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

« March 2006 | Main | May 2006 »

April 29, 2006

Rhode Island: federal court voids parts of campaign finance law

strong>AP reports: A federal judge has ruled that parts of Rhode Island's campaign finance laws regarding ballot questions are unconstitutional.

In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres struck down provisions that banned corporations, including non-profit entities, from contributing money to groups advocating for or against the passage of ballot questions.

The judge also eliminated a $10,000 cap on donations from individuals or groups to organizations supporting or opposing questions on the ballot.

In his ruling, Torres said it's unconstitutional to prohibit organizations from coordinating their expenditures and activities during ballot question campaigns. -- Federal judge strikes part of state's campaign finance laws - Boston.com
<

Pennsylvania: door-to-door soliciting ban struck down

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports: A Mt. Lebanon ordinance requiring door-to-door canvassers to register with the police department was struck down yesterday by a federal appeals court.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the registration requirement violates free speech rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The ruling sets new precedent throughout the court's jurisdiction, including all of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands. No municipality may require permits or registration for those wanting to canvass a community for political, religious or other reasons -- provided they are not soliciting money. ...

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Mt. Lebanon on behalf of the Service Employees International Union and two women who planned to canvass the suburb as part of a get-out-the-vote campaign before the 2004 presidential election. -- Mt. Lebanon can't force door-to-door canvassers to register, court rules

April 28, 2006

Maryland: consent decree redistricts Carroll County, but appeal looms

The Baltimore Sun reports: Two Carroll County residents, one of them an official in the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have gone to court to overturn an agreement that settled a long-running political feud about how to draw districts from which commissioners are to be elected this fall.

The election has been in the throes of uncertainty since the General Assembly recessed without approving a map that would create the five commissioner districts called for in a referendum approved by voters in 2004. The referendum had expanded the number of commissioners from three to five and required them to be elected by district.

Last week, a consent order was filed in Carroll Circuit Court that settled a lawsuit and called for a district map based on the recommendations of a redistricting committee created by the 2004 referendum.

One resident seeking to overturn last week's order is Joseph M. Getty, a former delegate from Manchester and now policy director for Ehrlich. Getty was one of two members of the redistricting committee to reject the Option Two map, aligning himself with the delegation.

He said the county Board of Elections doesn't have the authority to establish the districts called for in the consent order. -- 2 in Carroll County seek to overturn redistricting order - baltimoresun.com

New Hampshire: Haley Barbour loaned money to phone-jamming firm

AP reports: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican Party chairman, arranged the startup financing for a GOP telemarketing company implicated in two criminal cases involving election dirty tricks.

Virginia corporation records show Barbour's investment company arranged a quarter-million dollar loan to GOP Marketplace in 2000 and also gave a promotional plug to the telemarketer several months later.

A spokesman for the governor said Barbour had no idea the company would engage in criminal activity two years later. The lawyer for the now-defunct company's convicted president said Barbour was not consulted about its operations. -- Miss. governor helped company implicated in election dirty tricks - Boston.com

Michigan: Supreme Court to decide if 10-year old voter I.D. law is constitutional

The Detroit Free Press reports: The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to referee the highly partisan dispute over whether state voters can be asked for photo identification under a law approved nearly 10 years ago that has never gone into effect.

A divided court said Wednesday it will issue an advisory opinion on whether the law's photo ID provisions are constitutional, and invited arguments from Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and the two major political parties. ...

Republican majorities in the Legislature and Republican Gov. John Engler approved the law in 1996, but it never went into effect after then-Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat, said it was unconstitutional. ...

The state Supreme Court gave Cox and the other parties until midsummer to submit arguments. But the schedule leaves open the possibility that the court could rule before the November general election. -- Court jumps into dispute over voter ID checks

Missouri: voter I.D. one step closer

AP reports: Overriding critics' worries about hindering people from voting, a House panel advanced legislation Thursday requiring voters to show a photo identification starting this fall.

The Senate passed the bill last week after making changes intended to ease Democratic concerns, though in the end only one Democrat joined Republicans in voting for the bill.

In the House Elections Committee, Rep. Bill Deeken of Jefferson City, a former county clerk, was the only Republican to join Democrats in opposing the legislation, which cleared the panel on a 6-5 vote.

Deeken said he agrees with the concept of requiring a photo ID, but this year is too soon. -- AP Wire | 04/27/2006 | House committee passes voter ID requirement

April 25, 2006

Ohio: are the charges to the IRS just "persecution"

The Canton Repository reported on 8 April regarding the complaint to the IRS: “People certainly have the right to disagree and to debate,” World Harvest spokesman Giles Hudson said. “But for this group — especially members of the clergy — to engage in outright falsehoods for the sake of a political agenda is unconscionable.”

Among the mistakes cited by World Harvest Church and Pastor Rod Parsley:

—An allegation that Parsley will feature Blackwell in upcoming “Ohio for Jesus” radio spots.

Parsley has no such radio campaign planned, and Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo told The Associated Press Friday that Blackwell won’t be participating in any such spots.

—An allegation that Parsley has escorted and endorsed Blackwell at campaign events.

The complaint doesn’t cite any such campaign events regarding Blackwell’s run for governor, though it does refer to events Parsley held — at which Blackwell spoke — in favor of a 2004 gay marriage ban.

—An allegation that Parsley plans to target conservative voters with a voter registration drive.

