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

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May 31, 2007

Massachusetts: election day registration hearing

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports: Backers of election-day voter registration believe Massachusetts could see a double-digit spike in voter turnout if people could register and vote all at once.

At a hearing yesterday at the Statehouse, state Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, co-chairman of the legislative committee on Election Laws and a co-sponsor of an election-day registration bill, said people who are busy with their day-to-day lives deserve a more convenient path to the voting booth. ...

Secretary of State William F. Galvin testified in favor of the proposed legislation yesterday but expressed some reservations about the way it would be implemented.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray also testified in support, with a reminder that he and Gov. Deval L. Patrick were elected on a day of record voter turnout. The campaign registered and turned out thousands of new voters last fall. -- Same-day voter registration recommended

Minnesota: US attorney may have been targeted because of Indian voting rights

The Los Angeles Times reports: For more than 15 years, clean-cut, square-jawed Tom Heffelfinger was the embodiment of a tough Republican prosecutor. Named U.S. attorney for Minnesota in 1991, he won a series of high-profile white-collar crime and gun and explosives cases. By the time Heffelfinger resigned last year, his office had collected a string of awards and commendations from the Justice Department.

So it came as a surprise — and something of a mystery — when he turned up on a list of U.S. attorneys who had been targeted for firing.

Part of the reason, government documents and other evidence suggest, is that he tried to protect voting rights for Native Americans.

At a time when GOP activists wanted U.S. attorneys to concentrate on pursuing voter fraud cases, Heffelfinger's office was expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots. -- Minnesota case fits pattern in U.S. attorneys flap

DOJ will do internal investigation into biased hiring

The Baltimore Sun reports: Justice Department investigators said yesterday that they are investigating whether the agency's Civil Rights Division engaged in improper hiring and personnel decisions, expanding an investigation that arose from the firing last year of eight U.S. attorneys.

The internal review will also look into hiring for the agency's prestigious honors program for entry-level attorneys and for summer internships, according to a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees from Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility. ...

The expanded investigation also appears to reflect the concerns of a growing number of career employees at the Justice Department who have suggested that politics has compromised hiring at the department during the Bush administration.

In a letter this spring to the judiciary panels, an anonymous group of Justice Department employees wrote that political appointees were using politics to screen candidates for the honors and internship programs. -- Justice Dept. probe expands

Cherokee Nation: BIA disapproves anti-Freedman amendment

The Sequoyah County Times reports: The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recently notified Cherokee Nation that they will not approve a 2003 tribal constitutional amendment that removed the federal government from the tribe's constitutional approval process.

This move by the BIA could void a controversial March vote on another tribal constitutional amendment that essentially removed Freedmen descendants from the Cherokee Nation's tribal rolls. Since that March vote, a tribal injunction has been approved while Freedmen descendants battle against the vote in court.

The Cherokee Nation announced Tuesday that they received notification from BIA officials denying approval of the 2003 constitutional amendment, which was implemented by a tribal court order nearly a year ago. In 2003, tribal citizens voted to amend the 1976 version of the constitution to remove federal oversight. Also in 2003, Cherokees voted in their general election to adopt the tribe's 1999 constitution. ...

But according to the tribe, the Cherokee Nation was not seeking approval from the BIA, adding that tribal courts have ruled that Cherokee Nation could take away the approval authority it had granted the federal government. -- BIA denies approval of tribal amendment

May 30, 2007

Alaska: clean election initiative meets first goal

The Anchorage Daily News reports: Advocates of keeping special interests out of politics are asking the state to consider a citizens' ballot initiative to launch what are known as "clean election" campaigns.

The concept involves doing away with most private donations for state election campaigns and replacing them with money from a special state fund.

Sponsors of the initiative said Friday they had collected enough initial signatures to qualify for a review of their application by Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell.

If approved, the initiative backers would then need to collect 23,800 more signatures statewide to put the idea on the 2008 ballot.

If voters approve it, the initiative would create a system in which candidates could forgo private campaign contributions for public funding. Money for the clean elections fund would be provided by a three-cent tax per barrel of oil produced in Alaska, according to the initiative's proposal. -- Proposed initiative targets 'clean election' campaigns

Georgia: one more for the National Primary

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: Gov. Sonny Perdue has signed a bill that moves Georgia's presidential primary to Feb. 5, making the Peach State part of a mega-Tuesday primary that could be key to selecting each party's nominee.

So far, 14 states are currently scheduled to cast their ballots Feb. 5, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 12 states have pending legislation that would either bump their primaries up to early February or would give state officials latitude to do so.

The change moves Georgia's primary up almost a month. It had been set for March 4. ...

If all pending legislation passes, close to 40 states will hold their 2008 primaries by the end of February, which is early compared to past presidential primary years, she said. In the 2000 presidential primaries, most were held in March, she said. -- Georgia joins mega-Tuesday primary

May 29, 2007

Scotland: independent inquiry may review spoilt ballots

The Herald reports: The Scotland Office has indicated that it is willing to change the law to let the Holyrood election inquiry see the thousands of ballot papers which were spoiled on May 3.

Concerns have been raised that the inquiry, under the leadership of the Canadian election expert Ron Gould, may be toothless because it has no statutory powers to order the release of the 142,000 discarded ballots.

