Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: February 2008 Archives

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February 29, 2008

Illinois: Dems file FEC complaint against Oberweis for filing to iile Millionaire's Amendment report

The Daily Herald reports: Accusing Republican congressional candidate Jim Oberweis of attempting to flout campaign finance law, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Oberweis failed to file a specific FEC form and notify both his Democratic opponent, Bill Foster, and Democratic party leaders within 24 hours of loaning his campaign more than $350,000 -- a requirement under the so-called Millionaire s Amendment in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Oberweis and Foster are running in the March 8 special election to replace retired U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert in the 14th Congressional District.

Triggering the Millionaire s Amendment turns the race into a virtual financial free-for-all by increasing individual contributors limits from $2,300 to $6,900 and allowing the state and national party committees to dump an unlimited amount of money into their candidate s campaign coffers.

Oberweis campaign officials claim the errors were unintentional. In two separate transactions since the Feb. 5 primary election, Oberweis loaned his campaign $640,000; $300,000 was allocated toward the special election and $340,000 toward the general election, campaign spokesman Bill Pascoe said. -- Daily Herald | Filing flap in the 14th Congressional District race

Senator wants to make only some Americans-at-birth "natural born" and eligible to be president

The New York Times reports: Senator John McCain said Thursday that he had no concerns about his meeting the constitutional qualifications for the presidency because of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone. A Democratic colleague said she wanted to remove even a trace of doubt.

The Democrat, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, introduced legislation that would declare that any child born abroad to citizens serving in the United States military would meet the constitutional requirement that anyone serving as president be a “natural born” citizen. ...

Traveling on his presidential campaign, Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that he was convinced he was eligible under the natural-born definition and that from his perspective the matter had been reviewed and settled in earlier campaigns. Mr. McCain was born in 1936 on a military base in the Canal Zone, where his father, a Navy officer, was stationed at the time. ...

Ms. McCaskill said that her legislation should be noncontroversial and that Congress should move rapidly to clear up any ambiguity. She acknowledged there could be some who believe the only route to resolve the confusion is through a constitutional amendment. -- Bill Would Remove Doubt on Presidential Eligibility - New York Times

February 27, 2008

Alabama: PAC to PAC transfer bill passes senate

Alabama Senate approves bill to regulate PAC donations | TimesDaily.com | Times Daily | Florence, AL
AP reports: The Democrat-controlled Alabama Senate split largely along party lines Tuesday to approve a bill that would stop some financial transfers used to hide the source of campaign contributions while allowing others.

Democrats said the bill would end the movement of money from one political action committee to another to disguise the original source of campaign contributions. ...

Republicans said the bill opens up new methods for hiding campaign donations because it exempts political parties and legislative caucuses from the definition of a PAC. ...

The Senate voted 20-14 for the rewritten PAC bill after killing similar bills the six prior years. --

Ohio: McCain received ballot spot because of federal matching-fund certification

The New York Times reports: Did Senator John McCain of Arizona benefit unfairly from rules that automatically placed him on the ballot in Ohio once he qualified for public campaign financing?

The legal question, which also has political significance given Mr. McCain’s reputation for crusading against the influence of money on elections, is being raised by Democratic Party officials ahead of the Ohio Republican primary next Tuesday now that the McCain campaign has decided to pull out of public financing.

The issue emerged Monday in a complaint that the Democratic National Committee filed with the Federal Election Commission questioning Mr. McCain’s right to withdraw from the system and bypass the spending limits that come with it. ...

Second, the [Democratic] officials object to the way Mr. McCain used his certification for federal matching money to get on the ballot in states like Ohio and Delaware. That certification allowed him to bypass the signature collection usually required to get on the ballot, and saved the campaign money — which should bar him from withdrawing from the system, the Democrats say. -- Democrats Raise Legal Point Over McCain and Ohio as He Opts Out of Public Money - New York Times

February 26, 2008

Colorado: comprehensive gift ban will go into effect, for now

The Rocky Mountain News reports: A Monday court ruling on Amendment 41, the controversial law that limits gifts to government workers, failed to clarify the measure and leaves the door wide open for more court challenges.

The state Supreme Court reinstated the gift ban and ordered a lower court to remove an injunction it issued in June.

But in its ruling, the court declined to comment on the larger issue of whether the gift ban is constitutional. ...

The state's high court said it's too early to challenge the state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in November 2006, because an ethics commission charged with enforcing the measure hasn't completely formed yet. ...

Amendment 41 was designed to reduce the influence of lobbyists and interest groups on government. It bans all gifts from lobbyists and limits other gifts and services to no more than $50 per year. Elected officials, state and certain local government workers and their children and spouses are subject to the law. In addition, elected officials cannot take lobbying jobs until two years after leaving office. -- Gift ban restored, but ruling leaves much unsettled : Updates : The Rocky Mountain News

February 25, 2008

DNC v. McCain, the complaint and the bank's letter

Reuters reports: The Democratic Party asked the U.S. government on Monday to investigate whether Republican presidential candidate John McCain has violated campaign-finance laws by exceeding spending limits he agreed to last year.

In a letter to the Federal Election Commission, the Democratic National Committee said McCain has probably surpassed the roughly $50 million limit he agreed to observe when he applied for public funding last year.

McCain, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to contest November s presidential election should not be allowed to withdraw from the public-funding system now that he no longer needs it, the DNC argued. -- Democrats criticize McCain over campaign finance - washingtonpost.com

AP reports: Lawyers for the bank that provided a crucial $4 million line of credit to John McCain's campaign late last year said Monday that the loan agreement was carefully drafted to give McCain the opportunity to withdraw from public financing during the primary elections.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the outside counsel for Fidelity & Trust Bank said the loan terms specifically excluded from the collateral any potential share of public matching funds the Arizona senator was entitled to receive.

