Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2007 Archives

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February 28, 2007

The National Primary

The Hill reports: Pressure from the leading presidential candidates has set the stage for a Feb. 5 national primary that will likely include 20 states, possibly more.

Working behind the scenes and mostly through surrogates, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and Republicans Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have fueled a rush of states to hold primary elections on Feb. 5 next year, or earlier. As many as 23 states are in the frame to hold primary elections on that date.

Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma in 2004 held their nominating contests on the first Tuesday of February, and are likely be joined this time by such big states as California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas. They may be joined also by smaller states including Tennessee, Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Colorado and (for the GOP only) West Virginia and Nevada. The legislatures of Pennsylvania and North Carolina are holding hearings on the issue but the outcomes of these are uncertain.

Allies of candidates who expect to do well in these states are taking lead roles in moving primaries there to early February. By holding primaries soon after the Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the year, such states will have a bigger impact than before on who becomes the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. -- Feb. 5 national primary

Thanks to Political Insider for the link.

FEC and Progress for America Voter Fund reach a $750,000 settlement

The FEC announces: The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced today that it has reached a settlement with the Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA-VF), a 527 organization accused of violating Federal campaign finance laws during the 2004 Presidential election. PFA-VF agreed to pay $750,000 to settle charges that it failed to register and file disclosure reports as a Federal political committee and accepted contributions in violation of Federal limits and source prohibitions. This represents the third largest civil penalty in the Commission’s thirty-two year history. The Commission unanimously approved the conciliation agreement.

“This settlement demonstrates once again that the Commission is serious about enforcing the campaign finance law,” said FEC Chairman Robert Lenhard. “It should now be clear to organizations that want to be active in the 2008 cycle that the activities we saw in this case are prohibited under the law.”

PFA-VF raised $44.9 million in contributions in the months preceding the 2004 General Election. Over $41 million of those funds consisted of excessive contributions from individuals, while over $2 million came from sources prohibited from making contributions under the Act. PFA-VF funded over $31.1 million in communications related to the 2004 General Election, including television and radio advertisements, direct mailings, email communications, and Internet banner ads. Certain communications expressly advocated either the election of President George W. Bush or the defeat of Senator John Kerry, constituting expenditures under the Act. -- 0228MUR5487

Thanks to Brett Kappel for sending me the link to this.

February 27, 2007

OpenCongress -- a new aggregator

beSpacific reports: "OpenCongress brings together official government information with news and blog coverage to give you the real story behind what's happening in Congress. Small groups of political insiders and lobbyists know what's really going on in Congress. Now, everyone can be an insider. OpenCongress is a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource with a mission to help make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement. OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation." -- Free, Open Source Site Covering Congressional Bills, News, Gossip and Elected Officials

New Jersey: NJ about to push toward the front of the primary bus

The New York Times reports: With a June primary that had become all but irrelevant, New Jersey would be romanced by presidential aspirants for its money — but rarely for its voters.

So under a measure approved unanimously on Monday by an Assembly committee, the state’s presidential primary would be held on the first Tuesday in February — or Feb. 5 next year.

The measure, which has been passed by the Senate and has received the blessing of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, would link the state with a round of early primaries in five other states. Next, the measure will be voted on by the full Assembly. Twelve other states are also considering holding primaries on the same day. ...

Last year lawmakers approved moving the primary from June to the last Tuesday in February, but the Democratic National Committee changed its primary schedule, forcing New Jersey to take another cut at it. -- New Jersey Moves to Join Early Presidential Primaries - New York Times

Sen. Clinton amends her disclosure forms for 5 years

The Washington Post reports: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former president Bill Clinton have operated a family charity since 2001, but she failed to list it on annual Senate financial disclosure reports on five occasions.

The Ethics in Government Act requires members of Congress to disclose positions they hold with any outside entity, including nonprofit foundations. Hillary Clinton has served her family foundation as treasurer and secretary since it was established in December 2001, but none of her ethics reports since then have disclosed that fact.

The foundation has enabled the Clintons to write off more than $5 million from their taxable personal income since 2001, while dispensing $1.25 million in charitable contributions over that period.

Clinton's spokesman said her failure to report the existence of the family foundation and the senator's position as an officer was an oversight. Her office immediately amended her Senate ethics reports to add that information late yesterday after receiving inquiries from The Washington Post. -- Clintons' Charity Not Listed On Senate Disclosure Forms - washingtonpost.com

February 25, 2007

Massachusetts: Royalston to use electronic voting machines

The Worcester Telegram reports: There are races in town this year for selectmen and the Planning Board, but they are not what has poll watchers talking.

When residents go to vote in the April 2 annual town election, they will see what some might view as a sacrilege in their polling places. Voters used to the efficient clunking of the wooden hand-crank ballot boxes will also be able to cast votes at an electronic machine.

Town Clerk Melanie Mangum said Friday the state has provided the town with two electronic machines to allow handicapped voters better use of the polls. The machines will have a voice option for the sight-impaired, a touch screen, and other options to make it easier for people to vote. -- Worcester Telegram & Gazette News

Massachusetts: town to allow noncitizens to vote

The Boston Globe reports: By a 20-4 vote, Newton aldermen approved allowing residents who are not US citizens the right to vote in local elections.

Ted Hess-Mahan , alderman at large from Ward 3 , sponsored the measure, saying it is only fair that residents who pay taxes, send their kids to school, and own property in Newton should also be able to vote on measures that affect them. The overwhelming vote contrasts with 2005, when Hess-Mahan couldn't drum up support for a similar proposal. -- Newton aldermen OK vote for noncitizens - The Boston Globe

February 24, 2007

Florida: voters, not software, to blame for Jennings' loss

The New York Times reports: Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.

The finding, reached unanimously by a team of computer experts from several universities, could finally settle last fall’s closest federal election. The Republican candidate, Vern Buchanan, was declared the winner by 369 votes, but the Democrat, Christine Jennings, formally contested the results, claiming that the touch-screen voting machines must have malfunctioned.

Legal precedents make it difficult to win a lawsuit over ballot design, but a substantial error in the software might have been grounds for a new election.

The questions about the electronic machines arose because many voters complained that they had had trouble getting their votes to register for Ms. Jennings, and the machines did not have a back-up paper trail that might have provided clues about any problems. The report said some voters might have accidentally touched the screen twice, thus negating their votes, while most of the others probably overlooked the race on the flawed ballot. -- Panel Cites Voter Error, Not Software, in Loss of Votes - New York Times

New York: living high on the hog from campaign funds

The New York Times reports: When Michael J. Bragman, a onetime Assembly majority leader, retired from the New York State Legislature in 2001, his campaign committee had about $1 million in the bank. Six years later, Mr. Bragman is still retired, and $400,000 of that money is gone.

Mr. Bragman did not run for office again. But he did pay his wife $24,000 a year to work for a campaign committee that did no campaigning. And he spent thousands more on bottles of wine, meals at a yacht club, Christmas gifts and office rental payments to a company that he appears to control.

Mr. Bragman, a Democrat who represented a district in the Syracuse area for 21 years, offers an unusually vivid example of how New York’s campaign finance laws allow former candidates to keep spending contributions long after their campaigns end. And he is not alone.

A review of campaign expenditures at the State Board of Elections found other former officeholders whose unused campaign cash has been put to uses that their contributors probably never envisioned — and with little or no scrutiny from state regulators. While the officeholders are required to report all expenditures from their committees to the board, purchases can be listed only by general category and, when described, often without much detail. -- Retired Politicians Spend Unused Campaign Funds - New York Times

February 23, 2007

Pennsylvania: 5th February is getting crowded

The Centre Daily reports: State Sen. Jake Corman said Thursday that he will convene a joint hearing in three weeks on whether Pennsylvania should move up its 2008 presidential primary election to early February.

If such a move were to be made, the most likely date would be Feb. 5, the date that other big states -- California, Michigan, Illinois and Florida -- are considering for their 2008 primaries.

"I'm open to hearing more about it," Corman said in an interview Thursday. "I think there's some logistical problems, but it would be good for our economy to have that campaign in Pennsylvania. If it can be done, we should try it."

