor James Kent’s View on Multiple
Intra-Census Electoral Redistricting, Given
When Construing a Redistricting Provision on
which the Elections Clause was Modeled ......... 27

Virginia: McDonnell declared winner of A.G. race

The Roanoke Times reports: There were no balloons, no cheering throng of supporters, and no televised victory speech when Republican Bob McDonnell became the winner of the election for attorney general on Wednesday.

But, after enduring a painstaking recount of the closest statewide election in Virginia history, McDonnell preferred finality to fanfare.

McDonnell became the official winner Wednesday night when a three-judge panel in Richmond Circuit Court certified his 360-vote victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds. The judges signed a court order certifying the outcome shortly after state election officials completed a methodical recount process. Deeds phoned McDonnell to congratulate him at 7:15 p.m., about an hour before the judges signed off on the results.

"It's been a long ride," McDonnell said as he waited for the judges to wrap up the process. "I'm glad it's over."

The recount affirmed a victory that McDonnell had first claimed on the day after the Nov. 8 election. Deeds petitioned for a recount after returns certified by the state Board of Elections showed McDonnell winning by 323 votes. More than 1.94 million Virginians cast ballots in the contest. In the end, McDonnell had 970,981 votes to Deeds' 970,621. -- Political stories from The Roanoke Times -Close race finally ends; McDonnell beats Deeds

December 21, 2005

Illinois: 3 forgetful judges are on the ballot, at least temporarily

The Chicago Sun-Times reports: An embarrassing blemish in the annals of Cook County's judicial history -- that's all that's likely to become of the case of three judges who, state officials said, failed to file their paperwork for re-election before a state-mandated deadline.

Joan Margaret O'Brien, Carole Kamin Bellows and James A. Varga are all likely to appear on the 2006 ballot, despite objections filed by the Illinois secretary of state's office, which wouldn't accept their paperwork after Dec. 5.

Tuesday, Cook County Judge Patrick McGann granted the three judges a temporary restraining order barring the state from declaring any vacancies or accepting nominating petitions from anyone else. -- 3 judges with late paperwork likely to be on ballot

Alabama: Suits filed regarding ex-felon voting

The Birmingham News reports: Three Alabamians, one convicted of felony driving under the influence and two of drug possession, claim in a federal lawsuit they are among hundreds being denied the right to vote.

The suit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, contends that Alabama Secretary of State Nancy Worley violates Alabama's constitution by requiring all felons to apply to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to have voting rights restored.

The suit says the state constitution is clear that people convicted of certain felonies including DUI and drug possession - unlike murder, rape or robbery - do not lose their voting rights and do not need to apply for an eligibility certificate from the board. ...

Edward Still, a Birmingham lawyer handling the suit locally, contends that what the secretary of state has been doing violates the Voting Rights Act because it involves a change in election procedure without first getting approval from the Justice Department. -- Felons' rights to vote at issue

Update: The complaint in the federal case and the amended complaint in the state case are now on my website.

December 20, 2005

Texas: DeLay lives high on the hog with campaign contributions

AP reports: As Tom DeLay became a king of campaign fundraising, he lived like one too. He visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants _ all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political money empire.

Over the past six years, the former House majority leader and his associates have visited places of luxury most Americans have never seen, often getting there aboard corporate jets arranged by lobbyists and other special interests.

Public documents reviewed by The Associated Press tell the story: at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 stays at hotels, many world-class; and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.

Instead of his personal expense, the meals and trips for DeLay and his associates were paid with donations collected by the campaign committees, political action committees and children's charity the Texas Republican created during his rise to the top of Congress. His lawyer says the expenses are part of DeLay's effort to raise money from Republicans and to spread the GOP message. -- Picayune Item: Mississippi News Near the Gulf: Headlines

How many of those donors think that DeLay should not live as well as they do?

Virginia: maual recount ordered in some precincts

AP reports: As part of a statewide recount in Virginia's disputed attorney general election, a three-judge panel on Monday ordered a more rigorous, manual recount of ballots in nine precincts.

Optical scan ballots -- paper ballots read by machine -- will be examined by hand in those nine precincts because of apparent equipment problems, the Circuit Court panel ruled.

The recount begins Tuesday and is expected to be finished Wednesday. The manual count was ordered in eight precincts in Gloucester County and one in Lynchburg. -- Panel orders manual recount in Va. AG race - Boston.com

Michigan: appeals court orders anti-affirmative action initiative on the ballot

AP reports: A Michigan appeals court ordered the secretary of state Tuesday to place on the November ballot a proposal that would ban some affirmative action programs.

The court went over the heads of the Board of State Canvassers, which failed last week to comply with an earlier court order to put the measure on the ballot.

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative collected about 500,000 voter signatures supporting the measure, which would ban race and gender preferences in university admissions and government hiring. -- Chron.com | Affirmative Action Ban Ordered in Mich.

New Hampshire: on-the-spot reporting from the Tobin trial

Betsy Devine left a comment on one of my recent posts about the Tobin trial. Unfortunately, the link she left in her comment is malformed, so let me recommend that you go
here and read her many posts on the trial.

Her caustic comments about the AP reporter alone are worth the few minutes it will take to read her stuff.


December 19, 2005

Bush Pioneers and Rangers benefit from new government policies

AP reports: America's business leaders who raised more than $75 million for President Bush's re-election campaign last year have cashed in with recent federal policy changes, a newspaper reported.

Bush administration policies have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund raisers, according to the Blade.

The spoils sometimes came at the expense of consumers or public health concerns, the report said.

Benefits came in the form of targeted tax breaks, regulatory changes, pro-business legislation, high-profile government appointments and federal contracts.

Bush's policies often benefited the 548 "Pioneers" and "Rangers," who each raised at least $100,000 or $200,000 for his 2004 re-election. -- Paper says legislation benefits Bush fund-raisers

U.S. House strips campaign finance provision from budget bill

AP reports: House Republicans abandoned a last-minute attempt to limit individual political donations to independent organizations Sunday, setting up for passage a military measure that had been stalled by the effort.

GOP leaders had sought to attach the campaign finance legislation to a final defense bill, a move aimed at hampering Democratic-aligned groups such as MoveOn.org that were a powerful voice in 2004 and could threaten GOP candidates next year.

A bipartisan group in the Senate joined House Democrats in criticizing the 11th-hour maneuver and refusing to sign off on the plan.

The standoff had put into question the fate of the bill that sets Pentagon policy and, like a separate defense spending measure, includes a ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects in U.S. custody as well as other restrictions on detainee interrogation and prosecution. -- House GOP drops bid limiting donations to independent groups

Florida: Osceola Co. ponders Hispanic district

The Orlando Sentinel reports: Osceola County officials wonder how they can satisfy the concerns of the U.S. Justice Department about Hispanic voting rights without creating a commission district so oddly shaped that it might invite legal challenges.

The county has two Hispanic-rich population pockets -- Poinciana on its west side and Buenaventura Lakes, northeast of Kissimmee. These communities are home to 80 percent of the county's 42,000 Hispanic voters.

But neither area appears to have enough registered voters to form a district by itself, suggesting that a majority Hispanic district might have to connect the two.

"Poinciana is on one end, and BVL is on the other," Commissioner Ken Shipley said recently. "I'm not sure you could gerrymander a line that could give you a predominantly Hispanic district . . . and do it legally."

