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

« November 2006 | Main | January 2007 »

December 27, 2006

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia appeals ruling on campaign finance law

The Philadelphia Daily News reports: Mayor Street has decided to fight in court to uphold contribution limits on candidates for mayor and City Council, meaning the restrictions that had been imposed will remain in effect for now. ...

Common Pleas Court Judge Allan Tereshko earlier this month tossed out the city's campaign-finance law, saying that only the state had the authority to regulate campaign contributions.

The city's filing of a notice of appeal yesterday imposes an automatic stay on Tereshko's order, which means the limits will remain in effect until the issue is resolved by appellate courts.

State law imposes no limit on campaign contributions, and past mayoral elections have seen contributions of $50,000 and higher. -- Philadelphia Daily News | 12/27/2006 | Campaign $ limits in effect as city appeals ruling

Maine: ethics commission votes that Heritage Policy Center is not a PAC

The State House News Service reports: A divided ethics commission decided last week not to subpoena records from the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center to determine if the organization’s efforts on behalf of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights qualified it as a political action committee – a designation that would allow people to get a better look at its finances.

Instead, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices voted to require the think tank to file a less-restrictive campaign finance report used by some other nonprofits that got involved in political campaigns during election season. ...

Under law, political action committees, or PACs, are defined as groups whose “major purpose” is advocating the passage or defeat of a ballot question. They have to raise money on behalf of a cause and spend in excess of $1,500 to promote it. PACs have to file regular campaign finance reports listing who contributed money and how they spent it. ...

The vote, however, was tied, with the two Democratic representatives on the commission voting for further investigation and one Republican and the independent member voting against. The fifth member, Jean Ginn Marvin, a Republican, removed herself from the discussion because she’s on the board of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. -- - Government News - Current Publishing, LLC

December 26, 2006

Robo-calls traced to Dutko lobbying firm

TPM Muckraker reports: A Florida-based Republican political firm with circumstantial ties to at least two nasty robocalling efforts this year isn't quite as obscure as we thought.

In the last days of the 2006 elections, Direct Strategies, Inc. of Tallahassee saw its name connected to dirty-tricks robo calls in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Run by two state-level GOP operatives, the firm did not appear to cut a swaggering figure in national politics.

Here's the thing: according to filings with the state of Florida, "Direct Strategies, Inc." doesn't exist. It voluntarily dissolved in April 2005. In its place rose a new company, "Dutko Direct Strategies, Inc.," which appears to be controlled by one of Washington's largest lobby firms. ...

The robo calls in Nebraska and Pennsylvania which have been mentioned in relation to "Direct Strategies" were reported to be deliberate attempts to mislead their recipients to believe they originated from Democratic campaigns. The calls were made repeatedly to the same households, and sometimes in the early morning or late at night. -- TPMmuckraker December 26, 2006 05:10 PM

Florida: a skunk at the picnic pushes voting rights for felons

The Tampa Tribune reports: An unlikely lawmaker is taking the lead to change Florida law to restore voting rights to convicted felons.

Orlando state Sen. Gary Siplin, a convicted felon himself, has sponsored Senate Bill 466, which automatically restores voting rights a year after the felon's sentence is completed.

Florida is among three states that don't automatically restore voting rights. The issue gained steam during the 2006 governor's race with both Gov.-elect Charlie Crist and Democrat Jim Davis advocating changing it.

An Orlando jury convicted Siplin in August of third-degree grand theft for having his legislative staff members work on his 2004 Senate re-election campaign on state time. He was sentenced to three years of probation and community service and continues to serve in the Legislature while appealing his conviction. -- Lawmaker: Give Felons Voting Rights

Venezuelan owners offer Sequoia Voting Systems for sale

AP reports: A major voting machine company owned by Venezuelan investors said Friday it plans to sell its U.S. subsidiary, ending a federal investigation into alleged ties between the company and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In March 2005, Smartmatic Corp. acquired Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., which produces touch-screen and other machines and is one of the largest voting equipment makers in the U.S.

The U.S. government began informally reviewing the deal earlier this spring after a request by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., who cited a potential risk to the integrity of U.S. elections.

Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica, who has dual Spanish-Venezuelan citizenship, later called for an official investigation to clear the company. He and other company officials insist the Venezuelan government has never had any stake in Smartmatic, which is headquartered in Boca Raton, or in Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia. -- Venezuelan co. to sell U.S. subsidiary - Yahoo! News

Candidates and the Internet

AP reports: As candidates prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the Internet is the new Main Street. An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States travel the digital highway, still a cheap and largely unregulated medium.

Reaching those potential voters and donors has become an important part of modern politicking. Candidates aggressively compete for the talents of the most creative geeks in politics and develop new ways to exploit the Net.

Republicans have mastered e-mail as the new form of direct-mail campaigns, raising money and pushing a GOP message. Democrats have excelled at raising cash through small-scale donations and making the Net their version of talk radio. ...

McCain, the potential front-runner for the 2008 GOP nomination, is among the most tech-savvy could-be White House candidates today. He has retained many hands from his 2000 bid and has recruited some of the top names in online campaigning. -- Candidates turn to Web to reach voters - Yahoo! News

Pennsylvania: a back door to Murtha?

The Washington Post reports: For a quarter of a century, Carmen Scialabba labored for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), helping parcel out the billions of dollars that came through the House Appropriations Committee, so when the disabled aide needed a favor, Murtha was there.

In 2001, Murtha announced the creation of Scialabba's nonprofit agency for the disabled in Johnstown, Pa. The next year, with Scialabba still on his staff, Murtha secured a half-million dollars for the group, the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities (PAID), and put another $150,000 in the pipeline for 2003, according to appropriations committee records and former committee aides. Since then, the group has helped hundreds of disabled people find work.

But the group serves another function as well. PAID has become a gathering point for defense contractors and lobbyists with business before Murtha's defense appropriations subcommittee, and for Pennsylvania businesses and universities that have thrived on federal money obtained by Murtha.

Lobbyists and corporate officials serve as directors on the nonprofit group's board, where they help raise money and find jobs for Johnstown's disabled workers. Some of those lobbyists have served as intermediaries between the defense contractors and businessmen on the board, and Murtha and his aides. -- Nonprofit Connects Murtha, Lobbyists -

December 25, 2006

Nebraska: PSC investigating dirty-trick robo-calls

AP reports: The Nebraska Public Service Commission is investigating allegations about automated phone calls targeting former congressional candidate Scott Kleeb during the last days of the campaign.

The investigation ultimately could lead to allegations that federal laws were broken.

Kleeb, a Democratic ranch hand, lost to Republican state Sen. Adrian Smith in the race for the 3rd District seat.

Kleeb's offices were flooded in the final days of the race with complaints from people upset about receiving repeated, automated phone calls with poor-quality recordings of Kleeb's voice. -- Nebraska probes election calling

December 22, 2006

Leadership Forum dodges an FEC fine

The FEC announces: The complaint alleged that the Leadership Forum was established to help specific Republican House candidates in the 2004 elections and it had become a political committee by accepting contributions and making expenditures for the purpose of influencing specific federal elections. The Commission's investigation found no evidence that The Leadership Forum received contributions or made expenditures that would require registration as a political committee. -- FEC Completes Action on Two Enforcement Cases

Comment: Brett Kappel emailed me about this with the tag line, "527s not dead yet." Somebody who has more time than I do to parse this stuff may be able to explain to me and you why the Leadership Forum did not get fined, but the Swift Boaters and Voter Fund did.

New population projections show 7 seats will be moved from one state to another

Election Data Services reports on its website: New Census Population Estimates document for the first time the significant loss of population in Louisiana due to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The loss of population will also lead to a loss of representation in Congress, according to a study by Election Data Services Inc. that was released today. Louisiana is now projected to lose a congressional seat, based on the new data.