Corman, R-Benner Township, is Senate majority policy chairman, a Senate Republican leadership position. He asked his Democratic Party counterpart, state Sen. Richard A. Kasunic, of Fayette County, to make it a joint hearing. Kasunic aide Will Dando said that Kasunic agreed. -- Centre Daily Times | 02/23/2007 | Pennsylvania eyes moving up primary

February 22, 2007

200th Anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade

Scott Horton writes on Balkinization: Two Hundred Years Ago Today, the Global Campaign for Human Rights Achieved Its First Victory ... Today the cause of universal human rights celebrates an important anniversary. On this day two hundred years ago, the Parliament at Westminster voted an act for the abolition of the slave trade. A few decades later, Parliament also voted the manumission of slaves throughout the British Empire. By that time, in the 1830's, the trafficking in slaves was viewed as a jus cogens crime by legal scholars around the world and the global movement to abolish slavery altogether was well launched.

Charting the origins of the modern human rights movement is an exercise in an uncertain and problematic geography, but if we follow it back along its swiftest channels to its ultimate source, past the American Civil Rights movement, the cause of voting rights for women, the great American abolitionist movement of the first half of the nineteenth century, we inevitably come to William Wilberforce and his sisters and brethren who launched the effort to ban the slave trade. Of course there were the French and American Revolutions with their call for the rights of man; there was Jean-Jacques Rousseau's theory of social contract and Immanuel Kant's conceptualization of a philosophy of right. These things have their vital role. -- Balkinization

Wilberforce is remembered on 30 July each year in the Episcopal Church. On that day, the prayer is "Let your continual mercy, O Lord, enkindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the children of the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever." Whether they are Christians or not, that is what civil rights lawyers do and should be doing: defending the children of the poor, and maintaining the cause of those who have no helper.

FEC counsel drafts ruling favorable to Obama's take the money and (maybe) give it back plan

The Chicago Tribine reports: Responding to his request for clarification, the Federal Election Commission signaled Thursday that Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign may be able to solicit private contributions for the 2008 general election while remaining eligible for public financing for that same contest.

The draft response was to a question Obama's campaign brought up this month when it indicated that it would start raising money for a potential general election candidacy, nearly a year before the first caucus and primary votes will be cast.

Obama (D-Ill.) and two of his top rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), have indicated they would likely reject the public financing system that has governed presidential elections for more than three decades. ...

In its draft ruling, the commission said Obama may solicit and receive contributions for the general election if he meets certain conditions, including a requirement to keep the money in a separate escrow account and that the funds not be used for any other purpose other than general election activities. -- Obama's funding question to get FEC look | Chicago Tribune

Thanks to Taegan Goddard's Political Wire for the link.

You may read the draft opinion here.

Missouri: ban on robo-calls approved by senate

AP reports: After an election season of automated calls and constituent complaints, senators voted Tuesday to restrict how politicians campaign.

The Senate by voice vote approved a bill that would expand the state's no-call list to include "robo-calls" from automatic dialing machines. The list, which is managed and enforced by the attorney general, also would be expanded to cover cell phone calls and text messages and faxes, along with traditional land-line telephone calls.

Sponsoring Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the bill expands protections for those who already have said they do not want to be called.

The bill would require a dialer to ask permission to play a recorded message and a declaration of who is paying for political solicitations. Those paying for the messages would also need to register with a state ethics commission or the Federal Election Commission. -- Senate approves bill restricting robo-calls

Connecticut: FEC sends inquiries to Lieberman and Lamont

The Hartford Courant reports: The Federal Election Commission is questioning whether Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and Democratic challenger Ned Lamont fully disclosed all their contributions during their U.S. Senate campaigns.

The FEC requests, contained in letters to each campaign, are considered routine. ...

The commission, though, wanted to know about two kinds of details it found lacking in his reports.

In one case, it found "one or more contributions that appear to exceed the limits." The letter advised the senator that any excess needed to be refunded or "redesignated" for another election.

Generally, no individual can give more than $2,100 per candidate per election during the 2006 cycle. -- courant.com | Lieberman, Lamont Questioned On Disclosure Of Contributions

North Carolina: Morgan drops suit on campaign contributions

The Pilot reports: Former state Rep. Richard Morgan has dropped his suit against the State Board of Elections.

The suit had alleged that some of Morgan's political enemies violated state campaign finance laws.

Morgan's attorney, Mi-chael L. Weisel of Ra-leigh, filed the voluntary dismissal Jan. 31 in Wake County Superior Court.

The notice cites a pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the Federal Election Commission vs. Wisconsin Right to Life that addresses issues similar to those raised in Morgan's suit.

Morgan, a former speaker of the state House of Represent-atives, first petitioned the State Board of Elections in April with a complaint against the Republican Legislative Majority (RLM), several political committees, Variety Wholesale Inc. and Variety Stores Inc., alleging that they illegally used corporate contributions in a campaign to defeat him and some of his political allies. -- ThePilot.com : Morgan Drops Suit With State

California: moving primary date will cost candidates more

Marketplace reports (audio report): A California Assembly committee today voted to move up next year's presidential primary from June to February. If approved, candidates' campaign costs will rise considerably. -- Marketplace: Golden State raises ante for 2008 campaign

District of Columbia: vote in Congress may be coming

The Washington Post reports: It can't be easy being in Congress without a vote, but the District's delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has stuck it out for 16 long years, never truly a part of the club but always relentlessly knocking on the door seeking admittance.

Now, Norton is sure, success is in her sights. With Democratic leaders pledging to get it done and ample Republican support, the bill giving both the District of Columbia and Utah an additional voting seat is cruising along. ...

The District's quest for voting rights and statehood has taken many roads for decades. Twenty years ago, legal experts believed only a constitutional amendment could give the city voting rights. But ultimately, only 16 of the 38 states needed voted to ratify the amendment. Most contemporary legal thinking, including an endorsement by the American Bar Association last year, declares the bill constitutionally sound.

Norton's bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), must clear two committees before it is brought for a floor vote. Norton is hoping that will happen in March. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Pelosi is committed to finalizing the bill's language, moving it through committees and having a floor vote as soon as possible. -- Lois Romano - For Norton and the City, the Wait May Be Over - washingtonpost.com

February 21, 2007

Alabama: Sen. Obama to speak at voting rights celebration

The Decatur Daily reports: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address next month at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee that commemorates the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, organizers said Tuesday.

Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois who is black, is scheduled to speak at a March 4 service at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the site in Selma where marchers gathered in the historic protest that gave blacks across the South greater access to the ballot.

Several dozen other members of Congress plan to attend, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said Sam Walker, an event coordinator with the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, which sponsors the commemoration. -- Obama to headline voting rights march commemoration in Selma

District of Columbia: "The Conservative Case for D.C. Voting Rights"

Marc Fisher writes in the Washington Post: Just as D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty cheered voting rights advocates with a new effort to lobby Congress for the right that all other Americans take for granted, and just as congressional Democrats were gearing up to show that they intend to be more aggressive on D.C. voting rights than the Republican leadership had been, along comes the Congressional Research Service with a whole new barrier.

The non-partisan Research Service concluded that giving D.C. residents a full, voting seat in the House of Representatives is probably unconstitutional. Suddenly, the air seemed to escape from the voting rights balloon.

Now, D.C. voting rights advocates are scrambling to reassert Congress's authority to create a House seat for the District. On the theory that the Democrats have more to gain from a D.C. seat than the Republicans, the new lobbying effort is aimed at persuading Republicans that this is not only the right thing to do, but a legally well-founded path as well. And who better to make that case than two solid citizens of the right, conservative legal scholars Kenneth Starr, the former Clinton impeachment case special prosecutor, and Viet Dinh, the Georgetown law professor and former Justice Department official.

Starr notes that the Constitution is silent on the matter of whether D.C. residents may vote. In the Founders' era, there was no expectation that people would live in the capital, which was then little more than an idea surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. But Starr says despite that silence, Congress has the authority to adapt to the fact that a full-fledged city grew up here; the Constitution expressly says that "The Congress shall have power ... to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the District of Columbia. -- The Conservative Case for D.C. Voting Rights - Raw Fisher

Pennsylvania: borough councilman may not vote by phone from Afghanistan

AP reports: A borough councilman serving in Afghanistan was denied a request to participate in meetings by phone, drawing protests from veterans.