But The Herald has learned that the Scotland Office would be willing to introduce a piece of secondary legislation at Westminster which would allow the spoiled papers to be made available. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

Texas: counties having problems with centralized voter list

The Houston Chronicle reports: More Texas counties are abandoning a centralized voting records system after experiencing difficulties in the May 12 election, as the state struggles to get it running smoothly.

Critics of the system, known as Texas Election Administration Management, or TEAM, say former Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor made a mistake by accepting the higher of two final bids for an unproven system. ...

Enacted in response to allegations of fraud during the 2000 presidential election, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that states have an interactive centralized list in which election workers can easily determine whether a person is eligible to vote and to prevent citizens from being registered in more than one location.

Two counties, Hidalgo and Tarrant, recently confirmed they were leaving TEAM to contract with VOTEC, the vendor that Connor rejected in a close contest. The defections raise the number of counties abandoning TEAM to five, and others are considering a similar move. -- More Texas counties ditching state-OK'd voting system

New York: a package of election reforms proposed by Gov. Spitzer

The Gotham Gazette reports: Governor Eliot Spitzer has announced a package of reform proposals that could fundamentally change many aspects of elections in New York State. But despite its sweeping nature, the plan, coming in a flurry of activity in the closing days of April, received little if any fanfare.

The election changes include proposals for Election Day voter registration, altering the state’s redistricting process, uniform poll site hours, less burdensome signature requirements for candidates seeking office, and reform of the system for selecting candidates for judgeships. In announcing reforms, Spitzer said, “This package will effectively end the gerrymandering that has led New York to the highest incumbency rate in the country and preserved a status quo that for years has been counterproductive to the public interest. It will break down the barriers to voter registration and employ simple and effective methods to improve voter turnout and access to the polls.” -- Election Reform: Big Changes, Little Notice

May 28, 2007

Ireland: election results are in

Politics.ie reports on the results of the Irish election (held on 25 May, results final about noon on 27 May):
All 166 seats in the 30th Dail have now been filled.

Fianna Fail 78
Fine Gael 51
Green Party 6
Labour Party 20
Sinn Fein 4
Progressive Democrats 2
Independents 5 -- Politics news, Irish politics, Ireland politics, Irish political news, party politics - politics.ie :: Politics.ie

Also, here is the link for the counts for each constituency>

Alabama: "undocument citizens" are disproportionately black

The Birmingham News reports: A new federal law designed to prevent illegal immigrants from signing up for Medicaid has kicked more than 5,000 people off the rolls in Alabama, but only 115 of them are Hispanic, according to state data.

Advocates for the poor argue that the new rule is hitting the wrong people - poor Americans.

More than 5,000 people have been terminated from Medicaid for failing to provide a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, according to data from the Alabama Medicaid Agency. ...

Hispanics comprised 6 percent of the Medicaid rolls affected by the new rule, but they accounted for 2 percent of the patients dropped from Medicaid. Black Alabamians comprised 48 percent of the affected group and accounted for nearly 60 percent of the 527,400 who dropped. -- Medicaid rule hits citizens hardest- al.com

Comment: About 24% of Alabama's population is black, so among a group that is already disproportionately black, blacks are hit even harder by this "show me your papers" rule.

May 25, 2007

Scotland: Labour will not challenge close loss in one seat

BBC News reports: Labour has announced that it will not mount a legal challenge to a Scottish election result which cost a minister his seat.

Former Enterprise Minister Allan Wilson saw his Cunninghame North seat fall to the SNP who took it by a majority of just 48 in the Holyrood elections.

More than 1,000 votes were rejected in Cunninghame North.

Labour said the independent inquiry ordered by the Electoral Commission should be adequate. -- BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | No Labour challenge over election

May 24, 2007

Scotland: views of an American observer

Rob Richie's article on observing the Scottish election begins:
On May 3rd, Scotland held groundbreaking elections for its regional parliament and for local government, using two different proportional voting methods. As a result of these new, fairer methods, the Scottish National Party (SNP) ousted the Labor Party from power in the parliamentary vote and with other opposition parties gained major ground in local elections. At the same time, however, a sharp rise in invalid ballots and delays in the count caused a storm of controversy.

I was part of a 25-member delegation of civic leaders, city councilors and election officials organized by FairVote and the British Electoral Reform Society that observed the elections and attended pre-election and post-election briefings on redistricting and election administration in Britain. We need more such delegations, as there is much we can learn from the experiences of other advanced democracies as they work to reform their election practices. -- IN THE NEWS » Blog Archive » Election Observers Abroad

Texas: voter I.D. bill dead for the session; Sen. Gallegos still alive

The Dallas Morning News reports: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst declared a much-debated voter identification bill dead Wednesday night as the Senate faced a midnight deadline for passage of all bills in this year's legislative session.

His declaration prompted Democratic Sen. Mario Gallegos of Houston, who has been recovering from a liver transplant but has stayed in Austin to prevent a vote on the bill, to thank the lieutenant governor and all of his colleagues before departing the Capitol. ...

Mr. Gallegos returned to the Capitol on Monday against his doctors' wishes to preserve a Democratic blockade of the GOP-backed legislation, which would have required Texans to show a photo ID or two other pieces of identification to vote. The Senate's 11 Democrats blocked action on the proposal under the chamber's long-standing rule that requires a two-thirds vote of the 31-member chamber to take up any bill.

