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

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April 29, 2007

In London

I had forgotten how bloody uncomfortable trans-Atlantic plane travel is. I might have been better off sealed into a crate.

The election observation team had its first meeting today. We meet with leaders in the Department of Constitutional Affairs (to become the Ministry of Justice in mid-May) and the Electoral Commission.

April 27, 2007

Off to Scotland

I will be leaving for Scotland on Saturday. Depending on the availability of computers and Internet connections in my hotels, I may be able to send a few posts.

Unfortunately, Tova Wang has had to bow out of the trip because of her controversy with the EAC.

To the EAC, "Free Tova Wang."

Scotland: latest poll shows SNP ahead by 9 points

The Edinburgh Evening News reports:
THE SNP has stretched its lead over Labour in a new opinion poll out today.

The YouGov survey puts the Nationalists nine points ahead in the constituency vote with 39 per cent support, compared with Labour's 30 per cent, 15 per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 13 per cent for the Tories.

But in the regional vote, the SNP lead fell from six points to four. The Nationalists were on 31 per cent, Labour 27 per cent, the Tories 13 per cent and the Lib Dems 11 per cent. The main reason for the gap closing appears to be a leap in Green support from six to nine per cent. ...

Translated into seats, today's poll findings give the SNP 44 MSPs, five more than Labour with 39, while the Lib Dems and Tories would each have 17, the Greens nine and others three. -- Edinburgh Evening News - Politics - Nationalists stretch to a nine per cent lead poll over Labour

Video available from Conference on Elections and Democracy at Stanford

American Constitution Society announces: On April 6-7, 2007, ACS co-hosted a Conference on Elections and Democracy at Stanford Law School at which panelists shared perspectives of a wide variety of issues relating to voter participation (including fraud and registration requirements), voter representation (including districting and the Voting Rights Act) and lessons from a comparative analysis of voting rights in other democracies (relating to campaign finance reform, alternative voting systems and redistricting commissions). Streaming video of each panel is now available in the ACS Multimedia Library. Other organizations co-sponsoring the conference included the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, the Stanford ACS Student Chapter, the Stanford Law and Policy Review, and the Stanford Chapter of the Federalist Society.

Vermont -- IRV passes Senate

The Vermont Press Bureau reports: A bill that would change the way Vermonters vote in congressional elections won final approval in the state Senate Thursday.

In a 16-12 vote, the Senate approved the use of instant runoff voting, a system in which voters would be asked to rank order their choices for Congress in order of preference. If no one candidate drew a majority of the first-place votes, the second choices of voters would be taken into account.

The legislation calls for the system — which was used in last year's Burlington mayoral race — to be used beginning in 2008 for Vermont's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. If approved, Vermont would be the first state in the nation to use it, officials said.

It's unclear whether the House will have time to act on the measure before the Legislature adjourns next month, said House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho. -- Senate gives OK to runoff voting bill

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I'm not suggesting you do anything with this political knowledge

The New York Times reports: The Bush administration insisted Thursday that a series of meetings between senior White House political aides and officials at government agencies to discuss Congressional elections did not violate a law that prohibits the use of federal departments for political purposes.

White House officials acknowledged that aides to Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, held about 20 briefings in the past two years with officials at 16 departments to discuss Republican political strategies, including which Congressional Democrats were being singled out for defeat and which Republicans were most vulnerable.

Included in the briefings were the Treasury, Labor, Commerce, Interior and Energy Departments.

But administration spokesmen said the discussions did not violate the Hatch Act, the law that makes it illegal for government employees to take action that could influence an election. They said the White House officials did not make any requests for the agencies to take any specific actions but were simply imparting details about political strategy. -- White House Calls Political Briefings Legal

April 26, 2007

Cross Brad Schlozman and "you'd pay for it"

Paul Kiel writes on TRMmuckraker: So far, Bradley Schlozman has been a minor character in the U.S. attorneys scandal. He ought to be a major one.

To put the case succinctly: Schlozman was the most aggressively political of the political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. And the administration installed him as the U.S. attorney in a key swing state in an election year. And to clinch it all, as we'll see in our next post, he delivered. ...

By the time Schlozman arrived in Missouri, he'd already left a strong imprint at the Justice Department. The career attorneys and analysts who worked under him in the Civil Rights Division's voting section describe what can fairly be described as a reign of terror.

Bob Kengle, formerly the deputy chief for the voting section, told me that Schlozman "led by power":

"What he sought to inculcate into people was a fear that if you disagreed, if you asked for reconsideration on something, if you pointed out something that was not correct in a decision that had been made, then you’d pay for it."

Kengle, who joined the division in 1984, said that Schlozman would change performance evaluations for lawyers and analysts who disagreed with him. -- TPMmuckraker April 26, 2007 02:27 PM

Scotland: Labour and SNP appear to be tied in polls

The Edinburgh Evening News reports:
Two new polls today showed the SNP still ahead with just a week to go until polling day.

A survey by mruk research, which last month gave Labour a four-point lead, today put the SNP four points ahead in the constituency vote - 38 per cent to Labour's 34 per cent - and one point ahead on the list vote of 37 per cent to Labour's 36 per cent.

The other poll by Progressive Scottish Opinion gave the SNP a two-point lead in the constituency vote and a three-point advantage on the list.

But it suggested a dead heat in terms of seats with both parties getting 44 MSPs elected. -- Edinburgh Evening News - Politics - SNP rules out quick replay for a 'No' vote referendum

Scotland: neither LibDems or Tories will join a coalition to keep SNP out of power

Two stories in Friday's papers show that neither the 3rd or 4th party will join a coalition with Labour just to keep the SNP out of power. The Scotsman reported: THERE will be no Unionist coalition to keep the SNP out of office, Nicol Stephen revealed yesterday.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said the largest party in the parliament would have the "moral authority" to govern.

If that party was the SNP then the Liberal Democrats would find it "very difficult" to do deals with Labour to prevent the Nationalists from taking power.

Mr Stephen said that if the SNP emerged as the biggest party he would try to do a deal with the Nationalists. But if that foundered because of divisions over an independence referendum, then it was likely he would take his party to the "opposition benches" without trying to form a coalition with Labour. -- The Scotsman - Politics - Lib Dem leader insists largest party has authority

And the Herald reported: Annabel Goldie yesterday launched a vehement defence of the Union but refused to commit her party's support for an anti-Nationalist coalition to defeat the SNP's plans for independence.

In a keynote speech in Edinburgh, the Scottish Conservatives leader said Scotland was currently able to "shape the world" through the UK's membership of Nato, the G8 and the UN Security Council - all of which independence would put under threat.

She predicted that there would be "a clear Unionist majority" in the Scottish Parliament after May 3, with the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats taking most of the seats. But she stopped short of pledging to join forces with Labour and the LibDems to secure an anti-independence majority at Holyrood. -- Goldie defends Union, but won’t join coalition

Besides haircuts, what do candidates spend money on?

Walter Shapiro writes on Salon.com:
With a record-shattering $150 million already raised by the presidential candidates, the 2008 election cycle is shaping up to be a Gilded Age for the political class. Whoever wins the White House, an elite group of ad-makers, strategists, pollsters, direct-mail mavens and fundraising arrangers will share the spoils of victory and the just as lucrative swag of defeat.

All this brings us to a dirty little secret of politics -- the murky financial arrangements between the top consultants and the campaigns they serve. The Federal Election Commission does not require detailed breakdowns of consultant expenses from the candidates. And the campaigns refuse to voluntarily release this information. The result is that political givers end up knowing far less about how wisely their money was spent than if they had donated the cash to a charity.

Back in February, Mitt Romney was the first member of the Class of '08 to hit TV sets in the early primary and caucus states, with a 60-second biographical spot in which the former Massachusetts governor solemnly declared, "This is not a time for more talk and dithering in Washington. It's a time for action." When it came time to file its first-quarter reports with the FEC, which were due last week, the campaign dutifully chronicled more than $1.8 million in payments to National Media -- the Alexandria, Va., firm in which Romney media advisor Alex Castellanos is a partner.

But there is no way of knowing from the FEC report what portion of this money was used to purchase TV time, how much paid for production costs or how much went directly to Castellanos as a fee. To raise that $1.8 million required a minimum of 782 donors, since the maximum individual contribution for the primaries is $2,300. But what these political givers got for their money is considered confidential information by the Romney campaign. -- Are political consultants getting rich off your money? | Salon.com

A statement from Tova Andrea Wang re the EAC

Tova Andrea Wang, Co-Author of the Voter Fraud and Voter Intimidation Report for the Election Assistance Commission, Calls for an End to the Censorship

Over the last few weeks, there has been a developing controversy in the press and in the Congress over a report on voter fraud and voter intimidation I co-authored for the Election Assistance Commission ("EAC"). It has been my desire to participate in this discussion and share my experience as a researcher, expert and co-author of the report. Unfortunately, the EAC has barred me from speaking. Early last week, through my attorney, I sent a letter to the Commission requesting that they release me from this gag order. Despite repeated follow-up, the EAC has failed to respond to this simple request. In the meantime, not only can I not speak to the press or public -- it is unclear under the terms of my contract with the EAC whether I can even answer questions from members of Congress.

My co-author and I submitted our report in July 2006; the EAC finally released its version of the report in December 2006. As numerous press reports indicate, the conclusions that we found in our research and included in our report were revised by the EAC, without explanation or discussion with me, my co-author or the general public. From the beginning of the project to this moment, my co-author and I have been bound in our contracts with the EAC to silence regarding our work, subject to lawsuits and civil liability if we violate the EAC-imposed gag order. Moreover, from July to December, no member of the EAC Commission or staff contacted me or my co-author to raise any concerns about the substance of our research. Indeed, after I learned that the EAC was revising our report before its public release, I contacted the EAC, and they refused to discuss with me the revisions, or the reasons such revisions were necessary.