Parsley’s Reformation Ohio project has a goal of registering 400,000 new voters but the complaint does not provide evidence that Parsley is seeking only conservatives. -- cantonrep.com

Thanks to Brad Smith for encouraging me to look for this older story."

Texas: a 1977 "liberal" decision helped DeLay

The Houston Chronicle reports: IT was exactly the sort of decision that has Congressman Tom DeLay declaring that "judicial activism has become the greatest threat confronting representative government."

In Baker v. the State of Texas, an appeals court made up entirely of Democrats threw out a drug conspiracy charge on the technicality that the conspiracy law was part of the Criminal Code and could only be applied to other offenses in the Criminal Code. The drug felony was part of the Controlled Substance Act. ...

"The State's criticism" of Baker "is well taken," the 3rd Court opinion reads. By the State, it means Ronnie Earle.

"Moreover, the legislature has created dozens of felony offenses contained in at least 20 statutory codes," it continued. "In light of the historically broad application of Texas's criminal conspiracy offense, we find it unlikely that the legislature would have intended to eliminate criminal liability for conspiracy in such a panoply of felony offenses."

But, the opinion concludes, "we lack the authority to overrule an opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals."

Then it issues what amounts to an invitation for Earle to appeal the ruling. -- Chron.com | Old activist judges bail out DeLay

Arizona: two appellate courts reject challenges to trial judge hearing redistricting case

AP reports: The state's redistricting commission is questioning how it can get a fair shake from a trial judge who the commission suggests could be resentful, partly because his rulings on key issues on the legality of Arizona's map of legislative districts were overturned on appeal.

However, both the state Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court have turned aside efforts by the Independent Redistricting Commission and a Republican group which supports the map to have the case reassigned from Judge Kenneth Fields of Maricopa County Superior Court.

That leaves Fields presiding over Democrats' challenge that the commission didn't create enough competitive legislative districts - ones winnable by either major party _ when it drew the map used in the past two elections.
Everybody involved now acknowledges that the case won't be resolved in time to affect this year's election, but the eventual outcome could determine which districts are used in 2008 and 2010. After that, new census results will be used to draw new districts. -- Redistricting case stays with judge after challenge fails | www.azstarnet.com

Ohio: is the IRS dragging its feet on investigation of churches supporting Blackwell?

The Washington Post reports: In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right. ...

"You have flagrant intervention continuing and no indication of IRS activity," said Marcus Owens, a lawyer for the group and former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations. He considers the evidence of wrongdoing "pretty overwhelming" and suspects favoritism, which tax agency officials deny.

Lois Lerner, director of the agency's exempt organizations division, said: "The IRS is interested in enforcing the rules equally against all organizations regardless of whatever political stripe they are. Political appointees are not at all involved in deciding which cases we are going to do." ...

An April complaint, signed by 56 clergy members, said that Blackwell appeared more than two dozen times at meetings and rallies held by the churches, their leaders or affiliates. Other candidates were not invited or did not attend, according to the complaint.

In addition, the document said that Blackwell, in his fourth year as secretary of state, took three flights to events opposing same-sex marriage in 2004 aboard World Harvest Church's private plane. He reimbursed the church $1,000. The complaint also said Blackwell would be featured in "Ohio for Jesus" radio advertisements. World Harvest officials later confirmed that Blackwell once flew aboard the World Harvest plane to Texas, which the statement described as "not exactly a popular campaign stop for Ohio candidates." A church statement branded the complaint the work of "left-leaning clergy," a characterization the clergy members dispute. -- Ohio Churches' Political Activities Challenged

April 24, 2006

Wisconsin: county voters may vote on county board size

AP reports: Advocates for smaller county boards have a new weapon in Wisconsin — putting the issue to a vote of residents — but early returns indicate changes won't come soon.

Only one county has put the issue to a referendum so far and it failed, while the board in one of the state's most populous counties headed off an attempt to drastically reduce its size by voting for a smaller reduction before petitioners could get the issue on the ballot.

Sabrina Davis of Wisconsin Rapids submitted petitions last week seeking to cut the size of the Wood County Board from 38 to 19, even though the board's own census review and redistricting committee had proposed a cut of the same size. -- Green Bay Press-Gazette - Reducing county board sizes can go to voters

Alabama: GOP redistricting suit awaits court action

AP reports: A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the current district boundaries for the Alabama Legislature awaits a ruling by a three-judge federal panel on whether it can continue.

Democrats claim it's a Republican attempt to pick up where the last redistricting suit left off. It's unclear when the three-judge panel will rule. A hearing date has not been set. ...

But Barron, Sanders and another intervenor, House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, point to close relationships of Republicans involved in the suit, particularly Montiel, who has brought numerous redistricting lawsuits on his own.

Minutes of the Republican Party Executive and Steering Committee show that on at least four occasions in 2004 and 2005, GOP vice chairman Jerry Lathan made formal presentations about the lawsuit.

In speeches, he presented this suit as the "central aspect" of the party's official strategy to take over the state Legislature, Montgomery attorney Shannon L. Holliday wrote in a court filing last month. -- Welcome to TimesDaily.com

Disclosure: I represent, along with James Blacksher, Speaker Hammett in this suit.

April 22, 2006

Georgia: DOJ preclears re-redistricting; lawsuit already pending

The Athens Banner-Herald reports: The U.S. Department of Justice signed off late Thursday on a redistricting plan that would split Clarke County into two Senate districts, setting the stage for a lawsuit challenging the new districts filed earlier Thursday by state Rep. Jane Kidd, D-Athens.