In its July lawsuit against the county, the Justice Department says Osceola could give Hispanics more influence at the polls by switching from countywide elections to a single-member district format, with the districts designed so a Hispanic candidate is likely to be elected. -- Experts: Hispanic district is challenge - OrlandoSentinel.com:

December 18, 2005

Michigan: Feiger objects to A.G. picking a special counsel

The Detroit News reports: Geoffrey Fieger's lawyer said he is likely to challenge any special prosecutor that Attorney General Mike Cox appoints to continue the campaign finance investigation of the Southfield lawyer.

Other prosecutors who must recuse themselves do not pick their replacements, and neither should Cox, said Neil Rockind, one of Fieger's attorneys. ...

Cox is expected to name a special prosecutor to weigh whether Fieger broke the law last year by paying for an advertising blitz aimed at ousting state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman.

Cox has said he wants to turn the investigation over to someone else because he claims Fieger sought to blackmail him into dropping the investigation. -- Fieger lawyer expects battle over Cox pick-Fieger lawyer says state attorney general should recuse self from naming a special prosecutor.

Texas: prosecutor mulls investigation of Ralph Reed

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: This month, three government watchdog groups called on an Austin prosecutor to investigate Reed, arguing that he violated a strict Texas law requiring lobbyists to register with the state. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, a Democrat, said he will decide in the next few weeks whether to open a criminal investigation.

An inquiry would come at an inopportune time for Reed. The former head of the Christian Coalition and political strategist is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, his first run for office. He has already faced unwelcome questions about his work with Abramoff.

A campaign spokesman for Reed called the Texas complaint "partisan" and "specious."

"We were not retained to lobby Texas public officials. Texas law does not require registration by firms engaged in the work that we did," campaign manager Jared Thomas said in a prepared statement.

Reed has long made a distinction between lobbying and "grass-roots" campaigning. Since leaving the Christian Coalition in 1997 to open a political strategy firm in Georgia, Reed forged a reputation as a master of grass-roots organizing. Reed's firm has been hired to energize conservative Christians, who would then contact their elected officials on issues ranging from trade with China to shutting down casinos. -- Texas county attorney weighs Reed inquiry

Texas: Judge refuses quick trial for DeLay

Bloomberg reports: The Texas judge hearing a campaign- finance abuse case against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he won't yet rule on one of DeLay's motions, dealing a setback to the lawmaker's bid for a quick resolution of the case.

After being indicted in his home state of Texas, DeLay was forced by Republican rules to step down from his leadership position in the U.S. House of Representatives. He denied wrongdoing and sought a quick trial so that he can have the chance to reclaim his majority leader position.

DeLay's lawyers asked Judge Pat Priest to split up the charges facing their client and proceed to trial on a count of money laundering as soon as possible. Priest, in an e-mail sent to reporters today, said he's decided that he won't rule on that request until an appeals court has reviewed a challenge by prosecutors to one of his earlier rulings.

``The law directs the Court of Appeals to give precedence'' to this type of appeal by prosecutors, Priest said. He said he was confident that the appeals court would act with ``with all reasonable dispatch.''

DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his team will work through the weekend to come up with a response. ``This fight's not over yet,'' DeGuerin said. -- Bloomberg.com: Top Worldwide

December 17, 2005

President nominates 4 for FEC

The Washington Post reports: President Bush nominated two controversial lawyers to the Federal Election Commission yesterday: Hans von Spakovsky who helped Georgia win approval of a disputed voter-identification law, and Robert D. Lenhard, who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

In addition, Bush proposed a second term for commissioner David M. Mason and nominated Steven T. Walther, a Nevada lawyer with close ties to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Von Spakovsky and Mason are Republican appointees, while Lenhard and Walther are Democratic picks for the bipartisan six-member commission.

In a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote that he is "extremely troubled" by the von Spakovsky nomination. Kennedy contends that von Spakovsky "may be at the heart of the political interference that is undermining the [Justice] Department's enforcement of federal civil laws." -- Bush Picks Controversial Nominees for FEC

December 16, 2005

Connecticut: Gov. Rell suspends chief of staff

The Hartford Courant reports: Gov. M. Jodi Rell suspended her chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, for two weeks without pay today as punishment for asking state commissioners at the Capitol to round up donors for a Dec. 7 fundraiser for Rell's campaign for governor.

Moody, 46, who is Rell's closest aide, will lose nearly $5,000 in pay serving a suspension that begins Monday and will conclude Jan. 2. The Rell campaign will return all donations gathered at the Dec. 7 event. -- courant.com | Rell's Chief of Staff Suspended

Mr. President, you might take note of how a strong leader reacts to a charge of law-breaking by a close aide.

Wisconsin: Chvala sentenced to 9 months

The Wisconsin State Journal reports: Reform advocates hailed the nine-month jail sentence Chuck Chvala received Thursday as fitting punishment for the former Democratic leader prosecutors said had subverted democracy in a reckless quest for political power.

But what the Legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle might do to ensure that more don't follow in Chvala's footsteps was the more pressing concern for some attending Thursday's sentencing in Dane County Circuit Court.

Doyle, a fellow Democrat who pledged to clean up state government during his 2002 run for governor after Chvala and four other lawmakers were charged in a broad Capitol corruption investigation, has not only failed to deliver on those promises, critics said, his administration has also been hit with allegations of questionable fundraising. ...

Chvala, 51, pleaded guilty in October to misconduct in office for directing state employees to work on political campaigns and circumventing election laws by secretly coordinating a phony "independent" campaign committee to help elect vulnerable Democrats. -- Wisconsin State Journal

Bush nominates DOJ lawyer to FEC

The Dallas Morning News reports: In a move that inflamed minority activists and Democrats, President Bush on Friday named a Justice Department lawyer who played a pivotal role in the Texas redistricting fight to the Federal Election Commission.

Hans von Spakovsky was one of the political appointees involved in approving the Texas congressional redistricting plan. A memo leaked two weeks ago showed that decision came despite unanimous objections from career lawyers in the civil rights division who found the Texas remap violated minority rights.

"People who do the political dirty work of this administration get promoted," said Rolando Rios, regional counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which intends to try to block his Senate confirmation. "We're very concerned when you appoint somebody to the FEC who has absolutely no sensitivity to the voting rights of minorities. ... That's outrageous."

White House officials defended the nomination for the FEC, which regulates campaign finance.

"The president believes that he will take a fair and accurate view of the federal regulations and also the role that the agency plays in rule making," said White House spokeswoman Erin Healy. -- KRT Wire | 12/16/2005 | FEC nominee draws ire of minority activists

IRS investigations of churches

NPR reports today on All Things Considered: The IRS has stepped up its investigations of churches accused of endorsing political candidates. The agency is examining about 60 churches over complaints about endorsements from the 2004 election alone.

It's illegal for a tax-exempt organization like a church to endorse or criticize candidates, but the boundaries aren't always clear. The new focus has raised serious questions for all nonprofit organizations: Can they even discuss politics at all in an election cycle? -- NPR : IRS Investigates Political Activity from Pulpit

Connecticut: Gov. Rell's staff may have broken campaigning laws

AP reports: The woman who enforces the rules for Gov. M. Jodi Rell has sparked an investigation into whether the governor's top staff members violated a campaign finance law.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission plans to ask agency commissioners and deputy commissioners whether they distributed invitations to a Rell campaign fundraiser that they received from M. Lisa Moody, Rell's chief of staff.