Stifling discussion and debate over this report and the critical issues it addresses is contrary to the mission and goals of the EAC and to the goal of ensuring honest and fair elections in this country. Commissioner Hillman stated in her defense of the EAC's actions that the EAC seeks to "ensure improvements in the administration of federal elections so that all eligible voters will be able to vote and have that vote recorded and counted accurately." I share this aspiration. But I believe that the best way to achieve that end is not by suppressing or stifling debate and discussion, but by engaging in a thoughtful process of research and dialogue that ultimately arrives at the truth about the problems our voting system currently confronts.

North Carolina: IRV one step closer in Edgecombe County

The Rocky Mount Telegram reports: Instant runoff voting for Rocky Mount took one step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday, but officials say a final decision is still down the line.

The Edgecombe County Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a request by the state to use Rocky Mount as a pilot city for the voting method. However, the board made its vote contingent on the idea being approved by the Rocky Mount City Council. ...

The experimental voting process allows voters to rank the candidates on their original ballot, which would be used to decide any runoffs.

The vote completes one of three steps needed to put the system in place for October's municipal elections. The Nash County Board of Elections will meet to discuss and possibly vote on the initiative May 9, and though not required by law, members of both boards have said they want approval from the city council. -- Edgecombe board OKs voting plan

Vermont: Senate approve Instant Runoff plan

The Burlington Free Press reports: By a slim margin Wednesday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would have Vermonters deciding congressional elections by instant runoff voting, the method Burlington used in last year's mayoral vote.

Supporters of the method hailed the 15-13 vote. "This definitely gives it a big boost," said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "Despite the closeness of the vote, this is a giant step."

Opponents criticized instant runoff voting as confusing, expensive and unnecessary. "It's a problem that doesn't exist that's going to cost us money to fix, and there's not a lot of support around the state," said Sen. George Coppenrath, R-Caledonia.

The legislation calls for using instant runoff voting starting in 2008 with the state's lone U.S. House seat. Voters would rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate won more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, voters' second choice would be factored in. The idea is to ensure that whoever wins has the backing of a majority of voters. -- Burlington Free Press.com | Local/Vermont

Cherokee Nation: BIA may disapprove expulsion of Freedmen

The Muskogee Phoenix reports: A recent vote by the Cherokee Nation to revoke the membership of descendants of freed slaves might not have been legal, according to the leader of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Tahlequah-based tribe disagrees with that assessment, however, and a tribal spokesman predicted that Congress will reject an effort by one of its members to stop the tribe from receiving federal funds, the Tulsa World reported from its Washington bureau.

The two sides are debating the tribe’s right to enforce a 2003 tribal constitutional amendment and its March 3 vote to remove the descendants of the tribe’s freed slaves, known as freedmen, from tribal rolls.

Carl Artman, who heads the BIA, told U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., in a letter that the U.S. Interior Secretary must approve the 2003 amendment before it can take legal effect. The letter also said the BIA has taken no action on the March vote. -- MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK - Cherokees, Feds at odds over vote

Massachusetts: Springfield council and school board bills amended

The Springfield Republican reports: A home rule bill that proposes a system of ward representation for the City Council and School Committee returns for a council vote on May 7, amended as suggested by a state senator.

City solicitor Edward M. Pikula said this week the bill still calls for changing the council from nine at-large seats, elected by citywide ballot, to a mix of eight ward seats and five at-large seats.

However, it has been amended so that each of the four ward seats proposed on the School Committee will consist of geographically connected wards. In the initial proposal, some linked wards were not physically connected.

The amendment was proposed by state Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield, after the bill was forwarded to the Legislature for needed approval earlier this year. The School Committee will also have two at-large seats and the mayor will continue to serve as chairman, under the proposal. -- Ward representation bill changes

More stories on yesterday's arguments in Supreme Court

Joan Biscupik in USA Today

Robert Barnes in the Washington Post

AP has an unsigned story (at least in the Baltimore Sun)

Michael Doyle in the McClatchy Newspapers

Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe

Joseph Goldstein in the New York Sun

April 25, 2007

Comments on the WRTL argument

In trying to understand Supreme Court arguments, multiple heads are better than one. Here are several heads:

Rick Hasen
The Skeptic's Eye
Bob Bauer
ACS Blog (actually about a pre-argument panel)
SCOTUSblog (rounding up a few post-argument pieces, plus a bunch of pre-argument columns)
Linda Greenhouse at the New York Times
Dahlia Lathwick (discussing "duckness")

The oral argument transcript is here
.

McCain-Feingold oral arguments today

The Washington Post reports: The Supreme Court will take up a key element of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in a challenge to the constitutionality of restrictions on pre-election issue ads that mention a candidate by name.

Last year a lower court relaxed the law's restrictions on issue ads that are run by corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups in the final weeks of a campaign. -- Federal Election Law Faces Challenge - washingtonpost.com

Nina Totenberg has a report on the case on NPR.

Texas: House approves voter I.D. bill

AP reports: Texans would be required to show more identification at the voting booth to prove they are who they say they are under a measure that won preliminary approval in the state House on Monday.

Existing state law allows voters to simply show their voter registration card or, if they don't have it, show identification to have their name matched to voter registry rolls.

The proposal by Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, would require voters to produce photo identification or two other forms of non-photo identification at a polling place. Brown said she wants to prevent voter impersonation and to keep "illegal aliens, non-citizens" and other ineligible residents from voting.

"Voting is the most basic building block of our system of representative democracy," Brown said. "Voter impersonation is a serious crime."

After six hours of tense debate, the House voted 76-68 to tentatively approve Brown's proposal. It would still need a final House vote and Senate approval before it could be enacted into law. -- Times Record News: Local News

Colorado: House committee removes vote-on-parole provision from bill

The Denver Channel.com reports: A House committee on Tuesday struck a provision that would have allowed felons on parole to vote after opponents said it was unconstitutional.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union, would have given felons on parole the right to vote.

The House Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs voted to strike the amendment to a measure (Senate Bill 83), which Attorney General John Suthers had previously described as unconstitutional. -- Lawmakers Strike Plan To Allow Felons On Parole To Vote - News Story - KMGH Denver

Tennessee -- Nashville election commission wants its own lawyer to respond to religious-discrimination suit

The Nashville City Paper reports: The Davidson County Election Commission is trying to shake itself of some city lawyers.

Davidson County Administrator of Elections Ray Barrett, requested a temporary restraining order against Metro Tuesday in federal court to force the Metro Legal Department to drop its attempt to intervene, on his behalf in the lawsuit that two Jewish voters filed against Metro earlier this month.

The voters are attempting to force a rescheduling of this year’s mayoral run-off vote from the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which falls this year on Sept. 13.

Reacting to the lawsuit, the Election Commission voted last week to reschedule the potential run-off to Sept. 11. The commission then hired local attorney Dewey Branstetter to see the rest of the lawsuit through.

But three days later, on April 19, the Metro Legal Department filed pleadings arguing that rescheduling the run-off could not legally happen because of a Metro Charter provision requiring a runoff election be held the second Thursday in September — Rosh Hashanah this year. -- City, Election Commission tussle over elections chief

Florida: Osceola holds special election after lawsuit

The Orlando Sentinel reports: Osceola voters elected the first Hispanic county commissioner in more than a decade Tuesday, choosing former state Rep. John Quinones to represent a new Hispanic-majority district in the first election since a federal judge ordered the end to countywide elections of commissioners.

Quinones, a Republican, and political activist Armando Ramirez, a Democrat, squared off against two non-Hispanic candidates with no party affiliation in District 2 in a special election that was delayed for five months by a voting-rights lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed against Osceola County.

Federal attorneys claimed that at-large elections effectively kept Hispanics from winning office in Osceola, where they make up about 38 percent of the county's population.

Quinones cruised to victory in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1. He tallied 56 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Ramirez. Mark Cross received 10 percent and Joe Day 3 percent of the 3,385 votes cast. -- Osceola voters pick Quinones in new district - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News Osceola voters pick Quinones in new district - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News

Hanging up on robocalls

The New York Times reports: State investigators here are still trying to figure out who sabotaged Scott Kleeb’s campaign for Congress last November with a barrage of automated telephone calls to voters. The unauthorized calls, officials said, distorted Mr. Kleeb’s views and even used a recording of his voice — sometimes arriving in the middle of the night — with the greeting: “Hi, this is Scott Kleeb!”

Several Nebraska state lawmakers were so outraged by the shenanigans that they are pushing legislation that would impose some of the country’s most restrictive regulations on prerecorded campaign calls, both bogus and legitimate ones. Similar bills are in the works in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and at least a dozen other states, prompted in large part by telephone calls authorized by campaigns during last year’s elections. ...

Nearly two-thirds of registered voters nationwide received the recorded telephone messages, which as political calls are exempt from federal do-not-call rules, leading up to the November elections, according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an independent research group. The calls, often known as robocalls, were the second most popular form of political communication, trailing only direct mail, the group said. ...

The automated phone calls, have been popular with candidates for years because they are cheap, easy to make and often highly effective. The Federal Communications Commission has rules requiring the callers to state their identity at the beginning of the message. A spokesman, Clyde Ensslin, said the commission had taken action against violators, but it did not separate political calls from commercial ones. -- States Seek Limits on ‘Robocalls’ in Campaigns

April 24, 2007

Scotland: postal votes being delayed

The Scotsman reports: SCOTLAND'S postal voting system has been thrown into chaos days before polling.

Electoral Reform Services, the company employed to administer postal ballot papers for councils across Scotland, has had to delay the process.