The 2006 population estimates shift two more seats between four states, compared to last year’s study of the 2005 estimates (see Election Data Services Inc., “Five States Would Gain Seats if Congress Were Reapportioned with 2005 Population Estimates,” December 22, 2005). “Changes affecting three of the four new states were expected,” noted Election Data Services’ president, Kimball Brace, “but Louisiana’s loss was a new twist in the numbers.”

Overall, the 2006 estimates show that seven congressional seats in 13 states have already changed at this point in the decade, if the U.S. House of Representatives was reapportioned with the updated numbers. Six states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Utah—would each gain a seat and Texas would gain two seats if the House was reapportioned with census population estimates for July 1, 2006, according to Election Data Services’ analysis. Seven states would lose seats—Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The states of Georgia, Nevada, Louisiana, and Massachusetts are new states on the list of changes, compared to the 2005 study. --

Illinois: Hynes' campaign fined for raising money beyond limits

The Chicago Tribune reports: Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes' ill-fated 2004 U.S. Senate campaign has agreed to pay $76,500 in civil fines to settle Federal Election Commission complaints for violations involving campaign contributions and reporting, FEC officials said Tuesday.

The violations include accepting campaign contributions in excess of what was allowed by election law to retire campaign debt, failure to adequately report the campaign's debt and failing to get rid of contributions that the FEC determined were illegal, agency officials said.

Hynes, who won election to a third term as comptroller last month, finished second to Barack Obama in the March 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Candidates in the primary were allowed to raise up to $12,000 from individual donors--six times the normal limit--under recent federal campaign finance law changes aimed at making it easier to compete with wealthy self-funded candidates. ...

The FEC said that even after the primary contest had ended, Hynes continued to raise money at the higher level to retire his campaign debt, even though the higher limits ended once he was no longer a candidate. -- Hynes' Senate campaign will pay FEC to settle complaints | Chicago Tribune

Missouri: FEC fines group for supporting Cleaver's campaign without registering

The Kansas City Star reports: The Federal Election Commission on Wednesday fined Freedom Inc., the Kansas City political club, $45,000 for its involvement in Emanuel Cleaver’s 2004 race for Congress.

The FEC said Freedom was registered as a state political committee but had not registered to engage in federal races, such as Cleaver’s campaign for the 5th District congressional seat. Cleaver won the election. ...

The commission said Freedom spent more than $45,000 on advertising, yard signs and voter guides that expressly advocated Cleaver’s election. -- Kansas City Star | 12/21/2006 | Freedom Inc. fined for Cleaver campaign

Court voids part of McCain-Feingold law

The New York Times reports: A three-judge panel on Thursday overturned a key segment of the campaign finance law that banned issue advertisements paid for by corporate or union money in the critical weeks before federal elections.

The case, which was heard by a special federal court panel in Washington, now heads to the Supreme Court. If upheld, the ruling would unravel one of the tougher restrictions on the use of unregulated donations that interest groups pumped by the millions of dollars into political commercials.

The case was brought by Wisconsin Right to Life, which has been fighting the restrictions since 2004, claiming they infringe on its First Amendment guarantee of free speech, among other grounds.

Using its corporate treasury, the group had paid for advertisements denouncing Senate filibusters of judicial nominees and urging viewers to contact either Senator Russell D. Feingold, who was up for re-election that year, or the state’s other Democratic senator, Herb Kohl, who was not. -- Court Overturns Limits on Political Ads, Part of the Campaign Finance Law - New York Times

California: state supreme court rules campaign finance laws cover Indian tribes

The San Francisco reports: California's Indian tribes, which have poured millions of dollars into political battles, lost an effort to be protected from campaign disclosure laws Thursday when the state Supreme Court ruled they can be sued for violations despite their status as sovereign nations.

The 4-3 ruling allows a state agency to pursue a lawsuit against a Southern California tribe for failing to promptly report $8.5 million in contributions to political committees and candidates from 1998 to 2002. The tribe could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has consistently curbed states' attempts to take tribes to court.

The ruling "fails to follow established federal law,'' said Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuila Indians. The tribe owns two casinos in Palm Springs.

Courts have granted tribes immunity from most types of lawsuits in state court, in recognition of their sovereignty and need for self-government. But the California justices said the tribes' status was outweighed in this case by the state's constitutional authority to maintain a "republican form of government'' free from corruption. -- Ruling on campaign disclosure Tribes can be sued for late gift reports

December 20, 2006

Several major companies adopt "political transparency and accountability policies"

CQ reports: The Center for Political Accountability announced today that three leading public companies – Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ - news), Monsanto (NYSE: MON - news), and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD - news) – have agreed to disclose some or all of their political spending made with corporate funds. Monsanto and General Dynamics also agreed to establish board oversight of their political spending. Verizon reports that their board already receives reports on these contributions annually, and will continue to do so.

Verizon, Monsanto, and General Dynamics join 12 other major companies that adopted political transparency and accountability policies during the 2005 and 2006 shareholder resolution seasons.

Under the policies, each company will post a complete list of corporate political contributions on its website and disclose the guidelines for their political giving. In addition, Monsanto and General Dynamics will join Verizon in establishing annual oversight of the corporate political contributions process at the Board level. -- Verizon, Monsanto, General Dynamics Adopt New Policies for Political Spending - Yahoo! News

Florida: Jennings files contest with House clerk

AP reports: The Democrat who narrowly lost to a Republican in the race to replace Rep. Katherine Harris (news, bio, voting record) asked Congress on Wednesday for an investigation.

The state has declared that Democrat Christine Jennings lost to Republican Vern Buchanan by 369 votes. But 18,000 Sarasota County electronic ballots did not record a choice in the race, and Jennings contends that the number is abnormally high and that the machines lost the votes.

She filed with the House clerk an official contest of the election results in Florida's 13th Congressional District.

She said she will ask Congress to consider ordering a revote if her legal challenge in Florida fails. She is seeking to obtain the programming code for the touch-screen voting machines to determine whether a bug or malicious programming could have lost votes. The state has found no evidence of malfunction. -- Congress asked to intervene in Fla. race - Yahoo! News

Web 2.0 "swarming" coming to politics

Wired News reports: The brains behind a doomed antispam service are turning their technology into an online swarming tool for activists, hoping to subject politicians and government agencies to the kind of mass pressure Blue Frog once inflicted on spammers. ...

Now founders Aran Reshef and Amir Hirsh are reincarnating their software to turn armies of internet users into political activists. Their new Collactive platform takes the drudgery out of grass-roots action, letting armchair activists fill out online petitions, file comments in rule-making proceedings, send letters to their representatives in Congress and seed collaborative web forums with sympathetic news items -- all with the push of a button.

The Collactive software is offered as a generic distribution to organizations, who then configure it for a particular political issue and give it to users as a downloadable software package or Firefox plug-in.

Once it's installed, the organizers can send alerts to users or update the software with scripts that know how to take particular actions, such as automatically filling in feedback forms on a politician's website. End users can also forward e-mail alerts to their friends, who have the option of installing the software themselves and joining the network. -- Wired News: Spammer Slammer Targets Politics

Connecticut: no hacking of Lieberman's website

The Stamford Advocate reports: The U.S. attorney's office and state attorney general have cleared former U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont and his supporters of any role in the crash of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman's campaign Web site hours before last summer's Democratic primary.

"The investigation has revealed no evidence the problems the Web site experienced were the result of criminal conduct," said Tom Carson, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal confirmed the joint investigation "found no evidence of tampering or sabotage warranting civil action by my office." Both men declined to provide additional information, such as what might have happened to the site. -- The Advocate - Lamont camp cleared in hacking of Lieberman Web site

Thanks to DailyKos for the link.

December 17, 2006

Kentucky: Secretary of State recommends end of straight-ticket voting

The Kentucky Post reports: Kentucky is one of only a dozen or so states where voters can, with one flick of the wrist, cast their votes for all the candidates of one party.