Federal approval came less than four days before the qualifying period, when candidates officially register to run for office, which begins Monday morning. If the justice department had not approved the maps by then, elections would have been held using the old districts.

But the maps are not yet final. Attorneys are seeking a hearing on the lawsuit, filed in an Atlanta federal court, early next week, Kidd said Friday. A date has yet to be set, but at that hearing, attorneys will ask to either move back the qualifying period until the lawsuit is settled, or will seek a preliminary ruling to hold the elections using the old maps, she said. ..

Kidd's lawsuit argues that the redistricting was unconstitutional because it did not occur in a census year, it creates uneven representation by changing the populations of the districts, and it limits the freedom of speech of Democrats who make up the majority in Clarke County by diluting their voting power. -- OnlineAthens.com | News | Feds OK map that splits A-C 04/22/06

Virgin Islands: Senate defeats bill to make registration by military easier

The Virgin Islands Daily News reports: A controversial bill that would allow members of the military to register to vote on the day of an election and allow nonresident citizens to vote in the territory was defeated in the Senate on Thursday because senators felt it added too much opportunity for fraud.

The bill, jointly proposed by Senate President Lorraine Berry and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, would allow members of the armed forces and their family members who could not register to vote on time because they were on a mission to register until Election Day. It also includes a provision allowing U.S. citizens who never lived in the territory - but have parents who are qualified voters in the territory - to vote in territorial elections.

Berry said that the bill was based on a request from the Federal Voting Assistance Program to benefit members of the military serving outside of the territory. The bill was also endorsed by the V.I. Joint Boards of Elections, she said. -- Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands Newspaper, A Pulitzer Prize Winning Newspaper, Virgin Islands Guide, Virgin Islands Info

Georgia: DOJ preclears voter I.D.; federal suit to be renewed

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: A revised law requiring Georgia voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls cleared an important hurdle Friday, gaining the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice.

But whether voters will have to present a photo ID at the polls for the July 18 primaries remains unknown because a federal lawsuit challenging the law is still pending. The law has also been challenged in state court.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy halted enforcement of Georgia's photo voter ID law, saying it appeared unconstitutional. Murphy wrote in his opinion that requiring voters to pay for a voter ID card amounted to a poll tax, and noted that getting such an ID card was difficult for the elderly and people in rural areas. ...

Lawyers representing several groups suing over the law, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, ACLU and NAACP, say they will formally ask Murphy to find SB 84 unconstitutional now that it has been approved by the federal government. Because of past discrimination, Georgia is one of several states and regions covered by provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that require federal approval for any changes to voting laws. -- U.S. OKs latest ID voter law | ajc.com

The Brennan Center is hiring

Deborah Goldberg emailed me that the Brennan Center is "looking to hire an experienced litigator. If you know of any talented attorneys who might be interested in a position at the Brennan Center, working on cases challenging vote suppression efforts, please direct them to http://www.brennancenter.org/employment/index.html.


April 20, 2006

Texas: appeals court affirms dismissal of conspiracy charge against DeLay

Bloomberg News reports: A Texas prosecutor lost a bid yesterday to reinstate a conspiracy charge against former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay, who still faces charges of laundering campaign contributions.

DeLay and two associates are accused of soliciting $190,000 in corporate donations in 2002, funneling the money through an arm of the Republican National Committee and then using it in state races in violation of Texas law. Grand juries indicted DeLay twice, once on a charge of conspiracy to violate the election code and a second time on money-laundering charges.

A lower court threw out the election code charge on the grounds that the alleged action was not illegal under Texas law at the time. An appeals court agreed yesterday. -- Conspiracy Charge Against DeLay Will Not Be Reinstated

Immigrant groups to promote voter registration

The New York Times reports: Leaders of the demonstrations that drew hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the streets last week announced Wednesday that they were planning voter registration and citizenship drives across the country in an effort to transform the immigrant community into a powerful, organized political force.

But the leaders of immigrant advocacy groups remain sharply divided over whether immigrants should demonstrate their economic strength by staying away from their jobs, schools and local shops on May 1 in what organizers are calling the Great American Boycott of 2006.

In Washington, the leaders of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, an alliance of immigrant, labor and business groups, is urging immigrants to ignore the boycott and to participate in voter registration drives and other activities after attending school or going to work. ...

Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said that this summer would be "an immigrant freedom summer," with citizenship and voter registration drives in various cities to ensure that immigrants would vote in Congressional elections this year and in the presidential election in 2008. -- Immigrant Groups Plan Campaign to Bring Legal Changes - New York Times

New Hampshire: Tom DeLay and the phone-jamming case

Cragg Hines writes in the Houston Chronicle: Tom DeLay isn't involved in every Republican scandal, although it's easy to see how you could get that idea.

As Democrats prowl through evidence in a growing phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire, what should pop up but DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee.

Just as Republican operatives in 2002 were shelling out about $15,000 to attempt to tie up Election Day phone lines at some Democratic get-out-the-vote call centers in the Granite State, three groups — let's call them "Friends of Jack Abramoff" — were ponying up $5,000 each to the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.

