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

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September 30, 2007

UK: quick election "will cause chaos"

Scotland on Sunday reports: THOUSANDS of votes could be lost amid widespread ballot box chaos if Gordon Brown calls a snap Westminster poll, the UK's leading election official warned last night.

As election fever continued to mount, disturbing new details emerged from the Association of Electoral Administrators of delays in printing and distributing postal ballots, an out-of-date electoral roll and loopholes in anti-fraud laws. ...

Concerns centre on the problematic postal voting system, which continues to place election officers under a huge burden. The AEA has called on the Government to change the law to extend the time limit between the dissolution of parliament and an election by at least another five working days to 22 days.

However, if he goes ahead with an early election, Brown looks set to restrict the time limit to the current 17 days.

Turner said: "The small number of specialist, commercial printers who produce the ballot packs will have significant problems in dealing with the additional volumes within the limited time available."

The AEA is also warning that some people will be unable to vote or to receive a postal vote because the new electoral roll is not published until December 1. -- Scotland on Sunday - Politics - Snap election 'will cause chaos'

September 29, 2007

Edwards will accept public funds for primaries only, unless ...

The New York Times reports: A day after John Edwards said he had decided to participate in public campaign financing as a matter of principle, his campaign manager appeared to scale back the candidate’s initial commitment.

The campaign manager said Mr. Edwards was leaving open the possibility of rejecting public financing for the general election campaign.

Mr. Edwards’s campaign advisers said he had not meant to commit himself for the general election, but the discrepancy added fuel to a debate over why he had abruptly embraced public financing after long signaling that he would not. ...

In an interview Friday, Joe Trippi, a senior Edwards campaign adviser, said Mr. Edwards had meant to say that he was committed only to a proposal that his rival, Senator Barack Obama, had extended to the Republicans. If the Republican nominee agrees to accept public campaign financing and its limits, Mr. Obama and now Mr. Edwards have said they would do the same. -- Edwards’s Embrace of Public Money May Be Limited

September 28, 2007

California: GOP gives up on initiative to change electoral vote

The Los Angeles Times reports: Plagued by a lack of money, supporters of a statewide initiative drive to change the way California's 55 electoral votes are apportioned, first revealed here by Top of the Ticket in July, are pulling the plug on that effort.

In an exclusive report to appear on this website late tonight and in Friday's print editions, The Times' Dan Morain reports that the proposal to change the winner-take-all electoral vote allocation to one by congressional district is virtually dead with the resignation of key supporters, internal disputes and a lack of funds.

The reality is hundreds of thousands of signatures must be gathered by the end of November to get the measure on the June 2008 ballot. -- Los Angeles Times: Top of the Ticket: Politics, coast to coast, with the L.A. Times

CLC Executive Director Urges Sen. Reid to Hold Separate Vote on von Spakovsky Nomination

The Campaign Legal Center sent a letter to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) today urging him to hold a separate vote in the Senate on the highly controversial nomination of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.

According to the letter, “Mr. von Spakovsky's lengthy record of minority vote suppression has been well documented and leaves him singularly unqualified to serve in a position interpreting and enforcing our nation's election laws.” It continues, “Voters nationwide deserve to know if their Senator votes in favor of this nominee who is wholly unqualified, having devoted much of his professional career to undermining minority voting rights.”

September 27, 2007

Virginia: GOP candidate may have violated federal law by deceptive mailing

Update: The front and back of the envelope and mailer are here. Thanks to Steve Wilson for sending them.

The Washington Post reports: Last week, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax) sent voters a manila envelope that bore the warning: "Notice: Your new Fairfax County income tax payment is due."

The sender, identified in bold letters, was the "Fairfax County Income Tax Authority."

There is no such branch of the county government, nor is there a county income tax.

When voters opened up the envelope, they found a flier from Cuccinelli attacking his Democratic opponent, Janet S. Oleszek, on taxes.

Cuccinelli charged Oleszek, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, with supporting the creation of a state sales tax on Internet purchases. ...

"It's just an attention gimmick. Political campaigns are marketing campaigns," Cuccinelli said. "People who have some degree of consternation by suddenly thinking they have a local income tax bill will remember that piece. The fact people remember it means that piece will be a success."

But the Oleszek campaign wants to know whether Cuccinelli's mailing violates the federal Deceptive Mailings Prevention Act of 1990.