A state law, which has been on the books since 1983, prohibits commissioners and deputy commissioners from soliciting campaign contributions from anyone, including their subordinates in state government, Jeffrey Garfield, the commission's executive director, said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano said he is reviewing the allegations but hasn't decided whether to open an investigation. -- The Advocate - Rell aide causes probe of possible campaign finance law violations

Arizona: speedy appeal for ousted legislator

AP reports: Lawyers for the state and a legislator facing possible ouster in a campaign finance case proposed that an appellate court act on the lawmaker's appeal by mid-January while letting the lawmaker stay in office at least until that court rules soon after.

A joint stipulation, filed late Thursday by lawyers for Rep. David Burnell Smith on one hand and the state on the other, asked the Court of Appeals to hear arguments in the case on Jan. 13 under accelerated-appeal rules that would require the court to issue a ruling the next week.

Smith, R-Scottsdale, filed an appeal Tuesday asking the Court of Appeals to overturn the Citizens Clean Elections Commission's decision that he forfeit his office because of overspending by his publicly funded 2004 primary election campaign. -- Lawmaker, state propose appeal timetable in campaign finance case

Sharpton settles with FEC

AP reports: Former presidential candidate Al Sharpton agreed to repay $100,000 _ plus interest _ in taxpayer money he received as part of his failed 2004 bid, under a deal announced Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.

Sharpton, a left-wing activist minister whose effort to win the Democratic nomination racked up more debt than votes, has been at odds with the FEC for more than a year over his personal loans to his campaign.

Sharpton insisted the deal proves his critics wrong, particularly those who had claimed he was misusing campaign funds to stay at pricey hotels. ...

Sharpton's former campaign manager, Charles Halloran, said the campaign decided it would be too expensive to continue fighting. -- Newsday.com: Al Sharpton agrees to pay $100,000 to FEC

Job opportunity at New America Foundation

Steven Hill emails: I am excited to announce that the New America Foundation is establishing a Political Reform Program to be based in California. We look forward to being part of the effort to give California and the United States a democracy that is suitable for the challenges of the 21st century. Below and attached
is a job description for the position of Deputy Director, to be based in Los Angeles. Please post it and forward it to your own email lists. Thank you.

December 15, 2005

Virginia: "Governor Warner -- tear down this wall"

The headline is my reaction after reading Spencer Overton's post that begins: My understanding is Virginia Governor Mark Warner may run for president. On most fronts (including his "Forward Together" blog), he seems like an attractive candidate.

I have one concern. I hope Governor Warner restores voting rights to 243,000 disenfranchised Americans before his term ends on January 14, 2006.

Virginia is one of only four states that disenfranchise all former offenders for life, even after they complete their sentences (the other three are Alabama, Florida, and Kentucky). These four states along with Armenia are the only democracies in the world that disenfranchise all former offenders for life. 80% of Americans believe that those who have served their time should be allowed to vote.

As a result, 243,000 Americans in Virginia—about 5% of the voting age population-have completed all terms of their sentences but can’t vote. African Americans make up 20% of Virginia’s population, and about 52% of those disenfranchised. Sixteen percent of all adult African Americans in Virginia (including 25% of black males) cannot vote due to a felony conviction. -- Gov. Mark Warner & 243,000 Disenfranchised Americans

And, for the neo-Confederates, Spencer has illustrated his post with the Confederate Battle Flag.

Florida: election supervisor ditches Diebold machines, because too hackable

The Miami Herald reports: A political operative with hacking skills could alter the results of any election on Diebold-made voting machines -- and possibly other new voting systems in Florida -- according to the state capital's election supervisor, who said Diebold software has failed repeated tests.

Ion Sancho, Leon County's election chief, said tests by two computer experts, completed this week, showed that an insider could surreptitiously change vote results and the number of ballots cast on Diebold's optical-scan machines.

After receiving county commission approval Tuesday, Sancho scrapped Diebold's system for one made by Elections Systems and Software, the same provider used by Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The difference between the systems: Sancho's machines use a fill-in-the-blank paper ballot that allows for after-the-fact manual recounts, while Broward and Miami-Dade use ATM-like touchscreens that leave no paper trail.

''That's kind of scary. If there's no paper trail, you have to rely solely on electronic results. And now we know that they can be manipulated under the right conditions, without a person even leaving a fingerprint,'' said Sancho, who once headed the state's elections supervisors association. -- Herald.com | 12/15/2005 | New tests fuel doubts about vote machines

Hat tip: Taegan Goddard's Political Wire.

New Hampshire: Tobin convicted of telephone harassment but acquited on conspiracy

AP reports: A former top Republican Party official was convicted on telephone harassment charges Thursday for his part in a plot to jam the Democrats' phones on Election Day 2002.

The federal jury acquitted James Tobin of the most serious charge against him, of conspiring to violate voters' rights.

Tobin, 45, of Bangor, Maine, was President Bush's New England campaign chairman last year. He could get up seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced in March. -- Jurors Return Mixed Phone-Jamming Verdict

How long till ...

  • President Bush says Tobin was doing a heckuva job?
  • President Bush pardons Tobin?
  • Commentary on Felon Disfranchisement

    Sasha Abramsky writes on Democracy Dispatches: Twenty-five years ago, a young African-American man from Dothan, Alabama, got drunk and wandered into a stranger's house. Frightened, the woman called the police and the teenager was arrested. He was told that he faced several years in prison for breaking and entering; instead, the judge listened to testimonials about the 18-year-old's character from the local boys' club and other organizations, and decided to put him on probation.

    Over the past quarter century, the man has remained crime-free and has become a model citizen. He has been a volunteer for decades with the Boy's Club, a mentor to local teenagers-yet, because of his one felony conviction, he still cannot vote. -- Democracy Dispatches

    The FairVote blog

    The Center for Voting and Democracy has launched The FairVote Blog.

    (To my friends at CVD, please excuse my delay in announcing this.)

    Canada: campaign finance changes mean candidates don't go to the Artic

    The Canadian Press reports: Campaign finance laws intended to improve Canadian elections are having the opposite effect in the Arctic, making it too expensive for candidates to reach far-flung northern communities and cutting them off from the people whose votes they seek.

    Changes passed in 2003 resulted in a $1,000 limit on the amount of money corporations can donate to any one candidate. That killed a practice by northern airlines of giving free or discounted plane tickets to candidates -- the only way for many of the 58 communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories ridings to get a look at the men and women asking for their vote.

    "The new campaign laws mean that airlines can no longer donate tickets to candidates, even though they've done it for all candidates in the past," said Jack Hicks, an agent for Nunavut NDP candidate Amanda Ford-Rogers.

    With no road links at all in Nunavut and sketchy highways and winter roads in the NWT, air travel is crucial in the North. It's also expensive. -- The Globe and Mail: For candidates, campaign finance laws put Arctic out of reach

    Washington State: Secretary of State proposes online registration

    AP reports: Washington would become the second state in the country to allow online voter registration under a measure proposed Wednesday by Secretary of State Sam Reed.

    Reed said the plan - currently used only in Arizona - would be a "significant innovation" for the state, and urged lawmakers to sponsor the idea in the upcoming legislative session.

    The new statewide voter registration database going online next month will already be connected to the state Department of Licensing, which has people's signatures and photos on file. Voters would be able to fill out an application on the Secretary of State's Web site.