It's called straight-ticket voting, and it's practiced by thousands of the faithful in the Democratic and Republican parties. But if Secretary of State Trey Grayson has his way, it would become a relic of the past.

Grayson , the state's top election official, pushed legislation during the last session of the General Assembly to prohibit straight-ticket voting, but it didn't make it out of committee, he said. He is considering pursuing it again during the next session, which starts in January.

Grayson, a Republican from Boone County, said he'd rather not give voters the option of picking multiple candidates with the push of one button, despite the likelihood that it could shorten lines at the polls. -- The Cincinnati Post - Straight-ticket voting may end

Washington State: study shows at-large election decreases Hispanic electoral success in Sunnyside

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports: A newly released study says the election system in this mostly Hispanic town unfairly keeps Hispanics off the City Council.

And, while Sunnyside's city manager called the research flawed and "bogus," one of the nation's top voting-rights advocates thinks the report is on to something.

The research, part of a Whitman College report titled "The State of the State for Washington Latinos: 2006," concludes that the city's at-large elections violate the federal Voting Rights Act by establishing barriers to political representation of Hispanics.

In other words, the research states that allowing every Sunnyside voter to vote for all seven council seats produces different results than if the city were divided into voting districts. -- Yakima Herald Republic Online - Home Page - Yakima, Washington News, Classifieds, Information, Advertising

Wyoming: DOJ intervenes in suit against Fremont County at-large suit

AP reports: The U.S. Department of Justice is intervening in a federal lawsuit in which five American Indians are challenging Fremont County's system of holding at-large elections.

The department filed notice Thursday that it is intervening in the case for the limited purpose of defending the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Five members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Fremont County last year. They claim the county's system of holding at-large elections violates Voting Rights Act by impermissibly diluting the American Indian vote.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation, based in Lakewood, Colo., is defending Fremont County. In its answer to the lawsuit filed late last year, the foundation argued that it would be unconstitutional to hold Fremont County to the section of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits practices that dilute minority voting. -- Feds intervene in Indian voting case

Florida: State drops motion to dismiss Jennings suit

AP reports: State attorneys Thursday withdrew a motion to dismiss a lawsuit calling for a new election in a long-contested Southwest Florida congressional race.

Democrat Christine Jennings' lawsuit claims ATM-style, touch-screen voting machines in Sarasota County lost up to 18,000 votes in the congressional contest to replace U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris. State officials declared Republican Vern Buchanan the winner of the 13th District seat by a margin of just 369 votes.

The Department of State decided that trying to get the case thrown out wasn't the most efficient use of resources, said Secretary of State spokeswoman Jenny Nash. ...

Jennings' lawyers are now focusing on a Tuesday hearing to persuade a judge to give them access to the source code that runs the electronic voting booths used in the contested election. Voting machine manufacturer Elections Systems & Software has argued in court that the software is a trade secret. -- State Drops Motion In Jennings Lawsuit

December 15, 2006

Sen. Johnson, the "organizing resolution," and Richard Nixon

Kagro X writes on DailyKos: Recent speculation in both the WaPo and Time have sparked a mini-panic, by positing that Sen. Tim Johnson's medical condition could embolden the Senate Republicans to either make an outright attempt to thwart the transfer of control of the chamber to the new majority, or at least set themselves up for such a grab should Johnson (or any other Democrat) be replaced by a Republican during the session.

Here's how it sets up, in the Time article, by Karen Tumulty:

The incapacitation of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson has put all eyes in Washington on what is normally a little-noticed Senate vote now scheduled for Jan. 4. It is called the "organizing resolution," and is the bit of internal housekeeping that determines how committee memberships will be allotted between the two parties, as well as who will get to serve as chairman and ranking members of each of the panels. These resolutions traditionally stand until the next Congress, even if the makeup of the chamber shifts to put the other party in the majority, which is why precedent would seem to dictate that the Chamber would stay in Democratic hands, even if Johnson is replaced by a Republican. [...]

-- Daily Kos: Could Johnson's absence throw the Senate into chaos?

December 13, 2006

FEC reaches deal with three 527 groups on fines for campaigning without registering

AP reports: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Voter Fund, two outside groups that played key roles in the 2004 presidential election, reached an agreement with the Federal Election Commission to pay nearly $450,000 for various violations.

The two groups, along with the League of Conservation Voters, settled charges that they failed "to register and file disclosure reports as federal political committees and accepted contributions in violation of federal limits and source prohibitions," the FEC said in a statement Wednesday.

The commission approved the three settlements on a vote of 6-0. ...

The FEC concluded that the three 527 organizations violated campaign finance laws because they expressly stated their desire to influence the presidential election in their fundraising, their public statements or their advertisements. Such activity, the FEC said, could only be conducted by political committee registered with the FEC that abide by contribution limits and public disclosure requirements. -- - National Politics: Political groups to pay campaign fines

Rick Hasen has an analysis of the agreements here. Bob Bauer had this short analysis (with more to come later on the blog or in court, I expect).

FEC will consider requiring more detail in expenditure reports

Brett Kappel emails: Tomorrow the FEC will vote on the attached statement of policy, which requires PACs to use greater precision when describing disbursements. The policy contains a short list of acceptable descriptive terms for PAC disbursements. More importantly, the policy contains an extensive list of descriptive terms that will no longer be acceptable. I am advising my PAC clients to consult this list when preparing the PAC's Year-End Report due on January 31, 2007.

Arkansas: Gov. Huckabee forms Virginia PAC

AP reports: Gov. Mike Huckabee can take in unlimited donations at a fundraiser set for Saturday in Little Rock because his political action committee is registered in Virginia, where there is no cap on donations. Arkansas limits donations to a PAC to $5,000 per year.

Huckabee's PAC, Hope For America, has provided money to political candidates in Iowa and Arkansas. Huckabee is considering a run for president in 2008 but he won't be able to use funds from the Hope For America PAC for his race if he announces for that office, Federal Election Commission spokesman Kelly Huff.

Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, said a prospective presidential candidate who forms an exploratory committee would be able to accept per-person contributions of $2,100 per election cycle.

Huckabee, who leaves office Jan. 9, is charging $500 per person for his Christmas gala. Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense, is to play after the event in a concert that costs $50 per ticket. -- Pine Bluff Commercial Online Edition

Kentucky: ethics commission finds probable cause Sen. Mongiardo violated campaign finance law

The Frankfort Herald-Leader reports: The state's Legislative Ethics Commission yesterday found enough "probable cause" to hold a hearing to determine whether Democratic state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo violated the law by associating himself with an independent fund-raising committee.

The ethics panel decision came after more than an hour of closed-door testimony by Mongiardo -- who is expected to announce next week that he'll be running for lieutenant governor next year -- and Spencer Noe, general counsel for the Kentucky Republican Party.

The party filed the initial complaint against Mongiardo last summer for his association with DANPAC, which stands for Democratic Activist Network Political Action Committee.

State legislative ethics laws forbid lawmakers from forming "a permanent committee" other than their own election campaign funds. Should the ethics commission find that Mongiardo knowingly violated that law, it could refer the case to the attorney general's office for possible prosecution. -- Lexington Herald-Leader | 12/13/2006 | Panel backs hearing on Mongiardo

DC: investigation of post-election contributions to Fenty

ABC 7 News reports: District officials are reviewing whether $45,000 in campaign donations made to Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty after he won the November election violated city regulations.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance says contributions can only be received after the elections to pay off debt.

But Fenty raised an unprecendented $3.8 million for his campaign and he reports no outstanding bills or loans. -- ABC 7 News - City Reviews Post-Election Donations to Fenty's Campaign

Texas: Rodriguez beats Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla in runoff

AP reports: Democrat Ciro Rodriguez's victory over seven-term Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla was another blow to Republicans who lost control of Congress five weeks ago. ...

Bonilla blamed the Supreme Court ruling that declared the district's former boundaries unconstitutional and forced a redrawing of the district that added more Hispanic Democratic voters. ...