Cuccinelli said the literature is legal because his name is on the outside of the envelope. -- Campaign Tactics Producing Angry Voters in Record Time -

Note: The statute is 39 USC 3001(h). The disclosure required is:
such matter bears on its face, in conspicuous and legible type in contrast by typography, layout, or color with other printing on its face, in accordance with regulations which the Postal Service shall prescribe, the following notice: “THIS PRODUCT OR SERVICE HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED OR ENDORSED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, AND THIS OFFER IS NOT BEING MADE BY AN AGENCY OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.”, or a notice to the same effect in words which the Postal Service may prescribe...

I will be happy to post a copy of the envelope if the Cuccinelli campaign will send me one.

September 26, 2007

Virgin Islands: another delay over delegates to the consitutional convention

Michael Richardson writes on The fifth attempt to adopt a constitution for the U.S. Virgin Islands has hit another snag that will likely delay the anticipated October 10th convening of a Constitutional Convention following a ruling by the U.S. Virgin Islands Supreme Court.

Last week the island high court reversed an earlier decision by Superior Court Judge James Carroll III to seat Harry Daniels, a resident of St. John, as a delegate following a disputed June election. Confusing legislative language apportioning delegates from St. Thomas and St. John was at the heart of Daniels' electoral appeal.

The Constitutional Convention was originally slated to begin in July but was delayed by Judge Carroll while he considered Daniels' case. The Supreme Court reversal of the decision to seat Daniels as a delegate drew stinging criticism from Justice Ive Arlington Swan in sharply worded dissent calling for a new election. -- U.S. Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention stalled in delegate election dispute over voting machine ballot design

The case is St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections v. Daniel.

"Do Not Vote for This Guy"

Dahlia Lithwick writes on Another one for you to file under "fox guards the henhouse": The Senate rules committee votes tomorrow (Wednesday) on whether to give Hans A. von Spakovsky a full six-year term on the Federal Elections Commission. For Senate Democrats to even consider allowing someone with von Spakovsky's background to sit on the independent agency tasked with protecting the integrity of federal elections is beyond incredible. If von Spakovsky is confirmed, it will be yet more evidence that Democrats have no more regard for the rule of law, or the integrity of the Justice Department, than Karl Rove does. -- Hans von Spakovsky cannot be confirmed to the FEC. - By Dahlia Lithwick - Slate Magazine

Indiana: Supreme Court to hear voter I.D. case

The Washington Post reports: The Supreme Court said yesterday that it will consider whether state laws requiring voters to present photo identification at polling places unfairly discriminate against the poor and minorities, injecting the justices into a fiercely partisan battle just before the 2008 elections. ...

At a time when polarization on the court -- many of its most recent high-profile decisions have been decided 5 to 4 -- has turned it into a target for political partisans, the justices are stepping into a political battle by accepting the voter-ID case.

Proponents of the laws, which have been passed since the contested 2000 presidential election, say the measures combat fraud. Opponents say poor people and minorities, who often do not have driver's licenses, passports or other government-issued identification, would be excluded from the polls.

Seven states require a photo ID to vote and another 17 states require identification without photos, according to the National Association of State Legislatures. The battle has usually broken down along partisan lines, with Republicans favoring laws they said would combat voter fraud and with Democrats pushing proposals they said would encourage voter participation. -- Supreme Court to Consider Use of Voter ID -

EAC report on UOCAVA

GCN reports: Election officials need to do a better job of educating overseas citizens of their rights to vote in federal elections and improve the delivery of ballots to those voters, the Election Assistance Commission concluded after reviewing results of overseas voting in last year’s elections.

According to a Government Accountability Office report cited by the EAC, there are about 6 million overseas citizens and uniformed service members and their family either abroad or away from home domestically and eligible to vote. But state and local election officials reported that only about 992,000 absentee ballots were requested by this group in 2006, and only slightly more than 330,000 of these were cast or counted.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act ensures that citizens away from home can register to vote and receive ballots in U.S. elections. EAC is required under the Help America Vote Act to report to Congress on performance of UOCVA. The 2006 report was released Monday.

The most common reason for requested ballots not being cast, 70 percent, was that mailed ballots were returned as undeliverable. -- EAC issues report on U.S. overseas voting for 2006

The EAC report is here.

