Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2006 Archives

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February 28, 2006

Supreme Court to hear Texas re-redistricting and Vermont campaign finance cases this week

The New York Times reports: The most pressing and unsettled questions in election law are those that concern the role of money, the role of race and the role of partisanship. The Supreme Court will take up all three this week.

Hearing arguments in a campaign finance case from Vermont on Tuesday and a Congressional redistricting case from Texas on Wednesday, the justices will venture onto a shifting landscape where the controlling legal precedents are either unclear or unstable and the prospect for fundamental change looms on the horizon.

On many of the questions, the new Roberts court will almost certainly be as closely divided as was the Rehnquist court. Two years ago, for example, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was succeeded last month by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., cast the decisive fifth vote to uphold major provisions of a new federal campaign finance law. The justices were unable during that same term to agree on a majority opinion in a case from Pennsylvania on whether the Constitution prohibits a partisan gerrymander.

While decisions in the new cases are not likely until June, the arguments this week could offer a hint of the court's direction and appetite for forging a new consensus. -- Supreme Court Set to Weigh Central Election-Law Issues - New York Times

Texas: Texans for Public Justice cliams IRS probe was "abuse"

The Dallas Morning News reports: The Austin nonprofit group whose complaint sparked U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's indictment on campaign finance charges accused one of his allies of dirty tricks, saying Monday that U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano used his influence to prompt a tax audit.

"It's intimidation," said Craig McDonald, founder and director of Texans for Public Justice, which was cleared this month after a 13-month inquiry into whether it violated a ban on partisan activity by tax-exempt groups. "The IRS has every right to audit nonprofit organizations, but we think this was an abuse."

Mr. Johnson, who serves on the House tax-writing committee that oversees the IRS, wrote the agency's commissioner in mid-2004 urging him to open an inquiry.

"Anytime I have reason to believe someone may be breaking the law, I have an obligation to report it to the responsible authorities," he said.

Mr. McDonald's group drew Republican ire in March 2003, when it alleged that a DeLay-founded committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, had illegally raised and spent $600,000 during the 2002 state legislative campaigns. The GOP won control of the state House and subsequently redrew congressional districts at Mr. DeLay's urging. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Politics: Local

February 26, 2006

Washington State: group asks for re-registration of all voters

AP reports: Voters would have to prove they are U.S. citizens and reregister to vote under an initiative that supporters said they will file this week.

Conservative think-tank Evergreen Freedom Foundation has formed Grassroots Washington, which is backing the initiative that was expected to be announced Wednesday afternoon.

The group takes issue with the state's new $6 million voter registration database, which has been checking for duplicate and dead voters since last month.

"The database is capable of maintaining a clean voter list. It cannot create a clean voter list," Booker Stallworth, the foundation's spokesman, said Tuesday.

Stallworth said he was concerned with the number of duplicate voters that the system has found, as well as the number he says he believes the system hasn't caught, due to misspelled names or inaccurate birth dates. -- Group to file initiative that would require all voters to reregister

Thanks to Progressive Legislative Action Network for the link.

February 25, 2006

Wisconsin: GOP Caucus staff spent state time on campaigns

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: Assembly Republican Caucus workers took elaborate steps to avoid being caught producing campaign materials on state time, witnesses in the criminal trial of former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield) testified Thursday.

Former caucus staff members Rhonda Baker and Eric Grant told a Dane County jury that those precautions before the 1998 and 2000 elections included:

• Putting campaign materials, including brochures and fund-raising invitations, in double-sealed envelopes before they went to the Capitol to be reviewed by GOP legislators, party leaders, aides or campaign workers.

• Whenever possible, making sure that campaign materials were delivered "by yourself or with caucus staff" to those who had requested them or must approve them, Baker said. -- JS Online:Caucus workers describe coverup

February 24, 2006

IRS issues report on prohibited political activity by non-profits

IRS Reports on Political Activity Compliance Initiative: Internal Revenue Service officials have released a report, with executive summary, on the agency's examination of political activity by tax-exempt organizations during the 2004 election campaign. The report found some level of prohibited political activity by section 501(c)(3) organizations in nearly three-quarters of the cases reviewed.

In connection with the report, the IRS is also unveiling new procedures for the 2006 election season, which provide additional guidance to charities regarding political activities. As part of its approach to combating this activity, the IRS has begun its educational and enforcement efforts to help ensure that charities have enough advance notice of the statutory rules against engaging in political activities.

Iowa: Dems file ethics complaint against Nussle

The Quad City Times reports: Iowa Democrats have filed an ethics complaint against GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle, alleging that he failed to detail spending on staff salaries, consultants and other expenditures in a report filed last month.

Democrats say Nussle should have documented the use of money left over from his 2004 congressional campaign in his current run for governor.

“It appears that Mr. Nussle has violated the letter and the spirit of campaign disclosure laws,” Iowa Democratic Party Director Mike Milligan wrote in a letter to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Iowa law allows money leftover from federal campaigns to be used in a run for state office as long as it is accounted for in state campaign finance reports. -- Dems file Nussle ethics complaint

Louisana: federal judge refuses to delay NOLA election

AP reports: A federal judge Friday refuse to postpone the April 22 mayoral election in New Orleans, turning back arguments that too many black residents scattered by Hurricane Katrina will be unable to take part.

The decision was issued by U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who had earlier pressured state officials to make sure the election was held by the end of April.

"We're extremely disappointed," said Tracie Washington, one of the lawyers working with hurricane victim advocates who wanted to either delay the election or force the state to set up "satellite" voting operations out of state.

Mayor Ray Nagin, who has been criticized in some quarters for his response to the hurricane, is running for re-election in New Orleans, which was a mostly black city of nearly half a million people before Katrina reduced it to well under 200,000 inhabitants. The city has not had a white mayor since 1978. -- Nola.com: NewsFlash - U.S. judge: No New Orleans election delay

Pennsylvania: US threatens to sue over voting machines

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: The U.S. Department of Justice has waded into Pennsylvania's growing crisis over voting systems, threatening to sue the state if its counties fail to be in compliance with federal law by the May primary election.

In addition to the potential lawsuit, Wan J. Kim, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, also warned in a letter to Pennsylvania Attorney General Thomas Corbett dated Feb. 21 that $23 million in federal funds might be at risk. He said he plans to file a complaint in federal court within 10 days.

"We hope to resolve this matter through a negotiated consent decree," Kim wrote.

It is not clear with whom the U.S. Justice Department would negotiate a consent decree, and the federal agency did not return phone calls seeking to clarify the letter. In addition to Corbett, Kim's letter went to the Pennsylvania Department of State and the solicitor of Westmoreland County, which was successfully sued in Commonwealth Court to block the switch to new voting machines without voter approval.

The Westmoreland case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its ruling next week. -- Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/24/2006 | U.S. threatens to sue Pa. over voting measures

Florida: group says electronic voting machine tampering may have made a difference in 2004 presidential election

AP reports: An examination of Palm Beach County's electronic voting machine records from the 2004 election found possible tampering and tens of thousands of malfunctions and errors, a watchdog group said Thursday.

Bev Harris, founder of BlackBoxVoting.org, said the findings call into question the outcome of the presidential race. But county officials and the maker of the electronic voting machines strongly disputed that.

Voting problems would have had to have been widespread to make a difference. President Bush won Florida -- and its 27 electoral votes -- by 381,000 votes in 2004. Overall, he defeated John Kerry by 286 to 252 electoral votes, with 270 needed for victory.

BlackBoxVoting.org, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens group, said it found 70,000 instances in Palm Beach County of cards getting stuck in the paperless ATM-like machines and that the computers logged about 100,000 errors, including memory failures. -- Watchdog group finds Florida vote error-ridden

February 23, 2006

"National Popular Vote" formed

National Popular Vote announced today: Republicans, Democrats and Independents, including former Republican Representative and Independent presidential candidate John Anderson, joined together today to call for the national popular election of the President. They offered a novel approach which is politically practical because it relies on the Constitutional power given to states to allocate Presidential electors.