The letter, from lawyers Matthew S. Bergman and Scott E. Thomas to McCain lawyer Trevor Potter, supports McCain's stance against claims that his withdrawal from public financing is in jeopardy. -- Bank explains terms of McCain loan

Documents to download:
DNC's complaint
Exhibits 1-3
Exhibit 4
Exhibit 5
Exhibits 6-7

Note: If anyone has the bank's letter to McCain's lawyer, please email it to me.

February 24, 2008

Puerto Rico: feds may be investigating governor's campaign finances

The New York Times reports: The rumors wash up against the gray walls of La Fortaleza, the governor’s palace in this city’s colonial quarter, with the regularity of the ocean’s waves. Every few weeks they seem to gather momentum, like a tidal surge, and threaten to overwhelm the place and its occupant, Gov. Aníbal S. Acevedo Vilá.

At one moment, the word on the street is that the governor will be arrested before the weekend. At the next, he will be spared, though several of his close associates will fall.

And so it has gone for more than two years while federal investigators have looked into accusations of campaign finance violations relating to Mr. Acevedo, a Democrat, who is up for re-election this year. ...

The federal authorities have refused to make any statements about the case; what is known publicly about the investigation has been gleaned through leaks and the scant information provided by witnesses who have testified before the grand jury. According to those witnesses, investigators have asked about the finances of Mr. Acevedo’s 2004 race for governor and about his successful campaign in 2000 to become the resident commissioner, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting delegate to Congress. (Mr. Acevedo has said that if there were improprieties in his campaigns, he was not aware of them.) -- Puerto Rico’s Political Melodrama Plays On, With Its Governor in the Lead Role

DNC to file FEC complaint against John McCain

The DNC will file a complaint with the FEC on Monday against John McCain for his alleged violations of the campaign finance law.

Former Gov. Howard Dean, chair of the DNC, and Joe Sandler, DNC general counsel, held a press conference Sunday afternoon to announce the complaint. Gov. Dean said that McCain has already benefited from the matching funds program in 2 ways:

First, he used his future receipt of federal matching funds as collateral for a bank loan, but now wishes to withdraw from the matching funds program.

Second, a candidate who has been certified for matching funds gets free ballot access while other candidates must pay.

If McCain is properly considered part of the matching program, then he is likely to be exceeding the spending limits. [The limit for total primary spending is $42.05 million, according to the FEC.]

Dean said, "John McCain has made a career of pretending to be a reformer, but his reforms apply to everyone except him."

Alabama: supreme court dismisses suit challenging election of 4 Democratic senators

AP reports: The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday upheld a Montgomery judge s decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the election of four powerful Democrats in the Alabama Senate.

The court s 8-1 decision ends a lawsuit that became part of the battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of the new Senate elected in 2006. Democrats won that battle and organized the Senate. ...
Former Republican judge Mark Montiel filed the suit about three weeks before the 2006 general election on behalf of an Autauga County voter. It sought to revoke the state certificates of election for the four senators from the Democratic primary election in June 2006. The suit claimed the four Democrats did not file the proper campaign finance reports for the primary even though they spent money to help other legislative candidates.

The four senators said they didn't have primary opposition and the practice in Alabama up to that point was not to file campaign finance reports when there was no opposition. -- Alabama Supreme Court tosses lawsuit challenging senators wins | TimesDaily.com | Times Daily | Florence, AL

February 22, 2008

Arizona: Renzi indicted

ABC News reports: A federal grand jury in Arizona has indicted three-term Republican Congressman Rick Renzi and two of his business associates on charges that include wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud and extortion.

The 35-count indictment alleges that between December 2001 and March 2002, Renzi embezzled $400,000 in insurance premiums from a company that he owned and transferred the money to his congressional campaign.

Renzi transferred ownership of the company, called Patriot Insurance Agency Inc., to his wife in 2004.

The lawmaker is also accused of enriching himself by compelling a copper mining interest, referred to as "Company A" in the indictment, to buy a parcel of land from his associate James Sandlin in exchange for his sponsorship of legislation sought by Company A.

When negotiations for the sale were stalled, Renzi allegedly told Company A "no Sandlin Property, no bill." -- ABC News: Congressman Indicted for Fraud, Extortion

Alabama: "Race matters less in politics of South"

The New York Times reports: The racial breakthroughs have come gingerly in Alabama over the years: a black mayor there, an old Klansman put on trial here, a civil rights memorial there.

And a few weeks ago, voters in a county that is more than 96 percent white chose a genial black man, James Fields, to represent them in the State House of Representatives. It is a historic first, but the moment is full of awkwardness. ...

Last fall, another black man, Eric Powell, was elected to the Mississippi State Senate from a district that is more than 92 percent white, and no one could find a modern precedent for that, either. Mr. Fields and Mr. Powell are Democrats who decisively beat white candidates in districts that traditionally support Republican presidential candidates.

Inevitably, there are questions about what this might mean for Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy in the Deep South, and the quick answer, perhaps, is not that much, at least in Cullman County at this moment. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton beat Mr. Obama here, by a margin of four to one, in the Democratic primary this month, as many here readily point out.