Tullytown Councilman Joseph Shellenberger, a master sergeant in the Air Force, was sent to Afghanistan in January and is expected to return home in about two months. He asked before leaving to be allowed to phone in his votes during meetings. -- www.centredaily.com | 02/21/2007 | Councilman denied request to vote from Afghanistan

New York: (highest) Supreme Court to hear challenge to selection of justices for (lower) Supreme Court

The New York Times reports: The United States Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to review New York’s method of selecting candidates to its own Supreme Courts — the 324 judges who have general trial jurisdiction throughout the state and whose nomination to 14-year terms is tightly controlled by a political process that two lower federal courts declared unconstitutional last year.

The lower court rulings, which were stayed until after the 2006 election cycle, have created turmoil in the state’s judicial politics and spurred calls for fundamental change in a system that dates to 1921. The political parties control the nominating conventions, and candidates who are not favored by the parties’ leaders have no chance of getting on the ballot. The actual elections are for the most part uncontested.

From 1994 to 2002, these nominating conventions in the state’s 12 judicial departments chose 568 State Supreme Court candidates, none of whom were challengers to the party favorites. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a ruling last August affirming a decision issued five months earlier by Judge John Gleeson of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, ruled that the system was so exclusionary as to violate the First Amendment right of the state’s voters to freedom of political association.

“The First Amendment guarantees voters and candidates a realistic opportunity to participate in the nominating phase free from severe and unnecessary burdens,” Judge Chester J. Straub wrote for a three-judge panel of the appeals court. He added that the United States Supreme Court’s election-law precedents “establish that the First Amendment prohibits a state from maintaining an electoral scheme that in practice excludes candidates, and thus voters, from participating in the electoral process.” -- Supreme Court Will Review the Way New York Selects Judicial Candidates - New York Times

February 20, 2007

"Lower Voter Turnout Is Seen in States That Require ID"

The New York Times reports: States that imposed identification requirements on voters reduced turnout at the polls in the 2004 presidential election by about 3 percent, and by two to three times as much for minorities, new research suggests.

The study, prepared by scholars at Rutgers and Ohio State Universities for the federal Election Assistance Commission, supports concerns among voting-rights advocates that blacks and Hispanics could be disproportionately affected by ID requirements. But federal officials say more research is needed to draw firmer conclusions about the effects on future elections.

Tim Vercellotti, a professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University who helped conduct the study, said that in the states where voters were required to sign their names or present identifying documents like utility bills, blacks were 5.7 percent less likely to vote than in states where voters simply had to say their names.

Dr. Vercellotti said Hispanics appeared to be 10 percent less likely to vote under those requirements, while the combined rate for people of all races was 2.7 percent. -- Lower Voter Turnout Is Seen in States That Require ID - New York Times

Thanks to TChris at TalkLeft.com for the link.

Questions for and about von Spakovsky

Gerry Hebert writes on the Campaign Legal Center Blog: A number of Federal Election Commissioners will face confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary this year, but one of them deserves particular attention. The politically-expedited career of Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky, both as a recess appointee to the FEC and previously as an attorney at the Department of Justice, warrants careful scrutiny by the Committee. The record that has already developed about von Spakovsky is a disturbing one for an individual charged with enforcing the nation’s election laws. ...

The evidence that has become public since [the decision to preclear the Texas redistricting in 2003] demonstrates that the decision to overrule the career professionals was made purely based on politics by a number of political appointees in the Department of Justice, including Hans von Spakovsky—who President Bush later rewarded with a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission. ...

DOJ lawyers, many of whom have now left the Department, have informally told me that von Spakovsky played a central role in the decision to approve the Texas plan. This was confirmed in a recently published book on the Texas redistricting case entitled “Lines in Sand: Congressional Redistricting in Texas and the Downfall of Tom DeLay by Steve Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff writes:

“The political appointees at Justice controlled how the department would handle the decisions surrounding Texas redistricting, and none of them with any ambition to remain active in this Republican administration or in the Republican Party could dare allow any departmental action to delay or to block it. Loyal service would be rewarded. Hans von Spakovsky, who led the battle within Civil Rights Division to approve the Texas redistricting in 2003, was appointed by President Bush to the Federal Election commission in 2006. The appointment was an interim appointment not requiring U.S. Senate confirmation.” -- Campaign Legal Center blog: "So exactly where were you, Hans von Spakovsky, on the nights in question"ť

Paper trail legislation gets more looks

The Washington Post reports: Efforts are intensifying in Congress to pass legislation that would require electronic touch-screen voting machines used in federal elections to provide paper trails that could be checked in the case of a recount.

The new momentum is the result of lingering concerns about the machines as the 2008 presidential primaries fast approach, as well as strong support for changes by the new Democratic majority, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Rules Committee, taking a leading role. ...

The work at the national level echoes moves in many states. Often under pressure from voting-rights groups, 27 states have decided to require paper trails.

Last month, Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida went a step further, asking the legislature to pay for replacing touch-screen machines by next year with optical-scan devices, which read paper ballots. Virginia and Maryland are considering similar moves. -- Campaign Strengthens For a Voting Paper Trail - washingtonpost.com

Maryland: drive for felon voting rights

The Washington Post reports: Advocates seeking to expand the voting rights of convicted felons in Maryland are stepping up their efforts this year, hoping that the election of Gov. Martin O'Malley will help move bills that stalled in past years.

Leaders from the 2nd Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church met with O'Malley (D) yesterday morning to encourage him to support legislation that, in varying degrees, would restore the voting rights of former offenders.

In Maryland, a first-time offender is able to vote after completing a sentence, including any probation or parole. People convicted of two or more felonies must wait three years before they can vote.

A House bill would allow first-time offenders to vote after they are released from prison. A Senate bill would remove the waiting period for second-time offenders. -- Advocates Urge O'Malley to Back Restored Rights - washingtonpost.com

February 18, 2007

Texas: Democrats attack eSlate machines used in 102 counties

The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports: A federal lawsuit contending that elections in about 100 Texas counties could be flawed originated in Madison County, where last year's race for county judge is still being disputed in state court.

The suit, filed in Austin on Tuesday by the Texas Democratic Party, suggests a glitch in Hart InterCivic's popular eSlate voting machine - which is used by Brazos, Burleson, Grimes, Madison and 98 other Texas counties. ...

According to Democratic Party officials, the problem with the Hart InterCivic machines is their method for counting "emphasis" votes. For decades, Texas law has allowed people to vote a straight ticket - meaning all Republican or Democratic candidates - by marking one box at the top of the ballot. ...

"The Texas rules uniformly provided that by making these 'emphasizing' selections, the voter will not be disenfranchised in those races. The voters' intent is clear. They not only voted a straight ticket, but they 'made sure' their vote counted."

But printouts from the Madison County race indicate that when people tried to emphasize their votes there, the eSlate machines interpreted it to mean they were canceling the individual votes, both lawsuits state. For instance, a straight-ticket Democratic voter who lodged an emphasis vote for Bullard would have ended up voting for all the Democrats on the ballot except Bullard, Wood said. -- Democrats: Voting glitch intolerable | The Bryan-College Station Eagle

Oklahoma: CREW files FEC complaint against Rep. Coburn

The Tulsa World reports: A private watchdog group said Friday it has filed an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the 2004 campaign of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., citing "violations" outlined in a previous FEC audit.

Tim Mooney, senior counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the violations "egregious" and expressed hope the FEC would fine Coburn's campaign.

By filing an official complaint, Mooney said his group would be forcing the hand of the FEC, which already has the authority to launch its own investigation. ...

Released in late January, the FEC audit found that Coburn's campaign accepted contributions that exceeded the legal limit, did not include information on certain contributors as required by law and failed to file proper paperwork on donations totaling $349,100. -- tulsaworld.com: News

February 17, 2007

"Take This Bread"

Salon.com has a chapter from "Take This Bread" by Sara Miles. This is the editor's note that introduces the chapter: At 46, Sara Miles, a left-wing, secular journalist and former cook, found herself an unlikely convert to Christianity. She joined St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in San Francisco, where she turned the bread she ate at Communion into groceries for a food bank that now feeds over 450 people a week. The following excerpt is from her memoir about what she calls her "unexpected and terribly inconvenient" spiritual awakening -- "Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion."