“The occupant of the nation’s highest office should be determined by winning the national popular vote,” said Anderson, who today is chair of FairVote. “The current system of allocating electoral votes on a statewide winner-take-all basis dampens voter participation by concentrating campaign efforts on a shrinking number of battleground states and can have the disheartening effect of trumping the national popular vote.”

Today marked the launch of efforts to introduce and pass bills in all 50 state legislatures that would award the states’ electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The National Popular Vote plan will go into effect when the number of states that have passed the law can determine the outcome of the Presidential election.

Lawyers' Committee Report on VRA Renewal

The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased to announce the release of the Report of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, Protecting Minority Voters: The Voting Rights Act, 1982-2005

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Alabama: how the VRA helped fair elections in Bayou LaBatre

DeWayne Wickham writes in USA Today: When Asian-American residents of Bayou La Batre, a small Alabama town that was made famous by Forrest Gump, went to the polls in August 2004, they might have had one of the film's most memorable lines on their mind. "Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get, " Gump, the title character in the Oscar-winning movie, said prophetically in the opening scene.

After being urged by several candidates to vote in the municipal election, many of the Southeast Asian-Americans in the town of about 3,000 had their ballots challenged. Nearly 50 of them were forced to fill out paper ballots and have another registered voter vouch for them.

Despite these hurdles, Phuong Tan Huynh — the first Asian-American to run for City Council there — defeated Jackie Ladnier in the October runoff, but only after the Justice Department intervened.

Tuesday, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a non-partisan group, released a 187-page report that argues the need for reauthorizing the sections of the Voting Rights Act that are set to expire next year. One of them empowered the Justice Department to send observers to monitor Bayou La Batre's runoff election.

Though the law "has accomplished much during its first 40 years, more remains to be done in order to protect the rights of racial and ethnic minorities to fully and equally participate in the electoral process," the report concludes. -- USATODAY.com - Why renew Voting Rights Act? Ala. town provides answer

Washington State: unpaid court costs block voting rights

The New York Times reports: It is increasingly expensive to be a criminal.

Beverly Dubois, a 49-year-old former park ranger in Washington State, spent nine months in jail for growing and selling marijuana. She still owes the state almost $1,900 for court costs and various fees. Until she pays up, the state has taken away her right to vote.

Wilbert Rideau, 64, a convicted killer, spent 44 years in Louisiana prisons. Not long after he was released last year, he filed for bankruptcy in an effort to avoid the state's attempts to collect $127,000 in court costs.

Almost every encounter with the criminal justice system these days can give rise to a fee. There are application fees and co-payments for public defenders. Sentences include court costs, restitution and contributions to various funds. In Washington State, people convicted of certain crimes are also charged $100 so their DNA can be put in a database. -- Debt to Society Is Least of Costs for Ex-Convicts - New York Times

Massachusetts: group pushes for public funding of legislative elections

The Tewksbury Advocate reports: Mass Voters for Fair Elections, a new grassroots organization, is announcing a push for public campaign financing for legislative elections in Massachusetts. The proposed law would allow candidates for the House and Senate to earn $3 of public matching funds for every dollar they raise privately so long as they agree to reasonable contribution and spending limits.

Currently, statewide candidates who opt in can receive $1 of public money for every dollar they raise. ...

Mass Voters has a twin-track approaching to passing the public campaign financing law: Both pushing for legislation and gearing up to place a question on the 2008 ballot. -- TownOnline.com - Arts & Lifestyle: Voting rights group push for new law

Texas: Garland tries to decide on elections this year or next

The Dallas Morning News reports: The Garland City Council held a three-hour public hearing Tuesday night but still couldn't decide whether to call for elections in May.

After hearing from 26 speakers, the council voted, 4-3, in favor of calling an election, but that won't happen because it takes at least five votes to make a binding decision. ...

Four council members – Mr. Bradley, Ms. Dunn, Mr. Garner and Mr. Holden – oppose elections this year because they believe they were elected to three-year terms in 2004, even though voters in the same election approved a charter amendment changing council terms from three years to two.

Mr. Hickey has voted with them in the past, making it 5-4 against calling an election.

Mr. Day, Ms. Chick, Mr. Dunning and Mr. Monroe favor holding elections, on the grounds that the charter amendment took effect before the 2004 election winners were sworn in. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Local News

Texas: re-redistricting plaintiffs file reply brief in Supreme Court

The Austin American-Statesman reports: The Democratic attorneys challenging Texas' congressional districts filed a reply brief with the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, one week before arguments are set to begin in the high-stakes case.

The brief is aimed at countering state arguments that say the map, which was redrawn in 2003 and helped Republican candidates, was done fairly and with consideration to both parties' senior members and minority voting stakes.

Last week, the White House asked to join the state's case defending the map, and in the Wednesday arguments, the court will hear from Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garr.

In their brief filed Wednesday, J. Gerald Hebert and fellow appellant attorneys called the reasoning behind the redistricting "nonsense."

"This was not some bipartisan effort. It was orchestrated in Washington and one of the most notorious power grabs in the history of our country," the attorneys said. -- Democrats prepare for redistricting case

Thanks to the Man in the Tuxedo for the link.

February 22, 2006

Ohio: Wilson's petitions are short by 2 signatures

The Vindicator reports: Charles A. Wilson Jr. doesn't have enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions to run in the Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District race, The Vindicator has learned.

The Columbiana County Board of Elections is left with no other choice but to disqualify Wilson's candidacy for the seat at its meeting today.

Wilson has only 48 valid signatures on his nominating petitions, according to two Democratic sources and one Republican source with knowledge of his petitions. Congressional candidates need 50 valid signatures from registered voters in their districts to get on the ballot. ...

His petitions had 96 signatures, all from Belmont and Scioto counties. Those counties are split into two congressional districts, and 43 of the signatures on his petitions came from voters who live in other congressional districts. -- Vindy.com - Sources: Wilson petitions not valid

Thanks to Richard Winger for the tip.

Pennsylvania: Governor will veto voter I.D. bill

AP reports: Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday he'll veto a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls because he believes such a mandate is unconstitutional and would disenfranchise some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

People including nursing home residents and poorer citizens might not have proper ID and thus could lose their right to vote under the legislation, Rendell said.

"At a time in our nation's history when voter participation is dropping to alarming levels, the government should not be taking action that will turn away bona fide voters from our polls," Rendell, who made the announcement in a speech at the National Constitution Center, said in a statement.

The bill had cleared the Legislature on Wednesday mostly along party lines. Democrats generally opposed the measure, claiming it would lead to countless voter challenges and create long lines that would discourage participation; Republicans countered it would fight voter fraud by ensuring that a person can cast only one ballot in an election. -- NEPA News - NEPA News - 02/21/2006 - Rendell to veto bill that would require voter ID

Colorado: Republicans get another bite at the apple; Supreme Court remands redistricting case

The Rocky Mountain News reports: A U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday dropped the hot potato of redrawing Colorado's congressional district map back in the lap of a federal district court, but it will take a rapid-fire decision for the case to affect the November election.

Justices ruled that a three-judge, federal panel erred last year when it tossed out a Republican-backed lawsuit challenging the map drawn by Democrats and approved by a judge in 2002.

Tuesday's ruling does not change the map, but it gives four Colorado plaintiffs their day in federal district court that could change the ultimate shape of Colorado's seven congressional districts.

The plaintiffs' attorney, John -Zakhem, said he plans to file motions this week asking the judicial panel to put the case on a fast track. -- Rocky Mountain News: Local

The U.S. Supreme Court opinion is here.

Virginia: politician exonerated in election fraud case

The Roanoke Times reports: A small-town politician accused of cheating his way to a two-vote victory on Election Day got the 12 votes he wanted Tuesday — from a jury.

The Scott County jury acquitted Charles Dougherty of two counts of election fraud that stemmed from his aggressive courting of absentee voters in the disputed election for mayor of Gate City in May 2004.

