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

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June 30, 2007

Mississippi: Noxubee Co. Dems discriminated against white voters

Bloomberg News reports: The head of a Mississippi Democratic Party organization illegally suppressed white residents' votes, a federal judge ruled Friday in the first case filed by the Justice Department alleging that whites were subjected to voting discrimination based on their race.

U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee ruled that Ike Brown, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of Noxubee County, violated the Voting Rights Act by issuing different procedures for collecting and counting absentee ballots from white and black voters. The executive committee, also found liable in the case, is responsible for administering Democratic primaries in the county.

There was "ample direct and circumstantial evidence of an intent to discriminate against white voters which has manifested itself through practices designed to deny and/or dilute the voting rights of white voters in Noxubee County," Lee's ruling said.

Brown, who is black, has been chairman of the committee since 2000. He argued at trial that the government's suit was a perversion of the voting rights law and said it was "preposterous" that the Justice Department would claim that blacks, who faced 135 years of discrimination by whites in the state, are now oppressing whites.

The judge said he will consider a remedy at a later date. -- Whites Faced Election Bias In Mississippi, Judge Rules -

The 104-page opinion in U.S. v. Ike Brown et al. is attached here.

June 28, 2007

Texas: criminal appeals court affirms dismissal of conspiracy charge against DeLay

AP reports: Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's criminal case now appears to hinge on two remaining money laundering charges after Texas' highest criminal court refused Wednesday to reinstate a dropped conspiracy charge.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected arguments from Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle that it had grounds to indict DeLay and two co-defendants on a charge of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws in 2002 state legislative elections.

A state district judge threw out that charge after defense lawyers argued that the law DeLay is accused of violating in 2002 wasn't written until 2003.

A regional appeals court upheld the judge's decision. Prosecutors appealed to the state's highest criminal appeals court, a Republican-controlled panel that ruled 5-4 in favor of DeLay and co-defendants John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

Two charges — money laundering and conspiring to launder money — remain against the former Republican congressman and the two consultants. Lawyers are arguing about those charges in an appeals court, and no trial date has been set. -- State high court refuses to reinstate DeLay conspiracy charge

June 25, 2007

Georgia: voter ID cards being used for ... identification

Morris News Service reports: The state's efforts to implement voter identification rules has taken an odd twist in Augusta where election officials say free IDs are being used for more than just entering the polls. ...

Although the cards have the words "for voting only" printed on them, state and local election officials suspect that they are being used by people who need to show a photo ID when cashing checks.

Lynn Bailey, executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections, said her office has fielded calls from banks asking about the cards. ...

[State Election Board Vice Chairman Tex McIver] asked Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel to look into the issue to see if anything can be done to curb the unintended use.

That could be tough since the point of the cards was to make receiving the voting IDs as easy as possible for people without any other identification because of a controversial rule limiting what voters can use on Election Day. -- | News | Augusta residents using free voter IDs to cash checks 06/23/07

North Carolina: DOJ will decide today on fate of 6-3 city council plan

A decision on changing the format of the Fayetteville City Council is expected today, city officials say.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been reviewing the city’s request to change the council from nine single-member districts to one with six single-member districts and three members elected citywide. ...

Voters asked for the change in a referendum in February.

Supporters said a 6-3 format would have more council members looking out for the entire city. Opponents say the change would hurt minority representation.

There are four blacks on the current nine-member council.

Under the proposed system, black residents would be in the majority in three districts. -- Justice ruling on 6-3 city council expected

Ohio: DOJ sided with GOP effort to purge 23,000 black voters in 2004

McClatchy Newspapers reports: Four days before the 2004 election, the Justice Department's civil rights chief sent an unusual letter to a federal judge in Ohio who was weighing whether to let Republicans challenge the credentials of 23,000 mostly black voters.

The case was triggered by allegations that Republicans had sent a mass mailing to mostly Democratic-leaning minorities and used undeliverable letters to compile a list of voters potentially vulnerable to eligibility challenges.

In his letter to U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati, Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta argued that it would ''undermine'' the enforcement of state and federal election laws if citizens could not challenge voters' credentials.

Former Justice Department civil rights officials and election watchdog groups charge that his letter sided with Republicans engaging in an illegal, racially motivated tactic known as ''vote-caging'' in a state that would be pivotal in delivering President Bush a second term in the White House.

Acosta's letter is among a host of allegedly partisan Justice Department voting rights positions that could draw scrutiny on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks as congressional Democrats expand investigations sparked by the firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys. -- Attorney under fire for Ohio voter letter - 06/25/2007 -

Illinois: Feds investigating two Jerseyville aldermen for Hatch Act violations

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: A spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service said it has completed investigations of Grafton Alderman Steve Hayes and Jeff Waters of Jerseyville.

Hayes is a letter carrier with the Alton Post Office. Waters is a part-time patrolman in Sandoval who said he has on occasion worked as a contract employee of the Postal Service.

Spokeswoman Agapi Doulaveris said results of the Hayes investigation were forwarded to the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel. She said results of the Waters investigation were sent to the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit.

Doulaveris said she could not discuss any specifics.