Yet there are parallels. The very quality that voters here highlight, in so many words, as one of Mr. Fields’s more attractive attributes — that they are at ease with him — is one of Mr. Obama’s most important selling points. The implications are not lost on State Senator Zeb Little, the majority leader in the Alabama Senate and a Democratic power broker in Cullman: black politicians can win in unlikely districts, transcending history and partisan politics, if voters can see them as one of their own. -- Race Matters Less in Politics of South - New York Times

Mississippi: Senate passes voter I.D. bill

The Hattiesburg American reports: The annual legislative fight over voter identification moved to the Senate floor on Thursday as lawmakers debated for more than two hours about the need to require ID at the polls.

The legislation, which passed on a 34-18 vote, comes in a year when pending legal action could influence how swiftly Mississippi adopts an ID requirement.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill is separate from a more comprehensive election package promoted by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Hosemann s proposal also has a voter ID provision.

The bill passed Thursday would require voters to show a valid photo ID, a government document with their name and address on it or a Social Security card. Acceptable photo ID includes driver s licenses, passports, student and employee cards. -- Hattiesburg American - www.hattiesburgamerican.com - Hattiesburg, Miss.

Alabama: DOJ approves Gadsden school board vote

The Gadsden Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department has approved an election to determine if Gadsden will go to an elected school board or stay with an appointed one.

City Attorney Roger Kirby received the approval today. The Justice Department’s approval was required because of the Voting Rights Act.

The City Council had earlier set April 22 for the referendum on the elected school board and submitted information about the election, including changes in polling places, to the Justice Department. Kirby said people wanting an elected board will vote yes and if they favor an appointed board they will vote no.

If the vote is in favor of an elected board, then the election for board members would be Aug. 26 with runoffs, if necessary, on Oct. 7. -- Justice Department approves Gadsden school board election | GadsdenTimes.com | Gadsden Times | Gadsden, AL

McCain runs into a FEC roadblock caused by the lack of 4 commissioners

The New York Times reports: A bank loan that Senator John McCain took out late in 2007 to keep his presidential campaign afloat is complicating his desire to withdraw from public financing for his primary effort.

The Federal Election Commission, in a letter it released on Thursday, said Mr. McCain could not withdraw from public financing until he had answered questions about a $4 million line of credit for borrowing that was secured, in part, in December by the promise of federal matching money.

Mr. McCain sent a letter to the commission on Feb. 7 saying he had decided to decline the matching money for his primary campaign. His request for public money, in which the government matches campaign contributions, was made last year as the campaign was running out of cash.

After his fortunes began to rise from his victory New Hampshire and campaign gifts increased, however, Mr. McCain decided against taking the public money. Taking it would have limited his spending between now and the Republican convention in September to $40 million. -- McCain Loan Complicates Financing of Campaign - New York Times

Alabama: PAC to PAC transfer bill bogged down in Senate

The Birmingham News reports: The state Senate locked down again Thursday over a proposed ban on transfers between political action committees that make it difficult to know who is funding political campaigns.

Unlike a stricter version approved by the House of Representatives, the Senate was debating a version of the bill that would exempt political parties and legislative caucuses. Some senators said that would create a larger mechanism for hiding money. ...

Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, proposed an amendment Thursday that would ban the governor and other state constitutional officers from raising money for other candidates.

Some Republican senators filibustered Bedford s amendment, saying it infringed on the rights of elected office holders. -- Alabama Senate locks down on PAC transfer ban- al.com

Alabama: schedule set for challenge to special election for Jefferson County commission

The Birmingham News reports: A Jefferson County judge said Thursday he wanted to resolve by April a legal dispute over this month s District 1 Jefferson County commission special election.

Until then, certification of William Bell as winner of the Feb. 5 special election will remain on hold and George Bowman, Gov. Bob Riley s appointee to the post, will remain in the District 1 seat.

Three voters filed suit in Circuit Court in late January saying the Feb. 5 election date was illegal. They contend it should be held during the statewide primary vote on June 3. Qualifying for Jefferson County offices in that race begins in April.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court blocked the county s election commission from certifying Bell as winner of the Feb. 5 election.

On Wednesday, the state s high court ordered Circuit Judge Scott Vowell to make a ruling on whether the lawsuit has any legal merit.

Since the case was filed, Bell has been added as a defendant and another candidate, Fred Plump, has joined the case to argue that the Feb. 5 election date was legal. -- Jefferson County judge sets April deadline for ruling on William Bell commission seat dispute- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent Mr. Plump.

February 20, 2008

Alabama: amicus brief supporting voters in Riley v. Kennedy

Amicus briefs have been filed supporting the Kennedy plaintiffs in Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-77, in the US Supreme Court:

United States

ACLU

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Note: as additional amici file (Wednesday is the deadline), I will add them to this post.

Mara Liasson reports on the Michigan-Florida delegate problem

NPR reports: As presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fight for every Democratic delegate at stake, the question remains what to do about delegates in Michigan and Florida. Both states forfeited their delegates when they moved their primaries up to January. Now, some think the delegates should be reinstated. -- NPR: Forfeited Delegates May Get Second Look

Peter Overby reports on the dilemma of taking matching funds

NPR reports: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain have not taken federal campaign financing funds. The money is appealing, but if campaigns take it, they are limited as to how much money they can spend. -- NPR: Candidates Weigh Taking Federal Campaign Money

February 18, 2008

Washington State: a Democratic primary, but why?

The New York Times reports: As many as 1.5 million votes are projected to be cast in Washington State’s presidential primary on Tuesday. The question is whether they will count. ...

More problematic is that the state Democratic Party long ago said it would award its delegates based solely on the results of the statewide caucuses that were held on Feb. 9. The party says a record 250,000 people turned out for the caucuses, which Senator Barack Obama won by 36 percentage points. ...