Bonilla, the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress, nearly avoided the runoff when he came just shy of the 50 percent mark in a Nov. 7 free-for-all special election that included eight candidates. Rodriguez, in second place, advanced to the runoff with Bonilla. ...

The Supreme Court ruled in June that a 2003 reconfiguration of the 23rd District was unconstitutional because it diluted minority votes by splitting Laredo, a city that is almost all Hispanic, into two districts.

A three-judge panel redrew the district in August to restore 100,000 Hispanics to the 23rd District that had been shunted elsewhere. The new district, which stretches from San Antonio south to the Mexican border and almost to El Paso in the west, gave Rodriguez yet another chance at national office and made Bonilla fight a little harder to keep his seat.

The new 23rd district has a voting age population that is 61 percent Hispanic, versus a 51 percent Hispanic voting age population before. -- (5:03 a.m.)" href="">El Paso Times - Rodriguez wins District 23 runoff (5:03 a.m.)

Colorado: suit challenges two-document rule for getting I.D.

The Rocky Mountain reports: A motion filed Tuesday on behalf of Colorado's poor accuses the state Revenue Department of putting up roadblocks that prevent legal residents from getting state IDs and driver's licenses.

The motion filed in Denver District Court asks that the department be stopped from using the so-called two document rule, which plaintiffs claim often requires ID applicants to produce more than two documents. ...

The motion comes weeks after a coalition of attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit, charging that the DMV has implemented illegal and arbitrary rules without warning and public input, as required by Colorado law. According to the suit, the rules prevent the homeless and hundreds of other U.S citizens from obtaining the identification needed to access housing, employment, public assistance, health care and the right to vote and travel. -- Rocky Mountain News - Denver and Colorado's reliable source for breaking news, sports and entertainment: Local

California: protests at Enterprise Rancheria hearing

The Oroville Mercury-Register reports: Approximately 30 demonstrators picketed on Saturday outside the Southside Community Center on Lower Wyandotte Road as Enterprise Rancheria conducted a Disenrollment Appeals Hearing inside. The hearing was conducted for appellants Carolyn Porteous and Darlene Taylor the final two of the 72 total tribal members disenrolled from Enterprise Rancheria.

Demonstrators came to show support for Porteous and Taylor. Both women were former tribal members of the Enterprise Rancheria and were disenrolled in May of 2004, after the spoke against the disenrollment of 70 tribal members, according to former Enterprise Rancheria Vice Chairman Robert Edwards.

"Carolyn and Darlene were disenrolled when they spoke out on behalf of the 70 members disenrolled from Enterprise Rancheria the previous November of 2003," Edwards said. "This is just another example of the intimidation tactics exercised by Enterprise Rancheria's tribal leaders and how freedom of speech is expressly prohibited or with consequences."

Both Carolyn and Darlene were very vocal in their criticism of tribal government when they denied the suspended 70 members their right to vote in the Recall Election scheduled for September of 2003, Edwards said. During that same time period in 2003, Carolyn Porteous confronted the responsible tribal officials when they changed the tribal constitution in a manner not consistent with tribal law in order to ultimately affect the outcome of the vote at the Disenrollment Hearing held in November of 2003, Edwards said. ...

Enterprise Tribal chairwoman Glenda Nelson has said they disenrolled the tribal members to keep the tribe unified, as the divisiveness was splitting the tribe. -- Oroville Mercury Register - Appellants disenrolled for speaking out

Alabama: Democrats will probably stick with earlier primary

The AP reports: Alabama Democrats aren't likely to go along with a proposal at the Democratic National Committee that would give extra convention delegates to states that move back their presidential primaries, the state party chairman said.

At the urging of the state Democratic and Republican parties, the Legislature has moved up Alabama's presidential primary in 2008 from June 3 to Feb. 5. The Rules Committee of the Democratic National Committee has given preliminary approval to a plan that would award additional convention delegates to states that don't move up their primary as Alabama did or that move back their primary after moving it up..

State Chairman Joe Turnham said getting extra convention delegates "pales in comparison" to letting the people have a choice in the primary.

When Alabama's presidential primary was in June, the nominations for both parties were wrapped up before Alabamians went to the polls, and candidates largely ignored the state. Since the Legislature moved up Alabama's primary, several potential candidates from both parties have visited the state. -- Alabama not likely to swap primary date for delegates

December 12, 2006

Florida: Seminole Co. black leaders seeks single-member districts

The Orlando Sentinel reports: For the first time in more than a dozen years, black leaders are actively organizing to get county and city officials to take notice of their needs.

They say they are frustrated with a system that treats blacks like second-class citizens. Multimillion-dollar pedestrian bridges are being built in generally affluent areas while black communities are left to deal with poor drainage, crumbling or simply dirt roads and lax policing, they say.

Even when improvements are made, they are more likely to be funded with federal block-grant money, not local tax dollars, they say. ...

What's needed is a change in the way Seminole County commissioners are elected, Clayton said. Now, the five commissioners are elected countywide; single-member districts would provide the best chance for blacks and other minorities to have a voice, he said.

NAACP members are gathering information on single-member districts from surrounding counties, including Osceola, where a federal judge ruled the current system of countywide elections violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the county's Hispanic vote.

A plan for Seminole County will be presented soon, Clayton said, and he hopes his group can work with county officials to get a single-member-district plan on the ballot. -- Black leaders in Seminole want county to listen - Orlando Sentinel : News Black leaders in Seminole want county to listen - Orlando Sentinel : News

California: study blames poll workers for e-voting machines' problems

The San Jose Mercury News reports: Malfunctions by electronic voting machines in the Nov. 7 election were mostly caused by poll workers, all of whom were new to the system, according to a preliminary report released this week.

The report, which will be presented to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today, touches on some successes and struggles that came with using eSlate voting machines for the first time.

``The eSlates appear to have performed well,'' Supervisor Mark Church said. ``There were no malfunctions that we're aware of. Overall, the election went smoothly for San Mateo County.''

Church, along with Supervisor Rose Jacobs-Gibson, formed a subcommittee to examine the introduction of the machines after dozens of people raised concerns about their purchase in August. The machines, made by Austin-based Hart InterCivic, were purchased to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. -- | 12/12/2006 | Workers to blame in voting problems

December 11, 2006

Eastern Band of Cherokees: chief considering absentee voting law

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports: The voting rights of potentially thousands of people depend on a decision expected this month from the top elected leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks is reviewing legislation passed by Tribal Council on Thursday that made changes to the 13,500-member tribe’s controversial absentee ballot law. Hicks has the power to veto the bill.

The chief normally has 30 days to consider legislation but because the tribe’s law prohibits changing election rules during an election year, he must make a decision before Dec. 31.

Paxton Myers, executive administrator for Hicks, said today the chief will “take his time” on reviewing the legislation. Hicks, Tribal Council members and some school board members are up for election next year. -- Cherokee chief has veto power over absentee voting law

Kentucky: 4 bills would restore voting rights to some or all felons

The Bowling Green Daily News reports: Four separate bills have been filed designed to provide convicted felons with a way to reclaim their voting rights.

The bills handle this process in several ways; one suggests that immediately upon completion of their sentence rights could be restored. Another suggests rights be renewed after they've finished parole. Both would require constitutional amendments. A third, filed by Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, allows for the record to be expunged of one or a series of class D felonies. This, if passed, would restore that person's voting rights and their right to own a firearm.

Wilkey said his is probably the most conservative of all the bills. It only applies to people convicted of nonviolent and nonsexual offenses. ...

A person convicted of a felony must wait five years after the adjudication of their offense and go before a judge to have the record expunged, which allows them the right to vote and to carry a gun, he said. -- Bowling Green, KY, Kentucky Daily News

Mississippi: "Judge orders Noxubee Co. to certify election results"

AP reports: A circuit judge on Monday ordered the Noxubee County Election Commission to certify results from the Nov. 7 general election.