September 24, 2007

Demos issues new report on voter fraud

Demos announces:
The specter of voter fraud unfortunately continues to dominate and distort much of the national debate about fair elections. As an antidote to distorted public discussion, Senior Demos Fellow Lorraine C. Minnite has released An Analysis of Voter Fraud in the United States, adapted and updated from Securing the Vote, released in 2003. The voter fraud discussion has taken on new proportions over the past four years, looming over state and federal debates on voter identification and election reform, the performance of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and dismissals of U.S. Attorneys. Professor Minnite's new report provides a contemporary overview of domestic voter fraud, explores the matrix of state and federal laws governing the issue, and details recent instances of voter fraud in Miami, FL; Orange County, CA; and St. Louis, MO. She plans a forthcoming book on voter fraud in contemporary American elections.

The report is here.

Cherokee Nation: House to hold hearing on expulsion of Freedmen

AP reports: A dispute involving race and tribal identity that was supposed to play out in the courts now seems headed for Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers want the country's second-largest Indian tribe stripped of $300 million in federal money.

U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, a California Democrat who claims Indian blood and ties to Oklahoma, is demanding the Cherokee Nation reinstate 2,800 descendants of the tribe's former black slaves, known as freedmen. She calls a March election that booted the freedmen descendants from the tribe ``ethnic cleansing'' and doesn't want to wait on the courts to decide the matter, a process that could take years.

The tribe is digging in to fight the legislation, and its chief, Chad Smith, has called Watson's bill a ``scorched-earth'' policy aimed at hurting the poorest and sickest of the nation's 270,000 members.

Neither side shows signs of giving up ground as lawmakers are expected to have a hearing on the matter next week in Washington. -- - The News On 6

California: IRS drops investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church

The Los Angeles Times reports: The Internal Revenue Service has told a prominent Pasadena church that it has ended its lengthy investigation into a 2004 antiwar sermon, church leaders said Sunday.

But the agency wrote in its letter to All Saints Episcopal Church that officials still considered the sermon to have been illegal, prompting the church to seek clarification, a corrected record and an apology from the IRS, the church's rector told standing-room-only crowds of parishioners at Sunday's services.

The church also has asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that officials from the Justice Department had become involved in the matter, raising concerns that the investigation was politically motivated. ...

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process," the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000. -- Pasadena church wants apology from IRS - Los Angeles Times

Florida: state Dems stick to too-early presidential primary date

The Caucus (NY Times) reports: Florida Democratic Party officials announced Sunday that they’re sticking with Jan. 29 as the official primary date, even though the national party has ruled that the move will strip them of their delegates and the top candidates have pledged not to campaign there. Karen L. Thurman, the state party’s chairwoman, sent an email to Florida Democrats explaining the decision:

There will be no other primary. Florida Democrats absolutely must vote on January 29th. We make this election matter. Not the D.N.C., not the delegates, not the candidates, but Florida Democrats like you and me voting together. We make it count.

Don’t let anybody call this vote a “beauty contest” or a “straw poll.” On January 29, 2008, there will be a fair and open election in Florida, which will provide for maximum voter participation. The nation will be paying attention, and Florida Democrats will have a major impact in determining who the next President of the United States of America will be. -- 2008: Florida Democrats Stick to Primary Date

September 22, 2007

Scotland: poor areas had more spoilt ballots

The Herald reports: Voters in Scotland's poorest communities were twice as likely to have their votes rejected in last May's ballot fiasco as the average for Scotland.

The astonishing finding has come from Strathclyde University research, which suggests that Glasgow was by far the worst affected.

Social deprivation - including low educational attainment, poor health and unemployment - was the biggest factor leading to variation in rejection, even after other factors have been calculated out of the complex equation.

Glasgow had eight of the 10 constituencies with the highest number of spoiled papers. In Glasgow Shettleston, 12% of votes cast were spoiled. -- The Herald : Politics: MAIN POLITICS

September 20, 2007

Georgia: "no glitches" in voter I.D. on Tuesday

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: Georgia's first test of its much-debated photo voter ID system passed Tuesday's elections with no reported glitches, state officials and some critics of the new law said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Karen Handel, who oversees Georgia's elections, said she heard of no complaints in the 22 counties where elections were held Tuesday.

Some who opposed the ID system say there were few complaints because many people without the proper ID didn't vote.