In addition to DeLay's ARM, the generous givers were two casino-fueled tribes, California's Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. (The tribal contributions were first reported in The Union Leader, a New Hampshire newspaper, and the ARM contribution was added in a New York Times piece.) -- Chron.com | DeLay's scandals: maybe not just for Texas anymore

Alabama: oops, presidential primary set for Mardi Gras

The Mobile Press-Register editorializes: ALABAMA LEGISLATORS gave new meaning to the term "Mardi Gras madness" when they passed a bill setting the 2008 presidential primary on Fat Tuesday.

Fortunately, they can come back next year and fix this folly.

Legislators had the right idea in moving the state's presidential primary to a date that matters. Problem is, in 2008 the first Tuesday in February, the 5th, is absolutely the wrong date. Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis correctly describes the situation as "awful."

As south Alabamians well know, people are parading and partying downtown all day and into the night on Mardi Gras. Traffic is a mess, and it would be difficult even to get to Government Plaza to count the votes. Indeed, local government offices are closed for Mardi Gras, for good reason. -- Right idea for primary, wrong date for Mobile

Maybe this will be the opportunity to roll out large-scale mail-in balloting.

April 18, 2006

Arizona: House kills bill prohibiting public disclosure of campaign finance data

AP reports: The House on Monday defeated an election-year bill that would have prohibited public disclosure of campaign finance data that regulators and others examine to see whether publicly financed candidates have received secret subsidies.

The House voted 32-22 for the bill, but it needed at least 45 votes because the measure would have changed a voter-approved law, the 1998 initiative creating the state's public campaign financing system.

The Senate Bill 1099 had sailed through the Senate and a House committee, but House Democrats recently raised questions about its possible impact. They and a handful of GOP lawmakers voted against it Monday. -- House kills campaign finance bill

Freddie Mac pays record fine to FEC for illegal campaign contributions

AP reports: The home loan giant Freddie Mac has agreed to pay a record $3.8 million fine to settle allegations it made illegal campaign contributions.

The fine announced Tuesday is by far the biggest ever levied by the Federal Election Commission. Because the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, widely known as Freddie Mac, agreed to pay the fine and stop breaking the law, the FEC said it would not take further action against corporate officials. ...

Freddie Mac was accused of illegally using corporate resources between 2000 and 2003 for 85 fundraisers that collected about $1.7 million for federal candidates. Much of the fundraising benefited members of the House Financial Services Committee, a panel whose decisions can affect Freddie Mac.

The fundraisers were organized by then-Freddie Mac lobbyists Robert Mitchell Delk and Clark Camper, who described them to the corporation's board of directors as "political risk management," the FEC said. -- Freddie Mac to pay to settle allegations - Boston.com

New Hampshire: Justice Dept. asked to cough up the "phone-jamming" investigative file

Raw Story reports: A Democratic group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain all findings by the Department of Justice in the probe of White House involvement in New Hampshire's "phone jamming scandal," RAW STORY has found.

"Nearly four years after high-level Republican officials broke the law to prevent people from voting, we still don't know the answer to the question: how high does this go?," Senate Majority Project Executive Director Mike Gehrke said in a press release. "One thing is for certain, the Department of Justice does not investigate the White House after 'normal Election Day activity.'".

Last Tuesday, Robert Kelner, the Washington lawyer representing the Republican National Committee, told New Hampshire TV station WMUR-TV that "[i]n regards to the White House calls, the Department of Justice had known about them for a long time, investigated those calls, and did not bring any charges." -- The Raw Story | Group files FOIA for Justice Dept. findings on White House involvement in 'phone-jamming scandal'

Indiana: Democrats will appeal voter I.D. ruling

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports: The Indiana Democratic Party said Monday it will appeal last week’s ruling upholding the state’s voter identification law, although the party concedes the appeal likely will not affect the May 2 primary election.

The decision was handed down late Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker, who found the rule placed reasonable restrictions on voting. She rejected a claim that the law would unfairly affect the poor, minorities, people with disabilities and the elderly who may struggle to obtain photo identification. ...

According to state election officials, the name on the identification must conform to the name on the poll book but doesn’t have to be identical. And the identification can be expired as long as it lapsed after Nov. 2, 2004 – the last general election.

There are several exemptions to the law – including those who are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed. Those who use one of these exemptions will be asked to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if the exemption-seeker goes to the county clerk’s office within 10 days to sign an affidavit swearing to the exemption.

Those who forget their IDs can also cast a provisional ballot and then bring identification in within 10 days. -- Journal Gazette | 04/18/2006 | Democrats to appeal ruling upholding poll ID law

Alabama: some passed, and some did not

The Birmingham News reports on the just-ended Legislative session: Here's a look at some of the higher-profile bills the Legislature passed or killed this spring. ...

Passed, awaiting governor's signature:

Presidential primary: Move Alabama's presidential primary from June to February starting in 2008. ...

Killed : ...

Term limits: Would have banned legislators from serving more than 12 years in the Senate and 12 years in the House of Representatives.

PAC transfers: Would have banned political action committees from transferring money among themselves, which can hide a candidate's sources of money.

Constitution: Would have let state voters decide whether to call a convention of elected delegates who could have proposed a new state constitution. ...

Citizen initiatives: Would have let citizens propose amendments to the state constitution and propose regular laws, which voters could have approved or rejected without the Legislature's approval. -- Bills passed or killed

April 15, 2006

Texas: College may cancel annexation election because of fraudulent signatures

The San Marcos Daily Record reports: Austin Community College officials said this morning that they would recommend their trustees cancel the May 13 annexation election as evidence of voter fraud continues to mount.