The hold-up has been blamed on a failure to inform city officials about changes to the design of the voting slips and extra checks to ensure that the papers would be suitable for electronic counting. -- The Scotsman - Politics - Delays over postal votes

A more detailed story appears in the Edinburgh Evening News,

Ward Connerly picks 4 targets for the National Primary

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports: Several prominent critics of affirmative action announced in Denver today that they would seek to place a referendum banning racial, ethnic, and gender preferences on the ballot in Colorado in November 2008. And while the chief group leading the effort — the American Civil Rights Institute — has not yet formally announced its plans for other similar campaigns, it clearly intends to put such measures on the November 2008 ballot in Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and one other yet-to-be-determined state as part of what it is calling a “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights.”

The Colorado effort is being overseen at the local level by a new group, called the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative. Its executive director, Valery Pech Orr, was one plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1995 decision Adarand Constructors v. Pena, which dealt with the use of affirmative action in awarding government contracts. In a written statement issued today, Ms. Orr expressed optimism that the proposed ban on affirmative-action preferences would pass there, just as similar measures were overwhelmingly adopted by voters in California in 1996, Washington State in 1998, and Michigan last fall.

A group calling itself the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative plans to hold a news conference tomorrow in Kansas City, Mo. Similar organizations plan to hold news conferences in Oklahoma on Wednesday and in Arizona on Thursday. The American Civil Rights Institute also hopes to get such a measure on the ballot in either Nebraska or South Dakota, although it has not decided which one. -- The Chronicle: Daily News Blog: 4 States Are New Targets for Bans on Affirmative-Action Preferences

April 23, 2007

New York: GOP leader nixes agreement on campaign finance changes

The Times Union reports: Gov. Eliot Spitzer vowed Monday to mount a new political campaign against the state Senate's Republican majority after its leader rejected the Democratic governor's plans for overhauling New York's notoriously lax campaign finance laws as "elitist."

"The Republican members of the state Senate were unwilling to break their addiction to the free flow of money," said Spitzer. "It is a narcotic to which they are beholden."

With that, Spitzer announced plans to visit Senate districts represented by "members of the temporary majority of the Senate" to berate them for their position and seek their eventual ouster if they didn't back an overhaul.

The developments came just a few hours after Spitzer drew a standing ovation from several hundred government reform activists when he said he was closing in on a possible agreement with the state Legislature to overhaul New York's campaign finance laws. -- Albany, N.Y.: Timesunion.com - Print Story

Thanks to Jeff Wice for the link.

April 22, 2007

"Should We Dispense with the Electoral College?"

PENNumbra has a debate on the Electoral College: Professor Sanford Levinson, of the University of Texas Law School, argues that true believers in majority rule should find it insufferable that the United States still employs a “constitutional iron cage built for us by [the] Framers,” which allows presidential candidates who lose the popular vote to win our nation’s highest office. Accordingly, he offers a challenge to his two interlocutors, Professor Daniel Lowenstein, of UCLA Law School, and Professor John McGinnis, of Northwestern Law School: “to defend the indefensible.” For his part, McGinnis argues that “majority rule in political decision making is far from sacrosanct,” and that while the Electoral College might not be the “best law that could be enacted,” it “fulfills the . . . essential criteria that any election for a president must meet in a democracy.” Furthermore, he maintains that “it [is] a virtue, not a defect, that the symbolism of the Electoral College reminds us that simple majority will is not the legitimating feature of society, but that instead popular consent is merely an instrument to protect the deep and enduring principles that make us a free people.” Similarly, Professor Lowenstein holds that “abstract majoritarianism” was never a goal of Framers like Madison; rather, the true “republican principle” is consent of the governed, and the Electoral College upholds this principle rather well. Finally, Lowenstein offers five reasons why the Electoral College should continue to receive the support of the American people, suggesting, ultimately, that “ [t]hose of us who see government as a practical enterprise will resist tearing down an institution that, however surprisingly, fits well into our system and fortifies it in numerous and diverse ways.” -- Should We Dispense with the Electoral College?

April 21, 2007

Florida: FL-13's outcome vital to 2008's fairness

John Nichols writes in The Nation (subscription required): Election protection activists are already busy promoting legislative fixes designed to assure that all eligible Americans can vote and get those votes counted in 2008. It's vital work. But if we are serious about addressing what's wrong with our electoral system, we must look backward as well--to what happened in Florida's 13th Congressional District last year.

That contest was "decided" for Republican Vern Buchanan over Democrat Christine Jennings following a recount that put Buchanan up by 369 votes. What the recount did not resolve, however, were questions raised by apparent voting machine malfunctions in Sarasota County, a base of strength for Jennings. Machines manufactured by Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S) recorded 18,000 "undervotes"--ballots with votes cast for other positions but not for the House seat--in precincts that tended to favor Jennings. -- Protecting the Vote

April 20, 2007

Ontario: Citizens' Assembly has chosen Mixed Member Proportional system

The Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform has announced: After months of learning, consulting and deliberating, the province’s first Citizens’ Assembly decided to recommend a new electoral system for Ontario: Mixed Member Proportional.

The Assembly worked to identify the principles we value most in an electoral system and weighed the options accordingly. This process gave citizens a direct voice in determining the options we have when we vote and how our votes are translated into seats for Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs).

This recommendation carries real weight.

Referendum legislation was introduced to enable Ontarians to have their say. The government will hold a referendum in conjunction with the next provincial election in October 2007 so that all voters can decide whether to accept the Assembly’s recommendation for a Mixed Member Proportional voting system. ...

The Assembly’s work is nearly done. Our final report is due to the government on May 15, 2007. -- Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

Florida: Foley's campaign funds paying the legal bills

AP reports: Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley is racking up huge legal bills defending himself against potential criminal charges in the Internet teen sex scandal that led to his resignation and is paying them with leftover campaign contributions.

Foley spent $206,000 in campaign cash on lawyers from November to January, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The FEC has ruled in other cases that such expenditures are generally lawful.

That left about $1.7 million in the Florida Republican's campaign account on March 31, even after he returned more than $110,000 from donors. -- Foley Pays Legal Bills With Leftover Campaign Cash | theledger.com

DOJ's voter suppression campaign

The McClatchy Newspapers reports: For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates, according to former department lawyers and public records and documents.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush's popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a mid-term battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

Facing nationwide voter registration drives by Democratic-leaning groups, the administration alleged widespread election fraud and endorsed proposals for tougher state and federal voter identification laws. Presidential political advisor Karl Rove alluded to the strategy in April 2006 when he railed about voter fraud in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association. ...

Civil rights advocates charge that the administration's policies were intended to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats, and by filing state and federal lawsuits, civil rights groups have won court rulings blocking some of its actions. -- Voter turnout limits said to be White House goal - 04/19/2007 - MiamiHerald.com

District of Columbia: DC-Utah voting bill passes House

The Washington Post reports: A bill giving the District its first full seat in Congress cleared the House yesterday, marking the city's biggest legislative victory in its quest for voting rights in nearly three decades.

Democrats on the House floor burst into applause, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) grabbed the arms of the District's nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, as the 241 to 177 vote was announced. ...

But the bill faces considerable obstacles. Democrats don't appear to have enough votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster, and the White House has threatened a veto. If the measure becomes law, it probably will be challenged in court. ...

The legislation, sponsored by Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), would add two seats to the House: one for the overwhelmingly Democratic District and another for the next state in line to pick up a representative, Republican-leaning Utah. -- House Approves A Full D.C. Seat - washingtonpost.com

Cherokee Nation: Rep. Watson to push fund cut to tribe over Freedman expulsion

AP reports: A black congresswoman is seeking to cut off funding for the Cherokee Nation after the tribe's recent vote to revoke citizenship of slave descendants.

Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said the Bush administration has dragged its feet after the March 3 tribal referendum, which removed an estimated 2,800 black slave descendants from tribal rolls.

The tribe insists that the vote last month had nothing to do with race. But Watson and about two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to the Interior Department last month expressing outrage over the vote and asking how the government could intervene.

The Interior Department responded in a letter to the caucus last week saying that it was concerned about the vote and was still reviewing its legality.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Watson said the agency doesn't seem willing to address the issue and is turning a blind eye to discrimination. She said she is drafting legislation, which she plans to introduce next week, to cut off the Cherokee Nation's federal funding. -- SanLuisObispo.com | 04/19/2007 | SoCal lawmaker eyes cutting Cherokee funding over ex-slave vote

April 17, 2007

"Inside The Bush DoJ's Purge of The Civil Rights Division"

Paul Kiel reports in a long and detailed article on TPMmuckraker.com: Over the past six years, the Bush administration has aggressively reshaped the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Many career analysts and attorneys have either been transferred or driven out; their replacements are long on conservative credentials and short on civil rights experience.

Here's an inside account of what it's like inside from Toby Moore, a redistricting expert with the division's voting section until the spring of 2006. Like many of his colleagues, he left due to the hostile atmosphere in the section, where he says there was a pattern of selective intimidation towards career staff.

According to Moore, his supervisor and the political appointees in the section consistently criticized his work because it didn't jibe with their pre-drawn conclusions. That was bad enough, he said, but the real trouble came after he and three colleagues recommended opposing a Georgia voter I.D. law pushed by Republicans. After the recommendation, which clashed with the views of Moore's superiors, they reprimanded him for not adequately analyzing the evidence and accused him of mistreating his Republican colleague, with whom he'd had frequent disagreements. But it got worse. Moore said that his Republican superiors even monitored his emails, eventually filing a complaint against him with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly disclosing privileged information in one email (he was cleared of wrongdoing). Fed up, and worried that it was too dangerous to his professional future to remain there, he left. -- TPMmuckraker April 17, 2007 03:41 PM

EAC asks inspector general to investigate its research reports

From an EAC press release: U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Chair Donetta Davidson today issued a formal request to the commission's inspector general to conduct a review of the commission's contracting procedures, including a review of two recent projects focusing on voter identification and vote fraud and voter intimidation. ...