    People of voting age who apply for drivers' licenses in Washington are offered the chance to register to vote under the federal motor-voter law, but that process doesn't capture people who get their licenses while too young to vote. -- Secretary of State Sam Reed proposes online voter registration

    December 14, 2005

    Illinois: 3 judges miss filing deadline for reelection, may sue

    The Chicago Tribune reports: Three Cook County judges face the potential loss of their seats after they missed a deadline last week to file for retention.

    "She simply forgot to file," said Mathias Delort, an election lawyer representing Judge Joan Margaret O'Brien. "She is crestfallen about the situation."

    Delort and Burt Odelson, a lawyer representing Judge Carole Kamin Bellows, who also failed to file on time, are asking a Cook County judge to rule unconstitutional the state statute setting the Dec. 5 deadline.

    A hearing before Judge Patrick McGann, the presiding judge of the county division, has been set for Monday.

    Delort said a law passed in 1977 by the Illinois General Assembly violated the state constitution when it moved the judges' filing deadline to December, even though the election does not take place until November of the following year. The constitution calls for judges seeking retention to file in May, he said. -- Chicago Tribune | 3 judges miss deadlines, could lose seats

    New Jersey: Brennan Center wieghs fraud reports and finds them wanting

    The Brennan Center says in a press release: A new analysis conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Dr. Michael McDonald, an elections expert at George Mason University, found factual and methodological errors in a recent voter fraud report submitted to the state Attorney General in September. The report claimed to have uncovered deep problems of voter fraud in New Jersey. In its continuing effort to scrutinize the accuracy of claims of voter fraud, the Brennan Center enlisted Dr. McDonald’s assistance in analyzing the report’s underlying data.

    The analysts found serious methodological problems with the report, echoing the problems with the notoriously flawed “suspected felon” purge lists in Florida in 2000 and 2004. They cautioned election officials not to rely on the flawed report and urged the Attorney General to follow the normal statutory procedures for maintaining the state’s voter registration rolls.

    “Even a cursory examination shows that the methodology used to develop the alleged fraud lists is seriously flawed,” said Dr. McDonald, who analyzed the lists of allegedly illegitimate votes submitted with the report, along with the New Jersey voter file. “For example, it fails to resolve inconsistent data within individual records. Moreover, by assuming that two people who share a name and birth date are the same individual, the report fails to take into account even the most basic principles of statistics.” -- Brennan Center

    Ohio: Senate passes election reform bill

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: A sharply divided Ohio Senate voted 21-11 Tuesday on a voluminous election reform bill that includes a requirement that voters show identification rather than simply sign a poll book.

    The House plans to take a final vote on the proposal today, and Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign it.

    Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Cuyahoga Falls Republican and the bill's Senate sponsor, said the new ID requirement is a less restrictive mandate than some states have imposed but still helps assure that only legitimate votes are cast. ...

    [Democrats] cited estimates that 357,000 Ohioans age 18 and older don't have a driver's license or a state ID card - two items that would allow those eligible to cast a regular ballot. Student IDs, passports and military IDs would not qualify, Democrats said. ...

    Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss implored the governor to veto the offending portions of the bill, and she suggested Democrats will file a constitutional challenge to the measure if it becomes law in its current form.

    Democrats said the lawsuit will depend in part on how local election boards and the secretary of state implement the law. The most likely grounds for a challenge would be equal protection. -- Voting? I need to see some ID

    December 13, 2005

    More on the Democratic Party Commission's proposal for primary reform

    Spencer Overton writes on the Blackprof blog: Most commissioners and reporters--focused on the New Hampshire/Iowa pre-window debate--left the room after we approved this part of the report. But it was at this time when Harold Ickes and Don Fowler announced proposed "bonus" delegates for later contests after the window opens on February 5. For example, the delegates in the states from weeks 3-5 after the window opens get a 15% boost in their delegates, states in weeks 6-8 get a 20% boost, weeks 9-11 get a 30% boost, and weeks 12-17 get a 40% boost. The objective was to give incentives for states to move their contests back in the schedule.

    I like their plan because I think it advances two other important objectives (perhaps more than the stated objective). First and most important, I think that by boosting the influence of VOTERS in the middle and toward the end of the process, you effectively recognize that in past years they have been disadvantaged relative to voters in early agenda-setting primary states and you start to offset that imbalance. Second, even if there is no movement by states, the "bonus" delegates essentially shift the balance of delegates back in the schedule and prevent the presidential contest from being over in early March, and thus more voters "matter" in the process. One small change I'd make--I'd reduce the delegate weighting of the pre-window contests by 10% to acknowledge the advantage that pre-window voters have over voters in the first three weeks of February after the window opens (the current proposal treats all of these voters the same). -- blackprof.com

    Spencer is a member of the Commission. His post has more details about the proposals of the Commission.

    Arizona: legislator appeals his ouster over clean-money violations

    AP reports: A legislator facing possible ouster because of a campaign finance violation says he's overdue his day in court.

    Rep. David Burnell Smith on Tuesday filed an appeal arguing that a state commission is trying to deny him his right to question its regulatory findings and that a trial court judge who ruled in its favor did so without giving him a chance to challenge its constitutional authority to remove him from office.

    The appeals come after both the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and an administrative law judge refused to consider the constitutional question, Smith attorney David Abney wrote in the special-action petition. "Rep. Smith's efforts to obtain judicial review of his case have, so far, been stymied." -- Lawmaker appeals ouster order in campaign finance case

    Detroit: a few suspicious ballots found

    The Detroit Free Press reports: Raising concerns of vote tampering, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers is investigating a small number of ballots in Detroit's election last month that appear to have been filled in by the same person.

    On Monday, day five of its recount of the Nov. 8 election, the board examined eight ballots challenged by mayoral candidate Freman Hendrix. The ballots appeared to contain similar handwriting. About 15 ballots in the precinct could be affected, overall, observers and election officials said.

    The ballots, cast in District 7, Precinct 72, on the city's east side, were filled out for write-in candidates in the mayoral, City Council, clerk and Board of Education races. One ballot was a write-in vote for the late Coleman Young for mayor. At least one other ballot was marked for Hendrix and several more for Kilpatrick. -- Handful of Detroit write-in ballots questioned

    New Hampshire: GOP head files complaint claiming fraudulent registratio

    AP reports: The head of New Hampshire's Republican Party on Tuesday filed an election-law complaint against the former manager of Manchester Mayor Bob Baines' unsuccessful re-election campaign.

    Warren Henderson said Geoff Wetrosky signed an affidavit that he intended to live in New Hampshire after the Nov. 8 election, but left for South Dakota. Republican Alderman Frank Guinta upset Baines, a Democrat.

    "A legitimate Manchester voter had his or her vote cancelled because Geoff Wetrosky illegally voted," Henderson said in a news release.

    Wetrosky had stayed at the Manchester home of Kathleen Sullivan, the state Democratic chairwoman. She reacted with anger.

    "Warren Henderson is a jerk and please quote me on that," she said. "What he's doing is reprehensible. He's trying to destroy the life of a young person who is active and interested in politics."