Kevin Thomas, Clayton County's Democratic Party chairman, said he received a telephone call from someone Tuesday wondering if the caller's grandmother could vote if she didn't have identification.

"I know for a fact [the ID requirement] did discourage people from coming out," Thomas said. -- Voter ID system passes first test, officials say |

Minnesota: Minneapolis IRV plan may violate state constitution

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: Minneapolis voters have approved a plan for instant-runoff voting, but the state constitution may not allow it, according to a new attorney general's opinion.

The opinion, obtained by the Star Tribune, doesn't explicitly say the Minneapolis system of ranking candidates in order of preference is unconstitutional.

But it concludes that if the closest case to a precedent is followed, instant-runoff voting probably isn't permitted by the state constitution.

The voting method requires voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gains a majority, the lowest candidate is dropped and the second-place votes cast by supporters of that candidate are added to the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate gains a majority. -- Minneapolis' instant-runoff voting plan may be unconstitutional

Rotating primary hearing

NPR reports: The rapidly accelerating presidential primary schedule is frustrating some members of Congress. They want to change the system and used a Senate hearing to address the issue. A number of senators want a regional primary system, with the country divided into four regions. Each region would hold a separate primary, one month apart, starting in March 2012. -- NPR : Senators Lobby for Regional Primary System

September 19, 2007

DC & Utah: Senate blocks bill for 2 more representatives

The Washington Post reports: Republican lawmakers yesterday blocked the Senate from taking up the D.C. vote bill, a potentially fatal setback for the District's most promising effort in years to get a full member of Congress.

The vote was on a motion to simply consider the bill. Fifty-seven senators voted in favor, three short of the 60 needed to proceed. Without enough support to vault the Senate's procedural hurdles, the bill is expected to stall this year and possibly next year.

The Senate action was a crushing disappointment to many activists in the decades-long campaign for voting representation in Congress. The bill, which passed the House in April, has gone further than any other D.C. vote measure in almost 30 years. ...

The bill was a compromise aimed at appealing to both parties. It would expand the House by two seats: one for the overwhelmingly Democratic District and the other for the next state in line to add a seat. That state currently is Utah, which is heavily Republican. Utah would also gain an electoral vote. -- Senators Block D.C. Vote Bill, Delivering Possibly Fatal Blow -

September 18, 2007

DC: crucial Senate vote today on House representation for District

The Washington Post reports: Facing a critical Senate vote today, supporters and opponents of the D.C. voting rights bill made impassioned speeches and lobbied on Capitol Hill in a last-minute push on the District's efforts to get its first full member of Congress.

The motion coming up on the Senate floor would merely clear the way for lawmakers to consider the bill. But if supporters fail to get the necessary 60 votes, the legislation will probably be doomed for this year, according to senators and staff. ...

The bill, which passed the House in April, is crafted as a political compromise. It would add two seats to the House of Representatives, one for the heavily Democratic District and the other for the next state in line to pick up an extra seat: currently Utah, which leans Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is strongly critical of the bill, as is the White House, which has threatened a veto. McConnell vehemently denied yesterday that resisting the legislation was tantamount to opposing voting rights. -- 11th-Hour Pressure Applied on D.C. Vote -

New Jersey: paper trail delayed

The Home News Tribune reports: A judge has declined to mandate new voting machines for New Jersey, agreeing that the state should instead extend a Jan. 1 deadline for installing printers on 10,000 electronic voting machines.

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg's decision on Monday means voters in February's presidential primary won't approve paper receipts to ensure their votes were cast properly.

In 2005, the Legislature required electronic voting machines to be fitted with printers by January to protect against vote-tampering and help with recounts. After voting electronically, voters would view printouts to ensure their ballots were properly cast.

But scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology found flaws with printers, and state Attorney General Anne Milgram decided to ask the Legislature to extend the deadline. The judge on Monday accepted that position but scheduled January hearings on whether the machines are constitutional. -- Judge extends deadline to bolster voting machines in N.J. | Home News Tribune Online

Alabama: Riley gets more time for voter database

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A federal judge agreed Monday to give Gov. Bob Riley an extra two months to develop a statewide computerized voter registration system that was due Aug. 31.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins said there was no reasonable alternative to allowing the governor the extra time he had requested. ...

The U.S. Justice Department sued Alabama last year after then-Secretary of State Nancy Worley missed the deadline for developing the system. Watkins turned over the duties to Riley with a new deadline of Aug. 31.