A clearly relieved Dougherty was surrounded by friends and family members following the verdict, which came after a day of testimony in which one voter said the ex-mayor paid her $7 for a pint of liquor in exchange for her vote.

Dougherty’s relief may be short-lived; he still faces another 35 counts of election fraud. -- Gate City politician acquitted of vote fraud

"Agressive courting of absentee voting"? Should all politicians be meek and mild in seeking votes?

Pennsylvania: another effort to reduce so-called fraud by making it harder to vote

Tom Ferrick Jr. writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Consider the case of Pennsylvania's House Bill 1318, titled the Voter Protection Act of 2006. It has the stated intent of ensuring voters the right to access to polls by eliminating fraud, intimidation and identity theft.

So many noble words, employed in an insidious cause.

HB1318 is, plain and simple, a mechanism to suppress voter turnout, particularly in big cities, especially among poor, minority and elderly voters. It seeks to make the act of voting more difficult than ever. -- Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/22/2006 | Tom Ferrick Jr. | A predatory bill that ought to die

Alabama: Judge continues ouster case against county commissioner

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reports: A Houston County, Ala., judge appointed Chief Deputy District Attorney Buster Landreau to continue the civil case challenging whether Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed has the right to keep his post.

District Judge Brad Mandheim of Dothan listened to arguments two weeks ago from Landreau, Reed's attorney Jim McKoon and Ken White, attorney for Fort Mitchell resident Gerald Kite, about who should continue the case against Reed. The commissioner's eligibility for holding office is being questioned because he was convicted of burglarizing Safe Lite Optical on Jacqueline Drive in Columbus in 1975.

Mandheim decided Friday to make Landreau fold his investigation into Kite's original complaint.

According to Alabama law, a convicted felon not pardoned in the state where the offense occurred is not eligible to hold public office in Alabama. Reed's voting rights were restored at the end of his sentence, but his political rights weren't restored by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles until December -- after the challenge was filed and more than a year after he was elected. Reed, 51, represents Russell County District 4. -- Ledger-Enquirer | 02/22/2006 | Judge rules to continue case

February 20, 2006

Kentucky: legislature considering constitutional amendment to restore felons' voting rights

AP reports: Lawmakers are weighing a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to felons completing their sentence, probation and paying restitution.

But, with the legislative session reaching its halfway point, it's main sponsor, Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, and groups supporting House Bill 480 fear time will run out if it isn't heard by a House committee soon.

"I think the right to vote is such a critical right that it helps show ex-offenders that they are, in fact, being included in our society," Crenshaw said.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration, along with some commonwealth's attorneys, oppose the measure. -- WHAS11.com | News for Louisville, Kentucky | Top Stories

My comment on the New York Times article (below):

The New York Times does a dissersive to its readers by publishing a piece that uses terms such as "obscure," "arcane," and "quirky" to say essentially, "This stuff is too complicated for you readers to understand, so we'll just tell you that it's strange."

Actually, the Palestinian election system (or really half of it) shares a trait with most American elections -- the "first past the post" rule. Simply put, the candidate with the most votes wins without regard to whether the candidate has the support of a majority. In the United States, nearly all U.S. Senators and Representatives are elected this way. In Palestine, half the legislature is elected by a nation-wide party list system with seats awarded proportionately to the wons won, and the other half is multi-member districts. Fairvote (the Center for Voting and Democracy) does a good job of explaining the difference:

In the national legislative election held on January 25th, Hamas won 76 of 132 seats, or 58%, compared to 43 seats, or 33%, for the governing Fatah party. Palestine used a parallel system, electing 66 of 132 seats in multimember districts and 66 on a national list basis. Hamas won 30 of the national list seats, or 45%, while Fatah won 27, or 41%.

But Hamas also claimed 46 district seats, or 70%, versus 16, or 24%, for Fatah. Where Fatah overnominated candidates, Hamas proved more apt at "gaming" the winner-take-all district system. Fatah also may have faced spoilers from other moderate parties and independents.

Assuming the list totals are an accurate measure of national support for each party, Hamas is overrepresented by 25% while Fatah is underrepresented by 17%. Even with the mitigating effect of the list seats, Hamas is likely overrepresented in the full legislature by 13% while Fatah is under-represented by 8%. Had the entire parliament been filled in a list election, neither party would have had a majority, and Hamas would have had to form a coalition with more moderate factions. -- Palestinian Election System Delivers Hamas Majority

UPDATE: Fairvote has created a page about the Palestinian election.

Palestine: Hamas won because of "first past the post" election system

The New York Times reports: DEMOCRACY rests on the will of the majority. Or so the speeches say. But in reality, election systems are almost never designed to achieve majority rule alone. Like the famous checks and balances of the American system, they also try to give a wide range of groups a portion of power. But sometimes the framers of an election law can wildly miscalculate, allowing one faction to game the system and gain power far out of proportion to its share of the vote.

That's what seems to have happened in Hamas's victory in the Palestinian territories, according to a new analysis by an American who advised the Palestinian Authority on the elections. It represents a cautionary tale for other new democracies, like Iraq's, whose systems are being designed with the help of outside experts.

The reasons behind the overwhelming Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections go beyond a vote that was split among the numerous candidates backed by Fatah, the former ruling party, this new analysis shows. It strongly suggests that a quirk in the electoral law itself helped convert a slight margin in the popular vote into a landslide for the group.

The analysis was performed by Jarrett Blanc, the American elections expert, who also has worked on elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Nepal. The lesson is that the way a new election law turns votes into representatives — the fine print of election laws — can have as much of an impact on who will be running a country as an occupying army. -- A Lesson From Hamas: Read the Voting Law's Fine Print - New York Times

February 18, 2006

New Hampshire: legislature tries to lock up its #1 primary position

The Manchester Union Leader reports: In a move to protect New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Presidential primary, the House yesterday passed a bill that lets the Secretary of State change filing deadlines any time he thinks it necessary.

In the second of a two-day session, the House passed the bill on a nearly unanimous voice vote.

The Democratic National Committee is studying the issue of front-loading, in which too many primaries are held too early in the process. But a DNC study commission has shifted its focus toward diversity issues, and many on the commission say New Hampshire is not diverse enough to warrant its first primary status. It has proposed adding caucuses or primaries early in the process to dilute New Hampshire’s power.

Rep. James Splaine, D-Portsmouth, who sponsored HB 1125, said the bill “will make it very clear to the national parties, but more importantly to other states that we are ready to do what we need to do.” -- House passes bill to protect first-in-the-nation tradition

Thanks to Political Wire for the link.

North Carolina: State GOP asks for church directories

The Washington Post reports: The North Carolina Republican Party asked its members this week to send their church directories to the party, drawing furious protests from local and national religious leaders.

"Such a request is completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. ...

Yesterday, the Greensboro News & Record reported that the North Carolina Republican Party was collecting church directories, and it quoted two local pastors as objecting to the practice. The Rev. Richard Byrd Jr. of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro said anyone who sent in a directory "would be betraying the trust of the membership," and the Rev. Ken Massey of the city's First Baptist Church said the request was "encroaching on sacred territory."

Chris Mears, the state party's political director, made the request in a Feb. 15 memo titled "The pew and the ballot box" that was sent by e-mail to "Registered Republicans in North Carolina." -- In N.C., GOP Requests Church Directories

Georgia: Schwier decision's collateral damage to Secretary Cox's position

Bradley E. Heard emails about the Schwier decision: Neil Bradley was the attorney on the case. As you know, Neil also wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in support of my clients' position in the Charles H. Wesley Education Foundation v. Cox voter registration case, which upheld the right of private non-deputized voter registration groups to conduct voter registration drives in Georgia at times and locations of their choosing.

The other good news about the Schwier decision is that since the SSNs can no longer be required on the applications, this basically destroys Secretary Cox's arguments that her restrictive voter registration restrictions were needed in order to prevent identity theft and/or that the Wesley Foundation lawsuit was somehow dangerous and irresponsible. Hopefully, Cox won't decide to appeal this decision like she did with ours!