Political parties have the authority to decide how they select delegates to their nominating conventions, and Democrats here have continued to rely on the caucuses even after the primary. Democratic leaders say the caucuses are well attended and help build party unity. Republicans, who have often awarded a portion of their delegates through the primary and a portion through caucuses, accuse Democrats of deliberately alienating voters from the nomination process. -- In Washington State Vote, Relevance Is an Issue

February 16, 2008

McCain may have promised bank he would take federal matching funds

The Washington Post reports: John McCain's cash-strapped campaign borrowed $1 million from a Bethesda bank two weeks before the New Hampshire primary by pledging to enter the public financing system if his bid for the presidency faltered, newly disclosed records show.

McCain had already taken a $3 million bank loan in November to keep his campaign afloat, and he sought from the same bank $1 million more shortly before this month's Super Tuesday contests, this time pledging incoming but unprocessed contributions as collateral. He never used the funds of the most recent loan, because his win in the South Carolina primary helped him raise enough money to compete in Florida, his campaign aides said last night. ...

Under the agreement, McCain promised that if his campaign began to falter, he would commit to keeping his campaign alive and to entering the federal financing system so the money he had raised could be used to gain an infusion of matching funds. Had that happened, he would have been forced to abide by strict federal spending caps before the Republican National Convention in September.

Under FEC rules, a candidate who uses a certification for federal funds as collateral for a loan is obligated to remain within the public financing system. "We very carefully did not do that," [Trevor] Potter said. -- McCain Got Loan by Pledging to Seek Federal Funds - washingtonpost.com

California: politics, death, taxes

The Los Angeles Times reports: For the second time in six months, Buena Park pastor Wiley S. Drake has called on his followers to pray for the demise of leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Last week, Drake learned that the IRS had launched an investigation into his endorsement of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee s presidential bid, an inquiry that Americans United had urged.

The endorsement was written on church letterhead and announced during a church- affiliated Internet radio show. As tax-exempt organizations, churches are barred from campaigning for candidates. IRS officials declined to comment on the matter, citing privacy regulations.

In an e-mail Thursday, Drake urged action against Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union.

As he had in August, Drake quoted Psalm 109, which speaks of wicked and deceitful people and asks God to let such a person s days be few and let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. -- Pastor again asks prayers for demise of group s leaders - Los Angeles Times

February 15, 2008

LexBlog Q&A

LexBlog just did a Q&A with me. -- Edward Still of Votelaw [LexBlog Q & A] : Real Lawyers Have Blogs

February 14, 2008

Clinton to press party to change delegate rules for Florida and Michigan

The New York Times reports: Senator Barack Obama emerged from Tuesday’s primaries leading Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton by more than 100 delegates, a small but significant advantage that Democrats said would be difficult for Mrs. Clinton to make up in the remaining contests in the presidential nomination battle. ...

With every delegate precious, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers also made it clear that they were prepared to take a number of potentially incendiary steps to build up Mrs. Clinton’s count. Top among these, her aides said, is pressing for Democrats to seat the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan, who held their primaries in January in defiance of Democratic Party rules.

Mrs. Clinton won more votes than Mr. Obama in both states, though both candidates technically abided by pledges not to campaign actively there.

Mr. Obama’s aides reiterated their opposition to allowing Mrs. Clinton to claim a proportional share of the delegates from the voting in those states. The prospect of a fight over seating the Florida and Michigan delegations has already exposed deep divisions within the party. -- Obama’s Lead in Delegates Shifts Focus of Campaign

Alabama: renewed challenge to special election for Jefferson County Commission

The Birmingham News reports: Jefferson County voters challenging the Feb. 5 County Commission special election have renewed their call for a judge to declare the vote illegal before William Bell is certified Friday as the winner.

Court documents filed Tuesday and Wednesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court and the Alabama Supreme Court say certifying the election would cause irreparable harm to voters.

Circuit Judge Scott Vowell said Wednesday he does not plan to change an earlier ruling that he lacks the legal authority to hear the case. The state's high court did not respond Wednesday.

Bell, a Birmingham city councilman, won the special election for the District 1 seat after five other candidates failed to force a runoff.

Under Alabama law, Bell will be declared the official winner Friday at noon if a court does not intervene. -- Challenge of William Bell's Jefferson County Commission election renewed- al.com

A copy of the supplemental memo filed by the plaintiffs in Working v. Jefferson County Election Commission is here.

February 13, 2008

Colorful maps of the vote

If you want to see the presidential primary results in colorful maps, go to Cogitamus: 2008 Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday Primary And Caucus Results Maps & Haiku

52-48 win for Democratic presidential candidate predicted

Jack Balkin writes on Balkinization: Yale economics professor Ray Fair has been predicting Presidential elections with only a handful of variables since the 1970's. He argues that economic news (in particular, a combination of inflation and growth) is the primary determinant of electoral success in Presidential elections. His simple formula, updated to the present, suggests that the Republicans are in for trouble. The model currently predicts a 52-48 victory for the Democrats, and with even greater margins if the economy continues to struggle. -- Balkinization

Comment: I am always fascinated by these predictions because they seem to say that, no matter how many bumper stickers, yard signs, and telephone banks we have, a unseen hand writes the election results for us.

Scotland: it's redistricting time

The Herald reports: THE first proposals for constituency boundary changes since devolution sent MSPs scurrying to their back offices with advisers yesterday. Who might lose? Who might gain? Which comrades might be rivals for a combined seat? ...

The secretary of the Boundary Commission for Scotland was much more sanguine. "MSPs' careers are really not my bag," explained Dr Hugh Buchanan, the calmest voice on the whole issue yesterday.

The reason for Dr Buchanan's calm at the centre of the storm of speculation is that the commission works to statute and the statute is pretty tight.