"The actions taken by the commission regarding these research projects have been challenged, and the commissioners and I agree that it is appropriate and necessary to ask the inspector general to review this matter," said EAC Chair Davidson.

Chair Davidson has requested that the inspector general specifically review the circumstances surrounding the issuance and management of the voter identification research project and the vote fraud and voter intimidation research project. -- 2007- 13 ( 4-16-07 ) EAC Requests Review of Voter ID, Fraud & Intimidation Research Projects.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Pulitzer Prizes

The Washington Post reports: Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, won the commentary prize for her pieces on voting rights and black leaders. "I was very concerned that the Republicans seemed determined to shave off the votes of some minority voters," she said. "It's unconstitutional and un-American," she added, but "for middle-class folks, black and white, it seemed like a nonissue."

Among the arts awards, Gene Roberts, the veteran editor who now teaches journalism at the University of Maryland, won the history prize with Hank Klibanoff of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for "The Race Beat," their book on press coverage of the civil rights era. (Story, Page C1.) ...

The investigative reporting prize went to Brett Blackledge of the Birmingham News for reports on cronyism and corruption in Alabama's two-year college system. The reports led to the chancellor's dismissal. -- Wall Street Journal Takes Two Pulitzer Prizes - washingtonpost.com

Cherokee Nation: council to hire DC firm to defend against Freedmen's case

The Muskogeee Phoenix reports: Cherokee Nation councilors voted Monday to give the administration an additional $520,000 to fight the freedmen case in federal court.

A preliminary non-binding vote came in a meeting of the Executive and Finance Committee with all but three of the 17 councilors present. A full council vote will be taken in the regular council meeting in May as councilors found out the legal fund still has $360,000. The extra money will not be needed this month.

Several councilors were against funding the nation’s fight against the freedmen, saying they were using tribal funds to kick out tribal citizens.

Council attorney Todd Hembree explained the suit was about more than the freedmen — it was about tribal sovereignty because of rulings by the federal judge in the case. -- Cherokees OK money to fight case

Is there a suit already pending? I have not been able to find it mentioned in the press or in the Pacer system in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

April 15, 2007

Scotland: SNP and LibDems promoting a local income tax

The Scotsman reports: NICOL Stephen and Alex Salmond joined forces yesterday to promote their plans for a local income tax - the latest in a series of moves which narrow the gap between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP ahead of the election.

Mr Salmond, the SNP leader, and Mr Stephen, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, combined during a televised leaders' debate to attack Jack McConnell and his Labour Party's plans to retain the council tax.

Several times Mr Salmond not only said he agreed with Mr Stephen but once even shouted "hear, hear" during one of the Lib Dem leader's answers.

Mr Stephen then publicly praised Mr Salmond for his answers, making it clear that there was very little between the parties on this issue. Both leaders denied there had been any behind-the-scenes talks designed to facilitate a coalition after the election, but it was clear from yesterday's performance that neither has any problem, at least in principle, with working with the other on policies like council tax. -- The Scotsman - Politics - SNP and Lib Dems in old pals' act over tax

Scotland: new poll shows Labour ahead

The Herald reports: Either the electorate's mood is unusually volatile, or some pollsters are in trouble. The same researcher which last week trumpeted a 12-point poll lead for the SNP found, over the past week, that Labour is three points ahead.

As these polls, carried out by Scottish Opinion, are the two most recent published, it leaves the election campaign further open than anyone had thought.

On constituency vote intentions, Labour had 35% support, the SNP 32%, LibDems 15%, the Tories 13% and others 5%. On the regional vote, Labour had 34% support, with the SNP on 31%, LibDems 13%, Tories on 12%, Greens 5% and others scoring 5%.

Part of the reasoning may be that polls continue to find high numbers of undecided Scots. An mruk research survey carried out for The Herald at the end of March found 50% of voters were undecided, and of them two-thirds were either certain or very likely to vote. That poll was the only other one to put Labour ahead, but it was not alone in finding voters unwilling to commit. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

A (sort of) argument for partisan gerrymandering

Scott Keyes writes on Poltical Insider: Congressmen who hail from competitive districts are forced to run challenging reelection campaigns every two years, which in turn leaves them better prepared for the difficulties associated with a bid for higher office, right? That is, the closer a district's PVI is to zero, the better chance that congressman has of waging a successful bid for governor or senator because they must constantly win difficult elections and hone their campaigning skills in the process. Practice makes perfect.

However, looking at data from all the election since the 2000 redistricting, this does not appear to be the case. Congressmen from competitive districts do not appear to have any more success in their bids for higher office than those from non-competitive districts. Since 2002, 36 sitting congressmen have ran for higher office, half of whom won. However, representatives from competitive districts - those with a PVI of between D 5 and R 5 - were considerably less successful, winning just five of their thirteen races. Even in those states that swing states that Kerry or Bush carried with less than 55% of the vote, representatives from competitive districts won just three races and lost six. ...

Two possible reasons come to mind that would explain why representatives from competitive districts don't win their campaigns for higher office at a greater rate than other congressmen. First, if a representative must run a difficult race every two years, he or she has little opportunity to amass a large amount of money that would help in his or her bid for higher office. -- Political Insider: Competitive Districts Not a Stepping Stone for Higher Office

April 14, 2007

Scotland: LibDems threaten suit over Labour election pamphlet

Edinburgh Evening News reports about the local council elections also to be held on 3 May: LIBERAL Democrats are threatening Labour with legal action over claims made in a council election leaflet.

A newsletter circulated by Cameron Day, Labour's candidate in Drum Brae/Gyle ward, quotes council Lib Dem leader Jenny Dawe - who is standing in the same ward - saying: "We want local income tax so we can get more money from local people." ...

The letter, signed by David Watson, election agent for West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats, said if Labour did not halt distribution of the newsletter "I shall have to instruct that legal action be taken by our solicitor".

Mr Watson also complained about a claim in the leaflet that Lib Dem councillors voted against Labour's plans to fund 84 extra police officers directly from the council's budget. ...

But Mr Day today insisted the quote from Cllr Dawe and the statement about the vote on police officers were accurate and he would carry on using them. -- Edinburgh Evening News - Politics - Lib Dems threaten Labour over election leaflet's claims

Scotland: the agreements and differences in the party platforms

The Herald reports: The manifestos published, the battle lines are clear at last. Now to push the range of campaign pledges through direct mail and phone banks, the media and advertising on an unprecedented scale.

One striking aspect of the major party manifestos is their similarity, clustered around key themes. They want improvements in health and education, with a similar range of promises of reduced waiting times, local clinical provision and smaller school classes, but with slightly different means of getting there. There is a row yet to erupt about student finance. ...

Lacking the major taxation, economic and welfare powers retained at Westminster, the areas of dispute at this election are focussed around a narrow range of issues, and that means they can get blown out of proportion. Four years ago, Labour and the Liberal Democrats disagreed most on whether parents could be jailed for failing to control their children. This time, the disputed issues remain small, but the significance is bigger.

Independence has featured in Labour's campaign for months, and LibDem and Tory readiness to embrace more devolved powers has left Labour isolated.

The other big issue confirmed over the past week is the future of council tax. Labour argues for modest tinkering, Tories for a pensioner discount, while their opponents argue for a change to income-based tax. All of them face problems with their plans, as the current tax is unpopular but reform could be impractical and would mean some losing out and complaining loudly. That is certain to remain a theme for remaining weeks. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

April 13, 2007

Louisiana: Breaux says No after Foti won't say at all

The Times-Picayune reports: Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux said Friday that he will not be a candidate for governor this year.

Breaux made the announcement just hours after Attorney General Charles Foti declined to issue a legal opinion on Breaux's qualifications to run. A spokeswoman for Breaux said the lack of a definitive ruling persuaded him to back away from a campaign he has flirted with for weeks.

The statement from Foti said "the issue of whether Mr. Breaux has remained a Louisiana citizen for the preceding five years is an issue of fact, and one that appears certain to be litigated. Due to the restrictions imposed by law as well as this office's policies and historical practice, I must refrain from rendering an opinion on the ultimate issue of whether Mr. Breaux meets the qualifications to become a candidate in the governor's race." -- Times-Picayune: Updates: Breaux says he won't run for governor

Thanks to DailyKos for the link.

"And The Colossal Chutzpah Award Goes To Karl Rove"

Jack Balkin writes on Balkinization: During the past seven years of the Bush Administration, Republican officials have continuously claimed that there has been massive voter fraud; they have pushed for voter id laws that will suppress turnout among elderly, minority, and immigrant voters, who-- entirely coincidentally-- are likely to vote Democratic. These arguments were made repeatedly in the face of all evidence to the contrary; indeed, when a bi-partisan federal panel concluded that the claims of widespread voter fraud were largely baseless, Bush Administration officials appear to have put pressure to modify the report's findings to make them more ambiguous. Today, in a follow-up story, the New York Times reports that the Bush Justice Department's strenuous efforts to discover and prosecute voter fraud have come up largely empty, finding only sporadic and isolated examples, often by people who lacked information about how to register to vote properly.

The great irony of all this is that there was a systematic and successful attempt at electoral fraud, this one an effort to keep eligible voters from casting ballots. It was staged by the Republican Party in Florida in 2000 in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. That conspiracy to violate federal law led to the victory of the Bush Administration, which, in turn has used its power to try to cement a new Republican majority by every method it could think of-- some legal, and others illegal. That same Administration has also, of course, shamelessly exploited the tragedy of 9-11 to demonize its political opponents and divert attention from its numerous failures and incompetencies-- and, through various tricks and devices, managed to finagle the country into a disastrous war in Iraq, destroying lives and fortunes, and thoroughly undermining American interests abroad for decades to come. -- Balkinization

April 12, 2007

Preview of the FEC v. Wisconsin RTL case

Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute has posted a summary of the arguments being made in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life; McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life.