"All we know is that there's some kind of investigation and that it has been sent to the Department of Justice," said Brian Anderson, Hayes' attorney. "The Hatch Act has been mentioned … It appears to be related to the campaign.." -- STLtoday - News - St. Louis City / County

Cherokee Nation: Rep. Watson will introduce bill to cut off funding and gambling

AP reports: Legislation proposing to sever U.S. relations with the Cherokee Nation and cut off the tribe's ability to conduct gaming operations could be introduced in Congress soon.

U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., has circulated a draft of the measure, which was spurred on by a March election that temporarily stripped Cherokee membership from descendants of people the tribe owned as slaves. The legislation would cut off tribal funding from several federal agencies, suspend the Cherokees' gaming authority and allow any descendant of the so-called freedmen to sue the tribe in federal court.

In a March 3 special election, Cherokee voters approved a constitutional amendment to remove about 2,800 freedmen descendants from the tribe's rolls - and therefore eliminate their eligibility for medical and other services provided by the tribe. That vote has been challenged in the federal and tribal court systems. -- Legislation would cut funding for Cherokees : ICT [2007/06/25]

Is Bloomberg running? And for what?

From the Sunday New York Times' Week in Review: MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG of New York insisted yet again last week that he did not intend to run for president in 2008, even as he left the Republican Party to become an independent. Then, on Friday, he tweaked his language somewhat, simply saying, “I’m not going to be president.”

Which opens the door to a Swiftian modest proposal, one that might appeal to any billionaire independent presidential candidate who knows the art of a deal: Rather than try to win the White House outright — a long shot — an independent candidate could instead try for a king-making (or queen-making) bloc of votes in the Electoral College.

In doing so, a moneyed candidate like Mr. Bloomberg could advance his post-partisan national agenda — and gain a great deal of power — by introducing coalition politics to America’s system of government, through a power-sharing plan that catapults either the Republican or Democratic nominee to the presidency. Here’s how it might work:

With the nation divided into red and blue as it has been in the last two presidential elections, all a rich, self-financed candidate would have to do is win a big state (or two) to ensure having a king-making bloc of electoral votes: say, Florida (the decisive state in 2000), or Ohio (2004), or maybe New York (Mr. Bloomberg’s home state), or California (that of his friend, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). -- President? Or Kingmaker?

June 24, 2007

R.I.P. Elizabeth Griffith (1945-2007)

My former wife, Elizabeth Griffith (better known as Libby), died early this morning from complications brought on by ovarian cancer. Libby and I were married from 1976 to 1997 but remained friends after that time as we cooperated and collaborated to raise our two sons, Martin (now 20) and Griffith (now 28).

A friend in Britain emailed me last week after he received my letter about Libby's prognosis. He mentioned that we had taken him into our home and treated him as a son while he was assigned to our parish, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, as part of his ministerial training nearly 20 years ago. As I read those words, I first ascribed all that as Libby's doing. To the extent I did anything like that, it was because she brought up the idea. Secondly, I realized that Libby's way of making the world a better place was to do something for one person (or one dog) at a time. David, our British friend, was not the only person she took under her wing over the years. And I lost count of the "foster dogs" we kept for the Alabama Animal Adoption Society until they could be placed with a suitable family.

Right after she was told the chemotherapy was not working to kill the cancer, I visited her in the hospital. We had a short personal conversation, and then she turned to the plans she had made for our sons. She gave me several assignments to start work on to comfort and care for both of them. She did not bewail her fate, except to note that she probably would not be able to collect her Social Security. She was right; she died just over 2 months before her 62nd birthday.

She will be missed by our sons, her many friends, her dogs, and by me.

June 23, 2007

Scotland: University study finds ballot-paper design caused spoilt ballots

Scotland on Sunday reports: THE record number of spoilt votes at last month's Scottish elections were largely caused by major faults in the design of the ballot paper, according to an academic study.

Researchers at Strathclyde University have concluded that thousands of people made mistakes because they did not understand the instructions on the papers which, for the first time, asked them to mark two votes on a single sheet.

In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, some of the instructions were truncated to make room for the 23 different parties on the regional list. This, the researchers concluded, was a key reason why people got confused and spoiled their papers.

The findings, by Dr Christopher Carman and Professor James Mitchell, concluded that there were a total of 146,097 spoiled papers. This compares to just 15,107 in the 2003 election. Of Scotland's 73 constituencies, there were 16 where the winning margin was less than the number of ballots spoiled. -- Scotland on Sunday - Politics - Ballot paper design at fault for record number of spoilt votes

Scotland: SNP will start petition campaign for independence referendum

The Scotsman reports: SNP activists want to by-pass parliament on the issue of independence by starting a massive petition to force MSPs to agree to a referendum, it emerged last night.

The SNP National Council is expected to approve a plan today which would give the go-ahead for a nationwide campaign.

Activists believe the parliament would be left with no choice but to accept the referendum plan if the petition was signed by 100,000 people or more.

The SNP government is committed to introducing a bill paving the way for a referendum but it does not have the support of enough MSPs from other parties to secure its passage through parliament. -- The Scotsman - Politics - SNP to seek 100,000 signatures in push for independence referendum

June 22, 2007

"Did We Always Care About Voting Rights?"