Congrats to Neil and the ACLU Voting Rights Project on a great victory!

February 17, 2006

Maryland: gov. Ehrlich wants paper trail, top election official satisfied with touch-screens

The Washington Post reports:
The state's top elections official declared her confidence in Maryland's voting machines yesterday and said that changing systems seven months before the primary election would be a "catastrophe" and a waste of money.

Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone's comments came one day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) questioned the reliability of the state's touch-screen machines and called for a system that provides a paper record to verify election results.

Since 2002, Maryland has paid more than $45 million to phase in electronic voting across the state. The security of the machines, manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, has since come under scrutiny, with critics saying computer hackers could manipulate election results. -- Md. Official Resists Call to Change Voting System

Alabama: Ed Packard to run for Secretary of State

AP reports: Ed Packard, a veteran employee of the secretary of state's office, announced Friday that he will run against his boss, Nancy Worley, in the Democratic primary on June 6.

Packard, 38, of Montgomery is the first Democrat to announce for Worley's job. On the Republican side, State Auditor Beth Chapman is the lone candidate for Worley's position. ...

Packard said he decided to make his first race for public office because many changes are occurring in election procedures. "There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way the current leadership has handled the new mandates," he said.

The candidate said he received encouragement from both Democrats and Republicans to run, but decided to run as a Democrat because of the party's long history of advocating voting rights. -- al.com: NewsFlash - Ed Packard to run against boss for secretary of state

San Francisco: Ranked Choice Voting saved money, increased turnout

Richard DeLeon, Chris Jerdonek and Steven Hill write in an op-ed: Recent studies of local election results in 2004 and 2005 (posted at www.sfrcv.com) show that the introduction of ranked choice voting in San Francisco is off to a good start. The shift from December runoffs to RCV has saved millions of taxpayer dollars, and voter participation was much higher and more inclusive than would be expected using the old runoff system. The voters themselves, when polled, overwhelmingly preferred RCV to the old December runoff system.

In RCV, voters rank up to three candidates. If no candidate wins a majority of first rankings, the candidate with the fewest first rankings is eliminated. Voters who ranked this candidate now have their vote counted for their second choice, and all ballots are recounted in an "instant runoff." If a candidate reaches a majority, she or he wins. If not, the process repeats until a candidate wins a majority of votes. By using RCV, we elect majority winners in a single election.

We can understand the impact of RCV by making a before-and-after comparison of two recent elections:

In December 2001, San Francisco paid approximately $3 million to hold a runoff election in which 70,000 voters, only 17 percent of those registered, turned out to elect the city attorney. Turnout plunged all over the city, especially in minority precincts.

In November 2005, approximately 200,000 registered voters turned out to vote for city attorney, treasurer, assessor-recorder and various ballot propositions. Thanks to RCV, there was no need to hold a December runoff for assessor-recorder, the only race that did not produce a majority winner in November.

Instead, the "instant runoff" system was activated, resulting in Phil Ting being elected as the majority winner in a single election. Two hundred thousand voters cast a first-choice ballot, and a full 190,000 of them [95 percent] saw their ballots count in the decisive instant runoff round. That means 120,000 more voters decided the contest between Ting and second-place candidate Gerardo Sandoval than likely would have turned out in a December runoff. The reason is simple. Returning to vote in a second election requires much more time and effort than voting once and ranking your favorite candidates in a single RCV election. Using RCV resulted in nearly a tripling in voter turnout in the decisive contest, and taxpayers saved $3 million by not paying for a second election.

Let's look more closely at the assessor-recorder's race. Leading candidate Ting won 47 percent of the first rankings, missing the required majority. Without ranked choice voting, Ting and second-place finisher Gerardo Sandoval would have faced off in a second, December runoff, costing millions of dollars to pay for the second election even as voter turnout plummeted.

Instead, with RCV last-place candidate Ron Chun was eliminated, and his supporters had their ballots count towards their next ranking as their runoff choice. Statistical analysis of anonymous records of voters' rankings (available from the Department of Elections) show that over 70 percent of Chun's supporters ranked a second choice. Chun's supporters preferred Ting over Sandoval by a 2-to-1 margin. Overall, Ting won 58 percent of the ballots in the final "instant runoff," giving him a solid win (in fact, Ting won a 55% majority of all voters as indicated by the first-round total).

A strong coalition of Asian voters clearly was decisive in electing the winner. Even though major Asian organizations split on their endorsements (Chun was backed by the Chinese American Democratic Club, Ting by the Westside Chinese Democratic Club), the Asian vote did not split, thanks to ranked choice voting. Asian voters used their ranked ballots to form their own informal Asian voter coalition.

In addition, while all San Francisco neighborhoods benefited from this boost in voter turnout, the six neighborhoods benefiting most had the highest concentrations of racial minorities. In order, the top six neighborhoods were Visitation Valley (307% increase, more than quadrupling voter participation), Bayview/Hunter's Point, Mission, Ingleside, Excelsior/Outer Mission, and Western Addition (210% increase). Together these six neighborhoods alone had more than 35,000 additional voters casting a vote in the decisive runoff round, showing how RCV can empower minority voters and produce a more racially diverse electorate.

In addition, the Public Research Institute at San Francisco State University conducted an exit poll survey of precinct and absentee voters in the 2004 RCV elections. The results are encouraging. The vast majority of voters -- 86 percent -- reported that they understood ranked choice voting. Many more voters (46% vs. 3%) felt they were more likely to vote sincerely (i.e. for their favorite candidate instead of the "lesser of two evils") using RCV than the old December runoff system. And after using it, 61 percent said they prefer RCV to the former runoff system, with only 13 percent preferring the old runoff system.

Important differences were observed across racial groups. Asians, whites, Chinese speakers, and English speakers all said they understood RCV and preferred it to the old December runoff at the same high rates. Latinos, blacks and Spanish-speakers were somewhat less enthusiastic but still preferred RCV to the old December runoff.

What all these numbers reveal is that San Francisco has made the transition to ranked choice voting with a remarkable degree of success. Still, public education should continue, with a focus on those communities who have adapted more slowly. With the City saving millions of dollars each year by not holding a December election, it would be good public policy to commit some of the savings to RCV education to ensure that all communities are using RCV as effectively as possible.

Rich DeLeon is professor emeritus of political science at San Francisco State University, Chris Jerdonek is a representative of FairVote in California, and Steven Hill is director of New America Foundation's political reform program. To view the studies cited in this article, visit www.sfrcv.com.

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle and BeyondChron.

February 16, 2006

Georgia: State must stop requiring Social Security numbers on voter registration

The 11th Circuit has affirmed the decision of the district court holding that the State of Georgia cannot require voter registration applicants to disclose their Social Security numbers. The Court summarizes its decision as follows (the Appellant was the Georgia Secretary of State):

First, the district court concluded Georgia did not require all voter applicants to disclose their SSNs prior to January 1, 1975, and thus did not qualify for the § 7(a)(2)(B) grandfather exception. It therefore held Georgia violated § 7(a)(1) when it required Appellees to disclose their SSNs on their voter registration forms. Second, the district court determined Georgia must revise its voter registration forms and instructions to comply with the notice requirements of § 7(b), and, specifically, must expressly inform voter applicants they are not required to provide their SSNs. Third, the district court held Georgia cannot mandate disclosure of SSNs because such information is not “material” to a voter registration system under § 1971(a)(2)(B) of the Voting Rights Act.

The case is Schwier v. Cox, No. 05-11428 (11th Cir.).

Congratulations to the folks at the Southern Regional Office of the ACLU on this win.

February 15, 2006

Arizona: Photo I.D. -- don't leave home without it (if you want to vote)

The Arizona Republic reports: A campaign reminding voters to bring positive identification to the polls was launched Tuesday in anticipation of next month's elections.

A new Arizona law requires voters to show at the polls a valid form of photo ID with a current address or two forms of acceptable non-photo ID with a current address.

Those who cannot will have to cast a provisional ballot.