    She added that Wetrosky "had made it clear to everybody that after the election he planned to visit his family in South Dakota and stay with them through the holidays, see friends along the way, and come back and find an apartment in New Hampshire." -- GOP head files voting fraud complaint - Boston.com

    Alabama: a prediction of religious war if Roy Moore elected

    The Birmingham News reports: A Christian talk show host from Mobile who sued to reinstate Roy Moore after he was ousted as Alabama's chief justice has decided not to support Moore's run for governor.

    Kelly McGinley says that some of Moore's prominent supporters are "dominionists" who wish to bring about a government based on Old Testament law, which would administer the death penalty for offenses ranging from homosexuality to talking back to your parents.

    McGinley said that although she loves Moore and his family and has spent a lot of time with them, she fears his election could set in motion cataclysmic events.

    It would set up a showdown between the state and federal government, leading to an invasion by the feds and resistance by Alabamians, McGinley said. The conflict would serve as the pretext for a government imposition of a manmade version of Biblical law, McGinley believes.

    She links Moore, the Republican Party, the Council for National Policy, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Masons in a conspiratorial web. -- Moore campaign loses support of talk show host

    Okaaaay. McGinley also noted that Alabama's primary will be held on 6/6/06.

    Wikipedia has an article on "dominionism."

    UPDATE: Here is a website with McGinley's explanation.

    Louisiana: Governor delays N.O. elections indefinitely

    BayouBuzz.com reports: On Monday, Governor Kathleen Blanco took the extraordinary step and signed an executive order delaying the qualifying period and the February 4 and March 4, 2006 elections in Orleans Parish due to the collapse of the electoral process in New Orleans.

    Governor Blanco did not provide a replacement date for qualifying nor an election date.

    There are many people on both sides of this issue and a lawsuit has been filed against the governor for her position.

    The most important question is whether the people who would want to vote would have had the ability to cast their ballot and whether their decisions would have been based on availability of information. -- BayouBuzz.com - Louisiana Politics and News

    Louisiana: state asks for modification in open-primary ruling

    The Baton Rouge Advocate reported on 7 December: A Baton Rouge federal judge soon may decide whether Louisiana will again hold elections for Congress in October.

    In court documents made public Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola reopened a decade-old case challenging the open-primary system, scheduling a hearing on the matter for Jan. 23.

    The move was prompted by a motion filed late last month by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Secretary of State Al Ater, asking Polozola to change a 1998 ruling based on a new law the Legislature passed this summer.

    Polozola previously ordered the state to hold elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, and -- if needed -- a December runoff. That was intended to ensure Louisiana didn't elect its U.S. senators and representatives before federal election day when a candidate won outright.

    Blanco and Ater are making their request based on a new state law that took effect in August. The law states that candidates who win outright in October won't be "declared elected" until federal election day in November. -- 2theadvocate.com: News - Federal judge reopens challenge to state's open-primary system 12/07/05

    December 12, 2005

    DOJ to staff attorneys: don't make a recommendation in VRA cases

    The Washington Post reported on Saturday: The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.

    Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.

    The policy was implemented in the Georgia case, said a Justice employee who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation. A staff memo urged rejecting the state's plan to require photo identification at the polls because it would harm black voters.

    But under the new policy, the recommendation was stripped out of that document and was not forwarded to higher officials in the Civil Rights Division, several sources familiar with the incident said.

    The policy helps explain why the Justice Department has portrayed an Aug. 25 staff memo obtained by The Washington Post as an "early draft," even though it was dated one day before the department gave "preclearance," or approval, to the Georgia plan. The state's plan has since been halted on constitutional grounds by a federal judge who likened it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. -- Staff Opinions Banned In Voting Rights Cases

    Texas: Proscutors ask for delay of DeLay trial so they can appeal

    AP reports: Prosecutors asked a judge Monday not to let Rep. Tom DeLay's trial begin while they appeal the dismissal of one of the three campaign-finance charges against the former House majority leader.

    If Judge Pat Priest agrees to a delay, it could be another blow to DeLay's hopes of regaining his leadership post.

    The Texas Republican was forced to step down under House GOP rules after being charged earlier this year, and he cannot regain his post as long as he remains under indictment. For that reason, he has asked for a dismissal of the case, or else a prompt trial, in hopes of becoming majority leader again when Congress reconvenes in late January. -- Prosecutors appeal dismissed DeLay charge

    New Hampshire: jury deliberates in Tobin case

    AP reports: A jury on Monday began deliberations in the case of a former national Republican Party official accused of orchestrating an election day phone-jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats.

    Earlier in the day, lawyers concluded their arguments in the case of James Tobin, President Bush's former New England campaign chairman. Deliberations were to continue Tuesday. -- newsobserver.com | Politics

    New Hampshire: Tobin defense rests after 2 witnesses

    The Bangor Daily News reported Friday: After calling just two witnesses, the defense rested Thursday afternoon in the trial of a Bangor man accused of being part of a conspiracy to deprive New Hampshire residents of their right to vote three years ago by jamming phone lines at Democratic offices around the state with more than 800 hang-up calls.

    James Tobin, 45, did not take the stand in his own defense. The prosecution rested about noon Thursday. ...

    Four former Democratic campaign workers testified during the day about how repeated hang-up calls affected their get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day in 2002, when Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor of the state, was in a tight race for the U.S. Senate with Republican John Sununu, whose father once held the office.

    New Hampshire state Rep. Jane Clemons, D-Nashua, testified Thursday that her city's Democratic Committee had hired a limousine to give voters rides to the polls on Election Day, but it was never used. -- Defense rests in Tobin trial
    Phone-jam case to jury Monday - Judy Harrison (176)

    Texas: Prosecutor's burden is to show DeLay purposefully avoided ban on corporate contributions

    The Houston Chronicle reports: To get a conviction against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two associates, Travis County prosecutors will have to prove the men knowingly raised or converted corporate cash with the intent of getting around the state's ban on using such money in campaigns for elective office.

    DeLay's top lawyer, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, said prosecutors lack the evidence to prove any such scheme occurred.

    The road map for what prosecutors will need to prove to get a conviction in DeLay's case was clearly spelled out in a ruling last week by Senior District Judge Pat Priest.

    Priest upheld charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering against DeLay, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro by describing how financial exchanges between political committees can constitute money laundering under Texas law. -- Chron.com | DA must prove DeLay purposely avoided fund ban

    Demo Party Commission recommends primary calendar changes

    AP reports: Democrats' presidential nominating calendar should have a new early lineup to better reflect ethnic and geographic diversity, with caucuses in one or two states after Iowa's and before New Hampshire's primary, a party commission recommended yesterday.

    The proposal, requiring eventual approval by the Democratic National Committee, also would add primaries in one or two states after New Hampshire's.

    After that, the election calendar would be open to other states by Feb. 5.

    The commission did not identify any of the states that might fill the recommended caucuses and primaries near the start of the nominating process.

    That decision would fall to the DNC's rules panel. There have been discussions about picking states from the South and Southwest. -- Democrats call for new primary lineup - The Boston Globe

    Texas: Supreme Court to hear re-redistricting case

    The New York Times reports: The United States Supreme Court agreed today to review the constitutionality of the Texas redistricting plan that was engineered by Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader until recently, and helped Republicans add to their majority from the Lone Star State.

    The justices will consider several lawsuits by Democrats and minority groups challenging the redrawn maps of voting districts pushed through in 2003. The redistricting has been credited with helping Republicans gain five more seats in the Texas delegation to the House of Representatives in 2004, increasing the Republican ranks to 21, compared with 11 Texas Democrats.