Brian K. Landsberg writes on History News Network: Voting rights in the United States continue to attract public debate. Voter fraud investigations, faulty election procedures, the extension of the Voting Rights Act and, of course, the 2000 presidential election have all drawn attention. One common assumption is that the federal government must play a muscular role in addressing voting rights issues. Yet this assumption was strongly disputed fifty years ago, when Congress enacted the first modern civil rights law. What happened to change the earlier consensus that the federal government should play, at most, only a limited role in protecting the right to vote? The story of the eight short years between enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helps us understand the enormous change in the role of the federal government. It is a story of conflict between local power and federal power, of conflict between white supremacists and black civil rights advocates, and of conflict between the dominant white power structure and individual black citizens who sought to register to vote.

Much has been written about voting rights in America and about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. However, prior works tend to either treat the history with a broad brush or to focus on the dramatic events that led to the Voting Rights Act. It is time to start examining the period in more detail. Rather than demonize local officials or federal judges, we need to understand what may have led them to act the way they did. Rather than treat the civil rights movement as a collection of super-hero leaders, we need to look as well at the real heroes, the rank and file citizens who insisted on the right to vote.

Finally, in all the ink that has been spilled on this subject, the work of the federal government has been virtually ignored. Yet if one were to ask who were the important players in the march from the pallid 1957 Act -- which only authorized the United States to bring civil suits to remedy racial discrimination in voting -- to the 1965 Act -- which substituted federal officials for local registrars and required federal approval of changes in southern voting laws -- the lawyers of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice would occupy a key position on the list. The progression from weak to tough legislation is based in significant measure on the 70 voting rights suits the Division brought between 1957 and 1965. -- Did We Always Care About Voting Rights?

EAC "Faces Partisanship Allegations"

The Washington Post reports: In late 2003, the first four commissioners of the newly formed, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission were given a tall order: Help states overhaul their election procedures so that the acrimony that followed the contested 2000 presidential election would not be repeated. ...

But, three years later, as it prepares for its second presidential election, the agency is facing far more serious problems: inquiries over a rash of allegations of partisan decision making.

Commissioners blame management failures and incomplete policies that have plagued the agency since the beginning. "We weren't able to develop a really strong foundation as a federal agency," said Gracia H. Hillman, the only commissioner who has been on the panel from the beginning.

Activist groups have raised questions about whether, in response to pressure from the Justice Department, the commission altered or delayed research to play down findings on sensitive topics such as voter fraud and voter identification laws that many Republican figures and appointees would have found objectionable.

"There has been increasing evidence of improper attempts to exert political pressure on the EAC to influence the agency's decisions on election-related matters," said Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the liberal Brennan Center of Justice at New York University School of Law, who has reviewed thousands of pages of the commission's internal documents.

Meanwhile, the agency's inspector general, Curtis Crider, is investigating the agency's research into voter fraud, voter intimidation and voter identification laws. -- Panel Faces Partisanship Allegations -

June 21, 2007

Oregon: Senate approves repeal of "double-majority" property tax elections

The Portland Oregonian reports: Oregon voters would decide next year whether to all but eliminate the "double-majority" requirement in local property tax elections under a measure approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The proposed constitutional amendment would be on the November 2008 ballot. If approved, it would roll back the provision in the Oregon Constitution that requires bond issues and other property tax measures to receive a majority vote and a turnout of at least 50 percent of registered voters.

House Joint Resolution 15 would exempt elections in May and November of any year from the double-majority requirement. That would effectively repeal the requirement because there would be little reason for local officials to schedule a property tax vote at other times of the year. -- 'Double-majority' rule challenged -

June 20, 2007

North Carolina: state auditor charges "voter fraud" and retreats

Facing South reports: The major political story in North Carolina yesterday, as Facing South reported, was the State Auditor's office retreating from claims of "voter fraud" and giving the green light to the state senate to pass a bill for same-day registration at early voting sites.

What's striking is how completely the auditor's office back-tracked, after raising the alarm of alleged fraud and delaying passage of the bill for almost two weeks. The Charlotte Observer reports:

State Auditor Les Merritt backed away Tuesday from the early findings of a review of North Carolina's voter rolls, telling lawmakers his office might find no irregularities at all.

"We'll eventually get to a correct, final report," Merritt said, "and that final report, it could very well say there isn't anything here, that everything's fine, we're doing a super job.

One issue won't go away: the role of Chris Mears, former political political director of the N.C. Republican Party, and now a public affairs staffer at the auditor's office. In a private email, he had admitted the "fraud" allegations were raised to stop the same-day bill (even as the auditor's office formally declared they had "no position" on same-day registration). -- Facing South

June 19, 2007

Who is mentally capable of voting?

The New York Times reports: Behind the barbed wire and thick walls of the state mental hospital here are two patients who have not been allowed to live in the outside world for 20 years. Both were found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Still, they have voted in elections nearly every two years, casting ballots by mail. Now, however, election officials are taking steps that could ban them from voting, arguing that state law denies the vote to people with such serious psychiatric impairments. ...

Rhode Island is among a growing number of states grappling with the question of who is too mentally impaired to vote. The issue is drawing attention for two major reasons: increasing efforts by the mentally ill and their advocates to secure voting rights, and mounting concern by psychiatrists and others who work with the elderly about the rights and risks of voting by people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

This summer, recommendations for national standards will be released by a group of psychiatrists, lawyers and others led by the American Bar Association, suggesting that people be prevented from voting only if they cannot indicate, with or without help, “a specific desire to participate in the voting process.” -- States Face Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote

“Campaign Finance, Iron Triangles & the Decline of American Political Discourse”

Timothy A. Canova emails: Please see my article, “Campaign Finance, Iron Triangles & the Decline of American Political Discourse,” which was recently published in the Nexus Journal, in a symposium issue on campaign finance reform. As you will see, my article places the debate about campaign finance in a wider context about the privatization of the TV airwaves (the “vast wasteland”) and the closing of our public space by a largely captured Federal Communications Commission.