The local certification must be done by 5 p.m. Tuesday, under the order of Circuit Judge Robert Bailey. Bailey issued the ruling after a hearing in Meridian.

After the Noxubee results are in, the state Board of Election Commissioners can certify the re-election of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, both Republicans who start new terms in January. Lott already has been chosen Senate minority whip by his GOP colleagues in Washington.

Noxubee County had not certified the returns because absentee ballots were seized by authorities amid allegations that Ike Brown, a Democratic activist in Noxubee County, had witnessed an absentee ballot for a deceased voter. Brown says the incident was a clerical error. -- Judge orders Noxubee Co. to certify election results

South Dakota: federal court orders city of Martin to draft new plan

The Rapid City Journal reported last Thursday: A federal judge has ordered the city of Martin to redraw the boundaries of its city-council districts because the existing districts violate the voting rights of American Indians.

In a decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier of Rapid City said Martin must submit a proposal for redrawing the council-district boundaries by Jan. 5. The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the city on behalf of two Indian voters, will have until Jan. 25 to file its response to the city's plan.

The judge will then make the determination of whether the city's plan is a legally acceptable remedy.

Martin is in Bennett County, which is adjacent to Rosebud Sioux and Pine Ridge Indian reservations in southern South Dakota.

The judge said evidence shows that about 36 percent of the city's voting-age population is Indian, and those Indian voters are spread evenly among the existing three council wards. However, candidates preferred by Indians rarely win city council elections in Martin, Schreier said. -- The Rapid City Journal

Swift Boat Veterans, Americans Coming Together, and others facing FEC fines

Raw Story reports: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and other so-called '527' nonpartisan groups are likely to soon face significant fines from the Federal Election Commission, according to a story in today's edition of Roll Call.

America Coming Together, a more Democrat-leaning group, and others were cited as facing fines after two years of FEC scrutiny, in an article written by Matthew Murray. During the 2004 presidential election, complaints had been filed against the groups for violating campaign finance laws. Texans for Truth, Progress for America Voter Fund, Leadership Forum, the Media Fund, the Joint Victory Campaign, Economic Freedom Fund and Majority Action were other groups confirmed to be likely targets of fines for their conduct in 2004.

One observer of the process commented to Roll Call that fines were unlikely unless major infractions were alleged to have occurred, as the FEC's current philosophy emphasizes the pursuit of "big fish." -- The Raw Story | Swift Boat Vets, related groups to face big fines

December 10, 2006

Massachusetts: Rep. Lynch's campaign buys him a car

The Boston Globe reports: US Representative Stephen F. Lynch has something none of his colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation possesses: a spiffy new sport utility vehicle underwritten by campaign contributors but owned by the lawmaker himself.

Two months ago, the South Boston Democrat bought a 2007 Chrysler Aspen for $44,641, using as a down payment $10,000 from his campaign account and a $2,020 trade-in allowance from a 2002 GMC Envoy. He had purchased the Envoy under a somewhat similar arrangement after winning a special election in 2001 to succeed the late J. Joseph Moakley in the Ninth Congressional District.

The new Aspen belongs to Lynch and is registered in his name with a distinctive "USA 9" license plate, even though his campaign committee is assuming the $766-a-month payments and all other costs, including a $6,437 annual insurance premium.

His personal ownership of the vehicle is unusual among members of Congress; usually, vehicles are leased by campaign committees, and, in cases in which the committees purchase a vehicle, it is registered in the name of the campaign. Since at least 1995, when regulations on personal use of campaign vehicles were tightened, the Federal Election Commission has never ruled on an arrangement like Lynch's. -- Lynch campaign pays for personal vehicle - The Boston Globe

An old chestnut busted, but something new to worry about

The New York Times Magazine's annual "Year in Ideas" issue has a couple of articles of interest to election mavens (did I use that term correctly, Bill Safire?): In their book “The End of Southern Exceptionalism,” Richard Johnston of the University of Pennsylvania and Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin argue that the shift in the South from Democratic to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race but of economic growth. In the postwar era, they note, the South transformed itself from a backward region to an engine of the national economy, giving rise to a sizable new wealthy suburban class. This class, not surprisingly, began to vote for the party that best represented its economic interests: the G.O.P. Working-class whites, however — and here’s the surprise — even those in areas with large black populations, stayed loyal to the Democrats. (This was true until the 90s, when the nation as a whole turned rightward in Congressional voting.) -- The Myth of "the Southern Strategy" - New York Times

After analyzing data from Arizona’s 2000 general election, the Stanford researchers found that voters were more likely to support raising the state sales tax to support education if they voted in schools. This bias remained even when results were controlled for voters’ political views and demographics. In a follow-up laboratory study, subjects were asked to vote on a number of initiatives, including California’s 2004 stem-cell-research financing proposition. Before casting a vote, each subject was primed with a picture of a school, church or generic building. Voters were less likely to support stem-cell initiatives when presented with images of a church. -- Voting-Booth Feng Shui

Comment: About a year ago, a pol I had known for a long time called and asked me to come up with a theory to attack voting places in churches. He was convinced that the Christian Right would be turning out its people to vote in those polling places and wanted them moved. I did not come up with a theory that passed the "straight-face" test. My friend the pol lost his election. Maybe I should have use the theory of the guy in Florida. (On the other hand, the magnitude of his loss could not be blamed on just the Christian Right.)

December 9, 2006

I coulda been a contender

The New York Times reports: Campaign finance reports filed this week have led to second-guessing about whether the National Republican Senatorial Committee borrowed too little for its final all-out push for its candidates.

At least two Republican Senate candidates lost by just a few thousand votes, and reversing just one defeat would have enabled the Republicans to hold the Senate.

As of Nov. 27, the Republican senatorial committee had raised $87 million since the election cycle began in 2005 and ended up about $1.2 million in debt.

By comparison, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which lacked the inherent fund-raising advantage of controlling the Senate, raised $119 million in this election cycle and ended up $5.4 million in debt.

Candidates and parties routinely borrow at the end of close races and then pay down the debt after the election. The final figures, and especially the low debts, left some Republicans grumbling privately that their Senate committee’s leader, Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, had failed to give it her all. -- G.O.P. Draws Fire on Senate Race Spending - New York Times

December 8, 2006

Florida: The Economist on FL-13

The Economist reports: SINCE it is a place where alligator wrestling is a recognised pastime and tourists wear hats with Mickey Mouse ears, you might think that Florida would be immune to embarrassment. But after its punch-card ballots threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos, the state made a decisive move. It outlawed punch-cards and spent millions of dollars on touch-screen voting machines instead.

“There'll never be a hanging, dangling, or pregnant chad again,” vowed Katherine Harris who was Florida's secretary of state at the time of the election. In 2002, Ms Harris was elected to the national House of Representatives.

But now voters are realising that a mangled paper record is better than none at all. “At least we had the ability to determine a voter's intentions,” said Dan Smith of the University of Florida. This year's election to Florida's 13th congressional district provides a handy lesson in the pitfalls of electronic voting. Weeks after election day, it is still being contested. In an odd coincidence, it is the seat Ms Harris decided to vacate to pursue a disastrous Senate run. -- Electronic voting | Another election mess in Florida |

Note: Dan Smith (quoted in the third graf) called this article to my attention (I wonder why?). I decided to quote because of the wonderful first paragraph. (I wonder what snarky remark they would have about Alabama?)

Voting machine changes expected

The New York Times reports: By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted, including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail, federal voting officials and legislators say.

New federal guidelines, along with legislation given a strong chance to pass in Congress next year, will probably combine to make the paperless voting machines obsolete, the officials say. States and counties that bought the machines will have to modify them to hook up printers, at federal expense, while others are planning to scrap the machines and buy new ones.

Motivated in part by voting problems during the midterm elections last month, the changes are a result of a growing skepticism among local and state election officials, federal legislators and the scientific community about the reliability and security of the paperless touch-screen machines used by about 30 percent of American voters.