They work out what the average seat size should be, they try to fit these into local authority boundaries, then they deal with knock-ons from that until they have an overall plan they are prepared to put before the public. -- How The Flight To Suburbia Has Redrawn Scottish Political Map (from The Herald )

Alabama: appellees' brief filed in Supreme Court in Riley v. Kennedy

The appellees' brief in Riley v. Kennedy has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. While I am "counsel of record" in this case, a great team of people listed on the cover of the brief plus several students in the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic have contributed to the brief.

For more information on the case, look here.

South Dakota: DOJ objects to Charles Mix county plan

The Rapid City Journal reports: The U.S. Justice Department has blocked Charles Mix County from putting in place a voter-passed redistricting plan that would have increased the commission from three to five members.

A letter from the Justice Department said the blocked plan likely would have allowed Native Americans to elect one commissioner out of five instead of one out of three.

The county failed to show that the redistricting plan, approved by voters in 2006, did not have a discriminatory purpose as defined in the federal Voting Rights Act.

The county has not demonstrated that the change would not have hurt voting rights based on race, according to the letter written by acting assistant attorney general Race Chung Becker. -- Justice Department blocks Charles Mix redistricting plan » RapidCityJournal.com

The ACLU's press release (including a copy of the DOJ objection letter) is here.

Maryland: judge extends polling hours by 90 minutes because of weather problems

The Washington Post reports: As icy weather descended on the region late yesterday, Maryland gave voters an extra 90 minutes to reach the polls, while Virginia and the District shut down on time. ...

In Maryland, after receiving complaints about road conditions for several hours, the State Board of Elections obtained a court order at 7 p.m., an hour before that state's closing time, to extend voting hours.

Judge Ronald A. Silkworth wrote that he extended the hours "to provide a remedy that is in the public interest and protects the integrity of the electoral process."

Only provisional ballots were cast after 8 p.m., and they will not be counted for a week. Even so, the margins of victory for Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared so decisive that uncounted ballots were unlikely to change the outcome. Some local contests, however, might yet hinge on those ballots. -- Voters Persevere Despite Ballot Shortages, Lines - washingtonpost.com

February 12, 2008

Too many places: states are falling down on the responsibility to offer registration to low-income Americans

From a press release by Project Vote: As the nation prepares for the 2008 election, a new study reveals that many states are routinely failing to offer low-income Americans an opportunity to register to vote as required by the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, 1995-2007, published this week by the non-partisan voting rights groups Demos and Project Vote, shows that 12 years after the NVRA's requirements went into effect, voter registrations from public agencies that provide services to low-income Americans have declined dramatically.

Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, 1995-2007 examines voter registration data state by state, finding that in states across the nation--Virginia, Florida, Texas, Nevada and many others--public assistance agencies are neglecting to offer voter registration to all clients and applicants, as required by the law. Because of noncompliance with the NVRA, the rights of thousands of low-income citizens are violated daily.

"All Americans should have an opportunity to register and vote, but states are ignoring a federal law that requires them to offer voter registration to low-income citizens. In 2006, more than twice as many low-income Americans were unregistered as upper-income Americans. States need to follow the law. If they do, we can close the registration gap between rich and poor," says Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, 1995-2007 co-author Douglas R. Hess. "Our democracy works best when everyone, not just some, are allowed to participate." -- Low-Income Americans Denied Voter Registration Opportunities, New Report Shows

Washington State: GOP resume counting, McCain still ahead

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports: John McCain is still narrowly winning Saturday's Republican presidential caucuses, state GOP Chairman Luke Esser said late Monday.

The overall numbers shifted little in the latest count with 96 percent of precincts reporting, although Esser said party officials had to make adjustments to initial tallies because of incorrect reporting from Snohomish, Benton, Grant and Jefferson counties. ...

Esser's declaration Saturday night that Arizona Sen. McCain had won the precinct caucuses, based on reports from 87 percent of precincts statewide, infuriated the campaign of the announced runner-up, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. ...

With 96 percent of results in, Esser said McCain had 3,191 precinct delegates (25.6 percent) to Mike Huckabee's 2,898 (23.3 percent) -- a difference of just 293.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul won 21 percent of Washington's precinct delegates, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race this past week, got 15 percent, according to the latest numbers from the GOP. -- Errors surface in initial GOP results

February 11, 2008

Washington State: Huckabee wants all the votes counted

Fox News reports: Mike Huckabee is challenging the results of the Washington state Republican caucuses, his campaign announced Sunday, after accusing the state party chairman of calling the election for John McCain before all the votes were counted.

The campaign will be pursuing a full investigation, including sending in lawyers to join those already on the scene in the state, officials told FOX News.

Washington State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser announced late Saturday that McCain had won the 2008 Republican caucuses in the state with 87.2 percent of precincts reporting. McCain had 25.5 percent over Huckabee’s 23.7 percent in that race.

Esser issued a statement congratulating McCain on a “hard-fought win,” and Huckabee on a “strong second-place finish.”

Ed Rollins, Huckabee campaign chairman, directly challenged Esser’s move, saying the count was incomplete because the other 12.8 percent of precincts could tip the scales since McCain was beating Huckabee by only a couple hundred votes. -- Huckabee Challenges Washington Caucus Results

Note: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer just called me for a quote. They are working on a story that Esser has now announced he will count all the votes.

Washington State: Huckabee may challenge caucus count (or lack of it)

Reuters reports: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Monday challenged the results of his party's weekend caucus in Washington state, where he ran a close second to likely Republican nominee John McCain.