Perhaps your readers would be interested. Please consider plugging my article on your blog, and including the SSRN link:

June 18, 2007

Texas: provisional ballots are an "increasing problem"

The Beaumont Enterprise reports: Provisional ballots are designed to be the last resort to insure that a vote that should count actually does.

But in the recent Jefferson County election, Port Arthur resident Virginia Dudley's provisional ballot was rejected even though it probably should have counted.

In the May 12 election, the county received 55 provisional ballots and all but eight were rejected. ...

While provisional ballots are designed to be foolproof, studies show that they are an increasing problem.

Nationwide one out of three or 650,000 of the 2 million provisional ballots cast in 2004 were uncounted or discarded, according to a report produced by Demos, a New York-based non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization. -- The Beaumont Enterprise - Studies show provisional ballots an increasing problem

Thanks to Scott Novakowski of Demos for the link.

June 17, 2007

Scotland: Scottish Labour condemns UK Labour minister's decision on single ballot paper

The Sunday Herald reports: LABOUR MSPS have fuelled the simmering tensions with the party at Westminster by blaming Scottish secretary Douglas Alexander for the Holyrood election fiasco which disenfranchised more than 100,000 voters.

A secret report listing Labour MSPs' views on the poll debacle claimed Alexander's decision to use a single ballot paper for the parliament election was "confusing" and wrong.

It also suggested MSPs' concerns on the issue had been ignored by the wider Scottish party, which pushed ahead with its plan for one ballot paper.

The claims reveal the tensions between Labour at Holyrood and Westminster and point to the recriminations taking place behind the scenes after the party's loss to the SNP. -- The Sunday Herald - Scotland's award-winning independent newspaper

Scotland: Tories will back a referendum, but campaign against independence

Scotland on Sunday reports: A REFERENDUM on Scottish independence could be held as early as next year after a dramatic move by Conservative leaders to support the historic poll.

The party's vice-chairman has publicly backed a referendum as soon as possible to "clear the air" over Scotland's constitutional future.

Several Tory MSPs are backing the move, claiming the poll - which is likely to reject independence three to one - would "shoot the Nationalists' fox".

Conservative supporters of the plan believe it is essential to kill off the independence issue to reassure businesses and potential investors that Scotland has a stable future, while also giving them a chance to set the "positive case" for the Union. -- Scotland on Sunday - Politics - Tories back vote on independence

June 16, 2007

Georgia: the connection between a biased election system and a lynching

AP reports: Newly released files from the lynching of two black couples more than 60 years ago contain a disturbing revelation: The FBI investigated suspicions that a three-term governor of Georgia sanctioned the murders to sway rural white voters during a tough election campaign.

The 3,725 pages obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act do not make conclusions about the still-unsolved killings at Moore's Ford Bridge. But they raise the possibility that Eugene Talmadge's politics may have been a factor when a white mob dragged the four from a car, tied them to a tree and opened fire. ...

Talmadge, who died just months after his 1946 election to a fourth term, dominated Georgia politics in the 1930s and 1940s with a mix of racism and pocketbook populism.

He came under FBI scrutiny because of a visit he made to the north Georgia town of Monroe two days before the Democratic gubernatorial primary and a day after a highly charged racial incident there, a fight in which a black sharecropper stabbed and severely wounded a white farmer. The sharecropper was one of the four people who would later be lynched. ...

Votes from small rural counties played a crucial role in Georgia's elections then because primaries were decided by a "county unit system," similar to the electoral college, which minimized the impact of urban centers. -- FBI Investigated Ga. Gov in Old Lynching

Getting from "here to there" -- the undiscussed problem with reform proposals

Heather Gerkin writes on Balkinization: About a month ago, I posted about what I called the "here to there" problem in the field of election law. The problem is that we spend a great deal of time thinking about what an ideal election system ought to look like, but almost no time figuring out how to get from here to there: how reform actually takes root. Although we purport to study the political process, remarkably little scholarship is devoted to remedying the crucial problem within election law -- it is extraordinarily difficult for reform proposals to get traction in this country. We thus rarely write about the type of institutional fixes and wedge strategies that would help reform proposals (of whatever sort) get adopted. The dearth of scholarship on these topics is particularly interesting given that election law scholars tend to eschew pie-in-the-sky reform and pride themselves on their pragmatism. ...

Although reformers are more aware than anyone of how difficult it is to get reform passed, they may be least equipped to address the "here to there" problem. First, reformers are beholden to funders. And funders tend to favor big over small, end goals over interim solutions, silver bullets over wedge strategies, substantive proposals over procedural fixes. As one of my friends put it, "process is not sexy." Second, the reformer's job is to lobby elected officials. It is one thing to have a conversation with elected officials about the end goals of reform. It is another to have a conversation about what, precisely, prevents us from reaching those goals. The foremost obstacle to reform is self-interested politicians. That is an awkward subject to raise with people on whose good will your work depends. Finally, while reformers spend lots of time thinking about the "here to there" problem at what Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center calls the "micro-level" (the tactics required to build support for a particular policy proposal), they lack the resources to think systematically about the "here to there" problem at the macro-level. -- Setting the Agenda for Scholarship on Election Reform

Comment: As I said to the Election Law class last week, "Most politicians believe that the system that got them elected is the best one."