The changes also mean that the various forms of vote-counting software used around the country — most of which are protected by their manufacturers for reasons of trade secrecy — will for the first time be inspected by federal authorities, and the code could be made public. There will also be greater federal oversight on how new machines are tested before they arrive at polling stations. -- Changes Are Expected in Voting by 2008 Election - New York Times

December 7, 2006

Florida: "Man Sues Over Church As Polling Place"

AP reports: A man who had to vote in a Catholic church has sued election officials, claiming that casting a ballot amid crucifixes and anti-abortion banners violates the principles of church and state separation.

Jerry Rabinowitz, a nonobservant Jew from Delray Beach, filed the lawsuit in federal court Friday. In it, Rabinowitz says elections officials refused to remove or cover religious items at Emmanuel Catholic Church when he voted last month.

"The effect of the defendant's conduct in this case is nothing if not government endorsement of religion," the lawsuit read. ...

According to the lawsuit, Rabinowitz had to walk past an anti-abortion banner flanked by large crosses to reach the polling site. Once inside, he said he had to vote in a room with crucifixes, a poster of the Ten Commandments and signs with messages including "Each of Us Matters to God." -- Man Sues Over Church As Polling Place

John McCain hires Terry Nelson as campaign manager

Matt Stoller writes on MyDD: John McCain just hired the worst man in the world to run his campaign, Terry Nelson. Nelson was an unindicted co-conspirator in the TRMPAC scandal as a key point of contact between Tom Delay and the RNC. He was James Tobin's boss during the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal, for which Tobin was convicted. He also worked at the head of opposition research for the NRCC this cycle, where robocalls from Republicans pretending to be Democrats were the norm all over the country. Nelson also produced the racist bimbo ad against Harold Ford. -- MyDD :: Direct Democracy for People-Powered Politics

"Where's the voter fraud?"

Tova Andrea Wang writes on The Century Foundation website: Over the past month, the silence has been deafening.

For the past few years, many on the Right have been vociferously propagating the myth that voter fraud at the polling place is a rampant problem of crisis proportions. But we haven’t heard from them lately. In fact, as far as my research can discover (Nexis and Google news searches of multiple relevant terms), there has not been one confirmed report of any of these types of incidents in the 2006 election. Not one. Even the Republican National Committee’s vote fraud watch operation in their list of complaints from the 2006 election could not come up with one such case.

If you’ve been listening to the likes of John Fund, Thor Hearne, Ken Mehlman, and John Lott, you would think non-citizens are lining up to vote at the polls, mischievous partisans are voting multiple times by impersonating other voters, and dead people are voting in polling places across the country. In order to justify their argument that we need all voters to present government issued photo identification at the polls, they claim that this type of fraud is the biggest problem our electoral system confronts. They have been building and building this argument, hammering and hammering away at it to the point that it has now become the prevailing belief of the American public.

I won’t go into the recitation of all of the previous research that has been done on what a nonexistent problem polling place fraud is and the fraudulent disenfranchisement narrow voter identification requirements cause among perfectly eligible voters—disproportionately minorities, the poor, the elderly, and voters with disabilities (who by the way, according to conventional wisdom, are also all disproportionately Democratic voters). However, confronted with this continuously growing mountain of evidence undermining their case, it has been interesting to observe the evolution of the Right’s spinning of this issue of late. -- Where’s the Voter Fraud?

Alabama: Eunola has never held an election

WTVY News 4 reports: It has been nearly a half-century since a small Wiregrass town was reinstated. Since 1957 an election has never been held in the town of Eunola. But some residents want that changed.

A group of Eunola residents say they've never been given the right to vote for their mayor and five-member council and essentially, that's against the U.S. Constitution of having free elections.

Geneva attorney, Jeffrey Hatcher, represents a group of citizens asking for the forfeiture of Eunola's charter.

Hatcher says Eunola has never held a municipal election contrary to its 1957 charter.

Over the last five-decades, members of the council have appointed others to fill vacancies on the board that includes the mayor's post. -- WTVY | Election Has Never Been Held in the Town of Eunola

Texas: DOJ approves runoff date

AP reports: The Department of Justice is allowing Texas to go forward with the Dec. 12 date for a congressional runoff after federal judges ruled early voting could be extended because the election falls on an important religious day for Catholic Hispanics.

The decision to hold the runoff Tuesday has angered some Hispanic groups who have said it is an attempt to suppress the Latino vote to boost election chances for Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla faces Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, a former congressman, in the runoff because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 election.

Dec. 12 is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the day many Hispanics mark the appearance of the Virgin Mary before Indian peasant Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Many Hispanics attend Mass, hold processions and gather with family and friends. -- Dallas Cars & Trucks | | Dallas Morning News | Texas/Southwest

California: appeals court upholds state Voting Rights Act

The Los Angeles Times reports: A California appeals court Wednesday unanimously upheld a state law to make it easier to challenge at-large election systems that have diluted the potential power of minority voters.

Under the 5-year-old California Voting Rights Act, when a group of voters can demonstrate that their area is characterized by "racially polarized" voting patterns, they can demand that a jurisdiction convert from an at-large to a district electoral system.

The decision by a court in Fresno was the first appellate ruling on the 2001 law. It arose out of a case filed in Modesto two years ago. A group of frustrated Latino voters led by Enrique Sanchez attempted to establish that the city's at-large system had adulterated their voting power.

Although Modesto is 25.6% Latino, only one Latino has been elected to the five-member City Council since 1911, the plaintiffs said. -- Court upholds racial challenges to at-large elections - Los Angeles Times

Note: Rick Hasen has a link to the opinion.

Florida: federal judge to decide on Osceola commission plan today

The Orlando Sentinel reports: A 17-month-long battle over how Osceola elects county commissioners could come to a close in federal court today.

The remaining issue before U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell is whether the county's proposal to create a system of at-large and single-member seats by increasing the size of the board to seven commissioners will pass legal muster.

Presnell issued an injunction halting commission elections in June and ruled in October that the "racially polarized" county's at-large voting system penalizes Hispanics in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted 4-0 to accept a redistricting plan drafted by the U.S. Department of Justice, rather than a plan drawn up by county experts, after Presnell this week rejected a key part of the county's proposal. Commissioner Paul Owen was absent. -- Federal judge will decide merits of Osceola vote plan - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News Federal judge will decide merits of Osceola vote plan - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News

Indiana: recounts in 4 state House races

The AP reports: A state panel agreed Wednesday to recount votes in four Indiana House races whose ultimate outcomes could threaten Democratic control of the chamber or widen the party’s majority.

The Indiana Recount Commission also granted Libertarian Steve Osborn’s request to retally ballots in 10 precincts in his statewide race for the U.S. Senate against Dick Lugar, even though Osborn lost by more than 1 million votes on Nov. 7 and he acknowledged the recount gives him no chance of winning.

Democrats gained a 51-49 majority in the Indiana House, according to totals cited by the Secretary of State’s Office. Recount requests were made by three Democratic candidates who each lost by fewer than 30 votes, and by former Republican Rep. Billy Bright of North Vernon, who challenged results that show he lost by about 1,600 votes.

Democrats could only lose control of the chamber if a recount determines that Bright won and outcomes in the other races stand. That would give each party 50 members, and under a tie-breaking rule, Republicans would control the chamber. -- Journal Gazette | 11/30/2006 | Recounts granted in 4 races; House in balance

December 6, 2006

South Dakota: 10th Circuit rules in favor of Indian plaintiffs in voting case

The ACLU announces on its website: The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a federal district court decision in favor of Native American voters in Martin, South Dakota. The decision, which was released late yesterday, orders city officials to redraw city council district lines to correct violations of the Voting Rights Act that prevented Native Americans from having an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

"Yesterday's decision vindicates the long, hard struggle for Native American voting rights in the City of Martin," said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and lead counsel in the case. “This ruling will enable Indian voters to enjoy the right that many other South Dakotans take for granted; the right to have a say in their local government. The decision also benefits everyone by promoting fairness and a more democratic city government."