The Huckabee campaign said it was exploring all available legal options to ensure a full accounting of the Saturday vote after "dubious final results." Lawyers for the campaign arrived in Washington on Sunday evening. ...

He said Republican party officials stopped counting with only 87 percent of the vote in. McCain was leading Huckabee by only 242 votes out of approximately 12,000 at the time, with 1,500 votes uncounted, according to the Huckabee campaign. -- Huckabee protests Washington state caucus vote | Reuters

Ohio: local officials resist order for optional paper ballots

The New York Times reports: Ohio’s effort to clean up its voting system before the presidential primary on March 4 has pitted state election leaders against local officials over an order to provide a paper ballot to any voter who requests one.

Secretary of State Jennifer L. Brunner, a Democrat, wants to eliminate touch-screen machines for the November election from the 53 counties that still use them and install optical scan machines to provide a paper trail.

Because the conversion cannot be completed in time for the primary in most counties, Ms. Brunner ordered the printing of paper ballots as an interim step.

“The paper ballots are not only going to provide a voter alternative for those who prefer not to use touch-screen machines, but they may also alleviate long lines,” Ms. Brunner said. “We expect a much higher than normal turnout in the primary.”

But some local officials contend the paper ballots are unnecessary and have gone to court to fight the requirement. -- Ohio Officials at Odds Over Paper Ballot

February 10, 2008

Alabama: a "glorified stenography service"

Mooncat writes on Left in Alabama (and quotes the Montgomery Advertiser): Alabama's campaign finance laws are set up to hide the money trail. There are few limitations on contributions and those contributions are often laundered by unlimited money transfers from one PAC to another so you can't tell who is giving what to whom. I knew all that and was properly outraged, but I didn't realize SoS Beth Chapman's office is just a glorified stenography service for campaigns and PACs with no ability or responsibility to check the accracy of reports.

An Alabama agency that oversees political action committees failed to see a $460,000 reporting error in a PAC formed for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. ...

The Secretary of State's office only posts the information online and doesn't review them for errors, said Robert Johnston, an attorney for the agency.

"The secretary of state does not audit these," he said. "We don't have any enforcement authority on that. We just make it available to the public."

-- PAC Money in Alabama - Stop the Dirty Dough!

February 9, 2008

Michigan: woulda, coulda, shoulda, and maybe

The Washington Post reports: The clever people in Michigan who decided to get into a game of chicken with New Hampshire last fall over the timing of their Democratic primary should be having second thoughts this weekend.

Had Michigan Democrats not engaged in gamesmanship over the shape of the nomination calendar, they would be holding the premier contest on today's slate, by far the biggest and most influential of the events between Super Tuesday and next week's Potomac primaries, rather than the nonbinding event that was held Jan. 15.

Michigan Democrats long argued that the party needed a major industrial state playing an early and influential role in the nominating process. Instead, Michigan Democrats -- and those in Florida -- have left their party with a monumental problem: what to do about their delegations to the national convention in Denver in August.

There is a growing sense of urgency about the need to deal with the Michigan-Florida issue, but no easy resolution. What happens could decide whether Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama becomes the party's presidential nominee. -- Sanctioned States Put Democrats in Quandary - washingtonpost.com

Potomac Primary: IO, IO, it's off to vote we go

The Washington Post reports: Adam Bigenho, tech guy for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, spent part of yesterday training election judges how to match up computer plugs at polling places Monday night as they prepare for the next day's primary.

"If something is wrong Monday night, it's a problem. If something is wrong Tuesday, it's a crisis," said Bigenho, 24, one of hundreds of ground troops in a massive mobilization by local officials to ensure that all systems are good to go for Tuesday's Potomac Primary.

Across the District, Maryland and Virginia, election board employees are testing an array of voting machines and computerized voter check-in systems, conducting last-minute training, updating software and completing low-tech tasks such as replacing batteries and stockpiling emergency paper ballots. ...

Officials were optimistic as they completed their tuneups of the touch-screen voting machines that will be in wide use across Maryland and in about half of Virginia's jurisdictions. In the District, paper ballots read by optical scanners are the system of choice, with touch-screen machines used only for disabled voters or those who don't want to use the paper and scanners, said D.C. election spokesman Bill O'Field. -- Scouring the Screens And the Scanners - washingtonpost.com

February 7, 2008

Super-delegates probably will decide the nomination

Marty Lederman writes on Balkinization: According to the Obama campaign, he won 845 of the 1671 pledged delegates last night, to Senator Clinton's 836. This appears to be roughly consistent, give or take a few delegates, with others' estimates, as well -- see here and here. When added to his previous 63-48 lead, that would give Obama a 908 to 884 lead in pledged delegates. (The Obama campaign's estimate of his own pick-ups might even be a bit short -- he might have won four more delegates than he assumed in California, according to this calculation. There are also seven more delegates to be chosen from Democrats abroad who voted yesterday.)

Only 1428 pledged delegates are still to be chosen in the remaining primaries and caucuses. Thus, in order to enter the convention with a majority (2025 delegates), Senator Obama would need to win 1117 of those remaining delegates, or over 78 percent. Senator Clinton would need to win 1141 delegates, or 80 percent. Obviously, neither of the candidates is going to secure anywhere close to a majority before the August convention. It is more likely that each will end up with between 1500 and 1700 pledged delegates, i.e., at least 300 delegates short of what they need to win.

Therefore, the Democratic nomination will be decided by the 796 "superdelegates." They include all Democratic members of the Congress, Democratic governors, various other elected officials, and the members of the Democratic National Committee.