As of Thursday afternoon, Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan had collected 55 affidavits from voters who say their signatures were forged in addition to five deceased people discovered on the petition.

College district trustees certified 1,036 of 2,999 signatures last month, 65 more than the 1,898 they needed to call an election. -- San Marcos Daily Record

Indiana: federal judge upholds voter I.D. law

The Indianapolis Star reports: If you're planning to vote in the May 2 primary, you'll have to show a state or federally issued photo ID.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker upheld Indiana's stringent voter-identification law. Barker said plaintiffs, including the Indiana Democratic Party, failed to back up their contention that the ID law is unduly burdensome and would keep many people from casting ballots.
Barker wrote in her 126-page opinion that the opponents' arguments would require "the invalidation" not only of the photo ID statute, "but of significant portions of Indiana's election code which have previously passed Constitutional muster." ...

But Barker wrote: "Despite apocalyptic assertions of wholesale voter disenfranchisement, plaintiffs have produced not a single piece of evidence of any identifiable registered voter who would be prevented from voting" because of the statute.
The judge had particular scorn for a report prepared by an expert hired by the Democrats that said 989,000 registered voters in Indiana do not possess a BMV-issued driver's license or photo ID.
Barker said she did not consider the report in her determination because she viewed the analysis and conclusions as "utterly incredible and unreliable." -- Law upheld: Voters need photo ID | IndyStar.com

New Hampshire: 8 states apply for early caucuses and primaries

AP reports: At least eight states applied yesterday to join Iowa and New Hampshire in voting early in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest.

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and South Carolina had put in a bid by yesterday afternoon. Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera said he wasn't sure how many more states might apply.

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee agreed last month to let several other states that are larger and more racially diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire choose their presidential favorites early.

Under a process that still must be approved by the Rules Committee and the full national committee, one or two states would hold caucuses between Iowa and New Hampshire, while another one or two would hold primaries shortly after New Hampshire. In 2004, both Iowa and New Hampshire votes were in January. The rest of the primaries and caucuses began in early February.

On Thursday, representatives of some other states will be in New Orleans for the DNC's spring meeting to tell the committee why their states should be early ones. -- Eight states request earlier primaries, caucuses - Concord Monitor Online - Concord, NH 03301

New Orleans: the racial impact of the absentee voting plan

Tracy Clark-Flory writes on Salon.com: Louisiana officials have offered two alternatives to accommodate displaced residents: absentee ballots, and 10 "satellite" polling stations set up around the state to which voters can travel. Despite a recent outcry, a federal judge in Louisiana determined that officials were not required to provide polling stations outside the state.

Sharing Samuels' concern are civil rights advocates, legal experts and researchers who have tracked Katrina's toll. They warn that not nearly enough has been done to protect against the disenfranchisement of New Orleans residents -- a majority of them African-American and from poorer neighborhoods ravaged by Katrina. Beyond the reliance on absentee ballots and in-state satellite polling stations, critics say the integrity of the election is threatened by serious problems within the city itself, where some polling stations are dilapidated and possibly hazardous, and others are inaccessible to the disabled -- a violation of federal law. ...

According to John Logan, a professor of sociology at Brown University, a recent survey shows that more than twice as many blacks as whites were displaced out of state after Katrina. Logan headed a study released in January that found that New Orleans could lose up to 80 percent of its black population if residents displaced by Katrina were unable to return to their neighborhoods. Logan's research included the Current Population Survey released by the U.S. Department of Commerce in December, which showed that an estimated 102,000 African-Americans outside Louisiana were eligible to vote, compared with 48,000 whites. The number of blacks scattered within the state drops to an estimated 31,000, compared with 92,000 whites.

"The population that has returned to the city or general area is white and middle class," Logan said. "It's quite clear that if voting is higher within the state than by people out of state, that introduces a serious race and class bias to the electorate." -- Whitewashing the New Orleans vote? | Salon.com News

April 13, 2006

Georgia: von Spakovsky "acknowledges" being Publius

The Washington Post reports: When he was a senior lawyer in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Hans von Spakovsky played a central role in approving a controversial Georgia voter identification program over the objections of staff lawyers.

But now, after leaving Justice for the Federal Election Commission, von Spakovsky has acknowledged writing a law review article that endorsed photo identification, which was Georgia's approach, before the state's proposal was even submitted to Justice for review. He also took the unusual step of using a pseudonym, "Publius," in publishing the article, which appeared in the spring 2005 issue of the Texas Review of Law & Politics.

The article and its unusual authorship prompted a letter of complaint to the Justice Department last week from the Voting Rights Project, an arm of the American Civil Liberties Union that is opposed to Georgia's voter identification plans. The group said the article shows von Spakovsky had already made up his mind on the issue and that his attempt to hide his views may have violated Justice Department guidelines.

In addition, a link to the Publius article suddenly disappeared this week from the FEC Web site, which had featured the article among a list of von Spakovsky's writings. -- Official's Article on Voting Law Spurs Outcry

April 12, 2006

Florida: Orlando senator charged with campaign funds misuse

The Miami Herald reports: Orlando state Sen. Gary Siplin, who left Miami seven years ago with a trail of bad debt and a history of close ties to county politicians, was charged this morning with fraudulently using his legislative staff to run his 2004 election campaign.

Siplin, 51, a Democrat who spent the 1990s promoting black professionals in Miami and serving as a bond lawyer for county financial deals, was charged with one felony and one misdemeanor alleging he forced three of his former Senate staffers to do campaign work.