This explanation/meditation/I-don't-know-what on the Eucharist literally (and I do mean "literally" in the correct way) took my breath away -- I doubled over as the breath expelled from me. I hope it affects you the same way: All that grounded me were those pieces of bread. I was feeling my way toward a theology, beginning with what I had taken in my mouth and working out from there. I couldn't start by conceptualizing God as an abstract "Trinity" or trying to "prove" a divine existence philosophically. It was the materiality of Christianity that fascinated me, the compelling story of incarnation in its grungiest details, the promise that words and flesh were deeply, deeply connected. I reflected, for example, about [my daughter] Katie, and about what it was like to be both a mother and a mother's child. The entire process of human reproduction was, if I considered it for a minute, about as "intolerable" as the apostles said communion was. It sounded just as weird as the claim that God was in a piece of bread you could eat. And yet it was true.

I grew inside my mother, the way Katie grew inside me. I came out of her and ate her, just as Katie ate my body, literally, to live. I became my mother in ways that still felt, sometimes, as elemental and violent as the moment when I'd been pushed out from between her legs in a great rush of blood. And it was the same with my father: He had helped make me, in ways that were wildly mysterious and absolutely powerful. Like Jesus, he had gone inside somebody else's body and then become a part of me. The shape of my hands, the way I cleared my throat, the color of my eyes: My parents lived in me -- body and soul, DNA and spirit. That was like the bread becoming God becoming me, in ways seen and unseen. -- My daily bread | Salon Life

February 16, 2007

Public Citizen Litigation Group has created a "S.Ct. Watch" listserv

Public Citizen Litigation Group emails: Public Citizen Litigation Group has just created a new S.Ct. Watch listserv to send out more widely our updates on pending cert. petitions of public interest, including some cases we're working on (the current watch list is available here.). An example email about tomorrow's conference is below -- from now on, we'll be sending this out before each S.Ct. conference.

Would you like to join? If so, please click this link to sign up directly.

ALAN MORRISON SUPREME COURT ASSISTANCE PROJECT UPDATE

Welcome to the new Supreme Court Watch listserv. Public Citizen has created this listserv to raise awareness of public interest issues presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before each S.Ct. conference, we'll send this list an update on pending Cert. Petitions of Public Interest. (For those who've received these emails before, note that the watch list is no longer an attachment so you'll need to click on the below link to view the full watch list).

Feel free to forward this message to friends or colleagues who may wish to sign up here: http://www.citizen.org/supremecourtsignup.

The Supreme Court Watch List for the Feb. 16th conference is available as a PDF here: http://www.citizen.org/documents/SCAPpetitionsMonitored.pdf.

PUBLIC CITIZEN CASE HIGHLIGHTS

* Public Citizen is co-counsel for respondents in three pending cert. petitions:

- 06-492, Curry County v. Robert Dark, 9th Cir. (ADA discriminatory discharge and reasonable accommodation - Brian Wolfman is co-counsel for respondent).
- 06-580, Board of Education v. Hyde Park Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Frank G., et al., 2d Cir. (IDEA private tuition reimbursement for parents where child was never enrolled in public school - Bonnie Robin-Vergeer is co-counsel for respondents).
- 06-763, Illinois Central RR Co. v. Milton McDaniel, Miss. (FELA release of injury claim - Allison Zieve is co-counsel for respondent).

* Public Citizen has two petitions previously held which were re-listed for this conference:

- 05-107, Davis v. Int'l Union, UAAAIWA, 6th Cir. (federal jurisdiction - removal/remand/preemption - Paul Levy represents petitioner).
- 05-816, Clark v. Colorado Dep't of Corrections, 10th Cir. (Prison Litigation Reform Act/total exhaustion - Brian Wolfman is co-counsel with Amanda Frost on this petition).

* Public Citizen is assisting with one other case at this conference:
- 06-589 Christian Civil League of Maine, Inc. v. FEC & McCain et al., D.D.C. (electioneering/lobbying ad ban - Scott Nelson is assisting congresssional appellees).

Last Conference
* The Court agreed to hear:
- 06-969/06-970 Federal Election Commission, Senators McCain et al. v. Wisconsin, D.D.C. (electioneering ban on grassroots lobbying ads - Scott Nelson is co-counsel for McCain et al. appellants).

* The Court denied cert. on:
- 06-746 Hyundai Motor v. Razor, Ill. (no Magnuson Moss or FTC preemption of state warranty requirement - Brian Wolfman assisted respondent.)
- 06-528, Lundeen v. Canadian Pacific Railway Co., 8th Cir. (Federal Railroad Safety Act preemption of state-law tort claims from N.D. railroad accident - Paul Levy represented petitioners).

For more info, contact: Emma Cheuse, echeuse@citizen.org
Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project
http://www.citizen.org/supremecourt
Public Citizen Litigation Group
(202) 588-7727

North Carolina: Speaker Black resigns, pleads guilty

The Fayette Observer reports: Former state House Speaker Jim Black admitted in federal court Thursday that he took cash payments in secret meetings with chiropractors, contradicting months of denials that he had committed wrongdoing.

Black, 71, pleaded guilty to a single felony count of receiving personal payments while working as an official for a state that receives federal funds. He was released from court pending sentencing in about 90 days. He faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge James Dever III read much of the government’s charge, including details about cash payments from chiropractors and favorable legislation that helped the chiropractic industry. ...

The charge says that between 2000 and 2002, Black told two chiropractors that “cash payments would be more helpful than campaign contributions made by check.” Those two recruited a third chiropractor who also made cash payments. -- FayObserver.com - Current Article Page

Kansas: senate passes voter I.D. bill

AP reports: Senators approved a bill late Thursday that would require all first-time voters to show photo identification to vote and proof of citizenship to register to vote.

However, Democrats said the bill amounted to a "poll tax" because residents would be required to produce a copy of their birth certificate, passport or proof of citizenship to register. A birth certificate costs $12 in Kansas, while a passport is $97.

"This is the 21st century version of the poll tax," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "I frankly don't know what problem we're trying to fix."

The Senate's 28-12 vote sends the bill to the House.

Republicans supporting the bill said it was a necessary measure to protect the integrity of the election process, noting that residents are required to show identification to cash a check, purchase cigarettes or buy alcohol. -- AP Wire | 02/15/2007 | Senate passes election ID bill over claims of 'poll tax'

Canada: voter I.D. bill passes Commons

Nunatsiaq News reports: When residents of Nunavut and Nunavik next head to the polls to cast ballots in a federal election, they will have to produce photo identification.

That’s a change brought in by Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, which passed in the House of Commons on Feb. 6.

Only members of the NDP caucus voted against the bill.

If residents don’t have photo ID, they will still be able to vote if they swear an oath, and have another resident, with photo ID, vouch for them as well.

Dennis Bevington, MP for the Western Arctic, warned in a press release that the bill may discourage residents across Canada’s North, who often don’t possess photo ID, from voting. -- Nunatsiaq News

New York: DOJ presents experts in suit against Port Chester

The Journal News reports: The federal government sued Port Chester in December, alleging that the election system violates the federal Voting Rights Act. It is asking U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson to replace the "at-large" system with one in which the six village trustees are elected from different districts, including at least one majority Hispanic district.

It is also asking Robinson to stop the March 20 village election for two trustee seats until a district system is in place.

Two government expert witnesses testified yesterday, contending that the village's election system discriminates against Latinos and prevents them from electing their candidate of choice.

"I believe that the at-large system in Port Chester of electing trustees is diluting the minority vote," said Lisa Handley, an expert in voter data analysis and voting patterns among Hispanics.

Robert Courtney Smith, a college professor and an expert in discrimination against Hispanics, said Solomon's statement, along with some 35 speakers at the hearings and a handful of hecklers, point to a pattern of racial polarization in the village. -- Racial polarization in Port Chester cited in federal lawsuit

Wyoming: Plaintiffs rest in Fremont County case; defense presents first witness

The Casper Star-Tribune reports: Single-member commissioner districts would benefit Fremont County like the ward system benefits the elections of city council members in Riverton, the city's mayor said Thursday in federal court in Casper.