The measure passed the House earlier this year but has been stalled in the Senate. Republicans say it's an important piece of legislation to fight voter fraud, especially illegal immigrants voting. Democrats contend that's a problem that doesn't exist and say the measure will harm minorities and the elderly. -- Ailing senator helps quash voter ID bill

Utah and DC: legal expers disagree on constitutionality of DC vote bill

The Salt Lake Tribune reports: There's one sure thing in the debate over giving Utah a fourth U.S. House seat and the District of Columbia its first full-voting member: legal scholars completely disagree on the plan's constitutionality.
For some, the bill is patently wrong, "the most premeditated unconstitutional act by Congress in decades," as one professor has repeatedly testified.
For others, it's clear the founding fathers didn't intend for nearly 600,000 residents of the nation's capital to go without representation in Congress.
Wednesday, several scholars testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the measure primarily meant to give the largely Democratic district a voice in Congress but balanced with a seat for Republican-dominated Utah. -- Salt Lake Tribune - Legal scholars disagree on bill's constitutionality

Goodling Googled to get the goods on job applicants

The New York Times reports: A former top Justice Department aide testified on Wednesday that she had “crossed the line” in considering the political beliefs of applicants for nonpartisan legal jobs and suggested that earlier testimony by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and another top official about the dismissals of federal prosecutors may have been flawed.

Monica M. Goodling, the former Justice official, told a House panel that she regretted favoring applicants with Republican credentials for lower level prosecutor jobs or prestigious postings at Justice headquarters, actions that could violate federal employment laws. ...

Ms. Goodling acknowledged repeatedly that she had improperly sought to gauge the political leanings of applicants when she reviewed résumés for nonpartisan jobs or promotions, including posts as assistant United States attorneys and immigration judges or for temporary assignments at Justice headquarters.

She said she had done Google or Nexis searches on job candidates or searched their names on campaign-finance databases to see if they might have given money to Republican or Democratic candidates. She also pressed applicants’ references, at times, to ferret out the political background of the job candidates they were endorsing.

“There were times I crossed the line probably in my reference calls” by asking political questions, Ms. Goodling told the committee.

Political factors are routinely considered for some jobs at the Justice Department, like United States attorneys or senior posts, like the heads of the litigating divisions.

But civil service rules prohibit such questions when federal agencies are hiring or promoting staff members for career positions. Violations could be unlawful, although probably not a crime, Justice Department officials have said. Two internal investigative units have begun an inquiry into Ms. Goodling’s screening practices. -- Ex-Justice Aide Admits Politics Affected Hiring

May 23, 2007

Scotland: Labour MP trots out the "Hitler argument" against election system

The Scotman reports:
THE voting system which delivered victory for Alex Salmond was yesterday likened to the one which saw Adolf Hitler rise to power.

In a heated exchange in the Commons about the Scottish elections fiasco, a Labour MP blamed the proportional representation system for the voting debacle and the SNP's win.

Anne Moffat, who represents East Lothian, asked MPs: "Is it not the case proportional representation gave Germany Adolf Hitler and in Scotland, to a lesser degree, we have the [Westminster] member for Banff and Buchan (Alex Salmond). Can that be a good thing?"

The remark prompted shouts of "outrageous" in the Commons chamber. It came in the middle of a Westminster debate initiated by the Conservatives, calling for an independent inquiry into the May elections. -- The Scotsman - Politics - Poll system that put Salmond in office 'gave Germany Hitler'

May 22, 2007

Von Spakovsky's dual role under scrutiny

McClatchy Newspapers reports: During four years as a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, Hans von Spakovsky went so far in a crusade against voter fraud as to warn of its dangers under a pseudonym in a law journal article.

Writing as ''Publius,'' von Spakovsky contended that every voter should be required to produce a photo identification card and that there was ''no evidence'' that such restrictions burden minority voters disproportionately.

Now, amid a scandal over politicization of the Justice Department, Congress is beginning to examine allegations that von Spakovsky was a key player in a Republican campaign to hang onto power in Washington by suppressing the votes of minority voters.

''Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration's pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote,'' charged Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief who worked under him. -- Anti-voter fraud effort's politics under scrutiny

Texas: Gallegos risks his life to stop voter I.D. bill

AP reports: Against his doctor's advice, a stooped and feeble Sen. Mario Gallegos arrives at the state Capitol each day, just to make sure the Senate does not take up a bill that would require voters to produce ID at the polls.

And when the rigors of the job start to wear on the Houston Democrat, whose body is trying to reject a liver transplanted four months ago, he retires to a hospital-style bed — donated by a Republican colleague — in a room next to the Senate chamber.

From there, he can be summoned at a moment's notice should his vote be needed to keep the bill from reaching the floor.

In a life-and-death drama playing out under the Capitol dome, Gallegos is putting his health at risk to block a measure he and others say could prevent many minorities and the elderly from taking part in elections in Texas. -- Ailing lawmaker makes bed at Capitol to block bill

"Local officials take on voting rights groups"

Politico.com reports: Two days before legislation aimed at changing how the nation's votes are recorded was scheduled for a March markup in a House committee, the National Association of Counties realized it was in trouble.