For their vote to count, those casting provisional ballots must follow up and show required ID to the County Recorder within five days of a federal election or three days of any other election. -- Voter ID campaign begins

Pennsylvania: judge orders referendum before buying touch-screen voting machines

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports: State officials plan to fight a judge's decision to make Westmoreland County -- and possibly dozens of other Pennsylvania counties -- hold a referendum before buying high-tech voting equipment to replace aging lever machines.

Loida Esbri, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said department attorneys today will ask Commonwealth Court to reconsider Monday's ruling by Judge Dan Pellegrini.

If that court doesn't act, she said, the issue likely will go before the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, counties across Pennsylvania still must acquire voting machines that meet the standards of the federal Help America Vote Act by the May 16 primary election or face losing millions of dollars in aid.

Commonwealth Court Judge Pellegrini, ruling in favor of a group of voting rights activists, blocked Westmoreland County from buying more than 700 touch-screen machines from Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software Inc. He instructed the county to use paper ballots for all federal elections until voters have a chance to approve new technology in a referendum, a requirement under state law. -- State officials to challenge ruling halting voting machine purchases

Maryland: Gov. Ehrlich to veto felon voting bill

The Washington Times reports: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday vowed to veto a bill that would restore voting rights to felons, including the state's most violent criminals, immediately upon their release from prison.

"I don't think you reward the franchise to those who commit the most horrific crimes," Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told The Washington Times. "Full restoration of every right is inappropriate."

Dozens of House Democrats have co-sponsored legislation that would allow about 150,000 murderers, rapists, robbers and other felons to vote this year, and the state Democratic Party has endorsed the bill.

The bill's lead sponsor -- Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, Baltimore Democrat -- said yesterday that Mr. Ehrlich's position reinforces the racist underpinnings of the state law that denies the vote to felons, of whom about 85,000 are black. -- Ehrlich to veto bill on felons-Metropolitan-The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

"Steal this Vote"

AlterNet has an excerpt from Andrew Gumbel's "Steal This Vote": A few days before the November 2004 election, Jimmy Carter was asked what would happen if, instead of flying to Zambia or Venezuela or East Timor, his widely respected international election monitoring team was invited to turn its attention to the United States. His answer was stunningly blunt. Not only would the voting system be regarded as a failure, he said, but the shortcomings were so egregious the Carter Center would never agree to monitor an election there in the first place. "We wouldn't think of it," the former president told a radio interviewer. "The American political system wouldn't measure up to any sort of international standards, for several reasons."

What, after all, was to be done with a country whose newest voting machines, unlike Venezuela's, couldn't even perform recounts? A country where candidates, in contrast to the more promising emerging democracies of the Caucasus or the Balkans, were denied equal, unpaid access to the media? There were a number of reasons, in the sharply partisan atmosphere surrounding the Bush-Kerry race, to wonder whether campaign conditions didn't smack more of the Third World than the First. Every day, newspapers recounted stories of registration forms being found in garbage cans, or of voter rolls padded with the names of noncitizens, fictional characters, household pets, and the dearly departed. The Chicago Tribune, a paper that knows its voter fraud, having won a Pulitzer for its work on the infamous Daley machine, found 181,000 dead people on the registration lists of six key battleground states. -- AlterNet: Excerpt: How to Steal an Election

February 14, 2006

Missouri: voter I.D. bill debated in legislature

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: A Republican proposal to require voters to show photo identification would discriminate against blacks, the poor, the elderly and the disabled, opponents said Monday.

Under the plan, voters would have to present drivers licenses or other government-issued photo ID cards at the polls. About 170,000 Missourians of voting age lack drivers licenses and would have to secure alternative IDs.

Critics told a Senate committee that the changes would add a hurdle that would discourage legitimate voters from voting. Rep. Yaphett El-Amin, D-St. Louis, likened the requirement to Jim Crow laws, which imposed racial segregation on blacks. ...

Supporters of the proposal said their goal is to attack voter fraud and restore confidence in the election system. They said 95 percent of voting-age Missourians have drivers licenses. -- STLtoday - News - St. Louis City / County

Illinois: Chicago Heights will appeal redistricting order

The Chicago Tribune reports: Chicago Heights officials voted Monday to continue a fight over minority voting rights, a battle that dates to 1987 and that by one alderman's estimate already has cost the town more than $3 million in legal fees.

By a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Anthony DeLuca casting the deciding vote, the City Council directed its attorney to appeal a federal court ruling ordering the city to redraw its voting districts and restructure its government to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Under the ruling handed down last week by U.S. District Judge David Coar, the city is required to go from a six-member City Council to a seven-member board of aldermen. The decision would weaken the mayor's powers to appoint department heads without council approval and cast tie-breaking council votes.

The ruling overturns a 1994 settlement of the 1987 lawsuit filed by four residents, including Ald. Kevin Perkins (3rd), who said the city's at-large elections for City Council were unfair to minority voters. Under the settlement the city abandoned at-large elections and replaced them with six districts, whose voters select their alderman. -- Chicago Tribune | Chicago Heights fights on

Alabama: state senator used campaign funds for trip to Israel

The Birmingham News reports: Radio talk show host Matt Murphy challenged state Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, Thursday to justify spending campaign money for a trip to Israel and for Alabama and Auburn football tickets.

Murphy said he is requesting in a letter that Attorney General Troy King "investigate this matter and decide whether charges should be brought." ...

Erwin denied spending campaign money improperly. He said he spent $2,354 in October 2002 to accompany representatives of the Birmingham Jewish Federation on a trip to Israel as a representative of Alabama. Erwin told Murphy on the air Thursday that Alabama is on the brink of doing business with Israel as a result of his trip. -- State senator defends use of campaign funds

The Birmingham News editorializes: Unfortunately, Alabama's public officials and candidates have a long history of stretching the limits of the law and public trust in their use of campaign funds.

State Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, is the latest. ...

Are these legitimate uses of campaign funds? Fortunately for people like Erwin, the answer isn't entirely clear. The state law governing the use of campaign contributions sets limits, but the language is broad enough to cover a lot of questionable spending.

While the ethics law forbids the use of campaign funds for personal gain, campaign-finance laws permit spending on expenses "reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held." The attorney general's office in the past has found that legal uses include such items as office furniture and legal expenses. -- Goodwill hunting

February 13, 2006

New Jersey: Clean Elections Commission calls for expanding pilot program

The Asbury Park Press reports: New Jersey should continue its "clean elections" pilot program but require fewer contributions to qualify and give candidates more time to collect them, according to a state Citizens' Clean Elections Commission report released Tuesday.

The program, tested in two Assembly races last year, aims to take special interest money out of government by giving public campaign funds to candidates who collected 1,000 $5 contributions and 500 $30 contributions.

But only one of the five pairs of candidates running in the 6th and 13th districts met those goals, prompting complaints that the program was destined to fail.

Members of the commission overseeing the program, however, called it a success, though they acknowledged several areas that should be fixed before it expands to at least four legislative districts in 2007. -- APP.COM v4.0 - Report: Continue "clean elections" pilot program | Asbury Park Press Online

Missouri: GOP pushes voter I.D. bill

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: With statewide elections nine months away, some Missouri Republicans are pushing a controversial bill requiring government-issued photo identification to cast a vote.

Michael Gibbons, Senate president pro tem and co-sponsor of the bill, says the aim is to have the law in place by the fall. He praised the measure as a way to curb potential fraud and improve voter confidence. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt also supports it, a spokesman said.

But Mary A. Ratliff, president of the Missouri NAACP, called the bill "just another attempt by Republicans to keep African-Americans and people of low and middle incomes off the rolls."

A hearing is slated Monday on the bill, which would move Missouri into the small, but growing, group of states mandating such a requirement. -- STLtoday - News - St. Louis City / County

February 10, 2006

Georgia: voter I.D. case returned to district court

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: A federal appeals court in Atlanta will not hear the state's case March 1 on the legality of the state's photo voter ID law.