"The system works for city government," John Vincent said during testimony as the last witness in the ninth and final day of a voting rights bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson. -- Riverton mayor favors single-member districts for Fremont County

AP reports on the opening witness for the defense: More harm than good would be done to American Indian-white relations by having Fremont County's five commissioners each represent a district, one of those commissioners said during a trial challenging the county's at-large system of electing commissioners.

"I'm worried this lawsuit will take us back 10 years in Fremont County in race relations," Commissioner Keja Whiteman, who is Indian, said Wednesday.

Five members of the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Reservation, which covers a large part of Fremont County, filed the lawsuit. They say the at-large system causes discrimination by diluting Indian voting strength.

They want the U.S. District Court to require the county to have districts. One of those districts would be the reservation land. -- Indian commissioner testifies against suit

February 15, 2007

Demos issues reports on Election Day Registration and Accessible Voting Systems

Election Day Registration Continues its Winning Streak in 2006
In Voters Win with Election Day Registration, Demos finds that Election Day Registration (EDR) was widely successful in the 2006 midterm election. EDR states continue to boast turnout rates 10 to 12 percentage points higher than states that do not offer EDR. Montana, the most recent state to adopt Election Day Registration, saw 4,000 state residents register and vote with EDR last November.
> Click here to download report

New Voting Machines Do Not Accommodate Voters with Disabilities
Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, once considered essential to ensuring private and independent voting for voters with disabilities, often do not work as promised. Improving Access to Voting: A Report on the Technology for Accessible Voting Systems -- authored by Noel Runyan, an electrical engineer and access technology expert, and published by Demos and Voter Action -- shows that the DREs purchased by states to comply with the Help America Vote Act fail to meet federal standards. The report recommends that election administrators instead adopt blended systems, such as a combination of optical scan ballots, ballot marking devices with appropriate accessibility features, and multilingual paper ballots.
> Click here to download report

Giuliani asks FEC for advice on his speaking fees

The Washington Post reports: Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has continued to make paid speeches at a standard fee of $100,000 since forming his presidential exploratory committee last November, mixing personal business with campaigning in a way many of his rivals in the race cannot.

Presidential candidates who are not federal officeholders are allowed to take money for speeches, as long as they are not raising campaign money at the event, distributing campaign material or delivering an overtly political speech. ...

Past speechmaking by presidential candidates has attracted the attention of election regulators. In 2003, Democrat Wesley K. Clark returned money for motivational speeches after published reports questioned whether the payments amounted to improper campaign contributions.

Clark said yesterday that he believed his speech fees were legal but ultimately gave them back to avoid giving opponents an issue, and that he worries that putting such fees off limits only hurts candidates who are not wealthy or members of Congress. -- Giuliani to Seek Advice From FEC About Speaking Fees - washingtonpost.com

Alabama: move the presidential primary because of Mardi Gras?

The Birmingham News and CQPolitics.com have stories on Alabama's presidential primary date. First the Birmingham News: Tentative plans to move Alabama's party primaries to Feb. 2 next year are being reconsidered in light of national party rules discouraging most states from setting them earlier than Feb. 5. ...

The Alabama Legislature had settled on a Feb. 5 primary - a full four months earlier than during the 2004 elections - to try to make the state more relevant in picking the nominees for president. But Feb. 5 started to look unattractive because of the conflict with Mardi Gras and the rush of other states to pick the same date, so party leaders in Alabama recently decided Feb. 2 was a better option. They planned to make the change when the Alabama Legislature went into session in March.

But the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have rules against most states holding their nominating contests earlier than Feb. 5. To discourage it, the national party organizations say states could lose a portion of their delegate seats at the national nominating conventions, and Democrats additionally could sanction candidates who campaign in states that break the timing rule. -- Plan for early voting may not work

CQPolitics reports: Alabama officials are considering a measure that would move the state’s 2008 presidential primary from its currently scheduled date of Tuesday, Feb. 5 to Saturday, Feb. 2.

This move, if executed, could give the state some stand-alone prominence in the wide-open contests for the major parties’ presidential nominations. But it also would run afoul of the rules set by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee, which bar most states from holding nominating contests before Feb. 5.

Those rules already face a potentially serious challenge from Florida, the nation’s fourth-most populous state, where lawmakers in that state appear poised to enact a measure that would move its primary up before Feb. 5 — even in the face of possible penalties, including the loss of delegates to the national parties’ conventions in late summer 2008. Alabama could face similar sanctions if it opts for the Feb. 2 date.

The exact language of the Florida proposal would peg its primary for one week after the traditional first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary or for the first Tuesday in February, whichever comes first. The likely effect is that the Florida contest would be slotted for Jan. 29; although New Hampshire officials haven’t yet set their primary date, they are expected to choose Jan. 22, the earliest date allowed to it by DNC rules. -- Alabama Could Turn Primary Front-Loading Into a Crimson Tide

February 14, 2007

"Felons Can Be in the Military, Just Not in the Ballot Box"

Scott Moss writes on Concurring Opinions about two news stories: That is: if we trust felons (at least some of them) enough to let them carry guns and have access to our military in the middle of a war, I can't see an argument that there's any valid reason to prevent them from voting.

It always has been striking how courts strain to avoid invalidating felon disenfranchisement laws. Though I am not a voting rights expert, to my limited review of the case law, the holdings declaring such laws permissible under the Voting Rights Act seem particularly weak; the Act bans practices that have a disparate impact by race (as disenfranchisement laws do), and some courts seem to have avoided finding a violation by reasoning, "Congress didn't intend for its ban on racial disparate impacts to invalidate felon disenfranchisement laws" (I'm paraphrasing). The best response I can give is what Justice Scalia wrote in holding same-sex sexual harassment actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute that clearly was intended as a ban on race (and to a lesser extent sex) discrimination in hiring by a Congress that surely never considered same-sex issues in employment:

[M]ale-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed. (emphasis added)
-- Felons Can Be in the Military, Just Not in the Ballot Box

New Mexico: federal court voids Albuquerque voter I.D. ordinance

AP reports: A federal judge has ruled that the city of Albuquerque's voter ID ordinance is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo's ruling this week stems from a lawsuit filed in 2005 by the ALCU on behalf of the League of Woman Voters and other plaintiffs.

They argued that the ordinance violated the 14th Amendment and infringed upon their right to free expression under the First Amendment.

In an 83-page order issued Monday, the judge rejected their argument regarding freedom of expression. -- KRQE News 13 - Judge strikes city's voter ID ordinance

Where you vote may affect whether you vote

AP reports: Officials in two Houston-area elections recently manipulated polling locations to clear the path for their supporters to vote and to toss numerous roadblocks before their opponents.

Sponsors of a local community college bond election tried last year to put all their polling locations on their campuses, making voting easy for students and employees — a natural support base — but less convenient for opponents. That move prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to step in, and the election was postponed. ...

Such maneuvers go on to a lesser degree all over the country.

Some Minnesota schools hold bond elections in frigid January. Fire departments pushing bond elections in New Jersey routinely place their polling booths in remote fire stations. And elections officials in Ohio and California have been accused of uneven distribution of voting machines, causing long lines in neighborhoods that support one party and a quick passthrough for supporters of the other party.

Such machinations allow government officials to assist their favored candidate or to help pass bond issues — and their resulting property tax increases — without mounting expensive campaigns. Controlling the location of polls allows supporters to turn out in their usual numbers, while opponents have to drive farther, or to several places, to vote. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Texas/Southwest

Alabama: newspaper blocked from seeing sheriff's emails sent during election campaign

The Decatur Daily reports: Morgan County Circuit Judge Steve Haddock armed Sheriff Greg Bartlett with a restraining order in the sheriff's latest move to keep the public from knowing to whom he sent e-mails.

The order is apparently aimed at a request The Daily made Feb. 7 for a screen capture printout of e-mails sent by Bartlett, a jailer, a clerk and a captain in his office.