Little evidence of voter fraud found by DOJ

The New York Times reports: Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show. ...

Mistakes and lapses in enforcing voting and registration rules routinely occur in elections, allowing thousands of ineligible voters to go to the polls. But the federal cases provide little evidence of widespread, organized fraud, prosecutors and election law experts said. -- In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud - New York Times

April 11, 2007

Public Citizen asks IRS and FEC to bring insecuity to Americans for Job Security

From a Public Citizen press release:
Public Citizen today filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that the nonprofit group Americans for Job Security (AJS) has violated both the terms of its tax status and federal election law. The complaints, which were also sent to congressional committee leadership as part of a request for an investigation into the issue, ask the IRS to revoke the group’s tax status and the FEC to fine the group for election law violations.

Americans for Job Security is registered under Section 501(c)(6) of the tax code, the category reserved for business leagues and trade associations. Groups that are registered under this section are prohibited from engaging in efforts to influence elections as their primary purpose. But AJS, which maintains no Web site and appears to have only one paid employee, spends millions of dollars on advertisements to influence elections without appearing to engage in any other substantive efforts, according to the complaint. While many groups registered under 501(c) of the tax code participate in some level of electioneering activity and others may have violated the law, Public Citizen has identified AJS as one of the most egregious offenders. In response, Public Citizen is asking that the IRS revoke AJS’s 501(c) status, collect back taxes for its undeclared electioneering activities and require it to pay penalties for violating its tax-exempt status.

The same page has a link to the complaint.

EAC changed expert report on voter fraud

The New York Times reports: A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times.

Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate.

The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states.

Democrats say the threat is overstated and have opposed voter identification laws, which they say disenfranchise the poor, members of minority groups and the elderly, who are less likely to have photo IDs and are more likely to be Democrats. -- Panel Said to Alter Finding on Voter Fraud - New York Times

DOJ lawyers active in Republican National Lawyers Association

McClatchy Newspapers reports: In his day job, Christian Adams writes legal briefs for the voting rights section of the Justice Department, a job that requires a nonpartisan approach.

Off the clock, Adams belongs to the Republican National Lawyers Association, a group that trains hundreds of Republican lawyers to monitor elections and pushes for confirmation of conservative nominees for federal judgeships.

Vice President Dick Cheney credited the 3,000-member association in 2005 with helping the Republicans win the previous two presidential elections. Last year, President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove shared with the group his insights on winning elections in key battleground states. At a conference the association organized last month, speakers called the controversy over whether eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for partisan political reasons "farcical" and "ridiculous." ...

Congress changed the law in 1993 to allow most government employees to accept political leadership positions, work on political campaigns and raise money for political causes. Under President Clinton, many federal employees were members of liberal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

But some former and current Justice Department officials said such overt involvement in partisan political organizations by lawyers in sensitive government jobs was a troubling sign that partisan politics might be inappropriately seeping into the government bureaucracy in the Bush administration. -- McClatchy Washington Bureau | 04/11/2007 | Government lawyers' membership in GOP group seen as inappropriate

Tennessee: suit claims runoff election should not be on Rosh Hashana

The Nashville Tennesean reports: A Davidson County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against the county's election commission over its decision to hold a runoff election on a major Jewish holiday.

Elinor J. Gregor, a Jewish woman, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville today. She asked the court to prevent the Davidson County Election Commission from holding the runoff election for mayor and other positions on Sept. 13, which is Rosh Hashana. ...

The lawsuit also says the election commission's decision violates Gregor's First Amendment rights "to freely exercise her religion and to free speech through the election process." Holding the election on Rosh Hashana would force Jewish voters to choose between practicing their religion and exercising their right to vote, the complaint says. -- Woman sues over Metro election falling on Jewish holiday - Nashville, Tennessee - Wednesday, 04/11/07 - Tennessean.com

Maryland: Governor signs National Popular Vote bill

The Washington Post reports: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law yesterday a measure that would circumvent the Electoral College by awarding the state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide.

The bill, one of 105 signed by the Democratic governor the day after the General Assembly adjourned, makes Maryland the first in the nation to agree to let the national popular vote trump statewide preference. It would not take effect until states that cumulatively hold 270 electoral votes -- the number needed to win a presidential election -- agree to do the same. ...

Supporters of the Electoral College measure, including O'Malley, say deciding elections by popular vote would give candidates reason to campaign nationwide and not concentrate their efforts in "battleground" states, such as Ohio, that have dominated recent elections.

During debate, opponents argued that election by popular vote could just switch the target for candidates from closely divided states to large cities -- a scenario that would not necessarily empower Maryland. And they suggested a national recount could be chaotic. -- O'Malley Revels in Legislative Successes - washingtonpost.com

Alabama: senate committee adds loopholes to PAC-to-PAC transfer bill

The Birmingham News reports: A Senate panel on Tuesday voted 10-0 to put several exceptions into a proposed ban on transfers of money between political action committees. ..

McLaughlin's bill, as passed by the House of Representatives last month on a vote of 103-0, would ban any political action committee formed by a lobby group, company or other organization from contributing money to another PAC. Such PAC-to-PAC transfers can hide a candidate's true source of political contributions.

Under the Senate committee's rewrite, PAC-to-PAC transfers would be banned except that any PAC still could give to:

Political parties and the parties' PACs.

Party caucuses and their PACs.

Legislative party caucuses and their PACs.

Organizations, which could have their own PACs, that use PAC money to get out the vote for candidates endorsed by those organizations. Mitchell mentioned the Alabama Democratic Conference as one group that would be covered by that exception.

The PAC of any organization "whose charter or bylaws mandate that the organization support candidates of only one political party so designated by the organization." -- Senate panel rewrites PAC bill

Alabama: Spina fined for false political ad

The Birmingham News reports: A political consultant from Vestavia Hills admitted Tuesday to misdemeanor crimes that he ran a false ad during the 2006 Jefferson County Commission primary race, and he failed to register a political action committee.

Rick Spina, 48, said he pleaded guilty rather than going through the expense and trouble of fighting the charges in court.

The ad linked Jim Carns, a state legislator running for County Commission, with a slate of candidates headed by ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was running for governor.

The ad, which ran May 31 in The Birmingham News, said it was funded by a "political organization" called the Assembly of Republicans. -- Consultant fined for false 2006 political ad

April 10, 2007

Rove's obsession with "election fraud"

Paul Kiel writes on TPMmuckraker: We already know that Karl Rove passed along complaints to Alberto Gonzales about certain U.S. attorneys' performance on voter fraud prosecutions. And in the case of New Mexico's David Iglesias, that complaint likely contributed to his firing.

But it's clear this is something of an obsession to Rove.

One year ago, April 7, 2006, he gave a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, in which he covered a number of topics of interest to his audience (i.e. tort reform), but one topic seemed to hold the audience's attention in particular: voter fraud. To quote an audience member: "The Democrats seem to want to make this year an election about integrity, and we know that their party rests on the base of election fraud."

Rove had clearly spent a lot of time on it -- rattling off statistics and referring to problem counties in far-flung states with familiarity. He also showed no shyness at over-hyping the issue: "We are, in some parts of the country, I'm afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where they guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses." -- TPMmuckraker April 10, 2007 06:32 PM

Canada: voter I.D. bill seen to affect Muslim women

24 Hours Vancouver reports: Veiled Muslim women might be forced to show their face at the voting booth if a government bill quietly making its way through the Senate becomes law, says new chief federal electoral officer Marc Mayrand.

Bill C-31 would require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polling booth during federal elections. It has passed through the House of Commons and is currently being studied by a Senate committee. ...

The Muslim Canadian Congress sees no problem with the bill. -- 24 Hours Vancouver - News: Controversial voter ID bill likely to pass

Oklahoma: PAC-to-PAC transfer ban proposed

KOTV.com reports: A proposed ethics rule would bring more openness to the political process by stopping a practice that allows money to be transferred among political action committees, supporters say.

The rule is designed to accomplish two purposes: ensuring the public knows the source of campaign cash doled out by PACs and preventing the possibility of someone eluding the $5,000 limit on campaign donations.

Although it is acknowledged as a significant rule that would shake up the state's campaign financing structure, legislative leaders are shying away from taking a position on the proposal. -- KOTV.com - The News On 6

Mississppi: final briefs filed in Noxubee voting rights trial

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports: Attorneys for black leaders in Noxubee County said in court papers filed late Monday that the voting rights of white voters in the majority black county have not been violated.

"And even if disputes about matters subject to election challenge or state criminal law could rise to the level of a Section 2 claim, the evidence here is so insufficient that a claim cannot be made," said attorney Edward Pleasants.

Monday was the deadline for court briefs from black leaders and the U.S. Department of Justice to be filed with U.S. District Judge Tom Lee in the historic lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging the majority-black Noxubee County Democratic Party, its chairman Ike Brown and the county Election Commission practiced racial discrimination against white voters and candidates.

Pleasants, one of the attorneys for Democratic Executive Committee and Brown, said the government has failed to prove there exist a procedure or structure that denies equal opportunity to white Noxubee County voters .

The Justice Department has called the situation in Noxubee County "the most extreme case of racial exclusion seen by the (department's) Voting Section in decades." -- Legal debate rages over Noxubee voting rights allegations - The Clarion-Ledger

April 9, 2007

Scotland: Who wants to rule have at one seat in the country? -- Christian parties

BBC News reports: No sex before marriage, tackling divorce rates and cutting drug abuse and obesity.