"This case centers on a person in a position of trust utilizing approximately three months of labor, funded with taxpayer dollars, for his personal political campaign - not for the job a state employee was being paid to do," said Orange County State Attorney Lawson Lamar said. "That amounts to grand larceny from the people of Florida."

A warrant was issued for Siplin's arrest this morning. He could not be reached for comment. -- Bradenton Herald | 04/11/2006 | State senator arrested on campaign fraud charges

"Shadow campaign groups" cast a long shadow

The Chicago Tribune reports: The Democratic and Republican organizations charged with getting candidates elected to Congress this fall are preparing to wall off parts of their staff and form separate entities, allowing them to pour tens of millions of dollars into individual campaigns, a move that otherwise would be illegal.

The tactic, which both parties also used in the 2004 election, takes advantage of a provision in campaign finance law that allows operationally independent groups, unlike the parties themselves, to spend unlimited amounts on behalf of specific candidates.

But critics say the entities are independent in name only. Their office space is usually no more than a short walk from party headquarters, they get all their cash from the party and are usually run by senior operatives intimately familiar with the party's strategy, priority and tactics. One operative likened them to "shadow campaigns."

"It's the type of distinction that's built on legal technicalities," said Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Maine's Colby College who specializes in campaign finance. "You're basically just taking a piece of the organization and putting up a legal drywall to separate them for four or five months." -- KRT Wire | 04/12/2006 | `Shadow campaigns' put millions into races

Maryland: Carroll Co. in the lurch when the legislature fails to adopt district map

The Baltimore Sun reports: Since the state legislature failed to carve Carroll County into five commissioner districts, county officials decided yesterday to ask the courts to define the district lines.

The court could review two existing maps that each have five districts with equal populations. ...

Candidates, who face a July 3 filing deadline, cannot officially campaign until the districts are set. But there may not be enough time or willingness for the courts to rule on a map, said William R. Varga, assistant attorney general. ...

Kimberly A. Millender, county attorney, said she is reviewing the county's legal options and expects to make recommendations to the commissioners as soon as today. Minnich said he would urge Carroll County Circuit Court to make "a declaratory judgment in a timely manner." -- Carroll to ask courts to define districts - baltimoresun.com

Alabama: state set to move presidential primary to February

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama voters would pick their presidential primary favorites on Feb. 5 instead of June 3 in 2008 under a bill poised to pass the Legislature on Monday.

Alabamians with an earlier primary could help decide the Democratic and Republican nominees, said Gov. Bob Riley and other supporters.

Alabamians have been shut out of the selection process in recent elections, they said, because voters in states with earlier primaries and caucuses had already chosen the party nominees before Alabamians voted in June. -- Bill would set earlier presidential primary

April 11, 2006

Alabama: former sheriff and lawyer sentenced for misuse of criminal data in election contest

AP reports: Former Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Woodward and his attorney, Albert Jordan, were sentenced Tuesday to six months probation on their conviction on charges of conspiring to illegally run background checks on absentee voters in Woodward's contested 1998 race.

Woodward and Jordan, a prominent Republican lawyer, also were fined $500 each by U.S. District Judge Lacey A. Collier, a senior judge from Florida who presided over their January trial.

Woodward, 69, and Jordan, 49, were accused of conspiring to use a criminal database illegally to challenge the results of the 1998 sheriff's election between Woodward and Mike Hale. ...

Woodward and Jordan were accused of having staffers run criminal history checks on restricted federal and state databases to find felons who might have cast votes for Hale, Woodward's opponent in the 1998 election. -- al.com: NewsFlash - Former Jeffco sheriff, lawyer get probation in election case

Louisiana: hundreds vote early in New Orleans

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports: Elaine Stovall, a 62-year-old retiree still displaced from eastern New Orleans, walked off a chartered bus in Lake Charles on Monday morning to vote in the New Orleans elections, becoming one of the first to cast a ballot in one of the most scrutinized elections in American history. ...

One of several hundred displaced New Orleanians taking advantage of satellite polls across Louisiana, Stovall was among more than 100 people who traveled to Lake Charles on a bus sponsored by ACORN, an activist group that has criticized preparations for the elections and has worked to educate and transport voters.

Treasuring the secret ballot, she declined to say who she voted for, as did many others. But many said they voted for Mayor Ray Nagin, while a smaller number indicated support for Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who some polls show as Nagin's chief threat. ...

In all, 1,642 voters turned out by 4 p.m., 30 minutes before closing, at early voting locations in New Orleans and in 10 other parishes across the state, a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of registered voters believed to be living out of town because of Hurricane Katrina. The largest vote totals came in Orleans Parish, with 990 votes cast, and in East Baton Rouge Parish, with 244 votes. -- 2,190 cast early ballots in New Orleans elections

April 10, 2006

Georgia: More on von Spakovsky

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: A Bush appointee from Georgia who played a role in upholding the state's controversial photo voter ID requirement held an inappropriate — and secretive — bias in favor of the law, a voting rights group fighting the measure contends.

Further, the group says the U.S. Department of Justice should take steps to make sure the views of Hans von Spakovsky, a former lawyer for the department, do not influence pending consideration of a new voter ID requirement passed by the Georgia Legislature this year.