I look forward to Heather's continued comments on this problem.

June 14, 2007

Georgia: election board wants to use voter I.D. "as soon as the law allows"

AP reports: Days after the Georgia's top court tossed out a challenge to the voter ID law, the state election board on Wednesday said the state should move forward in its effort to require voters to show photo identification at the ballot box.

After a lengthy closed session to discuss the ongoing litigation in the case, board members with a 3-1 vote approved a motion expressing their desire that the state implement the voter ID law "as soon as the law allows."

The board's lone Democrat David Worley voted against the measure.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Karen Handel said the law would not be in effect for the upcoming special election June 19 in the 10th congressional district, where voters will pick a successor for the late Rep. Charles Norwood.

It's expected the law would be used in September local elections. -- Ga. election board says move forward with voter ID

von Spakovsky defends his record

The Washington Times reports: Hans von Spakovsky, an embattled Republican nominee to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), yesterday told a Senate panel that his support of laws requiring voters to show photo identification and other election safeguards are being misconstrued as plots to disenfranchise black Democratic voters.

"I think voter ID is a good idea," he said at a Rules and Administration Committee hearing on his and three other nominations to the FEC. "I also believe very strongly that every eligible voter needs to be able to access the ballot box."

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, a member of the rules panel, praised Mr. von Spakovsky's sentiment but said it was "inconsistent" with his actions as counsel at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division from 2003 through 2005.

Mr. von Spakovsky, 48, who has been serving on the FEC board for 18 months as a recess appointment by President Bush, said he did not make final decisions on civil rights issues, such as the much-maligned decision supporting a Georgia photo-ID law that was criticized as disenfranchising black voters. -- FEC nominee defends support for voter IDs

von Spakovsky opposed by former DOJ attorneys

The Dallas Morning News reports: A nominee to the Federal Election Commission hit a wall over Texas redistricting during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Democrats accused Hans von Spakovsky of injecting politics into the Justice Department's analysis of a 2003 Texas congressional redistricting map when he was a top lawyer at the department.

Eight career lawyers and election law experts who served under Mr. Spakovsky in the civil rights division signed a letter urging senators to reject his nomination. They said he and other Bush political appointees had no good reason to overturn a unanimous staff recommendation to reject the Texas redistricting plan, which they said clearly violated minority voting rights in some districts – including the Dallas-based 24th District long held by Democrat Martin Frost.

Mr. Frost was among the half-dozen Texas Democrats who lost House seats after the remap orchestrated in the Legislature by Tom DeLay, who was U.S. House majority leader at the time. --

Cherokee Nation: federal court refuses to stop election

The Muskogee Phoenix reports: A federal court in Washington, D.C., denied a motion Wednesday by six Cherokee Freedmen to halt the June 23 Cherokee election.

The freedmen filed for the injunction five days after they were stripped of their Cherokee citizenship during a special election March 3.

A Cherokee Nation District Court later reinstated their citizenship and ruled they could vote in the June 23 tribal election.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy denied the injunction based on that tribal court reinstatement. -- Feds won’t stop Cherokee election

June 13, 2007

Armed forces voting system -- not very good now, and prospects cloudy for the future

The New York Times reports: Over the last six years, the Defense Department has spent more than $30 million trying to find an efficient way for American soldiers and civilians living abroad to vote in elections back home.

But the traditional paper ballot system for overseas voters — the one the Pentagon is trying to improve — has also had problems for years.

Typically, voters mail paper forms back and forth across continents as they try to register to vote, request a ballot and then return the ballot before the polls close. But the forms are often lost or delayed in the mail.

Voters often wait until the last moment or get confused because rules and deadlines vary state to state. Poor planning, legal challenges or technical problems often lead local election officials to send ballots abroad too late.

As a result, anywhere from a quarter to half of overseas voters fail in their attempt to vote, say voting experts at the National Defense Committee and the Overseas Vote Foundation. -- Casting Ballot From Abroad Is No Sure Bet

Arizona: Petition circulators accused of misleading signers

Capitol Media Services reports: Some people circulating petitions to change the redistricting process are misleading people into believing they are signing papers to lower gasoline prices, Secretary of State Jan Brewer said Monday.

"We have received maybe four or five people calling, claiming they were misled by the petition circulators," Brewer said, noting even one of her sons told her he was tricked into signing one of the petitions.

Brewer said she advised Ken Clark of the incidents and wants him, as organizer of the campaign, to put a stop to it.

Clark said Monday nothing illegal is being done.

He said two employees of a petition-circulating company used the ruse of asking people if they were interested in halting skyrocketing gasoline prices to get them to stop and talk. But Clark said after the would-be signers stopped, the circulators explained they had petitions to alter constitutional requirements about how congressional and legislative districts are drawn. -- Petitioners accused of misleading signers

von Spakovsky hearing preview

NPR's Peter Overby reports: President Bush put Hans von Spakovsky on the Federal Election Commission via a recess appointment — no Senate hearings required — in January 2006. Now, von Spakovsky faces a confirmation hearing.