In a ruling issued Thursday, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lower court in light of the passage of Senate Bill 84, which made changes to the photo voter ID law passed last year. In October, federal Judge Harold Murphy of Rome temporarily blocked enforcement of the new law requiring voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls, ruling that it appeared unconstitutional. Murphy said the ID amounted to a poll tax, because people had to pay to acquire one. He also said getting the ID cards was difficult for many people because of the limited locations throughout the state where they could be obtained. -- Voter ID case sent back to lower court | ajc.com

Florida: several legislators ask Supreme Court to block proposed initiative on redistricting

AP reports: A proposed constitutional amendment that would strip state lawmakers of their power to redraw legislative and congressional districts should be kept off the ballot, lawyers for several state and federal lawmakers told the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

The citizen initiative would set up a 15-member commission to handle redistricting every 10 years. Sponsors have collected the 611,000 signatures needed to put the amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot if the high court approves.

The lawyers who argued against the amendment, state Rep. Dudley Goodlette and former Rep. Barry Richard, said it would violate a ballot requirement because legislative and congressional redistricting are separate matters. Ballot questions can have only one subject. -- Lawmakers Seek to Keep Redistricting Off Ballot | theledger.com

Alabama: Singleton introduces bill to restore voting rights on release from prison

AP reports: Several black lawmakers expressed their support Thursday for a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons upon their release from prison.

State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who is sponsoring the bill, said the current system, which requires felons to apply for a voting certificate, has created long delays in restoring voting rights and disenfranchises inmates who have already "paid their debt to society."

About two dozen advocates for voting rights restoration joined Singleton, Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, Rep. Yvonne Kennedy, D-Mobile, and Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, on the Statehouse steps Thursday, holding handwritten signs reading "Unlock the Vote" and "Unlock the Block" at the news conference.

The bill states that of the 262,000 felons who have lost their voting rights under Alabama's law, half are black. Ross told reporters that while the law disproportionately affects blacks, who make up only 25 percent of the state population, voting rights should be everyone's concern. -- Welcome to TimesDaily.com

Ohio: one more 2004 election suit to go

AP reports: A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit pursued by a voting rights group over Ohio's recount of the 2004 presidential election, leaving only one court challenge remaining from Ohio's role in the re-election of President Bush.

U.S. District Judge James Carr in Toledo threw out the suit argued by the National Voting Rights Institute on behalf of 2004 Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. The two combined received less than 0.5 percent of the vote.

The dismissal Tuesday, unless appealed, leaves only a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Ohio active from the 2004 presidential election.

The institute challenged the recount that showed President Bush beat Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Toledo voter who cast a write-in vote for Cobb. -- The Cincinnati Post - Judge dismisses 2004 election lawsuit

Alabama: a confusing case about felon voting rights

The Columbus GA Ledger-Enquirer reports: After listening to an hour of lawyers' arguments Thursday about who should represent the state in the case challenging Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed's right to keep his post, a Houston County, Ala., judge said he'll decide that issue next week.

At the heart of the challenge is whether Reed, convicted of burglary in Columbus in 1975, is legally holding office. Reed, 51, served five years on probation after his conviction for burglarizing Safe Lite Optical on Jacqueline Drive nearly 31 years ago.

According to Alabama law, a convicted felon not pardoned in the state where the offense occurred is not eligible to hold public office in Alabama. Reed's voting rights were restored at the end of his sentence, but his political rights weren't restored by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles until December -- after the challenge was filed and more than a year after he was elected. Reed, who didn't attend the hearing, represents Russell County District 4. -- Ledger-Enquirer | 02/10/2006 | Judge holds off on Reed case

Illinois: Chicago Heights ordered to change form of government

The Chicago Tribune reports: In a case that has gone on for 19 years, a federal judge has ordered Chicago Heights to redraw its voting districts and restructure its government to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

U.S. District Judge David H. Coar's decision means the city will go from having a six-member City Council to a seven-member board of aldermen.

The decision also weakens the mayoral powers by removing the ability to appoint department heads, make decisions without the council and cast the tie-breaking vote, officials said.

If Coar's decision is not appealed by the city, it will end litigation that is considered one of the longest-running cases involving violations to the Voting Rights Act, an official from the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project said. -- Chicago Tribune | Chicago Heights overhaul ordered

Alabama: Senate committee approves lobbying bill

The Birmingham News reports: Lobbyists would have to publicly reveal more of what they spend to entertain lawmakers or take them on trips, under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"Sometimes people just like to know what their elected representatives and elected governor and other constitutional officers are doing while on the job," said state Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle. "And if that's eating out or if that's playing golf or if that's taking at trip to a golf resort or whatever that is, they have a right to know what their elected people are doing."

Now, a lobbyist can spend $250 or less per day entertaining a lawmaker and not have to publicly report it. Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, and co-sponsored by Roberts, a lobbyist would have to disclose in quarterly reports filed with the state Ethics Commission all money spent on entertainment, travel, lodging, food or beverage. -- Panel passes stricter lobby bill

February 9, 2006

Vermont: DNC files amicus brief in campaign finance case

The Barre Montpelier Times Argus reports: Six years after rejecting the spending limits of Vermont's campaign finance law in his own re-election bid, former Gov. Howard Dean on Monday announced that the Democratic National Committee would ask the Supreme Court to uphold it.

"I'm very proud as Democratic National Committee chair to be supporting this law," Dean told reporters during a press conference at City Hall in Burlington.

He announced the party's decision to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the most pivotal campaign finance case to be heard by the nation's highest court in three decades.

"I happened to have signed the legislation into law," Dean said, even though he chose to avoid its spending limits by declining public financing two years later in 2000. "We want to take a proactive role in campaign finance reform."

Dean's decision to lend the national party's support to Randall v. Sorrell was hatched over breakfast at the Oasis Diner here shortly before Christmas. Dean was noshing with the case's defendant, Attorney General William Sorrell, a close political ally of Dean's who will argue Vermont's case before the nine justices on Feb. 28. -- Times Argus: Vermont News & Information

Indiana: Allen Co. GOP runs campaign finance school

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports: Recent allegations of campaign finance violations exemplify the confusing nature of some state laws and regulations governing businesses. The Allen County Republican Party has responded appropriately by scheduling a campaign finance seminar at the end of the first county GOP convention Feb. 25.

County Chairman Steve Shine’s announcement of the seminar comes a week after the Allen County Election Board quickly dispensed of two allegations of contributions above the legal limits made by Shine’s counterpart, Kevin Knuth, the Democratic chairman. In one case, no violation occurred. The board dismissed the second case after learning the excess contributions were returned.

Corporate officials should make themselves aware of election laws, and the state does offer a campaign finance manual that spells out the laws. Officials who assume the law doesn’t apply to their contributions clearly need some guidance, though, and Shine was right to put together a seminar that will educate both businesspeople and candidates.

The seminar should help contributors learn more about the potential minefields lurking in state law. The law, for example, limits contributions by corporations but not limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and other types of businesses. The law limits “sub S” corporations, which are treated the same as individuals for tax purposes but not for campaign finance purposes. -- Campaign finance school

Louisiana: absentee voter bills clear House and Senate committees

The Shreveport Times reports: Thousands of Louisiana residents forced from their homes by hurricanes Katrina and Rita shouldn't be deprived of the right to vote in state and local elections but they should have to make some kind of effort, lawmakers said Wednesday.

House and Senate committees Wednesday approved bills to ease restrictions on first-time voters, to allow mail-in votes and to allow evacuees to vote early in person at registrars' offices in specific parishes around the state.

Without the changes, "there's a potential for disenfranchisement," said Sen. Charles Jones, D-Monroe, author of SB16.

Secretary of State Al Ater, whose office administers elections, told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that the Legislature needs to approve the changes or have a federal judge take over the elections.

"I can almost assure you, from the legal challenges I've had in court, if we don't do this ourselves, someone else will do it for us," Ater said. "Besides, it's the fair and just thing." -- The Shreveport Times

February 8, 2006

Florida: Jeb disses petition-gathering groups

The Tallahassee Democrat reports: Before a crowd of business leaders Monday, Gov. Jeb Bush teed off on petition-gathering groups that have managed to get constitutional amendments before Florida voters.