    Today's announcement by the Supreme Court comes 10 days after the Justice Department acknowledged that some of its top officials had overruled a determination by the agency's civil rights division staff in 2003 that the redistricting plan would dilute the voting strength of minorities in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

    The justices are to hear arguments on March 1 and issue a decision before they adjourn for the summer, just before the 2006 Congressional election campaigns begin in earnest. How the court's decision will affect the Texas races is likely to be a subject of conjecture for many months. -- Supreme Court to Review Texas Redistricting Dispute - New York Times

    December 7, 2005

    Gone till Monday

    I will be traveling for the next several days and won't be able to blog.

    Louisiana: the Louisiana Law Wiki

    Ernest Svenson a/k/a Ernie the Attorney has set up the Louisiana Law wiki. Ernie explains it this way:

    A wiki is just an easy to update webpage, specifically a webpage that can be edited by anyone. I think it would be great to collect information about Louisiana courts and other legal issues that have arisen in the wake of Katrina and Rita. So here it is. Feel free to edit it and to let others know of its existence.

    Way to go, Ernie.

    Arizona: Judge orders Smith to vacate legislative office over campaign finance violations

    AP reports: A judge ruled Wednesday that state Rep. David Burnell Smith, R-Scottsdale, must leave office because of campaign finance violations.

    Judge Mark Aceto of Maricopa County Superior Court granted a motion filed by Attorney General Terry Goddard on behalf of the state to force Smith from office based on an order by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

    Aceto also granted the commission's request to dismiss Smith's lawsuit challenging the commission's order that he leave office because of overspending by his publicly funded 2004 primary election campaign. And he denied Smith's motion to dismiss the state's request to oust him. -- Judge rules lawmaker must leave office | www.azstarnet.com

    Pennsylvania: Casey campaign files FEC complaint against pro-Santorum group

    AP reports: Bob Casey Jr. filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, alleging a third-party group that has run ads in support of Sen. Rick Santorum violated federal election laws.

    Casey - Pennsylvania's treasurer and Santorum's likely Democratic challenger in the 2006 election - alleges the group violated election law by not revealing the identity of its donors.

    The group, Americans for Job Security, "conspired to make illegal corporate expenditures in connection with a federal election, failed to register and report as a political committee with the Federal Election Commission, and failed to comply with disclaimer requirements," according to the complaint filed by Casey's campaign.

    Michael Dubke, president of the Virginia-based group, denied any wrongdoing. He said his group is not a political committee so it is not required to make such disclosures.

    Americans for Job Security is registered under 501(c) of the federal tax code, a classification that allows groups to engage in political activity without revealing contributors as long as that is not their main activity. It has run about $1 million in ads in recent weeks in Pennsylvania television markets in support of Santorum and his Social Security plan. -- AP Wire | 12/07/2005 | Casey campaign files complaint over Santorum ads

    New Hampshire: First testimony in Tobin trial

    The Bangor News reports: Looking pale from his recent seven-month stint in prison, the former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party took the stand Tuesday in the trial of a Bangor, Maine, man accused of being part of a conspiracy to block Democrats from using get-out-the-vote phone lines in 2002.

    Charles "Chuck" McGee of Manchester testified in U.S. District Court that the idea to jam the opposition's phone lines in key communities in southern New Hampshire was his own.

    McGee said James Tobin of Bangor, who was the Republican National Committee's political director for New England, gave him the name and number of the man who helped him implement the plan. ...

    A former Marine, McGee said that he got the idea a few days before the 2002 election when he received a mailing in support of Democratic candidates that offered rides to the polls.

    "It reminded me that the other side would have a get-out-the-vote effort on Election Day," he said. "It might have made me think of the idea of disrupting their communications. That eventually coalesced into phone-jamming."

    In answer to a question from lead prosecutor Andrew Levchuk, McGee said that he had learned in the military that if the enemy "can't communicate, you can disrupt their operation." -- Witness describes Tobin's part in phone-jams - Judy Harrison (176)

    "Refocusing on Race"

    Grant Hayden has posted on SSRN an article, "Refocusing on Race." Here is the abstract: This paper, prepared for a symposium on voting rights in the George Washington Law Review, is a call to refocus attention on the role of race in politics. In recent years, many voting rights scholars have shifted their attention away from the plight of minority voters. Indeed, the issue of race came up in this symposium only obliquely, if at all, as part of a discussion of other issues. And this is more than a bit unusual, for race has been a driving force in the development of much of the law of democracy over the last several decades.

    Of course, there is more to politics than race. The 2000 presidential election fiasco, coupled with the passage of the Help America Vote Act and predictions (mostly correct, it turns out) of a close presidential election in 2004, made us focus on ballot access and integrity in a way that we haven't since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Significant new legislation and Supreme Court opinions in the areas of campaign finance and partisan gerrymandering in the last couple of years have made those issues especially relevant. And when it comes to the law of politics, we all recognize the need to strike while the iron is hot - and ballot access, campaign finance, and partisan gerrymandering are certainly the hot issues of the last election.

    But the relative inattention to the role of race in politics may reflect more than the temporary rise of other issues. It may also reflect a broader belief that, when it comes to race, we've done about all we can, especially when it comes to the larger, structural issues. The thinking goes something like this. The problem of minority access to the polls was largely resolved in the 1960s through enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The problem of minority vote dilution has proven more difficult, but the creation of majority-minority (or, more recently, coalition) districts under sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act has effectively remedied that issue. In any case, that remedy appears to have reached its limit, both because there are few places left to draw additional majority-minority districts and because the creation and maintenance of such districts may actually reduce minority influence in political affairs.

    The belief that problems of minority political participation have been solved, or perhaps more accurately, that there is not that much more we can do about them within existing legal structures, comes at a critical time. Several portions of the Voting Rights Act, including section 5, come up for reauthorization in 2007. Allowing section 5 to expire without replacing it with something comparable will eliminate one of the most flexible legal tools for countering the constantly evolving methods of effectively reducing meaningful minority political participation.

    This paper, then, is a plea to refocus attention on the issue of race. Part of this project must involve making sure we continue to set new goals as the old ones are achieved. Another part involves making sure that we recognize that some of the constraints that prevent minority groups from fully realizing their potential in a democratic society are of our own, or the Supreme Court's, making, and that what we have created, we can undo (or at least question). The paper, then, is a call to remain vigilant in policing the many intentional and unintentional ways in which the political rights of racial minorities may be infringed upon. And, more generally, it is an argument to think more broadly about the possibilities that may exist to improve minority participation. -- SSRN-Refocusing on Race by Grant Hayden

    Thanks to Legal Theory for the link.

    Hong Kong: China may, or may not, kinda hint at a sorta democracy for Hong Kong

    Reuters reports: Beijing is likely to hint at the possibility of giving full democracy to Hong Kong by 2017 to win over pro-democracy lawmakers opposed to the city government's election reform proposals, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

    China, however, quickly denied the report.

    Citing an unidentified source close to Beijing, the South China Morning Post said the hint would be delivered by a Chinese state leader in a vaguely worded statement. -- China to Hint at Full HK Democracy by 2017: Paper - New York Times

    Will computer voting machines be ready by January?

    AP reports: The potential perils of electronic voting systems are bedeviling state officials as a Jan. 1 deadline approaches for complying with standards for the machines' reliability.