These are just some of the issues being highlighted by Christian parties hoping to return MSPs to Holyrood in the May election. ...

The Christian Peoples Alliance, has already made an early attack on religious policy - branding the Scottish Greens "eco-fascists" over their plans to integrate state religious schools into non-denominational education. ...

The party, which has also made reference to the so-called "erosion of marriage", has decided to field eight Scottish Parliament list candidates and one council candidate, with the aim of having at least one MSP after the election. -- BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Christian parties in Holyrood bid

BBC links to these websites for the The Scottish Christian Party and Christian Peoples Alliance - Scotland.

New Mexico: was Iglesias fired for whistleblowing?

AP reports: New Mexico's former U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, is talking with the government's independent counsel about whether Justice Department officials violated federal law when they fired him late last year.

A deputy in the Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal government whistleblowers, first contacted Iglesias in early March as part of an inquiry into whether his firing may have violated a law that protects military reservists from discrimination.

The special counsel's staff also is examining possible violations of laws designed to protect whistleblowers and prohibit political activity by government employees, Iglesias said in an interview this week.

Iglesias said he has authorized an investigation, but there are no formal charges pending. The process is in its very early stages, he said, adding: "It's too early to tell whether will result in a legal claim." -- Reservist May Have Been Wrongly Fired

Massachusetts: Boston election department is understaff and underfunded, consultant says

The Boston Globe reports: A consultant's audit of the Boston Election Department has found that years of understaffing and underfunding have left the department incapable of consistently conducting elections properly.

Even as the demands on election workers increased because of federal voting rights legislation, the city continued to cut the department's budget, forcing it to operate with a skeleton staff and outdated tools, according to the audit conducted by David King, an elections specialist at Harvard University.

The city will not be able to run elections effectively unless it overhauls the department, reclassifying jobs to create clear areas of responsibility and committing to a "sustained investment in personnel and training" that would increase the size of the department's staff by more than a third, King said in a 12-page draft of his conclusions released to the Globe. -- Audit says cuts left Election Dept. unfit - The Boston Globe

Edwards campaign modifies its website to allow opt-out

Mary Ann Akers writes on the Wash. Post blog The Sleuth: John Edwards's presidential campaign has modified its online fundraising approach to give visitors an "opt-out" option if they are just trying to send a sympathy note to Elizabeth Edwards about her cancer recurrence.

The change reflects an apparent attempt to separate the handling of Mrs. Edwards's illness from the incessant need for money to fund her husband's campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The adjustment comes after The Sleuth reported last week that the Edwards campaign was soliciting contributions from people who sent sympathy notes to Elizabeth Edwards through the Edwards campaign Web site. -- Edwards Campaign Modifies Online Fundraising Practice - The Sleuth

April 8, 2007

Scotland: latest poll shows SNP 12 points ahead

The Scotsman reports: LABOUR was facing a series of negative polls yesterday, 24 days before the election.

The latest poll on the Holyrood elections gives the SNP their biggest lead of 12 per cent, six points more than previous polls. If the results of the Scottish Opinion poll are replicated on 3 May, the number of SNP MSPs would more than double and give the party 16 more than Labour. -- The Scotsman - Politics - Big boost for SNP as poll puts party 12 points clear

April 7, 2007

Florida: "What was Charlie Crist thinking?"

Farhad Manjoo asks and answers the question at Salon.com: During his campaign for the Florida governorship last fall, Charlie Crist frequently expressed deep moral opposition to the state's practice of permanently prohibiting convicted felons from exercising their right to vote. But Crist is a Republican, and his promise to fix Florida's notorious felon-voting ban sometimes sounded like nothing more than campaign puffery. Felon disenfranchisement has long given Republicans a considerable boost at the polls in Florida; if the state's ex-cons had been allowed to vote in 2000, George W. Bush would now be the commissioner of baseball. Was Charlie Crist really going to kill this political golden goose?

On Thursday, he did just that. Crist, who became governor after handily defeating Democrat Jim Davis in November, ushered in a proposal that will quickly restore the voting rights of most of Florida's felons as soon as they are released from prison. The plan looks sure to alter the political landscape in the nation's most populous -- and electoral-vote-rich -- swing state. -- What was Charlie Crist thinking? | Salon.com

Scotland: roundup of politicians' blogs

Scottish Roundup reports: In many ways, the blog is the perfect method of campaigning for a politician. For one thing, it is free and easy to set up a blog, giving politicians the opportunity to campaign from the comfort of their own home. There is no need to print out expensive leaflets or spend time going around doors. Blogs also act really well as a discussion forum. Voters can voice their opinion in the comments section of a blog, where debates can thrive.

Blogs have the additional benefit of not being as intrusive as other methods of campaigning. While some voters may not like to be disturbed by a politician knocking on their door and others may see campaign literature as junk mail, blogs do not force themselves down anybody’s throat. People can choose to read a blog or not.

The flexible format of a blog means that you can write about whatever you like in whatever style you want. Although undoubtedly the traditional methods of campaigning will still be evident, blogs are being used increasingly by candidates as an easy and cheap way to reach voters.

However, some blogging candidates — most notably Jody Dunn — have found themselves in hot water over what they have written. If you write anything that could incriminate you, other bloggers will pile on the criticism. -- Scottish Roundup » Blog Archive » Special #1: A modern form of campaigning - a look at politicians' blogs

April 6, 2007

Virgin Islands: constitutional convention delegates may qualify

Caribbean Net News reports: The US Virgin Islands moved one step closer to its fifth Constitutional Convention Monday with the announcement that eligible delegate candidates can obtain petitions which will enable them to appear on the ballot for the June 12, 2007, special election.

That announcement was the subject of a press conference held jointly by the University of the Virgin Islands, which is spearheading a public education project in support of the convention, and the Virgin Islands Board of Elections, which will oversee the election process. ...

In presenting his calendar of dates which will govern the election process, elections supervisor John Abramson noted the collaborative activities between his board and the University in making sure that the public is engaged and involved in the work of the convention.

Abramson presented a calendar of dates beginning with April 2, 2007, on which date the petitions become available at election offices throughout the territory and May 16, 2007, by which date all petitions must be returned to the Board of Elections. -- Caribbean Net News: The source for news throughout the Caribbean

Kansas: Neosho Co. sheriff investigating voter-intimidation charge

The Parsons Sun reports: The Neosho County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday received a complaint of voter intimidation - a felony.

Sheriff Jim Keath said the complaint was filed against CUSD 101 Board of Education president Kelly Coover, who was re-elected by voters Tuesday to serve another term that will begin July 1.

Keath said he could not elaborate on who filed the complaint, but his office is investigating the claim. ...

On Tuesday, Keath said the sheriff's department received a call from a Thayer resident who reported that three different people in the community said they felt they had been intimidated by Coover, although the caller was not one of the three and had not experienced any of the alleged events. -- News from The Parsons Sun

Ohio: Secretary of State rules provisional ballots must be paper

AP reports: Ohio's new elections chief ordered the state's 88 boards of elections Thursday to record all provisional ballots on paper, beginning with the first elections after the May 8 primary.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said electronic machines assign each provisional voter a number that is printed on a paper record in each machine, putting ballot secrecy at risk if a recount occurs. If the number is visible while votes are being counted, it would be possible to learn the identity of the voter.

A provisional ballot is cast when a voter does not have suitable identification or if the address on the voter's ID differs from the one written in precinct poll books.

Most counties still use paper for provisional ballots, said Matt Damschroder, director of the Franklin County elections board and president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. Elections officials should have no problem making the switch, he said. -- Beacon Journal | 04/06/2007 | Provisional ballots must be on paper

Alabama: House votes to stick with 5 Feb. primary ... sort of

AP reports: The Alabama House on Thursday passed a bill that will allow Alabama's early presidential primary to remain on Feb. 5, 2008, but let residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties to vote almost a week early to avoid conflict with the Mardi Gras holiday.

The Legislature voted last year to move the state's presidential preference primary from June to Feb. 5 to make the state more of a player in the selection of the Republican and Democratic candidates for president. But the change created a conflict since that Feb. 5 is also Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras and a state holiday in Mobile and Baldwin counties. ...

The bill to make provisions for Mardi Gras, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, and House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, passed the House on a 90-7 vote after Guin fought off several amendments that would have changed the date away from Feb. 5.

The bill now goes to the Senate for debate. It would cause most residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties to go to the polls on Wednesday, Jan. 30, and the results would be sealed until Feb. 5. One polling place would be open in each county for voters wishing to go to the polls on election day. The bill would also allow any voter in the two counties to cast an absentee ballot. -- House votes to keep primary on Feb. 5

April 5, 2007

Scotland: Who wants to run the country? -- Green

Let's take a look at the Scottish Greens. According to their website: The Scottish Green Party is campaigning in four major areas:

* Transport - for investment in fast, clean public transport, not more unsustainable road projects and airport expansion
* Energy - yes to renewable energy, no to nuclear power
* Food - for a food revolution
* Zero Waste - Read the Zero Waste Manifesto

Greens are also campaigning

* For peace
* For the preservation of the high street and small local businesses
* Against ID cards and the proposed identity database
* Against Tetra masts
* Against ship-to-ship oil transfer in the Forth
-- Scottish Green Party :: Campaigns Overview

To get more details on these bullet points, go to the Green site.

Scotland: new poll shows Labour slightly ahead

The Herald reports: Labour has edged ahead of the Scottish National Party in the race to control Holyrood, according to an exclusive poll for The Herald.

However, with the race seeming even tighter than before, the survey has also blown it wide open by showing the unusually high proportion of people who are undecided.