The powerful Florida Chamber of Commerce plans to push lawmakers this year to make it harder for past ballot questions to pass.

Bush said he would also press for tougher restrictions on those groups in the legislative session that starts March 7.

''Democracy is imperiled a little bit when big donors that can't get their way through the traditional way of creating policy through the Florida Legislature, (and) secret donors who do not disclose who they are, come into our state from out of state to advance in many cases a left-wing political agenda,'' Bush told the crowd, ''to put things on the ballot that sound good but create long-term challenges for us.'' -- Tallahassee Democrat - www.tallahassee.com - Tallahassee, FL.

California: IGS study shows effects of non-partisan redistricting

Dan Walters writes in the Sacramento Bee: Would legislative and congressional districts drawn by some independent body be more competitive? An exhaustive new study of California redistricting by the University of California's Institute of Governmental Studies - directed by a one-time redistricting consultant to the Legislature's dominant Democrats - concludes that plans drawn without regard to partisan impact would create a substantial number of competitive districts, i.e. those that could conceivably be won by either party.

The study, co-directed by Bruce Cain and drawing on the institute's extensive database, found that about a dozen congressional districts and, depending on the criteria, one to two dozen of the Assembly's 80 districts could be competitive without violating the other redistricting criteria, such as compactness and protection of minority rights.

The study notes that even with more competitiveness, it's likely that Democrats would retain control of both the Legislature and the congressional delegation - but that observation misses the point. The purpose of redistricting reform isn't to change partisan balance, but to give voters the opportunity to elect whomever they want without the outcome being dictated by politicians themselves.

The study, moreover, ignores the influence of legislative term limits, under which about a third of the Legislature's members are turned out of their seats every two years. Term limits have accelerated the impact of the 2001 gerrymander, and would also accelerate the impact of a non-gerrymander plan by diminishing the power of incumbency. In other words, the vacancies mandated by term limits would give voters even more opportunities to change partisan ownership of their districts. -- Politics - Dan Walters: UC study demonstrates how new districts can be competitive - sacbee.com

California: Eureka to vote on banning outsider contributions

The Eureka Times-Standard reports: An initiative to ban contributions from out-of-town corporations to local elections has been placed on the June ballot.

The measure, with more signatures than any other ballot measure in county history, has already stirred much debate. Some believe it to be unconstitutional, while others think it's necessary to restore the public's faith in the democratic process.

Sara Senger, a McKinleyville attorney and former supervisorial candidate, said that while she strongly believes in campaign finance reform, this is the wrong way to go about it.

”This is illegal on its face,” she said. “It is discriminatory.”

The proper solution would be to limit contributions, she said.

The law may also have unintended consequences, she said, like excluding participation from groups like Sierra Club while allowing the continued participation of rich locals who may not agree with the organizers' political beliefs. -- Corporate initiative set for June ballot

Louisiana: civil rights groups pushing absentee voting plan

The Shreveport Times reports: Hurricane evacuees who ended up in parishes or states outside their home districts should be allowed to vote by mail or in person wherever they are, representatives of citizen rights groups from across the state said Tuesday.

Under the umbrella organization Louisiana Industrial Areas Foundation Network, the groups support several bills to be debated by the Legislature. The bills seek to allow evacuees to vote by mail or in person at any registrar's office in elections that affect their homes. Several bills seek to suspend a state law requiring first-time voters to cast ballots in person.

"The 25,000 evacuees in Avoyelles Parish won't have a say in what's going on" if the Legislature doesn't establish a way for them to vote, said Jacqueline Marchand, a resident of a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer village in Bunkie. ...

The coalition consists of the Jeremiah Group from Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith with members in Ouachita, West Carroll, Bossier, Caddo, Rapides and Avoyelles parishes. -- The Shreveport Times

February 6, 2006

Texas: DOJ defends Texas re-redistricting against VRA claims

The Dallas Morning News reports: The Bush administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ignore arguments by minority voters in Texas that a contentious redistricting by Republican state legislators in 2003 violated the Voting Rights Act.

In a 35-page friend-of-the-court brief filed last week, the U.S. Justice Department argued that minority representation was preserved and even enhanced by the Republican reconfiguration and that Hispanics may be over-represented in some parts of the state.

Democrats and minorities have contested the reconfigured map, thus far unsuccessfully, as an unprecedented power grab by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. They argue that Republicans misused data from the 2000 census to tailor a mid-decade partisan gerrymandering that maximized Republican voter influence at the expense of incumbent Democrats. ...

In its brief, the Justice Department includes no position on excessive partisanship or various questions about the use of census data. It focuses instead on whether the current Texas districts violate the Voting Rights Act. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Washington

Alabama: PAC-to-PAC transfers obscure source of money

The Birmingham News reports: Candidates' finance reports filed last week with the Alabama Secretary of State are supposed to show who is funding Alabama campaigns.

But the answer is seldom clear.

Consider Children's PAC, a political action committee that lists children's issues as its primary concern. The committee took in $156,000, mostly from Alabama Power Co. employees, dog tracks, Drummond Coal and trial lawyer interests.

The PAC then gave $92,000 to other committees either associated with Children's PAC or run by Montgomery lobbyists. There the money blended with other contributions. -- PACs obscure some funding sources

Alabama: Democrats support non-partisan election of judges

The Birmingham News reports: The 263 judges who sit on Alabama's district, circuit, appeals and supreme courts should run without Democratic or Republican party labels to give people more confidence that judges are fair and impartial, key Democratic lawmakers say.

"I don't know why you'd need to run a partisan campaign if you're going to be objective, and I think that's what you expect of judges, to be objective," said Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, leader of the state House of Representatives.

But House Republicans said switching to nonpartisan elections for judges is a bad idea that's been debated for decades in Alabama and gone nowhere. They predict a similar fate this year for yet another plan to make Alabama's judicial races nonpartisan.

Republicans say party labels help voters choose among candidates, which is needed because most voters don't have time to search through the opinions of a judge seeking re-election, or to review a hopeful lawyer's resume and reputation. -- Democrats seek nonpartisan elections for state's judges

February 5, 2006

Louisiana: election board proposes law to require polling place accessibility

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports: Local governing authorities would be required to certify that their polling places are accessible to disabled voters under a proposed law recommended by the state's election board Thursday.

The State Board of Elections Supervisors, a body made up of clerks of court, registrars of voters and members of the secretary of state and attorney general's offices, approved 21 mostly minor proposed changes in the state election code, which will be presented at the March 27 general session of the Legislature.

Assistant Secretary of State Renee Free said most if not all public buildings used as polling places already are outfitted for the disabled but that some private residences used for voting may not be.

Under federal law, Free said, if a polling place is not accessible to the disabled, the federal government can penalize the state. The board discussed requiring the certification to be made once every four years, at least six months before the governor's race, but no decision was made on that. -- Plan would require assurances of disabled access for elections

Louisiana: searching for the voters

AP reports: Louisiana officials are preparing to send out nearly 1 million mailers as part of a campaign to tell voters who fled the wrath of Hurricane Katrina how to cast ballots from afar, a problem not as widespread in other Gulf Coast states.

"It's unfair to think that displaced people would be election experts," Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater said Saturday during a conference of secretaries of state.

Ater said he wants every voter driven out of Louisiana to have "the opportunity to participate, if they want, and that the bar is no higher for them to participate than it is if somebody's home didn't get destroyed."

In contrast, Mississippi faces fewer challenges because many of those who were displaced along the coast moved inland but are still in the state, its secretary of state, Eric Clark, told the conference.

Mississippi is considering consolidating voting areas to create "mega-precincts" where population density is lower, and it will also try to identify people who could cast absentee ballots, Clark said. -- Nola.com: NewsFlash - Katrina-ravaged states plan for local, statewide elections

February 2, 2006

Indian tribes' exemption from campaign finance restrictions are being reviewed

The Washington Post reports: Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has altered the ways of Washington. Congress is poised to stiffen the government's ethics laws because of his indiscretions, and in the meantime, lawmakers and lobbyists are already keeping their distance from each other.