Senators likely will be interested less in his election-law rulings than in his previous job, where he hunted for voter fraud and promoted state voter-ID laws as a political appointee in the Justice Department's civil rights section. -- Voter-Fraud Activist on Election Panel Faces Hearing

June 12, 2007

Mississippi: be careful what you wish for

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports: Mississippi Democrats may have paid a high price for winning the court fight to close primaries to registered party voters: a voter ID mandate they've fought for years to block.

The party filed suit last year against the three-member Mississippi Election Commission seeking to close primaries and allow only registered Democrats to cast ballots.

U.S District Judge Allen Pepper granted their request Friday but added a twist: Legislators need to require voter identification by April 1.

He threw in added pressure by declaring no 2008 party primaries will be held until the system is revamped, meaning the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries in March could be impacted.

Both sides of the case may ask Pepper to reconsider his decision to require voter identification - an issue Democrats have steadfastly opposed. -- Primary ruling a mixed bag for Dems

Alaska: Yup'ik speakers file suit over language rights in elections

The Anchorage Daily News reports: A federal lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of Native voters in the Bethel area whose primary language is Yup'ik.

The lawsuit filed by the Native American Rights Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska seeks to have state and regional election officials provide oral and written voter assistance to Yup'ik-speaking voters in the region.

The lawsuit wants election officials to come up with a plan to ensure that Yup'ik-speakers with limited English are able to understand and participate "in all phases of the electoral process." It would require that federal observers be on hand for elections held in the Bethel area. ...

The lawsuit says the problem extends beyond providing an official ballot for federal, state and local elections that voters can read. Officials also have failed to translate a host of other written voting materials including advertisements for voter registration, election dates, absentee voting opportunities, polling place locations and voting machine instructions. -- Yup'ik voters need more, lawsuit says

The case is Nick v. Bethel, No. 3:07-cv-00098-TMB, and a copy of the complaint is here.

Thanks to Neil Bradley, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, for bringing this to my attention.

Special Counsel asks Bush to displine GSA head for Hatch Act violation

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. special counsel has called on President Bush to discipline General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan "to the fullest extent" for violating the federal Hatch Act when she allegedly asked political appointees how they could "help our candidates" during a January meeting.

In a June 8 letter to Bush, Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch accused Doan of "engaging in the most pernicious of political activity" during a Jan. 26 lunch briefing involving 36 GSA political appointees and featuring a PowerPoint presentation about the November elections by the White House's deputy director of political affairs.

At the presentation's conclusion, Doan asked what could be done to "help our candidates," according to a special counsel report. Several GSA appointees who watched the presentation told special counsel investigators that some appointees responded with ideas of how the agency could use its facilities to benefit the Republican Party.

Later, after the special counsel's office received a complaint about the episode and began investigating, Doan showed "a proclivity toward misrepresentation and obstructing an official investigation," Bloch told the president in a four-page letter that accompanied an eight-page memo about the case. -- Bush Is Asked to Discipline GSA Chief in Hatch Act Inquiry

June 11, 2007

Georgia: supreme court avoids ruling on the merits of voter I.D. case

AP reports: The Georgia Supreme Court threw out a challenge Monday to the state's voter ID law, but sidestepped a decision on the law's validity by ruling that the plaintiff didn't have the legal standing to challenge the law.

The court's unanimous opinion reversed a decision in September by Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford, who ruled the law was unconstitutional and an undue burden on voters. After that ruling, the State Election Board decided not to require voters to show a photo ID card to cast a ballot in the November elections. -- Ga. Court Tosses Voter ID Challenge

The opinion is available from the Georgia Supreme Court site.

Mississippi: Tupelo may drop 2 at-large seats to settle voting rights suit

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports: If plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city approve, Tupelo will keep its seven-ward system after the current term but will increase the minority voting-age population of two wards.

The plan was approved Tuesday by City Council leaders and submitted Thursday to the plaintiff's attorney as an alternative to the current ward system, which a judge had found unfair.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mills said the city's present system, which includes two at-large seats, violates the Voting Rights Act.

Plaintiffs' attorney, Ellis Turnage, said his initial reaction to the city's new plan is unfavorable but that he must consult with his expert before issuing an official opinion.

Under the new plan, the city's two at-large seats will be eliminated, and Wards 4 and 7 will gain black voters. -- Tupelo wards 4, 7 would get more minority voters

Cherokee Nation: Freedman will ask federal court for injunction

The Muskogee Phoenix reports: Cherokee Freedmen say temporary reinstatement and the right to vote in the June 23 tribal election is not enough and will seek injunctive relief in a Monday hearing.

The hearing will be in federal court in Washington, D.C., before U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy, who has been presiding over the federal case.

The tribe’s March special election stripping the Freedmen of their tribal membership “denied us the right to run for election — a right we’ve had since 1866,” said Marilyn Vann, of Oklahoma City, president of the Descendants of Freedmen Association.

“They (Cherokees ) are trying to erase our identity as Cherokees. We may have the right to vote now, but we will have no Freedmen candidates to vote for.” -- Freedmen seek injunction against Cherokees in case

June 9, 2007

Mississippi: Dems win on closed primary

Richard Winger announced on Ballot Access News:
On June 8, a US District Court Judge in Mississippi ruled in favor of the Democratic Party. The issue was whether the party could require voters in its primary to be members or not. The judge, a Clinton appointee, gave the legislature until April 2008 to find a way to give the Democratic Party what is wanted. This could be a law requiring registration by party, but the judge did not say that particular solution is needed. The case is Miss. State Dem. Party v Barbour, civil action no. 4:06cv29-P-B, Judge W. Allen Pepper.