    Across the country, officials are trying multiple methods to ensure that touch-screen voting machines can record and count votes without falling prey to software bugs, hackers, malicious insiders or other ills.

    These are not theoretical problems -- in some states they have led to lost or miscounted votes.

    One of the biggest concerns -- the frequent inability of computerized ballots to produce a written receipt of a vote -- has been addressed or is being tackled in most states. -- Voting Machines Under Scrutiny

    New Hampshire: Tobin phone-jamming trial begins

    AP reports: A former national Republican Party official played a key role in an Election Day 2002 phone jamming plot against New Hampshire Democrats, the prosecution said Tuesday during opening statements.

    James Tobin, President Bush's onetime New England campaign chairman, is being tried on one federal count of conspiring against voters' rights and several counts involving telephone harassment. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

    U.S. Attorney Andrew Levchuk said the state GOP's former executive director, Chuck McGee, had Tobin's blessing for the scheme as well as his help in the plot to disrupt Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks and a nonpartisan ride-to-the-polls line. -- Ex-GOP Official Faces Conspiracy Charge

    Democrats to vote on changing primary plan

    The Los Angeles Times reports: It's more than two years before the next Iowa caucuses, but the first meaningful votes in the 2008 Democratic presidential race will be cast this week.

    On Saturday, a Democratic commission will decide whether to challenge the dominant role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in determining the party's presidential nominee. The panel is strongly leaning toward a plan aimed at diluting those states' influence by authorizing other contests in between Iowa's caucuses, which start the nomination race, and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

    Such a change could increase the influence of blacks and Latinos, who cast few votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, in the Democratic presidential race. And it would allow Democrats from other regions, most likely the South and Southwest, to join Iowa and New Hampshire in winnowing the field of contenders.

    Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), the commission's co-chairman, said the panel was "fully appreciative of the value" of close contact between voters and candidates "and of the tradition Iowa and New Hampshire has developed in that area."

    But, he said, "we have a second goal … which is to have an early [nominating] season that attracts wider participation from a wider range of constituencies." -- Democrats May Shake Up Early Presidential Votes - Los Angeles Times

    Washington: Spokane Mayor recalled

    The Los Angeles Times reports: Voters in Spokane removed Mayor James E. West from office Tuesday, capping a tawdry seven-month spectacle in which West fought to keep his job amid charges by several young men that he had pursued them sexually with offers of city jobs and internships.

    Ballot counts released just after the polls closed Tuesday night indicated that voters favored ousting West by a margin of about 2 to 1 in the extraordinary recall election.

    The Republican mayor, 54, must vacate the office by Dec. 16, when election results are certified. ...

    West's troubles included a city-commissioned report that concluded he had broken state law by storing hundreds of images of naked young men on his city-owned laptop, as well as allegations by one City Council member that he told her he had masturbated in his City Hall office. -- Voters Oust Spokane Mayor After 7 Months of Scandal - Los Angeles Times

    December 6, 2005

    U.N. election chief fired, will appeal

    AP reports: The U.N.'s electoral chief vowed Tuesday to fight her dismissal, saying charges that she sexually harassed her staff and abused her authority were false. Carina Perelli said she would appeal her firing through the U.N. system and did not rule out taking further legal action outside the United Nations.

    She expressed hope that her firing would not affect upcoming elections in Iraq, Congo, the Palestinian territories and Haiti.

    Perelli, 48, of Uruguay, won wide praise for her work in helping organize elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories and had been considered one of the young rising stars at the United Nations. In August, the U.N. formally accused her of harassing her staff after a four-month review into the claims of an abusive and sexually offensive environment in her division. -- U.N. Electoral Chief to Fight Dismissal

    Virginia: A.G. recount set for 20 December

    AP reports: A recount in Virginia's attorney general's race, the closest statewide election in modern state history, will be conducted Dec. 20, a Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday.

    The State Board of Elections last week certified Republican Bob McDonnell as the winner by just 323 votes out of more than 1.9 million cast in the Nov. 8 election. His opponent, Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds, requested a recount.

    Virginia law allows for recounts if the vote margin falls within 1 percentage point, and recounts are done at government expense if the difference is less than one-half of a point. -- Judge Schedules Recount for Va. AG Race

    Ohio: proposal for voter I.D.

    The Toledo Blade reports: Voters would be forced to provide proof of identification before casting ballots and non-Ohioans could not circulate petitions to change state law under proposals headed for an Ohio Senate committee today.

    The measures could reach the full Senate next week.

    The Senate Rules Committee is expected to expand on a provision passed by the House to require first-time voters to provide proof of identification at the polling place.

    The Senate version would require all voters to provide a driver's license or other photo ID, utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, any government document with his or her name and address, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. -- - toledoblade.com -

    Wisconsin: only isolated cases of vote fraud in 2004

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: The nearly yearlong investigation into voter fraud in 2004 has yielded no evidence of a broad conspiracy to try to steal an election, U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said Monday.

    He predicted that perhaps "a couple of dozen" isolated cases of suspected fraud might be charged, and he said that sloppy recordkeeping by election officials was a key impediment to proving such cases.

    Nothing in the cases that his office has examined has shown a plot to try to tip an election, Biskupic said during a meeting with Journal Sentinel editors and reporters.

    Critics had raised such fears of partisan voter fraud schemes in the election aftermath. But Biskupic said, "I wouldn't say that at all."

    He said, "We don't see a massive conspiracy to alter the election in Milwaukee, one way or another." -- JS Online: No vote fraud plot found

    December 5, 2005

    Texas: It's one down and two to try for DeLay

    The Austin American-Statesman reports: Judge Pat Priest ordered U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two co-defendants to be tried next year on charges that they laundered corporate money into political donations during the 2002 elections.

    The judge, however, threw out the indictment accusing the defendants of conspiring to violate a Texas law prohibiting the spending of corporate money in connection with a campaign. The judge ruled that conspiracy charges did not apply to the state's election code until the Legislature changed state law in 2003 — after the alleged offenses had been committed.

    The ruling means DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and his associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, D.C., could stand trial sometime early next year. The defense still hopes to derail the prosecution by accusing prosecutors of misconduct in their handling of the grand juries that indicted them. -- Money laundering charge against DeLay left to stand

    More details from AP: In trying to have those charges thrown out, the defense argued that the Texas money laundering law does not apply to funds in the form of a check, just coins or paper money. But the judge said that checks "are clearly funds and can be the subject of money laundering."

    The defense attorneys also argued that the definition of money laundering in Texas involves the transfer of criminal proceeds. Because the money in this case was not illegal to begin with, they argued, money laundering never occurred.

    But the judge rejected that argument, saying the money became suspect when "it began to be held with the prohibited intent."

    He said if prosecutors can prove that DeLay and his associates obtained the corporate donations "with the express intent of converting those funds to the use of individual candidates," or that they converted money legally collected by sending it to the Republican National Committee and asking for the same amount to be sent back to Texas candidates, "then they will have established that money was laundered."

    "The money would have become 'dirty money' at the point that it began to be held with the prohibited intent," Priest wrote. -- DeLay's money laundering charges upheld

    December 4, 2005

    Connecticut: Weiker will challenge anti-third party provisions of new campaign finance act

    AP reports: Critics of campaign finance reform that Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to sign into law this week could get high-power help in a challenge to a key provision of the bill.