Among those saying how they will vote, Labour came in ahead of the SNP by four points on the constituency vote, and two points ahead on the regional choice.

Even with that good news for Labour, the survey showed Jack McConnell trailing behind Alex Salmond by 10 points on who would make the better First Minister. Public opinion on independence remains sceptical, with opposition outweighing support by 56% to 44%.

Today's findings run counter to repeated poll leads for the SNP over recent weeks, which put the Nationalists as much as 10 points ahead. They show the race between the two front runners is getting tighter as voters focus on their options. -- The Herald : News: HEADLINE NEWS

Florida: Clemency Board will automatically restore most ex-felons' voting rights

A press release from the Governor of Florida: Governor Charlie Crist today during a special meeting of the Florida Board of Executive Clemency introduced a change to the Rules of Executive Clemency that will provide for the restoration of the civil rights for certain ex-offenders. The rule was approved by a 3-1 majority of the clemency board, which consists of the Governor and the Florida Cabinet. Attorney General Bill McCollum voted against the measure.

“If we believe people have paid their debt to society, then that debt should be considered paid in full, and their civil rights should in fact be restored,” said Governor Crist. “By granting ex-offenders the opportunity to participate in the democratic process, we restore their ability to be gainfully employed, as well as their dignity.”

Under the rule, the civil rights of ex-offenders who have committed less severe crimes, and meet the following requirements, would qualify for approval without a hearing. -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist | Governor Crist Announces Clemency Board’s Vote to Restore Civil Rights

Indiana: 7th Circuit refuses rehearing

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has refused to rehear the Indiana Democratic Party's challenge to the voter I.D. law. The short denial following by a 5 page dissent by 4 judges is here.

Thanks to Ballot Access News for the tip.

Scotland: comment on SNP's advertising

Matthew Shugart emails (because the comments are not working): Practically speaking, the SNP is right. The party that wins the most party-list votes will have the most seats in the elected parliament, and it would be highly unlikely that the party with the most seats would not get to pick the premier.

Of course, technically and legally, the SNP is incorrect, because they are implying that the vote is a direct election of PM.

Mississippi: a comment on the Democratic Party suit

Steve Rankin emails (since my Comments function is messed up): “[T]he lawsuit seeks to restrict primary voting only to people who plan to support the party’s nominee in a general election.”

This makes it sound like the court can issue an order saying who can and who cannot vote in party primaries-- which it cannot.

Mississippi law forces each party to allow any voter to take part in its primaries. The Democrats are asking the court to declare this law unconstitutional. If the law is ultimately struck down, each party will then be free to determine who votes in its primaries.

“The courts have ruled that people cannot vote in a Democratic primary and then turn around and vote in [the] Republican runoff or vice versa.”

The courts have ruled no such thing. This is up to the legislature. Take Alabama, for example. Since state law does not forbid it, Alabama Republicans invite people who vote in the Democratic (first) primary to cross over and vote in the Republican runoff (or second) primary.

This Associated Press article had Jack Elliott Jr.'s byline on it.

The burning question: Why don’t AP writers give their addresses, so their readers can contact them?

Mississippi: Democratic Party seeks trial on closed primary

AP reports: Attorneys for plaintiffs wanting to keep non-Democrats from voting in Democratic Party primaries have asked a federal judge to let a trial go on, as scheduled.

There is disagreement within the Democratic Party about the lawsuit, which seeks to restrict primary voting only to people who plan to support the party’s nominee in a general election.

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper has set the case for trial July 30 in Greenville.

The attorney general’s office, on behalf of the three-member State Board of Election Commissioners, asked Pepper in January to dismiss the lawsuit. On March 12, the Democratic Party asked Pepper to deny the state’s request.

Pepper has given the attorney general until April 6 to file a final brief supporting its motion to throw out the lawsuit. -- The Picayune Item - Miss. Democrats ask federal judge to allow lawsuit to go to trial

Alabama: Judge King's lawyer dispute campaign finance charges

The Birmingham News reports: Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King spent $4,700 on food during the years 2003 and 2005, campaign finance records show. The question is whether those and other expenditures qualify as legitimate campaign expenses.

King's lawyer, Ralph "Buddy" Armstrong, said Wednesday that he thinks that they do, given his understanding of the state's campaign finance laws. ...

A review of King's campaign finance forms show that the judge - who has not faced opposition in two elections - spent thousands of dollars on items that do not appear, on their face, to be campaign-related.

For example, records show that King spend almost $4,700 on meals in 2003 and 2005.

The Bright Star in Bessemer and San Antonio Grille in McCalla were the most frequent entries. King spent $230 on a meal at The Bright Star, the most expensive outing, in November 2003. -- Campaign spending propriety disputed

April 4, 2007

Scotland: computer count of regional vote may be nixed if there are too many candidates

The Edinburgh Evening News reports: ELECTION chiefs today admitted they could be forced to abandon plans for electronic counting of next month's Holyrood vote in the Lothians if more candidates come forward.

The counting machines, being used for the first time, are only programmed to cope with up to 21 names on the Scottish Parliament regional list - and with a week still to go until nominations close, there are already 19 candidates in Lothian.

If just three more come forward, the electronic count - in preparation for two years - would have to be abandoned in favour of the traditional count by hand.

But that would almost certainly mean a last-minute dash to recruit extra counting staff and could lead to a delay in the results of the city council elections being held on the same day. -- Edinburgh Evening News - Politics - Electronic counting faces axe if candidate numbers increase

Scotland: controversy over SNP ads saying regional (proportional) vote is for First Minister

The Herald reports: Opponents have cried foul over the SNP's tactic of telling voters that their first choice on the ballot paper in May is about who should be First Minister of Scotland.

The Electoral Commission said the SNP was wrong but said it had no plans to launch an investigation into the claim, made in a television broadcast and in mailshots by the party. ...

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: "It is incorrect to say the regional vote is for the First Minister. The way the system works is the regional vote elects seven MSPs for the region and the constituency vote elects one MSP for the constituency." ...

An SNP spokesman said: "The first vote will decide the balance of MSPs in the new Parliament and this will determine who becomes First Minister. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

Mississippi: Democrats seek trial of closed primary case

AP reports: Attorneys for plaintiffs wanting to keep non-Democrats from voting in Democratic Party primaries have asked a federal judge to let a trial go on, as scheduled.

There is disagreement within the Democratic Party about the lawsuit, which seeks to restrict primary voting only to people who plan to support the party’s nominee in a general election.

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper has set the case for trial July 30 in Greenville.

The attorney general’s office, on behalf of the three-member State Board of Election Commissioners, asked Pepper in January to dismiss the lawsuit. On March 12, the Democratic Party asked Pepper to deny the state’s request.

Pepper has given the attorney general until April 6 to file a final brief supporting its motion to throw out the lawsuit. -- The Picayune Item - Miss. Democrats ask federal judge to allow lawsuit to go to trial

New Mexico: Richardson will veto part of public financing bill

AP reports: Gov. Bill Richardson says he'll veto part of the bill for public financing of statewide judicial elections that lawmakers sent him last week.

The bill extends New Mexico's limited system of public financing to contested races for the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, a change Richardson sought.

But under a provision added by the Senate, it would take effect only if voters changed the state constitution in 2008 to eliminate retention elections — effectively requiring those judges and justices to run in partisan elections to keep their seats.

"I don't like that," Richardson said Monday at a news conference.

Under the current setup, the appellate-level judges and justices are appointed, stand for election once in a partisan contest, then run subsequently for retention — an up-or-down vote whether to keep them on the bench.

Legislative leaders had said they would ask the governor to veto the contingency provision. -- Las Cruces Sun-News - Richardson says he'll veto provision of ethics bill (9:09 a.m.)

Alabama: judge indicted for misuse of campaign funds

The Birmingham News reports: Bessemer Circuit Judge Dan King was booked into the Jefferson County jail Tuesday after he was indicted on 56 counts related to misuse of campaign funds.

The judge, who will be suspended from the bench with pay, was indicted by a Bessemer Cutoff grand jury Monday for tax, ethics and election law violations, Alabama Attorney General Troy King said in announcing the indictment. ...

Ralph "Buddy" Armstrong, Dan King's attorney, said the judge will argue that he deposited campaign funds in his personal account only to repay loans he had made to his campaign.

"A candidate loans himself money all the time. How does he get that money back?" Armstrong said. "He was paying himself back for money he had spent out of his personal account." -- Judge indicted on campaign fund uses

Scotland: Greens willing to be in coalition

The Herald reports: Scots have a last chance to change the world, with next month's election giving them the opportunity to influence policy before the tipping point is reached on global warming, Greens claimed yesterday.

Campaign director Mark Ruskell said a vote for the Scottish Greens should be for "progress not protest". He said the only "red line" issue that would prevent them from even discussing possible deals with other parties was new nuclear power stations.

On other issues, he said they would seek to drive a hard bargain, whether as formal coalition partners in government, or as part of a more limited "confidence and supply" deal to allow a bigger party to form a stable minority administration.

But while the Greens will feel the tide is with them in terms of sentiment about global warming and the need to curb carbon emissions, some of their mechanisms for achieving this could dent their hopes across the country. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

April 3, 2007

Texas: papers to prove who you are

John Kelso actually reads legislative bills in the Austin American Statesman: The same Texas legislator who got Athens, Texas, declared the birthplace of the hamburger is trying to make your sex change paperwork one of the papers you can use to identify yourself when you go to vote.

Who says Texas isn't progressive?

"I don't remember reading that in the bill," said John Gibbs, chief of staff for Rep. Betty Brown, R-Athens. These people at the Capitol ought to read these bills before they pump 'em out. That way they could get a few laughs.

Is this sex change provision really necessary to identify the voter? Hey, if you're in Athens and you've had a sex change operation, everybody in town knows who you are already, Patsy.