Worried that the legislation would sail to the floor without amendments, NACo officials alerted their network of more than 27,000 elected officials to contact their lawmakers. In less than 24 hours, dozens of e-mails and faxes poured in to key committee members. Officials called the bill -- which would require paper records of all votes cast in time for the November 2008 election -- an unfunded mandate with an unworkable deadline.

Election reform has been a political priority for Democrats since the 2000 presidential election made hanging chads a household term. The issue provoked more debate last year when a closely contested Florida congressional seat was captured by Republicans after 18,000 votes cast on electronic touch-screen machines in a Democratic stronghold went unrecorded.

Democrats plan to bring verifiable vote legislation before the House as soon as next month. The bill's sponsor is Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who may have made an early strategic error by not reaching out to the secretaries of state and other local leaders who would have to oversee the changes. -- Local officials take on voting rights groups

OSC finds GSA head violated Hatch Act

The Federal Times reports: An Office of Special Counsel report has found that General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal officials from partisan political activity while on the job, sources say.

The report addresses a Jan. 26 lunch meeting at GSA headquarters attended by Doan and about 40 political appointees, some of whom participated by videoconference. During the meeting, Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation that included slides listing Democratic and Republican seats the White House viewed as vulnerable in 2008, a map of contested Senate seats and other information on 2008 election strategy.

According to meeting participants, Doan asked after the call how GSA could help “our candidates.”

Doan has until June 1 to respond to the OSC report, which was delivered to her May 18, according to officials. The officials asked to remain anonymous because the report has not been made public.

After Doan responds, the report will be sent to President Bush with recommendations that could include suspension or termination. The president is not required to comply with the suggestions. -- GSA chief violated Hatch Act, OSC report finds

What do you suppose the President will do?

Cherokee Nation: voter registration re-opened for Freedmen

The Tahlequah Daily Press reports: The Cherokee Nation Election Commission has agreed to re-open voter registration for non-Indians whose citizenship status is under review following the recent passage of a constitutional amendment.

The Election Commission’s decision was enacted by a court order signed by Judge John Cripps of Cherokee Nation District Court Friday, but was quickly followed by a motion to intervene filed by Marion Hagerstrand, a tribal citizen.

Hagerstrand is asking the court to re-open the 10-day voter registration period for Freedmen to all Cherokees, and believes excluding them would have an adverse affect on the upcoming June 23 tribal election.

The non-Indians’ citizenship in the Cherokee Nation was re-instated last week, pending resolution of all citizenship appeals, by a temporary injunction granted by a tribal court. The injunction permits eligible members of the group to vote in the Cherokee Nation election on June 23. The Election Commission agreed that those affected by the temporary injunction should have equal opportunity to register to vote. The order also opens absentee ballot requests for people affected by the injunction granting temporary citizenship. -- Tribal judge signs order, citizen seeks revision

Scotland: Gould to ask public's views on election snafu

BBC News reports: The international expert who is to carry out the inquiry into the Scottish election voting fiasco will ask members of the public to submit their views.

Canadian Ron Gould, who has been invited by the Electoral Commission to lead the review, will also interview politicians and electoral officials.

He hopes to complete his inquiries into both the Holyrood and local government elections by the end of August. ...

He has been tasked with examining issues including the high number of rejected ballots, the electronic counting process and the controversial decision to hold local elections on the same day as the Holyrood vote. -- BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Vote inquiry wants public views

May 21, 2007

Florida: state moves primary earlier than the Democratic "window"

AP reports: Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill Monday moving Florida's 2008 presidential primary to Jan. 29 and shaking up the race by bypassing a dozen other states set for Feb. 5.

The move puts Florida's primary, which had been scheduled for March, behind only the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and on the same day as South Carolina's Democratic primary.

Florida has by far the largest population of any of the early voting states set for January and is the most expensive in which to campaign, giving well-funded candidates an even greater advantage and possibly drawing attention away from the smaller states. ...

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said the state would lose 50 percent of its delegates and all its superdelegates -- typically members of Congress. Any candidate who campaigns in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 will be ineligible for receiving any of the state's delegates, Paxton said.

She added that the DNC hoped to work out a separate plan with the state party, such as a caucus. -- Florida shakes up early presidential voting - Boston.com

Alabama: further developments in what should have been a simple VRA case

After the federal court ordered the Governor to obtain preclearance under the Voting Rights Act before he administers the law requiring appointment of replacement county commissioners, the Justice Department denied preclearance and a request for reconsideration. The Court then granted plaintiffs' motion for relief and denied the State's motion for a stay. The State has now filed a notice of appeal.

However, the Probate Judge has not called the election yet, but has moved to intervene in the federal case and asks the Court to set a schedule for the election that will take longer than the 90 days allowed by the statute. The plaintiffs have just filed a response suggesting a shorter time limit.

Earlier information on the case is here.

Disclosure: Cecil Gardner and Vance McCrary (of the The Gardner Firm in Mobile, AL) and I represented the plaintiffs in that action.

May 20, 2007

Scotland: ERS report on local government elections

The Electoral Reform Society has issued its report on the Scottish local authority elections: The introduction of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for Scottish local government was a change long campaigned for by the Electoral Reform Society along with numerous other civic and political groups. We are, on the whole, delighted with the result.

The repercussions of the elections on 3 May are continuing to emerge. There are some points, though, which are already apparent. The elections to Scotland’s local authorities give us a positive story to tell about Scotland’s voters wielding the power of STV for the first time.