According to an April 7 letter sent by the ACLU Voting Rights Project to the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, von Spakovsky wrote an article last spring under the anonymous name "Publius" in the Texas Review of Law & Politics. At the time he allegedly wrote "Securing the Integrity of American Elections: The Need for Change," von Spakovsky was counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights and participated in the review of Georgia's voter ID law.

The article appeared before the Department of Justice approved House Bill 244, a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2005 that requires voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. The ACLU, League of Women Voters and other groups sued to block the law, arguing it could suppress minority voting participation. A federal judge temporarily halted enforcement in October. -- Voter ID ruling bias charged | ajc.com

Georgia: ACLU asks for DOJ for relief against "Publius's" participation in preclearance of voter I.D. law

Rick Hasen recently revealed that FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky was the anonymous "Publius" who wrote Securing the Integrity of American Elections: The Need for Change, 9 Texas Review of Law and Politics 277 (2005). Rick points out that the official bio for von Spakovsky states, "Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky was nominated to the Federal Election Commission by President George W. Bush on December 15, 2005 and was appointed on January 4, 2006. Prior to his appointment, Commissioner von Spakovsky served as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he provided expertise and advice on voting and election issues, including of the Help America Vote Act of 2002."

One of the issues discussed in the Publius article was the question of the effect of voter I.D. requirements on turnout in, of all places, Georgia. (As my Georgia relatives would have said, "Well, don't that beat all?")

That means that Spakovsky was "counseling" about election issues at DOJ when it was considering the Georgia voter I.D. law for preclearance. (It was precleared on 26 August 2005.) And, at the same time, he was doing his own research and publishing it under the name "Publius."

You may remember that the Washington Post reported on that the career staff in the DOJ Voting Section had recommended against preclearance but were overruled by John Tanner, chief of the Voting Section. (Later Bradley Schlotzman, who had been acting assistant attorney general for civil rights when the preclearance occurred, wrote a letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, claiming the leaked memo "was merely a draft.")

The folks at the ACLU Southern Regional Office apparently read the post and have now written this letter to the Justice Department asking that it undertake several actions to undo the damage caused by von Spakovsky's secret bias in favor of the voter I.D. law. My summary would be but a pale shadow of the richly nuanced argument of the ACLU. So, read it yourself.

Alabama: judge declines to rule on Steve Small's eligibility

The Birmingham News reports: A circuit judge on Friday upheld the Democratic Party's decision to bar Steve Small from the primary ballot as a candidate for Jefferson County Commission District 2. Small said he will ask the court on Monday to take a second look at his case.

"We'll file a motion to reconsider Monday asking the judge to specifically address how it is both the Democratic Party and Steve Small can have constitutional rights involved and yet the court not take jurisdiction," said Walter Braswell, Small's attorney.

The state Democratic Party had ruled that Small violated party rules by running against Shelia Smoot as a write-in candidate in 2002. Smoot defeated Small during in the 2002 Democratic primary. ...

Circuit Judge William Noble upheld the party's decision, saying the court did not have jurisdiction in the matter. Alabama law allows political parties to set their own qualifying rules and procedures as long as they meet constitutional and statutory laws. -- Judge upholds keeping Small off ballot

April 9, 2006

Arizona: initiative proposes a lottery for those who vote

Lottery Post reports: Cast a vote, win a million.

If an Arizona man has his way, every person who votes in his state will automatically have his or her name entered in a in draw to win $1 million. Mark Osterloh, an Arizona physician and attorney, is proposing a state law that would act as an incentive to increase voter turnout.

The long-time advocate of electoral policy reform says the idea is a variation on a highly successful law in Australia, under which citizens who fail to vote are fined.

Such a penalty would be unconstitutional in the United States, since freedom of speech includes the freedom not to speak. But Osterloh believes his incentive-based system could be just as effective. -- Lottery Post: Arizona man proposes lottery to increase voter turnout

Alabama: contributors can mask their contributions by running them through PACs

The Birmingham News' long story on campaign finance Alabama-style begins: Gov. Bob Riley has raised more campaign money than any other candidate running for state office this year, and he's done it with the help of PACs funded in part by unlikely supporters for a Republican - the state's teacher union and trial lawyers.

It's not clear how much, if any, of the six Tuscaloosa-based PACs' money from trial lawyers and AEA went to Riley's campaign because state law doesn't require political action committees to identify how contributors want their money handed out. And the handful of people who know - the candidate, the contributor and the PAC operator - typically don't talk about it.

But an analysis of campaign finances by The Birmingham News shows Riley's campaign received most of its PAC contributions shortly after the PACs received money from their largest contributors, AEA and trial lawyers.

The PAC money Riley received highlights a larger issue in Alabama politics. Candidates receive millions of dollars each year from PACs without identifying the true source of the money. Dozens of PACs created by lobbyists and political insiders help hide the contributors. -- PACs often mask who's behind gift

Alabama: no effective limit to companies' campaign contributions

The Birmingham News reports: Companies are sending millions of dollars to Alabama candidates each year by using a loophole in state law that allows them to hide their campaign contributions.

The companies write multiple checks on the same day to a series of PACs run by the same person. That money is sent to a candidate, often as a lump sum, without disclosing publicly the true source of the contribution.

The result is an alphabet-soup list of PACs on most candidates' campaign disclosures, providing little information about who funded the campaigns.