By cooperation with Richard, I can make the opinion available here.

June 8, 2007

FEC nominee von Spakovsky's hearing begins next week

The Washington Post reports: As his critics see it, Hans A. von Spakovsky used every opportunity he had over four years in the Justice Department to make it difficult for voters -- poor, minority and Democratic -- to go to the polls. During his tenure, more than half of the career lawyers in the voting section left in protest.

Von Spakovsky now serves as a temporary commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, the bipartisan body that enforces campaign finance regulations. And a Senate Rules Committee hearing set for Wednesday on whether to confirm him for a six-year term could become a critical moment in the debate over political influence in the Justice Department.

Voting rights activists and campaign finance watchdogs are urging lawmakers to take a stand against von Spakovsky's nomination. "He failed to understand his role was not to be a representative of the Republican Party," said Joseph Rich, a former voting section chief who worked under von Spakovsky, who was then counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Von Spakovsky was appointed to the FEC in January 2006 during a congressional recess along with two Democrats. A fourth commissioner, a Republican, was renominated. All four will come before the Senate panel next week, but von Spakovsky is the most controversial. They all declined to comment before the hearing. -- Hearing on FEC Pick Could Add Fuel to Debate Over Justice Dept.

June 6, 2007

The News Media and Immigration Attitudes

Researchers in the Political Science Department at Stony Brook University ask that you take their survey: This survey is designed to help us understand what Americans like you think about immigration and the news media. We are very interested in your thoughts on this matter and greatly appreciate your participation.

Click here to take the survey:

Schlozman did not think voting indictments before election would affect election

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: The former U.S. attorney in Kansas City testified Tuesday that he approved indictments against a voter-registration group four days before last year's hotly contested Missouri Senate election because he regarded Justice Department guidelines against such actions as "informal."

Bradley Schlozman, now a high-ranking Justice Department official, said he was not particularly familiar with the part of the Justice Department manual that discouraged such indictments just before elections, but added, "I believe I was probably aware of it."

Schlozman, a Republican, repeatedly told the Senate Judiciary Committee he did not recall conversations or events about various issues. But he firmly denied any wrongdoing, responding to sharp questioning by Democrats. He also said he had no role in the removal of his predecessor, Todd Graves.

At the same time, he defended filing the voter-fraud indictments. "I did not think it was going to influence the election at all," Schlozman said.

Graves had declined to open an investigation into the alleged voter fraud case before he was replaced by Schlozman. -- Political storm brews over testimony

Other coverage of the testimony: NPR's Morning Edition (no link yet)

The New York Times: The Democrats took turns holding up a manual of department rules, asking Mr. Schlozman, who left department headquarters for a year to become the interim United States attorney in Kansas City, Mo., why his office there filed a fraud case against former employees of a liberal group that registers voters just a week before the 2006 election.

The manual, the senators pointed out, said that “most, if not all, investigations of an alleged election crime must await the end of the election,” to avoid influencing the outcome.

Mr. Schlozman, 36, who kept his voice low and his demeanor polite through the hostile questioning, said he was aware of this rule. But he said he had been given approval by the head of the Justice Department election crimes section to move ahead.

“I didn’t think this was going to have any impact on any election,” he said.

Then Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, read a news release issued by the Republican Party in Missouri just after the case was filed, which accused the voter registration group of trying “to cause chaos and controversy at the polls in order to help Democrats to try to steal next week’s elections.” -- Panel Asks Official About Politics in Hiring

The Los Angeles Times: Schlozman, who is back in Washington at the Justice Department, said he sought the indictments after getting approval from department officials, who advised him that the case would not influence the upcoming election.

Schlozman said he was directed by Washington to release a statement about the indictments, saying in part that the charges were part of a national investigation into voter fraud. He added that several Republican groups immediately released their own statements about the indictments, suggesting that Democrats were "trying to steal the election" with voter registration abuse.

Several Senate Democrats expressed anger at how the episode played out in Missouri, with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman, arguing that Republicans like Schlozman in the Justice Department ignored their own guidelines in order to advance their conservative ideology.

Holding aloft a copy of the handbook, Leahy told Schlozman: "You used this more for a doorstop that anything else." -- Indictments may have bent Justice's rules

June 3, 2007

Alabama: Supreme Court overturns felon voting decision

AP reports: The Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday that a Jefferson County judge who had ordered the state to allow ex-felons to vote had exceeded his authority in recasting the case to focus on crimes of "moral turpitude."

The justices set aside the decision of Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance Jr., who last August said a state constitutional amendment that denies voting rights to felons convicted of crimes of moral turpitude does not identify which crimes fit that definition. Vance ruled they should be allowed to vote until the state legislature specifies what crimes apply.

But the state Supreme Court ruled that there was "no evidence indicating that anyone (in this case) has been disfranchised as the result of a decision on the merits applying the definition of moral turpitude."

The case was never about the definition of moral turpitude, the court ruled. On the contrary, the court said, it was "undisputed" that the plaintiffs had been denied the right to register without any concern as to the specific nature of their felonies. -- Voting felons dispute decided

Comment: The decision of the Court is here. As one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, allow me to give my view of the Court's decision.