The screen capture would show the name of the sender, the recipient, a subject line, and the date and time. It would not show content of e-mails. The Daily requested information from April 1 through June 14, 2006. Those dates span the heated Republican primary. -- County e-mail on hold: Restraining order issued to keep sheriff's screen headers from public

Ohio: Kerry may have won

J.Q. Jacobs has sent me the link to his article on how Kerry actually won in Ohio. Here is his thesis.

To keep elections fair, Ohio candidate names rotate to the top of the ballot list an equal portion of the time, a statutory requirement. Election officials ensuring this equal rotation combined differing ballot orders at locations shared by several precincts, creating an opportunity for fraud and a greater problem than the one the law seeks to solve. In punch card voting Ohio counties (72.4% of the state-wide vote in 2004), multiple ballot orders resulted instead in the unfairness of wrong-precinct voting. I define "wrong-precinct voting" as ballots cast with a voting machine for one precinct then counted with a different precinct's ballot counter, possibly counted other than as intended. With greater specificity, I define the hyphenated term "cross-vote" as a vote counted other than as intended. Wrong-precinct voting does not result in cross-voting when adjacent precincts have the same ballot order.

Defining the vote outcome probabilities of wrong-precinct voting has revealed, in a sample of 166,953 votes (1 of every 34 Ohio votes), the Kerry-Bush margin changes 6.15% when the population is sorted by probable outcomes of wrong-precinct voting.

The Kerry to Bush 6.15% vote-switch differential is seen when the large sample is sorted by probability a Kerry wrong-precinct vote counts for Bush. When the same large voter sample is sorted by the probability Kerry votes count for third-party candidates, Kerry votes are instead equal in both subsets.

Read the report for yourself at http://jqjacobs.net/politics/ohio.html.

Voter turnout in mid-term elections

My old friend George Pillsbury at the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network has emailed me about a new report NVEN has published.

America Goes to the Polls is a comprehensive report on voter turnout in the 2006 elections. It charts voter turnout in midterm elections over the last 30 years, ranking the states by 2006 turnout and their turnout growth over 2002. America Goes the Polls also discusses election reform ideas that could improve voter participation as well as the challenge to voter mobilization of reaching today’s diverse electorate of over 200 million voters.

Scroll down a little further on their home page to get the "Ohio Voter Participation Notebook" and "Nonprofits, Voting and Elections."

February 13, 2007

Kentucky: House committee approves constitutional amendments relating to pardons and felon vote-restoration

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports: The power of governors to issue pardons would be limited, and certain felons could have their voting rights restored, under constitutional amendments approved Tuesday by a legislative committee.

The House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee voted 8-3 for a measure to prohibit Kentucky governors from pardoning themselves and pardoning others unless they had been formally charged or convicted of a crime.

House Bill 3, sponsored by Reps. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, would prohibit blanket pardons of people who had not been charged with crimes, and would require those seeking pardons to apply for the reprieves. ...

The committee also approved HB 70, which calls for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences. It would not apply to murderers or sex offenders.

Under Kentucky's constitution, felons must appeal to the governor to ask for the reinstatement of their rights to vote, hold office or bear arms. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would bypass the governor's office when it comes to restoring most felons' voting rights. -- Lexington Herald-Leader | 02/13/2007 | Bills would change constitutional rules for pardons, felon voting rights

Missouri: may the mentally ill vote?

AP reports: Lawyers arguing a challenge to Missouri election law before a federal appeals court panel here disagreed yesterday whether the state denies voting rights to some mentally ill people.

The lawyer for a mentally ill man in Kansas City said the Missouri Constitution and state law deny voting rights to Missourians assigned a guardian because of "mental incapacity."

Anti-discrimination law expert Samuel Bagenstos conceded that some counties have ordered individual assessments of those under guardianship to determine their competence to vote. But, he said, they have no authority and are under no obligation to do so.

Bagenstos wants the court to declare what he calls the voting ban unconstitutional and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, he said, it’s up to the General Assembly to reshape the law to allow for mentally ill people under guardianship to be assessed individually for voting competence.

A lawyer for the state, meanwhile, maintains Missouri does provide for individual assessments to determine whether a mentally incapacitated person is nonetheless competent to vote. -- Court considers voting rights for mentally ill

Alabama: Charles Langford, R.I.P.

AP reports: Former state Sen. Charles Langford was remembered as a quiet but determined fighter in key civil rights legal battles as a lawyer for Rosa Parks and the organization that launched the historic Montgomery bus boycott. ...

Along with his legal work in the civil rights movement, Langford had a long career in the Alabama Legislature. ...

Langford passed the Alabama State Bar exam in 1953 and opened a law practice in Montgomery. He soon became involved in legal battles that shaped Alabama, including representing Parks after she was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man.

Her arrest inspired the MIA, then led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to launch the boycott and pursue litigation that led to the U.S Supreme Court ending desegregation on public transportation.

Langford represented Arlam Carr Jr. in a 1964 suit that desegregated Montgomery's public schools, and he represented black legislators in a lawsuit that ended the flying of the Confederate battle flag on the state Capitol dome in 1993. -- AP Wire | 02/12/2007 | Former Alabama Sen. Langford remembered for civil rights work

Alabama: A.G. King to propose disfranchising all felons

AP reports: About one out of every 14 voting-age Alabamians can't vote because of felony convictions. Restoring their voting rights has created confusion in county courthouses and is about to create a battle in the Legislature.

Attorney General Troy King said he plans to propose a constitutional amendment that would return to Alabama's old system, requiring all felons to apply to the state parole board to get their voting rights restored after finishing their punishment. His constitutional amendment would apply to future felons, not those already in the system.

"It clarifies the law," King said. "It makes it easier for election officials to do their jobs. And it preserves the integrity of our system."

It also creates more work for the state parole board, which is already struggling under a heavy load of probation and parole cases.

"It would be a nightmare," Sarah Still, manager of the board's pardons division, said Friday. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com :: Attorney general wants felon voting change

Wyoming: Former candidate testifies about racial slurs against Indians

The Casper Star-Tribune reports: Five people told Michelle Hoffman during her unsuccessful campaign for superintendent of public instruction against Jim McBride in 2006 that she had three strikes against her: She was a Democrat, a woman, and lived on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

But Hoffman has heard and seen far worse discrimination against American Indians as superintendent of the Wyoming Indian School District in Ethete and as a Fremont County resident, she testified on Monday during the bench trial in which five reservation residents are suing the county for violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Some of the worst incidents, she said, have occurred during sporting events in Fremont County and elsewhere when students and adults from competing schools yelled comments such as "go back to the reservation," "white chocolate" in reference to students who are half Indian and half-white, "black Indian boy," and "prairie n ---- r."

Students have reported seeing floats in parades bearing phrases such as "teepee burners" and "sack the Indians," Hoffman said during questioning from Laughlin McDonald, who is lead attorney for the Indians and from the Atlanta office of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. -- Former candidate notes slurs

February 8, 2007

John Edwards will keep the bloggers

Political Insider has the statement of Sen. Edwards on the blogger controvery. -- Political Insider: Edwards Statement on Bloggers

Documents from hearings on paper trails

beSpacific has links to statements from, and documents relating to, Hearing on The Hazards of Electronic Voting: Focus on the Machinery of Democracy

Wyoming: expert testimony in Indian voting rights suit

The Capser Star-Tribune reports: Detamore and Laughlin McDonald, the Indians' lead attorney, hired statistical experts in voting practices -- Steven Cole for the Indians and Ronald Weber for the county -- to testify at the trial this week.

By studying the 1996, 2000 and 2006 general elections, both Cole and Weber found Indian cohesion, but Weber found less cohesion than Cole.

On Wednesday, Weber said he agreed with Cole generally but disagreed with Cole's analysis of racial polarization -- that Indians voted cohesively one way and non-Indians voted cohesively another way.

Cole, who testified Monday, cited one contest in Fremont County where three Indian-preferred candidates were on the ballot, but only one won.

Voters in Fremont County would have shown their voting patterns were not racially polarized if all three of those candidates won, Cole said.

Weber responded Cole set too high a standard, and the analysis should be done differently.

"I think it should be candidate-by-candidate," Weber said. -- Indians, county spar over voting analysis

Canada: Parliament considers voter I.D. bill

CBC reports: Proposed changes to Canada's Elections Act that would require voters to present identification at the polling station are "wrong-headed," Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington says.