On the deadline, Riley told the judge that the state needed two more months to tie together computers in state agencies that are used to verify voter data and remove the names of voters who die or are convicted of certain crimes. -- :: State gets more time on voting project

September 17, 2007

Florida: NAACP and Haitian group sue over "no-match, no-vote" policies

Press release: Today voting rights advocates filed suit in a US District Court to strike down a statewide election law that could disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible citizens from registering and voting in the 2008 elections.

The law bars any Florida citizen from registering to vote if the state cannot match or otherwise validate the driver’s license or Social Security number on a registration form, an error-laden practice struck down in 2006 by a federal judge in Washington State. Plaintiffs bringing today’s suit, including the Florida branch of the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, contend that this matching law unduly delayed or denied registrations for thousands of Florida voters in 2006, and will jeopardize many more voters in 2008 if not blocked.

Florida and a handful of other states refuse to place eligible citizens on the rolls unless they clear a series of extra bureaucratic hurdles largely dependent on “matching” registration information on a new statewide voter list with information in the state motor vehicle or Social Security systems. Common database errors, however, make “matching” unreliable, jeopardizing the status of up to 30% of new voters. A 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the voting rights groups that brought today’s suit, found that such a procedure misinterpreted the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which told states to create the statewide lists.

Youth vote report

Press release: With an upward trend in young voter turnout in recent years, Democracy Fellow Tova Wang and Kristen Oshyn predict that youth turnout in 2008 will reach a new level of participation, giving young voters the potential to make an unprecedented impact on the campaigns and electoral outcomes. In “Youth Vote 2008,” a new issue brief from The Century Foundation, Wang and Oshyn look at the history of how young voters have been brought into the electoral process compared to more recent and possible future processes. Highlighting research, they argue that the current upward trend of young voter turnout will not only impact the 2008 election but politics for the next generation.

The authors found that campaigns and candidates are increasingly reaching out to young voters but that they continue to fail to address issues of interest to young people in terms that are relevant to their lives. They also found that while campaigns and organizations are capitalizing on the new technologies available in their outreach efforts to the “wired” generation, indications are that without follow up using traditional methods, much of that online interest will not translate into votes.

The report is here.

Mississippi: judge appoints Reuben Anderson to run Noxubee primaries

The Commercial-Dispatch reports: Former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson has been given “broad authority” to be Noxubee County's superintendent of elections, but he's not publicly discussing how he's going to run Tuesday's Democratic runoffs. ...

Lee last month banned Noxubee County Democratic Chairman Ike Brown from running party primaries and tapped Anderson to ensure whites' voting rights aren't violated.

The judge agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that Brown and the county Democratic Party he's led since 2000 have committed election fraud and discrimination to keep whites out of county government.

In appointing Anderson, Lee said he's “convinced that to prevent a recurrence of past transgressions by (Democratic Party) Chairman Brown in the conduct of Democratic primary elections, the person appointed by the court must be given broad authority to act in the place and stead of Mr. Brown, rather than simply authority to observe and report.” -- Judge Lee gags Noxubee County voting overseer

September 13, 2007

Alabama: intervenors file for rehearing en banc in Chilton County case

As I noted 3 weeks ago, the Eleventh Circuit has ruled that the intervenors in Dillard v. Chilton County Commission had no standing to object to the consent decree entered about 20 years ago. (See this post.)

Now the intervenors have moved for rehearing and rehearing en banc. You can read their petition here.

Disclosure: James Blacksher and I represent the Dillard plaintiffs in this case.

ACS publishes paper on language provisions of VRA

The ACS blog reports: The American Constitution Society's Constitution in the 21st Century project invites you to read Towards Full Participation: Solutions for Improvements to the Federal Language Assistance Laws, an issue brief by Jocelyn Friedrichs Benson, Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School.

Professor Benson examines the federally mandated language accommodations in sections 203 and 4(f)4 of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that these accommodations, while important and beneficial, are incomplete. She highlights deficiencies in existing voting protections for citizens with limited English proficiency levels, demonstrating how the protections fail to respond to the changing needs of an increasingly diverse electorate. Benson then suggests a number of remedies to these existing inadequacies. -- ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society: "Towards Full Participation": An Issue Brief on Voting Rights by Professor Jocelyn Benson

The ACS blog has a link to the paper.