Basically, the whole case turned on the fact that the Attorney General of Alabama is not just the lawyer for the Secretary of State, but also the official who gets to decide what the position of "the State" should be in court. So, as soon as AG entered the case for "the State" and agreed with the plaintiffs about the meaning of the Alabama Constitution's voter qualification provision, the Supreme Court holds that the controversy was over.

Even though we lost the case, getting the Attorney General to agree with our position should turn out to be valuable in the long run.

June 2, 2007

California: referendum on Iraq may be on the ballot

The New York Times reports: cCalifornia is poised to become the first state to ask voters whether they favor an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The Democratic-led State Legislature is expected to approve a bill that would place the question on the presidential primary ballot next February. The Rules Committee in the Senate approved the bill on Wednesday, and it is expected to go before both houses in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor would not weigh in until a bill hit his desk. Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has expressed support in the past for setting a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq, and he has been an enthusiastic backer of democracy by ballot measure.

California has a long history of ballot measures, but this would be the first time in 25 years that an advisory question on foreign policy was placed before the voters. Win or lose, the measure would be toothless, but pollsters and political scientists said it could change the dynamics of the primary race here, in part by making it difficult for presidential candidates to avoid the subject while campaigning in the state. -- California Primary Ballot May Include Iraq Question

IRS issues Rev.Ruling for 501(c)(3)s and election year activities

Nonprofit Advocacy Network announces: The IRS today released binding guidance in Revenue Ruling 2007-41 for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations regarding 501(c)(3) election year activities. Though similar to the February 2006 Fact Sheet released by the IRS (Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations) there are some differences. It is important to note that today's Revenue Ruling provides precedential guidance on issues covered in the February 2006 Fact Sheet. Issues covered in the Fact Sheet and Revenue Ruling include voter guides, public forums, voter education, get-out-the vote drives, individual activities by organization leaders, candidate appearances and forums, issue advocacy, and business activities. To view a copy of this Revenue Ruling click here.

To sign up for Alliance for Justice newsletters and bulletins, go here.

June 1, 2007

A vote for Satan

The Washington Post reports: Florida evangelist Bill Keller says he was making a spiritual -- not political -- statement when he warned the 2.4 million subscribers to his Internet prayer ministry that "if you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!"

But the Washington-based advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State says the Internal Revenue Service should revoke the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of Bill Keller Ministries, nonetheless.

Keller, 49, who has a call-in show on a Tampa television station and a Web site called, on May 11 sent out a "daily devotional" that called Romney "an unabashed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago." If the former Massachusetts governor wins the GOP nomination and the presidency, Keller's message added, it will "ultimately lead millions of souls to the eternal flames of hell." -- Separation of Church and State and Tax Exemptions

Alabama joins the National Primary -- again -- but with a footnote

AP reports: The Legislature approved a bill Thursday that keeps Alabama's early presidential primary on Feb. 5, but allows residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties to vote almost a week early to avoid a conflict with the Mardi Gras holiday.

The Legislature decided last year to move the state's presidential preference primary from early June 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 because Feb. 5, 2008, is Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

The Senate voted 32-0 Thursday for a revised primary bill, and the House concurred 102-2. The bill will let residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties to go to the polls on Wednesday, Jan. 30 with the results sealed until Feb. 5. The bill will also allow residents of the two coastal counties to vote using absentee ballots for any reason. -- Alabama's Mardi Gras conflict resolved for presidential race

Arizona: felons sue for voting rights

Capitol Media Services reports: Five Arizona felons filed suit Thursday challenging state laws that keep them from voting because of their criminal convictions.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix by the American Civil Liberties Union challenges a state law that denies certain rights to those who have been convicted of at least two felonies. These felons can vote only by getting permission from a judge.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, director of the ACLU's Arizona chapter, says this is the first lawsuit in the nation seeking to overturn any state law that automatically disfranchises felons.

The legal papers separately challenge another Arizona law that says those convicted of a single felony can vote, but only after they have paid all court fines and restitution.

"Denying the right to vote based on one's failure or inability to pay legal financial obligations is the modern equivalent of a poll tax and serves no compelling or legitimate governmental interest," the lawsuit states. -- ACLU sues to restore vote to some felons

Update: A copy of the complaint in the case is attached.

Kentucky: state won't join the National Primary

AP reports: With a growing number of states moving up their presidential primaries, Kentucky could strengthen its political muscle by keeping its traditional late May election, Secretary of State Trey Grayson said yesterday.

Grayson said Kentucky has no plans to change the date of next year's presidential primary, set for May 20, despite the rush by other states to move their elections and caucuses to January and February.

By standing pat, Grayson said Kentucky could become a player in the presidential race, but only if the race is so close that the likely nominees aren't decided until the last votes are counted. -- Kentucky won't move up presidential primary

Cherokee Nation: Nation asks for dismissal of Freedmen lawsuit

AP reports: The Cherokee Nation says a lawsuit by descendants of Cherokee slaves to stop the tribe's general election next month should be tossed because they already have the right to vote.

The descendants are commonly called "freedmen" and earlier this month filed a motion to stop the tribe's June 23rd election in which Chief Chad Smith is running for re-election. -- Cherokees ask for motion by freedmen descendants to be tossed