Just over 300 of the superdelegates have already announced who they intend to support, and Senator Clinton is ahead by about 90 such delegates in most counts. (Here is one list of those who have already announced their endorsement.) Most of those delegates presumably will stick by their announcements, but they are not bound to do so. -- Balkinization: It's a Tie -- Enter the Superdelegates

February 4, 2008

Another pro-Democratic 527

The Top of the Ticket blog of the LA Times reports: Here comes Big George again. Billionaire George Soros is weighing in heavily with more cash, delivering $2.5 million to a new political organization called Fund for America.

According to a year-end campaign report filed with the Internal Revenue Service and uncovered by The Times' Dan Morain, Fund for America was organized by Taco Bell heir Rob McKay, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU matched Soros with another $2.5 million, too. Other major donors include investor Donald Sussman, who has given $1 million and AKT Development of Sacramento.

Although it cannot get directly involved in advocacy for or against candidates, Fund for America is expected to air television ads and take other political action aimed at helping Democrats claim the White House and retain control of Congress.The group is organized as a "527," so named for the revenue code section that defines it. -- Top of the Ticket : Los Angeles Times : George Soros pours $2.5 million into new advocacy group

Bloomberg will try to get on 15 states' ballots

AP reports: Michael Bloomberg may soon begin a massive operation to get on the ballot in up to 15 states even though the billionaire mayor may not decide until May whether to run for president, according to associates.

Despite John McCain's widening lead in the Republican race, an imminent ballot deadline for third-parties in Texas and a recently expanded denial of interest from Bloomberg himself, these associates say the mayor and his operatives are actively laying necessary groundwork for an independent campaign and are in no hurry to decide whether or not to run.

Bloomberg's political operatives have spent several months assembling the skeleton of a nationwide ballot-access movement, one confidant of the mayor told The Associated Press.

Bloomberg's evaluation of his own plans could stretch all the way into May, contrary to conventional wisdom that he would make up his mind after Super Tuesday, said Doug Schoen, who was Bloomberg's pollster in his mayoral campaigns and remains part of the mayor's inner circle. -- GazetteXtra

February 3, 2008

SuperDelegates.org

Rick Klau writes on his eponymous blog: It’s looking increasingly likely that the race for a nominee in the Democratic party will take some time to settle out… and the “super delegates” may actually have a hand in deciding who the Democratic nominee is.

If you don’t know what a “super delegate” is, don’t worry – a lot of people don’t. Each state has a number of “pledged” delegates – these are the delegates chosen during the primary or caucus. (I’m simplifying, but that’s more or less the case.) In the Democratic party, those delegates are awarded on a proportional basis – if a candidate gets 50% of the vote, they’ll get 50% of that state’s delegates (Again, there’s a bit more to it, but for purposes of this discussion, that’ll do.)

In addition to the 3200 pledged delegates, there are another 800 delegates who are “unpledged”. Made up of elected officials (Senators, Representatives, former presidents) and party officials (state chairs and the like), these so-called “super delegates” get a vote at the convention, and make up 20% of the vote. In past years, these super delegates basically get a ticket to the convention to participate in the formality of “choosing” a nominee… but the nominee became a de facto nominee by winning so many primaries and caucuses that noone else had any mathematical possibility of getting enough delegates to win the nomination. ...

In an attempt to shed some light on this process, I built a site over the weekend – SuperDelegates.org. Starting with a terrific list provided by the guys who maintain DemConWatch, I started filling in a little info about the super delegates and linking to their endorsement (if given). After finding a great extension to MediaWiki (KMLExport, in case you’re interested), I was also able to add in geo coordinates (latitude and longitude) to the delegate pages, so that you can see the delegates in a Google Earth layer. -- SuperDelegates.org - Learn about the DNC Super Delegates

Note: Democratic Party rules require delegates to be selected in each Congressional District. So a candidate getting 60% of the vote in a CD will receive about 60% of the delegates for that CD. The number of delegates per CD in Alabama ranges from 4 to 7, based on the vote for President in 2004 and Governor in 2006.

February 2, 2008

"Irregularities" at the RNC

The Washington Post's The Trail blog reports: The FBI has been notified and asked to investigate allegations of financial fraud at a fund-raising arm of the House Republicans, capping a week of bad news for the beleaguered minority party.

In a statement today, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said he contacted law enforcement after an internal audit revealed that a former employee of the committee had been involved in the "irregularities."

"Since these irregularities may include fraud, we have notified appropriate law enforcement authorities. We are aggressively and thoroughly investigating the matter," Cole said.

Sources confirmed that the FBI was the agency contacted to investigate the allegations. Aides at the Federal Election Commission said they were not aware of any complaint or request for an investigation by the NRCC. -- House Republicans Contact FBI Over Financial Irregularities | The Trail | washingtonpost.com

Alabama: voter registration up by 58,000 in 3 months

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama voter rolls swelled by nearly 60,000 in the three months leading up to next week's Super Tuesday presidential primaries.

Perhaps fired up by a flurry of visits by presidential hopefuls, frenzied voter registration drives and Alabama's new prominence in the primary process, the rush of people to sign up has Secretary of State Beth Chapman expecting an unusually high turnout Tuesday. ...

When registration closed Monday, 58,341 Alabamians had added their names to voter rolls since Nov. 1, bringing the total number of people eligible to vote in Tuesday's primaries to 2,757,111.

"These numbers would suggest there's an increased interest in this election," Ed Packard, the state's interim supervisor of voter registration, said. "And it would indicate we're tapping into people who were not registered to vote before." --

White women were the largest group of registrations in the final three months, at 21,568. They were followed by white men at 18,347; black women at 9,452 and black men at 6,390.