House Bill 218 is designed to cut down on voter fraud in Texas by making you bring along ID in addition to your voter registration card. I'm guessing the concern here is that undocumented workers will rush across our borders and try to vote. Like that happens a lot, right? -- Bill lets you vote if you bring your what to the polls?

Hertzberg on the need to change the election system

Paul Morton interviews Hendrik Hertzberg on Bookslut: Perhaps because his columns appear one to two weeks after the events they discuss, well after the pundits’ talking points have solidified into the boring, usually half-true conventional wisdom, Hendrik Hertzberg may be better equipped to maintain an interesting voice. Consider this assessment of the 2006 midterm election:

Americans have had enough, and their disgust with the Administration and its congressional enablers turned out to be so powerful that even the battered, rusty, sound-bit, TV-spotted, Die-bolded old seismograph of an American midterm election was able to register it. Thanks to the computer-aided gerrymandering that is the only truly modern feature of our electoral machinery, the number of seats that changed hands was not particularly high by historical standards. Voters -- actual people -- are a truer measure of the swing’s magnitude. In 2000, the last time this year’s thirty-three Senate seats were up for grabs, the popular-vote totals in those races, like the popular-vote totals for President, were essentially a tie. Democrats got forty-eight per cent of the vote, Republicans slightly more than forty-seven per cent. This time, in those same thirty-three states, Democrats got fifty-five per cent of the vote, Republicans not quite forty-three per cent. In raw numbers, the national Democratic plurality in the 2000 senatorial races was the same as Al Gore’s: around half a million. This time, despite the inevitably smaller off-year turnout and the fact that there were Senate races in only two-thirds of the states, it was more than seven million.

In that first sentence, with six well-chosen adjectives and a sure metaphor, Hertzberg brings up his signature talking point -- our 200-year-old electoral system needs a serious rewrite -- and then with a careful tabulation of the numbers, he points out the bleeding obvious: Bush suffered a brutal blow last November. This isn’t the finest paragraph Hertzberg has written, but there’s more wisdom, let alone information, packed into those eight sentences than in a 15-minute discussion on CNN. In an era in which op-ed columnists seem to be throwing out lame notes for their talks with George Stephanopoulos, Hertzberg shows us the value of the written word in political debate. -- Bookslut | An Interview with Hendrik Hertzberg

"Wither and die": DOJ civil rights enforcement

Gannett News Service reports: Amid calls for the ouster of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups are targeting the Justice Department's enforcement record on civil and voting rights.

"I realize the president has gotten a free ride for the last six years, but that is over," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties. The panel recently held the first oversight hearing under the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Democrats say the Justice Department -- under scrutiny for its ousters of eight U.S. attorneys and its mishandling of national security letters -- has been lax in enforcing civil rights laws and slow to investigate cases, particularly on behalf of African Americans.

The Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights and the Center for American Progress released a report in March criticizing the Civil Rights Division's record on housing, voting and employment. The groups said the administration has narrowed civil rights protections and allowed enforcement to "wither and die." -- Civil rights enforcement called lax

Florida: Miami-Dade mayor flirts with changes to commission elections

The Miami Herald reports: The next flare-up in Miami-Dade's increasingly tense ethnic politics might be attached to a long fuse lit months ago by Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

Answering questions after a late-January breakfast speech at the Miami City Club, he gingerly toed into a 20-year-old fight about how citizens should be represented on the County Commission.

''Without a doubt, there is a lot of interest in a combination of single-member districts and at-large,'' he said. ``It's a very touchy subject, but one there's a lot of interest in, without a doubt.''

From another politician at another time, it might have been a blip; polls show broad dissatisfaction with the County Commission, and Alvarez is not the first to suggest tinkering with its structure by adding members who are elected by the full county instead of a small district.

But the idea -- which Alvarez and others believe is bound to surface this spring when commissioners appoint a task force to study changing the county charter -- is seen as an attack by many black leaders, who fear their share of commission seats would fall. Some are especially apprehensive after two earlier incidents with racial undertones. -- Dade commission change could stir tension - 04/03/2007 - MiamiHerald.com

Florida: governor hopes to persuade others on clemency board to restore all felons' voting rights

The New York Times reports: Hinting that a remarkable turnaround in state policy was near, Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday that he hoped to persuade members of the Florida cabinet this week to end the practice of stripping convicted felons of their right to vote. ...

Felons in Florida who have served their prison and probation time can apply to have their voting rights reinstated, but the process can be time consuming and complex. Only a few hundred have their rights restored each year in Florida, where the American Civil Liberties Union says 950,000 remain disenfranchised.

Mr. Crist, a Republican, said that to win the support of some cabinet members, he might require former felons to pay whatever restitution they owe to victims before regaining their rights. Some civil rights groups, including the A.C.L.U., oppose such a compromise, but Mr. Crist said he had little choice. ...

Only a constitutional amendment could formally end the ban, but under state law, the governor and cabinet — who also make up the state clemency board — could grant blanket clemency to everyone who completes their sentence. Mr. Crist needs two of the three cabinet members to sign off on the plan. -- Florida Governor Is Hoping to Restore Felon Voting Rights - New York Times

April 2, 2007

Scotland: "Election website fights voter apathy and brings power to the people"

The Edinburgh Evening News reports: A NEW website has been launched to try to tackle voter apathy ahead of Scottish elections by providing information and debate about candidates.

Academics from Edinburgh University have designed www.holyrood2007.net, which goes live this week.

Voters can use it to find out background about people standing in their areas or discuss issues of the day. Among other things there will be a 100-second video of every candidate.

All visitors to the site have to do is enter their postcode and they will be able to view all those standing in their constituency. -- Edinburgh Evening News - Politics - Election website fights voter apathy and brings power to the people

April 1, 2007

Alabama: A.G.'s office represented Worley while investigating her

AP reports: State Attorney General Troy King said there was no conflict of interest when his staff represented then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley in lawsuits at the same time it was conducting an investigation that led to criminal charges against her.

Worley, a Democrat, has repeatedly complained that the Republican attorney general did a poor job of representing her in civil matters and pursued the criminal case simultaneously to help her Republican opponent, Beth Chapman, and make himself look better.

While Worley was secretary of state, King’s office represented her in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department that accused her office of missing the deadline for implementing a statewide voter registration database. Worley repeatedly complained that King wasn’t following her wishes when King asked a federal judge to transfer the database responsibilities to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who had appointed King attorney general. -- King: No conflict of interest

Kansas: governor still thinking about vetoing the voter I.D. bill

Harris News Service reports: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won't say yet whether she'll veto a measure requiring Kansans younger than age 65 to show photo identification to vote.

The Senate voted 26-14 Thursday to send the House a bill that requires voter ID's. The action gives the full House a second chance to vote on a measure that had stalled in committee.

The proposal, backed by Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, also requires that citizens prove their citizenship with a birth certificate, passport or other federal document in order to register to vote.

However, Huelskamp said the requirements would only affect people who register to vote for the first time in the state on or after July 1, 2007. Once done, a voter wouldn't have to provide proof-of-citizenship again unless they moved outside the state. -- The Hutchinson News, Hutchinson, Kan., | Regional News

How do you spell "bozo bigot" in Spanish?

AP reports: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich equated bilingual education Saturday with "the language of living in a ghetto" and mocked requirements that ballots be printed in multiple languages.

"The government should quit mandating that various documents be printed in any one of 700 languages depending on who randomly shows up" to vote, said Gingrich, who is considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He made the comments in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women.

"The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. ... We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto," Gingrich said to cheers from the crowd of more than 100.

"Citizenship requires passing a test on American history in English. If that's true, then we do not have to create ballots in any language except English," he said. -- Gingrich Calls Spanish Language Of Ghetto - Education

Scotland: will SNP be able to run a coalition government if its partner is against independence?

The Scotsman - Politics - Lib Dems offer SNP way out of independence impasse
The Scotsman reports: SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen offered a possible compromise deal to the SNP yesterday in the impasse over an independence referendum, when he suggested that the whole constitutional issue could be handed to a new cross-party convention.

Mr Stephen said the creation of a new Scottish constitutional convention to review the position of the Scottish Parliament and find a consensus for a way forward would be a way of "shelving" the constitutional argument. ...

The Liberal Democrats are fiercely opposed to a referendum on independence and the SNP is equally adamant that there has to be a referendum within the next four-year term of the Scottish Parliament.

The seemingly intractable positions have made it difficult for either party to contemplate any sort of post-election coalition deal if the SNP becomes the largest party in Holyrood next month.

Scotland: another poll shows SNP ahead of Labour

The Sunday Herald reports: SCOTTISH LABOUR'S grip on power seemed to be slipping away last night after another opinion poll confirmed the SNP was on course for a historic victory in the Holyrood election.

The new TNS System 3 snapshot,which was conducted for Scottish Television,gave the Nationalists a surprise five-point lead in constituencies and an astonishing 11 point lead on the regional vote. ...

The poll, which was commissioned late last month and based on a sample of around 1000 adults, found the SNP on 39% of the constituency vote, five ahead of Labour on 34%. The Conservatives trailed in third on 13%, with the LibDems fourth on 11%.

The regional vote was even better for the SNP, as the poll found the Nationalists on 36%, a record 11% ahead of Labour. The LibDems came third on 13%, the Tories fourth on 11%, with the Scottish Greens trailing on 6%. The SSP, which had broken through four years ago, languished on 3% A seat projection by Professor Bill Miller at Glasgow University placed the SNP at 51, up by around 24 since the 2003 Holyrood election, while Labour dropped back to 44, a loss of six seats compared with four years ago. -- The Sunday Herald - Scotland's award-winning independent newspaper