It is important to recognise the significance of these Scottish local elections. This was the first time that STV had been used in a large-scale public election on the UK mainland. It was a new system and, to a certain extent, an experiment. This initial report from the Electoral Reform Society aims to present the first findings from that experiment accessibly yet comprehensively. An STV election – particularly this one, being the first – invites further analysis and comment and we will provide that in a comprehensive report in the summer. This initial report, however, contains the key lessons that can be learned from the results of the 3 May local elections. -- Scottish LG report May 2007.pdf (application/pdf Object)

May 18, 2007

Scotland: ERS calls council elections "resounding success"

BBC News reports:
The Electoral Reform Society has hailed Scotland's council election as a resounding success.

The organisation has suggested that there were "major inadequacies" in the vote for the Scottish Parliament, which saw more than 140,000 rejected ballots.

However, a report from the society will say that the single transferable vote (STV) system used in the council election worked well.

It wants Holyrood to adopt the STV method, a call backed by the Lib Dems.

Research carried out by the BBC has shown that the proportion of spoilt ballot papers was far lower for the council election on 3 May. -- BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Council election hailed a success

May 17, 2007

EAC Standards Board considering "best practices" for voter materials and ballots

The Election Assistance Commission announces: The EAC Standards Board will review and provide comment on a draft EAC report that was developed by Design for Democracy. The draft report contains best practices suggestions on the design of voter information, optical scan ballots and direct recording electronic (DRE) ballots based on legislative guidelines, information design principles and user centered research. The EAC Standards Board Virtual Public Meeting Room was established to enable the Standards Board to review and discuss draft documents in a public forum when it is not feasible for an in-person board meeting. The Standards Board will not take any votes or propose any resolutions during this 5-day forum. Members of the Standards Board will post comments about the draft best practices suggestions for the design of voter information and ballot.

Activity Open to Public. The public may view the proceedings of this special forum at any time between Thursday, May 17, 2007, 7:00 a.m. EDT and Tuesday, May 22, 2007, 7:00 a.m. EDT. The public also may view the draft report of suggested best practices for voter information and ballot designs. The public also may file written statements to the EAC Standards Board. Data on EAC's website is accessible to visitors with disabilities and meets the requirements of section 508 of the rehabilitation act.

For Public Viewing - Click Here to Enter the EAC Standards Board Virtual Public Meeting Room

Click on any one of the eight (8) links to view each section of the draft report and comments posted by Standards Board Members about that section. You may also download the sections of the report. Written statements to the Standards Board may be filed at standardsboard@eac.gov. Any problems encountered when visiting this site may be emailed or you can call EAC at 1-866-747-1471 and ask for Liria Figueroa-Berrios.

North Carolina: National Popular Vote plan passes Senate

The Charlotte Observer reports: Voting in North Carolina could look very different in the years ahead.

There could be a different deadline for voters to register. There could be an earlier date for the N.C. presidential primary or caucus. There could even be a different way to appoint the Electoral College, which picks the president. ...

Perhaps the most historic change could be in how North Carolina appoints people to the Electoral College -- the 538-member group that, under the U.S. Constitution, decides the presidency. As in most other states, North Carolina's 15 electors vote for the winner of the state's popular vote.

Under a bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat, the electors would vote for the winner of the national vote. He said the bill would draw more attention to North Carolina, which has a low profile in presidential elections, and create a national election for president. ...

In a historic vote, the bill got through the state Senate this week, and it is expected to get a hearing in the House. The vote, though, was along partisan lines, with Republicans arguing the bill would help Democrats. -- Proposals to change election process

Mississippi: Judge orders Democrats to put Dale on primary ballot

The Commercial Dispatch reports: Mississippi's longtime insurance commissioner, George Dale, will be on the Democratic Party primary ballot.

Calhoun County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey on Monday reversed a Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee decision that had blocked Dale from the Aug. 7 party primary.

Lackey said he does not have the power to let Dale run as an independent - a request Dale made after the Democratic Executive Committee, in a 16-6 vote, said in March the commissioner can't run under the party label because he publicly supported President Bush for re-election in 2004. ...

Dale filed a lawsuit challenging the decision. Party officials last month admitted in court it wrongly disqualified Dale and offered to put him on the primary ballot, but he asked Lackey for permission to run as an independent. -- Dale gets spot on Dem ballot, judge rules

May 16, 2007

"The Voter Fraud Fraud"

Bonnie Goldstein writes in Salon.com (and has 5 pages of the suppressed draft of the voter fraud paper delivered to the EAC): When allegations surfaced of voter fraud or voter suppression in key states in the 2004 presidential election, the federal Election Assistance Commission ordered a study to "determine the quantity and quality of vote fraud and voter intimidation on a national scale."

Two consultants, one Republican (Job Serebrov) and one Democrat (Tova Wang), were hired to draw up a preliminary overview based on interviews, news stories, applicable case law, government reports, position papers from advocacy groups, and academic studies. In their "predecisional" draft (excerpted below and on the following four pages) Serebrov and Wang reported that "the only interviewee who believe[d] that polling place fraud is widespread" was Jason Torchinsky of the American Center for Voting Rights, a conservative organization that's been accused of fronting for the GOP. (It's Republicans who typically complain about voter fraud, because the allegations are usually directed at minority and low-income voters who tend to vote Democratic.) Most other interviewees, though not unanimous, showed "widespread ... agreement that there is little polling place fraud" (Page 4). Nonetheless, the draft report observed, the Justice Department's public integrity section is pursuing voter fraud cases energetically: "While the number of election fraud related complaints have not gone up since 2002 … the number of indictments the section is pursuing" against "alien voters, felon voters, and double voters" has risen substantially (Page 5). -- The Voter Fraud Fraud

Scotland: Salmond elected as First Minister

The Scotsman reports: The Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, has become Scotland's First Minister after a close vote in the Scottish Parliament.