Packard said that racial and gender breakdowns are consistent with past years. Voter rolls in state swelled for primaries- al.com

Alabama: updated article on Jefferson County ruling

The Birmingham News reports: A Jefferson County judge declined to act Friday on an emergency request to block officials from certifying the votes in Tuesday's special election for the Jefferson County District 1 commission seat.

In a four-page order, Circuit Judge Scott Vowell said he did not have jurisdiction in the case because plaintiffs Patricia Working and Rick Erdemir did not serve the state attorney general's office or candidates seeking the commission seat.

Vowell's ruling stemmed from a request filed Thursday evening on behalf of the two District 1 residents who sued the Jefferson County Election Commission and Probate Judge Alan King, Sheriff Mike Hale, Circuit Clerk Anne-Marie Adams, and the commission members. Vowell heard arguments Friday morning.

The commission set the election to fill the seat left vacant after Larry Langford became Birmingham's mayor. -- Judge does not rule in emergency bid to keep Jeffco officials from certifying District 1 commission vote results- al.com

February 1, 2008

Alabama: state judge refuses request to stop special commission election [court docs attached]

The Birmingham News website reports: A Jefferson County judge Friday afternoon did not decide on an emergency request to block officials from canvassing the votes in Tuesday's special election for the Jefferson County District 1 commission seat.

In a four-page order, Circuit Judge Scott Vowell said he did not have jurisdiction in the case because the plaintiffs did not serve the state attorney general's office or candidates seeking the commission seat. The judge put the case on hold.

Vowell's ruling stemmed from a request filed Thursday evening on behalf of two Jefferson County voters, Patricia Working and Rick Erdemir, who filed suited against the Jefferson County Election Commission.

Vowell heard arguments this morning. -- Judge decides he has no jurisdiction in Jeffco commission case - Breaking News from The Birmingham News - al.com

Disclosure: I represent Fred Plump, one of the candidates in the special election.

Download the complaint and the order here.

"Money matters, but it doesn't decide"

AP reports: Money helped winnow the presidential field. It hasn't determined who each party's nominee will be.

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have proven to be mega-fundraisers, operating at near parity in their own stratosphere. Each raised $100 million last year and spent at least $80 million. On Wednesday, they each spent $1.3 million in one day for television ads in Super Tuesday states, setting the trend for the days ahead.

Whoever loses has not yet been seriously outspent.

Among Republicans, money has been less of a factor. John McCain was forced to live off the land for six months only to rise to the front of the pack. Low-budget Mike Huckabee is looking for a break, and Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire who spent $35 million of his own cash, is gasping for oxygen after two straight losses.

Rudy Giuliani, who garnered the most contributions among Republican candidates, bowed out this week after his Florida-centric strategy collapsed. And dark horse Ron Paul remains in single digits in the polls despite raising more than any of his Republican rivals in the last three months of 2007.

Money matters, but it doesn't decide. -- Analysis: Political Money Not the Be - All - New York Times

Human Rights Watch criticizes Western governments for allowing show elections by other counties

The New York Times reports: The advocacy group Human Rights Watch on Thursday said that the Bush administration was giving lip service to the promotion of democracy around the world by endorsing suspect elections while allowing human rights violations in those countries to go unchecked.

In a scathing report, the organization blamed the United States and Europe for undermining human rights by allowing autocrats to pretend they are democratic. The report cited Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand as acting “as if simply holding a vote is enough to prove a nation democratic, and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along.”

Russia, Jordan and “even China,” the group said, have “gotten into the game” of merely using the word democracy to claim real democratic credentials. -- Rights Group Says U.S. Is Too Eager to Endorse Suspect Elections

Alabama: Speaker to push 2 campaign-finance bills early in session

The Birmingham News reports: The leader of the state House of Representatives said Thursday that he will ask House members next week to quickly pass five bills dealing with ethics and campaign finance, to kick off what he hopes will be a productive legislative session. ...

The first bill Hammett wants the House to pass would ban or limit any political action committee formed by a corporation, lobby or other group from contributing money to another PAC. Such PAC-to-PAC transfers can hide the true source of contributions received by a candidate for governor or other political office.

Last year's bill, by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, would have banned all PAC-to-PAC contributions.

But it died in the Senate, where some senators insisted that PACs retain the right to give money to political parties, legislative party caucuses and get-out-the-vote organizations such as the Alabama Democratic Conference. ...

The other four bills Hammett wants the House to pass early would: ...

Require people and groups to disclose the givers of money spent on any broadcast or published message aired or distributed within 90 days of an election that contains the name or image of one or more of the candidates and is clearly intended to influence the election. -- Hammett has five bills he wants House to pass quickly- al.com

Alabama: Jefferson County may end up with too many commissioners

The Birmingham News reports: Jefferson County residents in District 1 could have two commissioners claiming a right to represent them after Tuesday's election for the commission seat.

The scenario hinges on several variables, including the outcome of the election and the next chapter in a legal battle over whether the seat should be filled by appointment.

But if two people do claim a right to the post, a judge likely would intervene and dictate a temporary resolution, said John Carroll, dean of Samford University's Cumberland School of Law.

"Somebody would go to state court and ask them to jump in, and the state court would have to do something to resolve that on a temporary basis," he said.

The conflict could arise if retired Army Gen. George Bowman, whom Gov. Bob Riley appointed to the seat, loses the election and claims a right to the post by appointment. But that may depend on Riley's next move in the legal challenge to his appointment. -- Jefferson County's District 1: Two commissioners?- al.com

Scott Stantis, the News' editorial cartoonist, has a cartoon on the situation.

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent Mr, Plump, the plaintiff in the federal suit.