    Former Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. said Friday he will mount a legal challenge to a public financing provision of the bill that he says favors Democrats and Republicans over minor party candidates. He said he had no opinion about public financing, but is aiming his fire at how minor party candidates are treated in the legislation.

    Weicker, a former Republican U.S. senator who was elected governor as a third-party candidate in 1990, said the bill that cleared the General Assembly on Thursday locks out minor party candidates. ...

    Weicker has not yet worked out details of his challenge, he told The Associated Press on Saturday. A lawyer is studying the bill “line by line,” he said. -- Weicker promises challenge to campaign finance action

    December 3, 2005

    Michigan: FBI investigating Feiger's reimbursement of firm employees' contributions

    AP reports: A former associate in trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger's firm said Friday that he and his wife each gave $2,000 to Democrat John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign on the promise that they would be reimbursed by the firm.

    Fieger, best known for defending assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, is running for Michigan attorney general. On Wednesday, FBI and IRS agents raided his offices in Southfield.

    They took payroll and other financial documents, as well as ticket stubs for an Edwards fundraiser and other campaign materials.

    Joseph Bird, an attorney fired from Fieger's firm over the summer, told The Associated Press that about two weeks after he joined the firm in 2003, partner Ven Johnson came into his office, closed the door and told him that he was expected to give to the Edwards campaign. -- Lansing State Journal: Fieger ex-associate claims illegalities

    New Jersey & Texas: Earle subpoenas NJ campaign records for DeLay case

    The Gloucester County Times reports: In a development that raised few eyebrows in New Jersey politics, prosecutors have subpoenaed campaign finance records covering 2001 through 2003 from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

    The difference this time?

    It came from Ronnie Earle, the Travis County, Texas, district attorney leading an investigation of alleged money laundering and campaign finance violations by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. ...

    The records requested detail contributions and expenditures involving the Republican National State Elections Committee during the years covered. The organization was an arm of the Republican National Committee used to funnel money into state election coffers; whether it was still extent was unclear. -- DeLay's Jersey dealings checked

    Texas: U.S. House Dems want investigation of DOJ decision to preclear re-redistricting

    AP reports: The House Democratic leader wants an independent inquiry into the Justice Department's decision to approve a Texas redistricting plan that staff lawyers concluded diluted minority voting rights.

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the decision by senior officials to ignore the staff lawyers' conclusions - contained in a 73-page memo made public Friday - was political. ...

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was not in that post when the plan was approved, defended the department's decision. The senior officials who approved it were "confirmed by the Senate to exercise their own independent judgment" and their disagreement with other agency employees doesn't mean the final decision was wrong, he said.

    The decision appears to have been correct, Gonzales said, because a three-judge federal panel upheld the plan and Texas has since elected one additional black congressman. -- AP Wire | 12/03/2005 | Democratic House wants redistricting decision investigated

    New Orleans: governor delays city elections

    AP reports: Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco agreed Friday to postpone New Orleans' Feb. 4 elections for mayor and City Council for as long as eight months because of the damage and dislocation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

    Blanco's decision came hours after Louisiana's top elections official recommended the delay, saying polling places had not been rebuilt and hundreds of thousands of voters remained scattered across the country. -- New Orleans Votes Delayed - Los Angeles Times

    December 2, 2005

    West Virginia: FBI used candidate as bait for payoffs

    The Washington Post reports: The three men were sitting in a car outside a rural elementary school in West Virginia when the candidate handed over $2,000 in cash and said, "Buy all the votes you can."

    In the hamlets and hollows of Logan County, where political shenanigans are legendary and it's said that a vote can be bought for a pint of whiskey or a $10 bill, some say there was nothing extraordinary about the transaction.

    Here's what made it unusual: Although Thomas E. Esposito was on the ballot as a candidate for the state House of Delegates, he wasn't really running for office.

    The small-town lawyer and former mayor was just bait. And when the FBI lowered him into the murky waters of southern West Virginia politics last year, it dangled him like a shiny lure.

    The whole affair landed yesterday in a Charleston courtroom, where a defense attorney cried foul, accusing the government of "outrageous" conduct and of violating the sanctity of the election process. He said the charade robbed 2,175 citizens who voted for Esposito -- unaware he wasn't for real -- of a constitutional right.

    But a federal judge sided with the government, ruling after a 30-minute hearing that corruption in Logan County had been endemic "for longer than living memory" and that the bogus election campaign might have been the only way to root it out. -- FBI's Sham Candidate Crawled Under W.Va.'s Political Rock

    Texas: DOJ staff recommended objection to re-redistricting plan, but higher-ups overruled

    The Washington Post reports: Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

    The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections. ...

    The memo also found that Republican lawmakers and state officials who helped craft the proposal were aware it posed a high risk of being ruled discriminatory compared with other options.

    But the Texas legislature proceeded with the new map anyway because it would maximize the number of Republican federal lawmakers in the state, the memo said. The redistricting was approved in 2003, and Texas Republicans gained five seats in the U.S. House in the 2004 elections, solidifying GOP control of Congress. -- Justice Staff Saw Texas Districting As Illegal

    A sidebar to the story has links to the documents. I will add those later today.

    December 1, 2005

    New Hampshire: GOP fights phone-records subpoena

    This is an earlier story I had missed in the great phone-jamming case in New Hampshire.

    AP reports: New Hampshire's Republican Party is fighting a subpoena from federal prosecutors for documents from the party's own investigation of a plot to jam Democratic phone lines on Election Day 2002.

    Prosecutors want the materials for their case against James Tobin, a former national Republican campaign official who is scheduled to go on trial next Tuesday.

    The subpoena demands papers and computer hard drives examined by lawyers the Republican Party hired to conduct a 2003 investigation of the jamming allegations.

    Republicans say turning over the documents would violate attorney-client privilege. According to papers filed Monday in federal court, they are also leery of giving up computer files containing campaign strategy and other confidential political information. -- N.H. GOP tries to block phone subpoena

    New Hampshire: Federal Judge refuses to dismiss remaining charges against Tobin

    AP reports: A federal judge has ordered a former high-ranking Republican official to stand trial on a charge of conspiring to injure the voting rights of New Hampshire citizens.

    U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe denied James Tobin’s request to dismiss the charge yesterday. Tobin also faces three other counts of taking part in a Republican plot to jam get-out-the-vote phone lines sponsored by the Democratic Party and the nonpartisan Manchester firefighters union on Election Day 2002. Both groups offered voters rides to the polls.

    At the time, Tobin headed the national committee working to get Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate. Last year, he was the New England director of President Bush’s reelection campaign, but he resigned a month before the election when the phone jamming accusations surfaced.

    Three weeks ago, McAuliffe refused to dismiss the other three counts, but said he would consider the voting rights charge separately. Tobin’s trial is scheduled to begin next week. -- Tobin facing trial on voting-rights charge

    Nevada: Tarkanian will push voter i.d. if elected

    AP reports: Danny Tarkanian announced his Republican candidacy for Nevada's secretary of state Thursday with a call to establish voter identification cards and require proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

    Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, lost a bid for the state Senate last year.

    He said he opposes efforts by current Secretary of State Dean Heller, also a Republican, to allow Nevadans to register to vote through Election Day. ...

    If elected, Tarkanian said he would push for a photo identification card that voters would have to present at the polls. -- Famous UNLV coach's son begins state race with call for voter IDs