In the first round of voting, Mr Salmond received 49 votes. Jack McConnell, the Scottish Labour leader, received 46 votes. Annabel Goldie of the Scottish Conservatives and Nicol Stephen, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, were eliminated from the contest after getting 16 votes each.

In the second round of voting Mr Salmond received 49 votes and Mr McConnell 46, making the SNP leader First Minister. The Lib Dems and the Tories abstained. -- The Scotsman - Politics - Alex Salmond becomes Scotland's First Minister

May 15, 2007

Scotland: analysis of an STV election

I was reviewing the election returns for the Edinburgh City Council. Edinburgh is divided into 17 wards, each of which returns 3 or 4 council members. Local councilors all over Scotland are elected using Single Transferable Voting.

In most of the wards, the 3 or 4 candidates with the most first preferences were elected. In three wards (Wards 14, 16, and 17), this was not true -- and in each case, it was the Conservative candidate who lost by not getting enough transfers from other parties.

Let's take a look at Ward 17 (Portobello/Craigmillar). You probably ought to print out the "All preferences" spreadsheet so you can follow along. The candidate with the most first preferences was Bridgman (the sole SNP candidate). About 1/3 of his ballots had no additional preferences. The two candidates receiving the most transfers from Bridgeman's surplus were Child (Labour) and McColl (Green). Each of these parties agrees on a lot of issues with the SNP, so the transfers were not that surprising.

But let's look at the end of the count. The top three candidates were Bridgeman (SNP), Child (Labor), and Miller (Conservative). Child picks up enough transfers from eliminated candidates to be elected, but Miller does not get elected. The third position goes to Hawkins (Liberal Democrat) who was behind Miller on first preference votes. What made the difference? Miller received very few transfers, but Hawkins picked up a good number of votes in the Stage 6 exclusion of Circi (Liberal -- not Liberal Democrat), the Stage 10 exclusion of Burns (Independent), and the Stage 12 exclusion of McColl (Green).

In contrast, Miller received only dribbles of votes from excluded candidates' transfers.

Another thing to note about the Edinburgh council elections is the diversity of representation in each ward. Only in a few wards are there more than one councilor from the same party: Ward 3 (2 of 3 are LibDems), Ward 6 (2 of 3 are LibDems), Ward 7 (2 of 4 are Labour), Ward 8 (2 of 3 are Conservative), and Ward 16 (2 of 4 are Labour).

Scotland: change in ballot may have increased voters' errors

BBC reports: Another clue has emerged as to why more than 140,000 ballots were rejected in the Scottish elections.

BBC Scotland has established that voters in two of the biggest cities did not receive the ballot papers they had been led to expect.

The papers had been redesigned after the nominations closed to cope with the high number of parties and individuals. ...

In Lothian and Glasgow, no fewer than 23 parties and individuals were vying for the list vote.

It was feared there would be too many on the ballot paper to permit electronic counting.

So in both regions arrows designed to help voters put one cross in each column were scrapped.

It meant thousands of voters went to the polling booths expecting to see one design of ballot paper and were faced with another. -- BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Clue over voter ballot confusion

Scotland: lower rate of spoilt ballots in STV council elections

The Scotsman reports: THE city council elections escaped the widespread confusion that plagued the Holyrood vote, detailed statistics released today show.

Figures given out by Edinburgh returning officer Tom Aitchison reveal only 1.3 per cent of council votes were spoiled at the May 3 elections in the Capital, compared with 5.2 per cent of Holyrood constituency votes, and 3.1 per cent of Holyrood list votes.

There had been fears the introduction of a new voting system for council elections, the Single Transferable Vote (STV), would lead to confusion among voters.

Although the percentage of spoiled council ballot papers this time was double the 0.6 per cent recorded in Edinburgh's last council elections in 2003, it was nowhere near the disastrous figures for this year's Scottish Parliament elections.

The Electoral Reform Society - which has long campaigned for STV - said the low rate of spoiled papers in the council elections showed voters had coped well with the change from voting with an X to ranking candidates in order of preference. -- Scotsman.com News - Holyrood Elections - Council result makes easier reading than Holyrood

Scotland: Ron Gould to lead review of election problems

The Scotsman reports: ONE of the world's leading election experts will head the review into the voting fiasco which marred the Scottish Parliament elections this month.

The Electoral Commission announced yesterday that Ron Gould, the former assistant chief electoral officer of Canada, would lead the investigation into the 140,000 invalid voting papers from the election on 3 May.

Mr Gould has monitored, organised and overseen elections all over the world, from the ground-breaking South African elections of 1994 to the critical Bosnian elections of 1995 and 1996.