Bevington says the new rules would be hard on northerners in remote communities and may, in fact, discourage voting.

"I just think this is wrong-headed," the NDP MP said Wednesday. "It's kind of Big Brother. I don't like it on that front as well." ...

Under Bill C-31, voters would be required to show one piece of government-issued photo ID or two pieces without a photo before being allowed to vote.

The bill, introduced by the Conservatives and under debate this week, is aimed at reducing election fraud and maintaining the integrity of the national voters list.

However, Nunavut's Liberal MP, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, is in favour of the new rules, saying it will help deal with election fraud. -- Proposed voter ID rules rankle Western Arctic MP

Oklahoma: voter I.D. bill passes house committee

AP reports: Legislation that would require voters to provide proof of identity before voting was passed by a state House committee Wednesday.

The bill, passed by the House Rules Committee, would require voters to present a document containing their photograph issued by the state, the federal government, a county, a municipality or a federally recognized American Indian tribe before they are allowed to vote.

Voters without a photo ID would be allowed to vote after they sign a statement swearing they are the person who is registered to vote. -- Examiner-Enterprise

MIssissippi: voter I.D. bill passes senate

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports: After a lengthy and emotional debate that highlighted Mississippi's tumultuous racial history, state senators today passed a bill to require voters to show government-issued identification before casting ballots.

The bill was seen by several African-American members as a partisan attempt in an election year to intimidate black voters. -- Memphis Commercial Appeal - Memphis' Source for News and Information: Local

Obama keeps his options open while raising private funds

AP reports: Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is asking whether he can take money from donors who want him to be president, then give it back later. The Federal Election Commission said Wednesday that it will look into the novel question.

Obama is indicating that he wants to at least keep the option of using the public financing system for his presidential campaign if he becomes the Democratic nominee. To do so, the Illinois senator could not spend any money from contributors for political purposes, but instead use federal funding that is expected to total about $85 million for next year's general election. ...

Obama has decided to raise unlimited private contributions for the primary and general campaigns, following the lead of chief Democratic rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards. Edwards and Obama also say they won't accept money from lobbyists or political action committees.

But Obama's lawyer, Robert Bauer, suggested in an advisory opinion request to the FEC that Obama may want to participate in the public financing system for the general election if he's nominated and the Republican candidate agreed to do the same. -- Obama Preserves Public Financing Option - washingtonpost.com

Paper trail bills in Congress

NPR Morning Edition reports: Two bills have been introduced in Congress that would require a paper trail for electronic voting in future elections. The measures follow disputed midterm races. But some experts say changing the voting system by the 2008 presidential elections will be difficult. -- NPR : 'Paper Trail' Voting a Challenge for 2008

February 7, 2007

Media Matters rebuts criticism of Edwards campaign

Media Matters says on its website: The New York Times and Associated Press have both reported criticism by Catholic League president Bill Donohue of two bloggers hired by John Edwards' presidential campaign; Donohue contends that the bloggers are "anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots."

But neither the Times article, by reporter John M. Broder, nor the AP article, by writer Nedra Pickler, included any mention of Donohue's own history of vulgar, trash-talking bigotry -- or of Donohue's decision to dismiss anti-Catholic bigotry on the part of a key anti-Kerry operative in 2004. -- Media Matters - NY Times, AP reported Donohue's criticism of Edwards campaign bloggers -- but ignored Donohue's own controversial comments and inconsistent outrage

Colorado: bill to ease overseas military voting

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports: A groundbreaking bill aimed at making it easier for overseas military personnel to vote sailed through the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Tuesday. ...

House Bill 1149 would allow commissioned officers to sign absentee-ballot applications for registered Colorado voters stationed overseas. Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who helped write the bill, said he hopes its passage will persuade other states to develop similar legislation.

The measure sprang from recent experiences in which Coffman and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, served overseas and could not vote. Coffman was in remote Iraq setting up elections in 2005 and did not have a fax machine available to transmit his signature so he could not get his absentee ballot.

This proposal still requires troops to cast the actual votes on the ballots. But Rice, who sponsored the bill with Marine reservist and Republican Sen. Steve Ward of Littleton, said soldiers can get ballots even in remote areas as long as someone else can do the paperwork. -- Gazette.com

Wyoming: Indian voting rights trial begins

AP reports: Rampant poverty tends to depress participation by Wind River Indian Reservation residents in Fremont County politics, a University of Wyoming professor said in the first day of testimony in a federal civil trial challenging the county's system of electing county commissioners.

The lawsuit claims that the at-large system violates the voting rights of residents of the reservation, which covers a large part of Fremont County.

County residents Patricia Bergie, Pete Calhoun, Gary Collins, James E. Large and Emma Lu-cille McAdams - all members of either the Eastern Shoshone or Northern Arapaho tribes - say that not having commissioners represent certain areas of the county dilutes American Indians' voting strength. ...

Garth Massey, a UW sociologist, was among several experts called by the plaintiffs Monday. Massey said that not even casino gambling would help the reservation's conditions much in the long run. ...

Massey was questioned by one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Laughlin McDonald, of the Atlanta office of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Inc. -- Rocky Mountain News - Denver and Colorado's reliable source for breaking news, sports and entertainment: Local

Mississippi: Richard Engstrom will not testify in Ike Brown trial

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports: The Noxubee County case has apparently ended without court resuming after the defense decided against calling an expert witness to testify.

An out-of-state voting rights expert had been scheduled to testify Feb. 15.

The lawsuit, the first of its kind in the United States filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, accuses black political leaders in Noxubee County of discriminating against white voters.

The three-week trial in U.S. District Court concluded last Wednesday, with the exception of the expert coming to Jackson to testify. -- Voting rights expert won’t testify in Noxubee County election dispute case - The Clarion-Ledger

Catholic League complains about Edwards' blogger hires

The New York Times reports: Two bloggers hired by John Edwards to reach out to liberals in the online world have landed his presidential campaign in hot water for doing what bloggers do — expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language.

The Catholic League, a conservative religious group, is demanding that Mr. Edwards dismiss the two, Amanda Marcotte of the Pandagon blog site and Melissa McEwan, who writes on her blog, Shakespeare’s Sister, for expressing anti-Catholic opinions. ...

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement on Tuesday, “John Edwards is a decent man who has had his campaign tarnished by two anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots.”

Mr. Edwards’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Palmieri, said Tuesday night that the campaign was weighing the fate of the two bloggers. -- Edwards’s Bloggers Cross the Line, Critic Says - New York Times

Spending much and getting started early

The Washington Post reports: Starting as early as last June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was hiring staffers and consultants in New Hampshire and Iowa and building the foundation for his 2008 presidential bid at a time when those in early battleground states typically get a breather from national politics.

Campaign filings released last week show that he spent more than $375,000 on staffing and consulting, getting an early jump in those states. One campaign cycle earlier, a single candidate -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- had started hiring in-state advisers at that point, and by the end of 2002 he had spent only $4,200 paying those aides. ...

To understand the impulses behind this fundraising race, look no further than activity in a cluster of early caucus and primary states. Democrats competing for their party's nomination will face a rapid-fire succession of contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in January. Republicans will compete in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan. A number of states -- including behemoths such as California and Florida -- are seeking to move up their primaries to early February. ...

To compete in those states, candidates are already confronting a daunting array of new expenses and demands that is creating a presidential sticker shock. -- In Campaign 2008, Candidates Starting Earlier, Spending More - washingtonpost.com

February 6, 2007

Alabama: "It's a thick book"

Hill Carmichael from Greater Birmingham Ministries emails: Hello Constitutional Reform Advocates,

A new documentary by Homewood High School graduate Lewis Lehe offers a unique, funny, and powerful look at the 1901 Alabama Constitution.

Lehe’s 49-minute documentary, It’s a Thick Book, is comprised of candid interviews mixed with brilliant narration explaining the complex issues about the Alabama Constitution. The film eloquently captures the viewer’s attention and fairly argues for the reasons why constitutional reform is so badly needed in Alabama. Lehe interviews numerous individuals and community leaders who are working to reform the 1901 Constitution including historian Wayne Flynt, former Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR) Foundation President Dr. Thomas Corts and current ACCR, Inc. Chair Lenora Pate.