Instead of companies being limited to $500 each election cycle, as some interpret state law, the contributors are limited only by the number of checks they can write. -- Loophole lets firms hide contributions

Both parties play "ballot games"

Natalie Gonzales writes on Political Wire: While some Democrats are incensed about the way former Majority Leader Tom DeLay chose to exit his race for reelection in Texas 22, both parties are guilty of being coy with election laws, primaries, and filing deadlines to gain a partisan advantage.

Of all the accusations hurled at DeLay, being politically unaware is not one of them. The congressman certainly could have bowed out before the March 7 primary, but he waited another three weeks so he could have direct role in choosing his successor. His move unquestionably gives the Republicans a better chance to hold the seat Bush carried 64%-35% in 2004. -- Taegan Goddard's Political Wire

April 8, 2006

Democracy at Large

Democracy at Large - Volume 2, No. 2 from IFES just arrived in my mailbox. For those to whom the word "mailbox" means the email system, let me remind you of the metal receptable with the red flag that sits beside the street. That's where my Democracy at Large arrived. (And only one story per issue is available on the website, but you can subscribe for only $15.00 per year.)

The main story in the latest issue is "Rules do Matter." The article deals with the rules of the Palestinian and Iraqi elections and how they affected the outcome.

If you have an interest in elections, subscribe to this publication.

April 7, 2006

Why is the IRS not investigating 2 Ohio churches

The New York Times reports: A group of religious leaders accused the Internal Revenue Service yesterday of playing politics by ignoring its complaint that two large churches in Ohio are engaging in what it says are political activities, in violation of the tax code.

In a letter to Commissioner Mark W. Everson, the clergy members cited reports of political events involving Fairfield Christian Church in Fairfield and World Harvest Church in Columbus and groups affiliated with them that have occurred or been disclosed since they raised the issue in January.

The group argues that the churches may be violating prohibitions on political activities by charities and other tax-exempt organizations and has asked the I.R.S. to audit their political activities.

The group often notes that the agency is investigating All Saints Church, a large liberal Episcopal church in Pasadena, Calif., over a sermon in 2004 that imagined a debate among Jesus, President Bush and Senator John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential candidate, and asks why the agency has not begun a similar audit of the two Ohio churches, which are conservative. -- Church Group Calls I.R.S. Unfair on Political Violations of Tax Code - New York Times

April 6, 2006

Gibraltar: Spain vs. UK over Gibaltar voting law

Breaking News.ie reports: A senior legal adviser at the European Union’s court of justice in Luxembourg today sided with Spain in a legal case launched against Britain, agreeing that electoral laws in Gibraltar allowing non-EU citizens the right to vote in European elections violated EU treaty rules.

In his legal opinion to the EU court, Advocate General Antonio Tizzano said that, while Britain had an obligation to extend voting rights to British citizens in Gibraltar, a 2003 act to extend such rights to citizens of the British Commonwealth who are not British or citizens of any other EU country “infringes” EU law. -- BreakingNews.ie: Spain 'partly backed' over Gibraltar voting rights

Alabama: state will delay runoff

AP reports: The Alabama Legislature is ready to move Alabama's primary runoff from June 27 to July 18 to give military serving overseas adequate time to cast absentee ballots and end a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department.

The House voted 92-3 Wednesday for legislation delaying the runoff three weeks for state and municipal elections. The revised bill, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, got approved by the Senate 22-0 late Wednesday night. It now goes to Gov. Bob Riley, who plans to sign it into law, spokesman David Ford said.

Republican Attorney General Troy King and Democratic Secretary of State Nancy Worley recommended the three-week delay after the Justice Department sued Alabama, saying there is not enough time between the primary election June 6 and the runoff June 27 for military overseas, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan, to receive and cast absentee ballots.

Supporters said the Legislature had the choice of negating the suit by delaying the runoff or fighting the Justice Department. -- Welcome to TimesDaily.com

April 4, 2006

Texas: DeLay to resign

The New York Times reports: Representative Tom DeLay, the relentless Texan who helped lead House Republicans to power but became ensnared in a corruption scandal, has decided to leave Congress, House officials said Monday night.

Mr. DeLay, who abandoned his efforts to hold onto his position as majority leader earlier this year after the indictment of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former ally, was seeking re-election as vindication. But he told selected colleagues that, facing the possibility of defeat, he had decided not to try to hold on to his House seat.

"He just decided that the numbers and the whole political climate were against him and that it was time to step aside," said one Congressional official with knowledge of Mr. DeLay's plans. The official did not want to be identified because Mr. DeLay's formal announcement was scheduled for Tuesday in Houston.

His decision was first reported Monday by MSNBC and by Time magazine on its Web site, which posted an interview with Mr. DeLay, as did The Galveston County Daily News. "I'm very much at peace with it," Mr. DeLay told Time of his decision. -- DeLay Is Quitting Race and House, Officials Report - New York Times

April 1, 2006

test

test

A serious problem

As a public service, I publish this first-person account sent to be recently about a serious problem: thinking.

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then -- just to loosen up.

Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone -- "to relax," I told myself -- but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

That was when things began to sour at home. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life.

She spent that night at her mother's.

I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka. I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"

One day the boss called me in. He said, "Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job."

This gave me a lot to think about. I came home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confess, "I've been thinking..." "I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"

"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."

"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won't have any money!"

"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently. She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

"I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche. I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors... They didn't open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night. Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a Poster caught my eye, "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked.

You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinkers Anonymous poster. Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's."

Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed...easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.

Today I made the final step, I registered to vote as a Republican.