From 1981 until his retirement in 2001, Mr Gould led and participated in more than 100 election observation missions in more than 70 countries, and advised the United Nations, the Commonwealth and governments around the world. -- Scotsman.com News - The Scottish Parliament - Election expert Gould to lead review of Holyrood poll scandal

Canada: Date of birth on voter rolls resisted by Senate

CanWest News Service reported last Friday: A bill proposing to put the birth dates of all federal electors on copies of the permanent voter registry given to political parties could cause an explosion of identity theft and invasion of privacy, Liberal and Conservative senators warned Thursday.

In a rare departure from the wrangling that has enveloped the Senate, members of the upper chamber from both sides questioned Government House leader Peter Van Loan over the proposal to release vital personal information so broadly.

"With the passage of this bill, everybody's date of birth is going to be known to everybody in Canada," said Liberal Senator George Baker, noting Elections Canada gives the political parties electronic copies of the permanent voters list three times a year as it is updated with new information on citizens.

Baker, who cited a series of court rulings saying compulsory release of birth information violates the Charter of Rights in certain circumstances, found support from Conservative Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, who also raised concerns about violations of the charter. -- Birth dates on voter list could aid identity theft, senators fear

Mississippi: Hatch Act affecting 2 candidates for Warren County

The Vicksburg Post reports: Federal law restricting the political activity of federal and some state employees has caused one candidate to quit his job and another to consider it.

“I don't want to do anything wrong. I'll consult with my attorneys again and go from there,” District 4 supervisor candidate Casey Fisher said. ...

For some, like District 2 supervisor candidate James Stirgus Jr., the decision to sever ties to his day job was swift.

“I knew I had to quit because we used federal money,” said Stirgus, who left the Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency after qualifying to run for a county board seat. The agency assists low income residents defray energy bills by using federally funded programs.

Stirgus is challenging three-term incumbent supervisor Charles Selmon in the central Vicksburg-based district. -- Hatch Act is forcing candidates to act

Wisconsin: Madison considers banning party and campaign officials from being poll workers or election officials

The Wisconsin State Journal reports: Madison election workers would be banned from certain political activities under an ordinance to be introduced at tonight's City Council meeting.

The ethics code amendment, proposed by Ald. Zach Brandon, 7th District, would affect officers or directors of campaigns, political parties, political action committees and other political organizations as well as candidates.

They would be barred from being poll workers or from handling election material -- such as nomination papers or finance reports -- in the city clerk's office if they held the political role within a year before an election. Candidates and their campaign officers would not be barred from working at polls outside their district.

Brandon said he's "trying to prevent someone who is the head of an organization which has the sole mission of influencing the outcome of an election from having direct oversight of that election."

The proposal follows an ethics complaint Brandon filed against Mike Quieto, who worked as an election official and also filled out campaign finance reports for the Teaching Assistants' Association Political Action Committee. The city's Ethics Board is scheduled May 29 to decide if Quieto violated rules that prohibit employees from using their office to benefit an organization with which they are affiliated. -- Wisconsin State Journal

Cherokee Nation: AG agrees to order temporarily restoring citizenship rights to Freedmen

The Muskogee Phoenix reports: The attorney general of the Cherokee Nation agreed to a temporary injunction in tribal court Monday that allows descendants of the tribe’s slaves to maintain their citizenship while they appeal the constitutionality of an election that rescinded their tribal membership.

The order applies only to appeals made by the descendants, commonly known as freedmen, in tribal court, and not to ongoing appeals being made in federal court in Washington, D.C. ...

But Jon Velie, the attorney for the freedmen in the federal case, called the tribal court’s action “a temporary fix” and said the tribe was reacting to recent filings by the freedmen in the federal case. In that case on Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. denied a motion by the tribe to dismiss the case or move jurisdiction of it to an Oklahoma federal court.

Young said the order by Cherokee District Court Judge John Cripps means the freedmen will be able to vote in the tribe’s June 23 election, in which current Chief Chad Smith is running for another term. The Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation is the largest American Indian tribe in the United States, with about 250,000 members. -- Tribe to restore freedmen

May 14, 2007

"Voter fraud" drove dismissal of 5 of 12 US Attorneys

The Washington Post reports: Nearly half the U.S. attorneys slated for removal by the administration last year were targets of Republican complaints that they were lax on voter fraud, including efforts by presidential adviser Karl Rove to encourage more prosecutions of election- law violations, according to new documents and interviews.

Of the 12 U.S. attorneys known to have been dismissed or considered for removal last year, five were identified by Rove or other administration officials as working in districts that were trouble spots for voter fraud -- Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; New Mexico; Nevada; and Washington state. Four of the five prosecutors in those districts were dismissed.

It has been clear for months that the administration's eagerness to launch voter-fraud prosecutions played a role in some of the firings, but recent testimony, documents and interviews show the issue was more central than previously known. The new details include the names of additional prosecutors who were targeted and other districts that were of concern, as well as previously unknown information about the White House's role.

The Justice Department demanded that one U.S. attorney, Todd P. Graves of Kansas City, resign in January 2006, several months after he refused to sign off on a Justice lawsuit involving the state's voter rolls, Graves said last week. U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Milwaukee also was targeted last fall after complaints from Rove that he was not doing enough about voter fraud. But he was spared because Justice officials feared that removing him might cause political problems on Capitol Hill, according to interviews of Justice aides conducted by congressional staff members. -- Voter-Fraud Complaints by GOP Drove Dismissals - washingtonpost.com

May 13, 2007

Scotland: Greens will "cooperate" with SNP's minority government

The Scotsman reports: THE SNP moved a step closer to minority government yesterday after securing only loose support from the Scottish Green Party.