The ACCR Foundation is currently working with Greater Birmingham Ministries' Constitutional Reform Education Campaign and other partner organizations to get Lehe's documentary screened at theaters in Birmingham, Montgomery and other communities throughout the state. These premieres will happen during the week of March 5th when Lehe will be home for spring break. The schedule for times and locations of these viewings will be posted on the ACCR Foundation web site— www.constitutionALreform.org —the week of February 12th.

A promo of It’s a Thick Book can be viewed at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3049020570551690323. And please, pass this along to others who might be interested.

Please continue to check the ACCR and GBM websites for all constitutional reform related activities and be sure to stay tuned for the premiere of It’s a Thick Book – coming to a theater near you!

February 5, 2007

Romney raised money he can't spend

Remember the story about the money Mitt Romney raised in unregulated state PACs? The Politico now reports: As Republicans and Democrats rush to raise cash in the crowded presidential field, GOP former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could forfeit $1.9 million in campaign donations.

Romney has vaulted into the top tier of GOP presidential candidates, in part by using an innovative fundraising strategy designed to offset some advantages enjoyed by competitors who are members of Congress.

Part of that strategy involved establishing campaign committees in states that are key to the nomination and allowed him to accept contributions in excess of federal limits. Such state money cannot be spent directly on presidential campaigning, but it can be used to lay the groundwork by hiring staff, renting offices and building goodwill by contributing to state and local politicians.

Other candidates have used the strategy but none as effectively as Romney, who raised nearly $7.1 million through committees set up in seven states before Jan. 3. That's when he declared his presidential intentions with the Federal Election Commission and established a presidential fundraising committee. Those filings brought him under federal campaign finance laws and essentially put off limits the $1.9 million left over in his state committees. -- The Politico

February 2, 2007

FEC files its 'explanation and justification' in court

The Washington Post reports: The Federal Election Commission said yesterday that it will police "527" groups, political organizations that largely operated outside the new campaign finance limits during the 2004 presidential election, by looking at how the groups word their appeals for contributions, how they describe themselves, and how they spend their money.

If the groups make clear that they are advocating for or against a specific candidate, the FEC would regulate them. ...

The FEC filed the 44-page explanation of its approach in U.S. District Court yesterday in response to a lawsuit challenging the agency's effectiveness in regulating the independent groups.

Some of the groups, which are called 527s because of their designation in the tax code, raised and spent large sums of money to pay for nuanced political ads that appeared to be intended to skirt the new federal rules. -- FEC to Police '527' Groups' Campaign Activities - washingtonpost.com

California: Nunez backs independent redistricting commission

San Jose Mercury News reports: Assembly Speaker Fabian Núńez insisted Thursday he is ready to hand over the Legislature's power to draw political boundaries to an independent commission, casting the battle over reform as a test of whether lawmakers can trust citizens to remake the political landscape.

He also declared he is determined to put a redistricting measure on the ballot as early as Feb. 5, 2008, the same spot on the calendar where legislative leaders are hoping to move the state presidential primary. He said it won't be tied to a change in term limits that he and other Democrats want. ...

The proposal, which won't be formally introduced as a bill for several weeks, didn't touch on contentious subjects such as who will pick the commission members or whether congressional boundaries would be included, leading critics to wonder whether it was starting out on a shaky foundation. -- MercuryNews.com | 02/02/2007 | Núńez vows to push redistricting

Maine: bill proposes to block ou-of-state college students from voting

The Bowdoin Orient reports: A lawmaker has introduced a bill in the Maine House of Representatives that would take away voting rights for college students from out-of-state.

The legislature's Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on the bill Wednesday and will hold a vote on February 7.

The sponsor of the bill, Representative Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, said that sometimes college students commit voter fraud by voting both at college and at home, according to a report in the Kennebec Journal. Other supporters of the bill say that students living in dormitories in Maine colleges just aren't residents. ...

In an e-mail to the Orient, Don Cookson, communications director at the Department of the Secretary of State, confirmed that in the last five years there have been no cases of voter fraud in the entire state. -- Bill would limit voting rights for non-Mainers

Alabama: state's no-limits campaign-finance law drew Romney to set up PAC

AP reports: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used Alabama’s campaign finance laws, which place no limits on individual contributions, to raise $514,535 in the state before announcing his candidacy for president.

All the contributions collected by Romney’s Commonwealth Political Action Committee came from outside Alabama, according to campaign finance reports the PAC filed with the secretary of state.

Federal law limits individuals contributions to $2,300 per election. But Romney didn’t come under that restriction until he became a candidate.

Before then, his political team set up PACs in three states that have no limits on individual contributions: Michigan, Iowa and Alabama. The PACs were first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. -- GOP presidential candidate's state PAC pulls in $514,535

February 1, 2007

Alabama: most expensive judicial races in the nation

AP reports: Candidates in the race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court raised $7.3 million in direct contributions, making it the most expensive court race in America in 2006.

It also was the most expensive court race ever in Alabama, a state famous for big-budget judicial campaigns fueled by business interests, which generally back Republican candidates, and plaintiff lawyers, who tend to support Democrats.

The final campaign finance reports brought renewed calls for an end to partisan elections of judges in Alabama, one of seven states that use that method to pick members on their highest court. -- Daily Report

New Mexico: DOJ and Cibola Co. settle voting-rights suit

AP reports: The U.S. Department of Justice has settled voting rights claims against Cibola County.

The department announced Wednesday it had settled allegations that the county violated the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act. Those claims had been added to a lawsuit alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act, which originally was filed in 1995, attorney Joe Diaz of Albuquerque, who represented the county, said Thursday.

Justice Department oversight of elections in the county will be extended through 2008 under a consent decree with the county. ...

Federal law requires counties to hire interpreters and translate ballots and other election material into Indian languages. In the case of Cibola County, officials must provide voter information and assistance in Navajo and Keresan to voters who need it.

The Justice Department alleged the county failed to ensure that valid voter registration applications were processed and added to voter registration lists in a timely manner; that voters' names were not removed from the rolls without cause; and that provisional ballots were offered at elections to voters whose names were not on the voter rolls. Provisional ballots are counted after the election once officials determine the person is a qualified voter. -- 4:44 pm: Justice Department settles Cibola County voting rights claim

Mississippi: Ike Brown trial recesses for 2 weeks

AP reports: A federal judge has recessed for two weeks the trial of a black Democratic Party official in Noxubee County accused of trying to limit whites' participation in local elections.

Ike Brown, the chairman of the county's Democratic Executive Committee, is accused of violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was written to protect racial minorities when Southern states strictly enforced segregation. It is the first use of the act to allege discrimination against whites. ...

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee recessed the trial until Feb. 15, at which time he expects to hear from an elections expert enlisted by the Noxubee County Democrats to counter allegations by a political scientist hired by the U.S. Department of Justice. ...

The Democrats' expert - Richard Engstrom - has said Noxubee County whites lose elections simply because they're in the minority. ...

In letting Engstrom testify for the Democrats, Lee overruled a federal magistrate who had earlier barred the expert's testimony because he came too late into the case.

Lee said Engstrom should be heard "in the interest of fairness" for letting both sides fully present their cases. -- AP Wire | 02/01/2007 | Miss. voting rights trial on break, resumes Feb. 15

Florida: Governor announces end to touch-screen voting

The New York Times reports: Gov. Charlie Crist today announced plans today to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of Florida’s largest counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential election, instead adopting a statewide system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines.

Voting experts said Florida’s move, coupled with new federal voting legislation expected this year, could largely signal the death knell for the paperless electronic machines. If as expected the Florida Legislature approves the $32 million cost of the change, in fact, it will be the nation’s biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting, which was widely adopted after the 2000 recount as a state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that everyone’s vote would count.

Several counties around the country, including Cuyahoga in Ohio and Sarasota in Florida, have exchanged touch-screen machines for others that provide a paper trail. But Florida could become the first state that invested heavily in recent rush to touch screens to reject them so sweepingly. -- Florida Moves to End Touch-Screen Voting - New York Times