But one of the biggest loopholes in the campaign funding system, one that helped attract Abramoff to his principal clients -- Native American tribes -- isn't being much discussed. Thanks to a regulatory decision six years ago, tribes are allowed to donate much larger sums to lawmakers than almost any other type of organization.

The basis for this treatment is that Indian tribes cast themselves as sovereign governments. For this and related reasons, tribes are often exempted from limitations that are placed on other groups, such as corporations and unions.

And one such exemption involves campaign giving rules. Under the usual limits, individuals can donate up to $2,100 per candidate per election and a total of $101,400 over a two-year election cycle to candidates and political committees. In 2000, the Federal Election Commission decided to classify tribes as individuals for contribution purposes, since they are not unions or corporations. The agency then added a significant twist. -- A Tribal Loophole For Campaign Gifts

Texas: DOJ files brief supporting re-redistricting

The Washington Post reports: The Bush administration has come to the defense of Texas in a legal battle with political overtones, telling the Supreme Court in a brief filed yesterday that the state's 2003 congressional redistricting plan, drafted by Republicans, is fully consistent with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The redistricting plan, drawn up at the request of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who was House majority leader at the time, was designed to give Texas's House delegation a Republican majority to match the state's overall voting preference. After the 2000 census, the state's delegation grew from 30 seats to 32, and the shift to a Republican majority in Texas helped cement GOP control of the House.

But opponents have challenged the plan in court on a variety of grounds, saying that it is so partisan that it violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, and that it violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of black and Hispanic voters in some areas. A three-judge U.S. District Court panel upheld the plan last year; the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case during a special two-hour hearing March 1. -- White House Defends Texas's GOP Remapping Plan to Justices

Jamaica: Where do the homeless vote?

The Jamaica Gleaner reports: THE GOVERNMENT and the Opposition are at odds on the issue of the right to vote under the amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Bill, currently being reviewed by a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.

Yesterday's committee meeting departed from the consensus approach of the previous sitting.

This after Opposition Member Mike Henry raised the point that many Jamaicans were currently being disenfranchised on the right to vote because of new requirements being introduced by the Electoral Office of Jamaica for its voter re-verification exercise. ...

Opposition committee members Abe Dabdoub and Senator Dorothy Lightbourne insisted the issues were related.

Mr. Dabdoub maintained that the wording of the section on the right to vote allows for a law to be put in place that restricts the right to be registered based on residence.

He said that, currently, persons who are homeless are being denied the right to be registered on that basis. -- Jamaica Gleaner News - Jamaican Government, Opposition at odds over Charter of Rights - Thursday | February 2, 2006

Ohio: appeal from 2004 emergency order dismissed

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: A federal court dismissed a lawsuit left over from foulups in Ohio on Election Day 2004 in a ruling that came after Attorney General Jim Petro's office missed a deadline for filing its written legal brief.

Petro's office sought this week's dismissal order from the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, ending further conflict with Ohio Democratic Party lawyers, who already had asked that the case be tossed because the paperwork came in late. ...

The dismissal means that a lower court's decision to grant an emergency order on Nov. 2, 2004, stands. That order, sought by Democrats, kept polls open past closing time due to long lines in Franklin and Knox counties.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the state's top election official, long ago dropped out of the dispute. But Petro, a Republican challenging Blackwell for governor in the GOP primary, kept the case going the last 14 months as state lawyers asserted nothing had gone wrong, despite the lines. -- Late legal brief gets election lawsuit tossed

February 1, 2006

Georgia: Secretary Cox as the "New Face of Southern Resistance"

Bradley Heard, an Atlanta attorney, has written a short opinion piece entitled "Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox: The New Face of Southern Resistance." Here is an excerpt:

Secretary Cox’s fervor in defending Georgia’s election laws and her own unsavory election policies at all costs — even after they have been specifically ruled to be in violation of federal law — goes well beyond the duty of an executive branch official to enforce and faithfully execute the laws. It reflects a degree of stubbornness and insensitivity to the plight of disadvantaged citizens that is frankly startling for a public official who professes to be a friend to such communities. After all, one of Secretary Cox’s duties as an elected state official is to support the Constitution of the United States, which recognizes that federal law is the supreme law of the land, even when state laws and regulations run contrary to it. This concept is particularly apposite in the area of federal voting rights, and many people have fought, marched, lobbied, suffered, and died to make sure that those rights are secured.

Equally as troubling is Secretary Cox’s pattern of double-talk around these issues. While she has maintained a very frequent and welcome presence among minority and women’s groups, civil rights groups, retiree groups, and the like, her actual record has been woefully inadequate when it comes to securing, protecting, and enhancing the franchise rights of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.

Ohio: voter I.D. bill signed

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: Gov. Bob Taft signed a controversial new elections bill Tuesday just hours after the Republican-supported measure cleared the General Assembly amid heated floor comments from lawmakers.

The crux of the massive law, House Bill 3, which contains scores of election changes, was a new requirement that voters show identification at the polls.

Before this law, a signature was all that was needed. -- Voter ID bill gets Taft's signature

Utah: House approves early voting bill

The Salt Lake Tribune reports: Utahns could vote up to two weeks before the polls usually open under a proposal that swept through the House on Monday as part of an election reform package receiving legislative scrutiny.
The early-voting bill was one of three proposals the House approved in response to a federal mandate requiring the state to offer the latest in voting technology. Two aim to limit the number of new $3,200 touch-screen voting booths each county must buy. The other would allow Utahns abroad, namely those in the military, to vote electronically.
It's all about "flexibility," says Rep. Douglas Aagard, R-Kaysville, who expects the proposal to make voting "more convenient" and possibly increase turnout.
The first of his two bills, HB13, would decrease the number of polling places by allowing precincts to include more voters. The second, HB15, would allow voters to cast their ballot at specially created early-voting centers two weeks before Election Day. -- Salt Lake Tribune - Salt Lake Tribune Home Page

Maine: 2nd independent candidate foregoes clean money system

The Bangor Daily News reports: Turning $12,500 into more than $1 million in less than six months probably sounds tough to most people.

It was for Bobby Mills.

"It is proving difficult," the little-known gubernatorial candidate from Biddeford said when describing the task of collecting the requisite number of $5 donations - 2,500 - to qualify for up to $1.4 million in campaign funds under the Maine Clean Elections Act.

Mills on Monday withdrew from the Clean Elections program, which provides public money to candidates who agree to abide by certain spending limits. -- Qualifying 'clean' proves difficult - Jeff Tuttle

Illinois: early voting now allowed

The Chicago Tribune reports: Election Day is about to get much longer.

Following a national trend that promises to change political campaigns here, Illinois voters will be allowed to cast ballots starting Feb. 27, well in advance of the March 21 primary and without providing the kind of travel or illness excuses needed for absentee ballots.

Billed as a response to declining voter turnout, early voting will even be offered on weekends, providing flexibility for those tied up with work, children's swimming lessons or other obligations.

"It ends Election Day as we know it," said Lake County Clerk Willard Helander. "Election Day simply becomes the last day to vote." -- Chicago Tribune | Soon you can vote early ... legally

Georgia: re-redistricting bill passes

Morris News Service reports: A redistricting plan that would divide Clarke County between two Senate districts passed the House, 100-69, on a nearly party-line vote Tuesday.

The plan now moves to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature. Perdue hasn't yet commented specifically on the bill, though he said Monday he would veto any redistricting plans that he considered unfair.

The debate over the measure was sharp and partisan and reopened old wounds from the heated redistricting efforts of the past. Democrats, long accused by Republicans of twisting the state's political boundaries to their advantage while in power, railed against the GOP-backed plan. Republicans blasted the Democrats as chameleons who were ignoring their own past of gerrymandering. -- OnlineAthens.com | News | Clarke division passes 02/01/06