The two parties had hoped to form a coalition, or at least a "confidence and supply" model of working in order to strengthen both sides.

But without the involvement of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and enough seats to form a majority, there was little incentive to make serious policy commitments and, in the end, the parties settled on a "co-operation agreement".

However, the deal allows the SNP to move on to forming a minority government next week, especially after securing a vote from the Greens for Alex Salmond as First Minister.

For their part, the Greens get a convenership of one of the parliamentary committees and a commitment by the SNP to bring forward climate-change targets early in any government as well as oppose building any nuclear power stations in Scotland. -- The Scotsman - Politics - SNP and Greens' pact paves way for new government

Scotland: the results

BBC has some good tables of the results of the Scottish Parliamentary elections and less good tables on the council elections. The council election tables are less useful because they give no indication of the number of votes received by any party on the first count nor any of the details of the transfers (remember the council elections were by Single Transferable Vote). -- BBC NEWS | Election 2007 | Scottish Parliament | Election Result: Scotland

May 10, 2007

Scotland: catching up on the election results.

God bless the libraries. I am writing now on a public-access computer at the Conwy County Library in North Wales. Public-access computer and Internet cafes are not nearly as common as wi-fi access points in Britain, and I did not carry along a computer.

I will be travelling over the next two days, first to the airport and then home, so this is an interim catch-up session. The stories below are from the big papers in Scotland -- the ones I relied on while in-country. Next week, I hope to give you some first hand reporting of the election process -- and maybe some pictures.

Scotland: Nationalists win one-vote plurality in Scottish Parliament

The Scotsman reported on last Friday: THE Scottish Nationalists have become the largest party in the Scottish parliament, beating Labour by one seat, but the process of counting the votes was dogged by chaos.

When the last results finally came in, just before 6pm, the SNP had 47 seats and Labour 46. The Conservatives won 17 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16. The Green Party earned two seats and the independent Margo MacDonald won re-election on the Lothians list. The SSP and Solidarity were completely wiped out. -- SNP beat Labour by one seat in Scottish election

Scotland: Greens and Labour considering election contests

The Scotsman reported on last Satruday: THE GREENS have demanded to examine every spoiled ballot paper from the election as a major inquiry into Scotland's election fiasco gets underway.

The party emerged from the election with just two MSPs - co-leader of the party Robin Harper, who retained his seat on the Lothians list, and Patrick Harvie, who kept his seat in Glasgow.

This was a dramatic drop from the seven MSPs elected at the 2003 count, and the party confirmed it had submitted a Freedom of Information request to look at the 100,000 spoiled ballot papers to try to work out what went wrong. ...

It also emerged last night that Labour was taking legal advice on whether or not to mount a legal challenge to the result in Cunninghame North, which saw Deputy Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister Allan Wilson lose by just 48 to the SNP's Kenneth Gibson. -- Greens demand to see spoiled ballots after dramatic fall in seats

Scotland: Calls for independent inquiry of Scottish election problems

The Scotsman reports today: DOUGLAS Alexander, the Scottish Secretary, last night faced new pressure to set up an independent inquiry into last week's election chaos.

On Tuesday, Mr Alexander handed the job of investigating the Holyrood ballot paper fiasco to the Electoral Commission voting watchdog.

But fresh details of the number of spoilt papers revealed yesterday put Mr Alexander under pressure to change his mind as the commission itself had backed the decision to have one ballot paper for the regional list and constituency votes.

Figures compiled by academics at Strathclyde University showed there were 85,717 rejected constituency votes and 56,247 from the regional list.

Although reports yesterday that this amounted to more than 140,000 spoilt ballots were mistaken - many of the wrongly filled-in sections were on the same papers - the new detail led to fresh calls for a full independent investigation.

However, the figures, compiled from data provided by returning officers around Scotland, make it even clearer that there was voter confusion over the regional and constituency vote being on the same paper.

With the initial instruction on the ballot paper saying people had two votes, a large number seem to have voted twice in the regional list. -- Pressure grows for poll inquiry

Scotland: 10% of parliamentary ballots "spoiled"

Scotland on Sunday reported: INTERNATIONAL observers last night labelled the Holyrood election voting chaos "totally unacceptable".

Robert Richie, executive director of US-based Fair Vote, was among more than 30 experts from North America who watched Scottish democracy in action. But he said the difficulties, which saw one in 10 votes rejected, amounted to Scotland's version of the "hanging chads" fiasco in Florida which marred the 2000 US presidential election.

Richie said the difficulty arose from the design and instructions on the ballot papers and lack of consistency in judging which ballots were spoiled.

"The most fundamental flaw was the ballot design of the party and constituency votes in two columns on the same page, rather than on separate pages.

"Also, it seems confusion was caused by the change in the rules which allowed parties to use the names of leaders, rather than the party, in the first column. We saw this with the SNP's 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' and 'Tommy Sheridan Solidarity'. Some people may have thought they were voting for candidates."

The delegation of foreign observers was in Scotland at the invitation of the Electoral Reform Society, which has condemned the problems that engulfed the Holyrood polls. -- Election chaos unacceptable, say observers