The ACLU brought the lawsuit in April 2002 on behalf of two Native American voters who say the redistricting plan adopted by the city that year had the purpose and effect of diluting Native American voting strength. Native Americans made up approximately 45 percent of the city's population but would have been unable to elect any candidates of their choice to the city council because the redistricting plan ensured that white voters controlled all three city council wards. -- American Civil Liberties Union : Federal Court Sides with Native American Voters in South Dakota

The ACLU has a link to the opinion on its site.

Oregon: "where everyone votes by mail"

Ruth Goldway writes on the op-ed page of the New York Times: LAST Election Day, voters encountered myriad difficulties, from the unexplained glitch that temporarily halted Montana’s vote count to the 18,300 undervotes in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, to long lines, bad weather, inadequately trained workers, delayed or missing absentee ballots and complicated new identity forms. There was, however, one state where all went well: Oregon, where everyone votes by mail.

Since Oregon adopted Vote by Mail as its sole voting option in 1998, the state’s turnout has increased, concerns about fraud have decreased, a complete paper trail exists for every election, recounts are non-controvertible and both major political parties have gained voters. Moreover, in doing away with voting machines, polling booths, precinct captains and election workers, the state estimates that it saves up to 40 percent over the cost of a traditional election.

Vote by Mail could offer real advantages if it were adopted nationwide. Voters would not need to take time off from work, find transportation, find the right polling station, get babysitters or rush through reading complicated ballot initiatives. The country’s 35,000 post offices could provide information, distribute and collect voting materials and issue inexpensive residency and address identifications for voting purposes. -- The Election Is in the Mail - New York Times

Alabama: Turnham fined for excessive contributions to 2002 campaign

AP reports: The Federal Election Commission has fined Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham $50,000 for fundraising violations stemming from his 2002 congressional campaign.

The commission found that Turnham's father, Pete Turnham, who was the candidate's treasurer, made illegal contributions or loan guarantees to the campaign totaling $166,502. At the time, the law capped individual's contributions at $1,000 per election. -- Ala. Democratic party chairman fined over campaign contributions - NBC 15 Online

December 5, 2006

Florida: audit of voting-machine computer code draws complaints of partisanship

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports: The computer source code that tells touch-screen voting machines how to run will be analyzed in the next phase of a state audit to determine what, if anything, went wrong in the Nov. 7 election.

The source code analysis has not started yet, but it is already generating controversy in the contested Congressional District 13 race, in which Republican Vern Buchanan was certified the winner by 369 votes.

The state Division of Elections' top choice for heading the review is Florida State University associate computer science professor Alec Yasinsac, an outspoken Republican who has advocated paperless voting machines in the past.

Democrats and voting rights activists charge that Yasinsac is too partisan to conduct an objective investigation. -- Audit to review computer code

Florida: why the roll-off in FL-13?

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports: Sarasota County's party faithful were the most reliable voters on election day, rarely skipping any of the high-profile races.

But something odd happened when they were supposed to choose their U.S. congressional representative.

A Herald-Tribune analysis of every ballot cast shows these loyal party voters -- on both sides of the aisle -- were largely responsible for the massive undervote in Sarasota's House District 13 race. Nearly 60 percent of the 18,000 undervotes in that race came from people who otherwise did their best to ensure their party's candidate won.

The bizarre trend has convinced a growing number of election experts that the most important factor in the undervote was bad ballot design -- something state auditors aren't considering as they continue this week to examine voter machines for malfunctions.

The experts theorized that straight ticket voters would be more vulnerable to a ballot design flaw because they are looking for three letters -- 'DEM' or 'REP' -- instead of carefully scanning the ballot for a particular candidate. -- Analysis points to bad ballot design

New York: Port Chester won't settle with DOJ over at-large voting

The Journal News reports: The village is challenging the federal government's claim that its election system illegally disenfranchises Hispanic voters, possibly paving the way for an expensive legal battle.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously last night to notify the Department of Justice that it does not believe the village's at-large election system violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, as the Justice Department contends.

The board reached the decision after reviewing data the Justice Department provided the village. ...

Last night's decision came in response to an April 20 letter from the Justice Department to Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto that threatened to sue the village unless it switched to district voting. The letter called for a districting plan that includes a majority Hispanic ward and concluded that "voting patterns in Port Chester are polarized by ethnicity."

Though nearly half of the village's population is Hispanic, no Hispanic candidate has ever been elected to village office. Hispanic residents are about 22 percent of the citizen voting-age population, or 3,058 of 13,980 eligible voters. -- Port Chester is challenging the Justice Department over voter rights

Utah, District of Columbia: will the deal pass?

The New York Times reports: The State of Utah and the District of Columbia are perhaps the oddest imaginable political allies in a nation of polarized partisan loyalties, alike in few things other than bankable predictability: Washington Democratic, Utah Republican.

But they share outrage that each does not have more influence in Congress, and Utah took a big step toward a marriage of convenience Monday when legislators here approved a plan that would give the state a fourth Congressional seat before the next census and Washington its first voting representation ever.

The plan for the District and Utah, a state denied a fourth seat after the 2000 census because the government did not count thousands of residents who were away serving as missionaries for the Mormon Church, faces big hurdles.

Still, the gulf of political difference between the two is the very glue that offers both of them some hope Congress will give its required approval: one of the newly created seats would almost certainly be Democratic, the other Republican, with no net change in the balance of power. -- Utah, Using Olive Branch, Tries to Add Seat in House - New York Times

EAC rejects call for paper trail on voting machines

AP reports: A federal advisory panel yesterday rejected a recommendation that states use only voting machines whose results could be independently verified.

The panel drafting voting guidelines for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission voted 6-6 not to adopt a proposal that would have required electronic machines used by millions of voters to produce a paper record or other independent means of checking election results. Eight votes were needed to pass it.

The failed resolution, proposed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist and panel member Ronald Rivest, closely mirrored a report released last week that said that paperless electronic voting machines are vulnerable to errors and fraud and cannot be made secure.

Some panel members who voted against the proposal said they support paper records but don't think the risk of widespread voting machine meltdowns are great enough to rush the requirement into place and overwhelm state election boards. -- Lexington Herald-Leader | 12/05/2006 | Federal panel rejects paper trail for elections

December 3, 2006

Rhode Island: candidates may review ballots rejected by optical scanner during recount

The Providence Journal reports: Almost a decade ago, Rhode Island retired its mechanical voting machines, peddling the 1,000-pound, 6-foot-tall behemoths for scrap.

The five-decade-old lever machines were replaced by a compact optical scanner called the Optech Eagle in a decision heralded as a leap forward for accurately tallying votes. For years, Rhode Island considered itself in the vanguard of electoral reform, and many states did not integrate similar electronic systems until after witnessing the 2000 presidential-election controversies.

For five election cycles, the new system went largely unchallenged. But last month, candidates in several unusually tight races questioned whether the state went too far in its rush to modernize elections.

On Wednesday, a Superior Court judge agreed, ruling that the state Board of Elections had ceded too much authority to the Optech scanners and mandating that candidates be permitted to view ballots rejected during recounts to determine whether the voter’s intent could be discerned.

State election officials denounced the ruling, saying manual reviews of ballots would undermine the objectivity of the new system. -- Rhode Island news | | The Providence Journal | Local News

Ohio: state voted for Democrats but gets Republicans

The Columbus Dispatch reports: A clear majority of Ohioans who voted in the Nov. 7 election preferred a Democratic congressional candidate.

So did Franklin County voters, where Democratic House candidates drew in excess of 10,000 more votes than Republicans.

The result?

While Democrats won nearly 53 percent of the congressional votes statewide, only about 39 percent of Ohioans will be represented next year by Democrats in Congress.

That’s the biggest so-called "wrong winner" disparity in the country from the 2006 midterm elections, says the nonpartisan

Aided by gerrymandering — the drawing of districts to favor one party — Republicans captured 11 of the state’s 18 congressional seats, assuming that GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce, of Upper Arlington, survives a recount in the 15 th District. If she does, all three House members representing Franklin County will be Republicans. -- The Columbus Dispatch - Local/State

Alabama: supreme court allows transfer of campaign finance case to Montgomery County

AP reports: The Alabama Supreme Court has refused to block the transfer from Autauga County to Montgomery County of a lawsuit challenging the election of four powerful Democratic senators.

The lawsuit claims the senators should be disqualified because they did not file campaign finance reports before the party primaries. The senators did not have opposition in the primaries, but the lawsuit claims they should have filed reports because they helped other Democratic candidates. ...

The ruling by the Supreme Court Thursday clears the way for Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price to consider the lawsuit, which he has consolidated with a newer lawsuit filed against Sen. Larry Means, D-Gadsden. -- AP Wire | 12/01/2006 | Supreme Court refuses to block transfer of suit against senators

December 2, 2006

Virginia: GOP wins partial victory in case challenging open primary

AP reports: The State Board of Elections cannot require the Republican Party to hold an open primary in a state Senate race next year, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

The decision regarding a possible primary for Republican state Sen. Steve Martin could affect GOP efforts to block Democrats from voting in other Republican primaries in Virginia.

The case arose from Martin's decision to seek a primary should he face a nomination fight next year. Virginia law gives incumbents the choice of a primary, caucus, canvass or party convention.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson on Friday denied a motion from Republicans in the 11th Senatorial District to rule immediately on the case but wrote that parties could exclude independent voters and voters affiliated with other parties if they chose to nominate candidates through a process other than a primary. -- Judge: State Election Board can't require open GOP primary

Comment: I think the reporter got it backwards in the last pargraph. Judge Hudson ruled:

Section 24.2-530 [the open primary law] is constitutionally sound when engrafted onto a statutory scheme providing for alternative, less restrictive means of candidate selection. [The party can hold a caucus or a privately finance selection process.] When the Republican Party’s discretion is foreclosed by Senator Martin’s invocation of § 24.2-509 [which allows the incument to choose the method by which he or she will stand for renomination], mandating a forced open primary, the confluent effect impermissibly undermines the 11th District Committee’s right of free association. This narrow and perhaps infrequent application of § 24.2-530 violates the First Amendment right of the plaintiffs in this case. Therefore, in the event that a Republican primary is held in 2007 in the 11th Senatorial District of Virginia, the defendants are enjoined from requiring the plaintiffs to hold an open primary.

Thanks to Richard Winger for calling this case to my attention this morning. The Court's website has been unavailable most of the day, so I am just now getting the opinion. Some courts were upgrading their case-access software this morning.

Texas: early voting starts today for TX-23

The San Antonio Express-News reports: The state has stepped back from a standoff with Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen and civil rights groups over the start of early voting in the runoff for Congressional District 23.

A federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas has ordered early voting to begin today in counties that are ready, including Bexar. That's two days earlier than the early voting schedule set by Gov. Rick Perry.

Callanen said she was "absolutely thrilled" and that election judges are ready to go.

Nina Perales, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said she didn't know why the state decided to agree to two extra days, but that negotiations moved quickly. -- Metro | State

New Hampshire: phone-jamming suit settled

UPDATE: The Nashua Telegraph reports: The phone bill ended up being $135,000 for a Republican scheme that jammed Democratic get-out-the-vote calls in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002.

Both sides are claiming victory. The Democrats say the Republicans paid three times: in Friday’s cash settlement to end a Democratic lawsuit, in defending the charges and last month at the polls.

The Republicans say, without admitting liability, they are paying a fraction of the $4.1 million the Democrats were going after. The Republicans maintained they should only have had to pay about $4,000 – the cost of rental and use of the phones. -- Settlement signals end to GOP phone-jamming scandal

AP reports: Days before the start of a trial on a lawsuit in an Election Day 2002 phone-jamming scheme, state Republicans said Friday that the case has been settled. They did not give a dollar amount.

"The civil litigation between the New Hampshire Democratic Party and various defendants, including the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, has settled," Wayne Semprini, Republican State Committee chairman, said in a statement late Friday. "As we have previously stated, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee deplores the phone jamming incident that took place in New Hampshire in 2002."

Republicans had hired a telemarketing firm to place hundreds of hang-up calls to phone banks for the Democratic Party and the Manchester firefighters union, a nonpartisan group offering rides to the polls. Service was disrupted for nearly two hours. -- Portsmouth Herald Local News: Settlement reached in phone jamming suit

December 1, 2006

NIST advises EAC that electronic voting machines must have paper trails

The Washington Post reports: Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country "cannot be made secure," according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.

In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts. ...

NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida. -- Security Of Electronic Voting Is Condemned -

NIST advises EAC that electronic voting machines must have paper trails

The Washington Post reports: Paperless electronic voting machines used throughout the Washington region and much of the country "cannot be made secure," according to draft recommendations issued this week by a federal agency that advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The assessment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, one of the government's premier research centers, is the most sweeping condemnation of such voting systems by a federal agency.

In a report hailed by critics of electronic voting, NIST said that voting systems should allow election officials to recount ballots independently from a voting machine's software. The recommendations endorse "optical-scan" systems in which voters mark paper ballots that are read by a computer and electronic systems that print a paper summary of each ballot, which voters review and elections officials save for recounts. ...

NIST's recommendations are to be debated next week before the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, charged by Congress to develop standards for voting systems. To become effective, NIST's recommendations must then be adopted by the Election Assistance Commission, which was created by Congress to promote changes in election systems after the 2000 debacle in Florida. -- Security Of Electronic Voting Is Condemned -

Virginia: Appalachia mayor pleads to 233 counts

The Kingsport Times-News reports: Former Appalachia Mayor Ben Cooper told Wise County Circuit Judge Tammy McElyea "guilty" during a plea hearing on Thursday, then repeated that word 232 more times to an equivalent number of charges involving the 2004 town election scandal.

Cooper also pleaded no contest to an additional 10 charges. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.

Charges ranged from preventing or hindering citizens to exercise their right to vote to entering multiple votes and tampering with the absentee ballot process.

Cooper's plea agreement stipulates that testimony presented during the October trial of former Appalachia postal carrier Don Houston Estridge constitutes evidence against the former mayor as well, Special Prosecutor Tim McAfee reminded the judge. Estridge was convicted of three counts primarily involving charges of passing absentee mail ballots to the ring of election fraud conspirators. -- Tri-Cities, Tennessee Personal News and Media Center

Alabama: GOP to add 35 Dem House members to suit

AP reports: A Republican leader said Thursday the GOP plans to add the names of 35 House Democrats to a fast-growing lawsuit that soon could challenge the elections of almost half of the members of the Alabama Legislature.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the lawsuit, originally filed against four Democratic state senators, will be amended to include the 35 House Democrats who he said did not have opposition in the party primary and did not file disclosure forms with the Secretary of State.

The decision to add more Democrats to the lawsuit comes after Democrats intervened in the lawsuit and asked that it include a group of Republicans - four senators, 21 representatives and two appellate court judges - who had no opposition in the Republican primary and didn't file campaign finance reports.

"We had hoped that this dispute could be kept among members of the Senate, but partisan Democrat attorneys have chosen to bring the House into the matter," Hubbard said Thursday.

"In order to protect our Republican House members and the seats to which they were elected, there is no choice but to name these 35 candidates in an action," he said.

Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham said adding more Democrats "ups the ante" of the lawsuit. If all are added, the consolidated litigation will involve nine of the 35 members of the Senate and 59 of the 105 members of the House. -- GOP plans to add more Democrats to election challenge